Monthly Archives: April 2016

Lessons for the Church from Hillsborough

The vindication of the Campaign for Justice for the 96 Hillsborough dead has touched the nation, and is causing many to re-think how one views such pressure groups.

Historically it should not surprise us. The campaign to free the Birmingham 6 was similarly lengthy and convoluted, and it is not only victims who receive justice belatedly;  perpetrators of abuse are also found out in time, as some of the nation’s well established celebrities are  discovering.

Yet for every guilty Jimmy Savile, there is an innocent  Nigel Evans: Stuart Hall was properly found guilty, Leon Britton went to his grave under an unjust cloud of suspicion because  police officers were too enmeshed in the virtue of their investigation to retain objectivity.

Even the disgraced footballer Ched Evans – who undoubtedly behaved very badly towards a young woman – has been granted a re-trial because the procedure which convicted him has been considered by the Court of Appeal and found  to be unsafe.

So this is the first lesson for the Church. Justice matters, even historic injustice must be righted, even if it takes time and erodes confidence in an important institution.

This brings us to the late Bishop George Bell.

From the little they knew, the Hillsborough families were not able to accept that what they were being told by the powers that be, was safe and based upon a transparent process of integrity. For such temerity, they were characterised as “whining scousers” who were unduly inclined to embrace victimhood. Such claims look pretty shoddy this side of the Inquest verdicts.

This is the second lesson which we can draw from Hillsborough for the Church. Ignoring legitimate concerns is wrong. It will also be a fundamental error to characterise those scrutinising the Church’s  investigation of the Bishop Bell case as “strident”.

Nobody in the campaign is denying the possibility that the complainant in the case is telling the truth, yet what is attracting objective people to support the campaign, is an examination of the information currently in the public domain which draws experienced lawyers and public figures to the inescapable conclusion that one cannot see a fair- and therefore a safe  – process at work.

In the past the Church has often applied an unfair opaque process leading to injustice for the accusers; it is no improvement to replace that with an unjust opaque process leading to injustice to the accused.

This is the third lesson of Hillsborough for the Church. Those campaigning for Justice do not go away quietly

The Church authorities have tried to close the debate by refusing to answer questions. We are told that they have conducted a comprehensive enquiry and have been advised by experts. They refuse even to confirm the area professional expertise of those experts. We must trust the process because the Church says it has been thorough.

Nothing will alarm anyone with expertise in Child Protection Law more than such a patronising assertion.

Over the past thirty years, there have been many public Inquiries into issues of child protection; that history is littered with discarded , confidently asserted  expert opinion.

There are fashions in child abuse practice just as there are in skirt lengths.

The existence of widespread ‘Satanic Child Abuse’, has dropped off the agenda and the nature of  “Munchausen Syndrome” and “False Memory Syndrome” have been downgraded from the status of medically diagnosable syndromes, to that of a  loose description of phenomena to be considered –  but only with with a great deal of caution.

For anyone acquainted with such matters, “Trust me I am an expert” cuts no more ice than ” Trust me I am a Bishop’. An expert opinion is only as good as the facts made available and not all are as intellectually curious outside of the brief presented.

Once, Freudian Psychiatrists would earnestly tell the Courts that many little girls fantasise over having sex with their fathers; we are currently in an age where many assert that all complainants must be assumed to be truthful. We seem to forgotten the lesson of the Cleveland Report which was to “listen to the child ( complainant) and take what they say seriously’. That is not the same as belief, and requires an ongoing objectivity throughout the process.

So, the fourth lesson is surely The Age of deference has passed.

Paradoxically, that may have washed in Bishop Bell’s day, but it certainly is not accepted today.

The Hillsborough Campaign gathered support because enough people cared to keep it in the public eye. If the Church hierarchy is hoping that those troubled by the current state of publicly available information will let it drop, it is mistaken. Questions will be asked at Synod and any attempt to evade questions on the basis of a mistaken view of what is and is not “confidential” will only irritate Synod members.

That irritation will be picked up by the Church press and such mainstream commentators as Charles Moore and Peter Hitchens. It is understood that members of the House of Lords are disquieted and may introduce a debate.

So lesson number five is The concerns of ordinary people do reach the public ear.

Plainly the Church does not want the issue of sexual abuse to again dominate the headlines; the complainant has said publicly that every time the matter hits the headlines, she is distressed.

If the Church wants to bring this matter to a satisfactory close it can do so by being more transparent and engaging properly with the questions that are legitimately raised as to the processes by which its decisions have been reached.

The Establishment approached the Hillsborough families with imperious disregard for proper standards of justice, and tried to defend the indefensible. People not only now distrust what happened then, they are now distrustful of how the police and Government will act in the future

Here we have the sixth and final lesson.

Justice4GeorgeBell is not about Justice for the past but whether the Church is currently capable of delivering  Justice now and in the future.

At present, it is impossible to answer that question in the affirmative.

 

The Human Face of Inhumanity

The February General Synod debate on the sanctioning of benefit claimants for non-compliance with complex bureaucratic procedures might have become monotonous. Everyone who was called was against them, though one or two made a low key defence of the principle that there must be some control over public expenditure.

What saved the day,  was the almost farcical litany of crazy decisions which might have been amusing were they not to result in serious difficulty for ordinary people, in real cases of hardship. One became almost transfixed as one outrageous decision vied with another for the accolade of worst decision to illustrate the point.

Two examples fixed themselves in Brother Ivo’s recollection.

There was the claimant who had suffered a burglary overnight, and telephoned the Work and Pensions Department to explain she would be late because the police were at the home undertaking forensic examination and needed her presence. For that non-attendance on time, her benefit was suspended for some weeks. She could appeal, but that did not help in the immediate future. She needed the help immediately but this was being ignored.

Even worse was the woman with disability who set off in good time to catch the bus. When it arrived, the mechanism to lower the bus platform was faulty, so she was cheerfully invited to wait for the next one: that was no problem, she had given herself time …except the later bus was cancelled, she arrived late,  and she suffered benefit sanction for weeks. She could appeal etc etc.

One response is to ” blame the Government” and many will, although as indicated, there is a legitimate point in initially requiring claimant compliance when public money is disbursed. That argument slips when it is put to those defining the policy, none of whom is likely to defend such decisions.

Former MP and Synod member Tony Baldry urged members to take the problems to their MP’s surgery, yet surely they are hardly likely to defend the indefensible and one can be sure that the Ministers in charge will blame operational malfeasance.

Nobody invited us to consider the role of the local offices and their staff.

It is at that banal level that such evil is perpetrated. Somebody hears the facts, and decides to sanction the woman who has just been burgled. Somebody goes home to cook the supper having devastated the lady who couldn’t get on the bus.

What is this about?

Are they stupid, cruel, undertrained, bullied by superiors or simply callous?

Do they ever think “I’ll give them the benefit of the doubt” or are they like workers on a slaughter line,  blotting out the sensitivity, on the basis that “its a job” or even that “I was just following orders”.

It it is maybe here that the Church should apply itself.

Instead of joining the queue at our MP surgeries, maybe we should be talking to centre staff, their superiors and their trades union representatives. If our faceless bureaucrats are having their humanity checked in at the staff entrance door, we need to know why. If they are having to meet refusal quotas, we need them to tell us.

At present, those making these bad decisions have no “skin in the game”. They suffer no consequencesfor crass  decisions made. Nobody is engaging with them, getting alongside them to ask how such bad calls happen and asking what can be done to put an end to a public scandal. We cannot help them if we don’t hear them. Only when we understand what discretions – if any – exist , and how we can restore the exercise of common sense will we see these examples disappear from our public authorities.

What is happening in our public administration is partly the responsibility of individuals, and it is at that level that humanising it must begin.

Sharing Archbishop Justin’s Confidence in Christ

At a time of challenge, the Church of England is very fortunate to have at its head, one of its most respected leaders for many years.

The recent story of his own history, within a very human messy family life, resonated with believers and non- believers alike, and part of this arose out of the fact that he made perfectly clear that his own sense of identity could survive, because of his clear and unshakeable confidence in Christ.

That confidence is not passive, only comforting him when life’s vicissitudes bring difficulty to his door. It has actively directed choices.

Although many may have forgotten, this quiet, prayerful man has previously given his own personal safety to God’s grace when he stepped into a boat with armed terrorists in Nigeria to negotiate the release of hostages, many in this country retained a sense of respect for him that derived from this and stories like it.. They may have forgotten that he first telephoned his wife to say goodbye in case he should be killed by those to whom he was surrendering his safety, but with every story , an unconscious sense of authenticity is added to our subliminal memory that here, at least, is a public figure of integrity.

Even better, he speaks like a normal person.

Unlike his fine but stereotypically academic predecessor, Archbishop Justin sounds like people we know: more articulate, perhaps , more prayerful – certainly – but  nevertheless just like us. He also has a familiar sense of his own fallibility. He does not rely on his own strength but on Christ alone.

Brother Ivo recently heard him describe how he responded to his early church’s encouragement of the young pre-ordination Justin Welby to join them knocking on doors during its evangelisation week. He hated it. He is , in that, “just like us”

The Lord  clearly had plans for his hesitant follower however.

As a result of that recollection of embarrassed Englishness, he confided that when it comes to speaking of faith matters, he now has his own personal mantra; before every press or television interview, just before the first question he says inwardly to himself “Don’t forget to mention Christ”.

He doesn’t.

You cannot engage with him with any serious question, whether it be migration, tax or family without him bringing it back to his deep personal relationship with Christ. He does what it says on the Mitre.

In Archbishop Justin we have a priceless asset, a leader who naturally and authentically shows to the world what It is to have a daily engagement with Christ in prayer , and how this can affect how we live in a way that many will secretly envy.

In a video released yesterday, we are being given an opportunity to share that witness. Young people especially are receptive to this kind of testimony. They can spot a fake.

Justin Welby is no fake.

Many of us are shy to speak so openly of our faith as he does. Whilst it is certainly ” his job ” to do so, we should not underestimate what that costs him in daily devotion and struggle, to maintain hope in a world where that often becomes very difficult.

That he does so is testimony to what Christ gives to his faithful. He lifts us up.

So why would Christian people not want to learn from this? Why would we not want to share it?

Now we can. Through the magic of the digital world, you can let the Archbishop encourage you in your doubts and point you to the way in which you and your church can share what he wishes to give, which is quite simply, what Christ has given him.

All you have to do is click here That is what Brother Ivo did, and he shared it with you,

Go and do thou likewise.

 

 

The Church remains inadequately prepared for “Digital Evangelism”.

Brother Ivo is not – and should not be – privy to the secrets of the in-house discussions of the Church of England when it comes to the delicate financial and staffing discussions surrounding the creation of the Digital Church initiative.

He is an informed outsider.

He is also free to ask questions, raise awareness, make representations, provoke debate and draw conclusions from what is said and, equally importantly, what is not currently being said.

It is not difficult to draw agreement from the Church Institution about the need to engage with communication. It has ever been thus.

Early Churches did well not to economise on the costs of scribes to copy the early Pauline letters- they might have decided otherwise but did the right thing for us, investing in communication to the benefit of the Church of the future.

The creation of Illuminated manuscripts was costly, in training and implementation. Printing was a challenge, as was the advent of film; Brother Ivo once enjoyed a hilarious conversation with the woman who first secured access to catalogue the Vatican Film Archive, which was an unexpected treasure trove of important early material for the history of cinema. At an early stage, the 19th Century Popes recognised the importance of the new medium and engaged with it.

Social Media is older than we recall. The magisterial Archbishop Cranmer Blog recently celebrated its tenth Anniversary. It continues to be the benchmark for quality and sheer dogged determination to produce weighty and well considered material on a virtual daily basis. Those of us who have attempted to replicate such outreach know the impossibly high bar it sets. One suspects that only political prejudice has prevented the Government from honouring that blog’s founder for services to Christianity and the development of Social Media.

Amongst the other noteworthy exponents held in respectful affection by this blog are DigitalNun and Bishop Nick Baines, yet in this fast moving field we are seeing younger initiatives emerging.

The text based blog  is giving way to the “vlogger” – the digital blogger who shares short film. Brother Ivo must give a brief promotion to TGI Monday and the Virtual Pastor – both coming out of Lichfield Diocese. May Lichfield show the way!

At the February Anglican General Synod we had no scheduled report dedicated to this aspect of the programme called Renewal and Reform, to the newcomers and no illustrated presentation for those new Synod members who have no real notion of what can be done,  or how to conceptualise “Digital Church”.

That absence was nevertheless raised, with an early question to the Business Committee about the absence of a current budget and the fact that if that budget is not in place soon, it will be problematic to call the authorities to account quickly because the York Synod is already virtually closed to new business by reason of a continuation of the ” shared conversations”

The progressing of Renewal and Reform at that Synod focussed on spending £50 million on Ministerial Education; with the shared conversations and sexuality dominating the time on the next occasion, if there is no budget approved by July, the Issue of Digital Church may not pressed by the Church’s elected representatives until after next February.

That would not be a mistake it would be an outrage.

Canon John Spence is spearheading that initiative. Brother Ivo has confidence in him and his team. He did tell Synod that an 81 year old is 8 times more likely to attend Church than an 18 year old. Whilst discussing Evangelism we were told that most Christians have engagement with the Church before they are 25. After that, reaching the ” lost generation” becomes increasingly difficult and unlikely.

Yet our focus  last time was on examining the minutiae of spending £50m to train people to be Ministers who do not currently know that they have a calling; they cannot come ” on stream” for the best part of 8 years.How many young people will have been lost by then?

That budget would have financed a sophisticated professional Digital Media outreach to the young for over ONE HUNDRED years! Such a programme could be formed up and running within a year for an annual budget of £350- £500k per year.

Brother Ivo is not against training vicars, but the contrast in terms of money and focus is arresting.

Jesus taught ” Where your money is so shall your heart be”; he spoke of the Shepherd who leaves the 99 sheep to their own devices whilst he stakes all on the rescue of the lost. We seem to prioritise circling the wagons and doing what we know well, rather than embracing” the scary new” and heading off in search of engagement with those who, as yet have no idea of their need of Christ.

Synod was briefly reminded, this is not a ” budget for social media” – it is a “budget for the evangelisation of the un-churched young”. Yet a year after announcing it the budget is still not allocated.

We, as a wider church, do not seem to have understood that young people no longer obtain their news, opinion, culture or affirmation other than online, yet, when we were joined by young people in the pubic gallery for the debate on evangelisation, it was noticeable they were looking at their mobile devices throughout. Maybe, like Brother Ivo, they were following the parallel debate online amongst those not called by the Chair!

Yet actually doing something about this remains institutionally problematic and currently under addressed. The last Brother Ivo heard the all important budget consideration had been put back to later this month.

Canon Spence did assure us that all will be well, and that the powers that be will get this done, and Brother Ivo accepts his bona fides. No apology however should be made for flagging up the problematic delay that plainly has occurred. The Canon is a diplomat negotiating his way through the labyrinthine processes of Church House; fair enough, but do not assume that all is yet well in the development of this vital outreach.

It is important to set this strand of the Renewal and Reform agenda in its missionary context.

Currently the CofE has 58,689 Twitter followers. The KitKat chocolate bar has 310,401 twitter followers.

Strip out the CofE payroll vote and the story looks incredibly bleak.Yet ask some questions.

Both have a message; each is saying ” look at me” in a culture where every individual makes a daily choice to pay attention to a few of the myriad messages that comes his/her and to ignore the many.

When somebody invites us into their social media world it is an immense privilege. They are giving us permission to break into their world 24 hours a day and to offer our story. It is a preferential position, a great honour to be trusted to that degree. It says- “Your message / story / opinion is important to me and I allow you to tap me on the shoulder and share your thoughts in the midst of my busy day”.

Why would we not be interested in developing such relationships? Why would we not respond to that invitation by offering that person the best of our care love and intellect?

You may be sure that Kitkat employs a highly professional team to calibrate its message into simple and accessible terms. Do you sense that the Church “gets it”?

What does is it say about our attitude to mission that we are so meagrely   engaged in perfecting our skills in responding and developing that outreach. Yet if the person to whom we outreach likes what we say and how we say it, will they not share it with their  friends, cousins, yoga class, book club etc?

The crazy thing is how cheap and cost effective it is to make wider communication. It costs no more to communicate with 5 million people than 500 once the message has been devised and professionally executed.

Digital outreach is a highly professional industry; the Church would be mad to try and reinvent it when there are brilliant professionals out there ready to take away the stress of creative content, keeping up with new platforms, negotiating the licences for the necessary analytical software that underpins the cutting edge targeting of the best campaigns.

We cannot imagine how our message can be packaged for the unchurched young, but we can employ those who can.

There is another aspect to worry about. How many Bishops are “owning” this project? Are our leaders priming our Ministers to seek out evangelising content on the web and to share it with their congregations? There is a already a lot of good material out there, but we seem very poor at seeking it, recognising it and sharing it. We do not have to be good creators of suitable material but we can all be digital evangelists.,sharing the good news at the click of a button.

Brother Ivo closes with an industry story that needs to fire our hope and ambition.

A top advertising agency secured new business and sent the pitch document round its creative teams with the brief to find an angle to make a successful campaign. It was a rather dull prosaic product and many of the top creatives in the agency shook their heads and passed it on until it reached the team that always got the scraps off the table of the more established players. Nothing worked when they did the expected, then somebody had a mad idea.

In that moment “Compare the market” became “compare the meerkat”. The rest is marketing history.

Oh that we in the Church had a similar digital Damascene moment when we realised that our faith can be shared in new and attractive ways.

In the modern era we have the chance to reach many many more than our forebears; but do we have the imagination and drive to make it happen?

Might you, for example. share this amongst Church folk you know, might you raise the need to “click and share” so they too may appreciate the opportunities for evangelism that are slipping away every time we see something online and fail to pass it on?

 

Will Helen Archer ever forgive herself?

Whether one follows the radio drama “The Archers” or not, the drama of the abused wife Helen finally “snapping” and stabbing her husband has gripped the nation with the storyline being seriously analysed on Woman’s Hour and now the flagship Radio 4 news program Today.

It is clever production, and they have plainly been well advised as to how emotional abuse is conducted, denied, and concealed. It has raised awareness of a problem that arises throughout the country, amongst all manner of peoples, and frequently the victims of such behaviours are children. Now, perhaps, people will better understand how victims are silenced by manipulative abusers who are very clever and skilled at it.

It might not be a bad thing if some of the lessons are applied in ecclesiastical circles, both in being alert and not accepting glib explanations, but also perhaps in being a little kinder to some bishops who , like Pat , the hapless mother of the victim. was taken in by the “kind concern” of her son in law.

The average vicar, and even bishop, is rarely a match for a skilled practiced abuser; it is uncomfortable to say it in the light of so many dreadful stories of clerical abuse, but we often have to learn to forgive ourselves which is the main thrust of this post.

We have seen the Archers explore one aspect of the drama, but will they be equally well advised to explore the aftermath? Will Helen ever forgive herself for her dramatic break out of the abuse, or for falling into it in the first place?

Let Brother Ivo share a true story, for he was once involved in an even more tragic event.

An elderly man whom we shall call W was a cultured, kindly, devoted family man. He was well known and respected locally and had had a heroic war, coming to the UK when his own country fell behind the Iron Curtain. He probably suffered a degree of survivors guilt which came out as his homeland became free. In later life he suffered dreadful depression

One morning he went downstairs, made his wife a cup of tea and returned to find her dead in bed. He called the undertaker – a family friend – who duly called the doctor to certify death. It was only when they moved her body that they discovered the dressing gown cord around his wife’s neck.

Somehow, inexplicably this loving husband had killed his wife. As the story was explored – the police were kindly and sensitive – it became clear that his deep depression had precipitated the tragedy.

Brother Ivo got to know him well over the subsequent months, and listened as he sorrowfully recounted the depth of the tragedy.

W had appreciated that his own depression was an increasing  burden to the wife who he loved; he was desperately sorry for her, and did not know how to help.

In a striking phrase he explained ” I know that in the moment I did it, it seemed the right thing to do – but I can never recapture that logic”.

He was content for justice to take its course – though what justice is in such a case is problematic. He was content to co-operate with the judicial system which he valued and respected, he co-operated with all the necessary reports , but he wanted nothing out of the process for himself.

We  would spend some of our time together discussing the nature of evil – he was interested in Arthur Koestler on the subject – and would  gesture to his fellow inmates , who were a rough lot, but they liked and respected him and treated him well. He would say ” these fellows have had so few chances in life; I have nothing but compassion for them – but I can find none for myself”.

At his trial he was sentenced for manslaughter and the High Court Judges sentencing remarks sounded more like a eulogy; both he and the hardbitten lawyers in Court were visibly moved. A Hospital Order was made.

A year or two later, Brother Ivo was surprised to have a visit from W who had been allowed out under escort. He had been putting his affairs in order, and we had tea together; he offered thanks for the support Brother Ivo had given in his most difficult time; his family were supportive and things were as good as they could be.

Shortly afterwards, W was dead. He had hanged himself. He had put everyone important to him at ease and then executed himself.

Is this what happens when we cannot forgive ourselves? Does hopelessness triumph?

How many people are equipped in this modern age to handle this most complex of dilemmas? For all our emotional sharing, what can the mechanism be for those without faith when they are called upon to handle tragedy at this depth of sorrow?

In the “Ballad of Reading Gaol” by Oscar Wilde – who knew a thing or two about tragedy. self loathing and remorse – we find the line “For each man kills the thing he loves..” and in the two examples we have been considering, we see that being worked out, one fictionally , one in real life.

For all our modern emotional openness and self reliance, all but the truly psychopathic can lacerate themselves with guilt.

Yet those of us who follow the risen Lord Jesus have a clear pathway to dealing with this problem

. Giving one’s guilt to the suffering Christ may seem easy – almost like a “get out of jail free card” but the truth is that this only truly works for us when we first recognise, and own, our responsibility.

Jesus takes away the sin that we have first owned, as our own, though repentance. Yet once owned and offered to the crucified Christ, it is taken into the tomb with him – and left there , like the folded grave clothes. Only then can we rise with the risen Christ to live again.

Wilde understood Christianity better than many of his secular admirers appreciate.

In an open letter De Profundis, addressed to his ex lover Lord Alfred Douglas, he recognises that his own fall from grace was, in a tragically beautiful way, the necessary beginning of his own redemption. At the end of his life, he would not have had it otherwise. This is a long way away from the superficiality of much of the self help advice offered today.

Christianity offers an emotionally literate way to free ourselves from such tragic guilt, though we do not pretend it is easy.

It will be interesting to see if the Archers writers can explore this equally compelling part of such tragedies with a similar degree of depth and psychological insight.

Those who find themselves in real life in tragedies akin to that of the fictional Helen suffer a double tragedy when the outcome of their despair follows the path of the tragic W, who never found the path to forgiveness which was as close at hand as his his saviour’s love.