Photo credits

The Embalse de Riano in northern Spain. The picture was taken by .... me!

Monday, May 12

The BIG thing. The formal complaint.

Well, it’s time that I stated some hard facts. My wife has submitted a formal complaint to the diocese against our vicar, for psychological bullying, sex discrimination against her personally, marginalisation of women in general, etc.

One is reminded of the phrase about manure impacting upon a rotational ventilator.

Basically, we have been in the church since 2003, and since 2004 he has seemed to oppose everything that she has tried to do. She is generally a better Christian than me; she prays more, studies more, and more importantly she actually walks the talk. She is the one that helps out at soup kitchens, works at the food bank, visits the sick, pastors the healthy, builds relationships with non-church families, etc. I can preach a good sermon, but that’s about it.

I did well in the church, being asked to join the PCC, being made Deputy Warden, and appointed as a licenced Reader. Mrs on the other hand was never given that warm sunshine of approval and encouragement, and it seemed that everything she tried to do in the church languished for lack of support and approval for the Vicar. He just didn’t seem to acknowledge her gifts at all.

In 2010 things seemed to change for the better. On her own she had built a fantastic work based on the church crèche but with a range of related groups for families and mothers. During this period several new families joined the church. We felt (with some justification) that our church had the best church crèche in the town.

But – and I have told this story on this blog before – she arrived one Sunday to find that she had been sacked for the role. Not that anybody had bothered to tell her, or even to hint to her in advance that there was any concern about the children’s work. Her posters had been taken off the walls. Her teaching materials – laid out the night before for the teacher on the rota – had been swept off the table. The rota had been supplanted by a new one, and a new curriculum had been introduced. All without any hint to her. So on that occasion I did my nut completely, and left the church swearing at the curate in the foyer on the way out. Why on earth should I bless this church with my family when they treat my wife worse than a piece of wind-blown litter? I instantly resigned as deputy warden, PCC secretary and Reader. And we left the church. Our older children were allowed to make their own choice, but we took the two youngest.

After nearly two years, God sent us back to the church. He does that kind of thing. We felt that there had been a genuine reconciliation, and threw ourselves into the roles that we were allocated, and did our best to make the changes that we needed to to show we had earned lessons from the history. This was all because we both felt the Lord calling us to ordination.

We had no trouble in getting the Vicar to endorse my application – it was originally his idea after all – but we were a lot more apprehensive about hers. After the first meeting, he asked to see more evidence of her ‘initiating things’ (this had been a diocesan criticism of his previous ordinand, so we were not too offended). Mrs sent him a long long list of all the things she had initiated over the years, and he actually seemed quite impressed. We felt that at last he was beginning to warm to her and see her in her true light. He passed her on to the next phase of the process.

The next interaction was that he had to write references for both of us. He wrote hers and sent it off. Then he had a meeting with me to quiz me on various items before sending mine. I wondered why he had to do this with me but not her, but then he had met her several times recently anyway so I thought maybe he felt that was enough.

Next, Mrs went forwards for her interview with the diocesan director of ordinands (DDO). She went in full of enthusiasm, but had a really torrid time where she felt that the decision had been made before she went in and that there was nothing she could do to show her true abilities – she was just fire-fighting inappropriate questions all the time. So at the end she asked the DDO if her vicar had given her a bad reference. He nodded.

We obtained copies of both her reference and mine from the diocese. Mine was wonderful – “The church needs men of this calibre” etc. And a good many comments were almost word for word what I had said at the meeting, as if I written my own reference. Excessive praise for my good points, and glossing smoothly over my weaknesses. Mrs’ was a stark contrast. It majored with very strong language on her alleged weaknesses, and barely mentioned any positives at all. I think her only quality was being a good mother. Other than that she was ‘dominating’, ‘stubborn’, ‘uncooperative’, ‘lacking respect for authority structures’, etc. (And strangely, the only significant negative on my reference was that I need to control my wife more. Correct me if I am wrong, but I think that reveals that he has a very sexist view of women!)

Now, even if those things were true about her (and which of us does not fall into those categories form time to time):

1) No normal person would write words like that in a reference for their worst enemy. The accepted way to give a bad reference is for your praise to be rather thin. Writing explicit negatives in a reference is a cultural ‘no no’.

2) Even if those things were true:
2a) they should be areas for focus during her training not reasons to stop her from being trained for the ministry
2b) they are actually a very concise and accurate description of the Vicar himself – as if he held up a mirror to his own soul while writing. He is widely regarded as autocratic. But he has still been a successful vicar for 40 years.

The imbalance in the way we had been treated was stark. These were not professional objective comments; he was just indulging his usual tactic of smiling to her face and then libelling her behind her back so that he can blame other people for blocking her progress.

Well, we feel that we have caught him red-handed.

His suppression of my wife has caused untold damage. You may have seen all the posts in this blog “Mrs midlife crisis continues” etc. We tried fostering. We tried adoption. We had a vasectomy reversal to gain our seventh child. She tried a number of unsuccessful secular jobs. All because she was not allowed to flourish and find her identity in the church. Our family has been split up with our children worshipping at different churches. Mrs and I not at church at all (see below). Now we know why Mrs can’t even get a secular job - she would still need to get a reference from the same man. Our life appears to be a complete ruin, because of him.

So we try various other churches, mostly the ‘everybody welcome’ liberal church in the city. Except that their concept of ‘welcome’ doesn’t seem to include actually talking to visitors and making them feel at home. So we don’t feel at home there. Plus it’s a long drive. We could try other churches in our own town, but of course the good thing about our town is that all the churches are linked through ‘churches together’, so we can’t escape his influence. Wherever we go he has whispered ‘watch out for Mrs …. ‘. So our spiritual life and secular life and family life are all blighted by what he has done.

Moreover, talking to the friends that we do have, we find he is increasingly marginalising women in general. He used to have them preaching frequently on Sunday mornings, but has now restricted them to the informal evening service. We found out that when discussing bringing in a trainee from a youth evangelism organisation he has stipulated that it must be a male. He has put men in charge of the Sunday school, including the crèche. And so on. So his comment on my reference – ‘the church needs MEN of this calibre’ – starts to take on a more sinister meaning. The woman that instigated the last similar arrangement when a team came was not invited to any of the associated gatherings, meals etc. My daughter and the curate’s son went on a trip to our missionary in Africa. It was her idea, but the trip never seemed to get off the ground until the boy joined and all of a sudden it was a church priority. And then when they returned, it was all about what the boy had done (which was not much) and nothing about everything that my daughter had done. So the church is a bleak place for its women. Of course he does manage to endorse some for the sake of decency, but these are drawn from the same three cliquey (conservative) families.

So watch this space – see what comes of it. The initial response from the diocese is that if proven it will amount to serious misconduct, but that there is at present insufficient evidence. Which I find astonishing – the reference alone should blow him out of the water and my wife actually sent in a whole box of documents. So what more does he have to do to be found guilty of misconduct – rape her naked on the altar during main communion?

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