Thursday, November 22, 2012

Leaving the Church

I have to admit that I'm not a natural decision-maker. I find there are always so many issues to consider and I fear being seen to rush in. Then again, there are times when you come to see that thing you previously accepted have changed, there comes a tipping-point and the end result becomes obvious. So it has become with my response to the decision of the Bishops' Advisory Panel I attended in April. The word Advisory is really a misnomer – a BAP's findings are invariably followed to the letter, and there is no right of challenge or appeal. It is not the fact of the refusal that has caused me such difficulty, rather the way in which the decision was reached; the report, in particular the part written by the pastoral adviser, contains a series of errors, but I was told, straightaway, that I just had to accept it and that coming to terms with rejection would, somehow, prove to be 'cathartic'. Well, taking my Vicar’s good advice, I took time off from Reader duties, even Church itself, and I talked and prayed about my position, but in the end I have come to the decision that I simply cannot return to St Matthew's. The crux here is the issue of obedience. My Reader's licence states that I am required to be obedient to the diocesan bishop in all things lawful. However, that far-reaching demand is now beyond me because it comes constrained by my realisation that expediency has come before justice; procedure before fairness, and I have been denied any opportunity even to set the record straight, let alone to challenge what I feel to be a patent injustice. It is now six months since I last felt able even to cross the threshold of an Anglican Church. That is a sentence I never thought I'd write, but it is true – and it is also true that my personal faith has probably never been stronger. However, in that six month period, I have also taken time to consider a range of other issues that have caused me difficulties over the years – mainly because they keep recurring in the news and in my thoughts and prayers. I have said many times that I believe divorcees are treated as second-class Christians by the Anglican Church, and this is especially true of the invidious, highly intrusive, but ultimately unnecessary Faculty process that remarried ordination candidates have to endure. In our case, my wife and I both divorced our first spouses a full eight years before we even met, yet the Faculty application was rejected three times, with no reason or explanation given by the Archbishop of York, who has sole jurisdiction to decide – again without any right of challenge or appeal. But this is not the only issue on which I feel that I have to part company with the Church leadership. The failure to accept the fullness of women's ministry, amply demonstrated by the amendment put forward as a failed compromise in the women bishops debate, and the failure to offer any real pastoral lead on issues of human sexuality, in particular the discriminatory treatment of homosexuals, are evidence of failures to accept the diversity of human life or to engage with the human condition, which I feel lies at the heart of the Gospel. So why not work for change from within the Church? Well, I have considered that, but feel it simply is not an option. This is because, as I see it, the Church leadership is adopting an increasingly beleagured stance in the face of its perceived loss of influence in contemporary society. The drift towards extreme, even reactionary, positions when faced with opposition, as evidenced by Lord Carey's recent intemperate remarks at a Conservative conference fringe meeting, taken together with the acceptance of rules and procedures that already routinely deny a right of challenge to internal dissent do not, I most sincerely believe, bode well for the future. Taken collectively, the overall effect is that I see a church that now finds itself a long way behind mainstream society, key elements of which seem to be far more accepting, forgiving and nurturing than the established church: what, as the Occupy protesters asked, would Jesus do? Not, I suspect, selectively quote scripture or mouth empty platitudes before lapsing into often confusing silence. I have been active in the Anglican Church for forty-odd years, the last 23 as a Reader, and I embarked on the selection procedure reliant on three very positive internal diocesan interviews that were fully supported by personal, pastoral and academic references, but these meant nothing in the final analysis, as only the BAP recommendation was taken into consideration. The end result is that I now find myself unable to continue within its structures or accept its authority. I do, however, feel called to a more listening or reflective type of witness, one that is not reliant on hierarchies but a more direct, personal relationship with God.

Eon-ough is enough

Few, if any, of us would buy from an organisation that allowed its telesales staff to harangue us during a 'cold call', yet energy supplier Eon seems to be going out of its way to alienate customers by doing just that, if our recent experience is anything to go by. Last week, my wife was called on her mobile by an Eon representative who asked to speak to me. Having explained that the call had come through to her and that I wasn't available, the caller abruptly hung-up. Yesterday, however, she received another call, again intended for me, but this time the caller insisted, or perhaps persisted, in trying to get the message across. The call came while my wife was at work and she explained that we didn't need boiler cover and that she was busy and couldn't talk. Instead of accepting this, the caller proceeded to speak with increasing volume and speed, doubtless to ensure they reached the end of their script faster than my wife could hit the red button. Caller failed - and now Eon have received a non-too polite email to Customer Services pointing out that another call will result in us changing energy suppliers. Calling the mobile is interesting as our landline is registered with the Telephone Preference Scheme (TPS) and we've told Eon only to contact us via email. It's also interesting that they seem so keen to sell central heating insurance now - is this a response the the government's tariff reduction plans?