Evan Cockshaw writes: I could feel the nausea building in my stomach. Sweaty palms. Heaviness in my chest. I got out of my beat-up Volvo and parked next to an array of cars from all walks of life parked side by side on the gravel of the car park. I remember thinking my car was by far the worst one in the place and I chuckled to myself thinking perhaps they wouldn’t have a place for me—but how desperately I wanted to be accepted. My rusty Volvo 340, bought from my best friends at Uni, had got me to this grand old building in the countryside. Stone walls covered in ivy rising up to three storeys. Gravel paths, manicured lawns, and people milling around looking posher than me. I notice one woman in a floaty hippy skirt. Maybe she’s a bit like me. More of a misfit and an outlier than the rest. Maybe she wants to be accepted too, but also has that rebellious streak. My heart races again as I walk to the grand front doors and sign in. “Welcome, are you here for the selection conference?” With that I introduced myself, signed in and found myself with about 30 other people eating canapes on a lawn wondering what the hell was going on.
I was 22, fresh from the mission field overseas following a year out after Uni and following a calling to ordination. This was the gateway moment. Over the next 24 hours I would be interviewed three times, invited to dine, chat, pray and worship with folks who I would never be sure if they were testing me or not, and engage in a range of group work activities designed to bring out leadership qualities. Then I would leave knowing nothing about how I had done until I might get a letter in the post to tell me my fate. To get this far I had already endured seemingly endless interviews with the DDO—Diocesan Director of Ordinands—who himself appeared to live on a different planet, surrounded by books and iconography, finery of high churchmanship and the title “Prebendary” (I had no clue what a Prebendary might be … and still don’t really). I’d never met the Bishop but I had exchanged letters—always nice to get a letter from a “palace” to make you feel at ease. And finally I had been deemed worthy enough of being tested at this selection conference. My palms were sweaty as I reached for another canape on the lawn. Who were these people? Should I have been wearing a blazer? Why is everyone so much older than me?
The lead up to getting here, the hurdles, form filling, interviews, books read, endless conversations and finally the invitation to attend all created a sense of otherness—an exclusive club with ridiculously difficult entry requirements. A different world I was being beckoned towards, but one which wasn’t sure it wanted me. So I needed to be tested. It is not good practice to give the punchline away so early, but I will skip a few heart-wrenching weeks and tell you that I was indeed selected, and duly sent to train for ordination in the Church of England and ordained when I was 26 years old. My future set. I had made it. I had been accepted. Casting off all that was before and fixing my eyes on thelifelong career of being a clergyman. I’d read the books, I knew what lay ahead. I was excited and daunted, but I was choosing to partner with the Church of England, called by God, selected by the hierarchy, and given the stamp of approval that I belonged!
There would be more conversations, now with bishops and archdeacons, college principles and tutors. All of them said the same thing in different ways “This is a whole life calling. The Church is your family. We will love you as you serve. It will be hard, but at least you have theChurch to rely on”—or that’s what I thought they said. There followed 3 exciting years of “spiritual formation” at theological college in Nottingham. I was awarded a distinction in my Theological Studies MA by the end of year 2 and then I was selected by some Rev Dr in Oxford to be a theological educator for the C of E. I went on in my 3rd year to start an MPhil and I was elected as Student President of the college. In short, I was a C of E darling! I was fully in with the in crowd. Canapes for breakfast if I wanted them. Then there were the ordinations (Oh the Ordinations! My word what a fanfare!) and the curacy training and the post-ordination training. All of it saying one thing “We want you! We are excited about you. We are investing massively in your future and your ministry!”
This was a whole life commitment and it was amazing. I was searing the very flesh of my heart and soul to the gigantic ship of the Church of England. And it felt like they were receiving and accepting me absolutely, and completely. A bond for life. They invested in me. I invested in them. We were locked in now for ever—partnered for life. Over the nearly 20 years which followed from those canapes on the lawn, I gave up any career anywhere else (I had been offered a lucrative contract in IT to stay at the job I was doing rather than quit and pursue the church), and at my young age I gave up any hope of buying a home and paying a mortgage. I gave up stability as the rigours of college then curacy then first posting would move us around the country. I gave up normal working life and identity for that of a clergyman working tirelessly to love and support communities and churches. I tithed. I led. I cried. I preached. I visited. I prayed. I met. I minuted. I chaired. I sang. I even wore the ridiculous clothes of an 18th century cleric.
And then when all was said and done, I left. Not because I wanted to, although part of me had wanted to for a long time I think, but because I had to. Life happened and I was broken. When I had to leave my experience was “Please return your license to the Bishop’s office. We will arrange a time for you to return the keys to the diocesan property manager. Turn the lights off on your way out please.” That was it. That is the fullness of what happened. You’ll be thinking to yourself something along the lines of “Well no, it wouldn’t happen like that. Someone would have been there to ensure you were ok. Someone would have talked to you a bit and worked things through with you to ensure you knew how to get support and how valued you were still.” But no, nothing happened. Nothing. Silence. Sense of embarrassment more than anything else.
Everyone in any position of power simply keeping as far away from me as possible until I had left. Church wardens were told not to speak to me. Church advised to leave me alone. Removal day came and went, and that was it. I was now pushing past 40 and I was burnt out. My marriage had fallen apart. I was a single dad with three kids. My car was now at least vehicle number 6, 7 or 8 since that Volvo 340 on the gravel driveway but was no less knackered and rusty. Now it was a people carrier. Now my wife had run off with another bloke and I was a single dad going through a complete breakdown. I was leaving. The C of E has invested a huge sum of money in me being trained and ordained and no one was in the slightest bit worried that I was leaving? A few years before I was being lauded as a wonderful example of cutting edge ministry. Now? Now they just wanted me to quietly return my license and my keys.
Before all this happened I had reached out to the bishop to say I was in a bad way. The response from his PA was that I could make an appointment to see him in the next few weeks. That was an hour’s drive. I had 3 kids at school. I was barely functioning. I hung up the phone. What I needed was a bishop on my doorstep to see me for a cup of tea and a chat. I needed someone to talk to. I needed the shepherd. I thought that’s what the deal was. But no. So I spiralled out of control and crashed and burned. Instead of the bishop turning up to see how I was, I found myself summoned to his office months later and being asked to resign. So I left. Foolishly I thought I would get a letter. Or a phone call. Or something. Foolishly I had thought that an organisation whose primary message is “love” would appoint someone somewhere in the C of E whose job it was to check in on clergy who dropped out. Someone caring. Compassionate. Someone whose job it was to say “Hey, are you ok?” Someone who had seen this happen 100 times before and could say “These are some great organisations to help you adjust to life on the outside” or “Here’s some really good financial advisors who offer their services for free to clergy needing help” or “Here’s some counsellors” or even “we would like to sit and chat with you to find out what you think we could do better and why you’ve come to the place you’re at now. We need to learn what we did wrong.”
The phone didn’t ring. Not once. No letters came in the post. Other clergy and friends were wonderful. I did have some fabulous conversations with clergy who knew me and who cared. But they were all doing so voluntarily and from a place offriendship, not power. A place of humanity not organisation. No one official ever noticed my leaving. From the organisation who brought me canapes on a lawn and trained me at huge cost for three years at residential theological college and four years of curacy, there was silence. I was simply no longer wanted. No more canapes for me. I had gone from poster boy to persona non grata.
Once I had settled far away back in my home town where I grew up, now living with my parents and my kids (not a situation I suggest to anyone in their 40s) I got myself back on my feet and thought I should approach my original sending diocese for PTO so I could help out in ministry. I had thought I would be approached by someone. Someone would know I had moved and settled there and being a priest they would probably want me to help somewhere. But no. Nothing.
So I plucked up the courage to see the bishop there. Nothing. Tried again. Nothing. Eventually after about a year of trying I got a meeting. Eventually I got PTO and I was able to start doing little bits of ministry again. I was very much on the outside though. Never invited to diocesan events or training or anything. Not in the system—just kind of skulking along next to it. Begging to be used—not being asked to be useful. I was still very much not wanted. So it felt.
And my experience of now not being wanted is not unique. Through my own journey I have heard many many stories of clergy in the same boat, for different reasons. None of the ex-vicars I know have ever received a phone call or a letter. They have all just simply left. And having left have found no one knows who they are, where they are, or what they can do. They are suddenly a nobody. How do we get from the canapes on the lawn to the return of the license and the keys and walking off into the sunset without so much as a wave? How does that happen and why?
Jesus found Peter, fresh from his betrayal just a few days before and said to him “Do you love me?” That broken man, ashamed, guilty, feeling like crap most likely, encountered the resurrected Jesus who smiled at him and wanted to know just one thing “Do You Love Me?” And Peter did. With that encounter Peter’s life was transformed and his ministry renewed. “Do you love me?”—“Feed my sheep!”
Being ordained is a lifelong calling. But it is something which can be abruptly cut short and curtailed as soon as you slip through a crack. The Church of England doesn’t have cracks—it has chasms. If it is going to thrive as a church in the next generation on reduced clergy numbers then it had better start sorting itself out in terms of how it cares for its clergy. Right now clergy are cannon fodder—thrown to the front and left to die. We need to be loved, protected, valued, honoured—not just with the fanfare of an ordination service in a cathedral but by a bishop turning up on a doorstep when the vicar’s wife has run off with another bloke and you’re left with three kids and a life in tatters. Or when you’ve been signed off with mental health issues. Or when you have succumbed to alcohol because of the stresses of ministry. Or whenever you drop into a chasm, that’s when a bishop should drop everything and go and find that lost sheep. The sheep should not be making appointments tocome and find the bishop. That is not the deal we signed up to. That is not what was sold.
As I left full time ministry I had to ask the question of both God and the church “Do you love me?” and I had to ask “Do I still love Jesus?” The whole experience and that of my broken marriage led me to a place of deep searching. Did the church love me? No. Not at all it seemed. Did I still love Jesus? Yes, I think I did—but only just. I was hurting badly and it was hard to love someone who had called me to such a place of pain, even though I had preached 100 times the message of suffering when we follow Jesus—I just thought we were meant to suffer at the hands of the world, not the church.
Do you love me? I wonder what would happen to the church if clergy were bold enough to ask this question of the establishment, or if not the establishment then just their individual bishop. Are we in the business of Human Resources legislation, or are we in the business of being a loving community of fellow disciples?
This is a little part of my own story. I would be very interested in hearing from anyone with asimilar story to share. I hope to compile some stories covering a range of settings and from different perspectives which can then be shared with bishops and clergy well-being groups.
If you are interested please contact me at [email protected]. Thank you.
Evan Cockshaw is now very happily re-married to the lovely Paula and thriving in his new life, with their children and businesses including this which offers design and printing services for churches https://www.facebook.com/Eve2Media/, and part of a local Anglican church family.
95 thoughts on “What happens when clergy leave ministry?”
Those final few paragraphs in particular are very powerful. Thank you for sharing so honestly, Evan.
Although I am not an Anglican (and I am aware of many extra responsibilities that Cof E Clergy face) I have no doubt that your experience has been shared by many other pastors and Leaders from different streams.
Thank you for your honesty, your voice need to be heard. IT would also be good to think about stratergies that could be put in place to offer the right kind of loving support to those in full time ministry. Thank you Evan for an excellent and timely article.
Same here Andy, same story in so many ways, denominational pastor for 38 years, now ‘free at last,’ an apprentice to Jesus. Greetings from South Africa.
Not just the C of E and not just on the level of ‘vicaring’. I think all churches should routinely send thank you cards to anyone who’s done anything. We were with World Horizons in Llanelli who at the time had a system of praying people out and then praying them back in again when they came back. Just how many people would have less post ministry depression for the sake of a thank you card even, let alone a chat, a prayer, even a little recognition. I found the last chapter on returning in Marjory Hoyle’s Honourably Wounded very illuminating on the difficulties for returning missionaries.
And like you say, the calling and skills and experience don’t go away. I heard Jeff Lucas speak many years ago on restoring fallen leaders, not quite the same thing as those who are left to fall by the wayside just for lack of support, but often there are things that could have been prevented by even a bit of caring support at the right time. Anyway he spoke about living with having the skills but not the outlet and said that ex church leaders make excellent pub landlords!
This account makes you wonder what Bishops are for.
I ‘left ministry’ and went to work in my former profession – health care. We routinely did exit interviews for everyone leaving the organisation. Sometimes they could be painful – hearing that the best intentions of the organisation had not been well communicated and things had gone wrong. But, always, we learned something and sometimes a great deal by listening. People were thanked, shown appreciation and had the opportunity to have their voice heard and acknowledged. I don’t know why the C of E doesn’t do this. It would benefit everybody and, at pain of sounding like a school mistress, it’s just good manners apart from the huge pastoral significance. As Evan says, it should be the shepherds wanting to hear, not the sheep scrabbling for appointments.
Janet. I offer no defence for poor practice when it happens – and Evan’s story is a very tough read – but the various dioceses I have worked for over a number of years in the areas of ministry support and development all offered exit interviews and other resources. I am also presently chairing a working group for a diocese to better co-ordinate and support endings and transitions. I know it happens. But please let’s not talk here as if this is a universal failing in the CofE.
I know of and respect your ministry enormously. Thank you for your comment. I’m so glad to hear that there are places where things are done well.
In truth though, I have ministered in 5 different dioceses and never encountered anything like an exit interview. The experiences I shared in this piece are for me the tip of the ice berg in terms of bad practice as I’ve experienced it, and my conversations with other clergy lead me to believe that these experiences are normal, rather than rare. Good practice appears to be the exception rather than the rule as far I have heard at least.
I don’t believe that bad practice is universal at all, but I do believe there is a widespread failing in the CofE which needs addressing.
Alongside the terrible experiences I’ve had, there have also been moments of the most wonderful pastoral care by Bishops in my life for which I am hugely grateful. However, I would say those experiences of good practices SHOULD be the normal experiences. Sadly they are not.
Thanks Evan. I hope and expect the ‘Well Being’ processes going through the CofE to make a difference.
I do hope that those processes are going to work quickly enough to make a difference, given the large number of dioceses currently looking at reducing numbers of clergy.
I’m really pleased to hear that but I have heard more stories like Evan’s than examples of this happening.
Does there exist any process for regularly assessing the pastoral and ministerial performance of Bishops or are they essentially a law unto themselves?
Who are the Bishop’s Bishops?
Forgive the anonymity….
In four dioceses over 38 years I was only once offered an “exit” interview, just prior to retirement. I’d been a Rural Dean in two of them so quite on the horizon. Some people in the Diocesan structure noticed and the parishes were kind and generous. The retirement exit interview offer followed a period of mild depression in which, apart from one Archdeacon taking me out to lunch, there was absolutely no diocesan support. So by then I didn’t want an interview and might well have not handled it for my own good. I’d had enough.
Indeed, when I resigned my role as RD four years earlier, peering over the edge depression, (I simply couldn’t handle all the extra work and expectation) no one enquired as to why. A month after I moved to our retirement house the Diocesan wrote a note. The area Bishop was totally silent throughout.
I was glad to retire… and sad at the same time.
Sorry, David I feel that I am in a Diocese where this does not happen and clergy feel unloved
Many, many thanks, Andy and Ian.
Shooting our own wounded
Every Diocesan senior team should read this – several times – it should be discussed at Deanery & Diocesan synods and measures put in place in every diocese that this sort of thing never happens again. Its a disgrace
Thank you Simon
Thanks Ian and Evan and Simon – I agree Simon – Sadly I can give you numerous other stories – from varied dioceses. The fact that dioceses can do different things and have different standards and processes is one thing. The lack of processes and transparency is another. That Bishops can make decisions without justifying them and with no place for appeal is another big problem issue. In other walks of life/ professions/ vocations decisions – particularly where conscious and unconscious bias is present – these can be challenged. There are often just no structures to care for clergy – let alone clergy families. And all this has an ongoing and out working effect on the mission and ministry of God’s church – and the devastation on the lives that are broken. I think measures do need to be put in place – but as Fiona Gardner highlights in her recent book on Sex, Power, Abuse and the Church when power is misused the organisation works to defend itself and not the victims – and as the recent programme on Panorama about racism in the C of E identified – there are not the structures to deal with complaints when such things happen. There is so much the C of E needs to do in this area – but has it the heart and will to do it – or the structure to enable that to happen? Personally I thing centralisation and transparency of processes would be one step forward – as long as those running it are not all members of Nobody’s friends or another equivalent club. Consistency, openness, accountability and transparency are needed as we seek to follow the good shepherd and model good pastoral care. If the church hierarchy cannot pastorally care for Evan and others in similar situations what hope is there for the C of E ?? Thankfully Evan had others to help love care and support after… and thankfully God’s church is bigger ..
I had to retire through a sudden and rare illness. My Bishop and Archdeacon could not have been more caring.
Loads in our local church were wonderful too – helping my wife sort and decorate the house we moved into while I was flat on my back.
So sad to hear your different story.
I wonder if it depends on ‘how’ and ‘why’ you leave rather than just the act of leaving?
Yes. This is exactly it.
This sounds a pretty sorry tale of indifference to basic callings on human decency. It need not be so.
I was born and raised in an evangelical CofE vicarage in a Bedfordshire village of about 3000 people. When I was 11 my dad had a stroke and over the ensuing weeks might easily have died. My mother gratefully recounted her surprise when a few days later she opened the front door of the vicarage to see the Bishop of St Albans standing there. In he came for a cup of tea and exactly the kind of pastoral support that was sorely needed at a very worrying time.
Of course in those days the Diocese of St Albans was uncluttered by numerous personnel who were not working at the coal face in the parishes. It seemed that such routine diocesan administration as was required was always routed via one single lady who maintained a calm and efficient grip of all that was going on. She was always readily contactable on the ‘phone.
Essentially a bishop should have an empty desk and many windows in his or her diary. (The windows should of course be filled by constantly meeting up with clergy and parishioners right around the diocese!) As a father in God to the clergy, the primary task is to lead and support them with spiritual and practical help. Such a simple vision may sound hopelessly naïve and unsophisticated to today’s managerially focused CofE hierarchy, but the very public evidence of what happens when a church loses it cannot be denied. Surely in a Christian church of all places the human touch is a living witness of the presence of Christ in the hearts of those who serve. It really isn’t rocket science.
As ever, any turn around in attitude and process can only come from the very top. That’s a truism rather than a criticism: in turn it implies that everyone in the organisation needs to feel free to give regular feedback to the very top – both positive and negative. Currently it seems that the necessary lines of communication are not open. Deference (to bishops, deans, archdeacons etc) should have no place in the CofE. Respect yes; love yes; consideration yes; human concern yes. But deference must be an alien concept in the Christian family.
Was that John Taylor? If so, we share memories of one of the most wonderful of pastoral bishops. Whoever it was, I am so glad that this is your recollection, and that your family received proper support.
Humbled if it was…he was my Dad. I am now part of a senior staff team and know how hard the Bishop and Archdeacon conduct exit interviews, and are in contact as soon as pastoral needs of their clergy become known. They also authorise Area Deans to give pastoral care and inform of any urgent needs. However in any Diocese there can always be failings, and I am really sorry when someone is not noticed when they should be. I wonder if every Diocese should have – as I believe St. Albans did – a Clergy Retirement Officer who keeps in close touch with retired clergy, so there is a point of contact, and the Bishop can be informed when special needs arise.
I think I remember meeting your father, did he retire to Cambridge?
I’m afraid I go back further than that! It was Michael Gresford Jones. I can’t say I knew much more about him – it was a long time ago – but in the instance I recalled he certainly showed genuine pastoral concern and engagement. It could be done then, it should be done now.
That’s wonderful to hear younger grandad were supported so well !
Sadly Evan’s story isn’t unique. The pastoral care for clergy and their families is abysmal. Our eldest daughter went through 9 months of chemotherapy on top of what was already a very hard time for us as a family. We received not one phone call, card or visit from our bishop. A 3 line email when she was diagnosed tells us that he knew ( we had emailed to let him know).
I don’t want to believe that the hierarchy don’t care about the clergy in their care; but if their schedules and and diaries are so busy that they cannot do the basic pastoral care of their clergy then something major needs to be cut from their diaries. There should be enough slack in workload that they can drop everything and turn up on a doorstep rather than an appointment 6 months ahead needing to be made. Personally I think that spending time with your clergy should trump spending goodness knows how long dressing up in silly dresses or parading around your diocese on the premise of doing a pilgrimage etc Those things are fine to do – but only if you’ve got time after actually doing your job first.
Evan, I think you’re amazing – an inspiration. When I read this I just cried – I know the pain and have seen it all happen to you – and much more besides. It is shocking and utterly tragic. I am still astonished that you ever managed to pick yourself up, dust yourself down and start all over again. I know enough of the struggle to know the heartache. God’s in the business of redemption even if senior clergy have more important (!) things to do. Thank you so much for sharing a bit of your story – why don’t you write the rest up as a book? Please think about it – you write really well, and people need to hear your story of love, loss and redemption.
Paul – my brother!! 😀 How lovely to see your comment today.
Thank you! You give me too much praise, but thank you.
A lot of people have asked me to write my story. I am I think understandably nervous about doing so, but it does keep cropping up. Perhaps one day I will find the courage and time to do so.
Bless you brother!!
love in Christ,
Same when I retired – not a word from either Diocesan or Suffragan bishop. My retirement form stated that once signed it would be an irrevocable move. After 16 years of running a Benefice of 11 rural churches, silence. Not even a word of thanks from the top. The housing on offer through the church scheme was completely unsuitable, and after a year of receiving their mailings I gave up on them. Through being frugal my whole ministry and with inhertance I was able to buy my own house, 280 miles from my “home town” to which I had hoped to retire. I have not sought PTO as I have no faith ir trust in any bishop any more. My lifelong commitment to the CofE has fizzled out. I still have faith, but not in the church.
I get the impression Bishops are simply overwhelmed with central business. I want my Bishops devoting quality time to prayer, reflection, study, writing, teaching, parish missions & pastoring the pastors – but I suspect their diaries are swamped with chairing meetings. Bishops have become bureaucrats.
The Bishop is meant to be the pastors’ pastor – but their inundation with business means they seldom if ever pastor. In my 25years ordained, serving under 4 Bishops, I have had only 3 annual reviews with a Bishop, and one pastoral visit when my Bishop unexpectedly turned up for a cuppa hearing there had been a problem. I was very grateful for that. But that’s it. I have had just 4 individual meetings with a Bishop since ordination retreat.
Many thanks. I think this is right. Synod, for one, has become a factory for the production of mostly pointless legislation and much attendant bureaucracy. The more the numbers of regular attendees continue to slump, the more legislation it evacuates. That much is also true of a number of central Church bodies.
The key problem now is the lack of money at every level bar the Commissioners themselves. One of the reasons I feel that there needs to be radical reform to the Church’s financial structures is to centralise capital and management within the Commissioners. The Commissioners will be able to realise economies of scale which cannot be achieved by 42 petty bureaucracies (look at the relatively cheap administration of the national payroll for example).
The corollary of this is that the dioceses would effectively be abolished. They would continue to exist, but solely as pastoral agencies. Bishops would therefore cease to be encumbered by administrative and financial responsibilities and retinues, which are in effect hang-overs from the medieval concept of the bishop as a baron, each with a bureaucratic flotilla trailing in his wake. After all, bishops are not trained to be administrators and financiers, and ought not to have taken orders with that ambition in mind. Shorn of these responsibilities they could function as pastors to their clergy and laity alike, and would have time freed for mission, scholarship and whatever prophetic gifts they happen to possess.
It is telling that bishops have so little time for their stipendiary subordinates when there are relatively fewer stipendiaries than there have been for centuries. What does that say about the extent to which the Church has been rendered immobile by pointless bureaucracy? How many parish clergy waste time on paperwork generated by this bureaucratic machine rather than engaging with the laity in their respective parishes?
Like others, I was much moved by Mr Cockshaw’s recollections.
Brilliant – thankyou
Stipendiary subordinates! Not at all how stipendiary clergy should view themselves. But try being non-stipendiary. Lowest of the low… yet giving the most.
If there was a service for leaving the Church of England I’d be there.
My limited exposure to bishops on this side of the pond would lead me to believe your treatment is probably quite common. My own experience of personal injury as well as death of a parent while resident at aforementioned theological college leads me to believe that pastoral care amongst career church people is astonishingly rare. Weird, isn’t it?
God bless you, and thank you for your (ongoing) service to God’s people.
I decided to take early retirement inpart because my own health was not brilliant and I was also caring for my elderly mother who lived with me. However mainly due to the bishop who was massively into ‘re-imagining ministry’. My personal belief is that his vision was largely because the diocese was facing financial challenges and I was part of a deanery that was unable to pay its parish share in full. So, the bishop summoned us to a meeting where we were told that five out of nine Stipendiary clergy had to go. I could have fought to be one of the ones who remained but I decided to go. I would probably have been pushed anyway as I was only three years off retirement. I also believed that I would be leaving behind me a thriving Church with a really capable lay leadership team who could manage pretty well without a Vicar. (they did) I posted my letter of resignation and all I got back was a very perfunctory letter and a document for me to sign saying that I was resigning. There was no exit strategy, no nice episcopal letter, no preparation for retirement and no help with future accommodation. I had to do it all myself. As a single person with no inherited wealth and a lump sum of under 40k I was unable to secure a mortgage so we ended up in social housing on a, let’s just say, interesting estate. Effectively I became dechurched by the very Church I had faithfully and with due diligence served for thirty years. That’s my story in a very brief nutshell. It has taken five years, and I’m still not there, for me to tentatively engage with a local church but I am painfully careful to ensure I tread on no priestly toes. Truth to tell I still feel like an outsider and someone past their sell by date. My prayer is that anyone in a similar situation to mine will find their bishop to be an approachable shepherd. In all this I can still see my sponsoring diocesan bishop assuring me that when I retired the lump sum I would receive would be sufficient to buy a modest three bedroomed house. Alas how the Church has changed.
I am in the process of having to take early retirement due to my husband’s rapidly declining poor health. I have had 3 zoom conversations with my Bishop and the promise of a lunch before I leave. I am overwhelmed with offers of support from my Parish. Very different from when as a struggling curate in a diocese which only pretended to welcome women’s ministry I was left to sink or swim.
I think that Evan’s story reveals a completely different perspective to the one he has in respect of events.
He reveals that from the start he was aware that he was joining what was for him more of an organisation than an organism. So much so that it led him in this article to focus greatly on the quirks of the organisation he was joining more than any relationships that dominated his time in training. And yet his complaint now is that in the process of his going through personal problems he was not treated as if the church was an organism.
Why if as his article indicates he noticed it then does he only raise the issue now? Not that he shouldn’t raise it now, but why now and not then? I think it’s clear that he simply chose then not to make his observations a priority. Perhaps he imagined himself doing well within the organisation – he may have decided that the weaknesses of the organisation would only be a problem for people who didn’t succeed within it. I come to this conclusion all the more because Eric is still seeking to engage with C of E organisational processes for opportunities even as he sees these deficiencies. But whatever Eric decides to do – and whether or not he “succeeds” in the C of E – it doesn’t change the fact that the C of E should function in a way that grows people organically – in relationships – the strongest relationships being those that exist within the diversity of people and real life experiences that exist in a local church.
Churches that function as organisations and which have the kind of social cred the C of E has will always attract people who imagine themselves succeeding within them by similar methods to those which saw them “succeed” in other institutions. Those who “did” school, who “did” university, and who sense that if they are willing to “do” one more institution it will be a ticket to some kind of life they desire. To resist this and choose a relational path when you know there is a calling on your life is deliberately made less glamorous at the outset by God – and it may seem less certain (it isn’t in reality the slightest bit uncertain – every detail of our lives and our preparation for the life to which God has called us is planned by him) but it is the only right path forward for ALL followers of Jesus. The gospel is that to become somebody we must become nobody. And having done so to remain with our foundations being that we are nothing without the mercy and grace of God. Everyone – and that includes those whose lives may be spent with a greater theological rather than relational emphasis – must work out their calling in this relationship with God and people before position way.
The same temptation to put institution ahead of relationship exists with parents choosing schools for their children. There are often GOD ORDAINED tensions between what might seem right in the world’s eyes for our children and what he wishes to do to grow a child.
Was there any relational connection that Evan had with the C of E that led him to sign up for training? He didn’t mention one. And what ministry was he involved in that showed him to already be gifted for ministry? Again he didn’t say.
It’s clear – relationship before position isn’t where the C of E is currently – the C of E is the church whose Archbishop for example announces that the C of E will be mobilising a million people for evangelism. As if that is the way the kingdom of God works. The extent of that spiritual dullness is astonishing. Spiritual life is like an Olympic torch – the flame only gets spread from where it already exists. Nothing dead will ever bring life to anything – it’s simply not possible to overcome that reality with money – or good real estate – or structural changes etc).
In churches and church movements that are committed to being organisms everything is the other way around – instead of being appointed to roles you operate at whatever you find to do and inevitably continue to do so in areas in which you function effectively and then, and only if its necessary, someone may name you in a role. Some might be tempted to call it position follows ministry – but that’s not correct – it is active ministry IS position. Churches that function in this way often don’t have any concept of church membership – you are only treated as if you are a member if you are acting as if you are a member. That doesn’t mean you won’t be followed up – but you will be followed up as one who needs to be thoroughly saved.
For the C of E to pull out of its current decline it will need to focus its training on leaders who rise up within growing churches. And it will have to ensure that instead of being trained by those who were grown organisationally that they are trained by those who have relational capacity that God has been demonstrated in successfully discipling others. It will take an enormous of previously absent humility to admit that the size of the C of E tent should be limited only to contexts and people where this is the case. I’m not suggesting complete fanaticism towards this – Jesus was a pretty good disciple but he didn’t have many standing with him on the day of his death – but it has to find an appropriate place. This change will only happen if some leader at some point decides to be ruthless in their commitment to godly processes. Such a leader will ensure that those trained receive robust theological preparation without them being torn from their current relational context (this context being a key part of what grows them) – this is the Jesus model – even if it takes longer because training must occupy less hours a week – and training MUST remain robust – at the limits of the student’s capacity. Yes there is value in non-church relationships to grow those in training but such people will need to go near to the churches and homes of the trainees.
As I understand it the C of E will be virtually wiped out by 2030 at current rates of decline so this issue needn’t bother us for too much longer…
PS Those who are being prepared for high leadership are often prepared by God in environments of injustice – how will we one day deal with those who treat us unfairly if we haven’t had any practice? So we should expect situations in which we experience injustice and we should respond to them with gratitude knowing that God taught us important things and confident that he never intends that our relationship with him be suffering without purpose.
Sorry if I didn’t write my piece to your specification.
In answer to the question of whether I had any relational connection to the CofE before signing up. The answer is no, I just saw a flyer in the local park about being a priest and thought it would be a hoot.
Be blessed! 🙂
If I was British (I’m not – I’m Australian) the very fact that I had offended you would make me at fault. I don’t desire for you to be offended – but I’m also not going to act as if it’s proof of my being at fault in what I said. Certainly not until in your reply you say anything substantial to the issue I have raised. Which I understood from your article you intended to be about more than just you.
I presume from your reply that you entered the C of E with existing C of E relationships – fine. But it doesn’t change the fact that it was possible for you to go to university – spend a year on the mission field – and return to sign up for time in an institution which I gather continued to disconnect you from relationships in which you could minister and be ministered to.
I don’t think that it’s inappropriate to draw some conclusions about your attitudes towards training and your experience from your article. Nor about the C of E’s attitude to growing people in a non-organic way.
Yes, be blessed.
You should get a person’s name correct, Paul.
I agree. My apologies.
Eric? Idle? He did dress up as a nun once, quite convincingly I thought. His explanation of the Trinity was hilarious…
The only fault here Philip is that you have taken a short blog piece and supposed it accurately or completely tells the full story of my 20+ year journey of calling, selection, ordination, marriage, divorce, breakdown, leaving ministry and rebuilding a new life. It doesn’t even try to do justice to all those things and would be foolish of me to have tried. All I have done is highlighted the headline issues which some of us would like the church to start thinking about.
This is neither a court document, a complete list of evidence, or even a thorough biography but you have approached it as though it is pinpointing things I haven’t said.
Pain is pain. Brokeness is brokeness. You would do well to think about how you listen to someone’s story without trying to pick holes in the things they’ve not said. Compassion is all.
Evan, if your article doesn’t attempt to summarise at least the relational aspect of your time in the C of E, when criticising it from a relational perspective, then surely that is being unfair to the C of E. Get real please – is the C of E basically relationally excellent – with the exit interviews an exception – or what?
It’s also unfair to write an article which draws attention to the fact that you were not given an exit interview without mentioning that you were asked to leave. In that you aren’t providing enough perspective to be responsible. I’m not saying that your being asked to leave was fair or unfair – I’m saying that you can’t focus your article on exit interviews without mentioning it.
I’m not saying that the C of E isn’t behaving incorrectly – they very much are. I’m just saying that you were and still are, if your article is to be any guide, and your behaviour since too, very much in agreement with its approach – you’re only trying to tinker with a few things.
The C of E is dominated by people such as yourself who in weakness conspire to turn the church from an organism into an organisation that gives favour to the educated, articulate and those able to live as though comfortable that such people should get to define what discipleship is. You will write endless articles about whether it’s right to have communion at home while not giving a rats whether the way you grow people reflects the teaching of scripture. Of the balance of giftedness reflected in scripture – or even in those Jesus chose to be his disciples.
Of course you will get lots of people giving you sympathy here Evan – if they did not they would be in some way denying the merits of their own choices.
No-one has even bothered to engage with my central point because it goes to the heart of the issue – and the heart of the issue is that most people who attend the C of E believe that God owes them a place in the church with their current attitudes. And the reason they are upset with its decline is that they will lose their rightful place.
I’m still waiting for you Evan or anyone else to acknowledge ANY merit in the points I have made about the C of E. The comments here and your article reflect the belief that the C of E is basically doing great – that it doesn’t have big problems which require a big change of direction. That’s actually been one of the biggest surprises in my years of being alive – that there are people whose wishful thinking allow them to conclude that you can solve big problems with small changes.
At least you havent lost your sense of humour! That made me laugh, thx.
There are things that I agree with in this.
But I’m appalled by the response to someone who declared openly his brokenness. The character of jesus shows in our response to suffering and in our response to suffering people… Broken reeds.
Too much assumption. That’s a high horse to ride.
Do you believe Ian that whether Jesus shows sympathy to people is defined only by the fact that they are suffering or have suffered? Because I think that our disagreements with God over fundamental things will see him stare us down for decades. Take Israel in Egypt – he left them in slavery for 430 years. Think about that – 430 years. God has no way of delivering us without our repentance. So he just waits. And waits. And waits.
The C of E appears to be heading for total oblivion and I predict that the question most confusing to its members will be “why didn’t God care?” And the answer is that it matters why we are suffering – not just that we are suffering.
It simply isn’t enough that Evan says that he is – or was – broken. It matters how he defines the events that happened and his part in them.
“God has no way of delivering us without our repentance.”
Tell that to Job.
Funnily enough… I’m with Jesus on this : I don’t believe as a necessity, that illnesses is a result of individual sin with repentance as the cure.
What I find hard to take is that the thrust of your comments seem to portray nil understanding of depression. It feels more like angry attack than analytical response. Maybe you don’t mean it that way…
Ian, if you need me to acknowledge that there are people whose suffering is not as a result of their sin then consider this it.
All of us could build a case for our having endured unjust suffering if we narrow the scope of the context in which we find ourselves. I could for example punch you in the face and then fail to mention it when recounting the story of your punching me back! You are saying that I am narrowing it in not accounting for what you believe is Evan’s depression (he didn’t mention it) and I am saying that it’s not appropriate to narrow the scope of Evan’s story to exclude either the fact that he was asked to leave or to fail to mention the general relational context under which he carried out his training, and whether he was aware of these things when he began training.
I stand with what I have said but I do think my comments reflected personal anger that the C of E and the first world church is in the state it is in – and that was less than helpful. I should have separated one from the other.
I have to say I agree. The lack of empathy to someone so openly sharing brokenness and hurt is astonishing. Whatever the rights and wrongs it’s the lack of love on offer that’s the real issue for me. We expect the world to hurt and reject us but when the Church does it-it’s the hardest. Yes it may be good training but it doesn’t mean we can’t show compassion. So glad Evans story is ultimately a positive one.
Thank you for sharing your experience I grew up in a vicarage and now I am C of E vicar.
One of the things I observed in my Father was the importance of having a support network of friends who were in the same position. He worked hard at maintaining those relationships e.g. 24 hours away with them and regular pub lunches with others. When he died suddenly in post the Bishop came round and the Suffragan bishop spoke kind words about him at the memorial service. I was grateful for the financial assistance my mother received and the occasional offers of grants. However, it was his clergy friends who swung into action to help and support the family.
He never vocalized this but I was under the impression that he felt you had to create you own pastoral network of support. The Dioceses are too cumbersome for senior staff to know everyone in a way which is going to encourage genuine support. He never expected that much from the Diocese and I think on the whole was happy to be left alone.
Outside of theological college and the larger churches with their big staff teams it is a lonely place. The role needs such a high degree of people skills and on top of that there are own personal struggles with the flesh, world and the devil. I often think of the wisdom of Dad in creating a group of people to pastor and support him.
Thank you Matt. I think this is a key point, usually unmentioned, in every caring profession. No organisation (Christian or otherwise) can replace real relationships – although there can be processes in place to help. I am a Reader. I have seen clergy go through very difficult times and complain that the Bishop / diocese did not help. Those same clergy often refused any help from lay people who loved them and had a lot to offer. Only the Bishop would do! I have known other clergy struggle – and survive because they were willing to receive love from friends and not rely on the Bishop. This is a broad generalisation but I think ‘the ontological difference conferred by ordination’ affects some clergy unhelpfully. (I do not believe in it, by the way, but my view is less relevant than their view.) I feel very sorry for Evan. Any loss to the church – lay or ordained – is upsetting; the breakdown of his marriage by overwork is heartbreaking; his struggle to cope needs to be heard; and the general demands on clergy need to be analysed. However, I also smiled wryly near the end. So he does not get invited to training days? He struggles to offer his experience and skills? I thought, ‘Welcome to the non-stipendiary world!’ Many Readers, NSMs and highly qualified lay workers would say the same. Ian Paul, on June 21, 2016 in his blog, wrote ‘in many practical ways, until you are ordained you are invisible to the Church’. I suggest that paid or not is another barrier. Evan has now entered the unpaid volunteer world and is treated like a Reader!
My paid employment is in teaching. Teachers who are over-stressed also complain about the lack of support by the senior management – and we can equally fail in creating our own support because our standards are high, our expectations of ourselves are too great, and we try to love those in our care while forgetting to love ourselves.
Just a small correction – my marriage didn’t break down due to overwork.
The treatment that Evan received at the hands of the C of E was astonishingly bad. I am amazed that he still wants anything to do with the organisation which is strong evidence of the strength, validity and affirmation of his original calling. He had every right to expect strong pastoral support at a time when he was going though a dark time of which he had little or no control.
Thankfully God appears to have pulled him through in spite of what has happened and given him a new start. But this is what Jesus does for people isn’t it – unlike some Cof E Bishops so it would seem.
Perhaps that’s the problem = ‘organisation’. Though at least a secular employer would likely give you a hand shake for your service…
Did you leave through choice or were you asked to leave?
I left because I was asked to do so by the Bishop. I was offered a very generous payoff to go quietly … although I suspect the diocese would say they were generously offering me support they didn’t need to (and that’s true, they really didn’t need to and they were very generous). But on reflection it did feel like a pay off to just quietly resign and go. Accusations were being made (not wholly fair or true ones), and I didn’t have any punch left in me to fight them. I had survived for 18 months after my wife left. I had been through a cancer scare. I had succumbed to depression, anxiety and PTSD and was in self destruct mode. That I should leave was not really something I would argue with. It was right that I did so. I was a complete mess.
The issue though is that I do not feel the diocese offered me anything like the kind of support over the 18 months of this all happening and certainly not as I left or afterwards. The point of the article isn’t really about the rights or wrongs of me leaving. It is more about how dioceses care for clergy going through crisis and how they are cared for at the liminal points of departure and post-departure.
I’m not ordained. Merely a secretary in diocesan offices. Asked to teach at a private school for 2 hours a week which I more than made up for. My boss retired and incoming boss instantly laid me off for moonlighting. No case said my solicitor. Out of work for 2 years as the diocese messed about with obfiscation. I had to borrow money to keep self and two children as my mental state precluded applying for work. My eyes are now open to C of E mismanagement, lack of support and interest.
Does the format of blog article and comments even allow for the concept of critical friend which is far removed from Jobs friends.
Life falling apart isn’t the sole preserve of clergy, but it does reveal where we, any of us, place our security, identity, esteem, trust, faith, meaning, purpose, worth and at the deepest level our understanding of God and suffering.
Thanks Evan for this article.
The experience of serving in C of E is mixed – I’ve just entered 38th year of ministry: I learned early on that if I wanted support, I had to arrange my own; I am known by friends for saying “My expectation of bishops is always fulfilled: I expect nothing.” However, I can say I have had a couple of exceedingly good exceptions over that period, one, where I was “rescued” out of a difficult situation by a pastoral bishop – one of a small handful I’ve met in those years – and whose help, the creation of a full time post in a healing community and a vacant vicarage to live in for over three years, gave me time to be counselled, healed and then enabled to carry on elsewhere.
However, if a bishop thinks he shares the cure of souls with his clergy, his first priority is to make sure he supports them actively. When bishops have no relationship to their clergy ( which is certainly the case where I currently serve and common I think over some dioceses) they forgo the right to be respected. One former curate of mine, whom I have been supporting recently, who was put on a CDM for doing what his archdeacon told him to do years before, has been treated more than disgracefully – indeed, who calls bishops to account when they are not doing what is right, honest and true – and I write that knowing there are one or two, if they read these words, will know that sooner or later the beans will be spilt, their secrets are known and they will get found out.
May God bless you, encourage you who have been through the refining fires of adversity, flourish your ministry through the pains of brokenness, pour out His compassion upon others who are further behind in their pathways through pain, and may He use us, broken, bruised reeds, which are not destroyed but resurrected, renewed, refreshed, renovated, and re-formed.
“Encourage one another and build one another up.”
Maybe the bishop concerned should be given chance to respond?
This isn’t really about one Bishop. And I purposefully haven’t named them. There is of course more to this story than one short blog can say, and I have tried to indicate that I was in a bad place and worthy of being asked to resign. That is not the issue. The issue is the ongoing lack of care before, during and after all this … and that this experience is common.
I’m not really trying to put this out to a judge and jury to highlight anyone’s particular failings but rather looking to the system as a whole to say that too many clergy experience this kind of episode and too many fall out of ministry because of it. The attrition rate is astonishingly and shamefully high. We need to talk about these experiences and be honest about them so that we can do better.
In my story there WERE other aspects which were good. Just not good enough. I was given the name of a counsellor who provide their services for free for clergy. She saved my life over 18 months of counselling. but that was merely the diocese giving me her name and number. Nothing more. She in turn when I left wrote a scathing report for the senior staff to read as she reflected back to them what had happened to me.
I was also offered a financial package to help me move out of parish ministry with my children because I had no other means of support. So there were good things. This article though is about the issue of clergy leaving ministry and what brings that about and what we experience when we do. The almost universal response to this from other clergy has been to say that my experience is very very common.
The Bishop concerned is welcome to talk to me any time and correct any misunderstandings in my account. All I know for sure is that at no point did they turn up on my doorstep when I needed them to. And for me that is the bottom line.
It is well and good that there are other people who are asked to support clergy. And I referenced some of those conversations I had with good people. But to outsource the care of clergy to others is not good enough. I always understood that the primary person who was responsible for caring for clergy was the Bishop. If the Bishop is not caring for clergy then all they are doing is policing clergy. And that dynamic in relationship is not healthy at all.
If you were in a bad place due to your wife going off with another man and leaving you with 3 children I do not see how this makes you worthy of resignation. You cannot be held responsible for other people’s wrong actions.
Unfair dismissal. At least he was given money many jobs don’t do that when they ask you to leave. Unless this was a redundant position?
Thanks Chris, that’s kind of you. The reality was I was in a very bad place mentally and with that come behaviour and issues which are not great when you are in public office. The person I was back then is someone I’m ashamed of today. That said, the trigger for all that was of course my ex wife’s actions and behaviour and the circumstances forced upon me. Those things made worse by the lack of pastoral support and the pressure I was under as a vicar. It was just a classic mix of disaster.
There is a lot more to the story than I could tell in one short blog piece and in it I’m in no way trying to say I was purely innocent. I was a mess. Im very honest about that, repentant of issues in my life back then, and humbly aware of my own brokenness. What I needed though was pastoral support and guidance.
Unfair dismissal. Not many jobs ask you to leave AND pay you to do so though, apart from politicians.
Actually i think many organisations do exactly that. They are buying your silence. I suspect they know the financial cost of an unfair dismissal tribunal and offer a percentage.
A very interesting article. First of all no one is perfect, no organisation is perfect. But Yes church burn out is very common among preachers and lay people as well. But ministers need pastoral care as well and sadly pastoral care does not happen much any more in alot of churches
Is the system unchristian: performative systemic unchristianity? Broken?
Maybe if we expect, more, expect better, of the church, why do we? And what is the standard?
From where will learning come?
Maybe, St Paul, rather than being considered an exception, an outlier in regard to his financial circumstances, should be seen as an exemplar.
After all the church in secular language is a voluntary organisation, dependent on financial giving, in gratitude to God.
Thanks for the post. I was in ordained ministry for 15 years with a major denomination. I left, and for several years tried to reconnect into another paid pastoral role within the same denomination in which I was trained – even other church organizations. I thought I had good experience, a life-long calling, a close ministry network, a solid reputation etc but nothing, no contact no interest in me – it hurt. … It’s been multiple years now I have stopped applying … I’m getting use to not being needed as a Pastor of a church – so I have returned to volunteer ministry when opportunity arises to serve others … The longer I go in life the more I am accepting that God and man don’t want me to be a paid Pastor. At times, it feels like twenty years of my life wasted in training and paid ministry but I guess in God’s eyes it’s not a waste. Another thing that has helped me move forward is understanding God’s Grace more. Grace (for example gifts to be a pastor) is undeserved, and so I say to myself ‘if you don’t get it, you didn’t deserve it anyway so move on’. Moreover, knowing I deserve nothing helps me to be thankful for what I do have.
I think the words God spoke to Adrian Plass He would also speak to you – “Nothing is wasted”.
Thankyou Evan. Sadly this resonates with what I know of clergy who have left, and nearly left, active ministry. One was hung out to dry by the Diocese after a parish malcontent wrote a nasty letter to the Archdeacon, who claimed she had to stay ‘neutral’ whilst it was investigated. My ‘exit interview’ from curacy included an observation by the suffragan bishop that perhaps I wasn’t suited to ministry in the CofE.
Sadly, none of this should come as a surprise. 6 years ago an extensive survey found that half of clergy thought the CofE was ‘Bad’ or ‘Quite Bad’ at identifying and supporting their gifts and initiatives, whilst only 28% thought they were ‘Good’ or ‘Quite Good’. The only group where a majority thought the CofE was doing a good job was Archdeacons and Bishops. https://davidkeen.blogspot.com/2014/10/vicars-great-resource-squandered.html
Meanwhile the annual ministry stats show roughly 100 working age clergy leaving licensed ministry every year, with no record of why or where they are going. It surely costs less time, money and energy to support and retain one of us than it does to fully train up a replacement. The recent focus on more vocations is welcome, but part of the solution to declining clergy numbers is to keep the ones we’ve got.
I left the C of E this summer after 16 years in ordained ministry well before retirement age and with plenty left in the tank. I don’t really expect exit interviews or TLC. Who’s got time for that? The senior clergy are just too busy trying to manage the relentless decline and navigating the seemingly endless red tape for health and safety, safeguarding, reorganisation etc. (As well as sin my opinion- less worthy things like having to make speeches in the House of Lords that no one listens to). My former bishop regularly shares his diary appointments on Facebook and seems seldom to enjoy a day off. He’s a good man with far too much to do.
-in my opinion- excuse the typo.
It sounds like you chose to retire of your own accord, in good mental health. That was hardly the case with the original poster. If Bishops are so busy with other ‘work’ that they neglect the welfare of their flock, then clearly THEY are in the wrong job.
I would also remind you there’s a reason why God instituted the sabbath, so more fool anyone who chooses (not can’t) not to take a day off every week. Such behaviour is not to be applauded.
So you don’t think a Bishop should be making time for clergy going through crises at the very least? That’s not their job?
After having been in a few diocese myself and on the end of some really excellent pastoral care from bishops and arch deacons, some insensitive attempts at pastoral care, and cases where there hasn’t been any at all it’s not surprising there is a real mixed bag of experiences when people start sharing their stories. When it’s bad though that it can be immensely painful and where this is the case getting over such pain can end up being a rest of life journey. I get the feeling now that this whole issue of care for clergy whether in post or out of post is being talked about more and more and that diocesan documents reflect this in some of written commitments to care for clergy. How these are fleshed out is clearly still a bit hit n miss if this thread is anything to go by. Surely this needs addressing nationally and locally. I’m sure we all have come to know that at a structural level the C of E is not known generally for being fleet of foot and the current pressures upon many diocese where like old mother Hubbard there isn’t anything left in the financial cupboard isn’t helping. Those of us who have been and are in ministry know how best intentions can come a cropper to other always more urgent demands. My hope is that as the various experiences/voices are prayerfully and sensitively listened to, one reason why such as this is helpful, we might find a better expression of pastoral care on a broader scale. It’s always better to have a fence at the top of a cliff than only an ambulance at the bottom. In reality both are going to needed but maybe there are a few fence panels missing at the moment up top?
To take your metaphor a step further, the cliff itself is inherently dangerous. An ever reducing number of clergy are expected to maintain a system designed for twice the number of priests as there are now, and 1/10th the size of UK population. Casualties are inevitable because of the nature of the role. The CofE either needs to wholeheartedly embrace lay leadership of local churches, or re-engineer ourselves for life with 5000 frontline parish clergy, properly supported.
I think this is an atrocious story (even if from one side). I have been a Christian for 40 years and my wife is now ordained and licensed. Thankfully I have a small part time job and we have a house to retire to. The events however resonate in many ways.
I think the church gets really embarrassed by events like Evan’s. We can all deal with an acute illness and the church and hierarchy can “swing into action”. But pastoral difficulties and similar problems raise too may questions. People see how close they personally have come to the same situation.
My wife has had lies told about her by Rural Deans, and even archdeacons to the extent that she has had to challenge the record in her file and have changes made formally.
Her training incumbent in any other profession would never have been allowed a trainee and was promoted and left with only a couple of weeks notice.
The CoE routinely complains of lack of money but never teaches biblical standards of teaching and Bishops seem to think their main job is chairing enquiries and talking in the House of Lords, neither of which they are equipped for or seemingly any good at.
A housing development near us has a population now of about 10,000 people. The village church is in a field down a dead end road. It was suggested that a pioneer minister be planted into the development but nothing happened. The CoE church is now dead. Thankfully a small independent church has started of incarnational ministry.
I think the CoE will thankfully be dead in another 10 years and something new will arise, possibly under the CoE banner but probably not.
I think one of the questions behind this question is ‘can the Church of England become a learning organisation rather than a defensive one?’ because then there wouldn’t be fearful/ angry withdrawal from situations where things are going wrong. And on my first reflection I’m not sure we can because of the way we’re structured… In fact if I think of organisations that learn, they are truly team based (not isolated leaders like most clergy and perhaps even Bishops), where individuals don’t run the risk of being shamed for getting things wrong but everyone is committed to getting things right together through learning. They are organisations encouraged to be honest and everyone bears the load of learning and change… perhaps our structure means that we are not safe enough to become one?
My anecdotal experience sadly suggests that Evan’s experience is widespread in the Church of England. Why on earth should it take weeks for a bishop to see one of his own clergy in difficulty? Can you imagine any (actually) professional organisation behaving in this way? And does anybody think the Church of England sets an example of pastoral care to the nation when the reputation of the late Bishop George Bell remains under “a significant cloud” – despite a total lack of evidence of wrongdoing – and George Carey is still suspended from officiating but has never been told why?
But perhaps part of the problem is the increasingly controlling nature of the institution (look at its catastrophic overreach over the virus, which will end up by closing a third of congregations in the C of E) and the litigious nature of modern society. Pastoral care and line management in employment (which includes your home) sit uneasily together. Who will open up easily about personal and relationship problems to the person who has the power to suspend you or force you out of job and home? Is legal caution the reason why they want to keep their distance?
The Church of England needs to consider what is the actual justification for its one hundred or so, expensive bishops and their staff. As churches shutter up and paid jobs disappear, a rethink may be in order. The situation is very, very different from the apostolic church, where episkopoi were nothing other than local church leaders, involved in the daily business of spreading the gospel.
Thank you so much for being brave and writing this. It resonated so much with me after resigning from parochial ministry in 2013 after being bullied and burning out. No exit interview. Nothing. Prior to this, I had told the suffragan bishop in the diocese that I wasn’t coping. His words… “Get over yourself.”
Some time later, I applied for a post in the same diocese and went to see the new incoming diocesan bishop to tell him of my experience. He told me that I wouldn’t be shortlisted for any post in the diocese because I didn’t have PTO and not having a license demonstrated that “there was a problem with me.” I left his office in tears.
This all feels a bit unfair to the bishop involved. The op states that he acted in a way that it was right that he left his post. He was given money to do so. How far should support go, what if the act that led to dismissal was unlawful, should the church still support that person, what if it was immoral? Did the OP contact the bishop to say he was struggling, is the bishop supposed to know this. It feels a little bit like blame shifting onto already overwhelmed bishops. Without context this story doesn’t hold up as an account of unfair treatment.
“Before all this happened I had reached out to the bishop to say I was in a bad way.”
Without blaming the Bishop I think it’s possible to see that the structure, in some places, is overburdened or poorly focused. Bishops can indeed be overwhelmed with things to do but they are in a better, if not easy, place than parish clergy to change things and to set the tone.
I have witnessed excellent episcopal support when things go wrong… including a Bishop visiting the offender in prison and caring for his family. Since when did pastoral care not extend to the “sinner”?
With the greatest of respect I know the details of this story and it really is not a true reflection of what happened or of any misgivings of the church. Mistakes were made, but not as this story suggests.
Welcome V (or C),
I haven’t tried to hide my part in all this if you read the ongoing comments. I have openly admitted to making mistakes and falling apart. I’m not trying to hide the fact that I screwed things up too. but within all that there was an ongoing lack of care from the structures above when I asked for help. And the tale is not just of one moment, but through the beginning of being called to the CofE to the moment I left ministry. The story here is not trying to detail the rights and wrongs of any one moment but asking what is the cofe doing with clergy who go wrong, or fall apart or break under the strain of ministry (which is not just about me here but about others).
I’m glad you know the story and I’m sorry you have felt I was saying something here which doesn’t support that story. I would be happy to talk about that any time.
Thank you for your comment.
I wasn’t here trying to be unfair to any Bishops. That wasn’t the point of the post. The point of the post is about how I felt before, during and after all this sorry tale played out. This is about the cost of ministry on individuals. And whether you feel this story in and of itself “held up” (which wasn’t an achievement I was aiming for at any point) the issue being raised here is about basic humanity, brokeness, and pain which far too many clergy experience over and over and over again.
I haven’t given details of where or when this happened. I haven’t wanted to and I haven’t tried to undermine any Bishops in what I’ve said. None of that was my concern here. This is about the wider issue of how the CofE offers one thing and then delivers something else for all those going forward for ordination. The structures simply do not know how to, or are seemingly unable to do cope with, clergy who fall apart at the seams for whatever reason.
In specific answer to your concerns about the lack of details in my post (again, I wasn’t wanting to give a full blow by blow account – that wasn’t the purpose), I am confident that while the diocese did offer me various means of support such as financial help, the phone number of a counsellor, and willingness to accept me being signed off sick by the doctor, the bishop in this case did know for over 18 months of the extreme circumstances I was in. During this time I was also diagnosed with cancer (incorrectly as it turned out – or I was healed through prayer – one of the two) which was a further absolute kick in the nuts. At no point did I receive any personal direct support from the Bishop, as outlined in my piece above. He knew, hew knew multiple times over and over that I was in an extremely bad way. He never showed up. And that is the issue I’m wanting to raise. Are Bishops still the pastors of the priests? Could my own failings have been avoided if I had had proper pastoral guidance from a senior cleric who I looked up to? Why when transitioning from a post to nothing are there no support systems in place in the CofE? Why do priests not get picked up by the diocese they’re moving to automatically and invited in for a chat with the Bishop to get to know them and see what’s going on? Why, in other words, is it SO HARD for clergy to find support from bishops?
Again, this isn’t about any one specific Bishop or any one specific set of circumstances. I used my story (perfectly honestly) to highlight the deeper and wider issues clergy face. This story in that regard is NOT about me. It is about all of us and what the CofE is or is not doing by way of pastoring the priests.
I have had some exceptionally good experiences with Bishops as well. It is just those experiences are in the minority of my overall experiences of life inside the CofE. Sadly. And my experiences, as my inbox has proven this last week or so, are far from isolated.
We live in a world where it is quite normal for someone to spend 20 years in a secular profession, followed by 20 years in ministry. I long for the day when 20 years in ministry, followed by 20 years in a secular profession, will be considered just as unremarkable. It will have these advantages
– the overall age profile of the ministers will be much less old-age-heavy
– anyone joining the ministry will be told at the point of entry, what is the process and protocol for moving on
– moving on will embarrass the bishops much less, therefore they will be more willing to get involved in the process earlier.
I can’t help but be curious as to what the other side of this story is. It’s rarely one sided, simple or blameless.
What shouts loudest in this article is the silence in between the words.
What is it you’d like to know?
Just a reflection…
After this being posted publicly a few weeks ago my inbox has been flooded with clergy who are hurting. Some with stories they’ve shared. Some who are hurting so much they can’t share what’s happened.
The number of bishops or senior clergy who have got in touch?
I think that is the true point here Evan. Your story resonates because it is the experience of many in the Church and not just the Church of England. My overwhelming feeling is that we forget to love one another-we become obsessed with mission money success (obviously these things in their place are important) but we forget we are Gods family first and foremost. If any of those who let you down asked themselves-am I treating my neighbour as I would want to be treated? -perhaps these things would be easier. Anyway delighted things are better for you and most importantly you didn’t give up on Jesus xx