Friday, 24 June 2011

Life After Church Life

As I watched The Apprentice this week, I pondered the 'old order' of contestant who had to render themselves unemployed from their hitherto sparkling careers so that they stood a fighting chance of hopping into bed (in the business sense) with Sir Lord Alan Amstrad. They had clearly devoted the entirety of their (albeit short) working lives to climbing the greasy pole from the great heights of which they yielded to the greater possibilities of a hundred-grand and a job in Srallan's mail room. Even though the contestants were often of the Higher Order of Buffoons and The Attitude Enhanced, they had made substantial sacrifices to be contestants in this must-see abuse-a-thon. 

Then all but one 'Got Sacked' (sic), unto the oblivion known only to the failed contestants of Reality Telly World.  I have no theology of purgatory, but I imagine it to be a little like that - full of the nameless chumps who failed to win the public vote or please Srallan. 

There are similarities between these people and that very rare breed of people, among whom I now know several individuals, who are now no longer employed by the Church. These friends to whom I refer are ordained priests who are now not ministering in the Church of England for different reasons. Bloggers will be very familiar with one such priest, and his agonies.  

I write as one who is blessed with ecclesial employment and a rosy future, and as one who knows only too well that I cannot and must not ever take it for granted. Life happens, things happen and sometime priests are cast out of their ministries. Yes, there are many people who lose their jobs, many for no fault of their own, but the difference for priests in the Church of England at least, is that the consequences are perhaps far worse. In the first instance, and without exception, we have all given up something to take on a ministry. Most have set aside former (lucrative) careers, moved families through training and curacy who too have had to make very substantial sacrifices for the ministry at the centre of it all. We do that with our eyes open and mindful that we are called to do this. 

But what happens when it goes wrong? This is Petertide and hopes in many ride high for a glorious future and a life's ministry in God's vineyard, and so they should. But what happens when it goes wrong? Priests not only lose a job for which they sacrificed everything, they lose a home, and not just them, but their families too. Some (and a very small 'some') of us have other homes, but most don't. What does seem lacking in the system is a way to help such priests whose ecclesial demise range from acts of human stupidity, to unfortunate place at the wrong time to good old disillusionment. It happens because we are human, and whatever the rights or wrongs of the cause of the separation, I would argue that their exists a need on the part of the Church to do something affirmative for this small number of smashed up individuals. I know priests who have risked homelessness (an their families) because the fit or the timing of their ministry wasn't optimum. I judge no-one, neither church nor cleric, but pray for those on the wrong side of a line that few priests ever conceive of. I can only imagine that it is the absolute worst place on Earth. 


  1. A timely and thoughtful reminder to those of us perhaps too inclined to judge the behaviour of ordained priests, without considering the sacrifices made by them and their families to get them where they are.
    It is I imagine, fairly easy to toe the official line if you are one who likes to have all decisions made for you. If on the other hand you choose a different route and (heaven forefend) speak your mind, you are in danger of losing everything you have worked for.
    Perhaps having a clear idea of what is expected, while knowing how you want to do things and the ability to balance the two is what is needed.
    I feel very sorry for Jonathon but also as a lay individual can clearly see where and how often he oversteps 'the mark'.
    I too would like to see the church set up a rescue service for those who appear unable to fit into their chosen shoes.

  2. Thank you for such a thoughtful, thought provoking post. I am aware that things go wrong in ministry, and perhaps the least that can happen is a sideways move to another post, where you can do least damage. The alternatives, are so much worse. Being deprived of the ministry which you were called to, were acknowledged and affirmed as being suitable for must be totally disheartening. And as in the case of Jonathon, a real case for legal action, which he has chosen not to take up.

    I to lost a job, a secular one in the Army. I was in a prominent position when my marriage broke down. The consequences for me were drastic. Moved sideways to another, less prominent post in a training establishment, 400 miles away from my children. It was a totally damage limitation exercise on their part, and bugger the damage done to me, my children when I was unable to travel to see them.

    At least I still had a career, but the event was terminal. It cutoff any hopes of further advancement, leading to the termination of my contract at age 40. Thrown on the scrap heap and left to rot.

    Fortunately, I was able to find another job, to find a new spouse and eventually to be re-united with my children, but it was on the back of much pain, distress, expense and the feeling of worthlessness and guilt that can follow such a traumatic event. They say that it is like being bereaved and I can believe it.

    I had hoped that the church would be better than the army at this sort of thing, sadly, I appear to be mistaken. The evidence speaks for itself.

    When, Oh when will the Bishops (as it's their pastoral care which is failing) get their act together and make proper provision for those who fall on hard times. I hope and pray that it is soon.

    I am posting anonymous for obvious reasons.

  3. Off the top of my head I can think immediately of four priests who fall into this category -- and that's just in one diocese. Two were just a fundamental mismatch with the congregation to whom they were sent to minister, resulting in their having nervous breakdowns, and the less said about the other two the better (one because it's still too painful to talk about, and the other because I can't think of any charitable words to say about him any more!) All four of them were completely abandoned, if not outright blamed for their failings, by the then bishop.

  4. I went for your new job, VC. I didn't even get an interview. In fact, I was never invited to an interview for any of the many posts I went for in your new diocese.

    Sometimes, living in my virtual community is more painful than living in the real world. In the real world you can easily ignore the joys of others. On the Internet it is far more difficult to do that.

  5. J, that I accept, and I regret it. It was partly for that very reason why I thought about writing this post.

  6. It's not something I think other people should worry about too much. It's something that we have to get used to because this new media draws us closer together than most humans have been since the Middle Ages (or, when we were at school, maybe). In fact, no doubt we are slowly learning how to be glad when somebody else is happy and, you never know, we may learn how to put this before our individual jealousies. It's important that we do own up to the good stuff otherwise our prayer lists would be devoid of any thanksgiving.

  7. I live in the place you describe VC, or is that VV now? You are right that it is hell on earth, not helped by the fact that since leaving ministry I have not even had a phone call from the Bishop to ask if I am even still alive.

    In my case, it seems the punishment for 'speaking out' against senior clergy who are bullies, is to incur the wrath of the church hierarchy.Having been consistently bullied for three years the church did nothing to help. The fact that in my case, having been instrumental in the destruction of my vocation and marriage, that the said "Canon" is promoted adds to my pain and makes me even more convinced that the CofE is serious need of repentance.

    Leaving the church was one of the hardest choices of my life and cost me everything.Ostricised by family and friends for "giving up", despite the fact they had no idea how cruel the CofE can be. The fact is, no one wants to know you when you give up ministry - you become a social pariah, with rumours then running amok as to why you left, even though in my case I had done nothing wrong. Life indeed is hell on earth to be a priest without a flock or a purpose anymore. My friend, I pray you never have to suffer the experience that now is my daily life..



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