This is a true story. A woman moved from a different part of the country and started attending a local church and then its bible study. At first she was friendly and empathetic towards the vicar and his wife – and friendly to others.
This woman encouraged the vicar’s wife to confide in her, but the vicar’s wife felt uneasy about this, so remained friendly, whilst not confiding in the woman. The woman also had another woman read the bible with her.
When people disagreed with the vicar, the woman encouraged people to speak to her and empathised with them, rather than encouraging people to sort things out with the vicar. The woman appeared to be a regular member of church and claimed to be a Christian.
When this woman realised that she could not gain the vicar’s wife’s “ear” and trust, she started to encourage others to distrust the vicar and his wife. She had a habit of dropping titbits in the ears of other parishioners.
Soon the vicar and his wife realised that church members were talking about them, but they didn’t know exactly what was being said. They realised there was hostility towards them, but they didn’t know why. Church members said things like, “I’ve heard things”, but wouldn’t explain. The lack of openness meant that the vicar and his wife could not address issues.
People who had previously been trusting of the vicar and his wife stopped being trusting. Some members started sitting at the back of church on Sundays with the woman concerned. The woman and her friends appeared to be “working the room” at the end of church.
Church members seen talking with the vicar or his wife at the end of the service would receive a phone call from the woman to “check if they were alright”, find out the topic of conversation and suggest that protection from the vicar might be needed.
Another person in the congregation said to the vicar and his wife that things at church had worsened since the woman had moved into the local area, and expressed the view that the woman was “stirring” things.
When Council or Church Warden elections were held, the woman repeatedly sent the same email to the vicar, telling him that he was not conducting the elections properly and that she thought it poor management. She suggested that it should be done differently. The vicar was confused, having followed denomination rules to the letter, and uneasy about being repeatedly sent the same email. The day before the election, the vicar received another intimidating email from the woman.
The woman befriended a friend of the vicar’s wife and spent time with her. She started to talk to the friend about her ‘concerns’ with the vicar and his wife. The friend of the vicar’s wife was confused and it caused her to doubt the vicar’s wife. The vicar’s wife felt isolated.
The vicar’s wife tried to ask her friend (who had been ill), “What is it?”, but didn’t get a clear answer. The friend’s husband told the vicar’s wife that the woman had been spreading rumours to the friend of the vicar’s wife. The vicar’s wife felt that she could not address the issues because from a pastoral point of view, she did not think it right to talk to her friend about another member of the congregation.
Things worsened for the vicar and his wife. They felt very isolated in church, but they couldn’t work out what was being said or why. When they spoke with another woman after the service, they noticed the other woman hanging around in the background, as if trying to listen.
Two other women spoke separately to the vicar and his wife, saying that they had received phone calls from the woman in question, to check whether they were okay, because they had been seen in church speaking with the vicar.
The bishop also told the vicar and his wife that he had received a letter from the woman concerned, expressing ‘concerns’ about the vicar’s management style and personality, but nothing specific.
After another member of church had been behaving in an antagonistic way and encouraging people to write to the bishop about the vicar, the woman asked the vicar to come round to see her because she was ‘concerned about people leaving church.’
The vicar came round to see the woman, but brought his wife, so that he was not seeing a woman on his own. The woman told the vicar of her extensive management experience and suggested that he should be putting her in positions of responsibility so that her skills were being used.
The woman also said to the vicar that he was being gossiped about and demonised in the parish and that it might be time for him to “move on”, as it reflected badly on the church. The vicar’s wife observed this.
The vicar’s wife pointed out that it was not really the woman’s place to tell the vicar to leave and that people’s gossip or slander was not the vicar’s fault. Very suddenly, the woman lost her temper with the vicar’s wife, shouted and denied having suggested that the vicar should leave.
The vicar’s wife quoted the exact words that the woman had said, pointing out that she had indeed told the vicar to leave. The woman admitted this. What puzzled the vicar’s wife was the woman’s attempt to deny something that she had plainly said a couple of minutes earlier, and that the woman behaved the whole time as if she was in charge of the vicar – although she was not.
The woman made a point of contacting the vicar and his wife when they were away on holiday to say that she did not like the vicar’s wife having positions of responsibility that she had already had for years. This was a non-urgent matter.
At a prayer meeting led by the vicar’s wife, the woman kept trying to cut in and undermine the vicar’s wife. She appeared to be encouraging others to do likewise. (One of the woman’s friends tried to take the notes from the vicar’s wife to stop her from leading the meeting. Then she told the vicar’s wife to keep the meeting short.) The woman objected to the content of the prayer meeting, although it had been done that way many times before and there had been no objections. In front of the group, she accused the vicar’s wife of removing someone’s name as the contact for a group, although the person concerned had already stopped doing that role. The vicar’s wife was finding this intimidating and felt that she was being accused of wrongdoing, but couldn’t work out what she had actually done wrong.
A bible study that had long met in the church hall suddenly relocated to the woman’s house. Three different reasons were given at different times for the change. When the vicar and his wife visited on separate occasions, they were treated with hostility by a number of the group. At one point the woman again lost her temper with the vicar’s wife, although she apologised for this afterwards.
A petition arose against the vicar and was kept at the woman’s house for people to go and sign. People came and told the vicar and his wife (and others) that they had been pressured to sign the petition and felt bullied if they had chosen not to do so. One recently widowed woman signed the petition, having been told by the woman that it would be good for the vicar. Afterwards she went out to her car and cried.
Later, a ‘serious’ complaint was made about the vicar. The woman in this thread was a ‘witness’ to the complaint, even though she was not in the same room at the time and a union rep told the vicar that the woman’s witness testimony was too interpretative and would not stand up in court. The woman had also helped to find out all the necessary information online so that the complainant could make a complaint.
The vicar’s lawyer said that he could not understand the substance of the complaint. He could not see what the supposed misconduct was in the complaint. During the complaints process, the bishop asked the vicar if the source of the complaints was the bible study group, now hosted by the woman. The complaint was dismissed, but the rumours and slander continued, as if the vicar had been found guilty.
In addition, the woman had said to one of the church wardens (who was supportive of the vicar) that she was “sorry for what was about to happen in church”. Needless to say, the vicar & his wife were on the receiving end of a campaign of bullying from a group. This kind of group bullying of an individual or a couple is also known as mobbing and is commonly used to drive a person out of a job or community.