In August 2021, after I had spent almost three years trying to get Bishop Rod Thomas and Church Society senior leaders to address their abusive behaviour towards me, Church Society declined to engage with me or apologise, but instead published a report about me and my husband. The report was a thinly veiled attack on us, containing information throughout that the Church Society leaders knew to be untrue and misleading.
The report wrongly blames my husband for a reduction in congregational giving. My husband’s predecessor was extremely well connected. There were a couple of wealthy families (one gave over £30K per year!), who moved to a different part of the country when my husband’s predecessor did. The income they gave meant that in the time of my husband’s predecessor, it was possible to to pay parish share every year and to employ staff. This meant that the parish share rose every year until it became unaffordable.
However, the giving from these few wealthy families was totally untypical of the parish or church, so the financial situation became far more difficult after their departure. Income in the parish is below the national average, the parish contains an area of deprivation, many in the church are on low incomes, on benefits or retired. I think that I am correct in saying that there are no doctors, lawyers, business owners etc. in the church, i.e. no higher income givers.
I do not understand why my husband is being blamed for the financial situation, namely the wealth of a very few people during his predecessor’s time and the relative lack of wealth in the church since then. A very long-term member of church (who died a few years ago) told us that there were problems with money and giving in the church before the time of my husband’s predecessor. I was living in this area and attending the church before I knew my now husband and before he came here. I remember looking for giving forms and literature at the back of church, but there were none, although there was a collection plate and envelopes. However, throughout his time as vicar, my husband has regularly taught faithfully about giving along with other aspects of the Christian life and made sure that appropriate systems are in place so that people are able to give.
Our PCC accounts during my husband’s tenure simply do not support the untruthful Church Society narrative that he slowly destroyed the church. According to the PCC accounts, the giving was fairly steady until the bullying towards us started around 2016 / 2017. At one point there was a deliberate campaign from those bullying us not to serve or give to the church, and then to blame us for that.
One of the Churchwardens (mentioned in the report) and also the complainant from the CDM complaint have long been involved with the finances and were well aware of the context. So why then did they provide a deliberately misleading picture? Why did the Church Society senior leaders not check out the truth of what the Churchwardens said before publishing untruths so widely? This matter alone raises questions about their trustworthiness.
Given Church Society’s claim to be contending for biblical truth in the Church of England, I am dismayed by their support for an unbiblical model of church with regard to money and giving. In parts of evangelical culture at least, we seem to have adopted a model from the business world, where we prize wealth and numbers in a church and use these as markers of success, as the prosperity gospel (sadly) does. Holiness (e.g. truthfulness, concern for justice, love, care for the vulnerable) seems to be less important for some of our churches and some of our senior leaders. I wonder what the Lord Jesus would make of Church Society’s attitudes as shown in their report.