I have been hesitant to write this blog post. This is because, over the past few years, I have tried as much as possible not to talk about particular individuals in the church at Stapenhill, despite the difficulty it has caused in telling our story. I have where possible spoken of ‘the group who bullied us out’ or similar, in order to protect individuals. However, it is impossible to answer the false but widely publicised accusations by Church Society about me and my husband without an explanatory note about the Churchwardens. Given the very public nature of their false accusations and the way that Church Society have broadcast them, it is reasonable for me to respond, even if I do not have anything like as big a platform as Church Society. Those who read may note that although Church Society have (wrongly in my opinion) published the names of individuals from our parish, I have not done so.
In his Church Society document about my husband and me, Lee Gatiss includes quotes from individuals in Stapenhill parish, using the expression ‘The Churchwardens report that…’. This expression appears to give authority and reliability from responsible individuals to what follows in the report. However, it is misleading.
The Churchwardens quoted in the Church Society report were not the Churchwardens at the time that we were being bullied before we went on pastoral leave. The Churchwardens back in 2017-2018 were supportive of my husband (and me) and were appalled by the bullying towards us that they witnessed first hand. They commented that those involved in bullying were conducting a witch-hunt and destroying the church. Both Churchwardens at the time wrote in support of us to the Bishops of Derby and Maidstone and included witness statements in defence of my husband when the CDM complaint with false accusations was launched against him. Because the then Churchwardens were supportive of us, they received negative treatment from the group in church – one of them to the extent that she left the church after we went on pastoral leave. The woman quoted by Lee Gatiss became Churchwarden as a result of the other Churchwarden being driven out by the group who had bullied us.
With regard to the Churchwardens quoted in Lee Gatiss’s report, at least one of them was part of the group who bullied us out and is the woman who manhandled my children. We have direct witness reports from other parishioners that she was spreading false rumours about us, people witnessed to pressure from her to side with and support the group engaged in bullying us, and we have seen a number of letters from her to the Bishops and Archdeacon criticising us, whilst claiming to be supportive. She is not an independent or neutral party.
Lee Gatiss wrongly describes her as “elderly” in his report (presumably to create the impression that we were making ridiculous accusations against a vulnerable person?), but in 2018 she was in full time work and was not even of retirement age.
Throughout our time in Stapenhill, the female Churchwarden mentioned has regularly spoken to us using the expression, “People are saying that…”. Experienced incumbents and pastors will likely be familiar with this phrase from one or two individuals in their own churches. We were never able to ascertain who these people were – just that they were saying x, y and z, and that we should be taking note and acting. To us, it was anonymous complaint and criticism. As Dennis R. Maynard writes in When Sheep Attack (his book based on 25 case studies of clergy that were attacked by a small group of antagonists in their congregations), ‘Phrases such as “People are saying” or “I can’t tell you who” are out of order. People must own their own “concerns”. They cannot hide behind a veil of anonymity.’
Another relevant point to make is that, whilst the individuals concerned were Churchwardens back in April 2021 when they wrote to Lee Gatiss, both have since resigned before the completion of their term as Churchwardens and before the publication of the Church Society report. I understand that they resigned following a dispute in church involving a retired ReNew vicar who has recently moved in to the area and has been attending the church. I also understand that even though the two individuals had resigned as Churchwardens to the PCC / congregation, they still went afterwards – as Churchwardens – to see the Bishop of Derby. Given that in the Church of England, Churchwardens have a legal role, this requires some clarification.
The misinformation that the (now-resigned) Churchwardens quoted in the report have given to Church Society is aimed at ruining our reputation with its vague accusations. It is inaccurate and misleading, as my other posts on this website demonstrate. Church Society in turn has gone ahead and published misleading and defamatory information about us – unacceptable conduct for Christians. Why do Church Society leaders think that they have the right to do this?