Thursday, 23 January 2014

"Priest 'bullied' out of his Merseyside church"

Updated Saturday evening and Monday morning

Last September, Richard Blackburn, the Bishop of Warrington and Acting Bishop of Liverpool, established an episcopal visitation to the parish of St Faith’s, Great Crosby. The visitation was carried out by Bishop Stephen Lowe, and his report has now been published. Today’s statement from the diocese, Report on the Episcopal Visitation to St Faith’s Crosby, starts

A report of an episcopal visitation carried out by Bishop Stephen Lowe has found serious failings in the PCC and amongst the laity at St Faith’s Crosby. The report outlines major failings in the governance of the parish which has led to what can be described as a culture of bullying towards the Priest in Charge, Father Simon Tibbs.

The Episcopal Visitation was established by Bishop Richard Blackburn, The Bishop of Warrington and Acting Bishop of Liverpool in the wake of reports of difficulties at St Faiths. The Bishop instigated a six month visitation period for Bishop Stephen to thoroughly investigate concerns at the parish and produce a report.

Bishop Stephen report was presented to the PCC at a special meeting on Monday 20th January.
Bishop Stephen Lowe said “This has been a disturbing and distressing experience in the life of St Faith’s. I have found clear weaknesses in the governance structures at the church. Weaknesses that existed before Father Simon’s arrival. Weaknesses that have allowed a culture of bullying towards Father Simon from some elements of the PCC. The Diocese of Liverpool will need to consider its mentoring arrangements for priests in the light of this unhappy episode. However my main recommendation is that the Diocese of Liverpool takes firm action to restore good governance in the parish before considering the long term future of St Faith’s Crosby.”

The diocesan statement also details the “temporary measures to improve governance at St Faith’s Crosby”.

The Bishop of Warrington, the Rt Revd Richard Blackburn, is to act swiftly on the findings of an independent report into the governance at St Faith’s Crosby. The Bishop has announced that he has asked for the visitation process to continue for 18 months to enable stronger governance procedures to be put in place and deal with Bishop Stephen’s recommendations.

Bishop Richard has given licence to Revd Susan Lucas to act as Priest in Charge during this time. She will be strongly supported by Bishop Stephen Lowe. She will be charged to bring in measures that address the weaknesses in governance, reinvigorate the teaching of Christian giving and strengthen the sacred traditions of Anglo-Catholic liturgical worship so they become a meaningful expression of God’s love and mission. Bishop Richard has asked that this process should take no more than 18 months and he will closely monitor progress…

Bishop Stephen’s full report is available for download: Visitation Report.

The report has received extensive coverage in today’s local Liverpool and Crosby papers.

Jamie Bowman Liverpool Echo Priest ‘bullied’ out of his Merseyside church by powerful drinkers’ club among his flock
Jamie Bowman Crosby Herald Damning report reveals culture of bullying at Crosby church

It has also attracted the attention of the national press

The Telegraph Priest ‘bullied’ out of parish for challenging binge drinking culture among worshippers
BBC St Faith’s Church Crosby priest was ‘bullied’ out of parish
Luke Traynor Mirror Vicar ‘bullied out of his job by right-wing drinkers in his flock’
Liz Hull Daily Mail Priest bullied out of his C of E parish after nine months after banning congregation’s ‘un-Christian’ boozy sessions after services

Update
The PCC has issued a press release this afternoon (Saturday) which can be read here:

Press Statement
from the Church Wardens of St. Faith’s Great Crosby
re the Episcopal Visitation report by retired Bishop Stephen Lowe

The report of Stephen Lowe purports to be ‘independent’, but is clearly subjective and opinion based. The overwhelming majority of those present at the Congregational Meeting on January 20th felt that his was a grossly distorted and one-sided view of the situation. His report made sparse reference to the carefully considered answers submitted by the PCC to the Diocese’s Articles of Enquiry. A report detailing the responses of the congregation to Stephen Lowe’s ‘findings’ is being submitted to the Diocese and we shall be requesting that this is also published on their website as a matter of public record.

The “Review of PCC Governance at Crosby, St Faith’s” referred to in Bishop Lowe’s report is now available online here.

Monday update

Patrick Sawer in The Telegraph Merseyside’s ‘Cyber Priest’: ‘Thou shalt not drink wine in church’

Posted by Peter Owen on Thursday, 23 January 2014 at 8:44pm GMT | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England | News
Comments

This is the church I once attended
I wish I was surprised by any of this, but I am afraid I am not
There is a vicious culture of opposition to any change and the methods of sidelining anyone who tries it are legendary.
Many people will have to stand aside if there is any possibility of renewal
The full report is on the diocesan website

Posted by: Mike Homfray on Thursday, 23 January 2014 at 11:38pm GMT

Perhaps as an independent 'visitor' Bishop Stephen should learn to use more balanced language when writing a report. The use of exclamation marks is not helpful. The single most unhelpful contribution to any process of reconciliation and constructive dialogue in the future between the diocese and the parish is the tone and unprofessional way in which this report is written. Father Timms failings are made light of in a situation where he has the responsibility to treasure & nurture the congregation committed to his charge. The failings of members of the congregation, and the Churchwardens in particular, are rehearsed again and again. If they have exhibited a poor theology or a poor understanding of the Church then make mention of the Ministry Team's failure to teach & instruct. How long has this 'culture' been fostered and by whom? Don't just blame the Laity. Let the previous priests, the Area Dean, the Archdeacon, and the Bishops acknowledge their repeated failings as well.

Posted by: Commentator on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 12:05am GMT

What a sad situation. The problem of a "theology of the Church that sees St X’s as a social club for its members who enjoy Y worship of a Z kind but have little interest in either Church growth or mission to the community in which they are set." would be a challenge to any priest however gifted.

Posted by: Alastair Newman on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 11:12am GMT

Simon Tibbs is a brilliant and charismatic personality. Any Church or church should be delighted to have him. Although himself liberal Anglo-Catholic, he is committed to proper provision for 'traditionalists'.

Contrary to one of the newspaper reports he read English at Newcastle University (and sat in on one of my Latin classes, though I'm not complaining about omission of that key fact).

Posted by: John on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 11:15am GMT

I agree with Commentator -- although many of these shortcomings are ludicrously predictable. If these "visitations" are to result in public reports of this kind, they need to be independent, and not conducted by fellow clergypersons. Whether they feel it or not, they have a conflict of interest, and even the best of reports will not be immune from such charges.

Posted by: AndrewT on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 11:21am GMT

The bullying OF clergy is often not dealt with at all by senior staff. Indeed they often collude with it as they seem to be terrified of pointing out to senior lay people in a church that they have any responsibility at all for what happens there.

Posted by: Pam Smith on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 12:59pm GMT

I agree with Andrew T and Commentator. The investigation should have been carried out by an independent body and its findings not made public. In the circumstances of this visitation, the lay people interviewed by the bishop perhaps ought to have been offered representation and warned that he intended to publish his findings. Had they known about the bishop's conflict of interest and subsequent publication, would they have agreed to give evidence? I doubt it. Could there be misrepresentation/data protection/confidentiality issues - to say nothing of damaged reputations?

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 1:09pm GMT

@JillArmstead: you would hope that the Diocese has been well advised about publishing the report, but having had some experience of the kind of legal advice that diocesan staffers are capable of producing, that hope might be forlorn.

The report says that notes were not taken, but then goes on to make claims about who did what. Should those claims be disputed, there being no documentary evidence to support them, there is effectively a presumption of libel under English law. Moreover, a report such as this would not have any privileged legal status to protect it against charges of libel, particularly given the fact and manner of its dissemination.

Posted by: AndrewT on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 2:51pm GMT

St. Faith's church Great Crosby has been grossly misrepresented.

Far from having an "after service drinking culture", the most you'll get after a service at St. Faith's is a cup of tea or coffee, (fair trade of course), and a bikkie.

An optional glass of wine, (as well as the choice of fruit juice, tea or coffee), was only ever served on extra special occasions such as parishioners' birthdays ending in a 0!

It was on these occasions that Father Simon forbade the serving of alcohol.

Posted by: betrayed anglican on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 3:22pm GMT

I wish all those critical of Fr Timms and the visitation would have the decency to use their names rather than hide behind a cloak of anonymity. Do the decent thing, folks...

Posted by: Simon Butler on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 4:36pm GMT

I agree with Betrayed. Also constructive help and guidance to a priest clearly out of his depth has deliberately been portrayed as bullying. This whole issue is the result of those with their own agenda ignoring sound advice by installing an inexperienced novice in a busy and diverse joint benefice, thereby doing immense harm to the priest and his flock and passing the buck.

Posted by: Alex on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 4:52pm GMT

In response to Simon Butler, I have always chosen to use the name Commentator on this site. I am not hiding in order to comment on St Faith's Church, the Visitation, or Father Tibbs. I wish Mr(?) Butler would have the decency to respond to the comments rather than attack individuals.

Posted by: commentator on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 5:05pm GMT

Somewhat taken aback by the publication of this, as others are here.

I suggest this thread is taken down. It is probably too late to do anything pastoral or sensible for the parish.

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 6:24pm GMT

I share Simon Butler's view that if people are going to comment in the way they have, they should have the decency not to hide behind a pseudonym. This seems scarcely in line with the teachings of the Gospel. As a matter of course, I give little credence to the views those who are afraid to stand up and be named. I am distressed that some commentators seem to making the default reaction, so common in cases of bullying, of blaming the victim, Simon Tibbs.

While there may be something to be said for not having a cleric conduct such a Visitation, there seems to be an implied criticism of Bishop Stephen who seems to have done a careful job. The report is well phrased and judicious and I disagree entirely with Commentator about the style and tone of the report. The fact remains that it is Stephen Tibbs whose name is now widely circulated in the press while everyone else in the parish retains their anonymity. He is the one who is being doubly victimised since his shortcomings are made public. I agree that there may be a case for not publishing the report.

I know nothing of St Faith's or of Simon Tibbs but the situation is all too recognisable. I am not a cleric but I am the son of one and I can remember my father advising young clergy in similar situations fifty years ago when people were much more deferential to the clergy. I have two clerical friends whom I know to have been bullied because they have wanted to introduce change and open up the church. I am a retired University Academic and I have seen similar cases of bullying - but the university had clear procedures for dealing with it. Indeed,I have seen similar reports to this in universities and colleges. The CofE does not yet seem to have appropriate procedures in place.

The report is critical of both Simon Tibbs and the Diocese as well as members of the parish. It is clear that the church as a whole needs to address the issue of the bullying of clergy both by parishioners and senior clergy - it happens a lot more than one thinks. It is also clear that the Diocese needs to do a lot of work in supporting and mentoring clergy. It does not seem as though Simon Tibbs was well-supported. Most dioceses are woefully inadequate at doing this and this needs addressing urgently.

I think people do not realise how lonely clergy can be and how exposed they are. Many parishioners do not seem to have a respect for their priest's needs for privacy and support. This whole situation discredits the church. I would hope that the parishioners will take to heart the need to follow the teachings of the Gospel and exercise charity and humility.

Daniel Lamont

Posted by: Daniel Lamont on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 10:34pm GMT

My name is Andrew Wilshere and I am more than happy to be identified with criticism of the CofE's handling of complaints.

Posted by: AndrewT on Friday, 24 January 2014 at 11:42pm GMT

Mike Homfray. I think the whole Report is not on the Diocesan website. The report mentions Appendices which are not included unless I am looking in the wrong place.

However, the issues of confidentiality raised here are very important. I hope all those mentioned who are identifiable gave their permission.

Posted by: Anne Lee on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 9:48am GMT

Bishop Lowe's report refers to only one appendix, although it is mentioned in two places. It is the review of PCC Governance by the area dean. It is now on the diocesan website and is available online here:

http://www.liverpool.anglican.org/userfiles/files/News/2014/St%20Faiths%20Crosby%20Governance%20Review%20by%20Canon%20Roger%20Driver.pdf

I have added a link to it as part of today's update to my article.

Posted by: Peter Owen on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 8:27pm GMT

@Daniel Lamont: I take your point re. anonymous comments, although in the context of this story it's hardly surprising that those close to the situation don't want to identify themselves in a forum such as this.

With respect, you seem to object to the criticisms made in this thread (of the report and of its publication), but you seem also to agree with those criticisms at least to some extent. It is also worth noting that the only reason the priest's name is now circulating widely in the press is because the Diocese chose to publish the report in the way that it did.

You are, of course, quite right that bullying is a serious matter. One of the problems, though, is that the report doesn't actually document anything sufficient to support the claim. It is also a claim which is only half-made, at the very end of the report; but this turns into an outright assertion in the accompanying press release.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 10:45pm GMT

(PS: The report also makes a false claim on page 8, not to have used the word "bullying" in the body of the report; it is in fact used, on page 4.)

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 10:48pm GMT

Daniel. Have a look at St Faith's web site you may find out something about this congregation. The fact is that this document was published in the press on Monday afternoon, before the wardens and congregation had sight of it. The enquiry was conducted without notes being taken nor any third independent party being present, by a person with an obvious conflict of interest. The findings were produced in December solely from the memory of a 70 year old. The PCC and congregation were given the opportunity to answer a list of questions put by the diocese. The replies were collated and presented to the Bishop. THESE WERE NOT MADE PUBLIC, they have been sat on. By your own admission you do not know St Faiths or Simon Tibbs so I fail to see why
you think you can sit in judgement without the full facts which will be made public in due course. There is more to this than has been in print.

Posted by: Alex on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 11:00pm GMT

In Reply to Mike Homfray. No! people didn't give permission to be named in public. They were at no time before or after the interviews informed that the report would be made public. The report was given to the press on Monday afternoon BEFORE the wardens PCC or congregation had sight of it. The findings of the PCC and congregation questioners have been sat on.

Posted by: Alex on Saturday, 25 January 2014 at 11:20pm GMT

In response to comments made by Andrew Wilshere and Alex, may I respectfully ask that they read my post again. I was very careful NOT to sit in judgement. From his response, I take it that Alex is, if not a member of the congregation, at least close to it. Clearly what he saw as constructive advice was not read in that spirit. I simply said that the situation was all too recognisable. I have offered no judgement on St Faith's per se and, yes, I did look at the parish web-site. I did say that I could see that there was a case for the report not being published and I agree that it was wrong that it was published before the wardens and PCC had sight of it. I regret that Alex makes ad hominem and ageist remarks about Bishop Stephen. Is this a case of shooting the messenger? The conduct of the review and the publication of the report are two quite separate matters.

I was trying to be even-handed but clearly feelings are so inflamed that this is not possible. If you re-read my post again, you will see that my major point is about the bullying of clergy in general and the need for them to be given proper support. I still feel that Simon Tibbs is the one who is publicly named and exposed to criticism and, no matter what, is deserving of support. I stand by my comments about bullying and would commend people to read Malcolm Round's post 'Love Your Church Minister' (there is a link in today's round-up) since he reinforces my point.

Daniel Lamont

Posted by: Daniel Lamont on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 12:25am GMT

Thank you, Daniel. Reading through the range of comments again, it strikes me again just how silly it was to publish the report. As you rightly point out, it exposes the priest in question to further distress while simultaneously antagonising the church community whose co-operation is essential to resolution.

On that note, I think it's fair to mention that many cases of bullying by clergy are brought to the attention of bishops each year. I'm not aware of any cases that have resulted in the kind of public denunciation of those clergy that in this case has been levelled at the Crosby congregation. This mismatch is what I mean by a conflict of interest, and why it is so self-defeating to have clergy investigating their colleagues' complaints.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 8:54am GMT

I take issue with Daniel Lamont on two points: firstly, the Bishop's report was far from 'judicious' if that word means 'showed good judgment'. An employer who put himself in the position of judge and jury following an undocumented investigation carried out by himself would likely find himself facing litigation.
The PCC members' names can all be found on the Charity Commissioners website:so much for anonymity.
I make no judgment about what happened at St Faiths - but natural justice - i.e. the right to a fair and unbiased hearing appears to have been overlooked by the bishop.

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 3:40pm GMT

A fact finding exercise to get under the surface of a situation with a view to private attempts at reconciliation has a rather different dynamic from one which is published with the intention that there are consequences. There are huge questions to be asked about "due process" here, and the expectations of evident fairness in public criticism are very high. It is possible that the enquiry got somewhere close to the truth of things, but I think it will prove hard to use this report as a basis for action.

Reading St Paul's first letter to the Corinthians this morning put me in mind of a very different way of addressing problems in congregations.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 5:14pm GMT

This could run and run so I will make my last contribution to this thread. 1) We will have to disagree about the word 'judicious' and whether or not the inquiry was fair and unbiased. 2) Bishop Stephen is not an employer. He is a retired bishop and is not listed on the Diocesan web-site as an assistant bishop. 3) It appears to be a moot point as to whether clergy are legally employees in the normal sense. Members of the PCC are not employees of the diocese.4) This was not, anyway, an investigation concerning employment matters. It was an episcopal visitation 'to thoroughly investigate concerns at the parish and produce a report'. Simon Tibbs remains an employed priest. 5) On the matter of anonymity, members of the PCC are not referred to by name in the report, which is what I was referring to, and a brief look at the press coverage indicates that they are not named there. Key names are also on the parish web-site.

On the matter of publication, it was clearly wrong that the PCC were not told that the report was to be published and that they did not see it before it was published. I now believe that it should not have been published at all.

What has got lost in all this is my substantive point which is that clergy are often bullied and that Dioceses need to be much proactive in supporting bullied clergy and in providing mentors and counsellors for clergy. This point occupied the bulk of my original post. This is the general matter which needs to be addressed.

Daniel Lamont

Posted by: Daniel Lamont on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 7:02pm GMT

My name is Jackie, I am on the PCC at St. Faiths, I won't overly comment on any of the above, just to say I am so disillusioned on many levels, the family of St. Faiths have been let down so much by the Diocese,
I'm sure most of you have read the statement issued by the Wardens, I would ask you to be patient before passing judgment in the hope that the truth will be made public, people have been asked to put their thoughts in writing about the biased one-sided report revealed in Monday's meeting, I can say it is one-sided because St. Faith's findings were not read out there is so much more to this, I would love to share my written answer to this report but I think it would be better to wait until it's been received by the investigating panel, so to bring this to a close I would like thank people for their continued support and prayers it's much appreciated.

Posted by: jackie on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 7:45pm GMT

As a fellow parishioner of Jackie, I totally echo what she has said, and thank her for posting this. It is easy to sit in judgement without having all the facts. Your prayers would be appreciated at this difficult time x

Posted by: Judith on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 9:15pm GMT

Jackie
My prayers for everyone caught up in this episcopal fiasco.

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 9:45pm GMT

@Daniel: I don't think that your substantive point was missed, but it probably escaped comment because I doubt there is anyone here who disagrees that bullying of, and by, clergy is a problem in the church and that a) more needs to be done to prevent it and b) more managerial and pastoral support needs to be offered in the event that it happens.

I don't see how publishing reports of this nature can ever form a constructive part of that managerial and pastoral ministry, though.

Posted by: Andrew Wilshere on Sunday, 26 January 2014 at 10:00pm GMT

Andrew Wilshere is right in regard to your substantive point, Daniel. We all know parishes where the tail is determined to wag the dog with miserable consequences for the priest and some parishioners.
For many CofE parishes it seems the church is a social construct perhaps encouraged by the liberal tradition of providing religion-lite so as not to frighten off the punters. Imposing authority becomes a problem.
Would The Clergy Disciplinary Measure (given that 'discipline' embraces 'capability') have enabled the diocese better to deal with the problem at St Faiths?

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 7:37am GMT

Jill, I don't disagree with the thrust of your point but I dissent from any notion of dogs and tails within Christian communities.

Posted by: Hugh Valentine on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 9:12am GMT

Quite so, Hugh!

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 10:27am GMT

Jill, the Clergy Discipline Measure does not actually cover capability matters and procedures - there is a separate capability procedure under the Clergy Terms of Service legislation ("Common Tenure"). CDM is restricted to issues of misconduct.

Posted by: tommiaquinas on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 11:43am GMT

Thank you for the information tommiaquinas. I wonder if the diocese is familiar in practice with all forms of dispute resolution. In this case, a visitation was probably right in respect of the PCC governance failings but for reasons of absence of neutrality, inappropriate for investigating clergy capability matters and the subsequent relationship breakdown at St Faiths.

Posted by: Jill Armstead on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 7:17pm GMT

A sad story within which anyone who has worshipped in an Anglo-Catholic parish will probably find some resonances and say 'There, but for the grace etc.'
One question which doesn't seem to have been dealt with is what was the role of the patron (St Chad's, Durham according to the parish website) and the parish representatives in presenting and accepting Fr Tibbs. If change was being called for in the job specification, did they not realise the difficulty this would cause with the congregation's conservative culture? If they did realise, but wanted change nevertheless, they should have ensured more support was provided for Fr. Tibbs during the inevitable conflict which resulted.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Monday, 27 January 2014 at 8:56pm GMT

Malcolm,

Given Fr Tibbs was not an Incumbent, the Patron and Parish Representatives had no "formal" role. They may have been informally consulted, but a P-i-C is a Diocesan Bishop's appointment.

Posted by: tommiaquinas on Tuesday, 28 January 2014 at 10:37am GMT

Thank you, tommiaquinas, for pointing out what I had stupidly failed to notice. In which case, the same questions could be asked of the Bishop (since retired) and of his agents.

Posted by: Malcolm Dixon on Wednesday, 29 January 2014 at 4:01pm GMT

Point to ponder: If you were a young enthusiastic guy looking to spread the word of God...would you go into the CoE with its conservative/traditional culture or...do your own thing and start up your own home-plant church group?

Posted by: Matthew on Friday, 31 January 2014 at 4:12am GMT

I attend a Church in the area. Some years ago I uncovered the fact that considerable funds had been fraudulently removed from the Parish Funds.
The Priest and members of the Standing Committee were clearly involved. The Priest resigned and neither I nor one of the Churchwardens could obtain any action or help from the Diocese indeed the reverse was true. They will cover up for their own every time. Is that Christian? No! Liverpool Diocese is like a Trollope novel

Posted by: Justice on Saturday, 1 February 2014 at 8:04pm GMT

There was a problem between St. Faith's and Simon Tibbs but the Diocese preferred to use the politicians' trick - if you do not want to face the real problem, Discredit the opposition". Some of the information given to the press was a lie although, unlike Bishop Lowe, here there is proof. The congregation and officers have been left bewildered and some ill. Is this Christianity?

Posted by: Arthur Farqarharson on Sunday, 2 February 2014 at 11:13am GMT

It may be worth updating this thread. St Faith's home page has two new announcements; one to say that they have sent a response to the report to the Diocese, and the other to say that both churchwardens have now resigned because they have no trust in the Bishop whose officers they are supposed to be.

Posted by: John Scrivener on Monday, 10 February 2014 at 9:13am GMT

Reply to John. Indeed. I gather that a request was made to the diocese to publish the response to the report, as was a request to publish the findings of the PCC and other offended members to the original enquiry.

To date no such publication has been made, which in the light of the indecent haste of the publication of the Bishops report, before any member of St Faiths had sight of it; would seem to be unfair, undemocratic, and flies in the face of any semblance of Christianity.

It is understandable that the wardens would stand down and not wish to officiate for someone they could neither respect or trust.

St Faiths' is getting great support locally and abroad from people who have known them for a very long time.

Posted by: Max on Tuesday, 18 February 2014 at 2:58pm GMT
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