Chapter 53 ... Public Humiliation.
Later in 2003 Nick and Shirley's followers called a congregational meeting of St. Luke's parish. This was not legal under church law, but we were beginning to find out that they thought they were above the law. We were about to find out that diocesan officials also considered themselves above the law. If they wanted a thing, that was enough to make it right, and anything or any one who stood in the way of what they wanted could rightly be brushed aside.
I did not realise at that time that I was now entering a much wider ideological battle. In today's terms it is the battle between traditional conservative morals and progressive socialist morals. But if those terms were in use then I certainly did not know them. I was merely upholding a system of ethics I believed in against what I saw simply as individuals and groups behaving badly. I did not know that it was symptomatic of a widespread moral cancer.
I naively thought I was just up against Nick, Shirley and their followers. I was soon to find that this moral cancer infected people who held opposite views of doctrine and “churchmanship” and made them resonate with each other. I was soon to be fighting the whole diocesan hierarchy!
I hope to expand on this issue of conflict of ethical systems next post because it is the key to understanding not only some of the things about Nick and Shirley, but the looming conflict with the archbishop.
Back to the illegal congregational meeting: I found out about the meeting, and decided that trying to stop it would be as futile as King Canute trying to stop the tide, so I attended it and just asserted my right to be chairman. The meeting was stormy to say the least. The “superspirituals wanted firstly to put the boot into me as much as possible and secondly to get a motion of “no confidence” in me as vicar. I would not let them put the motion as that is just not how the Anglican Church works.
At one stage Jane xxx jumped up and demanded a vote to replace me as chairman. That is within the rules so I put her motion and it was resoundingly defeated. The message was clear: the “superspirituals” did not have the support of most of the congregation - even at a meeting they had called themselves and stacked with their supporters.
The next week I was summoned to see the Archbishop and chastised for not doing exactly what the “superspirituals” wanted. The fact that what they had done in calling the meeting and what they wanted to do with a motion of “no confidence” were unlawful were irrelevant to him. I was rapidly realising that the Archbishop had firmly taken sides!
There is one more interesting thing to relate about the congregational meeting.
Brian was one of the new leaders who had stepped up once Nick and Shirley's people walked oput of all their leadership roles. He had been a friend and golf partner of Nick. But he came to believe that Nick was wrong and supported me. To see him develop from a quiet but very devout person-in-the-pew to a spiritual force to be reckoned with was awsome. I'll tell you more about him later.
At the meeting he made two requests. First was to let the motion of no confidence to go ahead – in the confidence that it would be soundly defeated as indeed the motion to remove me as chairman had been. I refused this because even though it would work in my favour to have this vote – as it would have been - go my way, it was a bad precedent because it was not how the Anglican Church worked.
Brian's second was a strange request in some ways but quite logical - if politically suicidal - from the point of view of a devout Christian and one who was a trained “Prayer Counsellor”. He went to the microphone and said: “David, are you prepared, right now, in front of us all, to ask the forgiveness of everyone you have hurt?”
I was a little taken aback. Did he know what he was asking? It flashed through my mind first the political inexpediency of doing what he asked - I am no politician but even the proverbial babe-in-the-woods could see that pitfall! But I knew Brian was thinking as a Christian and a counsellor. then I also recalled how Jesus had taken a towel at the last supper and washed his disciples’ feet.” The example of Jesus won for me. I said: “Yes, I will.”
A number of Nick and Shirley’s supporters came up and I knelt in front of each one in turn, before the whole congregation and asked their forgiveness for anything I had done which had hurt them.
Shirley refused to take part. Nick came but drowned out my words shouting that it was all a facade and that I had not really repented.
He later put in writing what I think he was then shouting over my words. It was to the effect that he was like a girl who had been sexually abused by her father. The father might ask for her forgiveness, but she could not forgive him until he had repented.
I feel shocked even writing this now, that Nick could think for one instant that him being dismissed from a one-quarter-time post was in any way like a girl being raped by her father! But he did. This mind-boggling self-importance perhaps gives a true insight into his soul.
Yes this was indeed public humiliation, particularly when some merely used it as an occasion to mock me, but I rather think Jesus would have done it had he been in my shoes.
Now I come to a series of public humiliations brought about by the church hierarchy. These actually chronologically straddle the meeting described above, but it seemed efficient to lump them together.
I said that there had been a bishops agent doing what he called “taking the temperature” of the parish. I thought he said at one particular meeting that he was finishing up and sending a report to the bishop. I wrote asking the bishop for a copy of this report. He never answered my letter. I was later asked by the “superspirituals” in vestry what was in the report and I answered truthfully that I did not know because I had not been shown this report. They wrote to the archdeacon. Next I find a letter from the archdeacon being read out condemning me for not being honest and telling vestry what was in the report! Interestingly enough some years later, when we were at suit in the Supreme Court, the Archbishop declared under oath that the diocese had no such report. Yet they had said publicly back then that I was less than honest for not divulging what was in this non existent report!
I also said that I had asked the bishop to tell me if he thought I should not sack Nick, and the only answer I got was through his investigator who said “You’re the vicar, its up to you.” However now the bishop conveniently forgot that minor piece of truth and said how wrong it was for me to have sacked Nick. The Bishop now wrote to me and suggested I resign from the ministry. I wrote back and said “Under the laws and customs of the Anglican Church no bishop can lawfully ask a vicar to resign unless the vicar has been tried and found guilty of misdoing, therefore I decline to resign, and ask for your support as my bishop”.
The bishop in my view should have acted in accordance with the laws and customs of the Church and given me public support. He did the very opposite. He wrote to vestry and had read out in church letters in which he said he had asked me to resign and that I had refused. The letters were clearly couched to insinuate that he had the right to do this and I was “disobeying” a lawful order, which was not true. As you may imagine this gave a great deal of ammunition to the “superspirituals” who were then running an incredibly energetic and thorough campaign to destabilise the parish and foster disaffection.
When it came time for the AGM in November 2003 the Archbishop sent the archdeacon “as an observer” on the pretext that, as he said “I have had complaints about your conduct of Vestry meetings and concern has been expressed to me about what may happen at the annual general meeting…”
The archdeacon came not as an observer but as an agitator. He seized every opportunity to interrupt the flow of the meeting to rabble-rouse. Strong words - but that is what he did!.
At the start of the meeting he gave a speech. In it he said “David Greentree has been asked by the Archbishop to resign. He has refused. He says the archbishop cannot under church law tell him to resign.” Then he raised his voice and hands to the crowd and said “We are not under law but under grace!” Cheers, whistles and applause from the supporters of Nick and Shirley who were out in force. The archdeacon turned to me smiling at his own success.
Can I just stop for a moment? I would like to assume that all my readers would recognise that his “we are not under law but under grace” mis-quote from the bible is so bad that it would make the worst sort of American travelling snake-oil preacher-man blush! But since many of the hierarchy didn’t see it that way, please bear with me while I explain the obvious.
At the place in the letter to the Romans where Paul put these words, he had already pointed out that under the Law (of Moses) “Whoever fails to keep all of this law in under God’s curse. He had also pointed out very forcefully that every human being (save Jesus) had failed to keep this Law and so were rightly under God’s curse. But wonder of wonders, God had acted in the person of his Son to take our place so that we were now brought into the sphere of God’s grace - his unearned benevolence and good favour, and not only forgiven but adopted as God’s sons and daughters with the promise of an eternity with him in heaven. Then what he actually wrote was: “Do not let sin rule over you because we are not under law but under grace”
Would this archdeacon or any of those who cheered him say to the police officer who pulled them over for running a red light; “Its all right officer, I’m and Anglican, I’m not under law but under grace!” I’d like to see them try!
A Christian is not free from obeying the laws of the land. An Anglican minister is not free from obeying the laws of the church, which firstly they have sworn before God to obey, and secondly have been made by Anglicans over the years for the good government of the church.
The archdeacon’s attempts to de-rail the annual meeting - and it ran for a very turbulent three hours - had the intended effect.
In the elections - and I point out here that Nick and Shirley had all their supporters enrolled to vote, and had them at the meeting primed how to vote (I know that because several “swinging voters” told me they had been rung up by Shirley & Nick supporters and told who to vote for) and with the archdeacon blatantly advocating for them - Nick and Shirley’s supporters ended up with two thirds of the places on vestry. Needless to say they used their majority in Vestry during 1994 to try to make my life hell and to disrupt as much as possible the normal functioning of the parish.