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The case of the Crystal Methodist

29 November 2013

How are the mighty fallen: the double-page spread exposing the Revd Paul Flowers in The Mail on Sunday

How are the mighty fallen: the double-page spread exposing the Revd Paul Flowers in The Mail on Sunday

THE keenest enjoyment of the Paul Flowers affair, for anyone who deals with lots and lots of PR, came from an old copy of PR Week UK, which turned up on the net with an article by Paul Flowers in it.

The blurb at the end was one for the ages: "Thought Leadership credentials: The Reverend Paul Flowers is unique among his corporate peers. A Methodist minister, he brings a wealth of social experiences to his role in chairing the Co-operative Bank, as well as his experience in business. A lifetime serving the public includes leading work tackling drug abuse."

Yes, indeed. And here, according to the Mail on Sunday, are some of the texts he sent to his dealer: "How's your 17 year old? I reckon that with lots of coke and ket he just might get curious at the party!!"

A week later, he texted: "In London today speaking @Commons committee. Will probably be on television. Looking forward to seeing you on Friday Paul xx."

Then he suggests a round of cruising sites, and "the very chavvy 'gay bars' in Bradford . . . lots of likely lads whom you would probably enjoy." I love that "whom". It shows there is at least one word of which John Wesley would approve.

Otherwise, the story is a bit grim for the Methodists. The name "Crystal Methodist" will be known to more people than the denomination now. When a similar Anglican scandal involving cocaine, young boys, and financial nonsense emerged, it was almost entirely hushed up. But the world was far more deferential 20 years ago, and the old Establishment (one of the players had chaired the wine committee at the Athenaeum) far more powerful.

If I wanted to construct an argument against high-mindedness, the Leveson inquiry, and all the sorts of journalism that feel respectable and constructive, I would go no further than the Paul Flowers story. It is squalid, intrusive, almost certainly obtained by bribing criminals - and, oh, who cares? You would need to be very soft-hearted not to laugh at the spectacle of this pompous bully brought low by his drug dealers and procurers. Yet it can't really be said to expose any new scandals. The Co-op Bank had already collapsed by the time he was exposed. No doubt there are many bankers with the same habits but far more competence, who never get caught and whose businesses will continue to flourish.


A. N. WILSON had a characteristically thoughtful and elegaic piece in the Telegraph about the decline of Christianity. "I go to a well-attended church in London, but I have made frequent travels throughout England in the past year (literary festivals, television work, visiting friends). On Sunday mornings, I have gone to church. When staying with friends near Canterbury, I have enjoyed splendid liturgy, intelligent sermons, and been part of a huge congregation."

But elsewhere: "I have attended at least ten churches in the past year - all very different in their history, but in each case I have had the same experience. At the age of 63, I have been the youngest person present by 20 years. The congregation has seldom numbered double figures. The C of E is a moribund institution kept going by and for old people. They are ministered to (perhaps I was just unlucky) by an ill-educated clergy with nil public-speaking ability. . .

"Most decent, intelligent, middle-aged or young people I know have no sense at all of what churches are for."

He compares traditional Christianity to the appreciation of classical music; one has the sense, as often with him, that he goes to church despite the creeds and its teachings. He quotes approvingly Archbishop Michael Ramsey telling a young priest, after deep thought, that it did not matter that he no longer believed in God. But the tradition in which that could honestly be said has withered.


THIS has not, of course, diminished the stock of human credulity. I was delighted by a story that appeared in the New York Times: Sylvia Mitchell, a fortune-teller, has been sentenced to five years for swindling her clients.

"One witness, Debra Saalfield, who runs a marketing business and is a competitive ballroom dancer, said she had turned to Ms Mitchell after a bad breakup and a job loss in 2008. Ms Mitchell convinced her that her problems stemmed from her past life as an Egyptian princess and that she was too attached to money.

"She convinced Ms Saalfield to give her $27,000 for safekeeping as an exercise in letting go of money."

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