Scottish Synod pledges to tackle bullying of clergy

10 June 2019

Adam Becket reports from the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod in Edinburgh

SCOTTISH EPISCOPAL CHURCH

Jan Whiteside speaks on Thursday

Jan Whiteside speaks on Thursday

THE Scottish Episcopal Church has a problem with bullying, the convenor of the Church’s personnel committee, Jan Whiteside, has said.

Speaking in at the Scottish Episcopal Church’s General Synod in Edinburgh, on Thursday of last week, Ms Whiteside said that the number of clergy in a survey who said that they had been bullied or harassed was “shocking”.

Thirty-nine per cent of respondents to a clergy well-being survey said that they had experienced bullying or harassment during the previous 12 months.

The official survey, conducted by the Church’s personnel committee, had 105 respondents. Clergy were asked wide-ranging questions from the amount of time off they took in an average week, to whether they claimed expenses.

During her presentation, Ms Whiteside said: “Our Church is built on core Christian values. We are a Church that prides itself on being welcoming and inclusive. . . The results are deeply troubling. This puts into question our whole understanding of what constitutes Christian behaviour.

“I was saddened at the impact that such bullying can have: clergy being forced to rethink their calling or wondering if they are in the appropriate charge; curates questioning their calling.”

Speaking in the debate, the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, said: “We must say that this kind of behaviour will not be tolerated. The trouble is, it has been.

“One of the things I want to say right at this moment is that it is not the individuals who are the problem, but some of the structures of our Church. . . It raises questions about episcopacy, and how it works in our Church.”

Provost Holdsworth referred to his maiden speech 20 years earlier, when he spoke of the bullying that he had experienced in training. His comments had not been minuted at the time.

He said: “The fact they weren’t [minuted] in the past may be part of the reason that we are where we are today.”

The Bishop of Brechin, the Rt Revd Andrew Swift, a member of the personnel committee, said: “The well-being and care of our clergy is of vital importance, and the survey covered a range of questions to ensure that a full overview of this at present could be ascertained.

“The responses to some of the questions — most notably the one relating to bullying and harassment — clearly indicates the need to explore more fully how and why clergy are experiencing such behaviour. Bullying and harassment can never be regarded as acceptable within the Church or anywhere else. . .

“The survey is the start of a process. We are committed to taking whatever steps are necessary to address the issues which have been raised. The wellbeing of our clergy is of paramount importance.”

Ms Whiteside outlined a response to the results. “First, we need to be clearly anti-bullying. As a matter of good governance, we need an anti-bullying strategy. Members of Synod, we are at the very start of a process, and I am very open to any suggestions that you might have that could help tackle this issue.

“Every part of the Church needs to understand that this is not acceptable; it’s not how we strive to follow Christ, and it will not be tolerated.”

The survey also dealt with other areas of well-being. Of the clergy who responded, 22.9 per cent admitted that they had not taken off at least one day a week during the year; 41 per cent said they had not taken their full holiday entitlement.

Almost a quarter, 23.8 per cent, felt that they spent far too much time working and not enough time at home or for leisure. Only 25 per cent said that they felt supported by their diocese or bishop.

The Revd Dr Sophia Marriage, Rector of St Mark’s, Portobello, in Edinburgh, said that she was alarmed by the number of clergy who said they did not feel supported.

The Revd David Mackenzie Mills, the Rector of St Paul’s, Kinross, said: “We must name those things which the rest of society might consider abusive, or at least self-abusive.”

He said that clergy, especially men, had a bad habit of being competitive on how much they did, and how little time off that they took. “This can be the catalyst for a mental-health breakdown,” he said.

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