I didn't go to church yesterday. I've been ticking about this permission to officiate thing over the last few days To be exact, I've been ticking about the bishop of Jarrow's refusal to grant me it. The reason it's been nagging me is that I get wound up about unjustness and it seems that the right of a bishop in the Church of England to refuse to allow priests to ply their trade (pursue their vocation for the romantics among you) is unfair, immoral, illogical and (here it is again) would be deemed illegal in the secular employment market.

I studied to become a priest, passed my exams and was ordained accordingly. I am a qualified priest. In this I am very similar to a doctor (of medicine), albeit that prospective doctors have to work a lot harder to get their licence to practice than I had to in getting mine. Like a doctor I can lose a specific job for reasonable run of the mill reasons. Both doctors and priests can be dragged before a professional body and, if proved guilty of gross, professional misconduct, can have their right to practice removed from them for a temporary period or for life. But, if doctors loses their jobs for any other reason than gross misconduct they can still practice. If they are offered work, permanent or as a locum, they can accept it and be paid for doing it no matter what health authority area they are living in. For priests it is a completely different ballgame. For them, even if they have not been subject of successful disciplinary action through the correct legal channels they can still be prevented from working on the whim of just one person, the diocesan bishop.

So you have this ridiculously daft situation where the Church of England will spend vast amounts of money pursuing disciplinary actions against a priest through the proper channels which is actually a complete waste of time as the local bishop can, for whatever reason takes his fancy, circumnavigate the proper channels completely and screw up the life of a priest without anybody being able to do anything about it. I ask you, what then is the point of having an official disciplinary system if the diocesan bishop can brazenly behave in such a despotic manner?

It's not as if a Church of England priest can apply for a job in a different denomination. The Church of England is a Church of England priest's only opportunity for gainful employment.

This is totally sick. It's so wrong that I lie awake at night crying about it.

You know, I am not a bit surprised that Giles Fraser and his establishment colleagues have done a complete u-turn over their welcome of the Occupy the City protesters. I can think of absolutely no other institution in England that acts so immorally in so many ways as the Church of England hierarchy so blithely does. Even the fascist, British National Party, have to follow the law of the land when it comes to employment and equality legislation.

Our bishops constantly whinge about having to have exemptions from legislation for what they regard as good reasons (such as the continued oppression of women and gay people) but then they show just how cynical they really are by using those exemptions to do the dirty on anybody they feel inclined to, including the disabled and anybody who openly disagrees with them about something. That these same people can read the gospel aloud in church on a Sunday morning, including all of Our Lord's references to pharisees and hypocrites, without obviously feeling in the slightest bit guilty about their own duplicitous behaviour, just proves to me that the members of the episcopal college regard themselves as completely exempt from the moral commandments and priorities of the founder of the religion they police with such world-conforming zeal.



  1. And, right or wrong, this post is going to endear you to said bishop how exactly? Are you determined to undermine any possibilities of working in this new diocese? Like it or not or churches are based on the power of bishops. If I didn’t accept that I can always switch to the Presbyterians or Congegationalists…or some such group. I get your frustration, but this is closing the door.

  2. Yes, some people do run away and some people stay and fight. I fully realise that I will gain nothing myself other than a bit of frustration venting temporary relief from my anger but I may sow a seed or two of rebellion that will eventually result in the reformation of this morally shoddy institution I am so attached to.

  3. I get where you’re coming from, MP, even whilst thinking the same thing Renz wrote, and I know you must do what you do, keep it out there in public.

    You see, Renz, the point is the bishops are wrong about a lot of stuff, being no better than the rest of us. The difference is they don’t have to admit it or pay for being wrong when their decisions make waste a person’s life.

    It should make no difference to a bishop if Jonathan writes truthfully about his experience with the Church. His being public about it should have nothing to do with a decision to license him or not. Therefore, Jonathan must write, even though it does harm to his future prospects, because if he can’t be licensed and be honest, then it’s all a great big, fat, lie.

    And so Jonathan will continue to write, and maybe there will be a revolution in the Church like the Occupy Wall Street revolution, where we will continue to have bishops but they will have to comply with common legal practice when it comes to employment.

    I grieve for you, Jonathan. I support your right – and your rightness – in writing your truth when you can no longer stand to bear it alone. I, for one, bear it with you.

  4. Thanks, Lois. That pretty much sums it up.

    I have only started shouting about my own problems recently. The reason I have problems is because I spent four years shouting about injustices done to others. I didn’t get so much advice to stop it when I was doing that. But it would have made no difference. I have always known why I was given a different set of priorities to most other people and gone with it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not going to whinge like billy-o when the consequences come home to roost.

  5. Yes, it sucks, but so do lots of careers, frankly.

    In academic science, after their PhD, people serve in a “training period” (or purgatory ) called a postdoctorate for 3+ years before being qualified to apply for a faculty position.

    There are many fewer faculty positions than postdoctorals, which means that a faculty position advertised even with a very narrow range of qualifications will get 100+ applicants. individuals can spend years as postdocs without getting a job. After about 7 years, they have the tinge of old fish about them and are basically never going to get an academic job and must find other things to do.

    And those who get jobs generally don’t get them where they want to be which leads to them ending up thousands of miles away from their families. Parents die without them; marriages break up. Why anyone chooses to do this for a living increasingly escapes me. It sure as hell ain’t a meritocracy, much as it pretends to be one.

    (Just as “church” is a business that pretends to be above all this, but, as a human institution, isn’t at all)

    It is phenomenally wasteful (given the years of training it takes to get to that point) but as academe is a buyer’s market, the sellers are too often left with nothing.

    You have the same problem in the church. And when the buyers have the upper hand, it leads to all sorts of favoritism and injustices. But it’s a pattern seen over and over again. Human nature is not very pretty.

    Over at FoJ we’re discussing “lizard brains”. I think it’s surprisingly relevant!

  6. In England employees in the secular workplace have a lot more protection than their equivalent in the US. I was very careful to make sure this post specifically concerned the situation in England.

    But, I would think that my main point is universally applicable. There are few occupations where there is only one employer. And there are few employers who don’t have to act in an underhanded way to achieve what bishops in the Church of England can achieve openly and without any censure.

  7. It would seem probable that the bishop of Jarrow – or Justin Welby – would grant you PTO if you quietly worshipped in a local Church for about six months – which isn’t long – if you stopped writing about it.

  8. Lois, I did not intend to suggest bishops were anything other than what you describe…however, the church is what it is and that is one run by bishops. One should either play the game or not, but to call them out repeatedly for their inconsistency, faults and bad acts and then expect to be rewarded with employment is IMO tilting at windmills…and to then seem “shocked…shocked” that the doors have been closed in one’s face (Claude Rains/Casablanca) – well, I don’t quite understand that behavior. Two very practical expressions that come to mind: 1) Don’t bite the hand that feeds you; and 2) Don’t sh*t where you eat…come to mind.

  9. Father Heron, you are hardly in a position to lecture me about upsetting bishops. Anyway, the logic of my post still stands and what reason is there for insisting a qualified priest waits 6 months when he moves into a new diocese. A doctor doesn’t have to wait 6 months if he moves into a different health authority.

  10. The church is episcopal by it’s very nature but that doesn’t mean the bishops have to be despotic. And I’ve never acted shocked. I have always accepted that my current position would be inevitable. But that doesn’t mean I have to shut up about it, Renz.

    Why don’t you leave the US and go somewhere where they aren’t so mean to gay people?

  11. Sorry, my Casablanca reference wasn’t to suggest you have acted shocked. You may recall that after announcing that he is shutting down Rick’s he says, “I’m shocked…shocked to learn that there is gambling going on in this establishment.” And then the dealer comes up and says, “Here are your winnings, Inspector.”

    I can support you as your friend in your very public campaign for reform and justice. What I don’t understand is when you appear to be surprised that the system responds accordingly and then you sink into one of your black dog moods.

    My response to your rather cryptic comment: I wouldn’t want to be a member of a club that would have me as a member.

  12. I’m never shocked. My depression is the result of my optimism being continually dashed by reality. I really did believe that the bishop of Jarrow would be pastorally sensitive and help me start afresh. But he wasn’t and he didn’t. He was just more of the same.

  13. Well, mebee this will get me on the fecal roster here, but I’m going to say it inyhoo.
    1. you know how this is set up.
    2. You want a license or PTO.
    3. Right now, you are standing on the outside (for purposes of getting work.)
    4. So u r yelling loudly and throwing verbal rocks at the people who can empower you or not.
    5. They didn’t invent the system themselves.
    6. They probably don’t like some of it themselves, BUT THEY LIVE BY IT ANYHOW.
    7. This is not going to get u anything but on the shit list, it is not, I repeat NOT helping u to get what u desire.
    8. I cannot think of any secular job in this world where consistently insulting the powers that be, loudly, wittily,and repeatedly, will improve your position. That includes doctors who have to put up with all kinds of unreasonable people.
    9. U have reached the point of put up or shut up!
    Someone said of Dorothy Parker (I think it was she) “She never had an unpublished thought” hint!
    If u must yell about this, tell Delphi and Glenna, they will not squeal!

  14. “The Church of England is a Church of England priest’s only opportunity for gainful employment.”

    Actually, no it’s not. The whole whirlpool of the Anglican Communion is open to us, as eveidenced by the continual ads in the Church Times for vacancies in Hong Kong, France, Holland, Ireland, Scotland and Wales evidence; but whether we want to move to another part of the world is a different matter.

  15. I have discovered that most of the world think like you do, Nij. I know that as a fact. But I am as incapable of understanding why you all think that way as you are all unable to understand why I think the way I do. It’s not that I don’t understand the logic of what you are saying it’s that I can’t understand why you would want to pay the cost of following such a pragmatic way of living. There’s a cost to my way of thinking but only in the bit before I die.

  16. I tried Scotland, SR. Bishop David Cunningham told me 3 years ago about a job that I should apply for as soon as he had sorted out its financing. The post was advertised four weeks after Mrs MP had bought a house thus scuppering the possibility of a move. As for the rest of the world I’m afraid I couldn’t cope with it. I am so pleased with myself that I can now travel on my own outside of my immediate neighbourhood. But the thought of having to move to a place where I don’t understand the rules and the language scares the shit out of me.

  17. A real life parable by Renz. I have this friend of some twenty-three years and over the course of those years I have not known her to date beyond a very infrequent blind first date. And in recent years, not even that.

    I remember talking to her about men – more specifically, what she expected in a man. As I recall, she wanted a six foot plus, motorcycle riding, sensitive, cowboy-type, who was respectful of women, “professionally” employed (e.g., doctor, lawyer, etc.)…oh yeah, and Jewish.

    After all this time she’s still waiting…and still single. Now I figure she either has completely unreasonable expectations of the situation or deep down she really just wants to be single.

    Just sayin…

  18. Oh, Renz, darling boy, you can be so naive!

    She’s in love with you, of course. The stuff about Mr Perfect was a lie she told you to protect you from having to share her life’s tragedy – being in love with a gay gentile.

  19. Three steps:

    1. Stop all advocacy of any sexual arrangement outside of godly marriage.

    2. Go to communion regularly for the grace it imparts.

    3. Volunteer at a counseling center.

  20. Life is a Hollywood movie, Renz, and we are just players…

    Of course, in real life you don’t end up in bed with the girl (not even after a night of heavy drinking). 🙂

  21. MP,
    I agree with you to a point.

    Bishops should not arbitrarily deny permission to officiate to duly ordained priests in good standing (not under any discipline in their diocese of canonical residence).

    The key word is arbitrarily. There may be a reason for a bishop to deny permission. I know several bishops who would refuse me (because of who I am married to), and while I may think their reasons wrong, I would simply avoid their dioceses (or, if I asked for permission from them, I would insist that they clearly state their reason for the denial, and not let them weasel out of it by giving just a vague no or by letting an application linger on their desk).

    But, as priests, we take vows of obedience to our bishop and to the hierarchical structure of our church. When I went before the provincial Advisory Committee for Postulancies and Ordinations, two of my three examiners quizzed me on how I understood obedience to authority. I think my answer was something along the lines of “I can’t see myself always in agreement with my bishop, however I would never defy him or disregard any direction. I would, however, make sure that he understood my reasons for disagreeing, and that I might publicly express that disagreement, in a reasoned and respectful way.”

    So far I have served under three bishops, and while I did push the limit on one occasion, I have remained true to that answer I gave, and I don’t feel that I have ever had to compromise my integrity.

    MP, I do empathize with you, because I think his lordship is being arbitrary and not all that clear and forthright with you. Your bitterness is justified. But like Renz and others, I’m not sure you are doing yourself any favours with your rants on the blog.

  22. O. K. tonight I am letting it all hang out!
    Stop for one moment and listen to yourself (or read your answers) Herein are a group of people trying to offer you some options other than steadily shooting yourself in the foot as u r so fond of doing. I have noticed u do this several times. U have an immediate negative answer for every single suggestion! Every one!!
    Catch yourself doing it!! So what’s with that??? Is it possible that u have such a problem with authority figures (in this case, bishops) that u can’t see any other way of responding? Bishops have feelings too, there is the good and the not so good bishop, but no person is going to hire someone who disses him in print and then asks for a job! That’s not pragmatism, that’s just common sense. Hoot, mon!

  23. I respond, I don’t initiate, Nij. I have already been refused the job. I am not complaining about what a bishop might do to me. This whole thing began five years or so before I even started blogging when the bishop of Newcastle tried to get rid of me because I had been ill. Even though I proved I could do the job without a relapse into madness he still eventually sacked me. I am complaining now about a man who has already refused to give me permission to officiate. You seem to be suggesting that I keep quiet about the offence and hope that he changes his mind at some unknown date in the future.

    As for authority, Jim, I’ve never broken any rules. I’m a very simple person. If people are nice to me they get my undying loyalty. If they behave in a way towards me that is contrary to their role as my father in Christ then they lose my respect big time because they have let me down.

  24. Personally, I do think it is helpful for MP to talk in this public forum about his perceptions of the injustice he has experienced. It helps me understand the world. It helps me think about what is right and what is wrong. It helps me think about persistence and communication and courage. All of this is part of the human experience. Thank you for sharing your life with us MP.

    Furthermore, we would listen to anyone’s tale of injustice with sympathy, empathy and compassion. And we would look for what things should change in the world so that the injustice would be addressed. MP even covered that point in his original post and in his comments – the world should change. And remember folks, there’s nothing wrong with saying the world should change. What a miserable world we would present if we said to MP “yeah, sorry old chap, you’ve been shafted, now be a good boy and keep it quiet, those people who have been cruel to you have feelings too, and more importantly they have all the power and if you aren’t nice, you wont get anything. No more gruel for you, greedy boy”. What MP is describing is a systemic problem of the misuse of power and he has analysed it and presented an alternative. He should have the right to have his employer’s behaviour scrutinised by a kind of “Fair Work Tribunal” with recourse to “unfair dismissal laws”. Seems perfectly reasonable to me. As far as I can hear, only Lois supports the idea that MP should speak the truth, and yet we all know the truth will set us free. It may be a painful, lonely freedom but its still truth and freedom. Type on MP.

    Oh and I do think MP has been trying to abide by the Bishop’s ruling: to find a church to worship in for six months. He’s been most sincere in his attempts. He’s having about as much trouble as I’ve had in the past. There are a lot of dodgy priests/churches/theologians out there. He should be picky. That doesn’t mean he isn’t trying. Some things are just hard to find.

  25. Thanks, Melissa, especially for pointing out that I have been trying to go to church and have been successful on a couple of occasions in the last three weeks. My angry post has more to do with my anger at myself for not finding the courage to do so this past Sunday.

    It was always my intention, as I pointed out on the blog, to start afresh when I moved to Durham Diocese and to return to church. However I thought it was the right protocol to wait until I had seen the bishop before deciding on which church to attend. I naively thought he might have a church in mind, maybe even one which could do with an extra pair of priestly hands. So, the day after I moved I contacted the bishop but he was unable to fit me in for two months.

    When I eventually met him the first thing he said was, “You are the priest who writes nasty things about people on his blog.”

    After that he asked me where I was worshipping. I explained to him why I had waited to see him first and also explained to him that I wanted permission to officiate not so I could officiate but so that I could attend church services as the person I actually am. He wasn’t impressed. Even more annoying was the fact that he refused to give me any advice on which church to attend. There isn’t a guide to churches in the diocese and I really needed his help. he did suggest that I could go the cathedral because it’s anonymous but as he stated that the reason he wanted me to go to church was to be part of a real life community the cathedral suggestion seemed to contradict everything else he said. Anyway, I know from experience that cathedrals are full of clergy who I don’t tend to understand and who don’t understand me.

  26. Upthread, Robert suggested Jonathan change denominations.

    Jonathan has already addressed this. It is not in the realm of possibility and it’s not just his own bloody-mindedness. He’s not abandoning the tradition he’s spent his entire life in.

  27. I don’t know what your answers are here but I am so sorry you are going through this, Jonathan. The church doesn’t always treat its clergy at all well.

  28. With regards to this:

    When I eventually met him the first thing he said was, “You are the priest who writes nasty things about people on his blog.”

    …I should think your rejoinder would have been something along the lines of, “Only if they deserve it.” Or, “Yes, and I also include things like the Brick of the Day, Dog of the Day, great music, etc, so why are you focusing only on the nasty things?”

    Reminds me of a little poster I used to have – it showed a little orange kitten sitting in a pot of spaghetti, with noodles over his head and sauce everywhere, and the thought bubble over his head said, “When I do right, no one remembers. When I do wrong, no one ever forgets!”

  29. PS: If I might play a bit of devil’s advocate: Wasn’t Chin Wag set up in part so you could have a private space to vent to your friends about this sort of thing, and keep it off the main blog?

  30. Well, MP, I believe you have revealed a bit more of the situation in that last comment. In light of that I would say that nothing you could do now would help the situation. By venting publicly you may shine a bright light onto episcopal injustice. After all, in my mind that was the point all along – are you hurting your chances. I would say that train has long left the station. Clearly the blog is the issue. Further evidence of why the powerful hate the internet. I’m so sorry, Jonathan, it is grossly unfair.

  31. sigh! Well, I guess it’s down to what is more important to u – attacking the authority figures (bishops) of the church, or working as a priest. Now we’ve got that sorted out………


  32. It’s Margaret speaks for me (on her blog): “G’wan, go to church.” That is all.

    [Oh, and FECK OFF, troll!]


    Well, one more thing:

    U have an immediate negative answer for every single suggestion! Every one!!
    Catch yourself doing it!! So what’s with that???

    In MY experience, that means “Pop a pill” (or pop a BETTER pill, and pester the doc till you get one!). Depression isn’t a moral problem, MP, just a neuro-physical disease. Get it (better) treated!