NIGHTMARES AND IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS

I had a nightmare a couple of nights ago. I often have them.

I was in a large church that was absolutely packed. At the front were various dignitaries plus the vicar that, 15 odd years ago, I had to report for inappropriate behaviour towards young people and children following a mother's complaint (the church covered it up and the whole sorry incident led to my illness and eventually the loss of my vocation). I had sneaked into the back of the church because I was not welcome. As the service got under way I ran down the aisle to the centre of the church and shouted "(the name of the abusing vicar) is a paedophile!" I shouted this out loud as my wife was able to tell me exactly what I said when I got up in the morning. The last thing I remember in my dream was being attacked by all the people in the church and me frantically looking for someone who would tell them that I was telling the truth.

I have lived for years with anger towards the Church of England for the way it has not only failed to care for me but actually, and deliberately, has gone out of its way to sweep me under the carpet as thoroughly as it swept the abusing vicar's crimes under the carpet. To the church I am the guilty party and they absolutely refuse to view me as an injured party. When I was recovering from my breakdown they tried their hardest to sack me on the spot. It took them another 8 years, during which they pummelled me with extreme discrimination, to finally get rid of me (conveniently, for them, just before the Church of England adopted more humane employment practices).

It is a great anger. I have tried everything to rid myself of it. I have moved away from the diocese where my injury occurred, I have had endless counselling and I've tried to work through the anger on my blog. But it is not going to go away. It has now become another reason why the Church authorities will not give me back my priesthood. I visited a "senior" priest in the diocese a couple of weeks ago and he was most concerned that if I came into contact with a congregation I would upset (infect?) them with my anger. He probably had good reason to worry but his lack of any other thought than the protection of the status quo was just typical of the cold, businesslike ethos of the Church of England in general.

I know what it will take to rid me of my anger. I know what it will take to heal me. Nothing less than an unreserved apology from the Church and the full restitution of my priesthood and living (which was stolen from me, in the first place, without any reference to due process). An apology from the Church, as the senior priest I have just mentioned told me in no uncertain terms, is never going to happen. So, even if I was to get my livelihood and ministry back, I expect the anger would still remain. In fact, it would be aggravated by my knowledge that I was working for an institution that proclaims one thing and yet acts completely opposite to that which they proclaim. What's love got to do with Church of England? Not a lot in my experience. Personal integrity is very important to me. I don't think I would survive long as the ecclesiastical version of a dodgy car salesman.

I emailed a bishop about my nightmare. He emailed back with an up to date statement on the Church of England's policy on clerical child abuse. That was all. It amazes me how lacking in discernment the powerful in the Church can be (or is it just a fear of responding to a cry for help in anything resembling a humane way). I know it shouldn't surprise me after all my years of experiencing the crass and clumsy human resources techniques of The Church of England (PLC) but it does.

My wife came up with a brilliant metaphor after I told her about my nightmare. She said I was like a moth flying around a light bulb, frantically banging itself against the lightbulb without any hope of achieving whatever it is it wants from the it. Very good, Mrs MP!

The senior priest I met the other week, said he would contact my local vicar and ask him to get in touch with me so that we could explore the possibility of me helping out occasionally in his parish. The senior priest said I should not expect to hear from this vicar during Holy Week as he would be too busy, or expect to hear from him the following week as he will be taking a week off. On Saturday I received an email from the vicar saying that he was, in fact, on vacation during this week coming. I have to go and sort out my in laws' the following week so I will not get to meet this vicar until well after four weeks since my visit to the senior priest. It has been seven months since I initially visited the assistant bishop of my diocese (which was appointed that I had to wait two months for). If a parish priest treated a member of his or her congregation with such an obvious disregard for the urgency of the situation it would most certainly result in another empty pew in their church. Perhaps this is what they are actually hoping for me with me.

So, what should I do? You will tell me that my ministry lies on the internet. But my recent appeals for monthly pledges to help support the cost of my ministry and my own living expenses was not very successful. If our God is an interventionist God, he doesn't seem very keen on my internet priest idea. I am left confused, depressed about the whole thing and having bloody awful nightmares.

Comments

NIGHTMARES AND IMPOSSIBLE DREAMS — 21 Comments

  1. Oh.

    The cartoon is so, so, so good.

    MadPriest, I wish I knew something I could say to give you comfort and confidence. I do think you have expressed matters with astonishingly focused clarity.

    This is distressing and heartbreaking to me: “What’s love got to do with Church of England? Not a lot in my experience.” I know, I know. I feel the same way about the Church in this country. Yes, it is a haven for many and has been courageous in remarkable ways and yet I, too, have been discarded. (For different reasons from what you have gone through but discarded all the same.) What I can say with conviction is that, like so many other misfits, I have found a home here in this amazing online community and true companionship and I beg you to remember that.

    I’m greatly disappointed in those of my fellow readers who have not extended themselves just a LITTLE bit to provide for your support. “The laborer is worthy of his hire.” I can’t think of an approach right now that will help rectify this. But I will pray. And I will ponder.

    There has to be a way. There just has to be.

  2. I’m so sorry you’re going through this, MadPriest.

    Who within the Church of England could even offer you the apology that would salve your anger? Can I apologise on behalf of the C of E? Not really; I wasn’t even a member at the time, though I am now. The best I can do is offer my assurance that I’ll do all in my power to stop the same thing happening where I am. That’s not much power.

    Like you, I’ve learned the hard way that churches are made up of human beings who do human things — puny, scared, evil things sometimes. After I stopped fuming and ranting and actively running away, it still took a few years and a lot of love and care before I found myself back in church. You’re not me, and I don’t know what will help you, apology or not. But my experience is of being estranged, alienated from Christianity not just one particular church, and I still found my way back.

    I hope that your meeting with the local vicar goes well, and I pray that you will receive the love and care I found.

  3. In my personal experience, in matters of relationship when encountering things that seem to make no sense, I’ve generally found addiction to be at the heart of the matter. Discern that addiction, and at least the “light bulb” can be better understood, and one’s mind can have a bit of rest. I suspect that organizations can have addictions as unhealthy, and perhaps a whole lot worse, than individuals.

  4. Dear Jonathan,
    You seem to have come to a wall that stops your plans for you and keeps you angry and anxious, day and night. Although the policies of the C of E are the foundation of the wall, now the real wall for you is your anger that colors so much of your time. It is like a cancer, it eats at you and apparently fills your life. Right now, and for some time your heart is full of anger and despair and this is true suffering. As Pogo said: We have met the enemy and he is us”.
    The C of E is not going to change much. You may attack like the moths attack the shining light, but the person who gets hurt by futile rage is you. Your unquenchable rage has become an even bigger enemy than the C of E. A great many people go into therapy carrying their anger, and sort of put it on the table, so to speak, and in effect, say to the therapist “There, fix it, but I still want what I want!
    Somehow you need o take steps to gain some insight into this problem. The Buddhists say “I will loose my youth, my health, my loved ones, everything I hold dear and finally life itself by the very nature of being human”. I have found this to be true, and somehow it reminds my ego that I am not invulnerable.
    How you come by a healing insight will be by trial and error I guess. I would seriously suggest finding a teacher and consider Meditation. It can help you to still your racing mind and develop insight. Or serious therapy where u r open to to self-discovery and not demanding a “fix” in 5 sessions or less. I know that u will think that u can’t afford it, but I think you cannot afford not to take some positive action. You might have to take some kind of job, even part time, and use that money for Meditation instruction or therapy.
    You r an intelligent man with a sharp wit and many friends who r rooting for you.
    I think that this kind of unrelenting anger is a bit like any addiction, u first have to realize that it has u in its grip. My first priest confessor spent many hours, day after day hearing confessions. One day he said ‘it always surprise me how desperately people hang on to their sins and guilt’. (include unresolved anger in that list.)
    It’s not easy, but you are worth it!
    nij

  5. Dear Jonathan,
    You seem to have come to a wall that stops your plans for you and keeps you angry and anxious, day and night. Although the policies of the C of E are the foundation of the wall, now the real wall for you is your anger that colors so much of your time. It is like a cancer, it eats at you and apparently fills your life. Right now, and for some time your heart is full of anger and despair and this is true suffering. As Pogo said: We have met the enemy and he is us”.
    The C of E is not going to change much. You may attack like the moths attack the shining light, but the person who gets hurt by futile rage is you. Your unquenchable rage has become an even bigger enemy than the C of E. A great many people go into therapy carrying their anger, and sort of put it on the table, so to speak, and in effect, say to the therapist “There, fix it, but I still want what I want!
    Somehow you need o take steps to gain some insight into this problem. The Buddhists say “I will loose my youth, my health, my loved ones, everything I hold dear and finally life itself by the very nature of being human”. I have found this to be true, and somehow it reminds my ego that I am not invulnerable.
    How you come by a healing insight will be by trial and error I guess. I would seriously suggest finding a teacher and consider Meditation. It can help you to still your racing mind and develop insight. Or serious therapy where u r open to to self-discovery and not demanding a “fix” in 5 sessions or less. I know that u will think that u can’t afford it, but I think you cannot afford not to take some positive action. You might have to take some kind of job, even part time, and use that money for Meditation instruction or therapy.
    You r an intelligent man with a sharp wit and many friends who r rooting for you.
    I think that this kind of unrelenting anger is a bit like any addiction, u first have to realize that it has u in its grip. My first priest confessor spent many hours, day after day hearing confessions. One day he said ‘it always surprise me how desperately people hang on to their sins and guilt’. (include unresolved anger in that list.)
    It’s not easy, but you are worth it!
    nij

  6. I don’t do meditation. I’m a realist. Nothing will change with me unless something real happens that stops everything being a reminder of what the church did to me. If I didn’t struggle with financial problems every day I’m sure I would gradually lose my anger. If I was given back my priesthood, as well, then I would most likely lose my anger even quicker. At the end of the day words mean nothing, Nij. It’s reality that counts. If that was not true then Jesus would have died naturally in his sleep and gone straight to heaven.

  7. Well, I don’t see how realistic it is to stand there, stamping your feet and demanding that the C of E change it’s ways.
    When I was working in RC parishes, sometimes I was really burned by the nuns that were working there also.
    sometimes they seemed so angry that I just wanted to stay away from them in self defense. And these women has been (and still are, in many places) treated abominably by the church. I could sympathize, but I couldn’t be much help.
    And one day, after trying to cope with a particularly nasty remark, I remember thinking that I always had been in favor of the ordination of women but maybe it shouldn’t happen with this generation of sisters because they are too hurt and angry to stand the stress of being a priest. I think that that is what your senior priest was trying to tell you. Slashing away at the church is putting your goal further and further away. Putting it bluntly, your serious anger is handicapping your chances for reaching your goal. You need to get some insight and control of that anger and then go for reinstatement if that is still what u want. nij

  8. Well, I don’t see how realistic it is to stand there, stamping your feet and demanding that the C of E change it’s ways.
    When I was working in RC parishes, sometimes I was really burned by the nuns that were working there also.
    sometimes they seemed so angry that I just wanted to stay away from them in self defense. And these women has been (and still are, in many places) treated abominably by the church. I could sympathize, but I couldn’t be much help.
    And one day, after trying to cope with a particularly nasty remark, I remember thinking that I always had been in favor of the ordination of women but maybe it shouldn’t happen with this generation of sisters because they are too hurt and angry to stand the stress of being a priest. I think that that is what your senior priest was trying to tell you. Slashing away at the church is putting your goal further and further away. Putting it bluntly, your serious anger is handicapping your chances for reaching your goal. You need to get some insight and control of that anger and then go for reinstatement if that is still what u want. nij

  9. He isn’t my senior priest. One of the good things about being unemployed is that nobody is my senior or my junior.

    But, you misunderstand me completely, Nij.

  10. Prayers for you Madpriest. I hope as your friends we will not be as uncomfortable with your expressions of pain as Job’s friends were with Job’s expressions of his pain that we seek to silence you or seek to provide you with advice on how to respond appropriately to your pain. As usual, I do not have words of wisdom, I will just continue to hold you in prayer and and praying that God will soon show up, and vindicate and restore you. Rudo

  11. I really get what Rudo is saying here and I honor his willingness to hold you in prayer and not offer advice.

    I also realize that it’s distressing to people who care about you to see you in so much pain and so I think I can comprehend the strong impulse to offer advice. I do think (except for the troll(s) who show up here from time to time) that most people here who put forward a solution really, really want to help you – however skillful or unskillful their attempts to do so may be.

    KJ makes a good point, by the way. Some years ago, I read a book called The Addictive Organization by Anne Wilson Schaef that was truly an eye opener. It was an illuminating way of framing a lot of what goes on in the Church.

    I wish I knew how to console you, Jonathan. Know, however, that my heart is with you and I am praying.

  12. Oy. This was just painful to read, but I’m glad you wrote it. Just wanted you to know I’m here reading this and taking it seriously, for what it’s worth.

  13. “Nothing will change with me unless something real happens”

    MP, whatever you do, TAKE ACTION! Waiting for “something real to happen” means nothing will happen.

    I come from the Freirean (Paulo Freire) philosophy. It’s “Action, THEN Reflection {Repeat}”. Or, per Martin Luther, “Sin Boldly!”

    [Yeah, JCF, Act Yourself. Oy Vey.]

    Prayers for you.

  14. Dear Jonathan,
    I start every day with your blog and check in a couple of times during the day. I listen and pray your liturgies (despite the differences in musical taste:>) I now buy my kindle stuff thru your Amazon widgets. If u had a PO Box, I would send donations because I cannot seem to donate thru your system (it won’t accept my one and only debit card) I am 100% for Madpriest, but I cannot just stand by and watch you suffer without wanting to share some ideas and some observations. Please think about the things that I said today…..
    I know a bit about being unjustly unemployed. My last church ‘boss’ decorated the space over my desk by hanging a humungous Sally Rand (stripper)fan with black feathers and lace from the lighting fixture. Not getting the desired effect from that (I had a visiting nun from the diocese with me when I found it)he next arranged for the rest of the staff to go on a one day retreat, leaving me alone in the Rectory with his two “janitors’ who obeyed him abjectly. They came with him and had been nicknamed “The two dobermans”. Sensing that he would find a reason to come back, I was truly scared. Finally I compromised between not going in to work(and being accused of being unreliable) and going in alone – I took my large and sturdy collie in with me and tied him to my desk. Fortunately, a priest friend from another parish had been alerted to this situation by one of our staff members and he came to the rectory door and demanded to be let in. The 2 dobermans argued with him and didn’t want to let him in, but he outranked them and stayed in my office all day until I was ready to go home.God bless him! That wasn’t the last of the shenanigans, but word got back to the home office, of course and at the end of that tour of duty, the diocese had no more positions for me, I think they were afraid that I would sue them.
    So there I was, totally unemployed,now single, with a mortgage, a collie, a car to support,and of course no pension,no health insurance, numerous feral cats to feed and to top it off, my non-paying tenants left in the night! Yep, I didn’t have any senior or junior priests either:>)
    To anon – Job’s friends thought he had sinned in a major way because there and then people thought that when bad things happened you must have sinned majorly. I don’t think MP sinned, quite the reverse, but this course of action he is on isn’t taking him towards his goal. PS, passive aggressive just a little bit?
    nij

  15. Dear Jonathan,
    I start every day with your blog and check in a couple of times during the day. I listen and pray your liturgies (despite the differences in musical taste:>) I now buy my kindle stuff thru your Amazon widgets. If u had a PO Box, I would send donations because I cannot seem to donate thru your system (it won’t accept my one and only debit card) I am 100% for Madpriest, but I cannot just stand by and watch you suffer without wanting to share some ideas and some observations. Please think about the things that I said today…..
    I know a bit about being unjustly unemployed. My last church ‘boss’ decorated the space over my desk by hanging a humungous Sally Rand (stripper)fan with black feathers and lace from the lighting fixture. Not getting the desired effect from that (I had a visiting nun from the diocese with me when I found it)he next arranged for the rest of the staff to go on a one day retreat, leaving me alone in the Rectory with his two “janitors’ who obeyed him abjectly. They came with him and had been nicknamed “The two dobermans”. Sensing that he would find a reason to come back, I was truly scared. Finally I compromised between not going in to work(and being accused of being unreliable) and going in alone – I took my large and sturdy collie in with me and tied him to my desk. Fortunately, a priest friend from another parish had been alerted to this situation by one of our staff members and he came to the rectory door and demanded to be let in. The 2 dobermans argued with him and didn’t want to let him in, but he outranked them and stayed in my office all day until I was ready to go home.God bless him! That wasn’t the last of the shenanigans, but word got back to the home office, of course and at the end of that tour of duty, the diocese had no more positions for me, I think they were afraid that I would sue them.
    So there I was, totally unemployed,now single, with a mortgage, a collie, a car to support,and of course no pension,no health insurance, numerous feral cats to feed and to top it off, my non-paying tenants left in the night! Yep, I didn’t have any senior or junior priests either:>)
    To anon – Job’s friends thought he had sinned in a major way because there and then people thought that when bad things happened you must have sinned majorly. I don’t think MP sinned, quite the reverse, but this course of action he is on isn’t taking him towards his goal. PS, passive aggressive just a little bit?
    nij

  16. Thanks, Rudo. As you will see from my post on this matter today, I have thought about what you said very carefully. I am unsure as to where it will lead but I think it may well lead somewhere that will be worth the journey.

  17. Nij,
    Job’s friends were responding to his response to his situation and were providing him with appropriate ways to respond. They wanted him to subsume or repress his individual experience in the communal and collective dogma. His sin for Job’s friends is in the expression of his anger.
    Rudo

  18. Job is the oldest story in the Bible having been borrowed from a very early Mesopotamian story. Job’s friends are most likely a later, Jewish addition to the story, included to make the story more in keeping with Jewish thought. Take them out of the book entirely and you get the true story of Job.