This is the season of ordinations. Those who have for some time been discerning their vocation will be ordained deacons and priest in the Church of England. As part of the service of ordination of deacons Bishops will say “Deacons are to work with their fellow members in searching out the poor and weak, the sick and lonely and those who are oppressed and powerless, reaching into the forgotten corners of the world that the love of God may be made visible”. They and we are called to follow the pattern of Christ.
Jesus says this about himself: “For even the son of man did not come to be served, but to serve and to give his life a ransom for the cause of many.” We have been called to follow in Jesus footsteps – footsteps of service.
Christ the Worker by John Hayward
Christian service, the service into which men and women are being ordained, should always follow this pattern, the pattern of service, the pattern of the incarnation and the pattern of humility. However, too often service from a position of strength and security runs the risk of becoming an exercise of power.
Yesterday saw the publication of a report by Dame Moira Gibb An Abuse of Power. The report is as a result of an investigation commissioned by the Church of England into the serious sexual wrong doing of Peter Ball, a bishop of the Church of England and the failure of the Church to respond appropriately to his misconduct over a period of many years.
The report is shocking and the details of the suffering of these young men absolutely harrowing. The abuse should not have happened, the church should have responded better and as a bishop in the Church of England I am sorry and apologise for our failings and the terrible damage that has been done to these men. There are and can be no excuses.
Dame Moira does point to the Church having made significant progress in recent years in understanding abuse and in its safe guarding practice, whilst recognizing we have some way to go. Dame Moira also highlights the fact that trust accorded to clergy and bishops can bring an exceptional level of power.
Protecting all God’s people and Promoting a safe church, two policies developed by the Church of England both point to the reality that the imbalance of power is often at the heart of abuse.
Apologizing for the past failings, whether as an individual or as a corporate body, requires willingness to commit to action that seeks to make good the wrong which has been done. The Church of England has made significant progress: new practice guidelines outlining a range of individual and collective safeguarding roles and responsibilities underpinning the Church of England Policy statement this year have been developed, Safe Spaces the primary national church response to improve support to survivors is being implemented, Social Care Institute for Excellence have been commissioned to undertake survivor research, and training for clergy and other members of churches have been revised and rolled out to dioceses.
However, the question of culture change remains – the culture that relates to our power as priests and as bishops – how do we ensure that the culture of deference and power imbalance changes to ensure we are following the pattern of Christ, a pattern of the incarnation, the pattern of humility, in all we do?
Our churches must be places where people are accepted with love and compassion and where people are safe. It is our responsibility, my responsibility, to try to prevent abuse and respond well when abuse does occur. For that to happen, we need to follow the pattern of Christ and not a pattern that results in an abuse of power – a life lived in the service of others. I commit to action that seeks to heal the wrong which has been done.