Update at Trinity Brentwood

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As my regular readers will know, today, December 6th, was an important day in the history of one abusive church, Trinity, Brentwood. This is the day when Nigel Davies, the courageous editor of a blog seeking an apology for some grotesque wrongs committed by the church under Michael Reid, the former pastor, met the Trustees face to face. He was allowed some forty minutes to speak to them, giving both spoken and written testimonies about various acts of power abuse that took place when Michael Reid was in charge. The main problem for Nigel and his supporters and fellow sufferers has been that, apart from the removal of MR, the entire staff who participated in the financial and emotional abuse have been allowed to remain in post. They have never admitted to anything, apart from some platitudinous expressions of regret.

As I have explained in a previous post, the incident that led to today’s meeting was a statement by an American Bible School student who was at the church some 30 years ago. She was treated appallingly by the church, culminating in incident of rape by one of the church members. In her recent statement about the incident which was published on Nigel’s blog, she stressed that the real suffering she had had to deal with was as much the humiliating way the Church had treated over the whole 18 months she was in England, as the event of sexual violence. This testimony for the first time spurred the church into action. They contacted the police and the Charity Commissioners because they realised that a rape allegation could not be buried like the other accusations swirling around the church. The victim of the incident has, as I mentioned before, linked up with our blog and no doubt will be reading this update in addition to Nigel’s account on the other blog.

As soon as I read Nigel’s account on his blog this afternoon, I entered a comment on the fact that the Trustees were forbidden to ask of Nigel any questions. This strikes me as a typical lawyer-inspired gesture of defensiveness. I pointed out in my comment that if the Trustees really wanted to engage with the problems of the past and Nigel’s presentation, they would want to reach out to him as a human being by talking to him, not just treating him as the conveyor of a written testimony. This defensiveness seems to be a ploy to try and objectify the problem and deal with it through quasi-legal means, such as denial and forgetfulness. In other words the Trustees are still behaving like a closed group which has no intention of changing unless it has to. In my comment I expressed the hope that the Charity Commissioners would see the testimonies that Nigel had brought along as they will want to see that some changes are being made in the culture of the church, maybe even proper expressions of regret.

Trinity Church Brentwood seems to have confirmed that it is institutionally incapable of doing the correct thing, unless compelled. I am hoping that ‘Gail’ will read this and realise that she too needs to put pressure on the church to engage with her, not just as the writer of a testimony about a crime, but as a human being who has suffered severely. I would suggest that she demands to speak to them by Skype, but she will only address them to their face if they allow proper interaction with her testimony. If they treat her like they have treated Nigel, by forbidding questions and interaction, then she should refuse to speak with them.

Nigel’s meeting with the Trustees today is the latest stage in an ongoing saga. It is important to our blog because it is a live developing example of the kind of behaviour that I have been trying to study and understand over the past twenty years. One particular change over this time is that the law of the land now seems to recognise the existence of emotional abuse. How that will apply to churches like Trinity remains to be seen. It may be that the Charity Commissioners may intervene a little more quickly when the detect a regime in a church which is obviously not conducive to an individual’s psychological and emotional health. As the law has stood, it is only when behaviour extends to actual violence, sexual or otherwise, that the police and courts will intervene. As readers of this blog will know, there are many, many ways of abusing an individual which do not involve actual violence. Abuse can be devastating in a person’s life, as Chris has testified. If the church of Christ cannot recognise abuse when it happens, it is a strange thing that such an institution can claim to have anything to with the teaching of the Gospels.

About Stephen Parsons

Stephen is a retired Anglican priest living at present in Northumberland. He has taken a special interest in the issues around health and healing in the Church but also when the Church is a place of harm and abuse. He has published books on both these issues and is at present particularly interested in understanding the psychological aspects of leadership and follower-ship in the Church. He is always interested in making contact with others who are concerned with these issues.

5 thoughts on “Update at Trinity Brentwood

  1. Thank you for your thoughts, Stephen. While I have yet to speak with Nigel regarding today’s meeting, it does appear, from what he posted on his own blog, that it was more a case of the trustees granting him an audience than an actual meeting. The trustees have, actually, requested a meeting with me already. When, or rather, if, I meet with them, I have already decided on some guidelines which, should they refuse to abide by the meeting will not take place. I am still consulting with my legal counsel and cannot move forward with anything until such time he feels it is beneficial for me to do so. I want everything to be out in the open but I am smart enough to know that there is much I don’t understand. I don’t want to make a silly mistake that gives TC something to hide behind or some reason to disregard my truth. It is only the seriousness of the “incident of impropriety” that lends weight to the issue of the abusive culture that inspired and allowed the act. For that reason, I must move forward carefully. I will gladly keep you and your readers informed as to any developments. In the meantime, I covet your prayers as I attempt to stay closely in tune with the Holy Spirit for guidance in this whole matter.

  2. Thank you Gail. I hope you don’t mind my observations but there was something very dysfunctional about the meeting today. Your lawyer should be able to advise you the best course of action but that ‘blanking’ of Nigel is unforgivable. Truth and justice must be allowed to prevail in this situation. It does appear from Nigel’s blog comments that there are two Trustees who have a working conscience and they may have been uncomfortable with the process.

    1. I agree with you. It did seem a very odd “meeting”. I am also surprised that the senior pastor was allowed to give such strong direction during a trustees meeting. It was my understanding that the trustees are to be completely independent of the ministry team and that the pastor was only invited to the meeting as a courtesy. It would not appear that was actually the case. I can’t help but wonder what twist or turn the whole case will take next. We can only pray truth and justice prevails in the end.

  3. Why not pray for them to acquire a conscience? It doesn’t always work, but it would be a punishment as well as a way of making progress. All the best, Gail. I’ll pray.

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