The Church of England is planning to tackle a culture of bullying in parishes. It’s put the issue on the agenda of its upcoming meeting of its governing body.
February General Synod papers state that: “There is evidence that bullying happens, alas, within the Church including bullying of clergy by clergy (sometimes with a power imbalance), of clergy by laity, and of laity by clergy. But there is not agreement about how bullying is best tackled”.
The ‘Bullying by Lay Officers’ motion will be brought forward by Ven Mark Ireland, Archdeacon of Blackburn, who states that “bullying is unacceptable behaviour within the Church of God, whether by clergy or lay people, and where it exists needs to be addressed”.
Examples include: “Aggressive behaviour in meetings, [such as] slamming fists on tables and continually interrupting when others speak, or outside meetings, [such as] emailing repeatedly and, when blocked on email, printing and delivering copies of a message.”
A proposed solution is to put a law in place which would allow a churchwarden, Parochial Church Councils (PPC) member or other lay officer who was found to be bullying to be disqualified from holding office within the Church.
Another motion will also debate the formation of a new code of conduct which would outline unacceptable behaviour.
There’s concern that there are current rules that discipline clergy for bullying, but the same doesn’t apply to a lay officer, PCC member or church warden.
Ven Ireland told The Times the impact of bullying and harassment can be a “blight” on Christian communities.
He said: “If a churchwarden or lay officer is exercising controlling or bullying behaviour it is not just the priest who is the victim, the rest of the PCC and the congregation also experience the same behaviour and are frightened to speak out.
“Indeed there are some parishes which bishops are reluctant to recommend to prospective applicants, knowing that a series of previous [priests] have been hounded out of office.”
General Synod meeting in London from the 23rd-27th February.