Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Opinionated Vicars: Why Should the Dole Queue Have All the Good Bloggers?

Updated Update: apologies for forgetting Rev. Simon Stevens (aka Yellow), former chaplain at Southampton University, laid off, whose valiant attempt to continue his ministry self-supported didn't work out. Seems to be off radar at the moment.

Update: some good thoughts from Wannabepriest, and Giles Frasers resignation from St. Pauls already generating plenty of heat about whether the institutional church can cope with outspoken clerics.

What is it about blogging vicars? An increasing number are ending up between jobs, of whom RevLesley is the most recent. She writes

Blogging is not my ministry or my calling – being a priest is. At the moment I am in limbo – my previous license has expired and I have to wait to see whether I will get a new one…. It has radically changed my perspective on many things.

September was a bit like looking down the barrel of a gun. My old ministry was ending and there was no new ministry in sight. My calling as a priest consumes my whole identity. Without it I don’t know who I am, don’t know what I would do and couldn’t bear to have anything to do with church – the grief would be too much

She joins Peter Ould (now a financial analyst) and MadPriest, the original opinionated vicar, who has been unemployed since last summer. 
If I was doing a top 5 of the most outspoken online clergy, then these 3 would all be in it (along with Cranmers Curate). In at least one case, their blogging is one of the main factors in the lack of a CofE post. Without assuming that the individual is always right and the institution is always wrong, does this point to a problem with the CofE?
Confession time: after I've rehearsed in my head the stuff I want to say, I frequently tone it down. Several reasons:
 - sometimes blurting out the first thing you say isn't the wisest, or the most loving, or the most helpful thing to do. The Bishop of Willesden can advise on this.
 - I know some of the people who are reading this, and they include folk at my Diocese, and people in local churches. and people I need to work with. So I tone things down for public consumption. I don't know whether this is sensible or cowardly, or both.
 - I'm kept awake at night by hostile comments, or when people point out how abjectly wrong I've got things. So to spare myself the stress I tend to be more nuanced, to ask questions rather than make statements, to prod rather than proclaim. 
Of course, being opinionated doesn't make you right. It could just make you obnoxious. But if you're just repeating what everyone else is saying then why say it at all?
But if I was more opinionated about, say, the CofE, or my Diocese, or my community, would that be a good thing or a bad thing?
there I go again, phrasing things as a question....


  1. It's a strange thing. I blog, but as I am in the discernment process, I frame my blog (mostly about the vocation journey) in terms that won't identify or point a finger or hurt others, or obscure the clear and transparent discernment of the my vocation. I use a screen name for it.

    Elsewhere, in particular when commenting on others blog's, I have been critical or controversial on some aspects of the Church. I don't know whether the DDO has read them or not, but he has been supportive of my engagement with New Media including blog's as he believes such engagement has helped in the formation process.

    I can see that from the perspective of Peter Orde, Lesley Crawley or Mad Priest that their open and transparent blogging might be held against them in employment terms, but it sounds and feels very un-Christian to me.t

  2. Me too. Except sometimes I forget, and it comes out without being toned down, and then I think, "oops, have I ruined my career prospects?"

    And then I think, if that's what it takes to get on, then I don't particularly want that kind of career, thank you. I have no interest in the idea of the C of E as a closed shop, circa 1950, where you have to be "one of the chaps" and toe the line if you want to get on.

    I like to think that blogging clergy are, in a small way, contributing to the reform of the institution. We'll see.

  3. Wot they said ^ *grin*

    I suspect one of the reasons that I'm now a baked-bean-stacker rather than a bookseller is my blogging: I speak my mind, and some sectors of the Christian book trade don't always welcome that. Interestingly, and rather sadly, many of my critics don't have sufficient courage of their convictions to criticise me under their real names, so they snipe and snarl under pseudonyms.

    But never mind: baked-bean-stacking is immensely liberating and gives me even more freedom to speak out.

    Happy daze, David, and do keep on blogging :)

  4. Thanks for the comments: I think there's a balance to be struck. On the one hand, the fact that we're accountable for what we say on here can stop us saying unhelpful, rude or badly thought out nonsense. If I shoot my mouth off, and then get called in by the Archdeacon to explain myself, am I a persecuted minority, or an idiot who needs to learn a few home truths?

    On the other hand, I take Charlies point - we don't want a CofE which demands monochrome vicars and leadership. I guess blogging subvers normal CofE practice, which is to let the mavericks get on with being mavericks in their parishes, below the radar, and not ask any questions. Putting your maverickness into the blogosphere makes it harder to simply ignore.

  5. Hmmm, this is a difficult one. When I was appointed to my present post I was well aware that my blog would be checked out. That was fair enough as I am accountable for what I write and publish.

    I have, however, read some colleagues' material and at times wondered whether they were wise to express themselves in the way they have because there is a danger we define our ourselves and our ministry by what we write and that may not be the whole story about what we offer. In some cases I've read things and thought if I was interviewing this person for a post in our team I'd want to ask about what they had written and why.

    In at least two of the cases you have cited David I had the impression from what the bloggers had written that they had a quite specific idea of the sort of posts they were looking for and I wondered how realistic they were being. I don't know what influence their on line presence had on their job prospects and unless we were part of the selection processes we cannot make any judgement about that influence.

    I do know of two other cases where bloggers wrote about their experiences and circumstances. In both cases I knew quite a bit of background story and thought they were presenting a distorted picture. In one case the blogger, now no longer in the C of E, consistently wrote negatively about colleagues and friends of mine and about his experiences. I did not feel that I could challenge what they were writing because of the post I held in the diocese at the time. But it did make me very aware that what someone presents on line about themselves, their circumstances and their ministry may be only a very partial and subjective part of the story.

  6. In Peter Ould's case, he developed an obsession with men's bottoms. This is hardly a recommendation for promotion.

  7. I'm not clergy, nor do I hold any position within the Church; however, I decided some time ago to give up my anonymity.

    I used to blog under the moniker of 'webmaster' on eChurch, and had images as my avatars for Twitter and Facebook etc.

    I felt that in operating in this manner I had no real accountability, and so I now use an image of myself and my real name and my priests know I blog and are free to comment to me privately should they wish to.

    Although I do still blog and comment on my own blog as 'webmaster' this is more to differentiate myself from other commentators and to identify myself as the author.

    I awlays make sure I use my real first name on other blogs.

    I also now give my location and it wouldn't be tough to find me in real life.

    It's one of the best moves I've made online. I actually found the process rather freeing and liberating.

    I now feel much more accountable for my writing; both on the blog and on forums and elsewhere.

    It is no coincidence that the vast majority of the obnoxious comments and emails I receive, are done with anonymity.

    By the way David; I haven't been following this blog all that long and want to say that it's superb and it's on my exclusive 'must read' list.

    Keep on blogging!

  8. What does it profit a man if he becomes the Bishop of Willesden or the ABC, but suffers the loss of his soul?

    It is spiritually, psychologically and emotionally healthier to be honest (in a blog, if you are a blogger) and land up on the dole than to bite your tongue until it is ulcerated, and keep your job.

    So say I, though I am self-employed. I would say the same if I were employed--which perhaps would mean that I would not be employed for long!

  9. I think that non-bloggers are often overawed by the time commitment they perceive to be involved in regular blogging, especially blogs like Mad Priest's and Lesley's, which are added to daily (often several times a day). And I suspect that potential employers see at least some of that as time taken away from one's job. There may be sone truth in that, especially when one also reads a couple of dozen blogs a day and comments on them (sometimes in 'conversations' that take up a lot of time and energy).

    I also have read things on blogs and thought "Not much Matthew 18:15-20 going on here". And I've read things clergy say about their parishes on blogs and thought to myself "Don't they think their people read this?" Stories shared in such a way that no one in the parish would have any difficulty identifying who is being talked about, for instance.

    Yes, I tone it down. I make no apology for that. That's because the blog is only one part of my life. And if I've got something critical to say about a fellow-Christian, I think I should say it to their face , or in a private letter.

  10. Oh yes, and I also think that the cause of Christian community is not well served by anonymity, although I have blogging friends I like and respect who disagree with me.

  11. Just to say that if I'd read this yesterday, I'd have left a longer comment.

    As it is, I think Phil Ritchie has said it all rather better. So I'll just second his comment.