Cornhill / CofE Accountability

David Bryant davidbryant at
Mon Jan 7 21:55:58 GMT 2008

I have been interested to read the various comments on Cornhill, and agree
with many of them.


In the last few years, I have had experiences with the Church of England
which have convinced me beyond all doubt that, although it contains many
decent people, as an organisation it really is extremely unpleasant.
Although the matter in question was nothing to do with the subject of this
list, it is interesting that many of the same sort of issues crop up here as
they do in the Cornhill debate, and the earlier debate on appointment of
bells advisers to various parts of the CofE. The common theme is
accountability and openness – or rather, the lack of both.


In these enlightened times, most organisations have transparent policies on
how they address issues and what can be expected of them. Not so the CofE.
The cause of my dispute with them was the way they handled a complaint of
bullying which I made to the Diocesan authorities (the vicar of the church
concerned having done absolutely nothing about the issue despite being made
well aware of it). The CofE has no policies on handling complaints of
bullying (or disability discrimination, for that matter) and relies of bluff
and bluster, and empty phrases such as “pastoral resolution” of problems. In
the case of my dispute, the Archdeacon told me that I shouldn’t assume he
had done nothing (I did, and do assume just that as all the evidence pretty
strongly points to this), but that he cannot tell me what he did or what the
outcome was because it is ‘confidential’. Quite how the outcome could be
confidential to the point that the complainant cannot be told of it escapes
me – given that the whole point is to resolve their complaint and most
organisations have a clear policy which states that the complainant will be
told of the outcome. I refused to accept this, with the result that the
Archdeacon resorted to intimidation tactics. This has lead to a permanent
stand-off. I wrote to the Archbishop four times asking, quite reasonably I
thought, why the CofE has no policies on issues of bullying and disability
discrimination. He tried to fob me off and didn’t answer regarding
disability discrimination. There is apparently no policy on bullying because
“it would be impossible to ensure that each parish followed an anti-bullying
policy”. Funnily enough, other organisations manage to have procedures in
place and although the structure of the CofE would create problems I don’t
believe they are insurmountable and that nothing could be done. As it is,
all we have is the Clergy Discipline Measure which is extremely difficult to
invoke, and specifically isn’t for minor issues – which, it says, should be
resolved informally. In typical CofE style, this woolly phrase isn’t
amplified and there is no guidance on what should be done if informal
attempts at resolution fail. 


What has this to do with bell conservation, you may think. Well, I think
there are interesting parallels to be drawn between this and the way the
CofE has responded to criticisms of its appointment procedure for advisers –
the response often seems to be almost astonishment and indignation that
anybody could have the audacity to question the CofE’s actions. Direct
questions such as ‘can I see your policies on this issue’, be it bullying,
appointment of bells advisers or many other things, are met with evasion.
The bottom line seems to be that the position the CofE finds most
comfortable is on the fence, and lack of written policies enables them to
make up the rules to suit the individual circumstances. In addition, there
is a culture of secrecy in the organisation, and I have found that even
getting a straight answer about whether there are policies on any given
issues is extremely difficult – in the course of my dispute, I had to find
and read any possibly relevant policies myself (how did we manage before the
internet!) and then challenge them with not having an applicable policy.


We shall see in due course what happens regarding Cornhill, but the ‘sit on
the fence’ position is likely to be ‘do nothing’ and personally I think that
would be a shame; for the donor who has generously offered to pay for the
new bells, for those who have put much work into the project already, for
the founders who would be denied a chance to produce a first-class modern
ring, and for the church. Regarding the comment about the identities of the
complainants not being relevant, I would argue that in some cases it is
relevant. For instance, it has been noted that Chris Cooper is one of the
objectors. Mr Cooper makes no secret of the fact that he is an enthusiast
for the retention of the old in most things relating to bells and ringing,
which is of course a view he is entitled to but I hope it is clear to the
Chancellor that this is not a commonly-held standpoint and most of us
wouldn’t take the concept of retention to anything like the same extent. I
strongly believe that matters should be in the public domain; modern secular
planning control procedures are transparent and as the faculty system is
supposed to be equivalent to this the same should apply.


Like Chris Pickford, I am somewhat concerned to read that the Chancellor has
approached an “expert”. The question of course arises as to who this expert
is, and what experience they have to advise on matters such as this – the
same argument, incidentally, as can be applied to the most recent
appointments to the CCC Bells Committee.


I think the main point of what I am saying is that a large part of the
underlying problem is lack of accountability and transparency, and a lack of
procedures in many areas, leading to messy situations. In the Cornhill case,
it is easy to see that the Chancellor could quite possibly be placed in a
difficult position, bombarded with contradictory opinions from both sides
and with perhaps no way of distinguishing expert from “expert”. We know who
knows what they are talking about, but non bell specialists may not and in
that respect we lack a common voice as there is no formally-constituted
group dedicated to the study of bells. Perhaps it is time to think about
forming such a group in order to have a common voice to bring pressure on
the CofE and other involved parties to adopt more open and accountable



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