Why the Church Society report shouldn’t convince anybody

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What might someone unfamiliar with the specific detail of the case in the Church Society report by Lee Gatiss be able to observe? Merely by being familiar with the workings of the Church of England, the realities of ministry as an incumbent, and what constitutes proper process, an interested reader of the ‘full’ report and ‘Executive Summary’ should be able to observe the following.

  • It is questionable to say the least for the leadership of a national Christian organisation made up largely of senior ministers to publish and widely circulate a report which appears to be largely a character assassination of one woman who does not hold a ministry position, who identifies as a survivor of abuse and who has stated that she is still suffering ill health. Kate Andreyev has not named parishioners over the past few years, yet the Church Society senior leaders do so in their report, and they name and criticise Kate Andreyev throughout. This is strange, given their complementarian views.
  • The document (and in particular the Executive Summary) purports to be an independent report on a ministry couple and a parish. Yet it is not an independent report. Lee Gatiss is not independent, nor is he an investigator. The Church Society senior leadership, including Lee Gatiss, stand accused of dishonest and bullying behaviour. In publishing this report, Church Society and Lee Gatiss appear to be marking their own homework. 
  • Church Society is an interested party in the appointment of any future incumbent and as stated in their emails amongst themselves, they would not want to side with an incumbent instead of people of influence in the congregation, regardless of the any injustice. This sits uncomfortably with their role as senior leaders.
  • Lee Gatiss mentions a letter in Evangelicals Now (from Kate Andreyev, James Mendelsohn and Nick Howard). Yet at the time of writing, Lee Gatiss has not responded point-by-point to the serious matters raised by James Mendelsohn and Nick Howard, even though this would surely take considerably less time than his 45-page report must have taken to write. 
  • Lee Gatiss states in his report that the word ‘allegations’ assumes neither guilt nor innocence. But in the last few pages of the report he describes the allegations of the group in the congregation against the Andreyevs, and simply assumes that they are true. This is a
  • contradiction with consequences.
  • The information about the parish does not appear to have come from any investigation done by Church Society, but rather straight from the current Church Wardens. The words “The Church Wardens report…” are given as the basis for an assessment of the Andreyevs’ ministry. Yet readers are not told how long the Church Wardens have been in post, if they were Church Wardens over three years ago when Michael Andreyev was still in active ministry in the church, whether they are still in post, what their own attitude was towards the Andreyevs, who are they speaking for, and whether they had any active part in what went on several years ago at Stapenhill.
  • The refusal of the Church Society senior leaders to reflect on the behaviour of their President Rod Thomas throughout the report is striking. Lee Gatiss actually states (p.20), “Rod Thomas is the Bishop of Maidstone, and was clearly acting here in that capacity and not in his capacity as Honorary President of Church Society”. Christians (and especially Christian leaders) are called to be people of integrity, maintaining consistent godliness whatever ministry hat they might be wearing. It is concerning to see a senior Christian leader such as Lee Gatiss refusing to address serious, well-documented moral complaints about Bishop Rod Thomas, the President of Church Society, on the basis that he wasn’t engaged in Church Society work at the times in question. Church Society ought to expect its President to uphold moral standards at all times. Lee Gatiss gives the impression that Church Society would not hold any impropriety against Bishop Rod Thomas so long as he is not acting on behalf of Church Society at the time the impropriety is committed.
  • The report lacks the context that the Bishop of Maidstone would not be a neutral party in any parish situation. Rod Thomas has to report on the number of churches to which he gives oversight and needs to retain oversight at those churches in order to justify his existence as a flying bishop. It is in his own interests to side with those influential within the church rather than with the incumbent.
  • The Executive Summary is not a true summary of what is in the ‘full’ report. The Executive Summary focuses on the situation in the parish and on the vicar Michael Andreyev. The ‘full’ report focuses on dealings with Kate Andreyev.
  • The full report shows that Kate Andreyev had serious concerns about the conduct of the Church Society senior leaders, including Lee Gatiss. The Executive Summary ignores these concerns. Kate’s public concerns have been about the behaviour of the senior leaders of Church Society towards her and her husband. Many of Kate’s publicly expressed concerns to Church Society have been about its President, Bishop Rod Thomas – yet his name does not appear in the Executive Summary.
  • The paragraphs in the ‘full’ report on the Andreyevs’ links to Jonathan Fletcher seem to serve no purpose other than to tar them with the same brush as Jonathan Fletcher. If there is another purpose, it is not clear. Lee Gatiss says that Jonathan Fletcher gave the Andreyevs money to go on holiday ‘recently’, but does not make clear whether this was before or after Jonathan Fletcher’s abusive behaviour was exposed. Information online shows that it was in 2017, before Jonathan Fletcher’s behaviour was exposed, and that Jonathan Fletcher used the fact that he had given money to the Andreyevs to try to manipulate them. It also reveals that the money had to be used to pay for accommodation owned by the Fletcher-Wilkinson family.
  • An experienced minister of a typical Church of England parish will realise that the comments about the electoral roll, finances, attendance, staff, complaints etc. may appear sensational but are not necessarily ominous. A few figures are given by the report, but without context or explanation. Electoral rolls are unreliable as a measure, given that some vicars encourage as many as possible in the parish to register whereas other vicars only encourage regular attenders to be on the roll. There can be many reasons for a drop in church giving (e.g. a well connected former incumbent, one family giving £30k per year who then move away) or attendance (several new churches starting in the local area, the general trend of church attendance). These measures do not indicate that the vicar is at fault. That an organisation such as Church Society, with its stated emphasis on biblical faith, should uphold such a worldly and unbiblical view of what constitutes a successful church or ministry raises questions about it as a Christian organisation. 
  • Lee Gatiss’s statement, “It appears that the majority of the church membership lost confidence in the Vicar” is not substantiated and is problematic as Church of England churches, unlike independent churches, do not have ‘membership’. The accusations in the letter (mentioned on p. 1 of the Executive Summary) have not been substantiated either and it is unclear as to whether the signatories have been verified. Church Society states in p.4 of its Executive Summary that it believes in Anglican polity and does not seek to undermine it. Yet Church Society undermines its stated belief in Anglican polity by giving such weight to a petition letter against the vicar. Petitions and letters of “no confidence” do not have any authority in the Church of England. 
  • The ‘detailed response’ in the 45-page report (pages 19-38) does not appear to answer the points raised by Kate Andreyev. Surely it would have been possible for Church Society President Bishop Rod Thomas to provide clear answers to the points concerning his behaviour? The lack of response from Rod Thomas makes it look as if he is being protected by Church Society, one of Kate Andreyev’s complaints. The lack of response from Dick Farr (Church Society Trust Chair) and William Taylor (a member of Church Society Council at the time Kate Andreyev approached the organisation) is similarly concerning. Indeed William Taylor has still not addressed his intimidating and manipulative behaviour towards Nick Howard. This report is billed as Church Society’s final word on the Andreyevs, but the silence regarding the conduct of key Church Society individuals shows the report is selective. It is troubling to see a Christian organisation claim to issue a comprehensive
  • report but in reality pick and choose the matters it wants to address.
  • The report does not answer straightforward issues relating to its current Council members. Kate Andreyev quotes from emails between the Church Society leaders to illustrate how they spoke about her and her husband, but Lee Gatiss writes, “Even if CS and CST trustees were to have used such expressions…” Either the trustees did use these expressions, or they didn’t. Given that these emails are there in black and white in the public domain, it is strange that Lee Gatiss questions their existence. 
  • That Church Society should seek to rehash a Clergy Discipline Measure complaint against Michael Andreyev – from over three years ago – which has not been upheld! – is concerning. A reading of the CDM document and Code of Practice reveals that what Lee Gatiss asserts to have happened would simply not be allowable in the CDM process. Complainants do not get to determine the outcome of the complaint. It would be a misuse of the CDM to apply it to try to make a vicar leave a parish. If there was malpractice in its administration, this would be misconduct on the part of the bishop rather than on the part of Michael Andreyev. 
  • The fact that the Andreyevs have remained in the vicarage suggests that they haven’t done anything to deserve sanction and that what they say is true.
  • Parts of the report and in particular the Executive Summary, are written in the same style as the recent safeguarding reports on John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher, as if equating the Andreyevs with John Smyth and Jonathan Fletcher in the minds of the reader. Yet Church Society is not a safeguarding organisation and Lee Gatiss is not a safeguarding professional. Michael and Kate Andreyev have not been found guilty of any wrongdoing and there has been no police interest in them. Michael Andreyev is still legally the vicar in Stapenhill and has not been suspended or had his licence removed. Michael and Kate Andreyev are not senior figures and Kate Andreyev has no public role.
  • Lee Gatiss makes much of what he sees as the “clerical privileges” and “system of protections” in Michael Andreyev’s freehold status. However, Lee Gatiss fails to mention that clergy with Freehold status do not have normal employment rights. A clergy person who is being bullied by members of church or by senior clergy cannot take his employer to a tribunal (because there is no employer) or sue for constructive dismissal. Many parish clergy in the Church of England have been bullied in this way by unaccountable parishioners or senior clergy (see https://www.sheldonhub.org for more information). Lee Gatiss also states that Michael Andreyev being formally given six months’ paid leave / notice to find another post, as if Michael Andreyev were employed (Lee Gatiss even uses the word ’employment’ in the Church Society Update about the report), but it is difficult to see how this could be the case as Michael Andreyev is on Church of England freehold.
  • The Church Society report claims that in November 2019, the PCC (Church Council) of St Peter’s ‘passed a resolution that there had been “irretrievable pastoral breakdown” between the congregation and Revd Andreyev’. Yet information online reveals that many in the congregation were unaware of this resolution and stated that there had been no breakdown between them and Michael Andreyev. The actual resolution letter from the current PCC to the bishop claims a breakdown, but not with the congregation or parish. PCC minutes for November 2019 where the discussion and vote was taken claim that those items were confidential. A PCC is supposed to represent the congregation, but this particular matter appears to have been deliberately withheld from the rest of the church, with blatant disregard for those who thought differently. Interestingly, a few months before the resolution, the original CDM complainant, whose complaints against Michael Andreyev had already been dismissed, was invited to address the current PCC about the matter. Surely it is not the business of a Church Council to review malicious complaints that have already been formally dismissed by the Church of England?
  • Church Society states that it does not have the authority or remit to intervene in a parish. There is no evidence that Kate Andreyev or her husband asked Church Society to be involved in the situation in the parish. Yet Church Society appears to have sought out information from some in the parish in order to present a particular narrative.
  • The decision by Church Society to publish and widely circulate their document sits uncomfortably with their claim not to be taking sides and their claim to be concerned for the welfare of the Andreyevs. Even more, Church Society’s decision to publish such a document sits uncomfortably with their claim to be imitating the Lord Jesus in not reviling and in entrusting themselves to the one who judges justly (1 Peter 2:23); and also in their claim to be valuing others above themselves, not looking to their own interests but to the interests of others (Philippians 2:3-4). The Lord Jesus had strong words for the hypocritical senior religious leaders of the day, but it is hard to imagine him broadcasting such character assassination of a woman of low status in the church, especially in the light of how he treated women throughout his ministry. It is worrying that a national Christian organisation would publish such trenchant criticism of a private couple when the organisation does not appear to have verified its claims. 
  • There appears to be inconsistency in Church Society’s approach with regard to an independent investigation into its senior leaders, . On p. 39 Church Society clearly did not consider itself bound to do everything Kate requested, namely to acknowledge any wrongdoing on their part before an independent review. Andrew Towner’s email stresses Church Society’s “desire to apologise for whatever we have done wrong, and to repent in changed behaviour. The best way to do this is to invite independent judgement so that everything can be considered, and the required apologies and repentance can be understood and enacted by us in a holistic manner. We are committed to putting ourselves under that professional external scrutiny.” If that was “best” then, it remains “best” now. After Kate’s public letter in Evangelicals Now (which does not decline a genuinely independent investigation into the Church Society leaders), Church Society then reacted as if it suddenly was bound by Kate’s requests and abandoned its plans for an independent review, without any consultation or communication with Kate. This suggests that Church Society’s governance is poor and that its senior leaders have something to hide.
  • Church Society exists to contend in and reform the Church of England. It is worrying how often in his report Lee Gatiss is willing to misrepresent Church of England polity, processes and the realities of parish ministry. One assumes this is a misguided attempt to protect the reputation of Church Society.