Almost two years ago I was bullied out of a job I loved, by men I trusted, who still refuse to meet with me to discuss what happened. I’ve been told by one of their wives that believing I’m a victim doesn’t make me one. By the same logic, believing you didn’t abuse your power doesn’t mean you didn’t.
Others have copped it far worse than I did, but it still doesn’t make what happened to me OK. It’s right to speak up and call out this abhorrent behaviour. Bullying someone is never right. Power must always be used carefully. When someone can’t speak up for themselves we should speak up for them.
PS: I’m OK. Thanks to many friends and my family I landed on my feet and I’m now in a great job.
I was hired by a nice guy (a Senior Minister) to be the women’s trainer alongside him and two other full-time ministers in a multi-congregation parish of several hundred people, with just a little bit of children’s ministry on the side (an 80/20 split). I turned up to discover that the children’s ministry needed an awful lot of work. In the first year I did 75% children’s ministry and 25% women’s ministry. In the second year this became a 60/40 split. I managed to get it to a 50/50 split in the third by working 70+ hours a week. I lived and breathed my job, I poured my life into people and the parish. We worked on a congregational model, so I worked alongside one of the guys (another Assistant Minister) on our two biggest congregations, as well as coordinating all of the children’s ministry and parish wide women’s ministry.
At the end of a particular year one of the Assistants left. He was the one I worked alongside on the two biggest congregations. As a result, they reshuffled everything and I now worked with the Senior Minister on one congregation, with one Assistant on another, and with the third Assistant who oversaw youth. I point out that this had increased my work load and I was a bit concerned about what it would all look like and was told that we all needed to pick up extra work with the former Assistant leaving and a new one starting.
Theoretically I met with my boss weekly. But he’d often not turn up at the arranged time. When I asked him to email or text me if he wasn’t coming, he responded that I was being unrealistic and his preferred method of communication was face to face.
In the following year we had a small conflict, largely caused by the fact that we hadn’t met up all year. In the staff meeting that week I expressed my frustration at the way everything was being handled and said: “I feel like giving up”. I emailed my boss that night to explain. I talked about the way we were not understanding each other and the need to meet and talk through things. I mentioned that I was feeling unsupported and stressed out and that this was not good. I told him that I was looking forward to having a week off in just over a week and the chance to recharge and reflect (my first break in six months). Knowing I could only change myself I said: “If I can’t work out how I can do things differently, although I don’t want it to come to this, then maybe I will need to look at an exit plan.” This was my cry for help.
We finally met that week, and his opening words were: “So when are you leaving?” To which I replied that this was not the conversation I thought we would be having. He repeated that the job was only going to get bigger and busier and more complex and that if I didn’t have additional capacity then I needed to go. He offered for me to take my holidays immediately and not in three days’ time. I said No. We talked for less than 30 minutes.
I left the meeting feeling shell-shocked and not quite understanding what had happened. I called the Assistant Minister who had left previously and went to his house and talked with him and his wife, trying to work it out. He reminded me that at this point that I hadn’t quit and that the boss hadn’t fired me yet. I rang the boss that night to clarify the situation and he couldn’t believe that I wanted to talk to him again; he thought that it was obvious that I had to go. I then asked to take stress leave immediately before my holidays and handed over the responsibilities I had for the next few days.
My boss then went to the wardens and told them that I had quit.
I contacted a denominational leader and told them that I thought I had been fired. We met up before I went away for a few days.
They saw my boss while I was away and told him that I thought he had fired me. He told them that I had quit. They said that it would be good for us to talk together as we had a significantly different interpretation of the events of the week before.
On my second last day of holidays I received an email from my boss saying that he longed to understand why I had quit and had asked the wife of one of the wardens to sit in on our next conversation to ensure that we were understanding each other. I replied to the email that I hadn’t quit, but that he had fired me. I asked the denominational leader to come with me to the meeting. They thought that it was all going to be fine and that we had misunderstood each other.
The morning of the meeting the warden’s wife sent me an agenda that read like a mediation (she was not a trained mediator). Basically, the process was that I would read my email, and then the boss would get to clarify anything. My boss would read his email, and then I would get to clarify anything; then I would get to state what outcome I wanted – which was that I stay and we work things out – and then we would review everything in three months’ time. The boss then went away and met with the wardens. This was one and a half weeks after everything blew up. On the Sunday we met again, and the boss read a prepared statement that said that I had to leave and that my proposal was unacceptable. I was told that we would announce my departure in two weeks’ time and that I would be paid out for three months, including accommodation. Until the announcement was made, people would be told that I was on leave.
So, there was less than two weeks from my initial conflict to being told that I had to leave.
Then the icing on the cake… The following week on Easter Saturday I was delivered, in an unmarked envelope, without any cover letter, a deed to sign by the following Wednesday (noting Monday was a public holiday). The denominational leader had never seen anything like it. The deed said that I would finish on the Sunday of the meeting, and so would be paid out from that date (despite the fact it was they who didn’t want to announce it for two weeks and to say that I was on leave). They wanted to give me a check for my Ministry Expense Account (MEA, which had $20K in it as I was saving for a new car) and to pay everything owing to me in one go. The denominational leader told me that I needed to speak to the Bishop, who I went to see that Wednesday. He told me not to sign anything and basically dictated the letter for me to send to the wardens, which told them to call him and stipulated that I would not speak to them until they had done so. It turned out that this was the first the Bishop had heard about the whole situation, but my boss had gone to the diocesan lawyer and asked him to draft the deed.
In the end I work out that the boss had done the wrong thing and that I had been unfairly dismissed. The Bishop knew it and was not impressed. The boss and the wardens ignored my request to talk to the Bishop and rang me, pressuring me to sign the deed. I refused.
In the end, we missed the proposed ‘announcement date’. By this stage I had hardly slept or eaten since the conflict began. The denominational leader rang, having spoken to the Bishop and the Wardens, and wanted to know if there were any circumstances under which I would sign the deed. In the end, I needed to put an end to the whole mess, so I negotiated the payout to be at least tax effective, got them to remove the confidentiality clause, agreed not to disparage them, and refused to budge on the termination date being anything other than the date the announcement was made, which meant that they had to pay me for three months from that point. And then I signed the damn thing.
So, in the middle of that month it was announced that I was leaving. You’d think that would bring things to a conclusion, but the announcement was a farce. At the main morning congregation, the Senior Minister and the three wardens were not at the gathering. The boss had decided that it would be easier for me if he did not come (I would have rather that he had been there to face everyone and to look after them). The warden making the announcement was running late. So, the gathering came to an end and the service leader (who didn’t know what the announcement was) said that the wardens had something to say and then ensued deathly silence. The musicians repeated a song as everyone frantically tried to find a warden! The warden came running in and was so out of breath that people could hardly understand the beginning of his announcement. Then there were many tears when it was announced that they had decided it was best for me and the church that I leave effective immediately.
It’s been a nightmare. I’m not sure I could trust another bloke enough to work for one again in the Church system.
For all of those who, like me, ‘just’ wanted an apology – it doesn’t always provide the relief you hoped for. Via email my ex-boss said the words: “for any way I sinned against you”. Right now, I feel angry and hurt. It seems cheap – too cheap – and like he gets off way too easily. But it’s the end of the road. As one who has been much forgiven, what right do I have to deny forgiveness to another? Please pray for more grace than is humanly possible, for the ability to forget, and for protection against bitterness. May God’s Spirit work in me to make me more like Jesus.