Sunday, 20 October 2013

Healing a Divided Parish

On January 19th, 1982, the culmination came of a court case which had caused great divisions in St Brelade's Parish. Mrs Olga Johnson, Rating Officer at the Parish Hall, sued Mr Donald Lucas, former Assistant Rating Officer for defamation. The case was thrown out, and Mr Lucas was thereby vindicated in the actions he had taken. Nevertheless, the Constable, Len Downer, who had sacked Mr Lucas, refused to reinstate him.
This was a time of tumult in the Parish, where anger led to larger parish meetings that could fit in the Parish Hall, so that several meetings had to be held at the main hall in Quennevais School. I was there, and I've never seen anything like that since. Enid Quénault, when she became Constable after Len Downer wisely decided not to stand, spent months healing wounds, and getting people to talk to one another in the Parish Offices, where notes were being written and sent back and forth.
The history of that has been detailed by myself in 2011 from public domain Court records, and from reports in the Jersey Evening Post, and can be read here:
Throughout this time, of fiery exchanges at Parish meetings, the Rector, Michael Halliwell was working hard towards finding a solution acceptable to the Parishioners, and eventually proposed one that was acceptable (as you can read in the history).

What I was not aware of until browsing through back copies of "The Pilot", the Jersey Anglican Church Magazine of the time, was that he had written on this topic specifically for "The Pilot". I think it still has good lessons to teach us today.
Michael Halliwell, writing in "The Pilot"
Democracy is alive and well in the Parish of St Brelade following the public meeting which voted overwhelmingly in favour of the re-instatement of Donald Lucas as Clerk in the Parish Rating Office. Many will have regrets that life in our Parish should have come to this pass, but we must avoid the unconscious impulse to look for a scapegoat. I have been in this matter right from the beginning and have naturally been the recipient of many confidences; some things, however, can be said.
Firstly, we must be thankful that the same democratic process which gave our Connétable an overwhelming mandate to his office in our Parish, also brought to light and corrected an error of judgment on his part. We must now, in our different ways, stand behind him in guidance and in support for any further decisions that he may face.
Secondly, we must accept that if mistakes have been made by anyone, the proper and Christian attitude to criticism is to accept it, face up to it and allow it to be assessed at its true value, so that anything wrong can be put right. It is not only Christian, but also common sense to says "I may be wrong, and if I an, please show me."
Thirdly, we must accept the fact that St Brelade, in the past decade, has become a very much bigger parish and this growth has brought with it an increase in the administrative complexity of the work at our Parish Hal). New situations call for new solutions and the old ways do not always produce the new solutions that are needed. Crucial to this is the role of Committees. When I first came to $t Brelade I introduced a Parochial Church Council, but until this has legal status, any successor of mine in office could easily disband it, or only use it when it suited him, and he would be perfectly entitled to do so.
Exactly the same can be said of the Comite Paroissial and our Connétable is equally free to consult, or not, as he may wish. In days of old vector and Constable were able to rule as benevolent autocrats and were only accountable to an assembly of parishioners and that in a fairly limited sphere. In many ways this is such easier, and when all goes well it is fine, and it is also less time-consuming.
But in today's world we can no longer, I believe, regard it as the right way for a Parish to run its affairs whether civil or Ecclesiastical. An increasingly well educated and vocal community must have a part in the ordering of its communal life and this should now, in my view, be built into the official fabric of the working of both civil and ecclesiastical committees in our Island.
My feeling is that our Parish in suffering from what is known as "structure strain". When such a strain is thrown on a structure which is not equipped to cope, the strain falls on the individuals in the structure; these individuals then re-act in accordance with their own personal strengths and weaknesses. Next, the powers of evil cash in on the situation, to create polarisation and build up hatred (often stimulated by real or imagined hurts of the past which have not been opened up to forgiveness and healing), and destructive conflict ensues. If this conflict is not checked and reversed, and a process of interpretation and reconciliation begun, not only are lives ruined but they can even be lost.
In writing frankly about our Parish, I have tried not to trespass on the ground of the Committee of Enquiry set up under Sir Robert Le Masurier, and I hope that all parishioners will share with that Committee any concerns they have as honestly and charitably as they can, so that what is wrong may be put right and harmony can be re-established in our community.
As you may imagine, I have been much exercised in heart and mind about the whole matter, and have endeavoured to maintain a position which is appropriate to my role as the Rector of every parishioner, without being untrue to Christian principles, truthfulness and justice. I believe that the role of Christians in public life in to see that right is done and is seen to be done, and to be active in the doing of it. The role of the Parish Priest, as I see it, is where necessary to ensure that this comes to pass.
May I express my grateful thanks to the-many Christians who have spent hours in prayer for our Parish and those who bear office in it, and ask them to continue in their prayers for all who serve us in any way, that the work of our community may go on an it should, and our honorary system, perhaps modified where necessary, continue to serve our Parish well in the future as it undoubtedly has in the past.
Reconciliation will not be easy and it will take time, years perhaps, but we Christians must not be party to any papering over the cracks. We must strive, in season and out of season, to show openness, honesty and compassion in our own lives; we must endeavour to bring together those who are estranged, and never must we accept that anything is too hard for the Lord.

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