Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Bye to Lesley

I'm not going to go back and look for the first time I referred to Lesley Fellows, now Lesley Crawley, on this my blog. She has decided to close down her blog and concentrate on her family and local ministry now that she is married and in a new ministry setting.

In my blog Lesley was referred to for being against the Anglican Communion Covenant, for her anti discrimination stance (also against religious bureaucracy) and for her 'edge of Anglicanism' viewpoint. What made her edge of Anglicanism interesting for me was that I was over the border, first simply by my views and then via my return to the Unitarians. So there was something to examine there, whereas my parallel anti-Covenant writing has taken on the characteristic of tying up loose ends.

She also was refashioned by me into a fictional figure, Lesley Bloke, who, long before any real world public pronouncements, was not only tied up into becoming a Unitarian minister encouraged by a certain Harry Tickpaper but also pursued to remain Anglican and with him by an Adam Tilgate. He was the one with the tendency to say "Okay" after many sentences. I'd no real idea who the real person Alan Crawley was, except I did listen to Radio Christmas with him as a presenter saying "Okay" a lot when asking Lesley about the environmental and No Anglican Covenant issues and about her religious outlook, with his questioning about whether she had consulted the Bible at all; but then Internet searches reveal so much about her, him, many people really, and also me for that matter (but then I know this). Thus I was also on a drawing spree (assisted by her Facebook photographs; she also started drawing too as a result of mine but didn't keep going) and produced multiple drawings of Lesley and later added a few of Alan too, to be used both fictionally and really.

While this fiction was going on sporadically, to follow the real world news, and was brought to an end, there was Lesley's real world of not getting employment within Anglicanism, and showing the gap between being a curate and landing a more substantive position in itself. She was not the only one. Lesley was ahead of herself being just a curate and co-ordinating the anti-Anglican Covenant position, as well as producing blog entries that went to the core of the discrimination that was the basis behind drawing up the Covenant. I'd just point out that her husband also had a blog and gave it up, and there must be little doubt that finishing his blog helped him get paid ministry later on.

The facts grow that blogging is dangerous, particularly if you have a paid role in a Church. We've seen it with a number of clergy. There is always the potential conflict between local confidentiality and blogging it out in public - but that self-evidently never happened here (nor has it with anyone who has been under this pressure). This privacy tension, I don't think, is the problem with blogging: it is the ideological conflict.

The conflict can have several forms. Perhaps they show you are not denominational enough, or that in discussing the denomination you are being too critical. Perhaps they show an ethical concern that isn't contained (or indeed specifically rejected) within the religious bureaucracy - for example, gay equality. Perhaps they show a viewpoint that is ideologically not the flavour of the time, as with a liberal Christian view. Lesley was 'guilty' of all of these.

It is odd that ministers of religion give out sermons, but when they blog they put themselves at risk. But then the sermons are given (in Anglicanism) under a promise to conform, and are said locally and perhaps are forgotten as quickly as they are given. Even if they follow a this-worldly or more humanist logic, the result ought to be the same. The trouble is, produce this on a blog and it starts to look suspect, and it isn't good enough to want to draw in the secular atheist at the same time. It looks like one being thing in one arena, and something else in the wider public. I got to a point where I asked Lesley to give some defences of Christian orthodoxy, about which none of them were particularly satisfying. I noted too a fall-off in some of the more purely ideological statements to refashion Christianity, with most being about equality and some being anti-Anglican Communion Covenant. I did notice, though, constant praising of her then most local bishop, a blogger himself of moderate comment who is nevertheless - if occasionally - dangerously touching on the anti-Covenant himself; she has since changed location.

In addition, Lesley showed positive commitment to environmentalism and postmodernism. The latter was practical - much about church rooves. It was odd, though, not to read any comment on the government reducing subsidies recently on solar panels on said rooves and elsewhere. Her commitment to postmodernism was of the open kind of postmodernity and the more social: I have Rachel and her blog for the stranger conservative textual material. I'm not convinced that Lesley was dealing with postmodernity all the time: much of it was just ordinary modernist pluralism, which exists in a secular space with people having various own views like her own. It is a similar criticism behind Rachel's reporting of why postmodernism, except hers is that Barthian view as translated into more about text when it touches on her 'faith encounter'.

Then another part of her blog was all the personal material, particularly full of psychological theories. Blog entry after entry could be like this combination of lifetime disturbances and psychological explanations, another basis of her religious humanism. Then came the very unfortunate KTL version of an STD, the Kissing Transmitted Lethargy, a 'sinful' result of the DNS BMA C, or the blog-open Declaration of No Sex Before Marriage for Anglican Clergy. It was exposure all around, but her blog survived the imposed lethargy.

Lesley at one point put herself into a dangerous pit, which is the one claiming the need to be honest. Start doing that, and it leads to demands - but that was when I started asking her for some orthodox defences. I noticed that this claim started to be dropped in favour of promoting faith and doubt, which is a more common liberal stance (and indeed not so liberal). I became a blogging terrorist, partly because I was now outside the Anglican fold, and I was as much a terrorist for Lesley's blog as for say Rachel's (and a very nice terrorist at that, I might add. I like to think of myself perhaps as a Lieutenant Columbo giving some respectful underarm bowling at my persistent persons of encounter).

To be ideologically fringe is one thing, for which many are once they've done enough theology, but I still think the real bureaucratic nasties will come out should the anti-Covenant folk succeed. There is a possibility now that the dioceses will not pass the thing, and if not champagne corks popping in some places will be accompanied by knives sharpening in others.

Equally, should the Covenant be passed there is then a real ethical question to folks like Lesley as to how they will be able to minister under that kind of bureaucratic ice age imposition, given the commitment to equality, to liberality, to the postmodern and the rest. Now she won't have a blog by which to answer the question, should the unfortunate day come.

I think a mistake Lesley made with the blog was to become too attached to these ratings. I have never bothered with them. I get comments and a non-published response too, and the knowledge of my blog runs wider than these. I suspect a lot of it is due to linking. She also provided a service in reviewing other blogs, from which mine disappeared I noticed. I rarely got a mention, boo hoo. To give up the blog in her case does mean giving up the attachment to these ratings. One of the attachments was of being a female blogger, to overcome the male tendency to write and express, and for Leslety to advance the cause of equality. But to become attached to ratings means to need to blog every day, and she was blogging to produce something by 7 am each morning, and often with a stack waiting on these ideological, equalitarian and anti-bureaucratic subjects. If I published something that drew a response, the only reason to wait was the stack. The commitment to blog also meant a move to Wordpress and its apparent more flexible presentation and potential. I thought shall I follow suit: but one thing I missed then on Lesley's blog was the absence of a blogroll to go to others. It might take a while to write a blog, but often it should take just a few minutes to read and move on.

So that's it then: cold turkey before Christmas as the blogging drug is drained from the system. I have myself considered ending this blog, but I haven't simply because there are things to say on occasions. Sometimes it goes days without an entry, and that's because there is nothing to say. My drawing has gone the same way - much less now, but occasionally I will add a personality. But then there can be a flurry of activity in the speciality news or more personal. I wonder whether Lesley will actually go blog teetotal, because to blog somewhere else, or do a Facebook equivalent, can be the means to return to heavy drinking. So we will see. Too much else crowds out the blogging, but sometimes the need to react and respond is overwhelming and, after all, blogging isn't supposed to be as damaging as being an alcoholic.

So, Lesley's Blog, RIP.


Anonymous said...

I've enjoyed Lesley's blogs also. I empathize to a certain degree with the balance of having a ministry and the freedom of blogging, saying what you wish.

Of course the boundaries are tighter for Anglican priests than those in the liberal fringe churches.

I don't hear much truth in thought from the pulpit (obviously) and look to blogs to find out what people really think - often I'm disappointed, Lesley's blog however was often refreshingly honest, though I did sometimes think there was a residual wish to be a little more radical.

I will miss this blog.

Leonard said...

Lesley is beloved--all the way to Central America (and back)...Un abraoz fuerte, Lesley!

Lesley said...

Hi Adrian

I read this post last night and I have been debating as to whether to respond or not... There are some things that aren't true within it... so should I correct you, or in reality is "Lesley" in this post really "Lesley Bloke" who you created and hence it is all semi-fiction anyway?

I feel I have tried to correct misunderstandings in the past but thought that perhaps you are not really that interested.

Still - if you are interested, the blog did not mean I couldn't find employment - twice at interviews it was commended, and it has been commended by at least three bishops and two archdeacons.

In fact, I only found one job that I wanted before we came here and the reason I failed to get it was because I am a woman.

I stopped applying for jobs when we married - Alan and I only decided we only want 1.5 jobs between us and I am better placed to pick up the half job because I can do theological lecturing, plus I have been very involved in environmental projects which mean some bits and pieces of environmental work could come my way. In addition to these reasons, I have been very busy running the NACC work and I want to continue it at least until July. And finally, my asthma has caused me to come close to death twice in the last three years... I am a level 4 out of 4 asthmatic and the medication hasn't been controlling it, and there are no stronger and no additional medicines that I can take. I know I was allergic to where I was living so I hope it will improve, but I want to focus on my health for a little while (when I had glandular fever and didn't go outside the asthma disappeared completely and it only came on so strongly when I started living in Ludgershall, so I am convinced it will improve now I have moved :) )...

I never found myself on the edge of Anglicanism. I never found the blog at odds with my ministry - quite the opposite. However, I must admit I did find your terror blogging stressful at times...

Sorry I didn't refer to your blog much - you do fantastic posts. The reality is I found your blog too stressful to read in the end.

Thanks for all the nice stuff you wrote about me though.


Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

This is about you. I read your blog carefully as you produced it. There was a whole group of people at the time discussing how blogs were working at a disadvantage to them, and perhaps we got the wrong impression but yours was included. On the job front you gave clear indication of worry at the time. As for being on the edge of Anglicanism, I recall clearly some person or people calling you even an atheist and you drawing in aggreeable humanist opinion. Your explanations were always a religious naturalism with added psychology theories. I did ask you to do it the other way, and your answers weren't exactly 'orthodoxy' but then perhaps that is within Anglicanism you feel. I am further 'out' than you, but I still maintain you are near or at the border. I wasn't aware my blogging was stress-making, because I'd have backed off for personal reasons, but it only was terror-blogging because it was from the outside and found its target in what you and others had written. That was the point.

Anonymous said...

Do you have a lot of clergy for such a small group? It seems like that to me; you'll be at one clergyperson to one member by 2050 at this rate.

Pluralist (Adrian Worsfold) said...

I don't know what group you are referring to at all. Simon's, mine, Lesley's?