In discussing, recently, what was happening at Fairfield Uniting Church, with people from another Denominational Congregation who know our situation, I was asked, “are you not now prepared to accept the Uniting Church in Australia is broken, not just in Fairfield but throughout?”.
This post will expand on why I answered “yes” for Fairfield Uniting Church (NSW) but, was unwilling to condemn the entire Uniting Church in Australia. Though, having said that, an email from the Presbytery Chairman has shifted my perspective, of the wider Church, south. Unjustified though it may seem to some, I read his email as a door closing event. It was the trigger for me to return once more to this blog.
Fairfield Uniting Church is certainly broken, it has become a very dark place. Outwardly functional but with a leadership leading a Congregation down a treacherous path and, one which has spiritually paralysed and rendered the Church void of inclusive fellowship.
Fairfield Uniting sunk to an incredible depth one Sunday after the morning service, some distance back, when after a turbulent Congregational meeting my wife Judith was set upon by a Mrs. Solifoni, was verbally abused and intimidated, to the extent Judith has not returned to worship at Fairfield Uniting. No, that event was not the first time Mrs. Solifoni has done this and Judith is not the only person to have been on the receiving end of the Solifoni wrath. As it has been for others before her, Mrs. Solifoni's abuse of Judith, on that occasion, was the last straw.
Why Judith was targeted. The whole story is long and convoluted: suffice to say, within this post, the Solifoni family is a disturbed and estranged family and, because of a particular situation relating to a family member, choosing to go their own way, the Solifoni parents and other family members, have chosen to divest themselves of and, to shift the blame, for that persons choice, to others in the Congregation; bullying chosen individuals until they walk away from the Church. That appalling behaviour is neither a recent phenomenon nor isolated to a single person at Fairfield Uniting Church; it has been going on for years, progressively worsening, slowly whittling away targeted Congregational members who object, take a stand and who challenge what is happening.
Significant to note, Mrs Solifoni is the wife and mother of self-elected Elders who fully support her actions and participate. Equally, the abuse, bullying and discrimination, is supported by a Church council led by D. & P. Tweed and therefore, by extension, the entire Congregation.
Why, you may be thinking, has such activity not been brought to an end long before it consumed its latest victim, Judith?
As the Elders and Church Councillors are the perpetrators of the problems we have experienced, it has proven of absolutely no value to appeal to them - as has been done on many occasions - to correct their behaviour.
So, just what can a member of the (Fairfield) Uniting Church do and, to whom can they turn (for help) when they are dictatorially and abusively ruled by Elders and Church Councillors who have gone rogue? Elders and Councillors who are not even attempting to adhere to the teachings of Christ, toward some others, nor coming within a bulls roar of complying with the rules and requirements of service clearly laid out in the Uniting Church in Australia rules?
The answer, in truth, is nothing and nobody! A conclusion re-enforced by the following statement of Rev. Choi's, “The matter should be fixed in the local congregation.”
“The matter should be fixed in the local congregation.”, by whom I ask, by whom? The absolute fact of the matter is we are now months down the track and absolutely nothing has been done to rectify what has happened to Judith. No apologies, no counselling not even a phone call or visit from any spiritual leader* of Fairfield Uniting Church nor, from its hamstrung Minister in “his is a very limited supply appointment in which he is principally responsible for Sunday worship and other matters at his discretion.” That last quotation, from the Presbytery Chairman, I understand but challenge: I draw the following parallel between CHRISTians and a Police, neither are ever off-duty.
*A Rev. Kava, of a Tongan Wesleyan Church I believe, is also a frequent preacher at Fairfield Uniting. He, also is very aware of what is occurring and has, as others have, not attempted, to prevent the escalation of the problems or offered any support to Judith. There is a theme.
Does the application of fairness have a role in my reporting and criticism? Taking into consideration Rev. Choi's (and Rev. Kava's) short and limited tenure and, knowing they both have walked into Fairfield Uniting at its worse. Couple that with the fact they may still be trying to get their head around all the issues, and you may conclude it is a reasonable reason for them to keep their heads down. Is their inaction being fair to Judith? I would argue, it is neither fair nor reasonable. I go further: a Minister's profession and being professing CHRISTians defines what they should have done and should do; that is my opinion. Is it yours? Would it be Christ's?
Equally, I don't believe my reporting and criticisms of the Elders and Church Councillors is unfair; if they have chosen to carry the titles of spiritual leaders then, by default they must, conduct themselves accordingly. Yes or No?
What has happened to Judith (and others) is not really about fairness: in reality it is much, much more insidious; its discriminatory!
I received a suggestion I approach, directly, the Chairman of Presbytery with the eye to having a Life & Witness Consultation conducted within Fairfield Uniting Church. Now, I do not have a lot of confidence in Presbytery (as a body), because of how they have failed to adequately address issues thus far, including that which has happened to Judith, and I voiced that opinion. However, being an optimistic kind of a guy ;-) I acted on the advice. Sadly, whilst there has been a statement made a Life & Witness consultation may take place, at some time toward the end of 2015, nothing else is to be done! Nothing, nothing, nothing!
Just for a brief moment put yourself in Judith shoes, how would you feel having been so poorly treated by the leaders of the Church you had been a part of and, served in, for the best part of six (6) decades? Imagine what you might feel like not having a Minister you can turn too or count on for support and then magnify those failures in pastoral care with the fact Presbytery says it's also hamstrung and cannot think outside its box** and help in a timely manner either. **Does that mean Presbytery (whatever that defines) has nobody within, or worse still, has no idea of how to cope with situations like Judith's and rogue Elders and Councillors. What does this say about the structure, values and members within and of the Uniting Church in Australia, when considering the support and nurturing of others in the Uniting Church family?
Can you understand why Judith might not want too, at the moment, worship at Fairfield Uniting Church?
Delaying intervention, and ignoring the immediacy Judith's situation demanded, is why I see the email from the Chairman of Presbytery as an in your face door closing event! More importantly though, I also see it as another act of discrimination!
Many of the issues at Fairfield Uniting have a discriminatory tone; in the main because the manner in which individuals are singled out, abused and bullied. But the collective discrimination of Judith far exceeds that which she was forced to endure at the hand of Mrs. Solifoni, because Judith's plight is multiplied by the orchestration and acceptance of the abuse by the Elders and other Church Councillors, the inaction of the Members, the Ministers* who preach at Fairfield Uniting, and the Presbytery membership etc.
Is describing Judith's situation as wilful discrimination a step too far, I don't think so. What do you think? Is it a sign of something worse?
Fairfield Uniting Church is broken of that there is little doubt but, the more damaging trait to consider, is the manner in which Fairfield Elders, Church Councillors, the Ministers, Congregational members and Presbytery have chosen to multiply the discrimination of Judith to a level which far exceeds that which she was forced to endure from the mouth of Mrs. Solifoni. Is that a sign the Uniting Church in Australia is broken?
“But wait there's more..... :-(
What has happened to Judith is not the first time in any respect. Prior to the “straw breaking the Camel's back” attack on, and Judith being forced out of Fairfield Uniting it also happened to Ruth. Ruth a member of the Fairfield Uniting Church for over eight decades (that's right 80+ years and several generations) has also been forced out and, if you look at the response of the (also limited appointment) Minister, Rev. Lunney and, the similar lack of assistance from Presbytery we see history repeated. I could quite easily repeat and continue the process, and this paragraph, outlining similar incidents backwards for years. At the heart and cause of all those losses are the same people, highly similar circumstances of discrimination, abuse, bullying and intimidation. There is a theme, do you not notice it?
In having highlighted two incidents of many you must be wondering why, how and , and.....etc? In short I am going to state the following; and there is, to some degree – also a parallel in the way Congregational members have reacted too and absorbed the terrible behaviour we have endured and witnessed - to that of abusive relationships and child abuse. There is a measure of, apathy in some, fear in others and a desire to “not cause waves and, maybe, exacerbate the problems”. There has always been a high degree of “let just ignore it, and get on with it, after all we are all CHRISTians.....?”. I paraphrase Rev. Choi, we are the one family.....?
Well it might have seemed like a good idea (not making waves) but it was not and never was; neither can the leaders' behaviour be shrouded in a cloak resembling CHRISTian love. What has and is happening at Fairfield Uniting, in NO WAY, represents “disciplining with love”, anything but!
Now, does Fairfield Uniting Church becomes a test for the wider Uniting Church community!
What I have done (going public) and will continue to do has been seen by some as “incorrect” even offensive. However, Fairfield is not going to be fixed as Presbytery, Rev. Choi and Rev. Lunney before him thought - “the matter should be fixed in the local congregation”. Time and repeated attempts have proven that fact beyond doubt. What will fix Fairfield Uniting is intervention: intervention by CHRISTians not frightened to stand up and fight for that which is right!
Are Fairfield Uniting Church issues, issues for the wider Uniting Church in Australia?
For a short period: if your reading this blog posting your possibly doing so because it has been deliberately brought to your attention; for a reason. My voice along, with many others, at Fairfield Uniting has been taken away by the Elders and Church Councillors and, supported and severely curtailed by the Minister's and Presbytery's inaction. With my only remaining option I am both asking and urging you the reader(s), as (a) CHRISTian(s), become involved, please. Prayer and personal intervention, are both necessary to bring about a CHRIST like solution for Fairfield Uniting; which will also be a significantly important step for the Uniting Church in Australia.
“are you not now prepared to accept the Uniting Church in Australia is broken not just in Fairfield but throughout”. For Fairfield my answer remains “yes” but, for the wider Uniting Church? Well my view did shift as a result of the Chairman's email however, my final choice and answer is, to a great degree, now going to be decided by, you the reader(s), a greater proportion of the Uniting Church community;
- Does it matter that Ruth and Judith (and many others) have been treated the way they have and forced to leave worshipping at Fairfield Uniting?
- Is it a reflection on the wider Church?
- Is it fair, or justified, to use and hide behind the non- interference notion, Councils of the Uniting Church, are such they prevent individuals, with the moral authority from intervening?
- Do other individual (CHRISTians) bear any responsibility to “step-up to the plate”, becoming involved in rectifying and reconciling?
- Are we a Church of Samaritans or are we of the same mould as the righteous who passed by the injured man?
You need not look overseas, or to the past and the civil rights movement, or at past or present indigenous issues to find real examples of discrimination, bullying and persecution. It is, and has for some considerable time, been part of the culture of Fairfield Uniting Church;
- Is it more widespread in the Uniting Church: does it also occur in your Church?
Along with and through continued inaction and apathy are discrimination, bullying and persecution going to become five traits associated permanently to Fairfield Uniting Church and therefore, as a Uniting Church, become a permanent part of the culture, of the Uniting Church in Australia?
It's your call, take a stand or....!
In considering my questions, request, your responsibility and response, consider Galations 6: 10 applied equally to all and, the following quote of Martin Luther King (Jr.)
“Our lives begin to end, the day we become silent on the things that matter.”
I believe Martin Luther King's quote is relevant; it's both a warning and defines a key responsibility for a CHRISTian.
Over to you dear reader(s).....