Sunday, December 13, 2009
A Sense of Betrayal
Yesterday morning, when my beloved was returning from a coffee morning she met two acquaintances who used to attend the church where we met. This church, in Harrogate, is a thriving CofE evangelical outpost, well attended by its middle class constituency, many of whom travel from their own parish, and across others, to attend because of the bold proclamation of the "good news". Doubtless others attend to help ensure a place at the highly regarded CofE secondary school in the (not too distant) vicinity.
When I say thriving I refer to bums on seats, house groups, womens groups, children and youth groups, regular Alpha courses and all the usual trimmings. The couple, who met and spoke to my wife this morning, told of their loss of faith. This loss of faith was due in no small part to what I would consider a betrayal on the part of the church.
The lady of the couple had suffered some mental health problems and, during this time wasn't always able (or feeling like) attending worship. Prior to this health breakdown they'd not only been regular attenders for worship, members of a house group, they'd also been participants in the church's away weekends. Once the mental health affliction struck, there were no visits or enquiries as to her health or their absence from either cleric or lay members of the church, not even from members of the house group. My first thought was that maybe the people in that particular church are shamefully unable to cope with the stigma of mental illness but then, I began to wonder whether it would have been any different had the ailment been purely physical in nature. A sense of loneliness and isolation is frequently accompanies a mental health problem and, when your "friends", "brother and sisters in Christ", neglect you that can only add to a feeling of alienation.
It's one thing to preach the gospel and offer your symbolic and ritual support to sundry worthy causes but, when it comes to hands on practice what hope is there. If one cannot care for those within their own church family, what expectation is there that they will serve their fellow man in society at large.
As a Christian, I would be most relieved if I could think that this was a one off case of neglect but, sadly, from my own experience I know different. This is a church with which I was vitally affiliated throught the 1990's and into the noughties; at different times involved in house groups as both participant and leader / enabler, even assisting on the Alpha course. From summer of 2000 until my collapse with M.E. in late 2003 I was caretaker / steward for this church. Having kept going through sundry ailments, serving many unpaid hours beyond those for which I was salaried, a series of collapses led to my resignation. At this time only condemnation was experienced from the clergy, for "letting us down", with very little consideration for my well-being. I suspect that the hyperactive vicar was ill-equipped to cope with illness, outside of any glaringly physical manifestation.
My beloved continued to attend this very well attended church, on her own, when I was no longer able to make it, being housebound for considerable periods. Her experience was one of loneliness. No-one ever visited or even made any enquiries as to how I was coping!
This posting should be read in conjunction with Matthew 25 vv. 42 - 45