I was bullied by my flock

The Church was Reverend Kennedy's life. But then the congregation started to make his life hell. By Julia Stuart

ABOVE THE settee hangs a typical 1979 wedding photograph. The bride, slim in white, sports a page-boy hair cut. The groom's suit is the kind that would cost a small fortune today in a retro shop. Holding hands, the couple look over their shoulders, beaming at the camera. Their hopes for a happy future - one spent devoted to the Church of England - are almost palpable.

Today, sitting under the photograph, the Reverend Arthur Kennedy, 42, and his wife Pauline, 41, bear no trace of their former zest for life. He seldom makes eye contact. She no longer bothers to keep up with hair fashions. They achieved their dream all right. What they weren't expecting, however, was to feel so bullied by a minority of their congregation that they would end up on anti-depressants, too traumatised to set foot in a church, and questioning their faith.

``As clergy you are brought up to equate God and the church, and when the church does something awful to you, you have to do some kind of mental readjustment to try and convince yourself that God is OK and it's the people in the church who have got it wrong. I think I'm still going through that,'' says Rev Kennedy.

Rev Kennedy was ordained in Norwich in 1985. Six years later the couple and their two children, then aged 10 and nine, moved to Somerset, where Rev Kennedy became rector of Farmborough, Marksbury and Stanton Prior. Its combined congregation was around 100. His wife, a former bank clerk, was appointed as reader. Problems started in 1994 when the rector began to make ``gentle moves'' to modernise services in a bid to attract more young people and families. Immediately there was talk of some of the principal opponents stopping their financial support of the church. Then there were objections to the husband and wife working together.

Eyes lowered, the minister recalls how their authority was undermined. ``If I wanted a pause for silent reflection at the end of a sermon and return to my place and sit down, one member, as soon as I left the pulpit, would be on his feet ready to get on with the next part of the service.''

He would specify a particular tune, only to hear the organist playing another. Similarly, when Mrs Kennedy asked for a reading from one version of the Bible, a member of the congregation read from another. During one particularly hurtful confrontation, a church-goer accused them of preaching ``fundamentalist clap trap'', insulting the intelligence of the congregation and being ill-prepared. ``He told me that if I didn't handle the situation in the way that he said I should, he would make life very difficult for me,'' says Rev Kennedy.

Mrs Kennedy's anxiety was making her vomit before services, and she withdrew her ministry after Easter 1995. The following September her husband suffered a nervous breakdown. ``On the surface I did ignore it [the bullying], but it eats away inside, and eventually it becomes more than you can bear. It was an accumulation of little things. Each one in itself may seem insignificant, but taken together you can't take anymore,'' he says. The minister's doctor signed him off work for six months, and the couple were both prescribed anti-depressants.

Turning to the church authorities for help, they found little support. ``You can't ever prove that you were bullied, because there are no witnesses and it's all too subtle.''

Rev Kennedy returned to work in March 1996 hoping to become well enough to apply for another post. But he found the situation worse. In May 1998 the minister went on sick leave again. He has not worked since. In January they moved to a modest house in Taunton.

``I can't see myself coping with a full-time job again. My health and confidence just aren't up to that,'' mutters Rev Kennedy.

"I get flashbacks and nightmares,'' says Mrs Kennedy. ``Neither of us can go near a church. I'm terrified of going out on my own.''

The couple set up an e-mail community in June, called Bullied and Abused Lives in Ministry (BALM). Some people who have contacted the couple have been bullied by their congregation, others by senior members of the clergy. Rev Andrew de Berry, of the clergy and church workers branch of the Manufacturing Science Finance union, says: ``Bullying is as common a problem in the ministry as in any other walk of life. Forms of redress in secular employment are not in place in the Church."

While the union is trying to get terms and conditions of service in place for the clergy, any success will come too late for Rev Kennedy. Does he regret going into the ministry? He looks me in the eye: ``Yes, I think I do.''

http://www.onelist.com/community/BALM

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift won Best International Solo Female (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Shining star: Maika Monroe, with Jake Weary, in ‘It Follows’
film review
Arts and Entertainment

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Paloma Faith arrives at the Brit Awards (Getty)

Brits 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Anne Boleyn's beheading in BBC Two's Wolf Hall

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Follow every rainbow: Julie Andrews in 'The Sound of Music'
film Elizabeth Von Trapp reveals why the musical is so timeless
Arts and Entertainment
Bytes, camera, action: Leehom Wang in ‘Blackhat’
film
Arts and Entertainment
The Libertines will headline this year's festival
music
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Dean Anderson in the original TV series, which ran for seven seasons from 1985-1992
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Muscling in: Noah Stewart and Julia Bullock in 'The Indian Queen'

opera
Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TVViewers predict what will happen to Miller and Hardy
Arts and Entertainment
Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright in season two of the series

Watch the new House of Cards series three trailer

TV
Arts and Entertainment
An extract from the sequel to Fight Club

books
Arts and Entertainment
David Tennant, Eve Myles and Olivia Colman in Broadchurch series two

TV Review
Arts and Entertainment
Old dogs are still learning in 'New Tricks'

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Tonight we honour Hollywood’s best and whitest – sorry, brightest' - and other Neil Patrick Harris Oscars jokes

Oscars 2015It was the first time Barney has compered the Academy Awards

Arts and Entertainment
Patricia Arquette making her acceptance speech for winning Best Actress Award

Oscars 2015 From Meryl Streep whooping Patricia Arquette's equality speech to Chris Pine in tears

Arts and Entertainment

Oscars 2015 Mexican filmmaker uses speech to urge 'respect' for immigrants

Arts and Entertainment
Lloyd-Hughes takes the leading role as Ralph Whelan in Channel 4's epic new 10-part drama, Indian Summers

TV Review

The intrigue deepens as we delve further but don't expect any answers just yet
Arts and Entertainment
Jason Segal and Cameron Diaz star in Sex Tape

Razzies 2015 Golden Raspberry Awards 'honours' Cameron Diaz and Kirk Cameron

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot
    Poldark star Heida Reed: 'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'

    Poldark star Heida Reed

    'I don't think a single bodice gets ripped'
    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    The difference between America and Israel? There isn’t one

    Netanyahu knows he can get away with anything in America, says Robert Fisk
    Families clubbing together to build their own affordable accommodation

    Do It Yourself approach to securing a new house

    Community land trusts marking a new trend for taking the initiative away from developers
    Head of WWF UK: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    David Nussbaum: We didn’t send Cameron to the Arctic to see green ideas freeze

    The head of WWF UK remains sanguine despite the Government’s failure to live up to its pledges on the environment
    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Author Kazuo Ishiguro on being inspired by shoot-outs and samurai

    Set in a mythologised 5th-century Britain, ‘The Buried Giant’ is a strange beast
    With money, corruption and drugs, this monk fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’

    Money, corruption and drugs

    The monk who fears Buddhism in Thailand is a ‘poisoned fruit’
    America's first slavery museum established at Django Unchained plantation - 150 years after slavery outlawed

    150 years after it was outlawed...

    ... America's first slavery museum is established in Louisiana
    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    Kelly Clarkson: How I snubbed Simon Cowell and become a Grammy-winning superstar

    The first 'American Idol' winner on how she manages to remain her own woman – Jane Austen fascination and all
    Tony Oursler on exploring our uneasy relationship with technology with his new show

    You won't believe your eyes

    Tony Oursler's new show explores our uneasy relationship with technology. He's one of a growing number of artists with that preoccupation
    Ian Herbert: Peter Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    Moores must go. He should never have been brought back to fail again

    The England coach leaves players to find solutions - which makes you wonder where he adds value, says Ian Herbert
    War with Isis: Fears that the looming battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    The battle for Mosul will unleash 'a million refugees'

    Aid agencies prepare for vast exodus following planned Iraqi offensive against the Isis-held city, reports Patrick Cockburn