In an unprecedented decision to engage with a wider public about the SNU’s plans for the future, president David Bruton has authorised public relations officer Minister Steven Upton to respond to some of the many comments that followed Sue Farrow’s report on the Union’s 2011 AGM.
Arthur Findlay College – Change of working hours
The plans to change the working hours at the Arthur Findlay College from 9.30am – 9pm to end at 6pm have met with mostly a negative response. The first issue we need to forget about is bingo: it was an off-the-cuff remark made by the Chairman as an example of a social activity and was not meant to be taken literally.
On a normal seven-night course, on the first evening, Saturday, not a great deal is done other than the introductions to the course, and many, particularly overseas students, are still arriving owing to flight times; there is therefore usually no teaching on Saturday evening.
Sunday and Wednesday are public services, so there is no teaching then either. Friday is usually the closing ceremony and usually some students have left early owing to flight times or trying to avoid traffic and get home.
In reality we are looking at only three evenings on a seven-night course that will be affected – Monday, Tuesday and Thursday. I have been attending courses at the College for 32 years and teaching there for 16 and it is very rarely that we have group sessions in the evenings: we mostly have tutor demonstrations or, on overseas weeks, a trip to the theatre in London.
On the average week the proposed change will make no difference to the number of hours of group work, tutorials and lectures that there will be during a week’s course. And it is these sessions where most students’ learning is done.
If I think back to my time as a student at the College in the late 70s and throughout the 80s, in the evenings we socialised, we sat around talking to each other, and by talking to other students, many of whom had many years’ experience in Spiritualism, I learnt so much more.
Today, come 9pm the Hall can seem quite deserted. Gone are the small groups of students sat around talking and sharing their knowledge. Many have gone to bed too tired to talk. You get to the point where adding more work is counterproductive; you are too tired to learn and therefore take nothing in.
As a tutor and in particular as a course organiser I work a 72-hour week. I very often miss breaks or even meals dealing with various problems that come from running a course with 90+ students. Am I at my best working those hours? We want to be the best we can be for all students who go to the College: with 4½ hours less work (3 x 1½-hour evening sessions) we will be.
Wearing the clerical collar
The NEC approved the wearing of the clerical collar for those Ministers who wished to do so, for prison and hospital visits only.
Why? Unless you have sat in a cell with a convicted murderer who tells you he is too dangerous to ever be released, unless you have walked amongst the general prison population with large numbers passing by you, it is hard to understand how insecure you can feel with only a ¾-inch lapel badge to identify who you are.
I am a Spiritualist Prison Chaplain (I believe the only one in the UK on the prison payroll). I had been going to prison for several years without thinking about my personal safety until one day, whilst waiting for my escort, I overheard a conversation between two other men who were also waiting. They were police officers, there to interview a prisoner, and I suddenly realised that I looked exactly like them – tall, upright and in a suit (I am a former RAF Policeman); from that moment onwards I started to wonder what might happen if a prisoner thought I was a policeman, and I started to feel very insecure.
As a consequence I asked the NEC for permission to wear a clerical collar as an experiment to see if it would make a difference. I can think of nothing else that is safe to wear which is instantly recognised as denoting a Minister of Religion.
Permission being granted, I went on my next visit so dressed. All I can say is that the difference it made was instantaneous and quite remarkable, not only with prisoners but also with the staff. They knew who I was and what department I was from. Prisoners came up to me and talked to me for the first time, always polite and respectful, where previously I was largely avoided. I have prisoners come to me and tell me that they used to wonder who I was; now they are happy to talk, as they know I am from the Chaplaincy.
The reason why hospital visits have been included is because many of the NHS Trusts had requested this for immediate identification of people on wards outside of visiting times.
There is no intention of making the wearing of the clerical collar compulsory or extending it beyond its current use. It is simply an item of clothing that clearly denotes the role of the wearer in what can be a very dangerous environment. I have to add that I do not like wearing it but I feel so much safer doing so.
Confusion over membership
“Scrap the 4-tier membership and only have one level of membership.”
“. . . Changing the naming of the various classes is just window-dressing. The system needs to be simplified; there are just too many layers. There should be a basic membership for individuals and another corporate membership for the churches and affiliated bodies.”
There seems to be some confusion regarding classes of membership. There are four classes of membership but it is not a hierarchical system; it is simply four different categories:-
Class A is a representative of a church. They are elected each year by the membership of the church – 1 for the first 75 members and an extra one for every 50 members over 75. Their job is to represent the church at district council and SNU meetings.
Class B is an individual subscribing member; they represent only themselves.
Class C is the same as Class A, except that they represent a kindred body.
Class D is a full member of an affiliated church who, prior to the AGM, could ask to have the rights of a Class D; now, after the passing of a motion, all full church members automatically become a Class D and get all the rights and privileges that come with it, unless they choose not to be one, i.e. it was an opt-in but is now an opt-out.
As you can see from the above, this is not a class system in which you can be promoted from one status to a higher one; however, we were getting many enquiries from Class B members asking how they could become a Class A, thinking it was some kind of upgrade.
The system was confusing and the titles were simply in alphabetical order as they were added to the bye-laws, so it was decided to change the titles to ones that reflect the position.
Class A is now Church Representative.
Class B is now Individual Member.
Class C is now Kindred Body Representative.
Class D is now Affiliate Member.
The change of title should help to avoid confusion and remove any sense of hierarchy.
Minister Eric Hatton’s book
“I get the impression that the NEC are too ashamed to discuss it anymore – and rightly so.”
The NEC is not too ashamed to discuss it; however, we are sensible enough not to discuss it in public. We discussed with Eric in private and a joint statement was agreed. Private matters such as this are precisely that – private.
The Seven Principles
“. . . why go to the expense of printing “The Seven Principles” when they have already said that they want to modify them.”
I have to confess that this one is a mystery to me. In all my time on the NEC I cannot remember it ever being discussed that we should change the Seven Principles.
“. . . Why open Pioneer Centres to grow the Spiritualist movement when the NEC cannot control their existing churches?”
The NEC does not control its churches, because it does not have any. Churches are controlled by an elected committee by and from its own membership and are affiliated to the SNU. The NEC provides rules for churches that have been accepted by the Charity Commission so that they can enjoy the status of being a religious charity, i.e. not pay tax, etc.
One of the governing statutes of the SNU is its Memorandum of Association: item (n) states:
‘To promote mission work, to assist in the formation of new Societies and Churches of Spiritualists in new districts, or in the revival of lapsed Societies or Churches of Spiritualists, and on the direct request of such Societies or Churches to render such financial and other aid as the circumstances call for and the means of the Union permit.’
We are looking for areas where there is no Seven Principles Spiritualism and we are enabling Individual (Class B) Members to open a church; we are providing the financial means and equipment to do so. These new churches are not affiliated to the SNU in the same way as the other churches. We effectively own them and therefore needed a new name to differentiate them; they are called Pioneer Centres.
Instead of having an elected committee they are managed by three appointed SNU Individual Members; if a member of the congregation wants to join, he does not join the church, he joins Spiritualism and becomes a member of the parent body, not the local church. Some churches are run almost as private clubs and members do not feel part of a religion but only part of that one church.
Music in churches
“. . . It would also be a good idea to rid the songs (hymns) of the accompanying Methodist music still used and introduce a greater variety of styles.”
We have been looking into the legal implications of producing a new songbook for churches using modern songs and music; however, we have come up against the copyright laws. We are still trying to solve this issue; it is a ‘work in progress’. If anyone reading this has expertise in this area I would like to hear from them.
“. . . Someone has pulled a fast one looking for a quick quid redesigning a logo to look identical to the existing one.”
The revamping of the logo was done by an unpaid volunteer who puts in many hours of work on a committee, mainly in the areas of computer design work; aspects of the new leaflets and the ‘One Union’ magazine are examples of his work. The SNU is run almost entirely by unpaid volunteers and to say they are “looking for a quick quid” is very unkind.
“. . . And why oh why is AFC paying rent to the SNU??? It was donated to Spiritualism, . .”
Stansted Hall was bequeathed to the SNU; the Arthur Findlay College is a sub-committee of the SNU; the payment of rent by the College to the SNU is simply an internal transfer of money. The AFC only needs to keep certain reserves within its own bank accounts; the surplus needs to be used by the SNU in other areas, such as providing leaflets to the churches, setting up new Pioneer Centres, etc.