SNU responds to readers’ comments

David Bruton

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

Steven Upton

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.

Pioneer Centres

“. . . 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.

New logo

“. . . 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.

AFC rent

“. . . 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.

35 responses to “SNU responds to readers’ comments

  1. Phil Mortiboy

    I think Steven answers some of these questions very well. I admire his work in prisons and trust his judgement here.

    The change of hours issue. Personally this judgement would be better left to the tutors in conjunction with those on their course. When I attended the college I wanted to make the best use of my time there. But equally it was nice to chat in the evenings in the bar with my new Spiritual friends.

    The membership tiers are confusing and simplification is long overdue. So any positive changes here must be welcome.

    Eric Hatton’s book – well still reading it and searching for the offending parts…lol

    We must promote Spiritualism in anyway we can; to bring our wonderful message to as many people as possible. So I am all behind the work through the Pioneer Centres.

    I liked the new logo. I thought it was very bright and positive, so a pat on the back to the volunteer who worked on it.

    Music in churches. Yes this is an issue. I have met many people who struggle with all the old hymn singing, especially in churches who sing too many of them in one service. Our services must inspire a new generation.

    Thank you for taking the time to listen to us and sharing your thoughts.

    Phil Mortiboy

  2. Frank and open replies and the answers show that sometimes rumours grow and can become fixed beliefs if not careful.

    • This is precisely why it is so important for the SNU to take time to present their case on forums such as this and give clear answers to the issues raised there.
      Hopefully this will not be a one off exercise but will see the SNU engaging more fully with its membership and the wider spiritualist community, making full use of the opportunities that the new media present as and when appropriate.
      I too thank them for taking this first positive step towards that goal.

  3. I am so pleased that SNU have come on here to reply. Hopefully it’s the start of a more open attitude and a lot less secrecy. Great for Spiritualism. Well done!

  4. Mike Goodall

    I am also pleased to see a reply about many of the issues raised by the various threads on these pages but cannot find any mention in the statement above about why the SNU shut down Psychic News, refusing money to keep the paper going from benefactors, threw the staff out on the street, did not pay them any redundancy money, thwarted them from getting any redundancy money from the government for a long period by withdrawing the liquidation procedure (only to do a later one), tried to hold on to the banner and archive rights to make a sale worthless (thrown out by the courts), and done everything in it’s power, including trying to re-register the title of the paper, to stop anyone else trying to resurrect it.
    And I wonder if they would also admit that this whole procedure that cost many times the £12K (reported as the loss that PN had made) was a grave mistake?
    Perhaps Steven would like to pop back and answer these questions, which I am sure that many of us would like him to do, and put the matter to rest at last.

  5. Hilary Penn

    This response is good news for the movement. Out of the darkness and into the light! Well done Mr Bruton.

  6. Thank you for the responses to our comments. They are appreciated.
    As some of the quotes used come from my posts, I feel that the points I have made have been listened to and will be reponded to.
    The real issues still remain. The NEC needs to lose it’s veto. Stop promoting practices that are not Spiritualism, such as psychometry, numreology and other such things.
    I do, however, believe that there is a recognition that change has to happen, engagement with the rank and file members needs to be restored, and we all need to be talking to each other with the NEC explaining more about why some decisions are being made. I really believe that the will is there to make this happen.

    As for the comment about Prison Visits. I was in both the RAF and Police and now still do Prison visits, but fail to see how a few inches of white plastic, and a bit of purple or black cloth are defence against any form of attack from a disturbed individual. I’d go as far as to say that if the individual is sufficiently disturbed, then these things make an attack more likely.
    I’m sorry Steven, I have a huge amount of respect for you, both personally and for the work that you do for Spirit, but that’s a “cop out” ( excuse the pun).
    And how do you explain the actions of some Ministers who wear the Dog Collar outside of Prison Visiting?

    The situation regarding streamlining the Membership is a step in the right direction, but it’s a first step in what has to be an overall change.

    All changes need to happen, but that change needs to be managed properly and with the consent of all members, not just on the whim of the favored few that sit on the NEC.

    Love and light,


  7. This is a positive move and it will be good to have other issues addressed such as the one Mike Goodall raised about the PN debacle. Perhaps we could have a way to post questions from which Sue could pick a shortlist of the most prominent issues to be presented to Steven Upton for answering.

  8. Mike Goodall

    A good idea Wes, but I fear that any question the NEC does not want to answer will get the reply… ‘This is a private matter and will not be discussed further’, as in the case of the banning of Eric Hatton’s book, so I am not optimistic.
    The NEC under there own rules seems to be the only body in this country that does not have to justify or explain their actions.
    So until the whole format is changed they can basically do whatever they want with no explanation given the membership and no come-back on themselves.

  9. Yes Mike, I agree with you there – the non-answers and the the issues that were not addressed at all say more about the SNU than the questions that were answered. Yet we can still afford to give some benefit of the doubt and come up with six or so questions that we’d like to see answered and see what the response is. I for one would like to ask why no public apology and material assistance has been given to the staff of Psychic News that were treated so poorly, to say the least.

  10. David Breakell

    I agree with Mike and Wes.
    Obfuscation and half truths from the NEC, as usual.
    And why did they have to get someone else to speak on their behalf?

    • I’m no fan of the way that things have been done, but Steven is the P.R.O. of the S.N.U. so I feel it’s appropriate that he should have taken this on board. After all, what else is a Public Relations Officer supposed to do. You may share Sir John Betjemans’ apparent distain for P.R.O’s, but they have a job to do, and as far as I see, that’s exactly what he’s doing.
      As the saying goes – in kissing, there one who kisses, and one who offers the cheek. So lets progress in the spirit of consillation, not conflict. Natural Law will ultimately sort this out, outright conflict will solve nothing.


    • Steven Upton is a member of the NEC

  11. PN closed its doors a year ago and still its fate is not fully resolved.
    Yet all the heartache, recriminations and unnecessary expenditure could have been avoided.The SNU had a genuine offer on the table to buy the paper and its assets and to clear its debts. Instead they chose to reject the offer, close the paper and throw their hard working, loyal employees into an uncertain job market, in the grip of recession, without compensation. Why?
    That is a question which will haunt the SNU for a long time to come unless they make some conciliatory move.

  12. Mike Goodall

    Perhaps because PN was thought of as the enemy Wes, as it had in the past ‘dared’ to publish views from readers which were not those of the SNU, and occasionally published views actually criticised them and their actions. I’ve always thought that they simply saw an opportunity to kill it off, and took that option, and then did everything in their power to stop it being resurrected.
    I would have said the actual treatment of the PN staff was ‘appalling’ especially as it was owned by a body that was supposed to be Spiritual; more like the action of a multi-national company.

  13. I greatly appreciate the show of support for Psychic News itself, and for those of us who worked hard to produce it. It is true that the past year has been an extremely tough one for us, and for those who are working so hard to bring about PN’s resurrection and assure its future. I also understand very well people’s desire to ask wholly legitimate questions about the circumstances surrounding its demise.
    Though it goes without saying that on a personal level I have very strong feelings regarding the closure of PN, I do welcome David Bruton’s initiative to take the first step towards engaging with Spiritualists via this website. As ever, SPN is a place for any and all comments people wish to make. I would ask only that this thread is used as an opportunity to interact with the SNU regarding the many issues affecting the movement, not only that of Psychic News.

  14. Mike Goodall

    Sue, I shall only be satisfied when the NEC hold their hands up and admit killing PN off was a mistake and openly explain their reasons for doing so. However I won’t hold my breath; I suspect that they will deem the issue one of those that is ‘not open for discussion’. Hence we shall all have our theories as to their decision.
    I do hope that it can return soon and that it can carry on as an independent publication.

  15. Dear Sue, I too appreciate the move that David Bruton has made in making the effort to address some of the issues raised in previous posts. The answers may not suit everyone but to quote Churchill “jaw jaw is better than war war’ and I believe it is a positive step.
    I am sure that many questions and suggestions will reach the SNU through this forum and hope that they will continue to listen and reply as appropriate.

  16. Giles Dawson

    This can only be good news. We’ve all complained about the lack of interaction so now let’s interact.

    • Spot on Giles. We all wanted them to come out of the closet and communicate with other Spiritualists, Now they are here and we should all start communicating.

  17. I’m think it’s massively encouraging that David Bruton and Steven Upton have taken the time to engage with the online community in this way.

  18. David Breakell

    I am sorry.
    I should not have said “Someone else” and I apologize to Steven.
    A The comment about Bingo was an “off the cuff” remark.
    My comment about someone else was also an off the cuff remark.

    • I find it a little difficult to accept that the reference to Bingo was an off-the-cuff remark. However, giving the AFC chairman the benefit of the doubt, perhaps he is not used to speaking in public and was caught off guard. Either way he is now in a prominent position and should perhaps learn to weigh his words a little more carefully.

  19. With regard to another issue, currently being discussed on Facebook.

    I would like to suggest a new rule preventing domination of committee places by any single district, whereby representation of a specified number of districts must exist on any national SNU committee. This to include officers positions especially.

    Why am I suggesting this?

    50% of the NEC officers are from the West Midlands district.
    42% of the Finance committee are from the West Midlands district.
    25% of the Accreditation committee are from the West Midlands district.
    66% of the Arthur Findlay Centre committee are from the West Midlands district.
    25% of the Arthur Findlay College committee are from the West Midlands district.
    42% of the Training & Awards committee are from the West Midlands district.
    40% of the General Purposes committee are from the West Midlands district.
    60% of the Spirit of Youth committee are from the West Midlands district.

    I’ll use award holders to roughly gauge the size of a district. The West Midlands District accounts for 11% of the award holders in the SNU. Should one SNU district have the lions share of control over the SNU to such a great extent?

    What are the other 89% of award holders doing?

    Let’s take a look at the figures another way.

    100% of the officers positions on the Finance committee are held by people from the West Midlands district.
    100% of the officers positions on the Training & Awards committee are held by people from the West Midlands district.
    100% of the officers positions on the Spirit of Youth committee are held by people from the West Midlands district.
    66% of the officers positions on the Arthur Findlay Centre committee are held by people form the West Midlands district.

    Can you see a pattern forming?

  20. Annie Hollings

    It does seem strange Sam, but what are you suggesting? What do you think it’s about? It could just be coincidence.

    • I am suggesting the addition of a rule preventing this from happening. It protects the Union from speculation and it helps to ensure FAIR PLAY. Both positive results to anyone with a grasp of common sense.

      As I said at the top of the comment I posted:
      “I would like to suggest a new rule preventing domination of committee places by any single district, whereby representation of a specified number of districts must exist on any national SNU committee. This to include officers positions especially.”

      If it is coincidence then such a rule would stop it from happening again.
      If it is politically engineered then it requires an investigation.
      If it is designed to reflect a wealth of talent in the West Midlands, then explain why the district only has 2% more award holders than other similarly populated districts.

      Since the Union seldom respond to difficult questions, we may only be able to speculate from their actions when they do, or do not, address this imbalance.

      A response of “private” will only add to the speculation. That’s assuming they cherry pick this issue to be worthy of a response in the first place.

  21. My partner and I are booked to attend a week long course in a few weeks time. In response to the change of working hours to the Arthur Findlay College, if there is no teaching on Sundays or Wednesdays, and the closing ceremony is on the Friday, how can a week long course be advertised? Also, we were expecting to receive a detailed breakdown of the course but have only receive invoices for our course payments and details of terms and conditions. By the sounds of things, we could arrive on the Monday and leave on Friday morning. As we are travelling from Australia, this will give us extra time with family in the UK. is this a feasible plan? Feedback would be appreciated.

  22. picking up on the point about modifying the principles, I was interested to see in the second paragraph of the introduction of “Philosophy of Spiritualism”, the cop out excuses about “limitations of language” which seemed to me like, we know you wanna update them, we’ve made our mind up its not happening, real change and progress is too difficult for us, heres some psychology which hopefully will convince you……… Well, personally I’d rather have the totally right message of the below principles printed on a piece of used toilet paper than the above AGM report on coloured in gloss PAPER. Come on, paper is paper for Gods sake, this marketing corporate got to get with the modern times speak turns my nose, and also it actually doesn’t seem to fit with the excuses for holding onto “our” outdated principles.

    1. The parenthood of our Divine Spirit.
    2. The family of all life.
    3. The Communion of Spirits and the Ministry of Angels.
    4. (unnecessary given 7)
    5. Personal Responsibility.
    6. Compensation and Retribution for all of the deeds in our lives.
    7. Eternal Progress open to each and every soul.

    • ive been thinking about philosophy since writing the above. That God is all, our divine spirit and also as an author God can write many books, God will ever be writing and therefore is more than all creation so with a few hours reflection, for my part I’m reinstating God, as 1. The parenthood of God. This brings me to feel that progressing the 7 principles would significantly advance the movement thru discussion and debate of the whole world Spiritualist community, the philosophy with which we have unity would be the focus, not silly things like Bingo. Talking of right messages, the main drive for progress is losing the inappropriate patriarchal approach of father and brother. Getting beyond the familiarity we’re used to within our own walls, i don’t believe lady wants to enter a spiritualist church for the first time to hear Victorians calling her a brother, nor do I want to call her one. It’s totally the wrong message. The principles also ought to progress to become inclusive that everything is spirit, not only humans, but animals and even Earth, which clearly warrants this recognition and stewardship. I love the concept we share the parenthood of God and are all family. I want David and the whole SNU to show leadership in our progress and plan our progress. To say, for example, by 2020 we will progress these principles to become worthy of being bedrock of our movement. What do you say? Let’s enter into dialogue, connection and unity not authoritarianism. Seeking love and truth through all, May it be amen, William xxx

  23. I respond to Steve Upton’s comment on Pioneer Centres. What I actually said was “I would ask David Bruton how many churches have been closed down by the NEC over the past 24 months and the reasons. Also, how many are still closed and existing committee members not allowed any access even to collect their own personal belongings?
    Why open Pioneer Centres to grow the Spiritualist movement when the NEC cannot control their existing churches?”
    I think you will find that there are a great number of churches (what is the number?) under supervision (control) by the NEC/District Council, which means that the current system does not work.
    I despair on where the SNU is going and in a time where one of the most exciting developments in the transformation of human consciousness that has happened over the past 150 years is the emergence that we can develop a whole new relationship with the invisible external world. People have discovered that by letting go of form, dogma and rigid belief systems and finding the hidden depths within themselves is not about what you believe in but all to do with your state of consciousness and how you act.
    A belief system does not make you spiritual and in fact these beliefs are so welded in people’s identities that they are cut off from the spiritual dimensions within themselves. Many religions including Spiritualism have become like manmade institutions and collective ego centres. But as the ego is destined to dissolve, all religions stuck at this level will eventually disintegrate from within. The most rigid structures will collapse first.
    So has the SNU developed into a manmade organisation and a collective ego centre destined to collapse? I fear it has. Is it too late? What’s the 10 year plan say? But we have a nice logo.

  24. I think that despite all of their explanations what we are seeing is still a rigid organisation, that is already far to controlling, becoming even more controlled by the exercise of power by a few. The proposed changes take the SNU much closer to formal religion than any of our pioneers may have expected.
    On top of that we have seen a fall in standards of mediumship and Philosophical speaking. Given this has coincided with a much higher reliance on teaching at the AFC college how will extending the number of colleges and courses improve matters. I think this is especially true when they step away to yeach things like numerology which, to my knowledge, is not a valid Mediumistic skill albeit it may be used to help a psychic link.

    I also have trouble when a man like Hadley tries to justify his use of the word Bingo. Its been an amazing fast track through the system for Mr Hadley too as he is now in such a position of power. Still he was part of the committee that decided to put PN into liquidation in April 2010 we must remember

    • Mike Goodall

      Indeed Jim, and it’s such a pity that with all the security surrounding these meetings we will never know what was actually said regarding the PN debacle. Oh to have been a fly on the wall at that meeting!

      • well ultimately, nothing exists in form apart from what we imagine, and the framework reality of spirituality and natural universal laws existed before any of this and will always exist ……. while any labelled ‘Spiritualist National Union’ may be the most divine organisation in the world, or not, its each persons loss or credit, each of us can connect relate and purify our divinity and it doesn’t much matter in our own personal responsibility what anyone else is doing or not doing. i will progress with or without anyone and i believe in God more than i believe in my occasional labelling of myself as a Spiritualist.

  25. karen Line-Jones

    Well done to the NEC for the statements that they have issued.

  26. Not that long ago a motion at an AGM was defeated to have five Directors to oversee departments within the SNU and to abandon the national council , this motion was defeated. The new setup descibed and put into place by David Bruten looks very very similar to what was vetoed any comments. ?

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