3rd January 2009
Shaun had an appointment for coffee with the two churchwardens the day after my birthday, 3rd January. This was so they could offer the generous financial assistance we’d been told about by the bishop, to enable him to find a new post.
I thought it would be friendly to offer them hospitality, so I invited them to the cottage. No, they wanted Shaun to go into Oxford.
“Have you told them our car’s broken down?” (Alex or Ben must have borrowed the lovely green car our friend Jane had just given me.)
They offered to fund a taxi.
This was a church where money signified everything; which could have taught Scrooge a thing or two about how to save a penny here and there. And yet they wanted to pay, rather than come to our home.
Rather than have me anywhere near the negotiations.
They really didn’t want to be on our territory. It was getting more interesting by the moment…
So I prayed, waited, wondered.
I went out into the street as soon as I heard Shaun return.
“Wait for me to get inside.”
We sat down so he could tell me.
“They had a tape recorder.”
I said nothing for about half a minute.
“They said, as soon as I arrived, did I mind if they taped the meeting. Said their shorthand isn’t good.”
A tape recorder?
These were supposed to be friends. Fellow Christians. Members of the same church. Offering us help.
And taping it.
“Well.” I took a deep breath. “Good,” I said slowly. “That’s good,” I said again.
Shaun’s memory has always been impeccable. Mine is accurate when it matters. The church’s memory had not been. There had been a number of promises, clearly given, subsequently reneged on and quite emphatically unremembered.
“There can’t be any misrepresentation.”
“Quite. I agreed on condition I would be given a copy.”
Oh, and one of them had kept repeating, without prejudice.
Like the tape recorder.
Here, auntie, here is your Christmas present. Given with all my love… and without prejudice, of course.
The bishop had told us the church was concerned for us, and felt responsible for Shaun’s welfare. That they wanted to offer us financial support as a friendly gesture. Some recompense for the way we’d been treated, and to help Shaun find a new post.
They were indeed offering a settlement.
Minus any work which needed doing to the cottage. In exchange for Shaun’s renouncing his post. And his right to work.
And our accommodation.
Seven grand could easily have been spent on that dilapidated little cottage without even starting. It had been falling to bits ever since we moved in. (It was also – we were soon to discover – illegally dangerous: our first summer there, Shaun had slipped on the kitchen floor, torn his quadriceps tendon and done permanent damage; the staircase was condemned by the Council before we left.)
And our last removal costs – by custom, payable by the receiving church – had been £8,000.
It was so absurd it seemed barely frightening. At first, anyway…
It amounted to no money at all.
If Shaun relinquished his post we would be destitute. Not even a roof over our heads.
“What did you say?”
“I said I wanted to return to work. Repeatedly.”
“They kept saying they thought I wanted a settlement.”
“How could we afford a settlement? Where are the children to live?”
Shaun had relinquished a six-bedroom vicarage in Fulham, with lifelong tenure, in order to work for that Oxford church; in exchange for the promise of another lifelong post, and accommodation as stipulated for a Church of England vicar.
He would never – could never – have given up our London home for anything less. We are responsible for five children.
I have the transcript of the meeting still. So I have their reply in black and white.
“Where would we live?” Shaun repeats to them, on the tape.
This was not a merchant bank, nor a retail chain, nor a government department he worked for. It was the Church. Jesus’ family on earth. Espousing His values.
I have sometimes deplored the Church of England’s apparent sentimentality when it comes to money, seeming almost to amount to wastefulness; occasionally done so in print. Nevertheless, it is not an organisation where profit and efficiency should be the primary concern.
“That is a question for you, frankly,” says the churchwarden, on the tape. “Isn’t it?”
It was indeed…
So, what now?