Last week the bells of York Minster fell silent. The Chapter who run the cathedral sacked the group of 30 loyal volunteers citing the need to establish a "consistent approach to health and safety, governance and risk management across all of our volunteer teams."
The Minster has taken a lot of flak as members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have gone to the national press to air their complaints.
A lack of trust
This is not an unfamiliar situation to happen in a church context. A decision is rapidly made without consulting everyone who thinks their opinion matters and feathers are ruffled. Whether it’s a youth leader asked to step down, a project cancelled, or the bells falling silent what our reaction ultimately comes down to is trust.
Do we trust our church leaders to make seemingly reasonless decisions? Obviously if a decision falls within a pattern of untenable behaviour the church leader must be held to account. But there are plenty of situations where its right that we trust those in leadership over us. And this is one of them.
In light of the public furore at the prospect of the first Christmas at York Minster without bells since 1361 the Minster’s Chapter released a second statement which read, "Earlier this summer, it was necessary for the Chapter to take action regarding a member of the bell ringing community on safeguarding grounds. This came after complex multi-agency activity involving City of York Council, York Diocese Safeguarding Adviser and the Church of England’s National Safeguarding Officer.”
This statement reveals the Minster had very good reason to take action. But since this statement was published, some have questioned why these details couldn't have been revealed in the first place. Why not be clear?
Anyone who is involved with children’s ministry will know that information around safeguarding matters is always given on a need to know basis. Due to the sensitive nature of safeguarding situations only a handful of people are usually informed. The Minster’s original statement wasn’t untrue per se, it was the most that they could disclose at the time.
Our priority as a church community is to protect the vulnerable even if we have to ruffle a few feathers
This situation appears to fall within the context of a fractious relationship between the Society of Change Ringers and the Minster. It is likely that this absence of a trusting relationship is the reason for the lack of acceptance on the part of the bell ringers.
The Archbishop of York, John Sentamu has said, "Some members of the York Minster Society of Change Ringers have consistently challenged the Chapter's authority on this and other important matters."
Yes, the Minster could have handled this better, but when isn’t that the case in communicating information within a large and disparate group? Unless we work at maintaining a relationship of trust between church leadership and the community instances like this will not be uncommon.
Ultimately, our priority as a church community is to protect the vulnerable even if we have to ruffle a few feathers. If this ruckus has protected one child or vulnerable adult then it will have been worth it.