A new document has revealed how The Universities and Colleges Christian Fellowship (UCCF) pressured some of its employees to resign. In a “Legalities of leavers” document seen by Premier, UCCF outlined how a contract of employment could be terminated, and even suggested the organisation would not “stay within the law” if employment law were to clash with “the ministry.” In sharing her story, Katie Norouzi illustrates how this policy worked on the ground and the impact it had. 

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Three weeks ago, I read Nay Dawson’s brave account of her time as a former UCCF team leader. In the piece, she apologises for her part in enacting harmful HR policies; for not asking questions when Christian Union staff workers suddenly disappeared; for not being willing to risk the repercussions of probing further; for turning ministry into performance; for turning questions around performance into reasons for dismissing staff; for dismissals dressed up as resignations by mutual agreement.

The flashbacks were harrowing…but I will start from the beginning.

I arrived at Nottingham University in September 2000 and joined the Christian Union (CU). What followed was ten years of total commitment to the vision of UCCF. From CU member to CU leader to UCCF volunteer relay worker and, eventually (with a brief pause to train as a teacher), to a CU staff worker. What followed was two brilliant years. I loved student ministry and spending my time encouraging students to make Jesus known. I considered my job a privilege.

And then came a meeting with a senior manager at UCCF. My world came crashing down.

My team leader had resigned her post and, because her replacement was newly appointed, it was decided that my end of year review would take place with a senior leader instead. 

He tried to convince me that it was best for everyone if I left at the end of the year

The prospect was intimidating, although I had no reason to be nervous. All my supervisions and feedback had been overwhelmingly positive. I had great relationships with the CUs I served, I worked hard to build relationships with local churches and I saw individual students growing in their love for Jesus.

Added to this, just a few months before, my previous team leader had encouraged me to apply for her position. As far as I knew, I was doing well.

But in my review meeting, this senior leader questioned my abilities as a staff worker, whether my personality fitted the post and, ultimately, whether I was able to help students make Jesus known in the context I was working in. He tried to convince me that it was best for everyone if I left at the end of the year. In the stress and shock of the meeting, I found myself accepting his premise. I would resign and my contract would be terminated.

I felt I had been sacked. I started to unpick his reasons and question them.

Looking back, I probably should have fought harder, but I was inexperienced. I was a permanent employee with legal rights. People with HR experience at the time suggested that I had a good case for constructive dismissal. But the meeting had left me totally confused and questioning my own understanding of the situations I had faced. Had I not worked hard enough? Had I not organised my time properly? Did I have fundamental weaknesses that meant I couldn’t do the job? Had I ignored the advice of my team leader? Was I failing to serve Jesus well in the role he had given me?

I was undone.

A culture of silence

What followed was one of the most difficult periods of my life. I wish someone had told me that, legally I could have handed in my notice immediately, but I was young and did not know my rights. Instead, I dutifully served out my third year in extremely difficult circumstances. I had a new team leader, but he was told that I was leaving “for the good of the ministry”. He raised very few questions and accepted the decision as the right one.

This culture of silencing became a theme. The most heart-breaking aspect for me was the lack of any process and meaningful performance management. If I was genuinely poor at my job, surely this reality would have come up before. I ought to have had the opportunity to hear feedback, respond to it and seek to improve. But the decision had been made and there was no way back.

It was utterly chilling.

I struggled to process what had happened and how to move forward. Despite spending many hours at home crying and formulating ‘fight-back speeches’, I went into work every day and tried to respond to the criticisms that this senior leader had levelled at me. I even remember a moment when I caught him at a conference and told him what I was doing. He seemed to respond with little interest.

Looking back, it seems so desperate, but I was adamant that he would see the injustice of this decision which, even now, seems to have been arbitrary. I wrote a six-page letter, articulating evidence that showed the decision made no sense, but at a consequent meeting with those involved, there was no real consideration of this. The decision had been made. The ground had been taken from under me.

I loved student ministry and spending my time encouraging students to make Jesus known

As I left UCCF in August 2011 (after an email from HR reminding me to send my resignation letter!) it was with a sense of great disappointment and sadness. I have since been told that I handled the year with great dignity. But the truth is, I spent the year trying to protect UCCF. I was so reluctant to be the one who destroyed other people’s belief in this organisation whose ministry I had been so passionate about.

In reality, this probably just fed into the culture of silence and it’s why some of these serious issues are only just coming to light. I have also learned that other members of my team tried to raise the situation with my new team leader but were told it was none of their business.

I am not writing now in a spirit of bitterness. However, I think it is right that poor practice is called out, that genuine, personal apologies are issued by those who were involved and that those who have been hurt are allowed to heal, with the full truth available to them.

Read the exclusive story on Premier Christian News: ’Document reveals methods used to get rid of staff at student ministry UCCF

In a statement responding to this story, UCCF said “We have fully accepted the findings of a recent independent investigation, specifically acknowledging the failings in relation to the termination of CU Staff Worker contracts…We have apologised publicly to all concerned for past failings and have changed our employment practices.”