God's Word for today

Monday, 25 January 2010

Thoughts on the charges against Paul Verryn

I have some mixed feelings upon hearing the news that Paul Verryn, former Central District bishop, has been suspended pending a disciplinary process. The charges laid against him, according to press reports, are around breach of internal church protocal - firstly in terms of speaking to the media, and secondly, in terms of initiating a court action. In terms of our Laws and Disciplines, only the Presiding Bishop is authorised to carry out both such actions on behalf of the MCSA.

My feelings are mixed, firstly, because one needs to understand the kind of person Paul is - he is a man of action. And yes, a number of his actions have caused me to have feelings of frustration (anger, even) during my days as a Circuit treasurer, especially when I was the one who had to try and sharpen my pencil to make sure that yet another "Paul Placement" (additional staff member imposed on the Circuit without any consideration to budget constraints) gets paid. (Looking on the bright side, this DID help hone my budgeting skills, and - often - my faith!) But there have also been actions taken by Paul that have been not only extremely courageous, but exemplify what the Christian faith is meant to represent. I'm talking, of course, about his work with refugees at Central Methodist Mission.

Many can of course argue that while his motivation is pure, his methods may be unsound. In this regard I'm loath to comment, for it's easy to stand on the outside doing nothing but throwing stones, and I don't want to get caught up in that. But the little I have been involved personally has made me realise that it's not about a once-beautiful building, or about numbers - it's about people. And one thing that is absolutely beyond doubt is that Paul cares about people.

Which brings me back to the current disciplinary action by the MCSA. And what this matter as well as that of Ecclesia de Lange seem to indicate is that many people are under the impression that the decision to follow the disciplinary process is one that is taken lightly, as though someone wakes up one morning and decides, among what to have for breakfast and whether to mow the lawn, that someone should be charged. And while it is unfortunately true that there are some who resort to disciplinary action at the drop of a hat, I believe that the MCSA's disciplinary process is sufficiently well-developed to allow for quite a bit of "sifting" before the relevant disciplinary registrar (who is required to have legal qualifications and at least 5 years experience, per L&D) formulates a charge.

Because we (those of us within the MCSA and outside) are not privy to the processes and discussions that took place before the decision to formulate charges was taken, it is inappropriate to comment on whether these charges are "just" or not. The disciplinary process includes means for defence and appeal, and Paul (according to press reports) has elected to avail himself of these processes, as is his right.

It may also appear unseemly on the part of the MCSA to be laying charges of this nature for what are "merely" procedural violations. However, such restrictions relating to who may speak to the media; who may institute legal proceedings; etc. are not unique to the MCSA - I have personally worked for four corporates before entering ministry, and all four have procedures whereby only certain officials (usually a main board director) may carry out such functions.

What is unfortunate is that something that is essentially an internal process has been emblazoned across the pages of the media, resulting in knee-jerk reactions both in support of Paul as well as against him. Some of the comments that have been made on various media platforms go even further, in a number of cases being direct assassinations of Paul's character and integrity. And while Paul may well be seen as a controversial individual by many, he doesn't deserve this.

My prayers, therefore, are that this whole matter can be handled in a caring and pastoral manner, and that this doesn't end up being a "trial by media" - either of Paul or of the MCSA.

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