The nature of power in Pastoral Ministry
The use of power, and its abuses
In the previous chapter we saw how power has been an integral part of the ministry of the Church since it’s inception, by the example of the power and authority within the ministry of Jesus and by the authority conferred onto the Apostles and subsequent leaders of the Church.
Power, and the authority which often makes that power possible, undergirds the relationship between client and minister in any pastoral encounter. The client will have certain expectations, whether right or wrong, and will usually come to the pastor, to a greater or lesser degree, in a position of weakness comparative to the strength of the pastor. They will assume the pastor’s ‘expertise’, ‘concern’, ‘compassion’ and ‘wisdom’ exists for the benefit of those who seek his or her aid or advice. Brice Avery (1996: 34) writes that,
“The essence of a nourishing pastoral encounter is that it teaches people that they are valued. For those seeking pastoral help this takes place in the very special relationship with the helper.”
Problems & Confusions
The assumption on the part of the client that this depth of compassionate relationship is also the wish of the pastor is one that can influence the pastor for the worst. It can place a pastor in a mindset of superiority, and leave open the possibility of manipulation or abuse. When the pastor realises the dependence shown by the client toward them this opens up the possibility of a dangerously unequal and ultimately abusive relationship. If this happens it is usually the case that this occurs on an unconscious level as the pastor often seeks to have their own needs met in the relationship with a client. This is probably quite common and not always harmful as client and pastor learn to meet each other’s needs, but it brings about the possibility of serious difficulties and ultimately fails to resolve the issues that brought the client to the pastor in the first place. As Avery (1996: 35) tells us
“Re-enacting our own unresolved inner dramas in the context of a victim of something that we can identify with is a sort of Taking Disguised as Giving. It can be an unconscious motivation behind the well-meaning help which characterizes poorly trained counsellors. It is for this reason that all credible pastoral training revolves around the pastors’ exploration of their own inner world.”
Avery (1996: 40) goes on to say that it is crucial that “we tell the difference between our own hurts and those of others.” A good pastor, then, will be concerned with their own motivations, any tendencies they have towards controlling other, and any weaknesses in their own character or method that might hinder positive development in pastoral work. Avery (1996: 41) explains thus:
“…the pastoral encounter requires a partial and mutual emotional immersion of the pastor and the client: how else is the pastor to know what it is to be like the client? But, and this is crucial…the pastor has to know his or her own responses to as wide a range of emotional contacts as possible to be able to tell the difference between their own feelings-world and that of the client.”
A major danger of pastoral power, then, is that the minister can use their position to play out their own fantasies, to attempt to externalise their own hurts and make others the victims of the pastor’s unresolved difficulties. It is not always so blatant, often both pastor and client are completely unaware of the issues that form the background to their relationship, they may not realise that what is really happening is the projection of the pastor’s hurts, prejudices or agenda on to the client. This is because, as Avery (1996: 41) explains, in a pastoral relationship where intimacy has begun,
“…the border between what is the pastor and what is the client is blurred and dynamic. It is never completely clear and is always shifting.”
The ‘Nine O’Clock Service’
This leads on to issues of self-knowledge, supervision and accountability. It is important to be aware of these issues because they so often negatively influence the pastoral encounter. The dangers of self-seeking pastoral power can be seen in the situation that arose around the Nine O’Clock Service (NOS) in Sheffield. The situation itself is well documented, especially by Howard (1996) and the events surrounding the breakdown of the structures of the group drew the interest, as well as the scorn, of the national media.
Essentially the difficulties of NOS and its eventual demise arose from the power which the leader and founder, Chris Brain, held over those who worked with him. Brain had an obvious ‘charismatic’ power, many beleived in Brain’s personal authority and this allowed him power over their lives, power which turned into manipulation and control. This charismatic power was given the backing of institutional authority when Brain was ordained in the Church of England, first deacon, then priest. Without the knowledge of those in the hierarchy of the Church of England, Brain’s methods of control and his serious abuses of pastoral power had been legitimised by the giving of institutional authority and by conferring an office and title upon him.
In the introduction to his detailed study of the situation Roland Howard writes that the story of NOS was not the story, as the Church of England thought, of a radical new ‘youth movement’ that empowered members of ‘Youth culture’ but that, as Howard (1996: 6) explains
“The real story is of betrayal and abuse…Moreover, it is of a priest manipulating, controlling and dominating the minds of several hundred members who thought he was ministering to them. The real story is about an insatiable desire for power, which was fulfilled by money and sexual involvement. This power was power to damn, power to humiliate, power to enter people’s minds and power to control them.”
This is the danger of pastoral power, when individuals drawn by the charisma of a leader who they believe wishes only the best for them, find the trust which has been placed in that leader is ill-founded and misappropriated for his or her own ends. NOS is an extreme example of how pastoral relationships can be abused and result in damage rather than healing for the client, and indeed the pastor. The result of the Nine O’Clock Service’s difficulties was that the congregation, hurt and confused, either moved away from the Christian Community altogether, or needed intense care and counselling to go beyond their wounds and start to build trust in the pastoral ministry of the church again.
The principal, though not sole, agent of the abuses of NOS, Chris Brain, also, needed counselling to examine his own motivation and the results of his manipulative strategies. It is likely that he was ultimately unaware of the true extent of the mental and spiritual pain he was inflicting on those he used to meet his own power-hungry ends. Howard (1996: 133) tells us that Brain told a national newspaper
“To find that I am some kind of abuser of people I dearly love, in the areas I most passionately believe in, and thought I had worked so hard for, fills me with utter despair and I do not know what I can say. I am sorry for the consequences of what I have done. I can see what I could not see before and I am profoundly and desperately sorry.”
There are questions about whether this confession and apology is completely genuine, but many of those associated with Brain do maintain that he seemed to act without full knowledge of the negative effect he was having on the lives of those who had put themselves into his hands.
There is little doubt of the fact that the structure’s of NOS were in themselves set up to give Brain complete control, they were engineered so that even in his absence he remained a ‘shadowy figure in the background.’ Many church structures in mainstream denominations have the aim of keeping the minister at the head of the leadership structure, but few function so overtly to ensure the power of the leader is always felt and powerlessness is considered appropriate for all others. The structure was engineered to make all activity of NOS dependent upon Brain.
Dependency is not necessarily a negative concept, it is possible to have a model of appropriate dependence upon the pastor. Such a model would be one which allows the pastor to make painful observations which are able to move the client on towards healing, one which opens up the possibilities of fruitful pastoral development and ultimately to self-awareness and wholeness on the part of the client. This model of appropriate dependence is put forward by Bruce Reid (1974) in his book ‘The Dynamics of Religion’ and revolves around a process which he names ‘oscillation theory’. Reid (1974: 41) explains
“The picture of the life of the individual is one of periods of engagements with various tasks, alternating with periods of disengagement which may be creative, defensive or simply periods of rest, we have called this alternative process ‘oscillation’”
This theory is pertinent to our discussion in this chapter and in the next and so bears some in depth study as we considering applying its principles to our concerns.
Reid’s understanding of ‘oscillation’ is introduced by using the image of a child’s dependence upon parents, as part of the process of maturing. Reid (1974: 41: 13) uses the example of children learning to swim, saying that when, for instance, the mother accompanies a child into the swimming pool the child will strike out and explore the water, returning occasionally to rest, and gain physical and emotional strength through reassurance of the presence of mother before striking out further and further in the pursuit of self sufficiency in the water. This might seem a purely anecdotal argument, but the Reid’s book carries on to show the application of this analogy to pastoral life.
Using a variety of sources of evidence and by interpreting and applying the works of a number of psychological and social theorists Reid comes to the conclusion that human beings need a certain amount of security in their lives, especially in their relationships, in order to achieve integration as individuals and become a part of the community/society, in other words, to function fully in everyday life. He tells us (1974: 15)
“We have used the term ‘oscillation’ to refer to the alternation of the child and the adult between periods of autonomous activity and periods of physical or symbolic contact with sources of renewal.”
These sources of renewal take many forms for different people, as stated above, it may simply be rest, or solitude. It may be ongoing involvement in a group, or family life. For the purpose of this essay, though, we will particularly consider being an active part of the church, or having an active concern for the spiritual side of one’s life as the main source of renewal for those with whom pastors have most contact.
Dependence & Regression
Reid’s concept of oscillation can be expanded by using the terms ‘regression’ and ‘dependence’ which he uses as the basis for his theory. Reid contests the often negative uses of these words and explain that both ‘regression’ and ‘dependence’ can be functional or dysfunctional. For instance, to immerse oneself fully into a play or a novel one has to suspend certain critical faculties which, he claims, amounts to a form of regression. In a similar way, says Reid, participation in worship involves similar actions. Reid (1974: 23) writes ‘In worship our thoughts and feelings are engaged by narratives, images and ideas which refer to a world, or a realm of experience, other than our working or social lives.’
In this way our engagement with the world of worship does not conflict with our everyday reality. Reid (1974: 24-25)uses the example of the hymn ‘Dear Lord and Father of Mankind’, stating that to read and sing the lyric to the hymn, which is concerned with personal submission to God, regret for rebellion against God and confession of the human tendency to disobedience of God, is to attempt to engage in a reality beyond the everyday but still a part of it, that is to use faith-language to express one’s own personal concerns about lifestyle. In this hymn there is a concern that if God wants the very best for human beings than we are foolish and wrong to ignore, avoid or disregard God’s will.
Reid tells us that the individual who might feel very embarrassed about saying the words to the hymn, and expressing such submission and humility, in any other context can, without self-consciousness, embrace the event of joining in the words and of assimilating their meaning in the context of worship due to a sense of appropriate dependence and regression. Because of this positive aspect of appropriate regression and dependence the words are not considered incongruous with daily living and the individual does not feel a negative tension between the two realities of the daily experience of life and work and the experience of worship.
Reid (1972: 25) elucidates this concept by using talk of two ‘frames of mind, or ways of experiencing a world.’ He explains these by talking of
“…one of which is oriented towards recognising and dealing with present and future realities in the ‘public’ world, which we have called W-activity, and one which is oriented towards images which may be connected with the public world, but which originates in imagination, ‘in the mind’, which we have called S-activity. Regression is the process by which S-activity becomes dominant, and W-activity becomes subsidiary or is suppressed altogether.”
Much of Reid’s thinking is based around the worship events of the Christian community as the focal point of the pastoral encounter in the Christian Community. For Reid all pastoral contact takes place against the background of the worshipping fellowship. From this fellowship the pastor gains their authority, identity, role and function. In this is the foundation for all contact between pastor and client.
For Reid the focal point of the adult oscillation process is in the gathering of the community at such events as the Holy Communion, the Eucharist. At this moment the pastor becomes a facilitator of the community’s engagement with the reality that exists beyond the everyday. The pastor makes it possible to move to ‘regression’ and because of this an appropriate dependence is fostered, this is more obviously visible in denominations where there is a notion of ‘priesthood’ where the priest is the only one able to ‘preside’ at the sacrament of the Eucharist. Developing this understanding Reid (1974: 32) uses two terms with regards to ‘dependence’ and, though lengthy, the appropriate quote is worth giving in full as he explains,
“We have therefore coined the phrase ‘extra-dependence’ where ‘extra-’ means ‘outside’, to refer to conditions in which the individual may be inferred to regard himself as dependent upon a person or object other than himself for confirmation, protection and sustenance. Correspondingly we use the term ‘intra-dependence’…to refer to conditions in which the individual may be inferred to regard his confirmation, protection and sustenance as in his own hands.”
Worship, for Reid, is concerned with allowing the movement from intra- to extra- dependence and back to intra-dependence. This is the foundation for Christian activity and of pastoral activity in general - in allowing people a safe space to ‘receive’ the unconditional love and support of either God, the pastor or the congregation they can move on to a state of self-reliance and personal strength. Whilst wary of simply transplanting this model on to individual pastoral relationship the model of ‘safe space’ is one that many modern Christian groups, such as ‘Holy Joe’s’ and ‘Grace’ in London and the ‘Late Late Service’ in Glasgow are striving to model and to promote.
It must be noted that the priest does not become superior to the congregation in these times of ‘extra-dependence’, she or he remains as part of the community and, through the use of authorises or accepted forms, words, orders of service, takes on a role in common with the people as well as distinct from. Without a congregation, except in Roman Catholic churches, the Communion cannot occur, and even in Roman Churches the theological justification of ‘The Communion of The Saints’ sets the background at which the priest is able to celebrate the Eucharist alone.
Beyond Reid’s theories
If Reid is correct, and the assumption of this study is that his observations are useful and helpful, then it can be inferred that the pastor gains identity from the community of faith. Authority and Pastoral power, as mentioned in Chapter 1 above are taken from one’s position in the community or organisation to which the pastor is connected. Even if an individual exercises an informal pastoral ministry, with people seeking his or her advice due to a belief in the wisdom and compassion of that individual, there would still usually be some recognition by the community (social and/or spiritual) of that individual’s pastoral role. In Reid’s terms, the pastor enables a community to move to ‘extra-dependence’ and back to ‘inter-dependence’ when the community acknowledges the pastor’s position and role.
To enable this to happen the pastor seeks to be a part of that community, not apart from it, and they will gain energy from the ongoing encounter with and within that community and will therefore be able to reach out to those beyond the community with compassion and openness. This places the onus for support of the pastor on the church fellowship, but leaves the pastor in a position where she or he must be a person of honest and integrity, of vulnerability and accountability. This leads us on to look at the structures of the Church.