Some personal comments on my dismissal as Leader of the Iona Community

“We encounter the Other differently and afresh after a period of silence.” – Dietrich Bonhoeffer
(“Wir begegnen dem Andren anders und neu nach einer Zeit des Schweigens.”)

The Iona Community’s Council dismissed me from my post as elected Leader of the Community in November 2017. I have refrained from any public statement until now, but I am still repeatedly being asked questions about what happened. With some distance, I now wish to offer some comment.

Bill Kennedy, a long-standing Member, repeatedly asked Council about my dismissal soon after it happened, but he says he did not receive any substantive replies. He then publicised amongst the Membership the questions he had asked Council, noting “Perhaps Trustees/Council will now give some indication why it is so difficult to reply to legitimate questions related to the process they claim was carried out [in dismissing the Leader].” Council still did not reply to his questions, but I now wish to do so, to the best of my ability.

1. What was the timeline for the disciplinary process? In particular timing of when the first warning, written warning, investigation, etc. happened? Unless details of this are released Members have no idea whether or not a proper process was adhered to.

On 7.10.17 I informed the Convener and Vice-Convener of Council that I had left my wife, having started a new relationship with a colleague on 19.9.17. I was told that evening that I was to take a week’s sick leave or face suspension; I opted for sick leave.
After the Community’s plenary in York the following weekend, I was informed Council had suspended me from duties. No warnings, oral or written, were ever given, and Council did not seek to meet with me. I was not sent details of any investigation nor was I asked to participate in one. I was suspended until I was dismissed by letter on 17.11., with my last day of service being 20.11.17.

2. Related to 1 at what stage in the process was Michael, or the person he was in relationship with, interviewed by Council and asked for their account of the events?

On 9.10. Marlene Finlayson requested I meet with a Member she had approached (John Harvey), threatening possible suspension if I did not do so. I protested to both Marlene and John that I felt the parameters of this meeting (investigative? pastoral? other?) were vague, and that I had no time to arrange for accompaniment, but I wanted to avoid suspension and so I complied with her request. I met him on 11.10., read out a statement and answered some questions, but I do not know what he may or may not have communicated to Marlene.
No other interview or questioning took place.

3. Related to the above when was Michael given details and witness statements of the charges against him?

I was not provided with any of this information before I was dismissed, though I asked for it repeatedly (letters on 17., 20., 27. October, 3., 6. November).

4. As you (Marlene) were Michael’s line-manager what was your contact with Michael during the period in question?

One of the terms of the suspension letter was that I was not permitted to contact any member of Council or staff apart from Marlene Finlayson (Convener of Council). I adhered to this throughout the process, apart from when Angus Mathieson (Vice-Convener of Council) wrote to me and I replied (just regarding the payment of expenses I was due). Marlene Finlayson did not make telephone or personal contact at any point after I was suspended.

5. Related to 4 what was your involvement with Trustees/Council meetings – i.e. who chaired the meetings when decisions were made?

This questions follows on from 4., and is directed to Marlene Finlayson. I am not in a position to answer this question; it is for her to do so.

6. At what stage was it decided to dismiss Michael? Also what was the investigation for this based on?

Of course I appealed the dismissal, and was eventually sent, via my solicitor, documents relating to the appeal. These were received on Friday 1.12. at lunchtime, with the appeal on Monday 4.12.; as I was away for much of the weekend I was unable to respond in detail to the allegations that had by that stage been compiled. However, in this package was an extract from Council records:

“Summary of decisions taken at a closed meeting of Council in York
13-14th October 2017-10-26 [sic]

Those present: John Dale, Isabel Sarle, Carla Roth, Simon Barrow, Angus Mathieson, Caro Smyth, Marlene Finlayson, and in attendance Benedicte Scholefield. Attending by skype for part of the meeting: Alison Adam. Apologies: Richard Sharples, Mary Duncanson and Jan Maasen.
1) It was established early on that the mind of the meeting was that the Leader must be dismissed. Legal advice needed to be sought, and pending this we decided unanimously to suspend MM. MF was to inform the absent Trustees of the decision and ask whether or not they agreed. They were also to be sent copies of the statement read to members at Plenary on Saturday morning”

Marlene Finlayson noted in her statement to the appeal: “Subsequent to the meeting I telephoned Richard Sharples, Mary Duncanson and Jan Maasen. I outlined to them what Council had heard and the decision taken. Each individually supported the above decision.”

The decision to dismiss me therefore took place in mid-October, exactly one week after I had informed Council of my changed circumstances – though I was not informed of this fact until 1.12.17, i.e. many weeks later, and indeed well after being dismissed.
Perhaps the basis of Council’s October decision was a letter sent by the estranged husband of my then-colleague to the Business Director in the week beginning 8.10. (with a follow-up meeting with Council representatives), which contained erroneous conjecture that was not checked with either of us?

I hope these comments help to shed some light on what has happened. I wish to add that I have known most members of Council for many years, and in some cases for decades, and have worked closely with some for long periods of time. It is a source of considerable disappointment and disillusionment that at no point did any of them appear to ask whether the fanciful allegations that were compiled against me for the appeal actually merited proper investigation, or were at all plausible given all that they knew about me.

I cited Dietrich Bonhoeffer above. Throughout my adult life, Bonhoeffer’s model of community, of living together, of Christian fellowship, has been an inspiration and a blessing. I close with another comment of his:
“Christian fellowship is not an ideal that we are to make real. Rather, it is a reality created by God in Christ, in which we are permitted to take part.” (“Christliche Bruderschaft ist nicht ein Ideal, das wir zu verwirklichen hätten, sondern es ist eine von Gott in Christus geschaffene Wirklichkeit, an der wir teilhaben dürfen.”)
That is a message that all of us seeking to live in community would do well to heed.

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