Cliques in Church

I was talking to an elderly woman recently who told me that she hated the Mother’s Union. Quite venemous she was too. “They were a clique,” she told me, “a clique to which I didn’t belong because I never married. They thought they were something special and always seemed to be doing things which I’d quite liked to have done but I couldn’t.” I told her that they did change the rules and allowed single women (and now men, I believe) to join but she said she didn’t want to then because they were too cliquey.

I reckon there will always be cliques in Church. Groups to which some people are excluded but to which they’d like to belong. Because none of us like to feel excluded. After all, we joined the Church – we want to belong. But then to find that there are some groups of people to which only those and such as those are invited seems terribly unfair.

Cursillo has been seen as a clique – and the worst of cliques because they keep secrets and have a special language all of their own. In its heyday Cursillo was loved passionately by many and hated vehemently in equal measures. Its aim was to produce leaders in the church, to kickstart peoples’ faith and renew their commitment to God. It is a movement run by lay people (with a little clergy help) and for lay people. But the rules state that you can’t go until your priest has been. Of course, this was to avoid it becoming cliquey but it almost had the opposite effect. Some clergy hated it and word spread. (Of course they hated it – it wasn’t for them, and they weren’t in charge!) And no matter how hard Cursillo tried to not become secretive and to tell all, the more it was seen as being a dangerous clique in the Church and almost died out. Desperate measures were taken to try and get some of those clergy on board but it only served to make it shunned all the more.

The next clique was computers and the internet. Vestries were divided by those who had them and those who didn’t. “Did you receive the minutes by email or were you completely forgotten?” Suddenly the world was at your fingertips and you could delve into any old church’s archives and photos (and what delights lay therein!) and lust over copes of glory and strange American sects who hated fags. We all talked about them over coffee – this world wide church brought into our homes – and those outwith the clique seethed quietly in the corner.

Then there was Facebook. Will you be my friend or can’t you? If you weren’t on Facebook, you weren’t worth knowing. Another clique. While some of us were daily following the antics of ‘that priest/organist/whoever who left in 1982’, others were wondering why they’d stopped writing letters and sharing the news.

When I was an ordinand I did a placement in a large evangelical parish and it was full of groups to which some people couldn’t join. There was a Men’s Group which discussed fascinating topics, or so it seemed, but if you were of the other persuasion then its doors were closed. There was also a Gay Group which I’d liked to have gone along to, not because I’m gay but because I was interested in what they were doing. I wasn’t aware of a Woman’s Group, funnily enough, but I don’t think I’d have wanted to belong to that clique.

Blogging became a bit cliquey too, of course. Not just writing them, but reading them too. “I’ve got over 300 people reading my blog every day, how many do you have?” “Did you see that joke on MadPriest’s blog? MadPriest? You mean you don’t know MP?” And those not in the clique mutter about not having time because they are doing much worthier things.

Perhaps the most dangerous of them all was Twitter. It was not only a clique but distinctly frowned upon by the Church itself. Those who were ‘in’ loved it and of course it had its own special language too. Suddenly you could become friends with the Archbishop of York, Stephen Fry and some woman in Oxford who you’ve never met but she seems to be friends with anyone who’s anyone in churchy circles. And then there was the famous Synod when we all sat looking at our laps throughout (at laptops, netbooks or phones) for amusing and witty bonmots about the proceedings. Those outwith the clique wanted to make it public and display the tweets on a large screen for all to see and of course it mostly died out.

So it looks like cliques have ‘ae bin’ and will always be, forever and ever. Amen. There will always be groups to which we don’t belong. The Church being the biggest one of all. Now if we could only stop it seeming quite so cliquey…

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12 thoughts on “Cliques in Church

  1. Some cliques I can live without! l think I could live without being in the ‘misogynist’ and ‘gays are the reason the Church is going to Hell cliques’… OTOH, does that make me cliquey in a different way? 🙂

  2. When I think about cliques in church, it’s how within some congregations cliques develop, and those from outside – or who are deemed outside – can’t break through. In one congregation I served, a “newer” member (read only 35 years) was asked (by me) if she would stand for chair of the Board. She had never taken on something quite that large before, but had been chair of other groups. Some members of the “clique” responded with heat “She won’t be able to do that, she doesn’t know what she’s doing!” Yrs. Truly responded with equal heat “Yes, she will!” She did it with grace and humour, and walked that congregation through their decision to close. Other members of that same congregation also told me there was an inner “clique” which spent all its social time together, and ran everything in the church (they did).

    I wonder when we are going to be able to remove that “cliquey” notion within our congregations, and stop finding ways to shut people out so we can have control.

  3. Thanks for explaining Cursillo to me. A friend keeps trying to get me to belong and yet she wouldnt tell me anything about it. It was the same with Lydia in the 1970s and you had to be invited to join that. JH is right that Facebook is gated, but it is easy to climb over . I rarely interact on Facebook but often mention a new #blog post. It is one of the ways I keep in touch with the young members of my family, using the ‘customise facility’, as I know my children would be so embarrassed by messages from mother.

    I have been a MU member since I was a new Mum because reading its Aims and Objectives I could not see why any Anglican Mum could disagree with them. In Filey our parish MU is Church for the 60 or so (most over 60)members ,and operates as a large housegroup really. Most meetings have an attendance of about 30. It is not a clique now(21st C) in that it is well publicised, and is very welcoming, and well organized, but to belong promises have to be made, just like joining the Guides.

    The point I feel you have drawn out , now that I have thought about your post, is that we need to be interacting with each other in groups. We Christians need to stay close to the Lord, and grow in our faith , to be friends to those who are looking for friends, and be prepared to answer for our faith at all times in all the groups we belong to .
    Nobody belongs to NO cliques unless they are hermits or complete loners , and even if people only see the Tesco Delivery man they still have to interact with him as he wont go back to the van unless he has seen you check the goods. My aged parent 91 belongs to these cliques, Doctors waiting room, Chiropodists waiting room,Midweek Communion congregation Beverley Minster, Tesco Checkout, Taxi Firm user, Hairdresser ,as well as being part of a family, . She seems to know the people in them all very well, and prays for them all.

    • Thanks for your comments Margaret. Not all MU groups are as delighful as yours though! I’ve known one who hounded a gay couple and threatened to ‘out’ them to the local press because at that time the MU was anti-gay. I guess that what comes when you have a large African membership.

      Groups can be healthy but we must always be aware that others may look at our group and see a clique. Perhaps people thought that about the disciples…?

  4. Language does it – at St Mary’s I have come to realise that one cannot over-explain to a congregation what is going to happen next, and simple clear explanations (We are going to do something called X. You may come forward and do P or Q or if you prefer you can stay quietly in your place and pray, but really we would like you to do P or Q) help everybody.

    On blogs, once a colleague criticised clerical bloggers, asking why the time was not better spent – on hearing the kind of hits a blog could get, colleague’s jaw dropped ‘It is outreach’ I added. (And a lot more people than colleague’s Sunday faithful)

    • Oh how I know that explaining for the nth time. And why don’t people take pew sheets home which have information on them, tell me that?

      Yes, I always tell people that blogging is mission. You don’t sniff at those numbers.

  5. There was clique I was aware of that was downright evil. Nice as ninepence to my face and behind my back not including me in anything they organised. Why not? I was a mother who also worked fulltime and therefore beneath their contempt.

    My objection to the Twittering at things would be how can you really be concentrating on proceedings if you are busy trying to be witty?

    • Yes, there are those kind of cliques which are not healthy at all.

      I can listen and tweet at the same time. And sometimes, dare I say it, Synod is not exactly riveting.

  6. Re twittering at Synod: I reckon if you’re using the pisky hashtag – and therefore identifying your audience – you want to avoid ill-informed comment so’s to keep your end up. Probably comes down to pride – oops: another sin!

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