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…