The position of worker has always been a highly esteemed one throughout the 110-year history of the Friends and Workers sect. It was for many years promoted as the highest calling and required any candidate for the work to sell all their possessions and scatter the proceeds so that they could not be taken up again. They were then to become homeless and go preach in pairs wherever the spirit led them. The words of Jesus “He that puts his hand on the plough and looks back is not fit for the Kingdom of God” [Luke 9:62) was taken literally. It was believed that only when someone fulfilled these conditions that they received “authority” from God to preach his gospel message. Anyone who dared to preach God’s word and had not met these special conditions was/is regarded as an agent of Satan.
In the early days, some married couples fulfilled these conditions and became Go-preachers. However, from its inception the “Work,” was largely a single status ministry, employing both men and women in the preaching role, but due to the early logistical difficulties experienced in employing married couples, the emphasis has been almost entirely upon employing men and women who are single and sending them out in same sex pairs. To a great extent these people both singly and as pairs have resided in the homes of those with whom they meet in fellowship with.
In principle, the position of worker is for life, as they regard themselves as dying daily to the natural desires and temptations that nature bestows us with and sowing their lives like seed for the gospel’s sake. Therefore, in conforming to Biblical standards and maintaining a bachelor/spinster life, celibacy became a consequence of self-denial rather than through a deliberate ritual for spiritual purity. This is merely stressed to point out this abstinence from a strong natural function was mainly a by-product of their lifestyle rather than a goal.
The lifestyle of the workers created a two-tier system within the fellowship, comprising the highly esteemed few who went into the work and the remainder who remained members of the common laity. Such was the level of trust enjoyed by the workers it transcended normal human common sense and caution to the point they were regarded by many as some sort of super human beings, well above the things that afflict other people. Workers were indeed above reproach.
With the workers being the only preachers to fulfill God’s conditions, they regarded themselves as God’s only true servants throughout the whole world. The way in which they preached and taught was the only true way to salvation. The workers held the key to the gates of Heaven. People could only be saved through the ministry without a home and the church within the home.
Through all this and more, a strong insular social and psychological environment for the fellowship was created. Submitting to this insular fellowship caused many to portray introverted characteristics. Nevertheless, they could feel privileged at being called into God’s only true way upon the Earth.
The authority of the workers was/is paramount within the system. Questioning the workers soon became like questioning God himself. The professing system put great emphasis on “submission,” “fitting in,” “being humble” and “filling your (lowly) place,” both within the worker tier and that of the laity. Going with the worker flow of things proved one’s willingness to fit in. It gained a person acceptance in God’s only true way.
For many years it was promoted that the things which afflict the world did not afflict God’s way, or if they did it was very rare occurrences. However, in recent times, by the standards of the fellowship, there has been an abnormal amount of child sex abuse scandals involving workers which have come to light, largely thanks due to better means of communication, most particularly the internet. There have also been reports of other forms of abuse by male workers upon females within the sect, homosexuality, lesbianism and other inappropriate behaviour.
It appears too, that young or weak persons entering the work are sometimes abused by domineering or bullying older workers to whom they are to submit to and fit in with. This clearly can be a very unhealthy unnatural situation for a young person to accept. Over the years many workers of all ages have suffered from mental or psychological illnesses often explained as “nerves,” or some other vague condition.
The worker environment is an unnatural one. Many workers have over the years spoken of their struggles with the flesh and their war against natural desires. They live lives in which they are expected to have an extraordinary amount of self-control, knowledge and wisdom and above all, trust!
Their lives are ones of continual self-denial and upheaval, having no settled place in life other than the frequent disruptions that accompany the work. Yet many confess they have the same weaknesses of the flesh as other human beings against which they are in constant battle.
The worker domestic environment involves staying for much of the time in the homes of the laity, often moving from house to house frequently over a mission season. Very often in these homes are children and other young persons, as well as other vulnerable members of the sect. Workers regularly share the same bedroom as their same-sex companions, and in the past, it was common for them to share the same bed. At other times workers may stay alone at the homes of the friends.
We are now seeing that many of the failings which are found throughout society including other churches are also found within the workers’ sect. Some are using statistics for general society or those found in other churches in ways to excuse the failings of the sect by implying it’s just the same as other walks of society. Yet, we do not know to what extent this is true. No proper study has yet been carried out to establish if the level of incidents are better or worse within the sect in comparison to society or other churches.
It goes without saying that the intimate domestic environment enjoyed by workers is indeed a unique one, which requires its own specific study. The workers are normal human beings with normal human desires and temptations, living an abnormal lifestyle with unique challenges. Their lives of self-denial and restraint are often coupled with an intimate environment where the high level of trust placed in them from a compliant laity, presents them with temptations and opportunities not normally enjoyed by other walks of society. For the weaker ones amongst them, this may be like placing an iceberg across the course of the Titanic. For the domineering or bullying type, they have unique opportunities and positions to manipulate and abuse younger or weaker companions.
Some suggest there is no evidence that the work attracts persons of a deviant nature such as paedophiles. Others contend the perpetrators must have brought their tendencies into the work and reject the idea that the worker environment bears any responsibility for the development of these tendencies. Nevertheless, sound common sense, logic and reasoning will guide most reasonably thinking people to realise that the restraints and denial exercised by workers who experience normal human desires and temptations, thrust into a world of considerable amounts of trust and power, opportunity and temptations, is certainly a very dangerous one. Proper research needs carried out to try and establish if the worker environment creates or assists abusive tendencies within the workforce.
In recent years there appears to have been a high turnover of young workers in some parts of the world, which belies the position of a worker’s role is for life or at least reveals that there are those who have seized hold of the plough, have indeed looked back. There may be many reasons for this, but is there a common denominator? We are in an age where young people are less tolerant than their forefathers were. Also, many people in general society do not give their true reason for leaving a workplace. They often substitute that with an acceptable one with which they can leave on amicable terms.
In order to address the problems coming to light in the work, Educating workers and friends in order to make them aware of issues relating to child protection and other forms of inappropriate behaviour is an essential step forward. This is especially so with parents and children. However, in the unique worker domestic environment, this education by itself is not enough. It needs to be founded upon sound control measures.
The unfortunate occurrences that have occurred to date have by and large been committed in an atmosphere of “trust!” Hindsight shows us that this level and nature of trust was and is very unhealthy. Founding protective measures on education alone within the worker domestic environment is only folly, akin to building one’s house upon the sand.
Leaving things as they are and simply adding programmes of education, by itself demands a large degree of trust of behalf of workers, parents and children, as well as the friends in general. In an ideal world, this may work, but we will always have powerful workers, weak parents, timid or scared children, etc. There are simply too many holes in this safety net for education programmes to exist on their own within this unique environment. They must be founded upon the much more solid foundations of rigid control measures. This will offer far better protection for our children as well as other vulnerable persons.
Education is good for making people more knowledgeable and wary regarding certain matters. It can through proper procedures and safe guards make an environment safer for vulnerable persons. However, it is not perfect. There will always be domineering or perverted people in our midst who will exploit opportunities against others. There will always be weak and compliant parents and children who can be exploited. The human failings in the work need to be prescribed for by control measures which the real world would employ in similar circumstances.
It is several years since matters of child sex abuse and the abuse of other vulnerable persons including fellow workers have started to come to more open light. They have reached a point where clear guidelines and rules are required to be drafted and made freely available to every worker and friend within the fellowship. At the moment we are fiddling whilst Rome burns. This is not acceptable. It is time to call in the fire service and once the fire is doused to bring in proper fire prevention controls.
Workers should immediately impose “emergency measures” to limit as far as possible, any risk of abuses happening to our children or other vulnerable persons, including young or weak/compliant workers. These persons need our protection and every REASONABLE step must be taken to provide this protection as far as is possible.
Until official guidelines or proper codes of practices are prepared and made available to all, I would suggest the following emergency measures are introduced forthwith, with a view to permanent implementation. I consider each and every one of these measures to be REASONABLE steps to take in order to protect the vulnerable within the fellowship. The protection of children and other vulnerable persons must be the only consideration in considering protective measures. They must not be compromised in order to preserve worker-child interaction or other relationships in circumstances where an element of risk may remain. Any balance between child protection and worker inter-action MUST weigh heavily in favour of the former which must dominate unyieldingly in all circumstances.
EMERGENCY MEASURES WITH POSSIBLE PERMANENT IMPLEMENTATION.
1) Workers must not except in unavoidable circumstances reside in the homes where there are unrelated children or other recognised vulnerable persons staying. Any occasion where it is necessary to stay in homes where such persons reside MUST be reported to and sanctioned by the overseer.
2) Workers who are alone must not stay in the homes where there are single people of the opposite sex.
3) Workers must not frequent or stay overnight in the homes of the Friends whilst the husband or wife of a friend may be absent. A degree of licence can be exercised for short visits during the daytime etc., where this can be justified.
4) Workers must not be left alone for lengthy periods of time with children. There must be a minimum of two workers present, or at least one other adult. A lengthy period may be defined from the circumstances and in which it can be perceived a risk exists.
5) Workers must as far as possible be provided with separate bedrooms. Where this is not possible and a room is shared, then they must be provided with separate beds. The practice of bed-sharing must be allowed except in very extreme cases.
6) Workers must report to the overseer any suspicions of inappropriate behaviour by any fellow worker, companion or friend. If any matter of a criminal nature is suspected then steps must be taken to ensure the matter is being reported by someone appropriate to the relevant authorities.
THE FOLLOWING SHOULD BE CONSIDERED FOR FUTURE IMPLEMENTATION
7) Workers should maintain a daily diary in which they record the homes and other places they stay along with any companions. Also, any problems of note encountered must be recorded in the diary.
8) In cases of suspected criminal matters of inappropriate behaviour, a relevant entry stating who was contacted and when, must be entered in the diary.
9) Friends MUST be encouraged to report to the overseer any inappropriate behaviour shown by a worker. They must also be encouraged if any matters of a criminal nature come to light, they must report the matter to the police or other competent authority.
10) All diaries MUST be handed over to the overseer at a convenient time in the workers’ calendar, e.g. convention time, or when a person leaves the work, or goes abroad, etc. It will be the responsibility of the overseer to issue diaries to the workers in his field.
11) The overseer MUST make provision for retaining these diaries (which can be electronic or conventional) for a period of not less than ten years. The diaries will be invaluable, at least for this period of time, as sources of reference and most particularly in assisting with any future investigations into improper conduct.
12) Overseers MUST make random contact to a number of the members of the laity in his field to ensure everything is okay from a friends’ perspective, during the mission term and/or once the previous year’s diaries have been submitted. Friends must be put at their ease and given the confidence to report any untoward matters.
The workers have brought the real world into the homes of the friends through the abusive behaviours of a few. They have devastated the trust placed/misplaced in them by the victims and their families as well as fellow workers. It is now time for the workers to join the real world and implement the foregoing or similar controls in order that the “worldly” tendencies within their ranks are strictly controlled.
In preparing the foregoing every attempt has been made as far as is reasonable to preserve the operation of the current worker environment against the primary considerations of protecting children and other vulnerable persons. As this includes workers themselves it is believed that many workers would welcome many of these suggestions even for their own personal comfort and protection.
These suggestions are not meant to replace any education programmes or reporting procedures but are to be viewed as a foundation upon which these matters should be founded.