I would guess that more than 200 have served in unpaid leadership roles, for example as home group leaders, wardens, treasurers, or church councilors.
That means that I can tell the following story without identifying any individuals at all. I’ve done that because I don’t want to identify myself, and so I don’t think it’d be fair for me to identify others either.
I have identified All Souls Langham Place because I want to help show that non-disclosure agreements are part of a very deep cultural problem in the conservative evangelical world. And I think All Souls as an organisation should be held to account for offering me one.
I’ll begin this story with a 600 word summary of claims which All Souls offered me money not to make. (I’m free to do that because I chose not to sign any NDA).
In order to work for All Souls, I moved to the UK from another country, paying for my own work visa and airfares. The church also required me to raise all the funds for my own salary.
I’d just finished at theological college in my home country, where I’d been living on quite a small allowance. When I graduated I was hoping to get a properly paid job, but I decided to start at All Souls on only the UK’s minimum wage. I was content to do that because I thought that, Lord-willing, the particular ministry I’d be doing could be quite fruitful, leading to a pay rise.
The recruitment and visa process took seven months, which was frustrating because I didn’t feel able to pursue any other job options which would require a long-term commitment. It was also hard to find temporary employment while I waited.
After the visa was granted, it then took me two months to relocate to the UK. When I arrived I wasn’t able to move immediately into any accommodation, so this also delayed my starting work.
Just after I arrived in London I discovered that the nature of my work would be very different to what I’d been led to expect by the All Souls person who had recruited me. (From now on I’ll call this person ‘the recruiter’).
There was only one part of my job description that would be exactly as I expected. This was to help with a ministry that the recruiter himself was partly responsible for. However that ministry wasn’t at all part of my motivation for coming to All Souls, nor was it why my financial supporters were keen to support me.
When I discussed this with the recruiter, he admitted to me that in the period before I locked in my decision to come to All Souls, he had known that the nature of my job would need to be different, but that he had withheld this information from me.
At first I decided not to make any complaint about this, partly because it’s generally my nature to be as uncomplaining as possible.
However, I changed my mind when I went back and looked at all the emails the recruiter had sent me before I locked in my decision to come to All Souls. I now strongly felt that in these emails he had not only withheld information from me, he had actively misled me about the nature of my employment.
I also felt badly treated by the recruiter on another issue. I can’t explain more about that without giving too many clues about our identities. But it was a big reason why I decided to start complaining, rather than just accept how I’d been treated.
I wrote to two senior leaders at All Souls explaining that I thought I’d been misled by the recruiter, and that he had admitted to me that he’d withheld important information from me as part of the recruitment process.
One of the leaders replied saying he understood the points I was making, but he didn’t ask to see the emails I was referring to. I then wrote a long follow up email. However, after 2 weeks I hadn’t heard back from either leader.
By now I wasn’t at all confident that All Souls would properly deal with my complaints. This was later confirmed at a meeting with a more senior leader at All Souls, who seemed reluctant to investigate what I was saying.
I then learned on the internet that you can compel your employer to investigate a complaint by expressly saying that you are lodging a formal ‘grievance’. So I decided to do that.
I wrote up a document including every relevant detail I could think of, and I attached many supporting documents. I also pointed out that the church was legally obliged to consider my grievance.
Thankfully All Souls allowed me to be on leave until the grievance was resolved. This saved me a lot of money because I was able to stay with various friends and family instead of in London.
All Souls’ offer
About 4 weeks after I submitted my grievance, I was offered £4000 on condition I voluntarily leave my employment, and that I promise never again to make any statement critical of my employer, or to disclose to anyone the circumstances that had led to my receiving the £4000. I would also need to destroy all the emails I’ve mentioned above.
All Souls did not concede any fault, but said that the offer had been made mainly to avoid legal action.
I quickly replied to say that I certainly wouldn’t bring an action against All Souls in a secular court or tribunal, on account of what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 6. The person who replied warmly thanked me for this, and said that he wasn’t surprised that I would want to make this clear. He said that the offer was still open.
I then said that I might accept the offer if I could receive some proper apologies for how I’d been treated. All Souls replied acknowledging that there had been serious problems in the recruitment process, particularly that the recruiter had been able to act essentially on his own, without proper checks from other staff or church leaders.
That apology was helpful to hear, but it fell far short of any acknowledgment that I’d been misled by the recruiter. (By this time the recruiter was no longer at All Souls, so I was hoping that All Souls could apologise for this on his behalf).
Because I didn’t think this apology was sufficient, I decided to proceed with my grievance. I also hoped for a higher amount of compensation – I didn’t think that £4000 was enough for the nine months I had spent waiting to start at All Souls, or for the doubt and distress that I’d experienced since arriving.
I also very much hoped that I could receive some financial compensation without having to sign an NDA.
The grievance hearing
According to All Souls’ grievance policy, the next step was for me to attend a hearing with the person who would be deciding on my grievance. However, I wasn’t satisfied that the proposed person would be able to decide the matter impartially, and so I asked if an external person could be appointed to consider it.
I became quite passionate about this, because I discovered that since July 2004 it had been a criminal offense to secure someone’s services by deceiving them into coming to the UK. I wrote to All Souls pointing this out, and saying that it highlighted the importance of considering my grievance impartially. (As far as I know, it was my right to ask for the matter to be dealt with by the church and not to ask for it to be referred to the police.)
All Souls declined to appoint an external decision-maker, but the church did appoint a different senior leader to decide the grievance.
I went to the grievance hearing with a support person, an Anglican clergyman whom I’d only recently met. I chose him partly because I wanted someone with the maximum possible credibility should there be a dispute later on about what had happened at the hearing.
At the grievance hearing the All Souls leader said he wouldn’t be considering my original recruitment. He said that he would only make findings on the more recent matters I’d raised. Afterwards, I quickly wrote to my support person and confirmed he agreed with my recollection of that.
I might have protested very strongly about this, perhaps even written to the Diocese about it. However I guessed that All Souls must have received legal advice that a formal workplace grievance did not need to consider anything that took place before an employee actually started work.
So I resigned my employment and withdrew the grievance. In my resignation email I said that I was withdrawing the grievance partly because no findings would be made on my initial recruitment. All Souls’ reply did not seek to correct me on that point.
In the rest of this story I’ll try to show that I made every effort to reconcile with All Souls before now writing publicly. I’ll also explain one reason why I feel so strongly about NDAs.
This chapter covers the same period as the previous chapter. Here I’ll explain another reason why, before resigning from All Souls, I didn’t protest further about how my grievance was being handled.
While corresponding about the settlement offer, I had written to All Souls suggesting that we hadn’t accurately described my employment in my visa application. I suggested that we could fix this problem by changing my employment so that it would be exactly what we had told the Government.
This would have been a small step to fulfilling the expectations I’d had before my visa was granted.
All Souls replied saying that they would write a letter to check this issue with the UK Government.
This reply said that if the church was found to have done the wrong thing in my case, All Souls might lose its sponsor’s license, and that every sponsored visa-holder at All Souls would then lose their employment.
This email sent me into a panic, and so I quickly wrote to the Diocesan Safeguarding Office. I thought that perhaps the Diocese could work with All Souls to minimise the possibility of vulnerable migrant workers losing their jobs.
In my email I mentioned the proposed non-disclosure agreement, and I then forwarded to All Souls a copy of my email so that they could see everything I had said to the Diocese.
All Souls later replied saying that I shouldn’t have mentioned the settlement offer to a ‘third party’. This made me feel very bad. So after that I was very reluctant to appeal to the Diocese again.
By now the upcoming Government decision was also causing me incredible stress, and I was hoping the grievance process could be over as soon as possible. And I was becoming less and less optimistic of a good outcome for me overall.
So whenever I was weighing up whether to make further appeals on some point, I was more inclined just to accept the bad news, because it might mean I could return to my home country more quickly.
Thankfully, a few days after my resignation, All Souls wrote to say that the UK Government had decided that that there was no problem with my visa sponsorship. So no other staff lost their employment.
A final point to make in this chapter is that because I believed I may have been the victim of a crime, it would have been All Souls’ duty to refer the matter to the Safeguarding Office anyway (even if it didn’t mention the proposed NDA). Under the Diocesan policy, I think the Safeguarding Office would then have contacted me to ask whether I wanted the matter to be referred to the police. But in my case that wasn’t necessary because I had written to the Diocese myself.
After All Souls
A couple of months after I returned to my home country, I started writing to All Souls again, and continued on and off for over a year.
All Souls replied to some of my emails, including some apologies. But these apologies were mostly very general, and didn’t acknowledge the seriousness of what I was complaining about. Even the more specific apologies were very disappointing.
One of my complaints was that when All Souls had offered me the £4000, I’d been told that if I refused the settlement I would still receive a full response to the grievance. However at the grievance hearing I was told that a very large part of the grievance would not be considered.
This was one of the things for which I later received a specific apology. All Souls acknowledged that it should have told me at the time of the settlement offer that it would not be making findings on my original recruitment.
I also received a specific apology for the stress caused by the suggestion that other staff might lose their employment as a result of the possible problem with my visa application. But this apology suggested I had created that risk by deciding to write to the Government to alert it to the problem.
This suggestion was very wrong. When I first wrote to All Souls about the issue I explained that I thought it could easily be fixed. I certainly didn’t say I would be telling the Government about it.
In truth, All Souls took the initiative to inform the Government. I had then written to the Safeguarding Office because I wanted the Diocese to help All Souls decide if this would really be necessary.
A surprising discovery
After about a year back in my home country, I stumbled across a new fact.
Before I’d arrived in the UK, a friend of mine had sent the recruiter an email with some important information about the ministry I expected to be doing.
The recruiter had then misrepresented that information to me, in a way that was extremely unlikely to have been unintentional. I had two written records of that specific misrepresentation.
Part of my reaction to this was anger, because it occurred to me that if All Souls had investigated my claim, perhaps my friend’s evidence might have been uncovered then, and I could have received some unconditional compensation as part of the grievance process.
But apart from the anger I felt, this new discovery also proved to be very helpful for me.
I had suffered a lot of shame from complaining at such length about the recruiter, who was held in very high regard by many. Even though I wasn’t at fault in it, I also felt a lot of shame from the very fact of having been misled by him. In this scenario, you can begin to feel bad for even thinking you were badly treated, let alone for making a formal complaint.
I also sometimes felt that people didn’t believe me when I said that the recruiter had privately admitted some of his misconduct to me. I thought that people would more likely think that I was lying than that a such a thing could happen at a church as blessed and fruitful as All Souls.
So, when I learned of my friend’s evidence, I experienced a huge sense of relief and vindication. I felt that in making my complaint I had certainly done the right thing.
My road since then has continued to be very difficult, for example I once declined a very promising job offer because I couldn’t get over my fear of being misled again.
I then sunk into a very deep depression, and found myself unable to accept my next ministry job offer too. That wasn’t so much from a fear of being misled, as from a general fear that every future ministry I attempted would end extremely badly. That has probably been one of the hardest consequences for me of the recruiter’s misconduct.
By the grace of God, however, I feel I have taken a lot of significant steps forward. I think perhaps the biggest of these has been discovering my friend’s further evidence of the recruiter’s dishonesty.
Writing to the Bishop
It occurred to me that I would never have discovered this if I’d signed the non-disclosure agreement. Nor would I have been able to take some other big steps towards recovering from my experience at All Souls. For example, I secured a rental property very near my church partly by mentioning some of what had happened to me in London.
This, in turn, led me to reflect on all the different ways that NDAs make it harder for victims to recover from wrong-doing, and on how NDAs allow wrong-doing to continue.
I might never have done anything about that, except that in 2018 I learned that the UK Parliament was inquiring into the use of NDAs, and I thought that the Church of England could do the same.
So, I decided to write a letter suggesting this to one of the Bishops responsible for All Souls.
I also took the opportunity to ask if the Bishop could help me reconcile with any of the leaders whom the Bishop was still responsible for.
I realized that this couldn’t include the recruiter, whom I knew hadn’t served in any staff or leadership role in any church or Christian organization since we had both been at All Souls. However I hoped that the Bishop could persuade All Souls as an organization to apologise fully for his actions.
Similarly, I realized that the Bishop couldn’t compel All Souls to give me any financial compensation. But I thought that perhaps All Souls might volunteer to do this.
I wrote a chronology of everything that had happened in my case, and I enclosed the new documentary evidence from my friend.
The Bishop’s response
The Bishop wrote back declining to help unless I made a formal complaint. And I would first need to write to another person known as the ‘President of Tribunals’.
One of the criteria for a formal complaint was ‘neglect of duty’, which I thought would be a very good fit for how the different leaders at All Souls had dealt with my complaints about the recruiter.
But I decided I wasn’t willing to lodge a formal complaint, partly because I thought that such a complaint might need to be disclosed publicly, or that it might become the subject of rumours around All Souls. I was also feeling better about things at the particular time I had to make that decision.
The Bishop had also said that I could not make a formal complaint against lay people, but only against clergy. I didn’t want to treat the various leaders differently based only on that criteria, particularly as I didn’t think it corresponded well to their respective degrees of fault.
Unfortunately, the Bishop didn’t say that I could make a formal complaint against All Souls as a whole, which I would have much preferred to singling out any individuals.
So that seemed to close off all my options, and I then decided to try to let the matter rest as best I could.
I did however forward to All Souls my letter to the Bishop, so that the various leaders there could see what I’d written, including about NDAs. I later wrote to say that I would not be lodging a formal complaint, but that I hoped that God might one day informally bring about a reconciliation.
I thought this would give All Souls a final chance to acknowledge that I had been misled by the recruiter, perhaps even to offer me some unconditional financial compensation for that. However, I received only a short reply thanking me for my email and wishing me well for the future.
In total, I made five waves of attempts to reconcile privately with All Souls and the various leaders there – before lodging my formal grievance, in my formal grievance itself, by email after my resignation, in my letter to the Bishop, and then finally after receiving the Bishop’s reply.
So I’m trying not to feel bad about writing publicly now. And I hope telling my story will help to rid the wider church of the practice of NDAs, which I think are very wrong.
A couple of friends suggested I make a final effort to reconcile with All Souls before writing here. However, I thought this would be very unlikely to succeed unless I warned All Souls I was about to write publicly.
In that case, I wasn’t sure how I could ask for some financial compensation without appearing to be blackmailing the church. So I thought it best just to write publicly, and then perhaps make another attempt to reconcile once I could be sure of some proper transparency and accountability .
If there are any developments I’ll certainly add more chapters in the weeks to come.