Secrecy, Reputation, and Betrayal by Clare Weiner aka Mari Howard

Secrecy – when an organisation which is based on being a light in darkness, light
to our paths, and light to the nations is perceived as having a secret side, we are right to get that uncomfortable feeling that something may be wrong.

The thrill of a secret

Children love secrets. But in the jungle which is the playground we also learnt that secrets can be very hurtful. There is the gang who don't allow any but their closest friends into the Wendy house: ‘You don’t know the password!’ Or the ones who whisper together as certain children try to join in a game. And later there is whatever goes on behind the bicycle shed, which we somehow know involves both inaccurate facts and suspect behaviour.

Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path…

At University, we had a keen and active Christian Union. We also had a progressive fine art department. One of my friends, in the year above, was a student in that department and a dedicated Christian. I’ll call her Jill. Jill introduced me to Daily Light, a booklet of daily Bible readings…

One day a little group of first years had their heads together in the University cafe. They were evidently planning a prayer meeting. It was a secret prayer meeting on behalf of Jill. A couple of then told a group of us who were Jill’s close friends that we would not be permitted to attend it. We were told that what had happened had nothing to do with us. Eventually we learned of the tragedy: Jill had done something shocking as a public act of performance art in the University Debating Chamber. She had been removed, sectioned, and put in a locked ward, heavily drugged. The pain we felt on her behalf was multiplied by the way that people who hardly knew Jill—or us—had devised a cover-up in order to keep the incident from the public eye, where it might disgrace the CU…

For there is nothing hidden, except to be disclosed; nor is anything secret, except to come to light (Mark 4 v. 22)

Secrecy has likewise affected the Iwerne camps for boys. There was always a degree of secretiveness built in. The camps were designed to win students at top public schools for Christ so as to positively influence the future leadership of the nation. Not publicly known, definitely a bit privileged. University friends involved in the movement would sidle off to discreet prayer meetings and only those in the know were aware that they were in support of the Iwerne camps.

So, with secrecy built in, when a scandal concerning an office-holder of the organisation was discovered, it was already in the culture to cover things up and make sure information went no further. In a recent article in the Daily Telegraph there were familiar names from Evangelical circles of the 1970s and 1980s. Men whom we all looked up to as dedicated, mature, Christian preachers and teachers of God’s word, pillars of Anglican culture, whom we assumed we could trust. 

The article, being journalism, was bound to get some facts wrong, but the bottom line is on target. A distorted understanding of church order among the leadership effectively sanctioned the physical abuse of teenagers by a sick person who had responsibility for them on holidays where they were supposedly in a safe Christian environment. The grooming and beating took place off site. But the camps were a good hunting-ground. The idea of CRB checks for those working with the ‘vulnerable’ hadn’t been thought of. As we know, any child emotionally deprived of family support and affection is vulnerable, whether in a care home or away at boarding school. 

What concerns me, and why I’m adding a further blog on the Iwerne debacle, is this. The reluctance to invoke public bodies outside church-based organisations, for fear of the events becoming public knowledge, has resulted in a wider betrayal. The perpetrator of course betrayed the trust of both boys and parents as well as of the original vision of the Iwerne camps to put Christian believers into positions of power where they would act for the good of the nation, and of those who worked and prayed for this vision. But additionally, those who knew of his activities, and didn’t immediately refer the matter to the police and the law for investigation, betrayed their office as ministers, guardians of the faith, and Christian witnesses. There is a great danger that they may have negatively coloured public understanding of the Alpha Course and of some large and influential churches associated with it. They may well have fuelled the growing suspicion of all things “Christian” in the collective public mind.

God is light, and in Him there is no darkness at all …

It’s Lent: yesterday’s short address at the Ashing service we attended reminded us all that ‘Dust you are, and to dust you will return’, and drew a parallel between penitence and mourning. There is an opportunity for penitence within the Anglican church as regards its culture of secretiveness and the outcome of it. There is an opportunity to mourn among those with influence who knew and did not act properly, believing that the church could police itself. Lent points to the events of Jesus’s trial and crucifixion, in which secrecy and a betrayal play a large part. 

Thankfully Lent also leads on to the Resurrection … 

Note: My interest in the Iwerne events is personal: having worshipped in churches where leading figures were Iwerne folk and having friends who have participated in the camps, and having been aware for a long time of the secretive aspects of their culture. It is also because I’ve studied social science.


  1. Something which needs to be said. Thank you Clare, for sharing

  2. Sadly as I have reason to know even a CRB (or DBS as it is now) check proves nothing except that you never got caught. Anyone who knows why someone is unfit to work with children has a duty to present their evidence, even if, or especially if, it hasn't been picked up by a DBS check.

  3. Thanks for this, Clare - there's a real danger in too much secrecy, and in churches thinking they can manage such issues "in-house". Being accountable to one another and to outside organisations can feel difficult, but is essential if we are to take safeguarding seriously.


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