He was an odious little creep, even by church standards. But in his immaculate suit and “I can sell you anything” smile, he obviously had just the right stuff to head a seminary: specifically, as Principal of my Alma Mater, the Vancouver School of Theology (VST).
His name was Bud Phillips, and he dropped among all the pious bunnies a year after I had enrolled there.
VST’s gaggle of resident theologians were enamoured with Bud, for some reason, despite the fact that the guy’s background was in chartered accountancy and public relations. Conveniently, however, a Master of Divinity degree had found its way onto Bud’s curriculum vitae, much in the same way that the hand picked Medici or Borgia popes of the middle ages were given honorary ordination into the priesthood the day before their bought and paid for elevation into the spot of Top Papal Gun.
Alas, things are more banal, if no less corrupt, in these, humanity’s final days. For with barely a by your leave, The Reverend Bud kicked off his tenure among we, his erstwhile flock, by sacking several long time VST staff members in order to free up the cash needed to redecorate his fancy residence next to the school.
I knew one of the sacrificial lambs who had to face the knife so that Bud could lounge in a sauna: a single mom with two kids named Hanne who worked as a secretary in the school’s Development office. She was in fact the friend and co-worker of my wife back then, Anne McNamee, so from both of them I got all the gory details of what had come down.
“That bastard called all of us into his office and told us that two of us had to be laid off for fiscal reasons, but he wouldn’t say who. Then he tortured us by waiting a week before doing it.”
“Yeah” said Anne. “Then we heard confidentially from Jessie in Accounting that Bud had been told right when he got here that there wasn’t available the $100,000 to fund the renovations he wanted on his house.”
“Well, I guess he’s found the money” I remarked.
Hanne burst into tears at that point, and Anne turned her “Well Kev, what are you going to do about this?” look on me.
Anne generally didn’t like me causing a stink over something that might affect her personally, as she demonstrated with deadly effect some years later; but at the time, she was about to quit her job at VST anyway, so I guess she figured she could afford to have me fight for Hanne’s job – which I did, of course. And in the process, I nearly got bounced from the church even earlier than I eventually was.
Out of that experience, I learned a lot about the fibre, or rather lack of it, of my fellow clergy-in-training, and the whole church crowd. A more circumspect fellow might have grown cautious from the conflict. But all I could see at the time were Hanne’s inconsolable tears – and Bud’s swanky new abode.
So I put out a leaflet, naturally. It was dispatched anonymously, which was unusual for me. It laid out the facts of the debacle and asked, naively, where the justice of Jesus was. And as it appeared like an unwanted mustard seed plant on the walls and tables of VST, the effect my epistle had was comparable to my depositing a pile of excrement on the chapel’s communion table.
The school exploded.
It was fun to watch the normally austere and pretentious veneer of all the god-groupies fall apart as a sort of paranoid McCarthyism swept the school. And Reverend Bud was furious. Within a day of the leaflet’s appearance, he called an assembly and demanded, before the gathered, cowed crowd of all the holy folk, to know the identity of the leaflet’s author.
Bud wanted blood.
It was understandable, from a realpolitick point of view. After all, in his greed, Bud had made himself look like a complete ass hole in front of his entire, new constituency: the kind of guy who would (to quote my Irish relations) “take the eye outta your head and come back for the eyelashes”. And so, like any Emperor caught with his pants down, Bud Phillips needed a scapegoat – you know, like, to distract everybody. And so the witch hunt was on.
Fortunately for my future and short lived career as a clerical caretaker for the United Church of Canada, no-one but Anne and Hanne knew that I had written the offending tract. Yet my visible lack of ecstasy for our new Principal made me an immediate and prime suspect to Bud and his gang of saintly sycophants, which by then included most of the VST faculty and students.
And so, gentle readers, in a not-so-oddly-similar scenario to what would come later, when I broadcast even greater crimes and hypocrisies by the church, the general consensus among the local Christians was that Kevin Annett was clearly to blame.
They had no proof, of course, but that’s never bothered the church officialdom all that much. Overnight, I became a seminarian to avoid: a condition not helped by my tendency to regale anyone within earshot with hitting quotes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian – my favourite one being, of course, “Alright, I AM the Messiah. Now fuck off!”.
Hanne never did get her job back. And oddly enough, two years later, I graduated from VST into the comfy ranks of the United Church clergy.
I suppose the church overlooked my little “indiscretion”, and Bud’s bigger one, for the same reason: the institution had to carry on. Now as then, they have a deficit of clergy people, and practically anyone will do. Besides, the Temple money changers probably didn’t imagine that I would be back again for an even more impressive table-overturning performance, at a little place called Port Alberni.
It just goes to show you that rulers of whatever denomination tend to exchange not only their ethics but wisdom and reason itself for a new sauna and nicer wall panelling in their private studies.