Below is the text of a letter which was emailed last month by the trustees of OneSpirit Interfaith Foundation to all One Spirit interfaith ministers.
The new Organisational Complaints Policy referred to in the first bullet point towards the end (as distinct from the existing Professional Conduct Procedure for complaints about individuals) is now available on our Complaints Process page.
20 December 2016
Dear fellow ministers
Many of you will know of the recent conversations on the OneSpirit Facebook site, while others may feel those conversations do not reflect your own experience. However, we are aware that these posts are widely read and given the recent Facebook dialogue, with concerns and issues raised by some of our ministers, we, your trustees, want to make a statement to clarify our position and our current and impending actions.
Trustees are charged with ensuring that the charitable objectives of the organisation are met, and their primary responsibility is to those who are served by the charity, that is the students. To fulfil these objectives, the trustees employ staff on various contracts to secure the objectives of the Charity and to meet the needs of beneficiaries. Trustees are responsible also for setting the ethos, overarching vision, strategic direction, finances, quality, monitoring of outcomes and the staffing structure of the organisation and are expected to review and change these, as necessary, to support the objectives, developments and any new requirements of the charity. Part of our role is to support staff, and allow them to carry out the roles for which we employ them in a safe environment. We also have the duties to challenge, influence, clarify and hold staff to account.
We, as the current trustees, are determined to maintain a professional and transparent position in accordance with good governance practice which is both independent and impartial, as well as effective and supportive. We unreservedly give a commitment that we will ensure that any complaints and issues raised directly with us are fully and fairly explored, discussed, or investigated and the necessary action taken, whilst the interests of those raising any issues will be fully safeguarded. Our commitment to safeguarding our staff, students, ministers and the wider community is paramount.
While we want debate and honest exchanges to continue freely and openly in our commitment to transparency, we do ask for some patience in order that we have the time to understand, investigate, reflect and act most appropriately and effectively. We are currently a group of five trustees and we will be recruiting additional trustees early next year, following the Charity Commission guidance. We have a meeting of trustees plus a meeting of the wider leadership team in January at which we will discuss and progress the issues as identified in an earlier post in iConnect, and others that may be raised.
We can only reiterate at this point our commitment to openness, transparency and an authentic resolution of issues and we will share as much information as we can within the boundaries of appropriate and mindful confidentiality.
Whilst we appreciate that the medium of Facebook is an accessible arena for open discussion, we are concerned that it is not the medium to raise formal complaints nor to raise issues which we cannot address without formal requests to do so. We are also aware that whilst these issues are being discussed without response from us or staff, it is raising concerns in the community. We ask those with specific issues arising from their experiences with the organisation to engage with the procedures which have been devised for this purpose or to write to us directly through the Chair.
For anyone who wants to access a formal process, we have several options which are available now:
Submit a formal complaint, using the Professional Conduct Procedure (found in “Community Handbook” in the ministers’ part of website, and in public “About Us” part of website) or the Organisational Complaints process, this policy will be on the website in the New Year and available on request now. We are waiving the usual requirement for a complaint to be made within a year of the experience from now until the end of February 2017. As part of this process, the pre-hearing panel which will not include staff or faculty, will be made up of people with the capacity to be independent.
Access mediation through “Peaceful Solutions”, an independent organisation that specialises in conflict resolution and mediation. Further information on how to access this can be obtained through Lindsay at the office.
We are working to engage an agency for those who wish to speak to an independent and external person/people which we hope to have established in January. Anyone who wishes to do so, may nominate another person to represent them in the dialogue process.
We are fully committed to the further development of a minister community based on openness, authenticity and trust and will be inviting your views and suggestions as part of our ongoing processes early in 2017.
We give our thanks for the passion, commitment and engagement shown by so many Ministers amidst the wide range of views, opinions and suggestions. We also thank our staff for their continuing commitment and professionalism at this difficult and unusual time. We ask all ministers to work with us towards creating a foundation that is strengthened rather than weakened by its challenges, conflicts and differences, here we can continue to serve from our shared potential.
The OneSpirit office is closed over the Christmas and New Year period from Wednesday 21st December until Wednesday 4th January. We will reply to anyone wanting to submit a complaint or access the mediation as soon as possible on our re-opening.
Cathy, and for Chris, Jan, Joy and John
Cathy Slow – Chair of Trustees