Sock Puppets, Trolls, and Secretly Blowing Your Own Trumpet

Anyone who has been involved in any sort of online community will be aware of the problems of sock puppets and trolls – accounts that are set up to make anonymous comments, and which take advantage of the anonymity offered by online communities either for some sort of gain, or more often than not to cause trouble. Indeed one of the topics of conversation in the recent UK Channel9 video was trying to deal with precisely that problem on the Channel9 site.

However, there has been a lot of talk on Christian sites over the past couple of days over the news that the same problem has occurred on the Christian site Ship of Fools. Among other things the site includes a Mystery Worshipper feature, where people can review Church services which they attended. Suspicion has fallen on to two glowing reviews by the same person, one for Westminster Abbey commented on the exceptional singing of the priest taking the service, the other for St Marks in Reading commented on the fantastic quality of the preaching. Suspicion was aroused when a parishioner at St Marks e-mailed the site to complain that the review was a fake because of the flattering compliments it paid to the preacher. After some investigation it was found that the self same priest whose preaching had been complimented, Fr David Peters, had also reproduced the Westminster Abbey review in the St Marks Parish Magazine claiming to be the anonymous priest whose singing was complimented.

Initially Fr Peters, who in addition to officiating monthly at Westminster Abbey also travels the world to lead services at major Anglo-Catholic shrines, denied that he had posted the reviews, although with mounting evidence he has now apologised to both his parish, and the Archdeacon and Bishop. On top of that, the story is even now flying around the blogsphere, even being picked up by some of the national media. Another example of bad publicity going further than good? Perhaps. But certainly a salutary lesson in trying to anonymously blow your own trumpet – especially over the quality of your sermons…

As an aside, a little final note. St Marks in Reading is one of the local Churches that has passed resolutions A, B and C, and so is under the pastoral care of the Bishop of Ebbsfleet rather than Oxford. Indeed I knew that they were an Ebbsfleet parish already because when they hosted a Rockmass a few years back the Youth Group voted not to attend in protest at the fact that they wouldn’t accept women priests. However it seems that in disciplinary situations like this, responsibilities pass back to the Oxford Diocese. Probably a rather difficult situation if the local Archdeacon is a woman as it is in other parts of the Diocese.

6 thoughts on “Sock Puppets, Trolls, and Secretly Blowing Your Own Trumpet”

  1. Yes, their Archdeacon would be Norman, same as us in Finchampstead. Just thought it somewhat strange that if something similar happened in Buckinghamshire, or any of the other places where women have been appointed as Archdeacons, the person responsible for discipline would be someone whose ministry, and possibly even her right to hold the particular office, the priest involved would not respect.

    I’ve rephrased the last line slightly to clarify. 🙂

  2. I know there are some funny cross boundary bits somewhere but I couldn’t remember where though I was pretty sure Reading would be the Ven Norman Russell. I imagine if this guy had to deal with Sheila he would certainly feel very differently. I wonder how many parishes DO have that situation. Not sure how many have signed those resolutio thingies nowadays.

  3. Looking at the list of parishes in the Oxford Diocese there are twelve who have passed A, B and C, out of the total of 120 in the Ebbsfleet area. Alongside Ebssfleet are the Bishops of Beverley and Richborough. On top of that are parishes that have passed resolutions A and B, but not C, and have some informal involvement with the flying Bishops. Putting that into context, there are about 13,000 parishes in the Church of England as a whole, so the number of Churches involved are pretty small.

    Incidentally, you are correct that the Reading boundary is a bit odd – I believe it roughly follows the historic Berkshire boundary, so includes a significant number of parishes that are now in South Oxfordshire, extending as far north as the Abingdon Deanery. But equally the boundary also reflects the fact that Slough wasn’t always part of Berkshire, so Slough Deanery is included in the Buckingham area.

  4. Parishes in, particularly, Chichester and London dioceses don’t often pass resolutions that they otherwise would because in Chichester none of the three bishops priests women, and in London, half, including the Diocesan, don’t. Where there is a none-ordaining suffrgan in other dioceses, parishes may not see a need to pass resolutions. So there are more ‘Traditionalist’ parishes than there seem, and the number passing resolutions is slowly increasing -perhaps in response to women-bishops. I think c. 10% of parishes have passed one or more resolutions in total.

    I agree that a ‘Trad’ priest would be in a difficult position viz a woman archdeacon; he may seek a male archdeacon as a locum, and I suspect that would be granted if there were proper ‘conscience’ issues.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.