Minister suspended over church bullying claims

The ministry of Sandi McGill seems to have divided parishioners. Picture: Alan Murray
The ministry of Sandi McGill seems to have divided parishioners. Picture: Alan Murray
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A CHURCH minister has been suspended after the Kirk launched an investigation into allegations of bullying.

Reverend Sandi McGill, of Avonbridge and Torphichen parish in West Lothian, has been removed from her post while Church of Scotland chiefs probe the accusations, which the Evening News understands relate to bullying and harassment of churchgoers.

Residents in Torphichen today expressed shock and sadness at the development, and said it had split their quiet village community “down the middle”.

It is understood parishioners were informed of the suspension during a service on ­Sunday.

Mother-of-two Donna Binnie, 40, said: “It came as a surprise – a total shock. She’s always been a lovely, cheerful lady.”

Supporters of Rev McGill – inducted at Avonbridge and Torphichen in July 2012 – said they believed her leadership style had antagonised church elders, sparking a series of complaints and resignations before a formal bullying complaint was filed.

One villager and community leader, who asked not to be named, said: “When she arrived, she was like a broom – a breath of fresh air.

“I think there was a genuine breakdown in the relationship between her and some of the parishioners. There’s a clique in the church and, when she arrived, I think she saw what was going on.

“She knew what they were doing, which was basically interfering with her job as the minister. They had a great say in how the church was run – she came in and saw it had to stop.”

He added: “What’s important here is that somebody’s job is on the line, her house is on the line and her reputation is on the line.”

Prior to joining the Kirk, Rev McGill, who grew up in Paisley, spent nine years with the Women’s Royal Naval Service, travelling widely and developing strong expertise in the field of public relations.

After returning to Scotland and securing an honours degree in divinity from Glasgow University, she was installed as minister for the parishes of Uddingston Burnhead and St Nicholas’ Cardonald, before moving to Avonbridge and Torphichen.

Some villagers praised Rev McGill as a member of the community who is always willing to help those around her. Robert MacGregor, 60, said: “She would always speak to me. She seemed like a decent person – she comes and visits the sick in hospital.

“As far as I knew, she was a good minister. I never heard any complaints about her.”

However, another resident, who asked to remain anonymous, disagreed and said the local parish had not been run along “correct lines” since her arrival.

“We have had three very successful ministers who have served in the church – the problems only to arise when the reverend arrived,” he said. “She was not following the usual procedures of the Church of Scotland. She liked to do her own thing.”

Described on the parish website as a “people person” who will “always make time for any who need her”, Rev McGill is also an associate member of the Iona Community.

She is well known for her interest in justice and peace issues, as well as her support for nuclear disarmament.

The Evening News contacted Rev McGill and members of the local Kirk session – or governing body – but they declined to comment on the suspension.

A Kirk spokesman said: “The minister is under administrative suspension and there is an ongoing inquiry by presbytery.”

The parishes of Avonbridge and Torphichen have been linked since 1971.