Tag Archives: Orthodox Mission

An Open Letter to the American Orthodox Institute

Phil Groom writes:

Letter to the American Orthodox Institute,  submitted 30/12/2008 via their Contact Us page:

Dear Friends,

I represent the UK Christian news blog, SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info – https://spckssg.wordpress.com – which exists to report upon, scrutinise and provide space for discussion about the acquisition and running of the former SPCK bookshops by the St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust (SSGCT).

Having posted their promotional video on your blog in March this year (http://www.aoiusa.org/blog/2008/03/test/), you know that SSGCT purports to be an Orthodox missionary society. It has, however, been disowned by the wider UK Orthodox community, members of which regard its USA based owners, J Mark and Philip W Brewer, as an embarrassment to their church:
https://spckssg.wordpress.com/2008/09/28/j-mark-brewer-you-are-an-embarrassment-to-the-orthodox-church/

The organisation is now operating under several different guises: ENC Management Company, Durham Cathederal [sic] Shop Management Co, Chichester Shop Management Co and Third Space Books; there may well be others – the Brewer family seem to be particularly adept at changing company identities and shuffling assets between their various companies when they come under scrutiny or when bills become due.

Earlier this year, J Mark Brewer attempted to file “St Stephen the Great LLC” for bankruptcy in the USA. This was thrown out by the Court as having been submitted in bad faith and was described by the Trustee of the Court both as an attempt to commit fraud on the court and as an attempt to evade responsibility for debts here in the UK, where many former employees and suppliers to the bookshops remain unpaid.

Mr Brewer also set out to silence reporting on his activities by issuing ‘Cease and Desist’ letters to a number of people, myself included. This appears to have been another part of his strategy to evade his UK creditors by ensuring that evidence needed by the Courts would be inaccessible.

Since then, despite a solemn and legally binding undertaking by covenant to maintain the SPCK shops as Christian bookshops for a period of seven years, he has gone on to sell the Exeter shop (which is now trading as a jewellery store) for the sum of £507,000. We have not yet ascertained what he has done with that money but his former employees and suppliers to the bookshops still remain unpaid whilst the few shops left are inadequately stocked, understaffed and poorly run.

All of these innovative business practices are being carried out in the name of Orthodox mission, in a so-called bid to “Rescue Britain’s Christian Heritage” as per that promotional video. Instead of rescuing Britain’s Christian heritage, however, the Brewer family are trampling it underfoot and treating Christians and non-Christians alike in the UK with contempt.

In his essay “Conflicted Hearts: Orthodox Christian ‘Social Justice’ in an Age of Globalization” John Couretas, your Executive Director, observes that “The Orthodox tradition of social witness is ripe for renewal and revival.”

In his end of year message, Fr. Hans Jacobse comments that “Now more than ever, Orthodox Christians need to make their voices heard on the most important social issues of the day.”

For us here in the UK, one such important social issue is the injustice meted out by the Brewers to their former employees and their suppliers in the name of Orthodox mission. I therefore make bold to suggest that a good starting point for your longed for renewal and revival would be to call the Brewer family and their St Stephen the Great Charitable Trust to order – and if they fail to respond in proper repentance and restitution towards those they have wronged in the UK, then to publicly dissociate AOI from SSGCT and their so-called ‘Orthodoxy’.

Finally, in the interests of transparency, please note that I will be publishing this message as “An Open Letter to the American Orthodox Institute” on our blog. A new year is almost upon us: it would be an immense relief to my colleagues and myself to bring this disgraceful episode to a close before another year passes. I urge, you, please: do all that is in your power to help us achieve this end.

If you need any further information, please feel free to contact me.

Thank you for your attention: I look forward to receiving your response soon.

Yours faithfully,

Phil Groom

Phil Groom
SPCK/SSG: News, Notes & Info
https://spckssg.wordpress.com

 

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Brewer and Pritchard PC: The Things They Say

With Principal Partner J Mark Brewer having joined forces with his brother, Philip, to successfully decimate the former SPCK Bookshops in pursuit of their vision for Orthodox Mission, I thought it would be useful to reflect on what, exactly, this “Professional Corporation” from Houston, Texas, believes in.

A Google search for the company reveals some interesting snippets:

  1. Welcome to Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.

    Disclaimer: Please be advised that Brewer & Pritchard, P.C. has not agreed to represent you or render legal advice to you by virtue of your having visited 
    http://www.bplaw.com/ – 19k – Cached – Similar pages
  2. Welcome to Brewer & Pritchard, P.C.

    The attorneys at Brewer & Pritchard are aware that efficient staffing and direct accountability produce cost-effective results. Respect for clients’ budgets 
    http://www.bplaw.com/index.cfm?menuitemid=145 – 18k – Cached – Similar pages
    More results from www.bplaw.com »

The first, I have to say, came as an immense relief: knowing that Brewer & Pritchard had not agreed to offer me their services was the best news I’d come across for some considerable time, and I’d like to go on public record as thanking them for that. A considerable saving on outrageous legal fees, I believe…

The second: I truly didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. Let’s run through that again: “The attorneys at Brewer & Pritchard are aware that efficient staffing and direct accountability produce cost-effective results. Respect for clients’ budgets…This, then, is no doubt the strategy that lies at the heart of the Brewers’ business practices here in the UK:

  • Efficient staffing
  • Direct accountability
  • Respect for clients’ budgets

Rather than comment directly myself on the subject of “efficient staffing”, I quote from Usdaw’s statement dated 24 June 2008:

Shopworkers’ union, Usdaw, has submitted 15 employment tribunal claims against the Brewers, US-based brothers who have taken over a chain of UK bookshops and were seeking to impose a new contract on staff, drastically reducing their contractual rights…

Following the change of ownership, a new contract was drawn up increasing the working week from 37.5 to 40 hours with no additional pay, turning all part-time staff into casual staff with no guaranteed hours every week and taking away all rights to company sick pay.

Now, virtually all Usdaw members have been dismissed with no notice, some by email, and have received little or no information about what this means for their rights and their pay.

Er, yes… efficient staffing indeed.

On the topic of “direct accountability”, it’s equally encouraging to know that Philip Brewer holds himself directly accountable for the activities of his branch management team and likes to send them jolly memos to build up their confidence as they serve the company. His most recent memo that we know of was, of course, reported here earlier this week, Philip Brewer says, “Immediately post this…”, and an earlier one was kindly shared with us by Ruth Gledhill in May last year.

Then there’s the little question of “Respect for clients’ budgets…” — one might hope that would, perhaps, include such things as not charging your clients the kind of fees that bring them to the point where you yourself declare them bankrupt. But I suppose that’s OK if you’re on the Board of your client’s company: then it’s just an innocent little internal transfer, isn’t it? Mark, we know you’re an expert on all things legal: could you outline the USA legal position on this for us please? Here in the UK the word “fraud” comes to mind, and I’m sure that couldn’t possibly be right…

So let’s continue to take what encouragement we can from the knowledge that Brewer and Pritchard PC have not agreed to render us their legal services: thank you, gentlemen.

Finally, let’s make it very, very clear that the Brewer approach to Orthodox Mission and bookshop management is most definitely NOT representative of the wider Orthodox community. In particular, Steve, at Khanya Blog, has made a point of distancing himself from the Brewers’ disreputable behaviour:

Avoiding mistakes in mission is especially well worth reading, articulating an intelligent strategy on how a more orthodox Orthodox group might have gone about establishing themselves here in the UK via a chain of Christian bookshops. Steve, should you ever wish to pursue this further, I for one would welcome your involvement in the UK Christian bookselling scene… I believe there’s a Cathedral Bookshop somewhere in northern England which needs of someone sensible to run it…
– Phil Groom