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Top-posts review, but this will be ‘light’

THE SYNOD has called for a review of the process for appointing suffragan bishops, deans, archdeacons, and residentiary canons, including the role and practice of the Crown, as well as diocesan bishops.

A subject avoided during the debate was the recent appointment of the present Dean of St Albans after his withdrawal from nomination as Bishop of Reading. Philip Lovegrove (St Albans), who spoke during the debate, resigned from his position as chairman of the diocesan board of finance over Dean John’s present appointment. Dr Philip Giddings (Oxford) had been spokesman for opponents of his nomination in Oxford diocese.

Introducing the debate, Anthony Archer, also a St Albans layman, said that he hoped that his private member’s motion would be a catalyst to enable the best principles and practice of the Perry report to be applied to other senior posts. The central tenet of his argument was that a single, integrated and consistent system was needed.

The sidelining of two earlier reviews — van Straubenzee of 1992 and Howe in 1994 — had resulted in an unreconstructed system out of step with contemporary practice. The review should be wide-ranging, and should reflect in particular on the role of suffragans, deans and archdeacons in the changing church context. It should apply to appointments where the Code of Practice applied, and where it did not (as in the case of deans).

It could not be right, Mr Archer argued, that an appointment could still be made essentially in private between Downing Street and the diocesan bishop concerned, using a process that appeared not to be documented. To achieve a single system for all deans, it would be necessary to change in some way the part played by Downing Street.

An 18-month time limit would be put on the work of the review. The Synod was assured that the figures were largely opportunity rather than incremental costs.

The Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd Dr John Moses, wanted the Synod to hesitate. First, it was not clear that there could be one process for appointments, nor that it could be open, transparent or publicly accountable. “That is not how it is in the real world.” Second, the C of E was a mixed economy, and a new process might lead not to dynamic appointments, but to greater uniformity.

Third, it seemed to be implicit that a move forward would lead to further uncoupling of Church and state. In his “limited” experience of Crown appointments at St Paul’s, the Dean had found the appointments secretary’s approach preferable to his experience of appointments by bishop’s staff meeting, diocesan board of patronage, private patron, “and even, dare I say it, the Crown Appointments Commission”.

Fourth, he was nervous of the Synod’s “determination to leave its pawprints on every aspect of church life”: “If in doubt, chuck it out.”

Mary Johnston (London) said that opening up the procedure would bring talent from unexpected sources to the fore. Lists of names for consideration could be “dreadfully excluding and misleading”. If the appointment of suffragans became a “gut reaction” of the diocesan bishop, this could lead to stagnation. Looking at the work of the diocesan bishop, suffragan, and archdeacon, a review could help to reduce duplication.

Canon Professor Anthony Thiselton (Southwell) said that, although he had signed the motion, he now had more sympathy for the position taken by Dean Moses. He did not want yet another review of the office of the episcopate. He had been involved in five of these reviews. “Are we to have a sixth?”

He wanted, in his amendment, to disengage the motion from any hint of a reduction in the Crown’s part in the procedure: bishops and deans had an important civic role.

Ian Garden (Blackburn) said that local reviews were all that was necessary. The part played by the Crown was always an easy target; and it was odd that external involvement was viewed negatively. Consultation was key to confidence. It was extraordinary that a cathedral chapter should not have a say in the appointment of a dean.

There had long been nervousness about the appointment of bishops opposed to the ordination of women, he said; and recently only a handful of courageous bishops had appointed canons and archdeacons who were also opposed. The most balanced member of the Crown Nominations Commission was the Prime Minister’s appointments secretary.

The Bishop of Chester, Dr Peter Forster, wanted to leave out phrases that attempted to “second-guess” how the objectives of the review were to be achieved. There did not need to be uniformity in the process. A lot of consultation was already employed, but unfortunate situations in cathedrals had raised questions that needed looking at.

Canon Bob Baker (Norwich) agreed that consistency, not uniformity, was needed, together with transparency; and the “present messy muddle” would be evaluated. Also,  thought should be given to the problem of the “disappointed cleric”.

The Bishop of Portsmouth, Dr Kenneth Stevenson, recognised a culture-change. More of the younger clergy expected to be part of the conversation. Practice varied. The Archer proposals would be expensive, and would suggest standardisation and centrality. He recommended a light review, and no rushing to send a self-conscious signal to the outside world.

Mr Lovegrove described the process in which “various peasants are gathered together and a séance begins.” Two “ethereal beings from outer space” appeared, and listened as the representatives spelt out a long list of qualities. But if a name was mentioned, they were immediately reprimanded. Later, “A name is pulled out, like a rabbit out of a hat.” The system needed to be reviewed and changed, he said.

Brian McHenry (Southwark) did not accept Mr Lovegrove’s description, and said that servants of the Church and in Downing Street had been seeking to reform the system. A more modest review was needed, leaving aside “over-determined prescriptive requirements”.

Alan Cooper (Manchester) drew attention to the costs of the proposed review, set out in the Fifth Notice Paper: “a significant task, and the costs reflect that”.

Dr Giddings said that if the motion was left unchanged, the review group might spend too much time on the issue of inner process.

The Thiselton amendment was lost, but Dr Forster’s amendments were carried. His also sought to remove the time limit on the review. But a former member of the van Straubenzee commission, Dr Sheila Grieve (Chester), warned that the van Straubenzee review had dragged on for ten years, and had felt like a four-year pregnancy that “gave birth to a very sickly baby, if not a stillbirth”. After taking an expensive legal opinion, it had come up with a method of bypassing the Prime Minister, and she wanted this looked at again: it had never been tested.

Dr Forster’s amendment was lost.

Returning to the main debate, the Bishop of Peterborough, the Rt Revd Ian Cundy, feared that the Synod might delay reforms already in hand. “We should not spend extra money at this moment.”

Prebendary David Houlding (London) warned that setting up a new group at the end of the synodical quinquennium was not going to be easy. “There will still be disappointed clerics, and we are in this Church obsessed by hierarchy. Let us take a leaf out of David Hope’s book: the best job in the Church of England is that of the parish priest.”

The amended motion was carried overwhelmingly. It read:

That this Synod:
(i) consider that the Church should adopt an integrated and consistent method for the making of appointments to senior ecclesiastical office (other than diocesan bishops) to ensure that all appointments are transparent and encourage the confidence of the Church in the procedures that support the final selection; and
(ii) request the Archbishops’ Council to commission a working party (to be chaired by a person independent of the Council and the Synod) to review and make recommendations (without limitation) as to the law and practice regarding appointments to the offices of suffragan bishop, dean, archdeacon and residentiary canon, including:—
(A) the role and practice adopted by diocesan bishops in the making of nominations to suffragan sees; and
(B) the role of the Crown in the making of appointments to the other senior church offices referred to above and how it is discharged;
and for the Archbishops’ Council to report back to the Synod within 18 months of the date of this debate.

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