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Senior clergy: Synod rejects numbers game on bishops

15 July 2009

Chill-out: Synod members at a break between sessions

Chill-out: Synod members at a break between sessions

THE SYNOD declined to ask the Archbishops’ Council “to formulate proposals for reductions in the numbers of episcopal and senior clergy posts, taking into account reductions for the number of stipendiary clergy since 1979”, as requested by Bradford diocesan synod. But it welcomed work already under way on bishops and dioceses, and agreed to request a report bringing together reflections on the exercise of senior leadership.

The Revd Dr John Hartley (Bradford) introduced the motion from Bradford diocesan synod on Sunday. Despite the link between the number of bishops and the declining number of clergy, Dr Hartley said, the motion was not basically about cuts. Instead, he wanted to start a debate about “the big picture”, the need for change in the staffing of the Church.

The kind of questions to be addressed would be: should all archdeacons be con­secrated bishops, and bishops work in teams? Should the independence of cathedrals be reviewed and with bishops’ offices and cathed­ral offices put together? Should ministry-development reviews, committee work, or clergy discipline be devolved to lay people, leaving the bishops free to do mission? And “why does it seem that the top end of our Church is resistant to this kind of change?”

Dr Hartley insisted that he had not asked that reductions should be proportional to the reductions in stipendiary clergy — something that some of those speaking in the debate ignored. Stipendiary clergy, for instance, could be key to the support needed by non-stipendiary clergy, which would mean fewer perceived responsibilities for the bishops.

The genesis of the motion was in the PCC of Tong, in the Calverley deanery, where the deanery plan called for a reduction from 15 incumbents in 2002 to 12 or 11 in future. It asked the question: “Why are the parishes being asked to manage with fewer clergy and to work collaboratively, but the diocesan and national hierarchies seem immune from the same discipline?” The £21.8 million spent on bishops’ houses, staff, and offices would pay 400 clergy stipends.

Dr Priscilla Chadwick (co-opted member), who chairs the new Dioceses Commission, whose remit is to examine diocesan bound­aries and whether suffragan sees should be filled when they became vacant, said that, although it might seem strange for her to speak against change: “We are unanimous in asking Synod not to pass this motion.”

She said that the motion assumed that the reduction in bishops would be proportionate to the reduction in clergy, but that the work­load of bishops and archdeacons was more relevant.

The Dioceses Commission was just nine months old. “Passing this motion would be a huge distraction.” The motion was “too simplistic”.

The Very Revd Archimandrite Ephrem Lash (Orthodox Churches) said he had been examining some fourth- and fifth-century canons of the North African Church in which, when electing a new bishop, they needed an electorate of 12 heads of households. St Augustine, St John Chrysostom, and St Basil were all talking to local congregations whom they knew well.

In Italy and in Greece, there remained this sense of the bishops’ being local. The dioceses that they had in Britain and in northern Eur­ope had been “inflicted” upon them when they were “vast tracts of country mostly inhab­ited by wild boars”. In Greece, every other village was an apostolic see. The issue was not looking for bishops who were more holy or more learned, but whether they could be in more intimate contact with their people. “What you need is more bishops, not less.”

Dr Christina Baxter (Southwell & Nottingham) spoke to her amendment. The time had come to address some of Dr Hartley’s questions, and not to foreclose the answers. A more general motion was, however, needed. The Dioceses Commission was new. The House of Bishops had been talking about how episcopal ministry was forwarded; so it was too early to say that there should be fewer bishops. Instead, her motion would ask for a progress report next year.

The Revd Charles Marnham (London) said that the clergy were under pressure, and this was leading to breakdowns. This motion was about mission. “This is a squeak from the parishes. They have taken a lot of the pain.” This was the time for taking difficult decisions.

Professor Glynn Harrison (Bristol) said that this needed to be about what bishops did, as well as how many there were. There had been a marked increase of responsibilities put on bishops. The ratio of management to em­ploy­ees in the secular world might be a case for increasing the number of bishops. There needed to be less attention to titles, fewer palaces, less rehearsed deference, less infant­ilising of the clergy. Bishops had “a cocktail of toxic expectations beamed their way”.

Canon Jonathan Boardman (Europe) said that, given the numbers of senior clergy in the diocese of Gibraltar in Europe, a see on which the sun never set, the motion would suggest that the number of bishops should be capped, which might lead to a reduction in other C of E dioceses. Italy had 300 RC diocesan bishops, and was a model he commended.

Robin Lunn (Worcester) said that there was nothing in scripture or Christian teaching about the boundaries of dioceses; so there was nothing stopping the review. An earlier report by Lord Hurd had addressed “a large part” of what the Bradford motion was all about. He asked that Church House find a copy of the report “and dust it down”.

Justin Brett (Oxford) said that Dr Baxter’s amendment did not mean anything. “It doesn’t do anything at all.” The Synod should not be so arrogant as to say that it knew what Bradford really wanted to say, and would answer that question instead.

The Revd Alastair Cutting (Chichester) asked: “When did you last see your Bishop?” More bishops were needed, more locally. In New Zealand, rural deans had all been made archdeacons, with considerable effect. Some suffragan bishops could take on the role of archdeacon. “New thinking, please.”

The Revd Jonathan Alderton-Ford (St Edmundsbury & Ipswich) likened the motion to having in one’s hands a rusty cutlass, which could make a lot of cuts and injure a lot of people, but might not be able to achieve results. Dr Baxter’s amendment he likened to turning that old cutlass into a ploughshare and yoking it to the Archbishops’ Council so that it could break up some fallow ground. He suggested that the Dioceses Commission should be trusted to do the task.

The Bishop of Winchester, the Rt Revd Michael Scott-Joynt, said that it would be madness for the Synod to set up another body to do the same work as the Dioceses Commission. Dr Hartley had said that he would be restoring resources to the front line, but cathedrals were also the front line, as were the House of Lords and the media.

Dr Baxter’s amendment was put and carried.

The Revd Jonathan Clark (London) moved his amendment asking the Faith and Order Advisory Group (FOAG) to present a report that would bring together material from the C of E and the Communion on the leader­ship of the Church, and set out biblical and theological perspectives. The ministry of bishops had been changed by all their duties, “perhaps to the detriment of the Church as a whole”. The Synod needed reflec­tion and guidance to consider what the Church required. Such reflection by FOAG was not, however, intended to prevent their getting on with change now. He felt the Dio­ceses Commission “doth protest too much”.

Dr Hartley said that the Dioceses Commis­sion was not the right body to do the work, as it did not have a brief for a wide-ranging review. FOAG would be suitable.

Dr Hartley said that the Dioceses Commis­sion was not the right body to do the work, as it did not have a brief for a wide-ranging review. FOAG would be suitable.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he would not be supporting the amendment if he thought that it would delay the rest of the work, but that in the light of ten years’ experi­ence on a commission to ap­point an ecumen­ical bishop in Wales, he knew there were great difficulties in “the sub-culture of episcopacy”. He said that grandparents had spoken of their grandparents’ being expected to curtsey as the Bishop of Bangor’s carriage passed by through the street. “O tempora! O mores!” They needed to be clear that thinking about the episcopate in­cluded thinking about its range — what was essential and what was merely customary.

Andrew Britton (Archbishops’ Council), who was required under Standing Orders to tell the Synod the likely cost of such an amendment, said that if the motion was not extended to include a study of bishops ecu­men­ically, as requested by one Synod member, then the cost could be kept under £20,000.

Kevin Carey (Chichester) said that anything that God or man could offer that was simple the Synod could make complex. There was no solution to the fundamental problems until they woke up and looked at the nature of the episcopate in the 21st century.

This was a “brave start” by Bradford. What was needed now was a broad overview. Did they need more bishops or fewer? If they were to go forward in mission, that required closer pastoral super­vision than bishops could provide at present.

The Revd Stephen Lynas (Bath & Wells) said that this was a recipe for “the long-grass treatment”. It would cost time, energy, and money. Various elephants would also come up. “Our own elephant in the room is women in the epis­copate.” How could FAOG avoid a long diver­sion to examine this?

The motion as amended was carried. It read:

That this Synod, welcoming (a) the recent establishment of the new Dioceses Commis­sion; (b) the decision of the House of Bishops to decouple, from January 2011, national support for episcopal ministry from actual episcopal numbers; and (c) the intention of the Archbishops’ Council later this year to begin consideration of future policy on the number of bishops and dioceses, invite the Arch­bishops’ Council to prepare for the new Synod in November 2010 a progress report on the delivery of changes to the present pattern of dioceses and of episcopal deployment, and request the Faith and Order Advisory Group (or its successor body) to present to this Synod early in the new quinquennium a report:

(i) bringing together existing material in the Church of England and the Anglican Com­munion relating to the exercise of senior leadership in the Church; and

(ii) setting out biblical and theological perspectives to inform the Church’s developing patterns of senior leadership.

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