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Self-supporting bishop: not such a mad idea

05 May 2011


From Colonel the Revd Richard Selby-Boothroyd

Sir, — Brian Semple’s suggestion (Letters, 28 April) that a self-supporting bishop be appointed to represent in the province and to the dioceses the views and aspirations of self-supporting ministers in the Church of England might have been amusing had it not been so familiar.

It is reminiscent of one of the several key steps in the evolution of the relationship between the regular and reserve elements of the British Army during the past half-century. The reserve forces of the Crown have for some years been repres­ented at the Ministry of Defence by a volunteer officer. The current post-holder has the rank of major-general, a rank roughly analogous to that of a bishop.

In the army, the relationship between the regulars and the terri­torials, which has many similarities to that which exists between clergy in stipendiary and non-stipendiary ministry, has altered from one of barely concealed mutual contempt to one of publicly acclaimed mutual respect — but it took nearly 50 years, and the process was far from painless.

The process of evolution was driven by the generals’ appreciation that the standing army of the UK could not meet its current, let alone its future, commitments without calling on its volunteer reserve forces. Among other key factors were improvements in the equipping and training of the volunteer reserves, legislation enacted to clarify terms of service, and, of course, the stunningly obvious recognition that, to the enemy, all soldiers on the battlefield look alike, regardless of where and how they were trained.

Similarly, to most people in our society, all wearers of clerical collars are seen as “vicars” regardless of how little they are paid — or where and how they were trained.

During the same half-century, the army also took some other painful steps in evolution, notably: amal­gama­tions of historic regiments, as total numbers employed were reduced; the integration of female officers and soldiers into most, but not all, line regiments and corps; and the deliberate development of joint or collaborative working between services as the nature of the perceived threats has altered. These steps may seem familiar, too.

There is much that could be learned by those seeking to improve the lot of self-supporting ministers by taking a look outside the Church of England for best practice among organisations such as the army which employ volunteers alongside full-time post-holders. Special constables, retained firefighters, and even RNLI lifeboat crews all have terms of service specific to their functions, as well as historical and continuing tensions in their relationships with their career colleagues. An examination of how they have learned to resolve those tensions might be most instructive.

4 Brunel Close, Angarrack
Hayle, Cornwall TR27 5LL

From Canon Rodney Matthews

Sir, — Should the post of Bishop of Maidstone be filled by a self-supporting minister (Letters, 28 April), would this be the first case of BSE (Bishop in Secular Employ­ment) seen in the Church of England?

93 Kings Head Hill
Chingford E4 7JG

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