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Clergy appointments and parishes’ expectations

20 December 2013


From Alice Jolley
Sir, - I read with increasing disbelief Canon Angela Tilby's column "Drawbacks of the super-dynamic" (Comment, 6 December), so much so that at first I thought that I had misunderstood. She does indeed suggest, however, that qualities such as passion, energy, commitment, and excellence are all superfluous to the ministry of a parish priest. And, as for a sense of humour, when would that ever come in handy in a parish?

There are many worrying ideas to be found between the lines of this enormously dismissive statement. How could it ever be "hopeless" to strive for talented, creative, and insightful leaders who have the necessary "gifts" so disdainfully dismissed? Such people are rare, perhaps, but they are out there, and a failure to entice such extraordinary talent reveals our intrinsic and destructive lack of self-respect.

I don't think that it is "messianic" (not even "vaguely") to recognise in others and/or oneself the desire and the ability to instigate positive change and growth. Obviously, it is crucial to have a realistic and informed idea of what parish ministry is, but to write off ambition with the suggestion that "stars" are likely to be "pastorally inept" can only be fatal.

Finally, I am baffled by the suggestion that the only "reward" received is a "simple stipend and a potentially problem house". If this really is true, and if these are the prizes that most matter, then I would be tempted to give up and get out as soon as I can.

24 Belmont Court, Belmont Hill
St Albans, Herts AL1 1RB

From Canon Noelle Hall
Sir, - Canon Tilby's column makes a significant contribution to consideration of the ministry of the stipendiary parish priest today. The tendency towards unrealistic expectations has accompanied the necessary reduction in stipendiary posts and consequent pastoral reorganisation.

The task of overseeing two or more churches may sometimes be advertised as engaging with exciting opportunities, but may in reality involve very hard and difficult work.

Canon Tilby identifies the traditional ministry of the parish priest "to preach the gospel, celebrate the sacraments, and visit the sick", and compares it with the new territory of producing "a diverse, vibrant, flourishing, mission-focused, caring community". Thus a reasonably easily achievable ministry has been replaced by one far more challenging, especially given the realities of our time.

It is often forgotten that the ability of the stipendiary clergy to engage positively with change depends on such factors as disposition, length of service, age, and the degree of emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. Canon Tilby identifies the danger of the assumption that for every stipendiary post it is necessary to imagine all the qualities required to realise a "diverse, vibrant, etc." community as being held by one individual.

Can the Church of England produce and sustain the workforce required to achieve that, and is that in fact what is always and in every case required? For those of us in our last years of service, her endorsement of the "competent, caring priest" over the "star" is just what is needed when competence involves engaging realistically with change without being swept away by a tide of unreasonable and unrealisable expectation.

The Rectory
13 Ersham Road
Canterbury CT1 3AR

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