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The clergy and their reputation: what Church leaders can do to help

24 April 2013


From Canon Ian Gaskell

Sir, - I have long admired and been greatly helped by Canon Lynda Barley's statistical insights, but she brought us little Easter joy in her article ("Establishing faith in the community", Comment, 5 April). Indeed, she may have underscored society's perception of trust in priests, as a very recent YouGov poll concluded that only 54 per cent of respondents trusted priests to tell the truth. That poll revealed that doctors, teachers, judges, and BBC journalists were all held in higher regard than priests.

In the main, I have been privileged to serve alongside faithful, connecting, and hard-working priests, who have been highly valued and trusted by the communities and institutions that they have served. Nevertheless, there is an institutional deficit - which Canon Barley touches upon - as trust appears to break down at group and structural levels.

Canon Barley's article was placed alongside Canon Angela Tilby's column about leadership in the Church. The leadership of the Church needs to establish trust quickly with society, primarily in two ways.

First, it needs to recognise that the clergy are an enormous resource, and by and large, they are admired and trusted for their self-sacrifice and faithfulness. That perception needs developing rather than putting in place by what has turned into over-fussy and unnecessary structures and programmes, seemingly designed to keep the clergy in order and in their place.

Second, the Church's leadership needs to connect with the gospel and the template of the Good Shepherd, and do only what is consistent with those imperatives and that style.

In football, a descent down the league table usually results in a change of manager; but sometimes spectacular results follow a change in how a team plays. Changing the manager is not really an option for us; but simple changes, such as deciding to play more attractively and captivatingly, can produce better results and an enhanced self-perception.

Without those changes, aligned with more imagination and creativity, we could well continue to spiral down the league table of trust, and be relegated in society's value as it loses faith in the institution of the Church.

St James Vicarage
Wakefield WF4 3JN

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