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Ordination vows under appraisal

17 April 2014

ALL round the dioceses on Maundy Thursday, members of the clergy renew their ordination vows. For many, the Chrism Mass is a highlight of the year, a chance to reconnect with vocation, on the brink of the great three days that are the climax of Holy Week.

The vows take the clergy back to the idealism with which they initially offered themselves for ministry. They are a reminder of their "first love". They are also, for some, a challenge. People may well reflect on how faithful they have been to those solemn promises that were made in the eagerness of their early days of ministry:

At your ordination to the priesthood you took authority to watch over and care for God's people; to absolve and bless them in his name, to proclaim the Gospel of salvation and to minister the sacraments of his New Covenant.

The vows put priests in a position of authority and sacred leadership. No one can respond to this without humility, and without the desire to be loyal and faithful, which is surely what most members of the clergy want to be. Yet the Church has adopted a quite different language and register when it comes to ministerial accountability.

This is the language of ministerial review, which is now mandatory for the clergy under the terms of Common Tenure. Ministerial review works with specific goals and targets, which are self-set and self-monitored. It resembles the appraisal systems that most employees are familiar with at work.

Ministerial review, however, cannot function like those systems, because there is no comparable system of line management. Nor are there rewards in the form of bonuses or greater responsibility. So it is perhaps not surprising that many of the clergy find it hard to be engaged by the review, and regard it with wary cynicism.

The vows come closer to the heart of the matter. They raise the question whether ministerial review could take the form of self-appraisal based on the promises made at ordination. This would involve a reflection on how I have exercised my priestly authority this year, and whether it has been well used to empower and enable others, or under-used, or exercised in an inappropriate way.

The outcome of such self-scrutiny would not be the usual chewing over what went well and what went badly last year, and what goals and targets should be in place for next year. It would be more likely to be a session in the confessional. Perhaps, for some at least, that would be a bit more real, and a great deal more helpful.

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