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
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
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