CHURCH TIMES readers attempting to follow the
discussions about the emerging Reform and Renewal programme in the
Church of England may, by now, be somewhat baffled. There have been
suggestions that the proposals are theologically lightweight, based
on questionable research, too managerial - and even that one of the
undergirding concepts, discipleship, is not to be found in the New
As the Archbishops said in their paper to the General Synod, the
challenge of reform and renewal is spiritual. We shall ultimately
be building on sand unless what we do is underpinned by prayer and
an unshakable confidence in God, who is able to do immeasurably
more than all we can ask or conceive.
The starting point for the programme is a recognition that the
Church of England's capacity to proclaim the faith afresh in each
generation will be decisively eroded unless the trend towards older
and smaller worshipping communities is reversed. Some seem
reluctant to face up to the consequences of this, while others
doubt that anything will make much difference.
Such fatalism was absent when the proposals were discussed by
the Archbishops' Council, the House of Bishops, and the General
Synod. Indeed, the various consultation events now happening around
the country reveal keen interest in the proposals, and a sense that
this is a rare opportunity for delivering real change. One reason
for this is that many of the proposals emerged from earlier
discussions with dioceses.
THE two reports about people - how our senior leaders are
discerned and nurtured, and how ministerial education is resourced
- have provoked the liveliest debates. The first recommended
substantially improved training and support for those appointed as
bishops and deans, and a development programme for those with
potential for posts of wider responsibility. Implementation is
Both initiatives would probably have taken place years ago but
for the inhibition that always existed in the Church on these
matters, as a result of the more active part played by the State in
church appointments before 2007.
The second report, on resourcing ministerial education, seeks to
change the narrative from the orderly management of decline by
setting a target to achieve 50 per cent more candidates for
ordination from 2020. Achieving this will still mean some decrease
in the number of serving clergy, given that 40 per cent of the
present stipendiary clergy will be retiring over the next decade.
The target reflects what bishops and dioceses have said they want
to achieve, alongside a significant development in authorised lay
ministry and lay leadership more generally.
The current consultations will help test whether the specific
proposals for achieving the 50-per-cent increase measure up to the
challenge. What is not in doubt, however, is that this is an agenda
designed for growth, not retrenchment.
IN RELATION to money, there has been widespread agreement that the
current formulae for distributing funds released by the Church
Commissioners need replacing with investment designed to help
dioceses deliver their strategic plans for growth, and with a
strong bias towards those in deprived areas.
The more contentious set of issues around money concern the
proposal that the Commissioners should, over a period, release more
funds than they otherwise would have done, in order to support the
reform and renewal programme. Concerns about selling the family
silver were addressed head-on in the paper that Andreas Whittam
Smith put to the Synod in February. The risks, as well as the
opportunities, were made clear.
Having heard all the arguments, the Synod welcomed the
Commissioners' willingness to consider making additional
distributions. Everything will now turn on the robustness of the
business case that the Archbishops' Council will need to develop,
in consultation with the House of Bishops, for any special release
THE third area, led by the Bishop of Willesden, concerns the
necessary task of trying to lighten the Church's rule book. The
simplification proposals were overwhelmingly welcomed by the Synod
in February. A more detailed consultation with dioceses is now
under way, and responses are invited by the end of June.
Separately, the Archbishops' Council has issued a consultation
document on the possibility of a new enabling measure to make it
easier to change the law to reduce regulatory burdens. The
consultation for that closes at the end of July.
There are many decisions to be taken in the course of this year.
Through all the necessary debate it will be important to remember,
as Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians, that growth is a gift of God, not
something that we can conjure up.
But that does not absolve us of our responsibility to pursue the
institutional, as well as the spiritual, reform and renewal of the
Church of England, so that we can be effective, in each generation,
in proclaiming the risen Christ to the people of this land.
William Fittall is Secretary General of the General