THE Secretary General of the General Synod, William Fittall, has
led a robust defence of the proposed Reform and Renewal
Writing for the Church Times, Mr Fittall criticises the
"fatalism" with which some have greeted the proposals to rework and
refinance various church institutions to encourage growth (News,
"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."
There is "widespread agreement", he writes, that Church
Commissioners' funds need to be redirected to help dioceses deliver
their "strategic plans for growth". The question of releasing
further funds is more contentious, he writes, and will depend "on
the robustness of the business case that the Archbishops' Council
will need to develop, in consultation with the House of
Another area of contention is the recruitment and future
training of clergy, outlined in Resourcing Ministerial
Education (RME). In a posting on the C of E website
on Tuesday, the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft, commends the
consultation process currently under way, and outlines a series of
meetings and consultations around the dioceses, together with a
questionnaire and other means of gathering feedback.
As for the responses so far, he writes: "The vision in the
RME proposals has been warmly welcomed, as in the General
Synod debates. There is a range of positive and negative responses
to the specific proposals - some quite bracing to read, and others
much more positive.
"It's already clear (and was clear at Synod) that the original
proposals will need a good deal of development, and that (as we
expected) far more detail will be required before decisions can be
Dr Croft defends the RME report against the charge,
levelled by Professor Alister McGrath (Comment, 17 April), that it
was "hostile to theological scholarship". He writes: "I've reread
the report several times for anything which might indicate this and
I can't find it. Nor can I find any evidence for the view that
theological engagement with ministry is seen as peripheral, a
luxury, or divisive. The RME Task Group would have
identified wholeheartedly with Alister's paragraphs on theological
vision for ministry. We simply assumed that this would be shared
ground." He also contends that there will be no less engagement
with theology degrees in the universities. It is "emphatically not"
a cost-cutting exercise.
Investing funds to increase vocations to the ordained ministry
is crucial, Dr Croft argues. "We are facing a significant fall in
the number of stipendiary clergy even on the most hopeful scenario
of a 50-per-cent increase in vocations.
"If we do nothing, we face a very steep fall indeed in the
clergy who will be available to dioceses in ten years' time. Clergy
are already very stretched across many dioceses. . . The kind of
reduction we are facing would mean a radical change to the Church
of England's ability to sustain Christian communities in every part
of the country."
He concludes: "I do not believe that RME advocates a
'corporate, management driven institutional approach' to
ministerial training. . . It is a report about resourcing. . . In
that context, the report advocates prayer, increased investment,
continuity with the present patterns of training, good stewardship,
and greater flexibility as the Church looks to the future."
'Plans to proclaim
the faith afresh' - There is no cause to be fatalistic about church
decline, argues William Fittall
Reform and Renewal proposals - Letters