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Fittall and Croft speak up for church reform proposals

01 May 2015

STEFANO CAGNONI

No fatalism: the General Synod's Secretary General, William Fittall

No fatalism: the General Synod's Secretary General, William Fittall

THE Secretary General of the General Synod, William Fittall, has led a robust defence of the proposed Reform and Renewal programme.

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, 16, 23 January).

"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 Bishops".

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 taken."

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."

http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/post/117613440257/resourcing-ministerial-education-an-update.

'Plans to proclaim the faith afresh' - There is no cause to be fatalistic about church decline, argues William Fittall

Reform and Renewal proposals - Letters

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