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Is admin. ‘ultimately pointless’ to the mission of Christ’s Church?

11 September 2015


From Canon Noelle Hall

Sir, — Philip Johanson makes some important points in his article “Top-down tinkering will not serve the Kingdom” (Comment, 4 September). I disagree, however, with his statement that “the deanery could become the unit for mission.”

People are not drawn to deaneries, they are drawn to churches and church communities (and, if they are students or people in other sectors, to the work of their chaplaincy). The loyalties of the majority of Church of England Christians are focused on their church community: its building, its acts of worship, and its life. The deanery means very little to most of them — and I speak as one who has done my turn as an Area Dean for six years.

Many people travel several miles to attend the parish church that they feel meets their spiritual needs and inspires their service of God. The deanery is an important unit of administration, pastoral care, training, and guidance for clergy and lay ministers, and can indeed do some things better than individual churches can do. But any attempt to draw enthusiasm and commitment away from the parish church or the chaplaincy chapel will result in a total loss — it will not transfer to “the deanery”.

Yes, we need good senior leadership, but such leaders can achieve nothing if they do not respect and inspire the people who are always interacting with those who have found, or are looking for, a place to worship God — something that does not happen at “the deanery”.


The Rectory, 13 Ersham Road
Canterbury CT1 3AR



From John Stanning

Sir, — Philip Johanson reminded me of a company I once worked for, whose top people became dazzled by their own self-importance, and prioritised “management”, to the detriment of the highly qualified, highly skilled professionals whose expertise was really vital to the company’s success — with predictable results.

Those managers also paid themselves ever-fatter salaries, bonuses, and perks, which, one hopes, is not the case with the Church of England; but otherwise there is an analogy.

A priest’s function is emphatically not “admin, finance, and resources”, in the words of the accompanying cartoon. A priest is called, trained, and qualified “to build up the Body of Christ in the Church and in the world through teaching, preaching, and pastoral care” (C of E website). That is what a business school would call the “core business” of the priesthood, and of the Church.

Certainly, a parish church or a cathedral or a diocese must, in the words of the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, “be a viable business as well as a place for worship”, but let the priests do the worship, and let the lay managers — receivers-general, churchwardens, etc. — run the business.

Sending priests, and, worse, bishops, to business school, and training them to be managers of “admin, finance, and resources” is a waste of valuable priestly time — and there’s no reason why we should expect them to be any good at it, if they were admitted to theological college on the basis of their vocation rather than their aptitude for management.

We have too few priests as it is; let them spend their time being priests, not administrators. 


Flat 3, Sleepers Hill House
George Eyston Drive
Winchester, SO22 4PE



From the Revd Peter Ould

Sir, — Philip Johanson is correct to point out issues around the balance between management and spirituality in the Church (Comment, 4 September). He misses one crucial observation, however: namely, that time and time again the Church appears to deliberately overlook the leadership and management experience that already exists within the clergy.

Many of the thousands of self-supporting clergy in the Church (like myself) occupy secular positions of responsibility, sometimes very senior ones. Yet often the key leadership and management skills that these people have developed are simply ignored by the hierarchy. Indeed, where some senior leadership exhibits poor management practice, there seems to be an almost defensive approach towards those who might offer the Church serious professional management and administration experience.

I know of at least one SSM — an executive in a large national company — who has never been approached by his diocese to make use of his abilities. Anecdotally, this appears to happen again and again. Is one reason because appointing such experienced and competent people might expose the often highly unprofessional management approach of some of our leaders?

Much of organisational leadership is about general transferable skills of inspiration, organisation, and enabling. Surely one solution to the cost of spending money on training clergy in these skills is to get the best out of those who already have that experience and track record. What’s so tricky about that?


3 Goudhurst Close
Canterbury CT2 7TZ



Sir, — I have long believed that the closer you get to the leadership of a diocese, the more you believe in the importance of the central structures and senior posts. The rest of us in the parishes know full well that so much of what emanates from the centre is well meaning, but ultimately pointless to the mission of Christ’s Church.

Philip Johanson hits the nail perfectly on the head in his article. As the numbers of frontline clergy reduce, the senior posts increase, as does the emphasis on administrative centres. Many parishes despair at what is done at their diocesan church house, and deeply resent the extraordinary sums demanded to pay for it.

More and more parishes, mine included, are now adopting what the then Bishop Welby advocated in Durham: paying only what we can afford, expecting the diocese to then “cut its cloth” accordingly. Once freed from the crippling costs of the full share, while still being generous, we then use our remaining resources to focus on local mission, fulfilling our responsibilities in ensuring that there is still a viable parish church here in the future.

It is a liberating experience, although don’t expect an easy ride from the centre. As compliant parishes see their remaining reserves used up to plug the gap in the parish-share shortfall, however, the end of the present system is surely in sight. It is to be hoped that the leaders of the future might just grasp this.



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