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Theology welcomed in debate about leadership

17 July 2015

Senior leadership


Sam Atkins

In play: Canon Simon Killwick

In play: Canon Simon Killwick

THE report of the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC) on senior church leadership was the subject of a take-note debate on Saturday afternoon, instigated by a private member’s motion from Canon Simon Killwick (Manchester).

He had put down the motion at the February group of sessions, and it had attracted 115 signatures within two days.

"We can all be really grateful to [the Commission] for their report, aptly described in advance by Prebendary Stephen Lynas as a ‘rather interesting cricket ball’," he said. "I am really glad that it is back in play after being thrown somewhere beyond the boundary."

The New Testament was "very cautious" in its use of the language of leadership, he said. In fact, in one of the very few passages in which such a word was used, it was radically redefined: "The one who is greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the one who leads like the one who serves."

"The New Testament deliberately avoids buying into a secular leadership culture. We could compare this approach with the way Jesus avoided the title of Messiah for much of his ministry."

While welcoming the Faith and Order Commission’s report, he said that it was a "shame" that it didn’t explore the "ecumenical dimension".

He also commented on the Green report on senior leadership, describing that as "a plan for action", whereas the Commission’s report was "a resource for reflection".

"I think Green has been somewhat misunderstood, partly because of the language that it uses, but also in the way it has been introduced," he said. He described this as "a textbook failure to carry people with what is proposed. This failure in effective leadership has been compounded by the previous decision not to bring the [Commission’s] report itself to Synod either. I am glad we have the opportunity to put that right today."

The Bishop of Coventry, Dr Christopher Cocksworth, suggested that the report was a "classical Anglican exploration of a theme". It talked about the "grammar of leadership". It offered an "ecclesial practice". He welcomed Canon Killwick’s jazz analogy. The report avoided giving a "definitive improvisation": leadership required a "hefting". He said that it was a good example of learning from scripture, application of tradition, and "careful, painstaking analysis and application in pastoral and missional situations".

He hoped that it would feed into leadership training courses.

Christina Rees (St Albans) wished to see the report discussed much more widely. Any leader or teacher would recognise in it "the dual sense of both responsibility and privilege. Being a leader is a huge gift, but it’s enormously important to hold that trust well."

She argued that "each individual will exercise leadership in unique way. We don’t want a one-type one-size-fits-all, ‘This is what leaders look like’." It was important to remember that "we are followers: we are all followers of our leader, Jesus Christ."

The Revd Dr Roger Walton (Methodist Church) said that the FAOC report was a resource for Churches other than the C of E: "Its reading of the scriptures is refreshing, illuminating, and insightful." But he had three "slight disappointments": a "tendency to claim too much for trans-local leadership", no engagement with Methodism, and a neglect of team approaches to leadership.

Carol Wolstenholme (Newcastle) said that it was "heartening" to see an acknowledgement that lay leadership was important, and she hoped that it would be explored and developed through the Reform and Renewal programme. "We know we lay people are willing and able to get on with it."

The Revd Angus MacLeay (Rochester) said that, while the language of leadership in the New Testament varied, "the vocabulary of the character of leader is unified." It was important to give a clear witness to the fact that leadership "reflects and refracts the character of the Good Shepherd".

He felt that there was an "ambiguity" in the report about the "central role of the teaching of the Word of God". And he had a "slight hesitation" about the notion of improvisation.

Sarah Finch (London) was glad about three things: the emphasis on the "higher allegiance that any church leader owes to God"; the "insistence that episcopal leadership is collegial"; and the fact that the Church was looking at the scripture and the culture of leadership in the New Testament. She hoped that this would give comfort to young lay Anglicans "experiencing intense dismay in recent months", and referred to one young lawyer who had described a "recent set of events" as "disgraceful".

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, who chairs the new Vocations Group, said that leadership and "learnership" went alongside one another. "Why does God seem to call a steady stream of men and women from some churches, and virtually none from others?" He commended the mission movements’ approach, and gave the examples of ordination evenings, which seemed to result in people going forward for training.

The Revd Professor Richard Burridge (University of London) said he was experiencing déjà vu, as it was not so long ago that he had lamented the absence of theology in the Pilling report. The FAOC report needed to play a part in the implementation of the new procedures brought in by the Green report.

Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) introduced her amendment, which called for a new report assessing the effectiveness of the new arrangements for discerning and nurturing senior leaders, and a Synod debate on the report by July 2016.

"Last November and in February, the Synod was surprised and disappointed to discover that, although the Green report was a key element of the Reform and Renewal programme, it was not to be discussed," she said. If the Body of Christ lost its biblical role in calling out people to serve as leaders, and the role was taken over by "outside professionals", it would be an unhelpful development. "It’s not the right thing to do to marginalise the Synod and attempt to move around it."

The tension and disquiet over the Green report was detracting from the good parts of the wider Reform and Renewal agenda, Canon Charman said.

Canon Killwick remarked that a new report would allow the Synod to see how the theology in the FAOC report was informing the work of the Green report. He urged the Synod to accept Canon Charman’s amendment.

The Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, said that he remained convinced that bishops were theologians, besides being charged with some degree of leadership. There was no conflict between the FAOC report and his work, which followed on from the Green report, he argued. But he said that he would support the amendment, as neither side had a monopoly on the right answers.

The Archbishop of Canterbury said that he also strongly supported the amendment. "Leadership comes to us with a lot of baggage," he said. "We inherit models of leadership which were authoritarian for centuries and ignored the poor and the voiceless. How is leadership redefined into a model that is truly Christlike?" He also confessed that he had not handled some of the Questions the previous night well, and apologised to the Synod, which prompted a burst of applause.

"We are committed to nurturing the vocation to the whole of God’s people, regardless of sexuality, and regardless if they are lay or ordained," he said. The system for discerning future leaders needed to be pastorally sensitive and inclusive of people from minority backgrounds.

Robert Key (Salisbury) told the Synod that it must allow the Church to be episcopally led, even if it was synodically governed. "I do beg that this Synod not shackle the Bishops and the Archbishops," he said. "To go ahead with progress, not to impede change, and not to strangle new ideas at birth."

The amendment was carried.

Fr Thomas Seville CR (Religious Communities) spoke about leadership within the Benedictine order. "Within the community, there is a body called the religious conference, where the heads of the religious houses meet; but very few of them are called leaders, and none are called abbots."

Canon Rosie Harper (Oxford) said that she was "so conflicted" about the report. "It is to do with the nature of power which, despite all the right words, feels far more centralised today."

She criticised the Green report. "The very idea that the banks who, by their self-serving deeds, brought the economy to its knees might be the model for the Church felt simply wrong."

Anne Forman (Exeter) said that she re-read the Green report after reading the Commission’s report, and discovered that in her initial reading she had been "guilty of reading and interpreting . . . between the lines rather than concentrating on the lines themselves". She said that she welcomed what the report actually called for: a programme of more ministry, the need to develop more leaders, and a Church that was more adventurous in its efforts to recruit future leaders.

The Revd Dr Simon Taylor (Derby) spoke of the book of Esther. "God calls who God calls," he said. "What we can do is be more alert for them when they surprise us."

Dr Elaine Storkey (Ely) spoke against the concept of "CEO bishops": this led to bad practice, defensiveness, and an approach where "the autocrat has to be right."

The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, welcomed the debate, motion, and amendment "because it calls us to further reflection".

He had met all of the 64 deacons and priests who had been ordained this year in Chelmsford diocese, and had asked them all the same question: he asked them which was most important among the five words used in the Ordinal to describe the ministry of priests: servant, shepherd, messenger, sentinel, and steward. "None of them said ‘sentinel’," he said.

"Being a sentinel is a really, really, boring job: standing on a tower and watching, scanning the horizon, seeing what is coming, and warning of danger.

"It is my strong view that the leaders of the Church need to be sentinels, probably more than anything else, in our day."

Gavin Oldham (Oxford) said that the Church’s position had made it "really quite complacent about our position", and this tended to move the Church towards "corporate" leadership when what was needed was "entrepreneurial, risk-taking leadership".

The Synod carried the amended motion:

That this Synod do take note of the report of the Faith and Order Commission, Senior Church Leadership: a resource for reflection and, in the light of widespread misunderstanding and concern about the new arrangements for discerning and nurturing senior leaders that have recently been introduced, following the report from the Lord Green Steering Group, invite:

(a) the House of Bishops to bring for scrutiny by Synod a report assessing the effectiveness of those arrangements and setting out what is intended from January 2017; and

(b) the Business Committee to schedule that report for debate not later than July 2016.

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