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Ministerial review and secular work appraisals

18 December 2015


From the Archdeacon of Bromley and Bexley

Sir, — With regard to the Revd Ian Cowley’s article (Comment, 4 December) on ministerial-development review (MDR), I couldn’t make up my mind, when I got to the end, whether he was in favour of it or against it. It seems to me that he reflects the tension that many clergy (and laity, too) feel about the value of a review process.

I am sure there are horror stories, in a secular context, let alone within the Church’s structures, about such a process. I think, however, that it is important to remember how the MDR scheme finally became mainstream in the Church of England.

It was the report The Continuing Education of the Church’s Ministers, in 1980, which was written in the context of a review of the educational and training needs of the clergy. The notion of appraisal thus germinated, and the same report suggested that any training required should be followed up with a review six months later.

It is important that we hold on to the word “development” — and this is not just a gloss for something more sinister, but simply a desire for the Church to take care of its clergy. As Mr Cowley points out, a good number of the clergy can often be working in quite isolated contexts, even when they are surrounded by a group of faithful and supportive lay men and women. MDR provides a structure of opportunity for the clergy to talk to somebody regularly.

When I was a young vicar, the review process was once every three years, and it all seems somewhat arcane now. Here in Rochester diocese, we have a scheme that enables bishops and archdeacons to carry out a more vocational reflection in the intervening years of MDR. As an archdeacon, I carried out, from 2003 until relatively recently, the three-year MDRs of clergy within my own archdeaconry, and with a 100-per-cent take-up when it was still a voluntary scheme.

I think most of the clergy value the opportunity that MDR provides. The quality of the reviewers is important, and the mind-set of what we are trying to do needs to be clearly held in tension with the ways of the world, if I dare use such a term; but I would encourage a very positive attitude.

Even though in the secular context some might argue that appraisal, review, etc., have had their day, I think the history of the Church, in terms of the need to look after its clergy (and, for that matter, the possibility of lay review), should be held up as an example of good, if not best, practice in a world where the individual can often be just a cog in the institution or organisation he or she works for.

The Archdeaconry, The Glebe
Chislehurst BR7 5PX


From the Revd Imogen Nay

Sir, — While I appreciate the Revd Ian Cowley’s attempt to provide an honest reflection on the practices of management and appraisal within the Church of England, and there is much with which I agree in his article, there is one area with which I wish to take issue.

That is a tendency of some clergy to divide off the pastoral task from what Mr Cowley terms the managerial. To quote from Christopher Beeley’s book, Leading God’s People: “we must resist the idea that the more theological or spiritual one’s ministry is, the less practical and relevant it is (and vice versa) as if one could be concerned about, say, church budgets and care for the poor, or the Bible and theology, but not both.”

Most priests feel more at home preaching, leading worship, and visiting parishioners than they do scrutinising budgets and facilitating change management; but all are the essential theological tasks of the ordained minister. What impression are we giving to our flock when we divide off the spiritual from the practical like this and erect a fence between the holy world of the priest and the secular world of “business and management”?

As priests, our theological and pastoral ministry is to be fully involved in the whole business of the church, which, I’m afraid, does mean management and leadership, as well as lives of the people we serve. Otherwise, how can we help them live within the complex, messy, and challenging worlds in which they operate, if we are too afraid to engage with the complexities and necessary rigour of our task?

The Rectory, Church Street
Rugby CV21 3PH


From Canon Richard Moatt

Sir, — The Revd Ian Cowley’s very timely article was a thoughtful and welcome contribution to the debate about clergy appraisal. It seems that what is often lacking is true support for the person being appraised.

In the northern diocese where I used to minister, clergy appraisal was enthusiastically embraced, and all clergy were expected to take part. My experience was far from positive. The complete contents of my appraisal were emailed to me, by my archdeacon, late on a Friday afternoon. There were comments in it which were deeply offensive and were irrelevant to any aspect of my ministerial development. It seemed that some of those who were appraising me had been given little or no guidance on how comments should be worded, or the nature and purpose of the appraisal.

The process left me feeling betrayed and isolated. There was no immediate support offered when I received my emailed appraisal. A few weeks later, I was given an hour to discuss the contents. When I raised concerns about the personal nature of the comments, I was told that I had to understand that this process enabled me to discern God’s purpose in my ministry in an environment of Christian love and care. Both seemed to be lacking.

Things didn’t improve when, many many months later, I had my 45 minutes with a bishop who seemed concerned only that I met my targets and should be ready to start the appraisal process again.

Appraisal can be a rewarding and positive experience, but only when senior management in the Church truly understand the intense vunerability that many clergy feel in their daily ministry. They deserve to have this vunerability recognised, and appropriate support networks to be in place, especially when their ministry is under scrutiny at a time of appraisal.

St Anne’s Rectory
57 St Anne’s Crescent
Lewes, East Sussex BN7 1SD

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