From Canon Anthony Harvey
Sir, - Living, as I do, in a region where there are many rural
parishes with ageing and steadily diminishing congregations, I am
well placed to be aware of the critical trends in church attendance
and mission which have prompted the rash of reports described in
"Plans unveiled day after day for the C of E's new reformation" (News,
Reading the summaries of these reports, I have looked in vain
for anything genuinely "new". John Spence, in his review of
progress so far, insists that "the great thing" that has come out
of it all is "unanimity that the spiritual and numerical growth of
the Church is vital and that its decline must be arrested". But did
any of us doubt that? Was all this work really necessary to come up
with a conclusion so obvious and so banal?
When I look at the remedies proposed I have a depressing sense
of déjà vu. We are told that there is to be a study,
Resourcing Ministerial Education. Fifty years ago, I was
involved in a report for the Advisory Council for the Church's
Ministry, Doing Theology Today. It was quickly superseded
by a spate of others that have since appeared with daunting
frequency, all recommending more resources for clergy and lay
training and forcing principals of colleges (of whom I was one) to
struggle to sustain a solid theological foundation for our courses
in the face of relentless pressures to make them more
Next, for Developing Discipleship, there is to be a new
catechism. In the 1970s, I was invited to work on a diocesan
project for one. This soon sank without trace. Then, Resourcing
the Future through redistribution. Thirty years ago, Faith
in the City made the same recommendation: that "the historic
resources of the Church should be redistributed between dioceses,"
giving priority to the neediest and supporting signs of growth.
None of this is new. More disturbingly, we are told that there
is a "lack of a coherent and concisely stated common understanding
of discipleship". In a Church in which discipleship has for
centuries been lived out in a great variety of ways, ranging from
the contemplative religious life through sacrificial service to
Evangelical seaside missions, is a "common understanding" even
possible? Would we all want it anyway, given that a rich variety of
styles of Christian living and worship is part of the enduring
character of the Church of England?
A glance at our history is enough to show that renewal has come,
almost invariably, not from the centre but from the fringe, not
from existing church authorities, but from individual or
small-scale initiatives that grow into a revitalising influence on
the whole Church. The Church Times (16 January) offers two
examples; first, Richard Meux Benson, founder of the first male
religious community in the C of E, which for more than a century
brought renewal through parish missions. Second, Who Cares?, a
campaign launched by a community church that is giving new life and
purpose to congregations and parishes in East Anglia.
Instead of a stack of centrally organised reports that go over
ground that has been ploughed many times in recent years, we should
do well to attend to small and often ecumenical ventures (a
dimension deplorably absent from the reports) that have the
potential to foster real growth.
Our limited church resources would be better applied to their
support and encouragement than to the production of ever more
reports filled with old recipes for "reformation" which have too
often proved ineffective in the past.
Broadway WR12 7PH
From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian
Sir, - All institutions and organisations have a tendency
towards centralisation. It makes life so much easier for those who
wish to exercise power and control. The Church of England is no
To wield control, legislative powers are needed, and, even more
importantly, control over the distribution of resources. So money
is allocated to those dioceses that co-operate, and withheld from
those that do not - a process that John Spence (News, 16 January),
the finance chair of the Archbishops' Council, describes as
"differentiality". It is an effective means of coercion, silencing
dissent, and ensuring that all will be on-message, or they will be
starved of funds.
He identifies clergy over the age of 50 as a particular problem,
and thinks we should have fewer of them. Apparently, according to
your summary of the Bishop of Willesden's task group's report
Simplification, help is at hand. For those who are deemed
not to be efficient in their ministry (presumably failing to hit
their growth targets), the period allowed for their "improvement"
"need not be lengthy". Worryingly for them, we are not told what
their fate will be. Perhaps their benefice will be "reorganised"
(para. 15), so that under the amended provisions they can have
their livelihood taken away and be evicted from their home in as
little as six months.
I wonder what will be the effect on church growth when
parishioners see their 50-year-old vicar forcibly removed from his
vicarage and left without home or income. Perhaps the Archbishops'
Council is hoping that he and his family will quietly make their
way to the foodbank and the night shelter without too much fuss. Or
perhaps the (rash) assumption is that all clergy must have
The threat even extends to riding roughshod over the historic
freehold, rendering the words of induction meaningless. Once these
older clergy have gone, they can, of course, be replaced by
younger, more malleable clergy, who may not even notice when their
stipend is removed (sorry, I mean be redesignated as a "locally
supported minister", para. 2b).
The justification given for this power-grab is, as usual, fear
of the future. We must have growth, or the Church of England will
disappear; and the way to achieve this is to take away clergy
security. Does anyone really believe that Joe Public, engaged in
some leisure activity on a Sunday morning, thinks that if only the
Church of England were run more efficiently then he would become a
The fact is that churchgoing has been in decline over many
generations, owing to huge and complex cultural shifts, wars,
industrialisation, technological changes, increased mobility,
changes in patterns of work and leisure, and a whole host of
factors over which the Church has no control.
Instead of yearning for some golden age of churchgoing, and
believing that greater centralisation of power and control is the
answer, perhaps the Church of England should stop burying its head
in the sand and look at what God is actually doing in the world,
instead of what we think he ought to be doing. Changes in the
Church should be evolutionary and work with what is going on, not
try to reverse it.
People look to the Church for an experience of the transcendent,
which then puts their lives in context. What this report seems
intent on doing is the opposite: allowing people's working lives to
dictate the context of the Church, which then tries to copy what it
sees. This approach baffles people, and is clearly not what they
want from the Church, as those of us who work at the coalface
The best piece of advice I was ever given, many years ago, was
that people basically want two things from their local church: a
vicar who is kind to them, and a decent act of worship on a Sunday,
and that, if we can deliver those two things, we will meet their
needs, and they will love us for it. I have always found that to be
The Rectory, Church Lane
Suffolk IP13 7SD
From the Revd Paul Dawson
Sir, - Being a bear of little brain, I am struggling to
understand the thinking behind the tranche of reports aimed at
turning the Church of England around. Reading last week's
Church Times, I began with a sense of encouragement when I
read John Spence's explanation, which emphasised: "We must not in
any way become a head office." Hurrah!
Turning the page, I was then baffled to see developing
discipleship focused so firmly in terms of diocesan strategy and
initiatives. This seems like yet more "black-hole" thinking: the
kind of thinking that sees the way forward as more and more about
central initiatives and directives.
The problem with drawing everything towards the centre is that
eventually it implodes, and no light escapes. Please, fewer black
holes; more flinging of stars into space.
10 Lower Park Road
Chester CH4 7BB
From the Revd Toddy Hoare
Sir, - What a good letter from Fr Peter Allan CR (
16 January), and what a lot of common sense! Could the Ministry
Division build on his comments and put in-service
training/ministerial development in the hands of the theological
colleges, or of theology faculties of universities, where further
study is sought by the individual? After all, priests do need to
know and be able to explain their theology, and theological
colleges need to maximise their budgets to be as effective as
I experienced very poor post-ordination training until I did a
theology MA on a university course. A previous saving grace had
been a retired professor of theology at deanery chapter who
insisted on, and would lead or help, Bible study before each
meeting. This proved very relevant to our business as well.
Sadly, the chapter was the poorer for it when a subsequent rural
dean announced that we did not have time for it. I think that is
another pointer towards where Fr Allan does not want us to go.
Pond Farm House, Holton,
Oxford OX33 1PY
Sir, - I have read with interest the recent correspondence on
both the appointment of the first female bishop and the Green
report's recommendations for the selection of the brightest and
best. I do think, however, that it is time to consider the number
of senior staff appointments across the Church of England.
In our diocese, we normally have four bishops and four
archdeacons, each with private offices, secretaries and attendant
advisers, all on top of a very bloated central staff. At the
moment, there is a vacancy for the diocesan's post, and one of the
suffragans has just gone on a long sabbatical. At a recent
deanery-chapter meeting, it was observed that if we managed to
survive with only two bishops during this period - and we all
seemed devastatingly confident that we would - perhaps the
Commissioners ought to make the arrangement permanent.
Of course, it won't happen, but with more senior staff than
ever, fewer priests, and dwindling congregations, one does wonder
what is going on. There is, after all, only one pot of money,
however bizarrely it is divided up; so why not halve the number of
bishops and archdeacons and use the savings to support clergy in
frontline parish ministry? After all, who is more likely to grow
the Church of England? Enough said.
Name & Address Supplied