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Reform of the C of E: the debate continues

30 January 2015


From the Very Revd Trevor Beeson

Sir, - That the new reform project is Church- rather than Kingdom-orientated is clear on every page of its reports - most especially, as might be expected, on that which is concerned with the allocation of financial resources.

There the secular business model of "investment for growth" is unashamedly announced, in stark contrast to the gospel model that was expressed by T. S. Eliot in "Choruses from The Rock": "Take no thought of the harvest, But only of proper sowing."

The most urgent need of all the Churches in every part of Europe is not the recruitment of large congregations, but the creation of a multitude of small cells on the frontiers of increasingly secularised societies. This is in the hope of serving these societies and, at the same time, cultivating the soil in which the seeds of faith may one day grow.

A theological and spiritual renewal must, therefore, have priority over organisational reform

69 Greatbridge Road
Romsey SO5 18FE


From the Revd Mark Bailey

Sir, - That the report Resourcing Ministerial Education calls for an increase in the number of ordinands comes as no surprise. Statistics for Mission 2012 reveals that 272 stipendiary clergy retired that year, but, even more worryingly, that 295 left ministry altogether.

This raises the important question not just of recruitment - which everyone seems happy to talk about - but retention - which is never spoken about. How do we retain clergy in ministry in the longer term? It would be helpful to know why so many leave. Dioceses should be encouraged to have "exit interviews" and clarify more carefully their stats with regard to those "lost". This might be a way forward in helping to discover which dioceses offer models of best practice, to be made available more widely.

Other professions struggle with the same problem: e.g. the current crisis in recruiting and retaining GPs. We are not alone. Recruitment will be successful only if issues around retention are carefully weighed and addressed.

The Rectory, 6 Green Close
South Wonston, Winchester
Hampshire SO21 3EE 

From Hilary Topp

Sir, - The case for the Church of England to commit itself to working for social justice could not be more urgent. Strong words from the Archbishops last week (News, 23 January) reflect the concerns of many of students. It is important, however, not to neglect the other equally urgent foundation of the Church's work: mission.

Arresting this decline requires creativity and energy, qualities that many students bring. Yet the reports and resources that were released focused heavily on equipping young adults exploring a vocation to ordained ministry, and made almost no mention of students.

The Church of England should make student ministry a priority. It needs to implement a clear, national strategy that supports and resources students, chaplaincy in higher education, student workers, and churches. We need a Church that is committed to justice, but we also need to inspire students and young people to be part of that Church.

National Co-ordinator
Student Christian Movement, 504F The Big Peg, 120 Vyse Street
Birmingham B18 6NE

From Mr Kevin Carey

Sir, - The latest flurry of Church of England reports fails to deal adequately with our greatest financial burdens. First, we should face, head on, the contradiction between mission and acting as the state's heritage curator.

Second, we should press for a better balance between the ordained and royal priesthoods. Indeed, Lord Green exacerbates the second by assuming that church leadership should be ordained.

112a High Street, Hurstpierpoint
West Sussex BN6 9PX

From the Revd D. C. Njguna

Sir, - In the past few decades, the Church of England has proved that it can get things done if it wants to. We have seen encouraging steps and measures taken in affirming women's ministry in the Church. Who would have thought that the Church that many claim to be monolithic would be talking about fast-tracking women bishops into the Lords?

In the report Simplification, the Church clearly demonstrates that it has the will to tackle what are seen as historical obstacles constricting its mission and growth on a wider scale. I hope that the rigour and determination exuded in the Simplification report in overcoming historical challenges will rub off in the application of the Managing Talent report, and release the gifts and talents of minority-ethnic Anglican clergy into leadership. I see fast-tracking minority-ethnic Anglican clergy into leadership as the practical expected outcome of the latter report.

All my hopes are now founded in Managing Talent. With what I expect to be an open structure for developing talents in leadership, I am more than confident that the Church will reclaim its central place in multicultural Britain.

The Vicarage, 68 Wood Green Road
West Midlands WS10 9QT

From Mr David Soward

Sir, - Developing Discipleship. What is this word "discipleship"? It's not a word we use in contemporary society. Could the Church of England please speak English?

15 Poplar Farm Close
Milton under Wychwood
Chipping Norton OX7 6LX

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, - The paper on the National Church Institutions highlights the minefield of committees and vested interests which makes one wonder whether the Church of England is really capable of major reform.

Indeed, the report, referring to recent working groups such as the Bridge review, states: "We are wary of a further attempt at far-reaching structural reform since there is a high probability that, like those exercises, they would consume much energy only to founder." That comment is very telling as far as significant reform is concerned.

It is far from clear to most people who really makes strategic decisions at national level; is it the Archbishops' Council, the House of Bishops, or the General Synod?

My understanding was that it was always intended that the Archbishops' Council would make strategic decisions, and for that reason the original recommendation was that its membership should be based first and foremost on competencies and not representation. In the end, the latter by and large won the day.

I suggest that much of what happens at the centre could be discarded and very little if any difference will be noticed at parish level. The report says: "A ruthless focus is needed over what, nationally, is genuinely going to add value in helping the Church grow, given the serious challenge the Church faces." But will this happen, and, if so, who will do the work and who will make the decisions?

The entire process of the various task groups, we are told, is to halt the decline in membership of the Church of England. Changing structure at the centre and even making more resources available will not of itself achieve that end. Why is it that the so-called "New Churches" are making new disciples and planting churches at a greater rate than the Church of England? Those churches appear to have a light touch when it comes to structure and central bureaucracy.

I venture to suggest that they not only speak about every-member ministry: they practise it. The real key to growth is for this to be the number-one priority in all churches, leaders locally, both lay and ordained, really equipping people to fulfil that priority.

Philip Johanson
10 Ditton Lodge, 8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth,Dorset BH6 3PN

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