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Top-down tinkering will not serve the Kingdom

04 September 2015

The C of E is devoting resources to senior posts, while people at the grass-roots are increasingly burdened, argues Philip Johanson

THE new focus on leadership training in the Church of England should help to bring out the best in people, but some fundamental questions need to be addressed first. The advocates of this training argue that they are implementing the best that the business world has to offer; yet the Church seems to be ignoring the lessons that businesses can teach.

Businesses are increasingly taking out a layer of senior management to increase efficiency and reduce costs. One of the largest supermarket groups has reduced its senior leadership team and put more workers on the shop floor.

While many will argue that you cannot compare the Church with a business, it is one, in some ways. The budgets of dioceses are in the millions, and each employs hundreds of people. Indeed, the Church has chosen to use the Judge Business School, in Cambridge, as a provider for senior leadership training. The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, who has taken part in the training, has said: “This cathedral has got to be a viable business as well as a place for worship.”

The Church, however, appears to be going in the opposite direction from the latest business practice. Senior appointments have increased: the sees of Maidstone, Islington, and Richmond have been brought back to life. An additional archdeacon has been appointed in the dioceses of Canterbury, Winchester, and Lincoln, and there are three extra new archdeacons in Chelmsford, and two in Liverpool.


THE Church rightly wants to see growth; that is the main reason for the Reform and Renewal programme launched this year (News, 16 January). Yet the growth in senior appointments has happened when there is a need for parish clergy. An increasing number of clergy appointments are offered as house-for-duty or part-time, and other clergy are given more and more parishes to look after. Sooner or later, the system that is currently creaking will break completely.

It is time for the Church of England to take a root-and-branch look at the current system — as the Church in Wales has done with the help of a retired Anglican bishop — and to learn lessons from elsewhere in the Anglican Communion.

It would appear, however, that the current leadership believes that investing large sums of money in senior leadership training is the way forward. The Church Commissioners are releasing £2 million for the development of senior leadership up to the end of 2016, and then £785,000 per annum will be required from 2017.

This process raises at least three important questions. The first is what criteria are used for discerning possible leadership. Second is who was consulted about the content of the syllabus: did the group ask clergy who are at the receiving end of senior leadership; and to what extent have lay people been involved? Third, who is measuring the success of the process? It should be representatives of the clergy and laity in parishes.


A PRIEST said to me recently of his bishop: “He is really only interested in administration and structures. He is not really concerned about me.” While the Bishop might not agree, such comments from parish clergy are widespread. During my years with the Church Army, clerics frequently lamented: “Pastoral care from the bishop is pretty well non-existent, apart from crisis situations.” Questions were often asked about who was caring for the clergy.

The Bishop of Ely, the Rt Revd Stephen Conway, who chairs the Development and Appointments Group of the House of Bishops, which has been tasked with the spending of the Commissioners’ money, has issued his first report. He writes: “Such has been the appreciation from those undertaking their learning development journey that I’m reminded of Archbishop Justin’s reflection that, without this provision, we put unreasonable stress on those in positions of leadership, neglecting to love them as we are called to do.”

Many parish clergy would say that that is exactly what the bishops are doing to them — putting unreasonable pressure on them — with little contact and pastoral care. Clergy need encouragement in what is becoming an increasingly difficult task. Many are asked to take on additional responsibilities in order to maintain a parochial structure and all that goes with it. Yet it cannot be sustained.


IT APPEARS, however, that the leadership has responded to the crisis by increasing the number of senior posts and spending vast sums on training them, while accepting a slow decline in frontline ministry. Surely what is required is more people on the ground, equipped to fulfil the Church’s mission in a workable structure.

The danger with the Reform and Renewal programme is that it will result only in a tinkering of the system, when a far more thorough reform of the whole is needed.

The Archbishops’ Council offered to facilitate consultations in dioceses on the Reform and Renewal programme, leaving bishops to decide whether they wished to take up this offer. As so often with the C of E, some bishops did turn to the Archbishops’ Council for this; some drew up their own consultations; and some don’t seem to have done anything at all.

It is hard to discover who has been involved. Many of those whom I asked, including members of Bishop’s Councils and Area Deans, knew nothing about it.

I would argue that the starting point should be to ask what we want to achieve, and what is the most appropriate structure to reach such a goal, and then we could consider what resources would be needed. At all times, those at the grass-roots need to be consulted.

The deanery could become the unit for mission, in which the area or rural dean would lead a team rather than focus on parochial units. Qualified business people could be appointed to run a cathedral, leaving the dean to focus on worship and pastoral care. A business person could manage the bishop’s office, freeing him or her to be the bishop in mission, and to care for the clergy.

That is clear in the Church, as for the supermarket group, is that leaving things as they are, or tinkering around the edges, is not an option.


Philip Johanson was Chief Secretary of the Church Army from 1990 to 2006.

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