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'Mini-MBAs' for senior clergy and bishops praised

15 July 2016

Sam Atkins

Senior leaders: the top table at the group of Sessions

Senior leaders: the top table at the group of Sessions

THE Synod debated the report Nurturing and Discerning Senior Leaders, from the House of Bishops’ Developments and Appointments Group.

Introducing the take-note debate, the Bishop of Truro, the Rt Revd Tim Thornton, said that bishops were receiving “high-quality, disruptive, and stimulating thought and content from a range of well-equipped people from a whole variety of disciplines and backgrounds who were very keen to engage with us”.

The Development and Appointments Group was “striving to ensure we have excellent leaders who understand their role to be those who build and lead teams of team. . . Most important of all, we are trying always to change the culture we do all of this in as fellow disciples of Jesus Christ.”

He summarised the four programmes that had been under way over the past 18 months. The work included cathedral leadership for deans, which had been run for 17 in 2015. The previous week, another 20 had taken part. This was the “mini MBA” that was geared around what deans had said that they wanted.

Eighteen suffragan bishops had undergone a development programme in 2015, and another 30 would take part in December. There were 27 diocesan bishops currently on it. He felt that he was already seeing “a change in the culture in the way we work as bishops”. Another strand was the learning group for those “discerned by the Church as having gifts and potential and the capacity to go on to wider leadership in future”.

There were 55 women and men participating, and another 62 were due to begin that week. “Those who are participating have spoke of their joy in being part.”

Finally, there was the targeted development of those who might require specific intervention: for example, getting more senior appointments from black and minority-ethnic (BME) clergy. He hoped that dioceses would be encouraged to invest in continuing ministerial development (CMD). He argued that the work he had summarised was “distinctively Anglican, as we think about incarnation being at heart of all we do”.

Canon Jane Charman (Salisbury) urged that the training programme for senior leadership must be fully within Renewal and Reform, so that it has synodical oversight. The project was far too much “in thrall to secular thinking”, she said. “The talent pool sits uneasily with a theology of discipleship.”

It was good that some of the language had been softened, but the absence of any mention of CMD was a concern, she said.

“It’s those currently in mid-ministry — rural deans, senior parish priests — who will bear the heat of the day, while numbers retiring continue to rise, and until the impact of increasing vocations begins to kick in,” she said.

“We are not resourcing them. If we want to improve overall resilience of church leadership. this is a better group to focus resources on than emerging leaders.”

The Revd Zoe Heming (Lichfield) recalled a radio interview by the Archbishop of Canterbury in which he had said that to be human was to be limited. “While I wholeheartedly welcome the creativity that is expressed in this report, I wish to express immense frustration that the Church will continue to look so very different to her groom.”

Jesus had been ridiculed when he rode into Jerusalem on a baby donkey; a characteristic of the Church must be that the weakest were not tolerated, pitied, or accommodated, but prized, cherished, and even followed. The report suggested that the disabled would not play any part in this important work, Ms Heming said.

“God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong. This is about a truly courageous Church which is willing and committed to looking like that fool on the donkey while everyone else is still polishing their chariots.”

Canon Robert Cotton (Guildford) said that this was being called the “Eton of the Church of England”. But what about those people who did not get past the gatekeepers and into the learning community, he asked. “What about someone who has been considered and found to be below the line, someone who is not worth investing in?” There were lots of good things in the report, but, then again, £2.3 million should buy a lot of good things, he said.

The Revd Dr Jason Roach (London) welcomed the report, which was taking “huge strides forward” in transparency and useful training for leaders. But it would be painfully obvious, looking around the Synod chamber, that “we are not representative of our churches or our nation.” Although he had experienced only warmth in the C of E, Dr Roach said that a desire for progress on this issue was not enough. “When you can begin to count your involvement in terms of decades and you don’t see any change, then you begin to ask ‘’is there the will?’”

Dr Jamie Harrison (Durham) spoke of his experience in helping to discern who would join the learning community. It was a very professional and well-organised process, and there was a real desire to continue supporting those who did not pass the interviews.

The Revd Tim Goode (Southwark) said that, though there was much to welcome in the report, he balked at the use of the word “issue” to describe its focus on disabled people who had not found fair representation in the Church (paragraph 39). “I am not an issue within the Church — a word which conjures ideas of being difficult,” he said.

There was a danger of looking at disability in senior leadership as a token to fulfil diversity quotas, and the Church must take a holistic approach. Disability was more than about physical access, and must be rooted theologically. Disabled people must be given access to apply for jobs on a level playing field, he said. “This requires a transformational change: to see individuals in the image and likeness of God where the scars of the crucifixion are healed.”

The Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, intervened to suggest that Synod pause to consider the previous speeches, and to sing.

The Bishop of Guildford, the Rt Revd Andrew Watson, said that being a bishop was certainly not better, or necessarily more difficult, than being a priest, but different, as managing workloads and expectations got more complex the more diverse your leadership became.

He said that, while there was “some clumsiness” in the way the Green report had been produced, the Synod must ask “Has it been worth while?” He encouraged members to speak to those involved before they made up their mind. “I feel more supported and have benefited from the report,” he concluded.

Caroline Herbert (Norwich) also took issue with targeted development in para. 38, in particular with the underrepresentation of Catholic and conservative Evangelical clergy. How was this going to be explored, who was going to decide this, and what other criteria would there be, she asked. And if it was decided that a programme for traditional Catholic clergy was not helpful, what other steps might be taken towards a common human flourishing?

The Revd Bill Braviner (Durham) said that disabled people should not be categorised into charity givers and receivers, helpers and helpees, which was often the case. This relied on independence or dependence; but the Kingdom aspirations were for interdependence whereby all were served and all flourished, he said.

“We are together, and a commitment to interdependence is needed at heart of Christian understanding in our identity to God. None of us is perfection; but all of us are called to community together.”

There was a desire for diversity in the Church, but they must ensure that the disabled were allowed to participate at all levels of ministry, including senior leadership, he said, and press for the same positive action to be taken on other under-represented groups, as in the recent past.

The Synod voted to take note of the report.

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