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Church of England has prioritised leadership skills over theology, says Dean of Southwark

30 November 2018

At a memorial service for David Edwards, Dean Nunn laments current priorities

Steve Harris/Diocese of Southwark

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

The Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

THE Church of England has downgraded theology and replaced it with leadership skills, the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, said this week.

He was speaking at a memorial service for a predecessor, the Very Revd Dr David Edwards, Provost of Southwark from 1983 to 1994, the author or editor of more than 60 books, and a long-time contributor to the Church Times (Obituary, Gazette, 4 May).

Describing the present-day training for high office in the C of E, Dean Nunn said: “It’s leadership and governance and management and financial reporting and targets that are the skill set of the Church today; it’s evaluation and peer review that set the standards for what we do.

“There’s little space or time for theology, and especially not academic theology — not the kind of stuff that David gave his life to — certainly not on the bench of bishops, and increasingly not amongst the deans.”

Dean Nunn compared Dr Edwards to the 17th-century Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, who is buried at Southwark, and who, in the words of a pupil, “his private devotions finished . . . kept close to his book, and would not be interrupted by any that came to speak with him . . . before noon”.

Lamenting the loss of the scholar-priest — “the opener of the scriptures, the explainer of history, the discoverer of science, the person of reason, the philosopher of an age” — Dean Nunn said: “I worry about where we place theology in the life of the Church today.

“Is there room for a bishop like Andrewes, at his devotions and at his study for a good part of each day; is there room for a dean like David, who similarly followed a pattern of prayer and study, doing the heavy lifting of theology on behalf of the Church, be that through the medium of the pulpit or of print, in church or in the Church Times?”

There were different priorities now, he said.

“Nowadays, deans are sent off to Cambridge — not to be deepened in theological skills, but in leadership, in which we’re encouraged to look across the river from here; not for inspiration from the many steeples and towers that extend our vision heavenwards, but to the glass-and-steel towers and corporate head­quarters that are crowding them out. . . . What do we make of a Church that seemingly turns its back on theology?”

Another tribute to Dr Edwards quoted a saying of his: “Clergy should read books, or else accept the only logical alternative, which is to promise never to preach again.”

The Rt Revd Peter Price, a former Bishop of Bath & Wells, who had served with Dr Edwards in Southwark, spoke of him as an inspiring priest and a kindly pastor; and Baroness Perry of Southwark spoke warmly of him as a friend.

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