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Angela Tilby: Caroline Boddington transformed the appointments system    

19 November 2021

IT WAS announced this month that Caroline Boddington would be stepping down after 17 years as the Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments and Development (News, 5 November). She is rightly credited with having transformed the system, and can claim to have promoted greater fairness, transparency, and diversity; women, in particular, have been fast-tracked for senior posts.

It has never been easy to find clergy of sufficient calibre to be deans and diocesan bishops. In the days when the State still had a serious stake in the process, I spoke, on a number of occasions, to John Holroyd, a fellow Reader at St Albans Cathedral, who was the Prime Minister’s Appointments Secretary from 1993 to 1996. I was impressed by his painstaking research to find lowly but gifted clergy who might have the potential to take on a senior post, but who would never have dreamt of putting themselves forward.

Then there was John Lee, Clergy Appointments Adviser from 1998. After Ms Boddington’s streamlining of the system, he continued to offer an alternative way of matching people to positions. But he was not popular with Ms Boddington, who found his post anomalous. It was no surprise that he was not replaced.

No process is perfect. Vision based on short sight fails; strategy is not polity. It is not Ms Boddington’s fault that she was recruited at a time when the Church of England was edging away from understanding itself as part of English institutional life, and towards a model of itself as a results-driven, mission-based organisation. This process began with the creation of the Archbishops’ Council in 1999, and is now playing out in policies that take the Church further and further away from its local roots: C of E, HTB, Plc.

The adoption of organisational thinking is why we now positively encourage personal ambition, why we have a talent pool for potential leaders, and why we send new bishops on management courses. The effect of all this is to make our bishops and deans believe that they are meant to be organisation men and women, managers, top-down thinkers. It is why so many of them unthinkingly prioritise diocese over parish, paying mere lip service to the local and the embedded.

Today, our senior clergy may represent greater diversity in terms of gender and background, but there is an abysmal lack of diversity in thinking. Most now come from Evangelical backgrounds, with the narrow focus as well as the drivenness of that outlook. Few have much interest in serious theology, philosophy, poetry, music, the arts, or science. Few, I suspect, could give a decent after-dinner speech.

These things matter for men and women with a public profile in an Established Church. It is hard to imagine Michael Ramsey, Robert Runcie, or even Rowan Williams (who was Archbishop when Ms Boddington was appointed) ever getting through the Boddington system.

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