THE DAILY TELEGRAPH is growing ever closer to how the Daily Mail and The Times used to be in its coverage of the Church. We even got “fury” into a headline on Easter Day: “Church fury as Archbishop of York seeks £91k-a-year chief of staff while ‘dismantling’ parishes”.
“The job advert says his new chief of staff role, which will be based at Bishopthorpe Palace, just outside York, comes with a ‘competitive salary in the region of £90,000 per year’ and will involve the amplification of mission priorities and liaising with colleagues at Lambeth Palace, the residence of the Archbishop of Canterbury.
“The advert states: ‘You will be the Archbishop’s chief companion, support and critical friend for developing and refining this vision, aligning his work with the dioceses and central structures of the Church of England, ensuring his time is used effectively and strategically, and making it happen.’ . . .
“The salary could pay for around seven house-for-duty clergy plus expenses.
“‘What need for another brigadier when you’ve sacked all the infantry?’, one layperson said.”
The fuss about the Chief of Staff job at Bishopthorpe illustrates a deep cultural change both in the Church and the society around it. This position has always needed filling. When I read the advert, I thought that this was pretty much how Robert Runcie once described to me the services that Richard Chartres had performed for him as his chaplain — apart from the nonsense about “aligning his work”, which is a job for the man himself.
Not all bishops’ chaplains can function like that. But many must, and an Archbishop, in his multifarious functions, certainly needs someone to do the work. I wonder who does the job for Nicky Gumbel. Every ship’s captain needs someone who makes sure the engines keep running while he steers — and “Chief of Staff” sounds much more glamorous than “Chief Stoker”.
But, if the indispensable individual with a shovel is not ordained, then they have to be recruited, much as York is doing. And the capacities needed to do the job are rare. So, potential employers are in competition with one another. What can they bid?
In a hierarchical Church, the reward for all the work involved is the unspoken promise of future preferment. Look at the way in which Vincent Nichols rose through the Roman Catholic hierarchy — or, if you prefer, ask where Richard Chartres ended up. But the Church of England is no longer hierarchical in that way. Offering £91K for a lay person is an interesting way to find a market-price equivalent to the opportunity to become a bishop.
But these reflections are not going to mollify the Telegraph/Spectator axis, who have a narrative that bowls mere facts along like pebbles in a waterfall. The Telegraph’s social and religious-affairs editor, Gabriella Swerling, managed to find five named critics of the decision, along with two unnamed ones, all of whom said that the money could better have been spent on clergy stipends, before there was room for a paragraph blowing that line of argument to shreds: “It understood that the £90,000-a-year post will be paid for out of pre-existing agreed budgets from the Church Commissioners, which are not linked to diocesan budgets or parishes.”
I suppose the defence is that the story is not so much the facts as the “fury” that the supposed facts arouse, and this is difficult entirely to discount. The very widespread disillusionment with the leadership of the Church is an important thing to report. But the reports themselves tend to make it more real.
MEANWHILE, the Batley row (News Online, 31 March, Paul Vallely, 1 April) continues, with worse behaviour on both sides. There was a Conservative Party tweet with a graphic that just said “GOOD Friday”, which had no possible purpose except to associate Christianity with Englishness and the Tory party — the corresponding dissociations make themselves.
But in case the opposites were not clear, the website Muslim 5Pillars carried an open letter signed by 356 people, which said: “It is inconceivable that such a depiction in an RE lesson can be based on the notion of discussing ‘freedom of speech’. . . It was prima facie, based on the usual attempt of inciting hatred and Islamophobia whilst pushing forward extremist white supremacist ideology.”
That appears to me to claim that the teacher was deliberately promoting an extremist ideology, a very grave accusation indeed, and one unlikely to be true. The letter goes on to say that anyone who supports him is “guided by their blind hatred of the Muslim community in our country”.
It must make a change for the Archbishop of Canterbury to be accused of hating Muslims rather than Christians; for, in the same week as his brother of York was being lambasted by the Telegraph, Archbishop Welby got a plug in the same paper from the Whitehall editor: “Cancel culture is a ‘huge threat’ to the future of the Church of England, the Archbishop of Canterbury has said as he defended the right to freedom of speech.”
This particular threat to the Church had not been on my radar, but perhaps that’s why no one pays me £90K a year.