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Press: UnHerd marks ten years of ‘managerialism’    

24 March 2023


FIRST, a letter in Private Eye. The previous issue drew attention to the magnificent church interior pictured on the website of Christ Church (Free Church of England), Harlesden, the church of the Revd Calvin Robinson, the right-wing television personality, who said that his ordination was blocked because of his political views (News, Press 27 May 2022). The picture, the letter-writer pointed out, was actually of the interior of the Natural History Museum in London, an altogether more imposing sight than the reality.

This obviously stung the church, and the homepage of its website now shows a magnificent, if empty, Baroque church interior. Dead on cue, another letter in the most recent edition of the Eye points out that this is, in fact, a church in the Philippines, dedicated in honour of St Augustine. Very much smaller on the website is a collection of snapshots of some rather unimpressive buildings. The one that looks like storage for municipal gritting supplies is, in fact, a representative example of 1960s church design, and houses the real church. A man with such a creative fantasy life is obviously better fitted for television than the grim, slow work of pastoral care.

CANON Giles Fraser’s bio on the website UnHerd lists him as “Journalist, broadcaster, and vicar,” which is not the order of importance in which I would rank those jobs. He had a piece on the Archbishop of Canterbury’s ten years in office, which numbered his limitations fairly and paid tribute to his political skill. “Welby is hard to read because he is seemingly open and yet emotionally closed at the same time . . . [he] is brave in talking about his bruises, and yet also strangely hidden, both open and emotionally distant. And since he is not a natural people person, his openness can come across as scripted.

“Welby smiles to reassure, but in repose his face crackles with all the scary intensity of an officer on the Death Star. . . I like Welby, but I am frightened of him.”

Canon Fraser continues: “He has a keen and lively intelligence and a steely will. But Welby’s Church of England, it might be said, no longer feels the need for academic-minded bishops. Better some B-school MBA or a Certificate in Church Planting than a proper PhD in Patristics for the modern cleric on the make.

“And here is my real beef with Welby’s Church: managerialism. . . Under Welby . . . the centre has grown ever stronger, the parishes increasingly weaker. Max Weber famously divided power into the charismatic, the traditional and the legal/rational. Welby is the first archbishop who has tried to govern through the latter.”

This is unfair to Lord Carey, who tried very hard, but without Archbishop Welby’s political skill, to turn the Church into an organisation. More seriously, it shares the general weakness of all the Save the Parish analysis: it nowhere confronts the fact that power has had to flow upwards in the Church to the degree that money has had to flow downwards.

It was Archbishop Welby’s clear grasp of this fact while he was Bishop of Durham — and the way in which he tried to make the diocese confront it — that first made him stand out as a candidate for Canterbury. It is not a defence of the Strategic Development Fund to say that it is the only part of the Church with any money to spend at all. But those who criticise it should have some clear alternative to offer. Why should their parishes get the money instead of others? It is not an unanswerable question, but it doesn’t even get asked most of the time.

A STORY in the Daily Mail deserves mention: a study of the latest woman to whom the papal knight Rupert Murdoch intends to exchange vows of lifelong mutual fidelity and trust, Ann Lesley Smith: “sources close to Murdoch indicate that he is as moral as a choirboy when it comes to romance, and doesn’t believe much in sex outside marriage,” according to the showbiz writer Alison Boshoff. So much is explained about The Sun on Sunday by this revelation.

The future fifth Mrs Murdoch is very keen on God, whom she found after her first divorce from a millionaire, this one the descendant of a railway tycoon. “The Lord gave me thirst and a hunger for him, and I actually replaced the things of the world with the Scriptures,” she once told Christian Broadcast Network. “As I began to walk with God, the things of the world just seemed pointless to me.” Her second husband was a country singer turned television mogul, who died of heart failure three years after their wedding, leaving her around $50 million.

She also believes that the Covid pandemic was planned in Davos by Bill Gates. It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, this has on Mr Murdoch’s media properties. We know from internal emails that Mr Murdoch himself has no time for the Trumpist belief that the election was stolen, and it would be astonishing if he were not thoroughly vaccinated himself, as all the stars of his network are.

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