Sunday, 1 June 2008

bishops question competence of clergy

Updated again Tuesday evening

Jonathan Wynne-Jones has a report in the Sunday Telegraph headlined ‘Poor quality’ of vicars alarms Church leaders.

This is based on a Ministry Division report entitled Quality and Quantity Issues in Ministry.

…It found that there are “serious concerns” at the top of the Church hierarchy over the quality of its clergy.

The internal report suggests that the standards of new clergy has dropped, because of the demands on the Church to fill vacant posts, while many vicars who have been in the job several years have lost their energy and enthusiasm.

To tackle the problems, the Church is to vet new applicants for ordination more vigorously and is considering changing the selection criteria and a pay review…

…The report, which was produced by the Ministry Division, the Church body responsible for staff issues, reveals deep anxiety amongst bishops over the competence of its paid ministers.

A survey of diocesan bishops found that one-third believe that more than half of current clergy - as many as 6,000 - are unable to cope with the demands of the job.

In addition, 90 per cent of the bishops believe that a third of the new intake of clergy do not have the necessary gifts and abilities…

Sunday evening update

Dave Walker has a roundup of responses on other blogs.

Tuesday evening update

Bishop Alan Wilson has written an informative article at Vicarage Allsorts: Clergy Supply. This shows that we have slightly more clergy than we did in 1950. One of the main reasons is that we now have far more “active retired” clergy than before, 4468 vs. 1262. (Click on the graphic in his article to get the numbers larger.)

And he has written a further article, Vicarage Allsorts: Clergy Quality.

Since Chaucer’s time there’s been public anxiety about this subject. 200 years ago Sidney Smith lamented the decline in the quality of clergy since the enforcement of residence was preventing gentlemen from desiring ordination. In the roaring 20’s, Hensley Henson bemoaned the decline in the quality of ordinands since the first world war. The document quoted in last week’s Sunday Telegraph, however, is barking up a very different tree. A more accurate headline than “poor quality of vicars alarms church leaders” would probably be “desperation to inject alarm into drab HR questionnaire twits journalist.”

As Dave Walker notes, Bishop Pete Broadbent also supplied further information here, i.e. in the comments below.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 8:27am BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England
Comments

I won't comment on the internal affairs of the CofE any more than I would accept their comments on our internal affairs. It is a common problem, but at its root, I don't think it is a civil service matter - even if the organization is configuered that way.

Posted by: Kahu Aloha on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 9:05am BST

I feel that the Church of England is in real danger, like the Titanic it is increasing its speed, without knowing or acknowledging the dangers ahead.

The stresses and strains within the structure are deeply fractured and each section claims to know what is right, and what the direction should be. Like an old wine skin it is being stretched and torn, and will not be fit for the new wine!

I do not rejoice or revel in such news, it saddens me, but the slow corruption and tendency for relativism – ‘isms and ologies’ that become more important than the Word Preached and shared, this is the direction that leads to destruction. Indeed, ‘united we stand, divided it will fall’ But, the nature of the C of E is to concentrate on its navel whilst the vulnerable are crushed by indifference.

The spiralling down in to separate camps and various pressure groups reflects a middle class addiction for getting their own way and ‘real’ Christianity is what reflections their ‘norms and values’.

Unfortunately, there is an overwhelming attitude within the church that is determined to seek it agenda first – this is a crucial and damning mistake. Where you heart is there you will find your treasure, your agenda, your cause!

Is the C of E seeking the Kingdom First?

Today’s (1/6/08) Sunday Telegraph is the first volley...

Such realisations should bring all those with an ‘agenda’, other than seeking the Kingdom first, to their knees.

The news in coming months is going to expose the Church to ridicule; unfortunately there are many areas where this ridicule is well deserved. The Church soon becomes the disengaged preaching at the trapped, and now all it appears to be interested in is a power struggle – ‘isms and ologies’

Father Forgive us.

Adrian.

Posted by: Adrian Wait on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 10:28am BST

No study on the quality of bishops, I assume.

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 12:38pm BST

I feel sure that if there had been, Lapin, then Jonathan would have mentioned it.

But this problem didn't arise suddenly, did it? The bishops were themselves all members of the "inferior clergy" earlier on, and they have been the people ordaining those that they are now criticising.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 1:24pm BST

Shome mishtake surely. Shouldn't the report read "90% of the clergy believe the bishops to be of inferior quality"?

Posted by: Fr Mark on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 2:55pm BST

Just give me half an hour to elaborate on the subject 'cock-ups and problems caused by inadequately trained bishops and archdeacons' and I would be delighted to oblige.

Posted by: dodgyvicar on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 3:23pm BST

There are deep anxieties about the quality of bishops. What gets me is the lack of proactive planning, for example for restructuring parishes and infrastructure, and organising personnel. If bishops stopped letting things "hang" and "wither" so that a decision only emerges after so much frustration, but acquired some management training and skills, then the clergy and indeed active lay people might feel somewhat more themselves organised and capable. There are so many books about management and motivation. There is a Lambeth Conference about Better Bishops but I bet there is nothing about management training and organisation involved.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 3:37pm BST

please, god, no!!!!! not management training. look at the nhs, look at the education system, look at northern rock. management failures all of them. the problem isn't that the c of e doesn't bother with management, but that it does. it's all management, no mission, no theology. archdeacons and bishops spend more than half of their time sitting in committees and pretending to be managers. and the poor bloody infantry of the parish clergy get it in the neck from their hopeless attempts at running things. and don't even start me on the mangement culture of clergy appraisal. can you see george herbert filling in his appraisal form and sitting to listen to some half-witted consultant telling him where he could improve things, and what courses he should go on. please, pluralist, you're right about most things, but absolutely wrong on this one.

Posted by: poppy tupper on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 4:55pm BST

Simon - any link to the report itself? Is there someone who can send us a copy in a brown paper wrapper?

RR

Posted by: Raspberry Rabbit on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 5:52pm BST

RR

Not yet. We are, after all, still waiting for the report on Bullying to reach the web.

Although a press release about the other document mentioned in the newspaper, about preaching, did appear during the day, see
http://www.cofe.anglican.org/news/pr4908.html

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 6:46pm BST

The elephant in the room: For the first time in history, more women than men are being ordained in the CoE. Political correctness would never allow the question be asked, what is the breakdown in "incompetent" male versus female vicars?

When the priestly vocation is thought of as a female vocation, quality will truly plummet. One simply has to look at other professions where females dominate, e.g., nursing and primary education. Unfair? You bet. Society unfortunately does not value or lend prestige to occupations dominated by females. Without prestige, the best and brightest will look elsewhere. That's hard reality.

Posted by: robroy on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 8:01pm BST

Well, there is management training and management training. What I am suggesting is communication, and this means informal as well as formal, making sure there is feedback, again informal. A long time ago the systemic view of management was seen as compatible with a Pauline view of the Church, and that systemic view is not hierarchical but based on specialities in various places, often people in position knowing more than the pyramidal management chain. This calls for delegation, communication and participation in management. I cannot see that this will do any harm at all. Management by drift is not an alternative.

Posted by: Pluralist on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 9:04pm BST

"gifts and abilities"

The second part is in question at the very top...no wonder the less-amongst equals are confounded as to which end is up.

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 9:40pm BST

Given that this is written by a church which has Nazir-Ali and Dow amongst its bishops, this is amusing indeed.

Posted by: Merseymike on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 9:50pm BST

Even by the serpentine standards of CofE statistics, this is bizarre. If 90% of bishops don't think 1/3 of the clergy are up to it, then either a) they are ordaining people they know aren't good enough or b) 10% of bishops are ordaining a small army of substandard clergy.

Normally, one of the biggest factors in morale, performance and work productivity (horrible word) is the quality of the line management. If vicars are losing enthusiasm and are feeling overwhelmed, then the hierarchy should be looking at the quality of its own leadership and clergy support before it looks at recruitment policies.

Posted by: David Keen on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 10:34pm BST

I bet the feeling is mutual. ;-/

[Lemme guess, Adrian: YOUR individual concerns equate to "the Word Preached and shared", whereas other people's are nothing more than "isms and ologies"? Physician, heal thyself!]

Posted by: JCF on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 11:03pm BST

Let me see - under trained, under paid, scared of homelessness in retirement, expected to break the European Working Time Directive on a weekly basis, stretched thiner and thiner... many of us sacrificing health and family.

Why do we do it - we love God and the people we've been given to serve.

There are bad clergy, and sometimes you wonder how some of us passed selection, but there are a lot of heroes and heroines in collars out there. Don't make the clergy carry the can for structural problems beyond our control.

Posted by: a vicar on Sunday, 1 June 2008 at 11:04pm BST

(Stop me if you've heard this before) A priest and a bishop went to heaven. At the pearly gates both made an appointment to see each other for cocktails, the former deciding to visit the latter in his cell. At the appointed hour, the priest knocked on the door and was amazed at the sumptuousness of the furnishings and space. Later, doing a slow burn, the priest stopped St. Peter's reception desk to make a complaint, and the good saint took him aside and confided that priests were a dime-a-dozen and usually ranked normal lodgings. He then stopped the priest and looked him squarely in the eye and admonished, "but when we actually get one of THEM, they must be truly extraordinary, and certainly deserve what you've seen, for few of THEM ever make it here!"

Posted by: choirboyfromhell on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 2:44am BST

I'm an Episcopal priest in America, but I recently came into contact with a priest from Britain. He said that while he serves a small congregation, he is responsible for over 12,000 people because the CofE is the "established" church. He must provide funerals, etc. regardless of whether these are members of his parish.

Here's what I'm wondering (only you in England can answer this; I don't know): Could part of the problem be lack of time to prepare sermons? I know how demanding even a small congregation is; if you must serve them and anyone living in that area, it must not leave much time for reflection and study. Although my church reaches out to the community, I am not obligated to perform a wedding, funeral, etc. as you are. What do you think?

Posted by: YankObserver on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 7:51am BST

"archdeacons and bishops spend more than half of their time sitting in committees and pretending to be managers. and the poor bloody infantry of the parish clergy get it in the neck from their hopeless attempts at running things. and don't even start me on the mangement culture of clergy appraisal" -- Poppy Tupper

You could substitute here "academic administrators" for "archdeacons and bishops," and "faculty" for "clergy" and you would have an apt description of the institution in which I live and work. Weaker academic administrators (jumped up faculty all) even come to disdain faculty as they are reshaped (and inflated) by their positions. Occasionally, of course, faculty give as good as they get. Social distance limits the moral imagination all around, I suppose.

Anyway, aren't church managers' complaints about the quality and effectiveness of the clergy as old as the church?

Posted by: Peter of Westminster on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 8:49am BST

that's exactly right, peter. i mentioned education as one of the areas of national life that is being ruined by mangers. it's typical of the c of e, always one generation behind the world. just as secular institutions are beginning to show that the management culture is ruining them, the church decides to import it into its own structures. the worse victims, as far as i can see, are the cathedrals - destroyed by the hoew report which insists that every cathedral should have an administrator. bring back matron, bring back the head teacher, bring back the proper dean and chapter.

Posted by: poppy tupper on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 10:32am BST

NO, JCF, you simply make the same mistake... I know people categorise to dismiss... but my concern was Seeking the KIngdom first, not personal agendas... Where the heart is....the authority of Scripture does not rely on personal opinion... bu tif it helps you to blame me... so be it!

Posted by: Adrian on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 10:50am BST

Watching your language at TA, Robroy? I'm sure readers here would be interested to read your T19 "gloves off" comment on the topic:

".... When a field is perceived as a women’s job, prestige falls and quality of applications falls in turn. ......... I looked and they did not (and dared not) look at the question of poor quality vicars were female."

Posted by: Lapinbizarre on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 11:35am BST

I think our American clergy friend has hit part of the nail on the head. I spend a lot of time on 'occasional offices'... weddings, funerals and baptisms for people who live in the parish but have little or no tie to the worshiping congregation. This is a great privilege, and done well, is a form of mission. But, it does take time. I also have to look after a Medieval church!

Most American clergy I have talked to (and I have a lot of American ties) are shocked at the small amount of time English clergy give to sermon preparation. Partially this is because we lack time. Partially there is less of a preaching culture in (at least non-Evo) Anglican churches. Partially it may also be because Anglican clergy in this country are comparatively under theologically educated.

That final point is a big one. The church here has repeatedly skimped on its training standards. Increasingly many of us aren't even trained in theology to degree level. All of this for the best managerial and financial reasons of course! But, we reap what we sow, and part of the quality control issue may well be down to an under investment in (and under valuing of) theological training and ministerial formation.

Posted by: a vicar on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 12:45pm BST

We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God ...

... some of the best people I know ask themselves the question 'how do I get the best out of [...]?' and develop some sklls in imagining good answers. It works up the chain (how do I get the best out of my Bishop/Archdeacon) as well as down it (how do I get the best out of this vicar who seems to be struggling). It is consonant with the idea that we all have gifts given by God which are given for the common good.

The danger in this kind of discussion is that we spend our time and energy noticing the sins of others - isn't that something Jesus said something about?

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 1:39pm BST

".... When a field is perceived as a women’s job, prestige falls and quality of applications falls in turn."

Which might explain why such professions as teaching and nursing, that everyone agrees are vital, are so poorly paid and badly treated in the USA, and I strongly suspect elsewhere.
Perhaps the problem is not "quality of applications" but latent misogyny that keeps wages and prestige for these professions low.
And now that the ranks of the C of E clergy are being filled with women, conveniently we now have an excuse for paying and treating clergy like nurses and teachers.

Posted by: counterlight on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 1:55pm BST

"This is a great privilege, and done well, is a form of mission. But, it does take time." - A Vicar

You know, I thought about that too. In England, you have a type of access I do not as a priest in America. This could give you many opportunities for ministry and evangelism I miss.

Preparing a sermon, I would estimate I spend anywhere from four to ten hours per week. I suspect it would be tough to do that with the obligations you face. You're right that in America there is a strong tradition of not just adequate sermons - there is the expectation on the part of congregations of great sermons every Sunday, a feat not always easy to perform. Sometimes I fear this gets to the point of expecting to be entertained every Sunday morning.

Candidates for positions such as Rector or even Bishop (we elect ours) are observed preaching in their home churches by two or more of our vestries (local level) or standing committees (diocesan level); sermons are often submitted in video form with resumes, and there are a number of national awards (privately sponsored) for outstanding preaching and awards for students at our seminaries.

Still, before you get an inflated opinion of American preaching, it is not always what it should be either. I have sat through some dreadful ones (some of them my own.)

What did George Herbert say? "Do not grudge to pick out treasures from an earthen pot. The worst speak something good."

Posted by: YankObserver on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 3:12pm BST

Quality Control, or simply, a new approach to slandering "progressive" clergy, laity and softening the recent rush of enthusiasm for making WOMEN Bishops?

I find it fascinating the only "good NEWS" is apparently/authentically proclaimed by bigots masquarading as puritans with non-stop demeaning of ever other Christian persons SOUL but their very own. Irresponsible, premeditated damagemaking, yellow-journalism and the driving off Church seeking Christians (only to note the "decline" of pew sitters)...odd, how quickly this and other "bad NEWS" smear campaigns follow the quest for WOMEN BISHOPS...WOMEN BISHOPS NOW!

Posted by: Leonardo Ricardo on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 4:39pm BST

"my concern was Seeking the KIngdom first, not personal agendas..."

It seems your personal agenda, Adrian, is to declare yourself morally superior to lil' ol' me.

I am simply trying to encourage you---as to encourage us all, beginning w/ my sinful self---to SEE our personal agendas (in order to confess them, and repent).

Insisting that one doesn't have a personal agenda (or that one's agenda is simply "Seeking the KIngdom first") is so much DENIAL.

My personal agenda is to be ever-vigilant to those I believe are trying to screw me over (because I apparently believe I'm So Wonderful, that I OUGHT to come out on top). What's yours, really?

Lord have mercy upon us all!

Posted by: JCF on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 6:00pm BST

There are layers of issues here.

First off, in my several careers, I have NEVER seen a failure that was not, at some level and at least in part, a leadership failure. If a huge percentage of the clergy are failing, the responsibility lies - above all - with the bishops.

Second, presuming that theological training in England is not much different than in North America, most colleges and seminaries are training clergy to function in Christendom. But Christendom is dead. We are training clergy to maintain the status quo, not to be outward-focussed and mission oriented.

Third, parish ministry has an assortment of administrative responsibilities. Generally, those attracted / called to ordained ministry tend not to be the strongest administrators. Not only do they hate it, but they aren't very good at it. The less aptitude one has for a task, the longer it takes. Thus, many clergy spend more and more time doing something they hate doing - and doing it badly. Yet, often, administrative support is oe of the first things to go when parish budgets are being trimmed - if there was ever any administrative support to begin with.

Finally, stipends in much of the Communion, frankly, suck. My mother always told me you get what you pay for.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 6:16pm BST

" there is the expectation on the part of congregations of great sermons every Sunday"

That's something I have always expected - and received! - from all the village parishes in England I've lived in. But I must admit, I've never attended evangelical churches, precisely because of their usually anti intellectual preaching.

And, Robroy, by pure chance I've only ever belonged to a parish with a woman priest.

It would be interesting to see the criteria for the bishops' criticism.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 6:55pm BST

I'm sorry that the original report has been leaked to the Press - and I fear that it gives a distorted picture of what it actually says. I'm very confident in the qualities of those I sponsor for ordination - and they're very focused on the calling to be missional priests in the church of God!

Where the report does have some important questions to ask is in the area of
(1) readiness of clergy for mission in the fast-changing C21 society
(2) whether those being trained on some courses are getting proper theological education, on a par with what is offered in colleges
(3) whether dioceses are planning for growth or decline

There is very little strategic thinking being done about how we call, train and deploy our priests. The report suggests some work that needs to be done.

But it shouldn't be used as a stick with which to beat our existing clergy, who in my experience of the 180 or so I look after are doing a pretty amazingly good job, on the whole.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 10:21pm BST

Malcom - I think there might be more difference between the American and English training set-ups than you suspect. I gather (but may have mis-gathered. Please do correct if I am wrong!) that your knowledge is of the American system. Having had some experience of both, the differences are quite large. The American gold standard seems to be a 3-4 year MDiv, usually undertaken by seminarians who are already graduates. In England, the lucky ones get to a residentual college for 2-3 years, but increasingly many of us are trained part-time over several years on regional courses.

I also think, strangely for a country with an established church, that many British clergy are tuned to a post-Christendom model. In a lot of ways the UK is a far more secular country.

Erika - you are most fortunate in you village churhces! Just one query - if you never go to Evangelical churches how do you know their preaching is anti-intellectual?!

Bishop Pete- thank you, I am glad that a bishop has put an oar in. I hope that the actual report will be released. Point 1 - we try! Point 2 is a very good question... and point 3 is quite pressing!

Posted by: a vicar on Monday, 2 June 2008 at 11:30pm BST

Pete, I guess, however, that the majority of bishops consider those of us opposed to women bishops to be entirely ependable? I hope they have sufficient clergy in line to fill the vacancies. They really are likely to push out a good thousand or so!

Posted by: david malloch on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 12:45am BST

The report makes no mention of attitude towards the ordination of women, which is not relevant to the issues it is addressing. Indeed, the last two appointments I have been involved in making have been of priests who are not convinced that women can be priests. They happened to be the best people for the job!

Since the report isn't in the public domain, let me at least give some headlines of what it is actually saying:

1. It proposes that there should be work done on what gifts and skills are required in the clergy of the future.
2. It wants us to explore implicit models of ministry as expounded at initial vocation stage.
3. It's looking (again!) at selection criteria.
4. It's asking for realistic planning on stipendiary numbers.
5. It seeks to address the potential mismatch between numbers sponsored for ordination and the number of posts available. (London and others oversupply by 200%)

If anything, the report is an indictment of some bishops for lacking a strategy for deployment of clergy.

Posted by: Pete Broadbent on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 7:16am BST

Vicar
I have been to many evangelical services in various churches, but I have always been fortunate that my local parish is middle of the road.

Of course, I may have been as unfortunate with my evangelical forays as I have been fortunate with my local parishes. But in the evangelical sector I have largely found abridged creeds that focus on Jesus blood sacrifice, preaching that insisted on PSA as the only interpretation of the Atonement, a certainty that those who are not Christians will perish in hell, and once a sermon by a well known writer who insisted that unless we can intellectually accept all this we have no right to call ourselves Christian.

I’m open to be told that these are aberrations! In fact, I sincerely hope that someone will tell me, convincingly, that they are!

Posted by: Erika Baker on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 8:19am BST


How can seeking to be obedient, to deny oneself, be anything else but denial?

After a quarter of a century in the frontline of community work I am acutely aware that we all have agendas...

Thanks for your encouragement, but I think you fail to understand that this is what I am seeking - our ability to be heard is equal to our capacity to listen! I have never insisted that I do not have an agenda, I just seek to point away from self and towards a deeper understanding of service. And I agree with you we all need to be vigilant less our 'isms and ologies' become the only driving force... It appears folk are still afraid to listen

adrian

Posted by: Adrian on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 8:32am BST

Reminds me of a comment I heard recently in my secular workplace (the civil service), that ministers are always happy to say that the civil service is useless, slow, etc., but when pressed always say that all the civil servants they work with are good people. Leadership is often a problem in the civil service (one that occurs at all levels), and I don't doubt that many feel the same of the church. I think Bishop Pete's comment:

"if anything, the report is an indictment of some bishops for lacking a strategy for deployment of clergy"

could well be a good summary of the problems.

Posted by: RichardM on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 11:58am BST

"I just seek to point away from self and towards a deeper understanding of service."

But unfortunately, adrian, you are giving the impression that you believe a certain conservative viewpoint is the only holy one. Now that could be that people have become so sensitized to the sneering judgement of "the other side" that they overreact to any whiff of it. And yes, I know there's sneering judgement going the other way, too. I do some of it, though it's just as wrong for me to do so as it is for others. The following quotes are illustrative:

"the slow corruption and tendency for relativism"

This, especially the last word, is frequently cast in the teeth of "liberals". It is, in effect, a restating of the "liberals don't believe anything and are seeking the approval of the world" slander. Don't speak like this if that's not what you are trying to say. It is untrue, insulting, and practically guaranteed to get people's backs up. Understand what is likely to insult your audience, and try to prevent that from happening. It won't always work, but it will make it far easier to get your point across.

"there is an overwhelming attitude within the church that is determined to seek it agenda first"

Again, this is something often cast at "liberals", though not as exclusively as the first. So when you say these things, this is the meaning you impart, whether you wish to or not. That is why your comments are being met so aggressively, and why you will likely have a lot of work to do to convince anyone that you DON'T really think like the majority of conservatives. On the surface, though, I agree with you. There is an incredible amount of "Me, Me, Me" in all of this, from both sides, though always dressed up in the most righteous of clothing. "We're just defending/follwing the Gospel" is getting really tiresome, especially when it is manifestly obvious that the person making the claim is doing nothing of the kind, which is often the case.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 1:27pm BST

If the Church of England goes down the management route of spurious objectives and quantitative assessments based on those, then I would think we will get the same delusions we now get in education. Once upon a time educationalists discussed different theories of education, of which the virtual behaviourist input output model was the least rewarding. Then along came league tables, statistics, public presentations, endless testing personal and institutional. I've taught students paragraphs to learn and where to put them in essays: AS and A level students feeling the width of work but not the quality.

What is wrong, as best I can see, is not that this doesn't exist, but that very little exists. Local areas need good communication and good plans, and yes there does have to be some place for evaluating (in a qualitative sense) what should be and what is taking place.

Exams aren't needed, but good quality theology and practice courses are needed, and I would be the first to remove these nine criteria, or diminish them down. Anything heading towards Powerpoint presentations and assessments ought to be resisted.

Posted by: Pluralist on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 5:52pm BST

Excuse me but: "Vanity! Vanity of vanities! All is vanity!"

Erika,

From what (relatively little) I know about evangelicalism, you have been fairly unfortunate. I am with you that PSA (I assume you mean penal substitution) is not the only valid understanding of the atonement. The theory is supported by Paul (I think - I don't know my Bible all that way) and by the classic "pierced for our transgressions", but I still think it's a bit dodgy, and doesn't fit in with how I understand the big picture of things anyway.

As for hell - I hope you don't think God doesn't have any punishment at all for rapists and mass murderers. Personally I take an annihilationist view - it seems coherent, and conscious punishment is something of a misunderstanding of the translation of certain verses anyway.

I haven't stepped over the word limit, have I?

Posted by: BIGDAN on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 6:22pm BST

BIGDAN,
As to PSA, it can't be denied that there is penal imagery in the traditional understandings of the Atonement, but it is manifestly untrue that it was the central, or even most prominent image of atonement till recently. Reading Exodus at the Easter Vigil is not some "liberal innovation" after all, and if you read the ancient liturgies of the Orthodox, you find a great deal of freedom from bondage and Christ the hero doing battle with the forces that enslave us. You will see little of the vindictive judge who wrath is so hot He must be bribed by cruelty to let guilty criminals get away with their crimes. We humans have an innate feeling that evil must be punished. Thus it seems reasonable to us that God will punish the serial killing child molestor. But that man's heart is open to God, and he is one of God's beloved creatures, despite the grime he has plastered on to the Divine image in which he was created. That doesn't mean there won't be consequences for his actions, but I don't think you need to consider there to be some place of Eternal fire where the God who tells us not to be cruel to each other tortures us without hope of death. Google an Orthodox document called The River of Fire. It is loaded with Orthodox anti-Western polemic, but it makes some very interesting points all the same, especially that the idea that God, who they call the "Lover of Mankind", is somehow the One from whom we are supposed to be saved has actually created the massive loss of faith in Western society. One thing they say is that people believe it is better to believe nothing than to believe in the monster that PSA calls God. Given what my agnostic friends say about God and the Church, I would say they are spot on in that regard.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 7:47pm BST

Pluralist - I've just come back from doing a Powerpoint presentation for our church, giving and overview of the Bible, and it was very well recieved. Some of them even want another.

Posted by: David Keen on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 10:54pm BST

Canadian, actually, Vicar.

In any event, I'm not sure the differences you point out negate my essential thesis on the training issue - that we are training priests to a status quo that is no longer.

I am glad to see that Bishop Broadbent is in agreement with my first point - that failure of the clergy is, if anything, an indictment of the bishops.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 11:19pm BST

PowerPoint?

Friends don't let friends use PowerPoint.

An excellent tool when used well.

It is a pity that no one has ever seen it used well.

Posted by: Malcolm+ on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 5:01am BST

Adrían wrote on Tuesday, 3 June 2008 at 8:32am: “How can seeking to be obedient, to deny oneself, be anything else but denial?”

The word used in the Bible and in later Theologies wrongfully translated as “sin” is (Greek) ‘amartìa. This is an archery term meaning that humans miss the mark shooting over the Board from trying too much.

This is the Original sin. Wanting go be God.

Now, “obedient” is not in the Good Book, only in (some) very late “translations”. "Godly obedience", is what some say, even. The word used in the holy scriptures (always in the plural) is (Greek) akouo, to listen. Not to “obey” the people who want to be Lording over us…

Adrian wrote: “It appears folk are still afraid to listen”. So they are – which is why they say Obey!me instead ; = )

The same persons, that is. And they deny it! This is the Original Denyal.

Posted by: Göran Koch-Swahne on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 6:26am BST

BigDan
Anihilation? No Redemption? So Jesus went as far as allowing himself to be crucified for us in order to rescue only good little boys and girls?
And "punishment" only for those we consider wicked, not for all sinners?

You see how I immediately run into huge difficulties with this idea of a punishing judgemental God.

Personally, I prefer to think of a new state of awareness where each one of us recognises what we truly were and what we could have been. That is "punishment" enough and can only be borne because it will be held within God's saving love.


I'm not sure this is purely an issue of clergy training. I'd like to know what happenes between leaving theological college, where all these ideas will have been explored in great depth, and arriving at a new parish where challenging preaching suddenly appears to be dangerous. Most priests I know feel a great tension between the comfort their parishioners need and the task to educate and to lead them into a greater awareness of the mystery of God.

Maybe we as congregation need to share a huge part of the blame (if blame is what is required?) because our own expectations are of safe, comforting and non threatening worship.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 8:21am BST

I genuinely apologise if my comments have offended, I am seeking to understand and quite frankly I have been extremely naive with regard to the political motivation and agendas of the various groups within the Church of England, and the divisions that my comments have highlighted, it appears that to seek the kingdom first makes me a ‘conservative’
I have, it appears, stumbled into a long running power struggle where language is dissected to determine which “side” I am on! This is a very sad state of affairs, and certainly supports my observation that the church is focusing on internal power struggles rather than seeking the kingdom first…and being a servant to the wider community... oooops there I goes again!
I try to say what I mean, and mean what I say… but I will and do make mistakes, and perhaps occasionally I reveal the sensitivity that afflicts those who seek to determine who is in and who is out, whilst claiming to be victimised … is this over reaction? Or is it a warning that we are seeking to defend ‘our’ chosen ‘ism or ology’ whilst losing sight of the call to serve? Wherever there is movement there is friction it is not always negative to reflect on our agenda or are we so sensitive we redouble our efforts whilst losing sight of the cause? I try not to tell people what to say or think, I do seek to listen, but please do not mistake my listening for condoning or condemning. I try not to categorise to dismiss, I hope I do not add to the fire of division by just seeking to shift focus from worldly and often personal issues to the greater calling of service and compassion, we can all lose our very self in ‘isms and ologies’, Am I not a person too? There are so many issues that divided society, so many ‘isms and ologies’ yet I could (just about) promise unity on this blog, in your community and mine – even with all the various competing groups… by asking one question…

Do you wish to be treated with dignity?

I honestly believe we would get agreement – if we fail to listen, if we categorise to dismiss we build in division, are we prepared to be vulnerable, prepared to listen, prepared to uphold the dignity of personhood without having to resort to name calling or power struggles that destroy peace and cripple any opportunity to serve communities and become a voice for the voiceless rather than our favourite cause!

Posted by: Adrian on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 9:23am BST

Ford Elms:

Thank you, that was most enlightening.

Posted by: BIGDAN on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 9:41am BST

Goran, Kallistos Ware says the same thing, for the Orthodox, sin is "missing the mark". He doesn't confine it to just the idea of wanting to be God, but likens it to walking off a path. We start on a road to God at our baptism. When we go astray "are deluded by the passions" in Orthodox parlance", we wander off that path. So much for the "sin is crime" idea.

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 11:41am BST

Adrian, I personally wasn't offended, I was beating a favourite drum of mine: the words Evangelicals use are impeding their message. I often fall victim to the same kinds of things, so I've painted myself quite the hypocrite on these pages, but just because I yield to things doesn't make them right. In general, I agree with what you're saying, including "categorizing to dismiss", though some categorizing is, I think, necessary to understand motivations and political positions. And it isn't so much "dissection" of words, as it is what words say about people's often unconscious assumptions. For instance, when someone says "Jesus as your personal Saviour" or "Bible based" Churches, that triggers a whole lot of religious bigotry that I have to oppose in myself, usually with little success, because they are typical phrases used by Evangelicals. But, regardless of my bad behaviour, the fact is that these phrases reveal unspoken assumptions, the first about the nature of redemption and the relationship of the individual to the wider Chruch and the world, the second about what the speaker believes about his personal faith (it is better) and that of those who are different (they don't believe the Bible). My reaction to it might be wrong, but the words still reveal the speaker's attitudes. You can be angry that others react to that revelation, or you can seek to understand it. I suspect you fall into the latter group. And don't feel bad about being naive. I think it is important to see the politics, but I think it is important to be above it as well. If you can do that, you're better than me, but feel free to drag me along! My misgivings about the current situation are in part about my perception that a significant aspect of this debate is about those doing the arguing, not the principles they are arguing about, nor the people on both sides feeling hurt and confused. Would you agree?

Posted by: Ford Elms on Wednesday, 4 June 2008 at 12:59pm BST

Yes, I would agree. We often redouble our efforts when we have lost sight of the cause. When some kind of real or percieved threat knocks the door we seldom act with faith, and take time to listen... in reacting we do reveal, but faith and forgiveness are not occassional acts but perminent attitudes, a gift from God, not a 'party-line'... it is when we claim our faith, or use our faith to dispossess others - we forget it is a gift! and we become narrow minded and reduce faith to 'feelings' and OUR norms and values!

Be still and Know, so easy to quote so hard to do!

Posted by: Adrian on Thursday, 5 June 2008 at 9:21am BST

So a large number of clergy are not up to the job - I am reminded of an old Turkish proverb " A fish stinks from the head down."

Posted by: david on Tuesday, 10 June 2008 at 1:01pm BST
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