Friday, 8 May 2015

Reform and Renewal defended and then criticised

Last week, the Church Times carried an article by William Fittall, under the headline Plans to proclaim the faith afresh with the strapline There is no cause to be fatalistic about church decline.

This was also published on the official church website, where it had the headline Reform and renewal - a guide to the debate.

Church Times readers attempting to follow the discussions about the emerging “Reform and Renewal” programme in the Church of England may, by now, be somewhat baffled. There have been suggestions that the proposals are theologically lightweight, based on questionable research, too managerial and even that one of the undergirding concepts – discipleship – is not to be found in the New Testament!

As the Archbishops said in their paper to the Synod, the challenge of reform and renewal is spiritual. We shall ultimately be building on sand unless what we do is underpinned by prayer and an unshakable confidence in God, who is able to do immeasurably more than all we can ask or conceive.

The starting point for the programme is a recognition that the Church of England’s capacity to proclaim the faith afresh in each generation will be decisively eroded unless the trend towards older and smaller worshipping communities is reversed. Some seem reluctant to face up to the consequences of this, while others doubt that anything will make much difference. Such fatalism was absent when the proposals were discussed by the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops and the General Synod…

This week Paul Handley reports in the Church Times on a symposium held last Friday in Oxford, Oxford group challenges talent quest.

THE idea that future leaders of the Church of England should be talent-spotted and groomed came in for sustained criticism at a symposium in Oxford last Friday.

The title of the symposium was “Apostolic Leadership for an Apostolic Church”. It had been convened by the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, in response to the “literally hundreds” of letters and emails he had received after his critique of the Green report…

One of the participants, Andrew Lightbown, published this article: Questions over episcopal leadership post Green and RME.

It has been interesting watching how ‘head office’ is reacting to critics of the raft of reports recently issued on behalf of the Church of England.

For many it feels as though conversion about, and participation in, decision making processes are simply not welcome.

Critics are all too quickly rebuffed: William Fittall, writing in the Church Times last week (1st May) was keen to dismiss Alister McGrath’s analysis of Resourcing Ministerial Education and, the Green Report. Mark Hart’s analysis of From Anecdote to Evidence was, in the previous edition, given short shift by those ‘in the know.’

Now it could be that all the recent reports are spot on in their analysis and, that those who wish to critique or participate in wider discussion are overly worried.

But, this in itself should not be a reason to close down conversation, for the real issue has now become the style of leadership to which the church is becoming accustomed…

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Friday, 8 May 2015 at 10:09pm BST
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Categorised as: Church of England

Surely it is good that the Archbishops' Council is taking the initiative in order to try and reverse the decline in Church attendance that has been so constant since the First World War. The criticism of the Green Report should not overshadow some of the good things that Reform and Renewal propose. For instance a 50% increase in the number of ordinands by 2020 must surely be a welcome aspiration.
I'm not sure as to the appropriateness of the report's title though? With the controversial appointment of Rod Thomas (Chairman of Reform) as Bishop of Maidstone, perhaps it is unfortunate that the report is called "Reform and Renewal" . I'm all for Renewal but Reform has topical associations that not everyone within the Church of England would agree with, not least the paid up members of WATCH.

Posted by: Father David on Saturday, 9 May 2015 at 2:36pm BST

"Professor Coakley, however, criticised the fundamental understanding of the Green report: "The very notion of 'leadership' is flawed when applied to the theological realm." And she described the idea of a talent pool as "deeply undermining to classic Anglicanism".

Canon Charman said that it would "fan the flames of envy and rivalry". - Oxford Group Report -

And herein lies the problem; "If anyone wants to be first among you" - Jesus counselled - "he must make himself last of all and servant of all" (J.B. Mark 9:35). This surely chimes with the reality that any spiritual leader of the Church should not be a seeker after promotion. The whole idea of seeking preferment in the Church is antithetical to the concept of leadership in the Gospel.

The Church is NOT a business. If it should ever seek to operate by purely business praxis, its soul is lost. Let the mechanical business of the Church be left to qualified faithful laity; they are often more gifted in this direction than spiritual leaders. Perhaps that's the way God decided it should be. The feet and the hands should not aspire to be the head. Nor should the head usurp the place of the hands.

Perhaps we need more teaching in the values of prayer and servanthood among the hierarchy of the Church.

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 10 May 2015 at 10:54am BST

Reading the Church Times account of the Oxford Symposium reminded me of John Inge’s comments about episcopal patronage.

‘And the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge, said that the present system was "a shambles". "The rot set in", he said, when the Church moved to competitive interviews for clerical posts. The virtue of the talent pool was that it represented a move back towards episcopal patronage, and away from self-promotion.’

If I understood John correctly, by the ‘present system’ he meant ‘the old preferment list’, now discontinued. I agree that the ‘list’ did not serve us well as it grew very large, the reasons people’s names were on it were neither transparent nor objective and there was no accompanying offer of development or preparation for future responsibilities.

That aside, I’m not quite sure what John meant. That the Church should cease to interview for all clerical posts and let bishops appoint? Or was he just referring to the appointments of deans and bishops? Process wise all appointments including ‘senior’ ones are currently made on the basis of some combination of interview and episcopal endorsement.

I disagree that episcopal patronage is the main way in which appointments should be made. It is a sure fire way for an organisation to recreate itself in its own image and bishops are no more immune from conscious and unconscious bias than anyone else. This is mitigated where appointments are made by a panel, better still if good practice guidelines have been followed in choosing panel members, and best of all if they have had some training for the task.

I also think it is possible to meet a number of people in a process of discernment without it being solely a ‘competitive interview’. And I question whether applying for a post always represents ‘self promotion’ – having interviewed for many posts this is not the spirit in which most people apply for posts.

My personal view is that the ‘talent pool’ is not an improvement on the old preferment list but it is actually worse as it not only allows bishops to put forward names with no more legitimacy than before but those people are then intentionally developed towards certain posts in a kind of self fulfilling prophesy. If we must have an intensive process of leadership development for some it would be far better to do it on the basis of open application.

Posted by: Jane Charman on Sunday, 10 May 2015 at 11:52am BST

Jane Charman's observations are thoughtful and will speak to many of us - not least because a certain Dean, who operates just across the grass from Jane's base in Sarum College, has been coaching people in the competitive interview process for some time. This is to ensure that women, in particular, know how to work the Wash House system. An application by a friend of mine for a post in that Dean's Cathedral, despite him being an excellent candidate with the skills and experience, resulted in him not being shortlisted. A 'coaching' phone call from the aforementioned Dean to explain her decision revealed that he had not sold himself sufficiently on the official C of E application form. The job description said 'we need an outstanding...' and 'we need an accomplished...'; but my friend did not claim to be outstanding or accomplished. Instead, he assumed that others (e.g. referees) would make that judgement as part of the overall discernment process.

By all means include transparent, even competitive, interviews as part of the appointment process (and yes, God deliver us from returning to a system of episcopal patronage); but this should be just one element in a much more thorough process of discernment. Flawed processes simply created a malaise - and that cannot be good for the growth and mission of the Church.

Posted by: Colin Graham on Monday, 11 May 2015 at 7:52am BST
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