Comments: Where did your bishop go to school?

How many currently serving bishops, like Lord Carey, attended a Secondary Modern School? It didn't seem to do his ecclesiastical career much harm, thanks to Maggie's intervention.

Posted by Father David at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 9:23am BST

Stephen Cottrell (+Reading) is listed as secondary modern - he's certainly had a productive ministry and written a number of useful books. The question with Carey should perhaps be reversed - did his ecclesiastical career cause much harm, and especially his post-episcopal activities?

Posted by Richard at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 10:33am BST

The Church of England long ago lost the working class. This was even revealed in the 1851 religious census...there are exceptions, but in the main it is still a middle class club, run by an elite. The family connections are fascinating.

But there again we have 5 Etonians in the cabinet.

Posted by robert Ian williams at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 10:47am BST

Sadly, Lord Carey proved that Secondary Modern education didn't work.

Posted by FrDavidH at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 11:29am BST

And the strategy to bolster this was to hobble with poor appointments those theological colleges that relished "outside the box" candidates for orders and then to close them.
Great to see that Harold Wilson (not iscariot) is being celebrated at Salisbury next month. His Legacy was systematically undermined by his immediate successor.

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 11:50am BST

It would be interesting to have these data in historical perspective. If this survey had done been done 25 or 50 or 100 years ago, what would the results have been?

Does anyone know if such information is available?

Posted by Jesse at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 11:59am BST

Basic numeracy is a useful skill. By my reckoning 14 bishops on the list went to Cambridge but 18 went to Durham. That makes Durham not third but second in the table, after Oxford with 29.

(This presumably is for first degrees; some bishops maybe went to more than one university.)

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 12:38pm BST


When were discussing university validation for ordination training at some meeting a few years ago, a certain Ministry Division official whom I won't name told us that whatever we did, we will need to keep Oxford and Cambridge degree routes open in order to ensure a supply of future deans, bishops and theological teachers!

as to Lord Carey - he received his higher education via ordination training and did his PhD while serving as a curate (as I recall). His publications are, I think, well written and with scholarly content, though readable! They are still worth reading today (e.g. his I believe in Man - written before inclusive language in the CofE). This I think holds whatever one makes of his more recent public statements. His story does rather point to the opportunities the church can provide for academic achievement for those with no university background.

Posted by Charles Read at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 12:38pm BST

I remember looking into this a couple of years ago. At that point every single bishop had attended Oxford or Cambridge at some point (undergrad, postgrad or theological college).

Posted by Dan BD at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 1:30pm BST

I am always struck by the ease the you can move from Oxbridge undergrad/postgrad through to a selection panel and theological college.

Of course, the Oxbridge chaplains (and parish priests) do a damn fine job of stirring up and fostering vocations, which many forget, but if you've not been lucky enough to go to such institutions, there feels to be an almost imperceptible barrier.

I'd think that going to a BAP in your 20s or 30s with just a handful of A-levels would be a rather intimidating experience.

Posted by Tristan at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 3:02pm BST

@ Charles Read - I think one of the most pernicious lay divisive things the C of E does is to label people "future theological educators" before they've experienced ordained ministry, or, in some cases, before they've had their vocation tested at a selection conference.

One male, middle-aged friend told me " Of course I'm a future theological educator because I have An Oxford Degree". His degree was not in theology and at this stage he hadn't studied theology. Why this made him a better candidate for teaching others about theology than any of the gifted people I trained with who hadn't been to Oxford I am at a loss to understand.

Posted by Pam at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 4:39pm BST

Michael Ramsey wisely waited until he was dead before his official biography was published. Robert Runcie regretted that he hadn't similarly stipulated a postmortem biography by Humphrey Carpenter. George Carey decided to write his own autobiography probably having read his immediate predecessor's biography and named the mighty tome "Know the Truth"!

Posted by Father David at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 4:43pm BST

The question that has not been asked is what class of degrees did they all get? The bench of bishops is the most theologically illiterate imaginable. Just look again at the woeful report on MARRIAGE a couple of years ago. They 'outsource' the theology to so-called experts and sadly do not know when the 'theologians' don't do a good job and therefore when to call bad work in. There are a number of bishops here with poor 2nds and even (at least one maybe more?) Oxbridge 3rds.

Posted by Neil at Friday, 5 September 2014 at 9:27pm BST

I guess, from this thread, that some of the Church's Saints down the ages were not really educationally qualified for their particular vocation. They might never have reached the dizzy heights of the episcopate in the C.of E. had they been around today! What does that tell us about the culture of elitism in the Church of England? And should it change?

Posted by Father Ron Smith at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 12:43am BST

On the contrary -- for hundreds of years the universities at Oxford and Cambridge have been where nearly all clergy were educated. Only relatively recently have there been any other English universities, and it's perhaps really only in this generation of 50-somethings that a significant number of school-leavers attended other universities or (in those days) polytechnics.

There also seems to be some confusion over the terms elitism and class. It seems to me that it is not necessarily a bad thing to provide for the elite -- provided that the elite education and elite jobs are open to anyone regardless of their class and background. In general we want our bishops (and other leaders) to be the best, the elite.

Posted by Simon Kershaw at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 9:02am BST

Surely, the issue of where bishops were educated is irrelevant. The more pressing issue is how many of them have an earned PhD in theology? Equally, how many of them are able to make an incisive and original contribution to theological discourse? How many have had the wider experience of teaching theology in a secular university and had to make the case for their academic discipline beyond the safety net of a theological college or part-time course? How many of them can make a coherent and imaginative theological case in the public sphere? Answer: pitifully few of them! Until the current stranglehold on episcopal appointments (let the reader understand) is unleashed and sent packing back to the Peak District, we are simply going to see more grey, uninspiring second-rate managerial types who know about processes and freeze like rabbits caught in the headlights when challenges and opportunities like equal marriage come along.

Posted by James A at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 10:09am BST

James A's cryptic comment is, for those who don't know, a reference to, the Archbishops' Secretary for Appointments, I don't think there are any reasons why we need to be shy of identifying their role.

I can't find a record of how long the current person has been doing this job, but it is a long time. This office is reputed to have a lot of power in sifting the various candidates on the Preferment Lists of each diocese, promoting the visibility of those deemed to be "ready" and passing over those this person thinks are not.

Others must decide if this is the optimal way to find the best people for senior appointments. For my part, putting the whole process through a funnel of only one person's judgement early on seems to have some distinct disadvantages built in.

Posted by Jeremy Pemberton at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 12:16pm BST

As a working class girl who was able to gain a fantastic education via the 11+ at an excellent Grammar School that my extraordinarily hardworking factory-fodder father could never have paid for, I was equally grateful to have the opportunity to study with the Cambridge Theological Federation for my theological MA because - as a working class woman - I had never been able to afford to go to university at all, and had 'worked my way up' to becoming a researcher within the
education system. Where you actually do study, does not necessarily predicate class, background, family connections or exclusivity. If it weren't for my vocation, I wouldn't be as well educated! We need to make a clear distinction between those given such opportunities which are grasped with both hands, and those whose trajectory is well oiled and for whom such opportunities are a given.

Posted by Hayley Matthews at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 12:37pm BST

James A - I completely agree. And the problem is not so much that those with first class brains are not in the majority, but rather that there seems to be a worrying level of collective ignorance and I wonder WHICH of the bishops does have a first class intellect? I am not a Tory but see no problem that David Cameron is an Old Etonian (except he does not choose other colleagues from a sufficiently wide background and experience) nor that Blair was a public school boy. At least the Prime Minister obtained a first class degree.

Posted by Neil at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 1:22pm BST

I should have added that, when you look at the media's top tips for the first female episcopal appointments, the situation is hardly going to change. We are not going to see professional theologians among the first wave of women bishops (e.g. Professor Sarah Coakley, Cally Hammond, Angela Tilby, Judith Maltby, Jessica Martin and so on). Just more processors and those who have been 'coached' to work the system.

Posted by James A at Saturday, 6 September 2014 at 4:29pm BST

If every university had the ratio of clergy to students which is found in Oxford and Cambridge (chaplains and local churches) the picture might be rather different.

Posted by Mark Bennet at Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 3:57am BST

There is wearying predictability about the way any topics involving bishops on this ‘thinking’ website turn into a kicking contest. Leadership? – useless. Theology? – inept. Education? – not a good enough degree/doctorate (and if they have a doctorate - like Carey? – OK but he needs kicking for other reasons).
Is the assumption here that if we only sacked this lot of bishops and dismantled the management obsessed processes in place to appoint them, there is a whole raft of holy, doctorate/degree laden, super gifted, politically and internationally astute, media savvy, ethically agile and progressive thinking, men and women church leaders just waiting to be plucked out of the watching crowd - and all shall be well? If not what are we hoping for by these muggings?
Libby Purvis’s reflection on leadership in The Times last year struck a chord. ‘From time to time it befits us to throw a small cautious, grudging kind thought upwards … remember, they too are powerless against the great tide of history. And unlike us, they have to take the blame. In an age of mass communication power falls ever more to the grumblers, onlookers, comedians, parodists, gossips, blog bullies, unelected commentators and sneering interrogators. But some of us should admit, from time to time, that we’d much rather throw old boots at the bosses than walk a mile in theirs.’

Posted by David Runcorn at Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 3:06pm BST

Raw theological talent in the House of Bishops (by which I mean the serious capacity to engage with doctrine, moral theology etc.) is on the wane, and it is easy to see why. Dioceses prioritise front line mission and church growth experience and that is not a recipe for appointing a Sykes or a Selby. That may not be a problem but it does mean that the House needs to look elsewhere for theological input and be honest in admitting that it needs to do that.

Posted by Anthony Archer at Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 4:51pm BST

Great to see that Harold Wilson (not iscariot) is being celebrated at Salisbury next month. His legacy was systematically undermined by his immediate successor.

Well, Martin, not sure what legacy you mean. S&W remained drippingly liberal in Canon Askew's day, and one part of the legacy I dearly wish he had got rid of were the ghastly vestments of the Wilson era. Sadly, he didn't!

Posted by ian at Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 7:48pm BST

Good point James A, the sad indictment of the system is even with more inclusion the outcome is the same. In my experience of the ordination colleges of Oxford, the theology changed but largely the class stayed the same.

Posted by Paul at Sunday, 7 September 2014 at 10:17pm BST

Yes David Runcorn I believe there are indeed a lot of good and even better people out there - although yes there will always be critics who grumble who seem unaware about the relative powerlessness of leaders. On a whole range of subjects it seems evident to me that we have received extremely poor leadership. From not the best people available.

Posted by Neil at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 1:14am BST

Remind me, were St. Peter and St. Paul educated at Oxford or was it Cambridge?

Posted by Father David at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 4:34am BST

Perhaps the fact that many independent schools have a strong Christian and specifically Anglican ethos is a factor. That said it would be interesting to see how many Bishops went to state church schools.

Posted by Simon Bravery at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 9:47am BST

Neil 'I believe there are indeed a lot of good and even better people out there'. I hope you are right. But I am wondering how you know?

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 10:57am BST

As has already been non-too-subtly suggested, the process for appointing bishops needs an urgent overhaul - precisely because there are no Sykes or Selby-like figures in the present House of Bishops. The exceptions, of course, are Martin Warner and John Inge, (both of whom have an incisive theological instinct as well as an earned PhD in theology, and are both demonstrating inspirational and generously inclusive leadership of their dioceses in mission from different standpoints. The same could be said of Christopher Cocksworth in Coventry. But we cannot just leave it to three bishops. David Runcorn wonders how we know that there are better people out there. Try reading (and listening to and observing closely) people like Sam Wells, Martyn Percy, Stephen Cherry, Sarah Coakley, Simon Oliver and Judith Maltby. Before mission, management and balancing the books (others can do that), a bishop is first and foremost a teacher of the faith. At present, the H of B is failing abysmally to provide a coherent and imaginative theological response to pressing contemporary questions, in a way that engages wider society positively and sympathetically. This may be one more sign of the Church of England's 'sectarian swing'; but it is deeply un-Anglican. Perhaps the starting point is to fundamentally challenge the criteria which dioceses set for their new bishops, and insist that the appointment of a new bishop is not a purely local matter, but something that has an impact on the wider church and wider society. Effective mission and evangelism arise out of deeply rooted, rigorous and imaginative theology - not the other way round!

Posted by Simon R at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 2:34pm BST

I don't think you can get a fag paper between people with firsts and people with seconds as far as theological aptitude is concerned. People with firsts tend to give up thinking once they receive them, and supposing one bad paper on a hot June afternoon thirty years ago disqualifies someone to be a bishop is daft.

Posted by T Carpenter at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 2:45pm BST

@David Runcorn - I am genuinely sorry to contribute to your weariness. I believe in supporting those in leadership because if we don't, the ship will sink very quickly.

My own comments, about "future theological educators", reflect what I see as an almost superstitious belief that simply by being in Oxford or Cambridge, one acquires superior thinking and theological skills, as well as the ability to teach these to other people. This is no reflection on the many able people in the church who have been through these institutions - including two very enabling and wise bishops I've had the privilege to work for. I would just like to see the net cast a bit wider in terms of who we see as a potential "educator", looking at achievements as contextual and practical theologians as well as perceived academic superiority.

Posted by Pam Smith at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 4:02pm BST

Simon R. 'Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ's flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God's kingdom and leading his people in mission.' (CofE liturgy of Consecration).
Is that what you want overhauled?
I do not find any prior stress there on teaching and certainly no separation of that ministry from the call to be shepherds and leaders of mission. And quite right too. You indeed mention some wonderfully gifted theologians. I could add a number of others. (there are more than these theologically literate bishops actually!). I just note that at least some you list exercise their profound teaching gifts precisely because they have been spared the burden of the office of bishop or other leadership in the church.

Posted by David Runcorn at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 4:22pm BST

'Effective mission and evangelism arise out of deeply rooted, rigorous and imaginative theology - not the other way round!'

Curious, then, that the 'great theologians' that we so miss presided over such rapid decline in church attendance.

Here's an idea: before you lead the Church demonstrate you can lead a church!

I am not sure the apostolic faith focussed so much on 'engaging wider society positively and sympathetically' as calling wider society to respond to the demanding call of Christ to come and die (Bonhoeffer) . Seems like we do have a few bishops who know how to do that.

Posted by Ian Paul at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 4:59pm BST

Salisbury was not dripping liberalism when I was there.
What struck me was the lack of ANY debate on women's ministry and the diversity of characters .... we really did have people to the right of Attila the Hun and more ......... than Ian Paisley and more Catholic than the Pope.
There were also a fair number of ordinary Series 2 CofE types who had been teachers or Army Officers ..... liberals? just a couple ....
that was Harold's legacy, we all moved along together, it was (for the designer of a famous dark chocolate box with a red tassle) quite Magic!

Most of us had been rejected somewhere else. Michael Green had sent me packing from Nottingham because I did not like his questionnaire. He never did explore how I had come to faith in Jesus Christ being more interested in the Book of Common Prayer and 39 Articles - I had never encountered them.
I was amazed.
But as I was being ushered from his office he did say to me:
"Have your thought of Salisbury?"
I hitchhiked there that day and they wanted to know about Jesus .........

Posted by Martin Reynolds at Monday, 8 September 2014 at 8:34pm BST

I would think the character of the person would be as important as the school. Based on Our country we have some fantastic Bishops all over and I've never even wondered where they went to school the character of the person is more important than where they got their degree !!!!

Posted by Barbara at Tuesday, 9 September 2014 at 4:34am BST

I agree with you Ian. But ‘rapid’? We now know that the CofE peaked in membership in the 1920s. What is accelerating in recent decades has been happening for nearly a hundred years. So I don’t want to dump the blame on the doorstep of more recent bishops of ABCs. Something much bigger is going on.
As to lamenting the absence of someone like a +Stephen Sykes … well I recall turning to his standard work ‘The Study of Anglicanism’ for lecture material and being startled to realise there is not one mention of evangelism or mission at all in over 500 pages.

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 9 September 2014 at 8:25am BST

I think we may be missing another aspect to this discusssion. Just before these stats became available I offered the following comments while addressing a meeting of Accepting Evangelicals in July. (
‘In a recent article in a Sunday Observer newspaper, Alex Renton offered reflections on his (private) school experience that made all sort of connections for me. His focus was not on actual sexual abuse, and nor is it mine. But we were both formed within a very particular male-only educational culture that was characterised by such values as: toughness as character building, devotion to the team, distrust of women, suppression of emotion, assumptions of patriarchal and hierarchical social ordering, mocking of any feminine trait in men and minimal empathy for the weak and ordinary.

Renton notes that the greater part of the political and business leadership in our society today remains a product of this educational culture. I add that this has included a significant percentage of clergy like me and the greater part of the senior leadership of the church. The evangelical tradition made outreach to Public School boys a strategic priority. This bore very considerable fruit and I am genuinely grateful. But I am not sure the assumptions of that culture and its formative influence have ever been critically examined in the way they need to be.

Is it surprising that church traditions formed in such a culture, should be so resistant to moving beyond a male-centred worldview or even see the need? Or that such a church responds to women with unhealed ambivalence and struggles with such painful clumsiness to work out its response to the presence of gay and lesbian folk in our midst. Running through the present debates are many symptoms of corporate emotional anxiety and confusion. We are on a complex and vulnerable relational journey.’

Posted by David Runcorn at Tuesday, 9 September 2014 at 8:35am BST

Thank you, Ian and David, for sharing your vision of a church that will continue to withdraw from wider society and become more sectarian, with sharper boundaries delineating those who are 'one of us' and those who are not. It is precisely the myopic understanding of mission and evangelism you espouse, which arises from an insular ecclesiology and a self-referential theology (brilliantly illustrated by David's limited assessment of the Sykes volume), which highlights the lack of theological rigour I am arguing for. If you had been candid and simply said 'We really want an evangelical ziggurat where everyone believes what we believe and thinks like we think' it would help us all understand what your real agenda is. But to cite Bonhoeffer, with the inference that issues like equal marriage, gender equality and assisted dying are equivalent to the rise of Nazism is both cavalier and crass.

Posted by Simon R at Tuesday, 9 September 2014 at 9:51pm BST

Worth saying perhaps that the Sykes volume referred to here was a multi authored volume concerned with Sykes concern for Anglican identity and many ordinands lack of it. I was a contributor and, in fact, its contents were sketched out by me and Stephen in the Porch Room of St Stephens Gloucester Rd before we adjourned for an indian meal in 1985 or 6. Its genesis owes something to my experiences as an Anglican student at the Venerable English College in Rome, a report I made to ACCM and subsequent correspondence with him and the view of SPCK that such a volume would fill a gap.
Stephen has a considered view of mission and evangelism. Chapter 6 if his accessible work "The Story of Atonement" is entitled "A Theology of Evangelism".

Posted by Perry Butler at Wednesday, 10 September 2014 at 11:22am BST

Perry I stand corrected. No excuse. My apologies. I did not have my copy to hand and should have. And thank you for your own part in it.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 10 September 2014 at 4:48pm BST

Simon R We do not know each other to my knowledge. At this distance I am not sure how I to reassure you that I have no membership of, no interest in, and absolutely no time for the picture you have of evangelical theology and ecclesiology. Nor do I know where you got it from - though there are worrying extremes to be found in every tradition of course.

Posted by David Runcorn at Wednesday, 10 September 2014 at 4:57pm BST

To be honest, David, that was the impression given - not least with such a flippant dismissal of the work of a significant Anglican theologian in the 20th Century. If you had looked more carefully at was being said in the Sykes Anglicanism volume about the Book of Common Prayer and the Anglican approach to liturgy and formation, you would have found plenty about a distinctive mode of Anglican mission and apologetics. That was in the days before Messy Church, of course, which is the panacea for all mission strategies now! But let's not take our eye off the ball of episcopal appointments, and the crying need for more people with proven intellectual weight, who will not only speak with credibility to the world beyond the ecclesiastical club; but will also challenge the prevailing 'theological' narrative in the H of B which is being dominated by those who shout the loudest.

Posted by Simon R at Wednesday, 10 September 2014 at 7:10pm BST
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