Comments: CofE Director of Communications appointed

This is an excellent appointment. Tashi Lassalle was an active parishoner of St Alban’s Copenhagen in the Diocese in Europe when I served as Chaplain there.
Tashi will bring passion for communicating the Gospel in dynamic ways and vibrant leadership to this vital role.

Posted by Jonathan LLoyd at Monday, 23 October 2017 at 11:09pm BST

Congratulations to Tashi Lassalle on her vital new appointment.
If it is correct that Lord Carlile's Report on Bishop Bell has already been received at Lambeth what is the reason for the delay in publishing the same? Has the Archbishop been waiting for the new Director of Communications to be appointed in order to handle the fallout?

Posted by Father David at Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 8:39am BST

I suppose spin-doctors are a regrettable necessity of the present age even in the church. I am reminded of Thomas Aquinas' famous acknowledgement that brothels are a necessary conduit for human sin: like sewers beneath a palace, they may be unsavoury, but they at least channel the filth of human nature. I mean no slight no the no-doubt excellent Tashi Lasselle when I say that Creation groans for the day when there will be no more Directors of Communications.

Posted by rjb at Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 9:44am BST

Good question, Father David.

Given the delay, I think we can expect the Carlile report to be released on a Friday afternoon dominated by other news.

Posted by Jeremy at Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 2:01pm BST

Classy: comparing a professional with a good CV employed by the Church of England to a brothel and to a sewer.

Posted by Interested Observer at Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 3:28pm BST

Watch your language rjb! People who use the term 'spin-doctor' are usually cynics who (1) fail to recognise modern media as God-given means of communication and (2) assume all communicators are corrupt. Honi soit qui mal y pense.

Posted by John Barton at Tuesday, 24 October 2017 at 5:42pm BST

That is certainly below the belt rjb. As one of the longest ever serving DCOs I have never known any colleague who could be described as a "spin doctor". Just honest, media savvy people, trying to do a good job attempting to portray the Church in the media and giving it the high profile it deserves....warts and all! That really is a cheap jibe I'm afraid. Apologies on a postcard please to....!

Posted by Robert Ellis at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 10:25am BST

In the interests of balance, and taking Tashi out of the equation, I'm with rjb on this one, up to a point.

I share rjb's scepticism about the fad for the 'presentational' and the communications/PR industry.

Part of my scepticism lies in the way corporations and politicians use communications experts to filter and control information in the interests of the bosses who pay them.

I accept that projecting the Church positively is a challenge, and communicating much of the good work that goes unseen in parishes is something worth doing.

At the same time, there is a clear desire at the top of the Church to control the agenda and 'spin' things their way. You have only to recall Justin's seriously misjudged spin after the meeting of the ACC in 2016, where he tried to 'present' the fact that the ACC had physically received the Primates sanctions position (fact) as a fantasy that by 'receiving it they were endorsing it (fiction - repudiated by leaders of that meeting).

We also frequently get press statements from the anonymous 'Church of England spokesperson' making statements and assertions that fly in the face of what Anglicans in England actually believe on the ground. And don't get me started on the way that many Diocesan websites erase LGBT issues and lives and presence, out of fear of upsetting people.

Spin goes on all the time - and therein lies, I suspect, rjb's concern. It's not the whole picture of communications, but it's there, and as the Church of England is pushed increasingly towards managerial and corporate models and practices, it's a tendency of information control that does deserve to be monitored and open to challenge.

Susannah

Posted by Susannah Clark at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 1:01pm BST

Without addressing the more vigorous metaphors that rjb used, in my opinion clumsy spin doctoring has been all too common in CofE communications over the past decade. I hope this new appointment will result in less doubletalk and greater credibility.

Posted by Jeremy at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 1:54pm BST

Having had my research - and character - attacked and distorted by CofE comms under its previous head I jib at the idea this is just clumsiness. Clear matters of fact and history were denied in order to preserve 'face'. In one instance even the combined objection of members of the Ecclesiastical History Society was not enough to call forth an apology or retraction of error. It's bad enough that much of our news is now generated by PR organisations; worse surely that a church should invest so much in an outfit that has shown little regard for truthfulness. I wish the new head good luck - and judgement - in trying to change this culture. I am told that cases of abuse are currently taking up most of the effort of central and diocesan comms, so this couldn't be more important. Can we hope for honesty and no more cover ups?

Posted by Linda Woodhead at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 2:33pm BST

To Linda's post I would add two things.

1. Last year I was asked to write a preface to the annual statistics publication. Bev Botting, who I greatly admire, said that what was needed was something to reassure people that statistics are important and to thank them all for all the work they do filling in returns, etc. The piece was carefully written not to be in any way political or biased. I will try to find a way of posting it on here, if it isn't too long, so readers may judge for themselves.

At the very last minute, Bev contacted me, very embarrassed, to say that they would not be able to publish it, but were substituting something else. When I read the something else, it was an unmitigated piece of spin, frankly trying to make a plus out of a minus.

2. The completely fallacious claim that the appalling gender pay gap of the church institutions was "75% OK" when it most certainly wasn't. That's been discussed on another thread, but the comms department showed themselves woefully unable to realise that the figures actually paint a very sorry picture (by the way slightly mitigated by the appointment of a woman in the top quartile as comms director).
The fallacy that the comms department made was so ridiculous that I even thought of sending it to the Royal Statistical Society magazine as an example of the complete misuse of statistics. Furthermore I noted at the time that if any Government Department had behaved that way, they would most certainly be hauled over the coals by the Statistics Authority.

In a way I think it's a pity that the new comms director is such an active church person already. Someone coming completely from outside might have been better at taking an objective view (as happens in most other organisations..what is needed is experience at comms, however gained.) Nevertheless, if she is a good professional, she will hopefully resist the temptation to spin at all costs. Perhaps we should all chip in for a big notice for her desk (or an indelible screen saver on her tablet) which says "The truth will set you free."

Posted by Bernard Silverman at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 7:22pm BST

Anyone who, in the light of last week's catastrophic 'Statistics for Mission', is able to state with a straight face that the Church of England "has a bright and vibrant future" can hardly be described as anything *but* a spin-doctor!

Posted by Laurence Cunnington at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 7:26pm BST

Here's the preface that wasn't published.

The Book of Numbers shows that statisticians have been at work for a lot longer than most people realise, but the real explosion in statistics happened in the 19th century, starting with the census of 1801. There was great anxiety around being considered as "just a statistic" and probably people still feel that anxiety today. However, counting millions in a census does not threaten the individuality of those millions at all; the psalmist already saw through this fallacy: "He determines the number of the stars; he gives to all of them their names." (Psalm 147:4)

Used properly, statistics have been of enormous human benefit. Nineteenth century cities were very unhealthy places. Nobody knew that cholera was transmitted by drinking bad water until John Snow, by very careful statistical analysis, showed that cases of cholera in a London epidemic were clustered around a particular pump. Florence Nightingale was one of the most distinguished statisticians of the nineteenth century. She and others revolutionised hospital practice by collecting data on deaths and serious illnesses caused in hospitals with different regimes. In the twentieth century Richard Doll, by statistical study, established the danger of smoking, and statistics show that if you smoke, you have about a 50% chance of premature death. Doll's work alone has improved and lengthened the lives of millions of people.

Just as statistics, properly collected and used, are of wide benefit in society, so they can be very good servants for the church. Church statistics are just one of the ways we should be attentive to what is going on around us. Our growth and mission has the best chance of success if we understand our church and those in our parishes and consider how best to meet the needs of those we aim to serve and minister to. As individuals, and at diocesan and national level, we should base our work, and the way we allocate our time and our resources, on evidence rather than our own possibly uninformed opinions. The statistics the Church and others produce are an important part of that evidence, especially if we can collect good information on an ongoing basis. This is all part of our prayerful discernment of God’s will for the church, ensuring that we remain rooted in reality and informed by experience (successes and failures) and the possibilities around us.

I commend the Statistics for Mission report, which of course depends for its value not just on the professional and innovative work of the Research and Statistics Department. What makes the report possible and valuable for all of us is the efforts made by thousands of clergy and laity up and down the country who record and report numbers attending services and many other pieces of information. This is a supremely communal effort of which we should all be proud.

Posted by Bernard Silverman at Wednesday, 25 October 2017 at 8:18pm BST

I think alarm bells should ring when it comes to Prefaces! Remember 1988 and the anonymous Crockford's Preface that was actually published? This was highly critical of the leadership of Archbishop Robert Runcie and resulted in the sad demise of Gareth Bennett once he was uncovered as being the author of the same!
Prefaces which attempt to make "a plus out of a minus" are best avoided and should "remain rooted in reality" and grounded in fact rather than camouflaged with "spin".

Posted by Father David at Thursday, 26 October 2017 at 6:24am BST

I had the same experience as Linda and Bernard. We are all, or have been, senior academics.

Posted by Iain mclean at Thursday, 26 October 2017 at 7:12am BST

All that stuff in the gospels about mustard seeds and 'with God nothing shall be impossible', and faith that moves mountains - could sound suspiciously like spin couldn't it? And how often God works there through the least and the smallest. This is where we started. There a difference between faith that hopes and believes in a future even in the most challenging circumstances - and groundless optimism. Don't we want people in these national roles who have faith and hope in what God can still do in world and church? And, yes of course, who are grounded in the realities of what we are facing.

Posted by David Runcorn at Thursday, 26 October 2017 at 9:30am BST

Father David---had my preface been published it would not have been anonymous, I can assure you!

Posted by Bernard at Thursday, 26 October 2017 at 3:36pm BST

Linda. I also have a source that suggested that the senior clergy and safeguarding officers etc are extensively involved in, to quote, 'a firefighting exercise' in dealing with abuse allegations. I have been puzzled at an apparent lack of compassion for victims by these same authorities. Also seemingly absent have been offers of pastoral and psychological help. Perhaps the numbers of survivors currently coming out of the woodwork has made the powers that be feel overwhelmed. Time will tell.The Smyth scandal has by no means gone away as Andrew Brown makes clear in today's Church Times.

Posted by Stephen Parsons at Friday, 27 October 2017 at 8:12pm BST

Early November?

Does this timing mean that the Carlile report will be released on the afternoon of Friday 10 November, the day before Remembrance Day?

Posted by Jeremy at Monday, 30 October 2017 at 8:22am GMT
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