Tuesday, 3 June 2008

Planning Clergy I

Bishop Pete Broadbent, posting on Thinking Anglicans, has decided to open the brown paper and selotape just a crack regarding this report about a survey (about which there was a Sunday Telegraph splash that many including me wrote about). This report is concealed deep in Bishop land and is unavailable to anyone else except leaks or byways to journalists. He says there are five main headlines:

  • A proposal to work on gifts and skills required for future clergy.
  • Exploration of implicit models of ministry as expounded at initial vocation stage.
  • Selection criteria
  • Realistic planning on stipendiary numbers
  • The potential mismatch between numbers sponsored for ordination and the number of posts available

He thinks this report implies criticism of bishops for lacking a strategy of clergy employment.

This is obviously more reliable than the selection of a journalist for the purposes if impact, sensation and embarrassment. Perhaps it is time that the report was released, so that the survey within can be subject to criticism and the plans opened up to public gaze.

The first question is what changes are expected to clergy that would bring about a need for identifying change in gifts and skills. That means going back a stage and asking what is the change in the Church. One is financial, of course, the ongoing demand for self-sufficiency, and the other change is the greater sectarian nature of Church related to the rest of the community - resourcing a small community whatever the outreach involved to the wider community. The issues are around similar ones in voluntary bodies about paid staff and voluntary staff (some voluntary staff also being clerical), and these are managerial issues over people doing jobs, coming on top of what is given as an exclusive role to clergy which, whatever one wants to think about it otherwise, is like doing a job among other jobs. The clergy person has a role of co-ordinating, monitoring, communicating, managing the feedback, and arranging with others including people and organisations, and on top of this gets on with heading worship and the like with a few particular roles.

I'm not sure what implied models of ministry are at exploratory stage, but presumably this relates to the person putting themselves forward and their raw enthusiasms for what they thinking they are doing and will do when they put themselves forward. Of course this is not necessarily where they are going to end up. Years ago my model was of a kind of centre-point to facilitate others in a more or less theological and educational way, the importance then of the person and personality, as assisting others. I saw a kind of chaplaincy model. Had this been pursued, and accepted, it may never have been realised, with a curacy first; and such was never even a possibility in the Unitarians, which has a much more distributed voluntary society approach based on chapels alone with a paid worker as minister.

As for selection criteria, there is the potential mismatch between good co-ordinators and faciliators - yes managers - and some sort of evidence of godly people and, on top of this, what sort of doctrinal confession they give. I fall short on doctrinal confession despite having a good grasp now of theology and insider beliefs. As for other matters, I've just done an interview that had managerial elements to it, and feedback called my answering "impressive", except that it was combined with a test of high level use of data processing on MS Excel which was way beyond my abilities and the speciality as regards the data and its layout. I could do it after a day, but they picked someone else who, presumably, did it then. These two elements mismatched. It was similar recently, except in this case I would still have been employed had not someone been doing the job (presumably because the MS Excel task was a training up matter). When you get multiple or unrelated demands, as with clergy, you have to ask which do they really want? The problem can be that the qualities that lead to a good clergyperson may not be of the personality that leads to a good facilitating manager.

There are separate issues on stipendiary priests. The question is how many are needed who are paid, and how many can be unpaid and basically local. The difference is management. You can tap people on the head and they can go on to do the bread and wine, if lay presidency is not wanted, and these people can be anyone trained to a level of reading and juggling with some theological education for preaching and education too. The expectation of quality on the stipendiary but also of management is much the greater, and who should do the hours (including hours of reading, even of praying and meditating, and either self-training or joining a training session with others preferably once a week). In this context, the bishop is only a supervisory manager.

Then there is the question who comes forward. Well, you can of course ordain as many as one likes, it's just that some won't get paid by the Church and there will be no paid vacancy. There should be a minimum bar regarding education (after all, they have to be literate and handle abstract ideas to some extent), commitment to the faith and Church, and medical minimums, but the bar can be raised on the first two to match the supply.

A longer term, and more radical suggestion, and possibly a more Presbyterian direction (!) is that the paid positions are themselves bishops in waiting or bishops. You would have many unpaid clergy who could preach and do the sacraments, along with all the Readers and the other tasks, with clergy who are based in a central church and who co-ordinate and facilitate, and so will be those most likely to be bishoped. That puts a huge burden on selection, but would allow for a voluntary cleric seen to be positive and capable (of working age) to change from a secular job and be promoted to bishop. It would lead to less frustration, and would mean a largely voluntary church.

What the Church should avoid is going down the route of spurious objectives and quantitative assessments checked against those. Once upon a time educationalists discussed different theories of education, of which the neo and actual behaviourist visible input-output quantitiative model was the least cognitive and humanistic. The latter two were about the mind and about the person - surely important in ministry. Then, for education, along came league tables, statistics, public presentations, and endless testing personal and institutional. It was behaviourism gone mad, and all of it a delusion. I have 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. They do lots of work, get to university, and have no idea how to study and even less how to think.

So the communication and facilitating channels are about evaluating (in a qualitative sense) - conversations on what should be and what is taking place. Keep a record by all means, but keep away from MS Powerpoint. Clergy recruitment has nine criteria, and I'd get shot of those to begin with. You need paragraphs on what is needed with words like "discuss" to end them.

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