Friday 19 December 2014

Dear Lord Green

Thank you for your report which makes interesting reading indeed and certainly gets one thinking. here are my thoughts:

i. The Church is only as effective as the people on the ground and this means equipping and releasing laity and those engaged with the people around them (i.e. parochial clergy) but what I am seeing is a 'top down' and hierarchical structure that would be the pride of any corporate entity I have worked in or with. What this reports appears to be seeking is a Lee Iacocca or Steve Jobs at the top who is surrounded by an inner guard of alumni. A visionary and bold explorer who will be the subject of conversations and songs of praise from the workforce as they sit around the fire. BUT we already have this in the person of Jesus, the Christ.

ii. Agents of change are found not in the corporate headquarters but on the ground where the money and workers are few and the need is at its greatest - but this is also where the weaknesses of the CofE are best seen - for the pointy hats and the diocesan hordes often don't have a scooby about the real needs. My fear is that this report, albeit well intended, will do nothing to change things and will merely breed a bunch of experts who know how to turn off the lights and pull the plug on the ventilator maintaining the life of many churches!

iii. Working in an Urban Priority setting of Church, although we are broke and struggle to win souls, we have seen many come to faith and progress towards lay and ordained ministry over the past few years. People who will probably never enter the 'training pool' or be elevated to senior office but many of them will be soul winners and life changers nonetheless; and it is the pastorally engaged and able rather than the managerially enhanced who will save the CofE from extinction! What makes it worse is that some of those who are able and would serve the Church well will never be in to comfortable position of being able to swim in the pool and minister to those around them - and so the elitism and preferment and the reward of being a 'have' becomes a reality.

iv. Having been engaged in Industrial Engineering, change management and real life delivery of customer-facing teams (management and building) I am aware that knowledge of processes and procedures is helpful but, at the point of delivery, quite useless if the conditions on the ground are not fully understood. Take for instance a soldier who has operational tours and the Army under his belt and progresses through to what we used to call a 'late entry' commission. These people combine ability, experience and subsequent training to make them superb senior officers (as many who are now in 'one star' roles so ably demonstrate). This is what we need - not giving the privileged and able more whilst those who have little are given less.

v. Noting use of the term 'absolute standards', I would have hoped that rather than refer to academic veracity the standards would be those required of us as Christians, for I fear that I have read little to make me think we will be building a spiritual house for the bishops to reside in at this rate. What we are looking at is the pursuit of excellence; a place where performance and knowledge is all where  what we need is flatter structures where we perhaps have business managers to do the nuts and bolts and bishops and others engaged in pastoring the pastors, preaching the word and being people of God. For, and I quote from the same ordinal the report quotes:

'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...With the Shepherd’s love, they are to be merciful, but with firmness; to minister discipline, but with compassion.' Bishops are called to exercise authority 'to heal, not to hurt; to build up, not to destroy.'

In the light of the report perhaps we should modify it to:

Bishops are not called to be regional managers but pastors proclaiming the Gospel and, by visibly living it, to proclaim it and set others on fire for, through and for it so that the Gospel might be seen to be authoritative, attractive and compelling. They are to maintain order and discipline with humility, understanding and compassion - to 'heal and not hurt' to 'build up and not destroy' and to 'draw on ministry experience, not academe or books alone but, to advise and model'

Now what's so blesséd difficult about that? Why are we looking at entering the corporate when what we need it to proclaim the spiritual for goodness sakes?

Now I know that I am a cleric with a limited grasp of things and consider myself fortunate to be considered worthy to wear a dog collar and to shepherd people along the road to the cross. I have no ambitions to enter the pool because I know I'd drown as soon as I entered it; and I have no axe to grind because I'm a shepherd, not a woodcutter!

Yet as much as I applaud the 'Finding Talent' report for trying to address the woeful managerial, pastoral, organisational and (sadly) spiritual elements of those in senior ministry - I fear that we are in danger of exchanging our priestly birthright for a mess of management and business modelled pottage. We need to keep the management training and accentuate the theological and spiritual.

I submit this as my thinking with due respect for my senior clergy colleagues - for I am not trying to hit out at them - and in Christian love for the church of which I am privileged to serve.


UKViewer said...

Well said. In a world where we're seeking unity within the Body of Christ, this is advocacy for disunity and the restoration of a #Class System, which I felt had disappeared in our Secular, Post-Modern, Post-Christian society.

As a humble, trainee LLM, I struggle to understand how both Arch Bishops could sign up to this. Do, they really want to create a new division of elitist clergy, just as we start to get some gender equality into the church?

The content and thrust of the measures proposed, show a total lack of knowledge of what is going on at the grass roots of the church and is totally disrespectful to the majority of Clergy and Laity (who are totally excluded from the pool) across the church.

The proposals will create a self serving, self perpetuating elite, who might as well be a masonic society, Grand Masters and all - and of course, the rich vestments that they will wear will match such grandeur.

It's time to slim down, not build up. If business can function by flattening structures, perhaps it's time that the church did the same.

Vest the power in deaneries, with elected area/rural deans and let the Bishops ponce around looking good, but without any power.

Anonymous said...

Agree with pretty much everything you say about the Green report. Rod Clark, Rector of Lichfield St Chad's

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Thank you both for your comments - perhaps I'm not mad :-)

JonG said...

Very succinctly put - so I am sorry to respond with some disjointed ramblings as I attempt to compare and contrast what you have passed on of this report to my experiences in my bit of the NHS - General Practice.

I have been around for long enough to have seen the conception, the birth, the initial growth, and then the killing off of the Primary Care Trusts (PCTs) and their replacement with Clinical Commissioning Groups (CCGs - the NHS loves its acronyms). I have been around long enough to remember many of the benefits promised from CCGs were also promised from PCTs.

One of the new claims made is that, while the PCTs were Management led, the CCGs are Clinician led. What this appears to mean in practice is that the clinicians on the CCG board become indistinguishable from the managers they work with. They learn the same managementspeak, such that I am tempted to draw up some B.S. Bingo cards to distribute at the next business meeting I am required to attend. It s true that doctors often use complicated terminology, but the intention is generally to convey detailed information concisely. Managementspeak seems designed to obfuscate, and our leadership have rapidly become skilled at it.

Like the CofE report, the stated intentions of CCGs sound laudible - much is made of "the patient experience" and similar positive things. But the detail is all about what I call the three Ps - pathways, protocols and procedures, and the reality is that the patient has to be fitted into these, rather than the protocols fitting the patient needs.
Appraisal, and particularly 360-degree appraisal, is another current big thing in the NHS. The trouble is that such 360degree feedback so often says far more about the provider of the feedback that about the subject. In my workplace, we had quite a disagreement recently with a colleague, who has since had to get such feedback. My trust in the system is such that, despite our disagreement, I would have felt unreasonable in giving negative feedback. Yet a few years ago, because I was unwilling to follow the agenda of a former colleague, that person made some entirely unjustified public criticisms of me. Fortunately this was before the days of 360degree feedback, but how fair would that colleague's feedback on me have been?
Likewise, at my annual appraisal, I am supposed to report complaints and compliments from patients over the previous year. Again, such bouquets and brickbats often say more about the bestower, and only I know which are justified and which, positive or negative, are not. I will have to report a time-consuming complaint arising from my following local prescribing policy (that I have my concerns about anyway), and I get very nice letters where the subtext to anyone who knows the situation is "look I am being extra nice to you, so you Will stop challenging me about the number of sleeping tablets, won't you?" Any honest GP is also likely to tell stories of fulsome thanks from patients or relatives where the GP is very aware that they did not manage the illness as well as they would have hoped.

And so, when I see many parallels between what is being proposed in this report and what I see in a rather negative light in the NHS, I cannot help but have a lot of concerns.

Of course, the other side of the coin is to ask what, in the corporate world, do good managers actually achieve? Do they achieve good customer service, a good working environment, and financial stability, or do they provide skills at evading corporate responsibility, ever more efficient ways for business to provide as little bang for as much buck as possible, and ways for senior management to maximise their bonuses and move on to new troughs before the chickens of short-termism come home to roost?

I am not anti-management, but management should be about enabling and supporting the coal-face workers (clergy, nurses, doctors etc) in performign their roles rather than in deciding their priorities and working practices for them.

Anonymous said...

Don't think you being mad was ever in doubt.

But you are passionate and balanced and more than just a little wacky and

What I which so many of my colleagues were besides.

Have a great Christmas

Steve T

Anonymous said...

An excellent assessment

Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

I don't see this as being anything other than an exercise in opposing that which is already in place. Nothing has changed in the way that those who become senior clergy are selected, those who are approved of feted by the bishops. You are merely kicking against the goads.

Previous post reposted with a couple of changes to avoid offence.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

Thank you all for your comments.


Undergroundpewster said...

I agree with your modifications.

A look back at the successes and failures of Christian organizations might be helpful. Every long lasting monastic model raises people from the bottom up to become abbots. They don't always promote the best or brightest and it doesn't always work out, but there are models such as these that attempt to emuluate the idea of servant leadership that Christ tried to teach us.

Anonymous said...

Having just come across this as a link elsewhere I have to say that you appear to have engaged in a quite balanced and informed assessment of the Green Report and have in your various considerations preceding this letter helped me understand what is on offer.

Happy new year