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 Issues | Ministry | Senior Appointments

Senior Church Appointments(GS Misc 798)

Submission to the Review Group
from the Revd David Phillips, St. Albans 243

I write in an individual capacity but I am also a Secretary to a patronage trust where we are involved in appointments to parishes and have cause often to consider why some clergy are appointed to senior office and others are not.

Introduction – on roles
In considering senior church appointments I believe the most important issue at the present time is the nature of the work to which they are being appointed.  This may be seen as being beyond the brief of the Review Group but I feel that you must address it, even if only to make some strong recommendations that the matter be addressed.

This matters for the appointments process because the nature of the role to which appointments are being made does affewct the qualities required in applicants, which in turn will affect the way in which the appointment process is conducted.

The perception of many is that there is a centralising tendency within the Church and that the roles of Bishops and others are being increasing dominated by administration.  There has been a quip that ‘Bishops are only Deacons’ which, whilst unfair, has summed up the perception.  In my own Diocese, St. Albans, a recent Diocesan initiative on mission included the following statement in relation to clergy employment issues:

‘Proposals currently under consideration are likely to have a significant impact on the work of bishops and senior staff in terms of ensuring procedures relating to appointment, review and capability are properly handled.’

My fear is that this and other changes is making our senior staff into line managers, rather than ministers of the gospel.  In the 10 years since I first became a member of General Synod I think there have been a number of pieces of legislation and other changes that have burdened Bishops and Archdeacons more and more with administration and management.

In this regard the general perception that Archdeacon is a stepping-stone to Bishops should be challenged.  The role of Bishop should primarily be that of a pastor-teacher, and the role of an Archdeacon more that of administration and organisation.  This being the case, the two roles require different and distinct gifts and in general a person is more likely to be suited for one role rather than the other.  If we treat one as a stepping-stone to the other, this can and does shape the nature of both roles in an unhelpful way.   I should say that I do not see why Archdeacons need to be ordained, but that is perhaps well beyond your scope.

Deans and Residentiary Canons are staff of a large church, albeit one with an important wider role and profile.  Since there are a few churches with larger staff teams than many of our cathedrals I see no particular reason for distinguishing between their roles and those of ordinary parish ministers.

I believe that one of the great problems we face is a lack of confidence in many of those appointed to senior posts.  There are a variety of reasons for this but it does affect particular parts of the church.  Groups like Church Society (for which I work) and Reform are generally described as ‘classical evangelical’.  We represent something between 5% and 10% of parochial clergy and many of those clergy serve in some of the largest churches in the CofE.  However, we have seen no appointment of a ‘classical evangelical’ Bishop in the last 20 years with the exception of Wallace Benn who was appointed as a suffragan by Bishop Eric Kemp of Chichester and attracted some vitriol.  There are ‘classical evangelical’ Archdeacons, although proportionately not as many as there ought to be.  We can therefore fairly claim that the appointments process discriminates against us.  This all contributes to the lack of confidence in those appointed to senior posts.

Doctrine & Life
Another contributory factor to the lack of confidence is that Bishops, in particular, are not felt by many to uphold the doctrines of the Church.   This is nothing new, but I do not believe that the controversy there has been over some appointments has helped us at all.

You must ensure that within the appointments process there is an explicit expectation that those considered for senior appointments will conform to standards of life and faith laid down in Scripture and in the formularies of the Church of England.  This does not mean a need to conduct a public enquiry into the teaching and lifestyle of individuals, it does mean that there should be widespread confidence that those involved in appointments are taking these requirements seriously, are asking questions, and are prepared to say no when someone falls short.

With this in view I take the liberty of reminding you of some of the expectations on all who are to minister in the Church of God, which necessarily, and perhaps to a greater extent, includes those who occupy ‘senior’ roles.

1Tim. 3:2-7 Now a bishop must be above reproach, married only once, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, an apt teacher, not a drunkard, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, and not a lover of money.  He must manage his own household well, keeping his children submissive and respectful in every way— for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how can he take care of God’s church?  He must not be a recent convert, or he may be puffed up with conceit and fall into the condemnation of the devil.  Moreover, he must be well thought of by outsiders, so that he may not fall into disgrace and the snare of the devil.  (NRSV)

episkopon (1 Tim 3.2) and presuterous (Tit 1.5) appear to describe the same office in Scripture.  In the polity of the Church of England this includes priests and bishops, whether they are presbyters over a local church or Bishops, Archdeacons, Deans and Residentiary Canons.

It is not sufficient to ensure that someone who is ordained already matches these requirements.  People and circumstances change and therefore our appointments process must ensure that a person for senior office is measured against these standards.  Others must have the confidence to know that those involved in appointments have taken this seriously, though obviously I do not wish to see a public examination into the private life of those considered for posts.

The instructions of Paul to Titus add a significant new dimension.

Titus 1:5-9 I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you:  someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious.  For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled.  He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it.  (NRSV)

Here is added the requirement that the presbyter upholds sound doctrine, teaches it, and refutes error.  I think other translations are clearer, for example:
He must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it. (ESV)

This requirement is clearly echoed in The Ordinal and is especially important for those who are to be Bishops.  Our appointment process must ensure that those considered for senior posts do contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3). They must be apt to teach (1 Tim 3.2), able to preach with sound doctrine (Tit 1.9) and also be competent to refute those who teach error (Tit 1.9).   Great harm is done to the Church of Christ when appointments are made of those who appear more intent on undermining the historic faith of the Church than in upholding it. 

Proven ability
As a consequence of the previous point, we should expect that in general those appointed to senior office should have proven ability in pastoral ministry.  A definite exception to this would be someone who had followed an academic career path, since the Church has always had scholar-Bishops.  In this latter case, however, scholars must have a pastoral heart, and being apt to teach means that they should have a proven ability to communicate their learning to ordinary church members in a way that stirs rather than merely informs.

My general contention is that our appointments process should favour those who have made a good work of ordinary ministry (this doesn’t necessarily mean they have grown a substantial suburban church – but that genuine fruit can be seen bearing in mind the situations in which they have laboured – rural or urban for example).

This also raises the issue that many of those who are best qualified for senior office are the least willing to take it.  One side of this is that they look at the offices and do not see them as being what they should be, this has to be addressed and I have referred to it above.  The other side is the reluctance of good people to leave parochial ministry.  One way to approach this would be to follow the example of Empress Euodoxia who kidnapped John Chrysostom in order to make him Patriarch of Constantinople!   A more workable suggestion is that the appointments process should actively seek out those who are doing a good work, and ensure that their reluctance is not a bar to them being considered, and cajoled.

I hope it is apparent that I am less concerned about the process of appointment than the role to which appointments are made and the qualities sought in those appointed to them.  The key question to do with process is that there is confidence that these concerns are being met.  I do not think there would be a review of the process if people were content with the results.  But simply playing around with the process will not solve the problems.

In the light of this I want to make some fairly brief, and possibly contradictory, points.

1.            The process must not be bureaucratically complex.  In particular, we must not create a new system which burdens Bishops and Archdeacons with more and more paperwork.

2.            Transparency is a good thing.  However, unless we opted to make all appointments by an open election, there must be some degree of discretion, secrecy and trust.

3.            Democracy is a good thing.  However, where appointments are made on a one by one basis, as they are, a smaller body can take a much more strategic view.  This includes consideration of such things as churchmanship and the needs for particular gifts, say, amongst the Bishops.  What is necessary, besides trust, is that those making appointments are to some degree accountable.  It is the fact that Bishops are largely unaccountable that has contributed to dissatisfaction with some appointments.

4.            I see nothing fundamentally wrong with the involvement of the Crown in Parliament in the process of appointments.  Episcopal churches have a tendency to focus power in the episcopacy and those around them.  At its best establishment has provided a safeguard against this.  However, it is necessary that those involved in appointments from ‘outside’ are not felt to be manipulating the process for particular ends.  The involvement of the Crown and Prime Minister must itself be seen to be more transparent and accountable.

David Phillips
29 September 2005

David Phillips is the General Secretary of Church Society and Secretary of Church Society Trust.

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