Talent and Calling is the report of a group set up to look into senior appointments in the Church of England. This group had been established as a consequence of a Private Members’ Motion put by Mr Anthony Archer. The group was not asked to consider the appointment of Diocesan Bishops beause that had already been dealt with in an earlier report which had led to changes. Instead they were asked to review the appointment of Suffragan Bishops, Archdeacons, Deans and Residential Canons.
A written submission and a presentation were made by Church Society to the group. Some of the issues we raised, which are of vital concern, were deemed to fall outside the brief given to the group by the General Synod. It was not surprising that the group took this view, but it does mean that some of the pressing issues are not going to be dealt with.
In particular we raised the following which the group felt unable to make recommendations on:
- That the posts concerned should be reconsidered to ease administrative burdens and to make them more attractive to people who see their calling in parish ministry. In particular we argued that legislative changes and practice which have laid more work on Bishops and Archdeacons (for example in appointments) ought to be reviewed.
- The pressing issue facing the church is not about process but about the theological convictions and personal lifestyle of those appointed to public ministry. We were mindful that though Mr Archer formulated his motion before the appointment of Jeffrey John as Bishop of Reading nevertheless the Synod debate took place after that event and was in some way a response to it.
- Those appointed to senior posts need to show proven ability in pastoral ministry whilst recognising that there can be instances where scholar-bishops or similar may be advantageous to the ministry of the Church.
Having been unwilling to consider these weightier matters the report addresses two main areas, the process of appointments and actual or perceived discrimination in appointments.
Section 2 of the report makes fascinating reading in itself in that it outlines the peculiarities regarding the appointments particularly of the Deans of Cathedrals because of the history of each.
Section 3 is headed “Identifying and Developing Talent” although inevitably much of this concerns the process by which this is done rather than what constitutes talent for the posts concerned. Much attention is given to how the “preferment lists” are drawn up (that is people who are actively considered as potential for senior posts). However, there are recommendations in this section and elsewhere about developing those who are believed to have potential.
They make a particular recommendation that clergy should be told if they are on the “preferments list” for various reasons, but that they should be clear that this does not mean they are likely to be appointed to one of these posts.
The Group also advised that whilst advertising is acceptable there are instances where a search process should be used to identify candidates.
Section 4 deals with issues of diversity and four groups are recognised as being in some way discriminated against by the current system - women, minority ethnic people, classical evangelicals and traditional Catholics.
It will come as no surprise that in our submission Church Society stressed the fact that there have been no classical evangelicals appointed as Diocesan Bishops in the last 20 or more years, only Wallace Benn as a suffragan and very few archdeacons or deans. We were pleased that this discrimination was recognised and the report makes recommendations to deal with this, although quite how successful they will be remains to be seen.
The Group argue that not all the fault lies with the system. Therefore in section 4.4.4 they say:
The priority that many conservative evangelicals give to teaching and evangelism can lead them to conclude that they can minister more effectively at the level of the parish than in a role within the wider diocese.
This we accept, but it is the point made earlier, that the roles of these senior posts need to be reviewed because the calling evangelicals feel is to the biblical priorities of ministry.
Ministering as a bishop or archdeacon to congregations across the full range of the spectrum of worship in the Church of England involves all bishops and archdeacons in styles and practices of worship with which they are to some degree uncomfortable. For some conservative evangelicals in particular, however, the diversity of what is lawful in Anglican worship extends beyond that in which they can in conscience engage, and this may discourage some from seeking or accepting senior appointments.
This again is fair comment and it is a big issue. What it highlights is the fact that the Church of England has drifted. I write in a building named after a one-time Dean of Canterbury (Henry Wace) a strong protestant and a patristic scholar. A century ago Dean Wace would not have been required to do things his protestant convictions disallowed. But the Church of England has added practices which were abolished at the reformation and now they are expected by some and demanded by others so that those who believe what the English Reformers believed are being excluded for certain offices.
The third thing argued in this section is:
Because of the emphasis that they place on teaching and evangelism within the local community, conservative evangelicals may also be reluctant to devote time to involvement in the life and structures of the diocese, whereas such involvement is a necessary preparation for offices which involve responsibility for the diocese’s life and structures.
We recognise that this is a fact, but again it calls into question the nature of the posts. If we had a situation where Bishops were proven pastors or leaders in mission then this sort of statement would be redundant. What is needed is a review of the work of these posts.
As with the other cases where it is believed there is discrimination proposals are made as to how these might be overcome.
Sections 5 to 8 deal with the details of process for particular types of appointment. Overall the changes seem to be concerned with tinkering with the present system.
One question which needs to be considered is whether the detailed proposals are going to prove a greater or lesser burden on Bishops and Archdeacons. If we want Bishops in particularl to be pastor-teachers and leaders in mission then all proposals need to be scrutinised to see whether they add to the existing burden or alleviate it.
A few other proposals warrant special mention.
- At present it is rare for an Archdeacon or Suffragan Bishop to move from one post to another of the same type. This means that some people can stagnate in a post. Proposals are made to try to make such moves much more likely.
- There are two Cathedrals with private patronage bodies. The group has clearly had a lively exchange with these bodies but is still proposing to weaken their role by dragging in the Diocesan Bishop as well (and thus taking up more of his time).
- When an incumbent is made a Diocesan Bishop the Crown takes the right to present the next incumbent. It is proposed that this provision should be abolished.
- When there is a vacancy in See the patronage rights of the Bishop transfer to the Crown. It is proposed that they transfer instead to a suffragan Bishop or someone otherwise designated for this purpose.
A lot of work has gone into this report, there is some fascinating background and many proposals. However, as was inevitable some of the weightier matters, which need to be addressed, were not considered because they were deemed to be outside the remit of the group.
Cross†Way article Summer 2006 (issue 101)