Sunday, June 08, 2008

Church of England bishops concerned over the quality of the clergy

This item in the Daily Telegraph decribes the content of a report from the Church of England House of Bishops expressing concern over the quality of the Church of England clergy. On the one hand, there is concern over the abilities of new entrants to work in a professional and competent way with teams of skilled lay volunteers and colleagues; and on the other, that too many experienced older clergy have lost their enthusiasm for the role.

These are valid concerns and there are some welcome suggestions of a strategy for how things might be improved going forward. At the same time, it needs to be recognised that the stresses upon parish clergy in the Church of England go wider and deeper than pay, pensions and housing; though these are important. Oversight and support from the wider church structures are patchy at best, because resources are over-stretched; the cultural and social standing of Christian clergy has been significantly diminished in the last quarter century; and the sheer quantity of demands upon clergy to introduce and manage change have outstripped the resources available to them to achieve these tasks effectively. Just one example - the introduction of IT has challenged older clergy who have had to find ways from their own resources of catching up in practical and administrative matters. The list of issues and challenges parish clergy have needed to cope with in recent years , largely relying on their own time and initiative, is very long indeed. Older clergy who happen to have lower levels of physical and psychological resilience will have found it very difficult to make up their skills deficits given the general lack of support.
Mention these points to diocesan training depratments and quite often some officers will complain that clergy are offered training and consultancy but don't take it up. However, this misses the point. De-motivated or over-strectched clergy are not just going to pick up the phone and book themselves on training courses as soon as the latest mailing arrives from the diocesan office. More likely than not they won't see the notice in time to do anything about it anyway, because it wil have been buried in their inbox , possibly unopened, for a week or few.
In his strident book about the Church of England, Last Rites: The End of the Church of England, Michael Hampson is bitter, understandably given the church's attitude towards his sexuality I guess; but nonetheless telling points are made. One that sticks in my mind is his insight that in the Church of England the congregations are irrelevant and the parish clergy are almost irrelevant in terms of power. All the power comes down hierarchically from the Crown and is almost totally vested in the bishops.

4 comments:

Michael Hampson said...

Not bitter. It's an upbeat, hopeful book: the epilogue makes that clear, I hope.

“His apologia ... is consistent, lucid, and, at times, moving. He emerges from these pages as an interesting and complicated mixture: a liberal, who is a Catholic (in Anglican terms), influenced by the charismatic movement, disrespectful of inherited institutions, and balanced in judgement. There is no bitterness in this book ... What there is, and it is found evenly, is an impressive pastoral sensitivity ... The Church of England plainly lost a good parish priest.” - Edward Norman, Literary Review.

Thanks for the namecheck. Google Alerts brought me here ;)

www.michaelhampson.co.uk (and scroll down)

Michael Hampson said...

Not bitter. It's an upbeat, hopeful book: the epilogue makes that clear, I hope.

“His apologia ... is consistent, lucid, and, at times, moving. He emerges from these pages as an interesting and complicated mixture: a liberal, who is a Catholic (in Anglican terms), influenced by the charismatic movement, disrespectful of inherited institutions, and balanced in judgement. There is no bitterness in this book ... What there is, and it is found evenly, is an impressive pastoral sensitivity ... The Church of England plainly lost a good parish priest.” - Edward Norman, Literary Review.

Thanks for the namecheck. Google Alerts brought me here ;)

www.michaelhampson.co.uk (and scroll down)

David Hodgson said...

Peace Michael - "bitter" is way too harsh :)

Michael Hampson said...

:)

On the main issue of the quality of the clergy...

...by the time I left after 13 years, more than half those ordained alongside me had already left. I was behind the game in staying so long. I tracked them all down and interviewed them all in preparing the book. They were good people.

And the average age of new ordinations has topped fifty and continues to rise. Nothing wrong with those folks, but where are the others?

While preparing Last Rites I realised that the fundamental problem (in the current intra-Anglican disputes) is not about the attitude to scripture or tradition or modernity - it's much more fundamental than that. It's about our image of God. The people on the various sides in the current church wars have incompatible images of God: who God is, and what God believes. The inevitable consequence was the provocatively titled "God without God", with theology that is (according to one episcopal reviewer) "surprisingly conservative". Well, I never did fit in a box...

:)

www.michaelhampson.co.uk
www.godwithoutgod.com