Can bishops save the Church?

Earlier this week, Adrian Hilton (who writes the Archbishop Cranmer blog) reprised his hosting of Martyn Percy’s views with the offering of a new set of 95 Theses, in the year of the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s original. (Contrary to suggestions in online discussion, Luther’s are not dull and rambling, and are worth a read. They form a progressive argument against indulgences in a developing sequence, and were written as a sixteenth-century proposal for an academic disputing—so if they are not quite as succinct as a Twitter post then perhaps we should not be surprised.)

In contrast to Luther (and setting aside the tongue-in-cheek pretentiousness of such a comparison), Percy’s proposals are rather thin, and noticeably repetitive. The comparison with a ‘mess of pottage’ (from Esau’s trading of his birthright in Gen 25.29) occurs more than once, and the central assertion, that bishops should be pastor-theologians and not managerial leaders, is repeated in different forms through the list, though not particularly in a way which develops the argument. Perhaps the most interesting thing about the list is that I agree with Percy’s central premise, that the central calling of bishops is to have spiritual vision, and not simply be pragmatic management gurus.

Doctrine is vital for the life of the church. Bishops need to know it, guard it and teach it. Bishops who cannot teach faithfully and ably are failing in one of their core callings.

As I have expounded previously, simply drawing on the etymology of ‘episcopacy’ tells us that this role is in part about having vision, seeing the lie of the land, the bigger picture, and what needs to happen—and then seeing that it gets done. So there is a role of implementation, but that finds its place in the context of visionary leadership. What we disagree about is what kind of vision bishops should have.

The root of my disagreement stems from what appears to be a lack of awareness on Percy’s part in two directions. First, he seems oddly unaware of what is actually happening in the Church—odd because of his breadth of experience and writings on aspects of ministry. Though he claims that the Church has ‘cut itself off’ from traditional models of episcopacy, there hasn’t been any change in liturgy, and changes in selection processes have often been in response to poor decisions in the past, which were too often based on an ‘old boys’ network’ and personal patronage—masquerading unconvincingly as the ‘spiritual discernment’ that Percy advocates. And he appears oddly unaware of the age we are living in; in noting that bishops in the past were also ‘overseers of much broader regions and territories’, he appears to be harking back to an age of Christendom, where to be a bishop meant to have a respectable standing in society by virtue of their appointment. Do we need to return to Christendom to renew the Church, then? And what theological grounding does this have?

In parallel with this, Percy argues for an understanding of bishops as intellectuals, something he again repeats more than once. ‘For the first time since the Reformation, we now have no bishops who have held a university post in theology. This is no small scandal.’ This is an odd concern for several reasons. University education has changed almost beyond recognition in the last 30 years, and what is demanded of those in full time (as opposed to honorary, part-time or consultant) roles bears little relation to the demands of the past. The concern also takes no account of the growth in research qualifications amongst not only bishops but clergy—a growth that some have questioned the value of. As one friend of mine commented:

Woah, hang on. Haven’t we had Bishops who were Intellectuals and theologians for the last 50 years. How has that worked out for us Maybe it is time to rediscover an apostolic and missional vision for episcopacy? Perhaps that is what is already happening.

Percy himself has had only 4 years as a curate in full-time parish ministry, and no incumbency experience, and there is a much broader call for future bishops to have credible experience in parish ministry than there is a call for ‘intellectual’ leadership. If clergy on the ground resent one thing more than any other, it is being told what to do by someone who has never had to do it themselves.

This leads to the second observation about lack of awareness—lack of self-awareness of what he is saying and communicating. It is not a little ironic that he is calling for greater theological understanding whilst making some basic theological errors himself. He describes ‘imperative of the Kingdom of God’ as ‘a holistic vision for humanity, communities and creation’, whilst appearing to ignore the fact that this is a theological idea which is intimately linked to questions of discipleship, and cannot be detached from questions of repentance and faith, rather than offering a blueprint for wider society (for which we need to turn from kingdom to creation as a theological category). And, in common with many others in the liberal tradition, he has a strong distaste for focussing on questions of growth (see points 78 to 80), and would rather see this as sitting in a ‘balanced’ way alongside other concerns. But the Church of England can hardly be accused of a historic over-concern in this area, and it would be interesting to speculate when this might become a major concern if not now. More significantly, it is impossible to read Jesus’ parables of the kingdom, many of which draw on metaphors of the organic, without seeing growth as a central theological quality, since ‘God is the God of the living, not of the dead’ (Mark 12.27) and ‘with God, nothing is impossible’ (Matt 19.26). Most notable from Percy’s list is that which is central to the ordination liturgy, that bishops (along with presbyters and deacons) should actually build faith in God. As one commentator on the blog post puts it:

The C of E might be healthier if it took the trouble to ensure that its clergy all believed all of what the Creed says. It is ridiculous, and far worse than merely ridiculous, to have vicars who don’t believe in (say) the Resurrection of Christ. If clergy do not believe, but retain their parishes and cures, they are thieves, frauds, and liars – as is the Church that inflicts them on Christians. Is that the sort of person whom the C of E thinks fit to be in the clergy, and to be ministers of God’s grace ? It is a long time since C. S. Lewis remarked on the oddity of a layman finding out that he believes more than his vicar. A Church of unbelieving clergy is not equipped to preach a Gospel it does not believe.

And here is the curious thing about Percy’s whole approach: why does he think that reform of episcopal appointments will be the salvation of the Church? Research does confirm that leadership makes all the difference to the health of the Church—but leadership is exercised at many different levels. Did Alpha arise from a bishop? Did the New Wine movement start with a diocesan initiative? Was church planting an episcopal idea? Was Luther a bishop when he nailed his theses up (which he probably never did)? Very often the role of bishops in practice is to give space for what God, and leaders on the ground, are up to and see where it leads.

None of this answers the practical question facing the leadership of the Church: how do we address issues of competence and practical management in an era where we seek the spiritual renewal of both Church and nation? There is a ‘target’ to be aimed at, but in attacking the people rather than the shape of the post, Percy is shooting at the wrong target. (And shooting he is; it is hard of avoid the personal insults that he sprays around at episcopal clergy colleagues, deriding the quality of their preaching, which must of course include his own diocesan bishop recently installed.) What should our response be to poor planning, bad decision-making and failed financial management? These issues are genuinely inhibiting the ministry and theology of the Church and they need to be addressed. And this probably raises more questions about the design of the role than about the appointment of the individuals concerned.

But in amongst all this there is a personal question. If you read Percy’s impressive CV alongside this post, then it screams one thing on every line, written in the invisible ink of resentment and frustration: ‘Pick me! Pick me!’ Alongside his scorn for current episcopal post-holders is the equally strong conviction that he himself would do a much better job. This is not an uncommon note to be sounded across the Church.

When I announced that I was living my role as a Personnel Manager to pursue ordination training, the first response of one colleague was ‘Oh, you will be a bishop!’ It would have been tempting to take this as personal flattery, were it not for the fact that this was someone working in recruitment consultancy who had just completed a major project on the selection of clergy and clergy leaders for a major US denomination. But I am not a bishop, and I am not likely to become one—and that is the case for most clergy, if only because of the numbers. There are still around 9,000 clergy in the C of E, and not much more than 100 bishops, so the odds are not good, and the ‘greasy spire’ is tall and very thin. (And there are many ways to exercise episcopal ministry other than being an episcopos). What people like Martyn and I, now in our 50s, need to discover is to be at peace with our vocation in terms of the place of ministry in which God has put us. If we do, then our engagement with contemporary challenges will be more positive, more gracious, and a good deal more outward looking than what has ended up as a piece of resentful ecclesial navel-gazing.

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31 thoughts on “Can bishops save the Church?”

  1. It is a strangely episcopo-centric view of the church which Percy fosters.

    We should keep saying to ourselves, neither a committee nor a bishop started Alpha, while acknowledging that committees can do good work (cf. the KJV) and great bishops make a huge difference to the church.

    But I am a bit sanguine about criticising the episcopal bench for too many managers and not enough theologians: show me a badly run diocese and I will show you distraught clergy and lay diocesan leaders crying out for a bishop who knows how to run things … show me a diocese run like clockwork but with no sense of vision and I will show you wistful clergy and diocesan lay leaders yearning for someone with a bit more inspiration and ability to cast a vision. But I am not sure that I have ever encountered a diocese longing for a really good theologian to lead it!!

    • Thanks Peter. Interestingly, that corresponds very closely to my observations about the meaning of ‘episcopacy’. There is an element of vision to it—but there is also an element of getting things done as well! We need both.

      My question, though, is whether we need both in one person. When I have been involved in discussion about situations where dioceses are facing financial challenges, my main observation has been: ‘Don’t think you will answer this by giving bishops financial training!’ All church leaders need the basics of financial literacy, but beyond that it needs to be delegated to those who are competent, both in the local church and in the diocese.

  2. His claim that no Bishops have held a university post in theology is slightly disingenuous. +Chester (PhD in patristics, or was it Barth?) was Senior Tutor at St John’s College Durham. +Exeter was chaplain at Trinity College, Cambridge, and I’m sure there are plenty more because I only know the CVs of a few bishops! Technically not “university posts” in the narrow sense of professorships, but in the broader sense they are.

    Agreed that it reads like a long “pick me!” note, which is always appreciated in the C of E and amply demonstrates the humility required for a senior post.

    • Thanks John…and of course these are the same kinds of posts that Martyn himself has held, derivative from other teaching appointments rather than being a university lectureship even.

    • I suspect there are a good many other examples too. Percy appears to be concerned that we don’t have any more ‘David Jenkins’ who were university department heads. As I mention above, this is such an odd desire, since being a University HoD is a very different job now than it was then, and much less amenable to maintaining connections with ministry.

  3. Thanks Ian and Happy New Year to you!
    Do you have a link to the primary source here? I can’t find it – or did Martyn actually publish this on the Cranmer blog?

    • Greetings Andrew. The link at the beginning is to the Cranmer blog post, which is where Martyn published his comments. I am not aware this was copied from anywhere else…and its style suggests it was written for the blog.

      What do you make of his comments?

  4. I guess I find it hard to take that particular blog very seriously really, and am surprised at him publishing something there.

    Bishops have an impossible task and I think a list of 95 things makes it seem even more impossible. I’m surprised by the lack of emphasis on prayer.

    Tom Wright is an example of a recent ‘Theologian Bishop’ and I think it’s understood that he found it impossible to give enough time to overseeing a diocese and giving time to writing and study isn’t it, and that both suffered in the process?

  5. Ian,
    I agree with much of what you say, and being in Sheffield Diocese I would certainly list the current Bishop of Oxford as someone I’d queue to hear in response to MP’s thesis 36.

    This is a side issue, but I found his thesis 7

    “A note to mission-minded managers regarding their metrics: Not everything that counts can be counted. Not everything that can be counted, counts (Einstein). Parish churches are named (often after saints). They are not numbers (on a pie-chart set within a ‘dashboard’). Naming implies identity and a personality for each church. Numbers reduce congregations to anonymous units.”

    really annoying, not because everything that counts CAN be counted, but because it felt like a “two cultures” dismissive attitude towards maths. As a typically pretentious, and non-Christian, teenager I scrawled on one of my school folders Bertrand Russell’s words “Mathematics possesses not only truth, but supreme beauty—a beauty cold and austere like that of sculpture” a view I didn’t lose on becoming a Christian (though I see now that’s actually a truncated version of what he said). I think there needs to be a counter understanding that numbers aren’t automatically depersonalising, and that more widely maths is part of the beauty of God’s creation and can be used for his glory and our edification just like anything else.

    Neither my maths degree nor my theology is up to talking deeply and clearly about that, but I wonder if it’s something you might do a post about, if you haven’t already?

  6. Appointing someone like Percy to be a bishop without ever having been an incumbent is akin to making someone with a few years experience in a Combined Cadet Force a general! God help us all …

  7. Interesting…..but only half the story.
    At some point Christian researchers and church leaders will have to start to take notice of the digital church.
    The digital church in the U.K. and around the world is exploding.
    Of course there will be outcries that the digital church isn’t church at all. In the same way that Amazon isn’t a shop, eBay isn’t a market place, Facebook isn’t a community, Spotify doesn’t sell records, NHS Direct isn’t really the health service, TED Talks aren’t really lectures, Kindle aren’t really books and YouVersion isn’t really the Bible.
    We buy shopping, do our banking, book our holidays, learn languages and so much more online.
    This is either supplemented by or replaces what once was a physical community experience.
    Is it really so difficult to acknowledge that a huge percentage of people’s spiritual discovery is also taking place in the digital space?
    We are at the beginning of a new reformation where leadership, church practice, civic and community engagement are all going to be radically impacted by digital transformation.
    For the church to flourish in this new age church leaders need to take this seriously. Otherwise we restrict our thinking and reporting to the physical church we are comfortable with, ignoring the digital church which is growing exponentially.
    This church is eclectic, democratic, fluid, and powerful and will become increasingly so in the years to come.

  8. Ian,

    In considering a response to this post and Percy’s 95 theses, I did two things:

    1. I re-read the Green Report to clarify the scope of its talent criteria and development proposals.
    2. I tabulated and grouped the 95 theses as a means of summarizing his concerns and priorities

    Percy’s grievances are to be expected, given the Green Report’s damning indictment that the theological colleges and internal trainers had been evaluated as ‘failing to provide sufficient challenge for a senior Church cohort’ (page 11) The recommendation thatThe core provider will be changed to a major university or business school (e.g. Cambridge, INSEAD, London Business School, Cass/City University) was never likely to go down well with church academics.

    Yet, for the most part, Percy’s theses are fairly uncontentious ideals of episcopal ministry, although I would also take issue with the emphasis he lays on intellectualism (Points 25, 26, 42, 45, 57 and 83)

    St. Paul may well have instructed Timothy: ‘Study to shew thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.’, but this goes far beyond intellectual effort to ensuring conformity of one’s entire life to Christ, who fulfills all that the OT prophets foretold of Him.

    Despite his expected intellectual bias, there is validity in his assertion that: ‘We need bishops who can grapple with the intellectual challenges of the day.

    As a prime example of where this has been deficient, I am reminded of the muddled circular reasoning in the CofE official response to the Government Consultation on Same Sex Marriage. By comparison, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of England and Wales (Briefing to MPs on the SSM Bill) expressed far more cogent arguments than Lambeth Palace could muster.

    Nevertheless, it’s unfortunate that the sheer number of points made by Percy detract from the principal valid one: 80. As with all things Anglican, it is a question of balance. No one can or should say that an emphasis on numerical church growth is wrong. But a continued over-emphasis on numbers simply skews the identity and ethos of the body, and our composition. The issue is one of proportion and stability, and the weight and measure of our polity as faithful Anglicans.

    Percy does him arguments a disservice by over-stating his case against managers. Managers do not always make ‘safe choices’ and they are not always ‘risk averse’.

    At the same time, you really can’t distil mission into unqualified S.M.A.R.T. objectives, for instance, for converting cathedral tourists into pilgrims. And a mini-MBA field trip for the talent pool to study an NHS trust might only provide best practice for devising useless targets and for foisting blame on the rank and file when they’re missed.

    You ask validly: ‘What should our response be to poor planning, bad decision-making and failed financial management? These issues are genuinely inhibiting the ministry and theology of the Church and they need to be addressed. And this probably raises more questions about the design of the role than about the appointment of the individuals concerned.’

    However, the answer is not to alienate theological colleges as the Green Report did, relying mainly on ‘the guided action learning that will occur between modules’ to instill theological reflection.

    The Green Report should have proposed a more collaborative approach to integrating theology into the proposed leadership programme. It could have included the theological colleges and I suspect that this is the chief cause of Percy’s gripes.

  9. “If clergy do not believe, but retain their parishes and cures, they are thieves, frauds, and liars – as is the Church that inflicts them on Christians.”

    Wow, aggressive much? Those fighting words would ensnare some of the 20th century’s greatest theologians. Anglicanism is a broad church: anyone who feels like that is, perhaps, better suited to another.

    As for Percy’s tome, here’s a succinct version: England, like every other Anglican province, introduce elections for bishops.

    • ‘Anglicanism is a broad church’.

      Yep, it’s also episcopal, but that doesn’t stop you from writing of the SEC elsewhere:
      ‘Why on earth wait for bishops’ compassion? Rights aren’t given, they’re taken. Clergy and laity rose up in righteous [sic] fury, and in no time, their province was on the road to equal marriage.’

      Yet, for the 2015 Synod papers, there was considerable irony in the Doctrinal Committee repeatedly referencing Professor O’Donovan, who was critical of the earlier Theological Commission’s focus on clarifying alternative courses of action, instead of reflecting on how the truths of the faith shed light on the presenting issue.

      And if the SEC’s attempt to placating conservatives with a boiler-plate ‘conscience clause’ is your idea of broad church, forget it!

      • Unless SEC start firing rectors, it’s not different in kind from similar conscience arrangements over divorce, robes, and women. (Surely this was something to discuss over at Thinking Anglicans?)

        As for doctrinal commissions, “truths of the faith” of course vary depending on the underlying theology, so in Anglicanism, with so many traditions to juggle, it’ll always be driven by realpolitik first and foremost.

        • James,

          ‘Surely this was something to discuss over at Thinking Anglicans?’ I’d love to and so would Christopher Shell, but we’re both banned. Perhaps, you could ask Simon Sarmiento…

          You appear to have misunderstood Professor O’Donovan’s use of the phrase ‘truth of the faith’.

          He wrote: ‘The principle on which a small and informal group offered the churches the St
          Andrew’s Day Statement eighteen years ago was that the only basis for constructive disagreement in church life is constructive agreement. The ‘mixed-economy church’ (to borrow the expression favoured in Scotland) requires a strongly built mixing bowl. This was
          already, of course, an accepted principle of the ecumenical movement.

          A good revision in practice cannot be supported by a ‘revisionist’ theology—on the contrary, it needs a thoroughly catholic and orthodox foundation. By articulating carefully everything theological that two sides in a practical disagreement can say together, we can get the scope
          of the disagreement in proper perspective, and may open the way to agreement on experiments which have a chance of commending themselves in practice.

          So long as proposals for experiment come with the label of ‘revisionism’, on the other hand, no church with concerns for its catholicity can embrace them.’

          The Rochester Report on Women in the Episcopate is a prime example of this catholic approach. In contrast, the SEC Theological Commission divided itself, in effect, into two Commissions working apart, each coming up with a comprehensive statement.

          In terms of realpolitik, you might have had a point if Bishop Inwood been set adrift by the Church for his decision to revoke Pemberton’s PTO and refusing to grant him an EPML. Instead, he received the Church’s fullest support.

          As it stands, the Church of England hasn’t capitulated to realpolitik. To state that it will (like the supposed fait-accompli of Hilary Clinton’s election victory) is no more than another example of liberal wish-fulfillment.

          • David, it’s hardly my place to intervene in this. Were you given a reason for the ban, and did you ask for the decision to be reconsidered?

            As for SEC (not the CoE*), if it’s compromised its catholicity, that’s a weak ground for objection from a protestant POV.

            * Although regarding that province, in England, realpolitik’s focused on keeping its evangelical wing onside. Unless its liberals and moderates take an organized stand, there’s no pressure to cut any bishop adrift.

          • James,

            Anglicanism may we’ll be Protestant, but it does have concerns for its ‘small c’ catholicity. The doctrine of reception has allowed for change to be introduced tentatively while ensuring due consideration of impact on the wider church.

            The inability of liberals and moderates to stand together is chiefly on ideological grounds. While some like you argue against the notion of biblical authority and that St. Paul was just plain wrong, others argue that scriptural prohibitions are inapplicable to modern PSF same-sex relationships and yet others argue for some sort of pastoral accommodation which preserves marriage as a heterosexual institution.

            Liberals and moderates need to achieve reflective coherence and deliberative clarity in order to stand together. They both prioritise ideological concerns over pragmatic progress.

            Perhaps, next month’s report by the HoB Reflection Group on Human Sexuality will provide a lifeline.

        • James, my ban was as follows. You can confirm this from the Archives. I was constantly the person who was saying ‘What do the science and statistics say?’ (and researching and promulgating same) – in other words, I was at the ‘thinking’ end of the ‘Thinking’ spectrum. I was told that (despite this!) I had not even a modicum of knowledge on the topic (unlike other contributors who scarcely ever referred to science or stats at all??), and that most of my references to the topic and to statistics were nonsense.

          This was fine in my eyes – all that needed to be done therefore was (1) to signal WHEREIN my words and researches were nonsense, or (2) to provide better science and/or stats,or (3) both. I made this point. What followed next?

          You will not believe this (or perhaps you will) but not even the slightest attempt was made to do any of (1), (2) or (3). I was simply banned.

          The organisation in question needs therefore to give evidence that they are not simply censoring things that could expose holes in their ideology. Because that is very much what it looks like, And that is the very opposite of being either ‘thinking’, or scholarly, or truthful or honest.

    • Anglicanism is (de facto but not de jure) a ‘broad church’ because the doctrinal truths of Articles 9, 10, 17 and 31- that all human beings are born with a nature inclined to evil and facing God’s wrath and condemnation, incapable, without divine grace, of taking any steps towards God, and that God has chosen in eternity those whom he will save and those, those only, will certainly be saved, and that the death of Christ propitiates and satisfies God’s just wrath – are believed ex animo by only a minority of the ordained persons in the Church, despite the fact that they have all, in the Declaration of Assent, declared that they believe that those Articles and the doctrines of the Prayer Book are true. And their conscience is untroubled because, as they see it, either those Articles and the Prayer Book need not be understood to mean these doctrines, or – the Declaration is so loosely worded that they can make honestly make it in good conscience without believing that those Articles and the Prayer Book doctrines are true.

      From the point of view of those, like me, who are convinced ex animo that the terrible diagnosis of the human condition given by Articles 9 and 17 and the Prayer Book is true, this is a disastrous state of affairs. Like officers from the same Fire Station, at the scene of a blazing occupied building, disagreeing about whether to advise the occupants that their lives are in danger and what the only way of escape is.

      This brings us again to ‘Why 2017 will be a crunch year for the Church of England’ (Andrew Goddard in the CEN) and the Church of England Evangelical Council’s discussion document on the sexuality disagreement.

      Suppose the Bishops surprise, rebuke and humble us all by opting for what the discussion document calls ‘Option 1’ – to maintain the Church of England’s current teaching and practice. This will leave the (relatively) much more important disagreement described above about God, Christ, Man and Salvation untouched.

      I know it is easy for me to talk. I am not an Anglican (but I regularly attend and enthusiastically support an Anglican Church where the doctrines of the Articles and Prayer Book are believed and preached); I am not dependant on the Church for my livelihood; I have not sworn to obey a Bishop in all things lawful and honest. But I do press the point. Whether the Bishops support Option 1, 2 or 3, surely, surely, this is the moment! At long last to openly, painfully confront the brontosaurus in the room, the long-running scandal of the ‘broad church’ and insist on some form of difficult, painful ‘institutional separation’ to reflect this (relatively) much more important disagreement.

      There is a tide in the affairs of men.
      Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
      Omitted, all the voyage of their life
      Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
      On such a full sea are we now afloat,
      And we must take the current when it serves,
      Or lose our ventures.

      Marcus Antonius:
      This was the noblest Roman of them all:
      All the conspirators, save only he,
      Did that they did in envy of great Caesar;
      He, only in a general honest thought
      And common good to all, made one of them.

      Even if your fate is similar to that of Brutus, but not quite as bad as Cranmer’s.

      Phil Almond

  10. On the whole, l can see why most bishops are bishops; they are committed to mission and in varying ways hard-working and conscientious. For the most part they have impressed others at some point in their ministries with their organisational skills and their ability to enable and encourage growth in the Churches they have served.

    Some are instinctive theologians, enabling us to ‘look again and in looking to see again’ in a way that refreshes us and helps us to grow. However, the fact is that there is no formula for the ideal 21st century bishop .

    The ones who have encouraged me are the ‘eccentrics’ in the sense of their ‘being on the edge of things.’ They have respected the historic teachings of the Church and yet have asked it some difficult but necessary questions without claiming to have all the answers! They are close to God in prayer. They love the Bible and are excited by it. They read and study it everyday but recognise that others reach different conclusions about some things that seem important to them – yet they treat them with respect knowing that although they are called to ‘discipline with mercy’ it is God alone who judges.

    They have humility, literally meaning that they are ‘earthed ‘ – they have not been seduced or rendered timid by power but have not forgotten what it is to be human. They have not undergone personality transplants. Their being bishops has not resulted in them looking over your shoulder when in conversation with you to see if someone more important is on their way! They are both liberal and conservative and, consequently, manage to frustrate and inspire both liberals and conservatives- sometimes simultaneously!

    Most of all they simply have time for others and especially for those who minister alongside them – they take time to get to know them and love them and are there when they are needed and not just when they have ‘ a vision’ to offer/ share/impose.

    We have, l think, asked too much of bishops. We know that they are not perfect and we should not expect them to be so. We need to see that they love God in Christ and that they rely on the power of the Spirit.

    No, of course they cannot save us: not by being first rate theologians (whatever that means) and not even by agreeing about everything all of the time!

  11. I’m afraid it seems to me that whilst Martyn Percy is well intentioned, his perspective has a strong whiff of ivory tower, middle class intellectualism about it, perhaps not surprising given his lack of parish experience and current role in Oxford. Of course, it is vital for our priests and bishops to have a strong theological vision and ability to communicate that clearly and compellingly. Who would disagree? In my experience that is happening across the spectrum of the CofE in so many ways – Percy seems to have not noticed St Mellitus College, and it’s very impressive staff line up and growing reputation or the Centre for Theology and Community led by Angus Ritchie. Deeply theological and deeply engaged with the church and mission.

  12. The problem seems to be a total lack of statistics about bishops, their backgrounds, their opinions and the reactions of their clergy and people to these. You will find a wealth of recent statistics on these subjects in my book, “Bishops – the changing nature of the Anglican episcopate in mainland Britain,” Xlibris, 2012.
    I started off my research with very critical opinions about our bishops, but I have to say that I found the demands upon their time and energy are well nigh intolerable.
    It would be better if they were encouraged to revert to being what they were originally meant to be – shepherds of the flock.

  13. It is interesting how everything here rotates around the hierarchy of the CoE. Yet that hierarchy is nowhere found in the New Testament. It is entirely and invention of Rome and a hangover from pre-reformation days.

    In the New Testament there was one office in each local church that had the government of that church, those men, in each church, called elders who were the overseers of the church. On them sat the responsibility for teaching, exhorting and if necessary disciplining the members of that church. They weren’t clergy but laity and the only responsibility they had was to their members and Christ Himself. They had no rulers over them, doubtless many of them were not highly educated and so they had to rely on the Holy Spirit and the Bible. Their only tradition was the Bible.

    Isn’t it curious that the one man in the early Church who was highly educated, Origen, one of two who could read both Hebrew and Greek, was also a heretic? And isn’t it strange how few of the bishops in the CoE will happily subscribe to the thirty nine articles, inadequate though they may be. Interesting too that the much vaunted Alpha doesn’t fit those 39. Perhaps it is time to apply a little discipline the the CoE and excommunicate all who are not sound in doctrine. Then, perhaps, you will have grounds to complain of the posts on Cranmers blog.


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