The crisis of episcopal leadership in the Church of England

We have a serious crisis in the episcopal leadership of the Church of England. It has more than one dimension to it, and, as with any crisis, it has been a long time coming. If your ceiling caves in because a water leak has weakened the structures, you can be sure that the water has been leaking for some while (as we found out in our kitchen a couple of years ago!). The dimensions of this crisis include questions of role, training and education, and selection and appointment—but also more fundamentally of theological vision.

These questions have been brought into sharp focus by the news, leaked to the BBC, that Paula Vennells, chief executive of the Post Office during the Horizon scandal when 700 postmasters were wrongly convicted of fraud, was shortlisted for the role of Bishop of London, historically the third most senior post after the two archbishops. I will return to Vennells and her significance at the end of this piece.

Four years ago, I wrote a piece ‘In defence of bishops‘ as a response to comments by Matthew Parris and Sarah Coakley on the inadequacy of the current bench. (Bishops appear to be a relatively safe target for criticism in the media). I noted that part of the problem is that we have reached a point where, as far as I can see, the role of bishop in a diocese is just not doable:

The one thing I would agree on with Coakley (and possibly Parris) is the desire for bishops who model good preaching and teaching. The problem here is putting that alongside all the other demands that we make of them. They need to be good administrators (who wouldn’t want a quick reply to a request?); financial managers (how else will the diocese balance its budgets?); competent strategic thinkers (else who will lead us into growth?); concerned pastors (who else is looking out for the clergy?); effective in discipline (someone has got to keep everyone in line, even if that contradicts the previous concern); they must offer an effective voice in national debates (to raise the quality, as Parris argues)…and so on. As a recruitment consultant once commented to me, it is the multi-coloured unicorn brief!

I am very impressed when I hear from some of my episcopal friends that they are continuing to study, to read the scriptures extensively, and to engage with theological reading. But I am also aware that many of them feel overwhelmed by the bureaucracy, particularly the bureaucracy of our safeguarding culture. In that regard, they are suffering from the same as clergy in parishes; a recent survey found that clergy spend more time on routine administration than they spend on preparing sermons. And the safeguarding bureaucracy at a local level has got completely out of hand—and to no good effect as far as I can see. We have more safeguarding files in our church than we have members of the electoral roll; someone cannot help with serving coffee, supervised by another, without undergoing safeguarding training; and my wife, a GP with extensive safeguarding training and experience, is told that none of that counts for the church, and she must do additional courses. If that is what it is like at the local level, I cannot imagine what it is like in a diocese.

But part of the crisis of leadership relates to the role of the diocese. A few years ago, our previous diocesan secretary opened a meeting of our deanery by claiming ‘The diocese is the basic unit of the church.’ The clergy in the meeting gasped audibly; one walked out. Where has this idea come from? Is this really an Anglican understanding of ‘the church’? I cannot even think of a theological rationale for ‘the diocese’ or any trace of such an idea in the New Testament. The fact that many of our dioceses closely match our counties—which are convenient, regional, administration and bureaucratic units—seems to me to give the game away.

I noted, at our last diocesan synod meeting, that in our diocese we have 113 stipendiary clergy posts. However, eight of those are funded on a time-limited basis, and of the other posts, 20 are currently vacant. That means that we have only 85 filled, non-time-limited, stipendiary clergy posts. At the same time we have a total of 50 FTE central staff posts—and I don’t think we are untypical. Of course, it is important to note that neither the number 85 nor even the 113 represent all the stipendiary ministry in the parishes; many churches have paid administrative support, and stipendiary lay ministry include student workers, children’s and families workers, and other specialist posts, including those funded from national central funds (in our church we have a Spanish-speaking pastor funded through SDF). For the sake of clarity, the diocese maintains that they have closer to 41 in genuinely central staff posts (which includes 5 working in the Board of Education supporting their 75 church schools and 5.5 in safeguarding), with the 9.5 other posts in front-line ministry—including chaplains in the two universities, part-time school chaplains in the seven Church of England secondary schools, and staff working ‘on the ground’ with children and youth in parishes across the diocese.

I am sure my diocese is not exceptional—in fact, we are probably better off than many. Paul Williams has courageously committed not to cut stipendiary parish posts, in contrast to our neighbours in Sheffield and Leicester, as well as Chelmsford, Liverpool, and numerous other dioceses. And we have been more proactive than most in applying for national funding. But this still raises the question: can that really be the right kind of proportion? There are statutory responsibilities that must be fulfilled (for example, in relation to education and church schools) but it feels to me that we are seriously out of balance. It would be very interesting to compare the proportions across all dioceses—but I don’t think there is anywhere these are collated.

This raises a wider questions about the culture of the Church—what we think is important, and what needs to be addressed. I was very struck by a Twitter thread by Gerry Lynch, from Salisbury diocese, in which he put his finger on the philosophical and theological issues which have been shaping church leadership for a generation or more, prompted by a screenshot of the programme for bishops’ training.

‘The C of E has been strangely convinced since ~1990 that its crisis was caused by poor management. But what it actually has is a narrative crisis, which it shares with Christianity throughout the West for reasons that have little to do with it specifically. Asking an organisational psychologist to offer suggestions as to how to fix the C of E’s crisis is like asking a plumber to tell you how to fix your crashed hard drive. These people have no particular insight as to what besets the C of E and Western Christianity generally.

Christendom & the modernist paradigm which replaced it struggled for a century before the latter triumphed in most of the West ~1963. The Church not only capitulated to but attempted to assimilate modernism. Doing so usually made the Faith untransmissible across generations. High modernism was marked by strong confidence in scientific, technological, and moral progress; deference to expertise and technique or the verisimilitude of them; faith that humanity could master nature (including human nature) & a disregard for the historical and local. What jumps out from the topics and teachers in the C of E’s pre-bishop training course is a High Modernist faith in technique, expertise, and quantitative measures—or at least in people who can bullshit effectively about them.

But we don’t live in 1963 anymore. People all over the West have been gradually losing faith in the modernist narrative pretty much since it started; at first it was slow and barely visible, but I think now we all appreciate there is a crisis of faith of Westerners in their leaders, institutions & ideologies. But nothing has come to replace modernism; both modernism’s own contradictions & post-modernism corroded it but PoMo could build nothing in its place. So we have the modern political faultline of “populists” versus “progressives” and technocrats. The progressives and technocrats still believe in the old faith of High Modernism; the populists opportunistically penetrate its crumbling walls, like migrating peoples into the late Roman Empire, without themselves being able to create a new organising principle for society.

Which is where we jump back to the course. This reads like something that would have been exciting at a theological college in the 70s, with people desperate to make the Church ‘useful’ and “outward-looking” in an age of “modern liberal democracy”. The idea that liberal democracy is looking insecure even in its heartlands, or that runaway progress might end up killing an awful lot of people doesn’t get a look in here – although its shot through the popular discourse of the 2020s.

The C of E, while sometimes opposed to the progressives, has also lined up squarely and almost universally behind the technocrats in opposition to the populists. But the populists aren’t destroying technocracy, merely opportunistically taking advantage of its slow implosion. Surely the question all Christians in the West should be asking is how Faith can carry us through us through a time of political and cultural crisis and possible collapse? Truly looking outward means turning our back on the failing systems and ideas of modernity.

It has been fashionable for 2 generations to sneer at the idea of Church as lifeboat, but in times when the floodwaters are actually and not just metaphorically, rising, is it bad to look inwards and backwards at the Church’s spiritual & cultural resources for crisis eras? That’s the sort of leadership I want from our bishops; not attempting to do what the Diocesan Secretary is already there & better trained for, but proclaiming Christ’s Good News in a time full of bad news in a way that makes me want to follow, and bring my people with me.’

Gerry has expanded these thoughts into an article for The Critic, The Failure of Anglican Managerialism, and he ends it with this plea:

The sad thing is that the bishops of the Church of England are, in the main, talented, thoughtful, and caring men and women. They are called to shepherd an institution whose cultural and spiritual resources are keyed specifically to times of crisis—and indeed a culminating crisis when all human attempts to build heaven on Earth will end in disaster. If they speak, gently, liberally, sophisticatedly, about that grand narrative, they may find that people are more interested in these than in the latest theories of experts whom they increasingly mistrust.

In making this comment, he is echoing two other important commentators, one from outside and one inside the Church. The voice from outside (still, just) is that of Tom Holland, when asked by Glen Scrivener what he would like to hear Christians preach:

I see no point in bishops or preachers or Christian evangelists just recycling the kind of stuff that you can get from any type of soft left-liberal because everyone is giving that. If I want that I know I can get it from a Liberal Democrat councillor! If you’re a Christian, you think that the heart of the entire fabric of the cosmos was ruptured by this strange singularity where someone who is a God and a man sets everything on its head.

To say it’s ‘supernatural’ is to downplay it! I mean this is this is a massive singularity at the very heart of things and if you don’t believe that it seems to me you’re not really a confessional Christian. And if you believe that, it should be possible to dwell on all the other weird stuff that traditionally comes as part of the Christian package. It seems to me—largely from a cursory look at Thought for the Day—that there is a deep anxiety about this—almost a sense of embarrassment—’oh, Jesus was just a nice guy.’

But it is all a lot weirder than that, with the supernatural panoply of angels and so on…ultimately, if this is to be preached as something true, the strangest of it has to be fundamental to it. I don’t want to hear what bishops think about Brexit; I know what they think about Brexit, and it is not particularly interesting.

The voice from inside the Church is that of David Goodhew, in his analysis of the decline of attendance in the Church of England—and why at times the Diocese of London has been an exception to that:

Why has London been different? First, London prioritized congregational growth over decades. That might sound obvious. But you’d be surprised how easy it is to evade the obvious. Large sections of the C of E see the growth and multiplication of congregations as unnecessary or impossible. In the last decade there has been more rhetoric about growing churches, but all too often it is accompanied by minimal action, or ineffectual action. Prioritizing growth means serious focus on sharing faith and multiplying congregations—and a willingness to use hard metrics to face up to what is happening…

The Diocese of London is not the only sign of growth in British Christianity. There are some good things happening elsewhere in the C of E. But most of the other signs of growth are to be found outside of Anglicanism. Many churches in Britain are growing, But most of the growing churches are not Anglican. Immigration is a significant driver of growth, but not for every growing church. Alongside this, historic denominations such as Methodism and Presbyterianism are collapsing.

The primary common denominator is theology. Those trimming faith to fit in with culture have tended to shrink, and those offering a “full-fat” faith, vividly supernatural, have tended to grow. This is as true of the ultra-liturgical Orthodox as it is of the ultra-informal Pentecostals.

Giles Fraser has also criticised the managerialism he sees in the Church of England. But he confesses that, at one time, he agreed with this agenda: ‘In 2015, without recognising the irony, I wrote for the Guardian: “We must do to the churches what Beeching did to the railways.” And I think he still makes a major mistake in his approach to this now and what he sees as the alternative.

I was a fool to think that the local parish church could be replaced by vicars in regional hubs, fired with start-up entrepreneurial energy but hiding behind their laptops. I wanted some quick fix to the church’s slow decline, but I helped to make it worse. Clergy were described as “limiting factors”, church buildings as expensive millstones. Out with the old in with the new. Move fast and break things, was the spirit of the age.

But the (now notorious) phrase ‘limiting factors’ was not uttered by someone committed to managerialism—rather, precisely the opposite. It was said by John McGinley, someone who is passionate about the need for spiritual renewal as key to church growth. The observation that clergy are ‘limiting factors’ relates to the way that clergy can often be committed to traditionalism, and obstacles to the church planting and evangelism that we need to see. Similarly, the use of the Strategic Development Fund, despite some setbacks, has not been about implementing managerialism, but specifically about seeing people come to faith and grow in their discipleship. This can be seen in the fruit of new church plants, which have a youthful energy, an enthusiasm, and a commitment to invitation that most Anglican churches lack. The success of the church planting initiatives that have grown out of HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton) have not been a result of managerialism, but a confidence in the gospel and the power of God to change lives. The Alpha course epitomises this sense of a commitment to invitation, and an expectation that people will have a genuine encounter with the presence of the living God.

This brings us back to Paula Vennells and the question of selection and training of bishops. Giles Fraser notes:

Despite the fact that Vennells had almost zero parish experience, never having been a vicar for instance, her candidacy for the post of Bishop of London—the third-most senior clerical job in the country—was supported by Welby.

She trained part-time on what was then the Oxford and St Albans course, and appears to have undertaken no further theological study. The idea that someone with so little theological understanding, and absolutely zero experience in stipendiary ministry, could be considered as a candidate for the third most senior position in the Church, is quite astonishing. It indicates a complete loss of faith in the importance of either ministerial experience or theological depth on the part of someone. And it does seem clear that she was put on the short list by Justin Welby; as Fraser again notes:

I imagine the Archbishop of Canterbury now rather regrets the foreword to his book Reimagining Britain: Foundations for Hope in which he credits Vennells with having “shaped my thinking over the years”. But this wasn’t just a rhetorical tribute: Vennells’s thinking has left its mark on more than one national institution. Across her careers, she has championed and centralised precisely the kind of centralising managerialism that leaves the little people forgotten. It is exactly this approach that Welby has galvanised as a battering ram against the local parish church throughout his tenure at Canterbury.

The book in question was so poor that I could not bring myself to write a proper review. In surveying the recent history of economic change in Britain, it completely ignored the most significant change of all—the impact of Thatcherism. Welby appeared to be completely blind to the monetarist reductionism and the concentration of elite power that this has brought. And it has in turn led to a series of Commissioners, at least one of which (on the family) represents a complete loss of confidence in a Christian theological outlook and its value for society.

Vennells’ consideration for London highlights the major problems with the appointments process, not least its secrecy and the consequent misuse of power of those involved. It has also been leaked that there were in fact four people shortlisted, the other two being Chris Cocksworth, then bishop of Coventry, and Graham Tomlin, then bishop of Kensington. It is extraordinary to think how different things might have been—and how different the post-LLF process might have been—had either of them been appointed. As it is, the Church has lost both of them from episcopal leadership.

Where has this crisis in leadership left us? There are two important, objective measures which highlight the problem. The first is the continued—even accelerating—decline following Covid. Other churches appear to have ‘bounced back’, but this is not yet happening for the Church of England.

COVID was bad for the Church of England. And new data show just how bad. Overall, the church lost one in five of its Sunday worshipers during COVID. For children at worship, it’s worse.

Long-term decline coupled with COVID has left much of the church in deep trouble. Yes, there are wonderful pockets of vitality, but their number is shrinking. The new data show that, during COVID, the condition of much of the church has moved from serious to critical.

We must note that this is not a universal problem for Christian churches. Overall, church attendance is not in decline in England; where the historic denominations are shrinking, others are growing—and there appears to be a distinct unwillingness of our leaders to ask why that is.

The second is the number of candidates coming forward for ordination training. In 2020, 591 people entered training; last September that had plummeted to 355, a drop of 40%. I don’t think it is possible to argue that this is still a delayed effect of Covid; if Covid had delayed things, then we would now expected to see a jump as Covid-delayed candidates started coming through. A change in the discernment process has had an effect—but it is hard to deny that uncertainty and loss of confidence, particularly because of the way the bishops have conduced the post-LLF debates about sexuality, is a major factor.

So what should we do in the light of this? The difficulty is that it is hard to inspect and maintain a vehicle when it is travelling at speed, especially downhill. Here’s something we might want to avoid: continuing to devote masses of time and energy to a controversial and divisive topic. The sexuality debates appear to have absorbed much of the agenda for the House of Bishops, and it is diverting attention from other issues. As David Goodhew notes:

Following the comments of Dean Kelley and Tim Keller, I would argue that churches decline when they allow the heart of the gospel to be obscured by other matters — however laudable those other matters may be. Church leadership has spent the last year focused on sexuality. This is a major issue, but it has allowed avoidance of the bigger, existential, question the organization faces. The church cannot claim to have put its primary energy into leading people to faith in Christ and building people up in that faith. And the church has managed, thus far, to skate over the fact that it has lost one in five of its Sunday participants since 2019.

And, we might ask, where is there any sense of accountability for all this? Confession and repentance are key Christian virtues—but where do we see that in this crisis of leadership? Some admission of failure, and taking responsibility for this, might be a good place to start.

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357 thoughts on “The crisis of episcopal leadership in the Church of England”

      • We all know what should happen. The question I think you mean, and to which I have no earthly answer, is: how can it be done? How can we kick out heretical senior church leaders?

        Your excellent analysis leaves out one thing: how ordinands are chosen, and the liberal training they receive at most theological colleges. In my view the disaster starts there. Liberal theology runs from Satan’s question: Did God really say?

        I find it useful to try to work out what Jesus Christ is doing in all of this. In one sense this is easy to answer: he is removing the lampstand of a church that is failing grievously to represent him faithfully to the world. I do wonder whether this process will be reversed in view of the gulf betweeen the biblical model of church and the Church of England’s system, which it inherited from Rome. Here is my exegesis, showing the difference:

        Certainly there are many faithful Christians in the Church of England, but they never organise themselves to mount a serious challenge to the liberals. In part they prefer to preach the gospel (and who could complain at that), in part they cannot bring themselves to denounce senior churchmen for what they are and face the intense spiritual battle that would instantly be triggered inside a system that they are fond of.

        To anybody with open eyes it is obvious that persecution is coming to the faithful church in the West, whether from secularism, Islam, or liberal Christianity demanding ecclesiastical monopoly (which we have seen before). Persecution will be the remaking of the Western church, burning out the dross – but it will not leave hierarchical churches in its wake.

        As for Welby, he has his reward. Arise, Sir Justin.

      • Ian
        Two things should happen:

        Firstly, the ‘open letter of challenge and rebuke to the whole Church about this failure’ as set out in the following:

        “It should be common ground among evangelicals that the paramount need of all people everywhere is to hear, believe and obey two vital messages:

        The terrible warnings, some from Christ’s own lips, to flee from the wrath to come; and the wonderful and sincere invitations and promises to all, some from Christ’s own lips, to repent and submit to Christ in his atoning death and life-giving resurrection, and to obey him for the rest of their lives.

        But are these messages believed and preached by the whole Church with the earnestness and urgency promised by those who have made the Declaration of Assent and their ordination vows?

        The clear answer to that is “No”. This failure is surely more important than the same-sex disagreement, and the need to help the homeless and those in dire need, very important though such things are!

        That being the case the time has come to follow the remarkable example set out in Galatians 2:11-14:

        “But when Cephas came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he was eating with the Gentiles; but when they came he drew back and separated himself, fearing the circumcision party. And the rest of the Jews acted hypocritically along with him, so that even Barnabas was led astray by their hypocrisy. But when I saw that their conduct was not in step with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas before them all, “If you, though a Jew, live like a Gentile and not like a Jew, how can you force the Gentiles to live like Jews?”’

        where one Apostle who met Christ on the Damascus Road openly rebuked another Apostle on whom Christ said he would build his Church.

        What is needed in the desperate situation of the Church of England is an open letter of challenge and rebuke to the whole Church about this failure.

        A serious effort by the CEEC and Church Society to do everything possible to organise this would involve mobilising all the Diocesan Evangelical Groups to support such a letter
        together with an integrated plan to get this issue raised formally at all Synodical levels.”

        Secondly, I invite you to post personally that you do not believe the doctrines of Original Sin as set out in Article 9 and the Atonement doctrine of Penal Substitution as set out in the Anglican Homilies.

        Phil Almond

        • I myself hesitate at certain interpretations of ‘Original Sin’ and suspect too much influence from the personal problems of a certain Augustine.
          However, there are no two ways about it that “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God, and I think any explanation of that will involve a notion that the human race is linked in all kinds of ways.
          Penal Substitution is a problem in all kinds of ways. I didn’t know that there was a version of it in the Homilies; that might go a long way towards explaining the undeserved prominence of the idea.
          One of the problems is an element of arbitrariness to it – that a penalty is simply declared and then God wanting to forgive finds that to in effect save his credibility he has to inflict the penalty on somebody…. I find it more convincing to follow the teachings which compare the situation to a debt or the basic obligation on a person who has damaged things to recompense for the damage. Or in some cases simply that when you have donce certain bad things, negative consequences will follow unless someone steps in the way. In such analogies God forgives by ‘footing the bill’ himself or himself taking on the bad consequences.
          One big difficulty of penal substitution is that it can look as if God ends up punishing an innocent third party… remember Steve Chalke’s comments about ‘cosmic child abuse’. This is not a problem for a robust Trinitarianism in which the Son is not a third party but integral with the forgiving God; but it is why ‘unitarian’ groups almost always end up with difficulties about the atonement which then erode other doctrines. If Jesus is neither God nor Man the injustice in punishing him is obvious. It is one of the issues with the Jehovah’s Witnesses that they retain the idea of Jesus paying for our sins but seem unable to understand the inherent injustice of what they are saying

          • Stephen
            My challenge to Ian to make clear that he does not “believe the doctrine(s) of Original Sin as set out in Article 9” is because he has rightly said that all Anglican Ministers should believe the Articles. So he does not believe what he ought to believe.

            Phil Almond

      • Is it possible to set up a trial ‘diocese’ that seeks to model something different, and simply say, ‘are you willing to give it a try?’ to the Bishops?

  1. The Safeguarding requirements are indeed out of control. Each diocese seems to have a raft of people whose job is entirely to administer this. As a churchwarden I am required to do three levels of this training. However, unlike all the administrators, clergy, bishops and everyone else it seems, I’m unpaid. I’m a volunteer. Therefore, I do not like this paid bureaucracy telling me how I should use my time. I am also a mother to three children who have grown up and have taken their place in society. This I feel should be ample evidence of my awareness of safeguarding issues. 35 years of being a parent and 65 years of being a member of the Church of England should be evidence enough. As a churchwarden I have loads and loads of jobs taking my precious time (more precious as I near the end of my life), and I really really feel this ever increasing amount of safeguarding administration has got out of control.

    • The safeguarding empire is totally out of control. My parish safeguarding officer is one of the most mild-mannered people you could ever hope to meet, yet even she grinds her teeth in frustration at the system. Hopefully, Professor Jay will recommend demolishing this whole edifice and taking safeguarding out of the church’s hands.

      • I’ m a retired clergyman and took out a PTO in 2013. I’ m just about to undertake my 4th safeguarding training which is now every three years ( it was five). Just to help out taking services. The church is relying more and more on retired clergy esp in rural dioceses and I think what is demanded puts many off. So fewer retired clergy to add to the parishes that can’t find church wardens, treasurers etc.It inevitably precipitates further decline

        • Perry,
          I have repeatedly had to undergo safeguarding ‘training’ from the Church of England, and I have to say that compared to the training I did as a secondary school teacher, it was rubbish. Silly scenarios, feeble use of Scripture and bureaucratic. Even had to write a ‘reflection’ at the end of it. I concluded the point of it was to make the diocesan safeguarding officers feel useful. My most recent renewal came in the midst of the resignations from the national safeguarding team.

          Meanwhile, Croft and Sentamu, who have disciplined errant clergy, refuse to submit themselves to the same discipline.

          • It is the same in the NHS
            Most staff enter because the feel called to care for others. Society is riddled with bureaucracy, every year it gets worse., but with out it bad things happen.
            Dare I say look at the Catholic Church, look at Allitt, Letby!
            Everybody is under scrutiny.
            Perhaps our cry should be..
            “ Come Lord Jesus come”

      • As an outsider it seems to me they are trying to solve the wrong problem because they don’t want to address the real problem – people covering up abuse of influential people in the church.

  2. Thanks for this. Lots to think about, as many of us are really angry at the fact that the C of E is now implicated in the Post Office scandal.

    I must, however, challenge your claim that the Strategic Development Fund has not been about implementing managerialism. The processes around applying to the fund are so complex and the documents written in such managerial jargon that they are only accessible by those with the right sort of expertise. Part of the reason that dioceses have so many cnetral staff is that they need staff to deal with those applications and the endless reporting that is required.

    The current crisis of episcopacy raises two questions. Does the C of E know what bishops are actually for? And is the time right for a clear out of current bishops?

  3. For me, the very concept of a ‘bishop’ as a regional manager is problematic. A close study of the NT shows that basically a ‘bishop/episkopos’ is the same thing as an ‘elder’, just describing the job rather than the maturity (not just age in years!) needed to do it. Acts 20 is interesting here; Paul invites the ‘elders’ of the church at Ephesus to a meeting at Miletus – and then in v28 he says of/to them “The Holy Spirit has appointed you ‘overseers’….” The word he uses for ‘overseers’ is ‘episkopoi’, ie ‘bishops’!

    ‘Elders’ of course is Greek ‘presbyteroi’ from which the word ‘priest’ is derived; and there too the practice of the early church differed from now. Elders were a basically ‘lay’ leadership appointed from within the fellowship, and a church would have more than one of them. I spent some years in a ‘Brethren’ church run by a group of Elders, and eventually ‘deacons’ were added for administration rather than teaching and other pastoral duties. This led to a very healthy situation in my opinion. The load of ‘ministry’ was shared, as was preaching. Not only did elders study and become biblically competent, the situation also encouraged others to study and equip themselves, so the (a) elders were not the only preachers and (b) when elders moved or stepped down through age or health there was a significant ‘pool’ of possible replacements. The church had wide fellowship with other evangelicals in the area and preachers were shared, but without formal structures that would need a ‘regional manager’. Within the church ‘pastoral oversight’ was shared by the elders/overseers with each being allocated around ten members of the congregation to look after.

    A church/denomination centred on ‘bishops’ doing a job the NT doesn’t even mention does seem a bit queStstionable….

        • They haven’t, even the Episcopal Church of the US has its own BCP.

          However, Anglican churches have always been Catholic but reformed churches with Bishops and including those churches which a Catholic in style with incense etc as well as more low church evangelical. If you want a purely low church evangelical denomination without Bishops then Presbyterian or Baptist churches already provide that and Pentecostals are close to it too, even though they have bishops they are relatively informal positions

          • Well obviously it does not mirror the 1662 Prayerbook entirely, not least as the King is not Supreme Governor of the US Episcopal church as he is the Church of England. However it still has a Book of Common Prayer whereas you suggested it had abandoned BCP completely

          • Every church has a prayer book. So what?

            The point is the C of E has its doctrines defined by 1662 and the Articles. The more liberal churches in the Communion have moved away from that.

            I am puzzled that you are finding that difficult to grasp?

          • So have the more conservative ones in Africa etc given the King is no longer still supreme governor of their Anglican churches, unlike the 19th and early 20th centuries when Queen Victoria was their supreme governor

  4. Dear Ian,
    Another excellent offering, this time exposing the crisis of leadership.
    For many years I have said that the diocese is the local church, NOT those who sit in Church Houses demanding our attention to feed them – with money, attention and obeisance.

    The bishops should be there supporting the local church and the clergy, saying “what is God doing in your part of the vineyard? How can I and the structures help you?” Instead clergy are often treated with contempt, ignored and undermined by people in diocesan roles. I’ve seen it first hand in 38 years of ordained ministry up till retirement 2 years ago: an example was that from March 2020 to October 2020: only once did I get a five minute phone call from the archdeacon ( in March in the first week of lockdown) – who didn’t offer to pray for me – and then not a single personal email nor phone call from the episcopacy or archdeacons for the next seven months; their pastoral care was zero. We were abandoned. The war on parish ministry has increased, and like you Ian, in my former diocese we had a reduction of clergy numbers from 171 in 2011 to 114 in 2021, whilst centrally the diocese paid for 32 staff plus another 40 paid for by grants from, yep, Archbishop’s Council. Who was actually doing the work of pastoral care, visiting, phoning parishioners and praying with them? Who was having to learn to make video services from scratch? And did anyone care from above ( other than God Himself?) If they did, they didn’t show it. The increasing misuse of Common Tenure 2003 Measure and Pastoral Measure 2011 to make clergy redundant – we had around ten in my former diocese, and were paid off at £60K each from a grant from Church Commissioners, and told to lie that they were resigning and not being made redundant, and signing confidentiality clauses to that effect – whilst the Church Commissioners had an excess of income of £528 million in 2020, shows that those in leadership have been captured by blindness and foolishness. Time for powers to be returned to the parishes, for the “tail wagging dog” policies from diocesan offices, synods and episcopal roles to be ditched, and a return to humble service treating clergy with a lot more respect and support- but no interference.
    I can understand why “Save the Parish” campaigns have garnered so much support, because it is as if diocesan planning starts with money, and ends with money, not faith, not Jesus, not proclaiming eternal salvation – it’s always money driven. Money follows vision – I’ve seen that, as many have, over the years. And God can do exceedingly abundantly than we can ask or think, and higher hands than bishops in the end will work out God’s plans, despite episcopal attempts to thwart His plans. Some of the bishops, it appears, think that they are in the place of God over us… No, no, no. In one diocese I served, a fellow priest remarked at a chapter that the area bishop had told some porkies when visiting his local school; apparently he said he ran the diocese and he looked after clergy. Much hilarity ensued…

  5. Please can we stop labelling those who wish to take a more liberal view as “progressives”? It implies that those who take an alternative view do not wish the Church to make progress or change.

    • Which is exactly why they deliberately called themselves that: to prejudge and predefine the issue. There are many such examples, ‘conversion therapy’ and ‘equal marriage’ being just 2.

      • So far as ‘conversion therapy’ is concerned, an even more important issue than the mischievous language involved is the blatant (undisguised) seizure from people of their individual right to choose whatever therapy meets their need for mental, physical or spiritual good health. It’s diabolical that people are campaigning (and increasingly promoting) people’s rights to end their own lives while banning even the mildest interventions, such as prayer, that they might possibly be able to live exactly as is natural for the great majority of people.

        • Don Benson

          Conversion therapy is not good for your health. It doesn’t work. It can cause significant harm. Half of all conversion therapy is carried out on people below the age of consent.

          David Cameron promised nearly a decade ago to ban it.

          The Church of England has pretended to ban it, but as far as I can tell nothing at all has been done to stop it from happening in cofe churches.

          • Then ban it – and physical conversion therapy – for people below the age of consent. But to advocate banning it for adults freely seeking it is what Don says itis and is based on a pretension to knowledge that you don’t have.

          • Anton

            I’d be very happy with a ban on conversion therapy when the subject has not freely consented.

            If its not going to be a total ban then I’d want the same regulation as other medical practices – the patient must be informed on likelihood of success and potential side effects before consenting

          • “Conversion therapy is not good for your health.”

            In this statement what precisely do you mean by “conversion therapy”? What is legal at present that you wish to become illegal?

            “It doesn’t work. It can cause significant harm.”

            What is your evidence for these statements?

            A real-life contact of mine had severe problems with alcohol abuse, exacerbated by other undiagnosed health issues. Prior to this time he had been actively gay. Intense therapy and treatment for his alcoholism and other health issues restored his sobriety and well-being, and he eventually returned to the professional full-time work for which he trained. He also got married to a woman, over 10 years ago now. They are still happily and faithfully together.

            Did my contact have “conversion therapy”? Has it harmed him?

          • Neil

            Conversion therapy is any attempt to change someone elses sexual orientation.

            In most of the 20th century this involved things like water boarding and electrocution, now it is typically more likely exorcism or talking therapy. The underlying theory is the same – create intense negative feelings around sexual attraction in the vague hope that it will magically make the subject attracted to the opposite sex.

            It doesn’t work – there are good estimates of the number of people who have been through this is some countries. In the UK around 2% of LGBT people have had conversion therapy. There are plenty of people who have undergone it claiming it harmed them and none at all, anywhere in the world, claiming it worked.

            I doubt that your contact underwent conversion therapy. I’d think there are three likely possibilities

            He could be straight and having sex with men was part of his alcoholism

            He could be bisexual

            He could be gay and be in a marriage of convenience

        • Peter, you write:

          I’d be very happy with a ban on conversion therapy when the subject has not freely consented.

          To include physical conversion in the case of trans-identifiers, and no hormone treatments.

          If its not going to be a total ban then I’d want the same regulation as other medical practices – the patient must be informed on likelihood of success and potential side effects before consenting

          The likelihood of success depends on the patient to an enormously greater extent than with genuine medical treatments, so this is nonsense.

          Liberalism for thee but not for me…

          • Anton

            This is why I think the ‘consent’ argument doesn’t work. The people making it don’t agree with a ban even on situations where the subject hasn’t consented.

            You see conversion therapy as a good thing. I think its an excuse to torture gay children

          • No Peter, I mean that if someone who trusts me comes to me and says they are experiencing unwanted same-sex attraction and would I pray about it, I am not necessarily going to do it but I am not going to refuse just because the law says I mustn’t and you think I shouldn’t.

          • Anton

            I think very personal prayer like that is unenforceable, but again that’s not forcing a gay teenager through trauma against their will. These are two different things.

            If you are acting on behalf of a church or organization in offering prayer ministry then you need to abide by their ethical standards

            Currently under UK law all three are legal.

            Where I live in Maine only the first is outlawed and then only if the person creating the trauma is a licensed medical practitioner.

            If this was happening to straight children then it would have been outlawed decades ago

          • “Creating the trauma” is a misleading phrase. It is because the person is finding their present experience traumatic that they are seeking change.

          • Anton

            Conversion therapy isn’t bad just because its aimed in a direction that I personally don’t like. Indeed I’d be all for a method of making gay people straight because it could save a lot of lives

            An crucial aspect of conversion therapy is understanding how it is supposed to work. It relies on creating anxiety. Its not just about some vague neutral thing or about making the subject feel comforted. Its actually about making the subject feel worse. That’s why electrocution used to be popular. Its an easy way of triggering a negative response.

          • Unless you are deliberately distorting matters, you are over-simplistic and out of date in your knowledge of how this might be done. Also not all prayer relating to inner change involves deliverance (although the Gadarene swine reveal it is more than just an ancient understanding of human psychology, and not all deliverance is of the charlatan sort that reaches the BBC).

            Also, you are ignoring – again – the matter of liberty to seek help where one chooses and ignoring the fact that the person is *already* anxious, which is why they are seeking help. Finally you are ignoring what the Bible says about acting on same-sex attraction, which all persons of faith for 3000 years took to be God’s opinion.

          • You distinguish them now? You were against wilder forms of deliverance – as am I, by the way – but that is certainly prayer. The law, not recognising any God, makes no distinction between prayer and therapy.

  6. A problem for all denominations (and many secular organizations) is its easier to climb the greasy pole if you are willing to lie and cheat and very difficult to if you are honest and act with integrity.

    This means that the senior leadership becomes packed with people who are less moral than the average person in the pew while pretending to have moral authority over them

      • Anton:
        It’s also because, with few exceptions, liberal churches do not grow in the Church of England and a diocesan post may be sought by someone who can’t make a go of parish ministry.
        That’s why you find people in diocesan posts pushing things like Jungianism or political issues under the guise of ‘justice and development’, as well as education posts that are of zero help in preaching and teaching in parishes.
        Diocesan posts are also places where the LGBT agenda is pushed.

        • James

          But again its easier to grow a church by being dishonest than it is by being honest.

          Look at Hillsong – hugely popular, especially amongst young people which other churches have struggled to attract, but at the root corruption, greed and abuse

          • All cats have four legs, therefore anything with four legs is a cat.

            There are churches which have grown through compromise, therefore all growing churches…. (complete the sentence…)

          • At the root, corruption, greed and abuse?
            Highly selective. That is the sort of analysis that would be given by someone who first thought only negative things exist and positives should be ignored, and second massaged the true picture of the negatives in some instances.

            Anton, the lyrics of Hillsong music are nothing special at all, but that simply applies to most worship music. The way the lyrics fit the music is of superior quality. The composition and construction of the music was in peak years 1990s also of superior quality. I always think Abba’s 1970s visit must have inspired high compositional skills. The dynamism of the themes of the songs, and their reality to life and urgency was also in peak years admirable.

            Summing up a large socially effective movement in a single sentence is utterly laughable. And scurrilous when it comes to all the good individuals who have been and are still involved.

            As for Brian Houston, a lot of people wanted to squeeze a lot more juice than the evidence warranted. You have to ask yourself about their motives. And to listen to his wife.

          • Christopher: I was not presuming any correlation between Hillsong’s corruption and its music but was widening the subject, as it is the music by which most people have heard of Hillsong. I stand by my opinion of the music.

          • Ian

            I don’t believe that and that wasn’t my point.

            Indeed I’ve been part of churches which have grown and been successful and the leaders were not Welbys or Houstons.

            I’m saying there are more important things than growth and often these days the churches that are growing are growing because the leaders have either cut corners on morality or are outright corrupt

          • Christopher

            I used Brian Houston as an example because I (wrongly) assumed everyone would agree that he built his mega church empire in order to enrich himself.

            This Hillsong attitude of the leaders can get away with things that ordinary members cannot is actually the same attitude that keeps Justin Welby in power. Its just turned down a few notches

          • ‘I’m saying there are more important things than growth.’

            Are there? What? What is more important than seeing people come to and grow in their faith? That is what growth is, since the numbers are counting people.

          • Ian

            Faith is more important than growth
            Faithfulness is more important than growth
            Honesty is more important than growth
            Kindness/caring is more important than growth
            Lawfulness is more important than growth

          • Ian

            I’m saying they are dichotomies. I’m saying its easier to get people to attend church if you are willing to lie etc than if you are a moral person.

            The alternative is to argue that Buildings success had nothing to do with the leaders willingness to lie?

          • Ian

            The crucial “not” disappeared there

            I’m not saying these are dichotomies.

            I think you can having a growing church and be moral. However bums on seats does not mean that the teaching is solid or that the leaders follow their own teaching

          • Ian

            It’s just been announced that Mike Breen, who Wikipedia says was the senior rector of the largest church in the CofE, has been having sex with a vulnerable member of his flock and has had long term issues with bullying behavior. I felt I had to draw your attention to this because I think it’s crucial that senior leaders in the cofe stop turning the blind eye just because a priest is successful in terms of growth. In the end it kills people’s faith when the leader they trusted turns out to be behaving in abysmal ways.

            If a volunteer Bible reader couldn’t get away with it then leadership shouldn’t either

          • ‘I think it’s crucial that senior leaders in the cofe stop turning the blind eye just because a priest is successful in terms of growth.’

            Yes…but I have no idea why you think I would disagree with that. Who has ever said ‘numerical growth justifies abuse’?

          • Ian

            I’m not accusing you of taking that position, but undoubtedly if Mike Pilavachi had been a provincial youth leader in a dwindling market town, do you really think the establishment would have covered up for him for so long?

  7. “Time for powers to be returned to the parishes, for the “tail wagging dog” policies from diocesan offices, synods and episcopal roles to be ditched, and a return to humble service treating clergy with a lot more respect and support- but no interference.” Agreed!
    And some brutal cutting back of the number of diocesan staff, which of course implies a brutal cutting-back of the stuff they spend their time on.
    I’m in a diocese with a vacancy in see: I was asked what I wanted in a bishop, and I said someone who understands that the parish is the bedrock of the CofE, who has parish experience, and who is pastorally gifted and spiritual. Shouldn’t be too much to ask, surely? Why are our leaders so impressed with secular status and managerial background? Oh, and academic background too. It’s all skewed away from the model of leadership we see in Jesus.

    I’m also looking at how the CofE measures mission: only, apparently, by the numbers of bums on seats and increase in income. What about the huge amount of ministry and mission that goes on outside the church? Work in schools, hospitals, communities? Why is none of this measured? If it were, then maybe the CofE would begin to think in terms of a different direction – being Christ the Servant in our communities, which is what we are called to be.

  8. The church borrowed the concept of diocese (from Diocletian) from the late Roman Empire. Its a secular administrative unit, theres nothing spiritual about it.

    • From Wiki:

      In the Late Roman Empire, usually dated 284 AD to 641 AD, the regional governance district known as the Roman or civil diocese was made up of a grouping of provinces each headed by a Vicarius, who were the representatives of praetorian prefects (who governed directly the dioceses they were resident in). There were initially twelve dioceses, rising to fourteen by the end of the 4th century.

      The term diocese comes from the Latin: dioecēsis, which derives from the Greek: dioíkēsis (διοίκησις) meaning “administration”, “management”, “assize district”, or “group of provinces”.

  9. There is much confusion about the role of bishops in the Church and Ian gives us some very convincing reasons for this.

    My book “BISHOPS – THE HANGING NATURE OF THE ANGLICAN EPISCOPATE, Ex Libris 2012 goes into considerable detail in explaining how we got to where we are.

    Firstly, bishops have existed in the Church from the beginning. Presbuteros and episkopos as differing words for the same office, and appear frequently in St. Paul’s and St. Peter’s epistles, but they denote two differing functions of ministry, which quickly developed into presbyter and bishop by the end of the first century.

    The idea that the episcopate is an unScriptural later development, as Stephen Langton suggests, is therefore sheer poppycock and any who think this are not accepting plain historical fact and are not Catholic Christians. Of course, we are not helped by being the Established Church. Any prospective bishops are primarily judged by whether they would make acceptable members of the House of Lords. Now that is totally unScriptural!

    In my research for this book I discovered that overwhelming majorities of clergy and laity believed that the local parish was the basic building block of the Church and even a bare majority of bishops felt the same.

    Ian needs to keep up his campaign to get proper bishops.

    • Thanks. I think though your comment that ‘Presbuteros and episkopos as differing words for the same office’ and ‘The idea that the episcopate is an unScriptural later development’ are in some tension.

      Perhaps we just need to say that ‘The idea that the episcopate as a distinct, monarchical and hierarchal ministry is an unScriptural later development.’

    • What is wrong with my exegesis that you regard as poppycock, please? It is part of this webpage:

      You use the word “development” to denote a deviation from holy scripture. By what authority – which ought to be at least equal to that of scripture – were these changes made?

    • Obviously the word ‘episkopos’ was in use from the beginning; but also obviously from the NT it was originally just a different title for the office of elder, which in turn was not the modern ‘THE Pastor/Priest’ but, as in synagogues I understand, an office filled by several people in one congregation. And like the synagogue leaders, they were ‘lay’ people, Jesus filling the office of ‘hiereus/priest’ in the OT sense and in a sense the whole church being that different kind of priest as the body of Christ.
      By c300CE (CHRISTIAN Era!!) this had somewhat evolved towards the modern set-up of monarchical regional single bishop, and the needs of an official Imperial church condsolidated that and turned the priests into more like the later RC model. I speculate that persecution played a part in this by particularly targeting leaders and reducing their numbers. There is an interesting situation in 1600s English non-conformity where as I understand it people like John Bunyan would be part of a team of elders; but a later partial tolerance would only allow one formal minister per congregation, so from that time Baptists operated on a single pastor model even after that situation changed. Many Baptists are currently going back to a more ‘team ministry’ approach.
      I don’t think presbuteros and episkopos ‘denote two differing functions of ministry’ – they are differing descriptions of different aspects of the same original unified ministry. One word points to the maturity, the other to the nature of the job.

  10. I read your piece, Ian, with interest. I am not qualified to say anything much about the bishopric, but I am grateful for your challenge as to believing in God to be active in my and other lives; it stimulated my prayers today!

  11. Certainly we need less administration in dioceses and managerialism from Bishops and more Parish based ministry. Parishes are the heart of the Church of England as established church in the local community and the most visible form of Christianity there, with Parish churches still conducting weddings and funerals and baptisms available to all Parishioners. Church planting can be an add on to that but never replace it. What we want is more stipendiary clergy in Parishes and fewer administrators and managers in the central Diocese offices. We also don’t need as many bishops either, certainly there are more suffragen bishops than the Church needs.

    In terms of growth, Christianity as a whole is in decline in the UK, less than half of the population, 46%, said they were Christian on the last census. That is true for all denominations except a few Pentecostal or independent evangelical churches which are growing but from a low base. Covid has certainly hit the C of E, except for growth in online attendance at services and some evidence of recovery and even increase at Christmas services but then it is not unique amongst Christian denominations in the UK on that

    • In relation to safeguarding, it may be a lot of paperwork and bureaucratic but nonetheless is required by any organisation in the UK which includes children especially. No surprise given historic cases of abuse

      • I would endorse this – and it is necessary to have safeguarding training specific to the church. As a CW, Safeguarding Officer and lay worship leader I would love to spend less time on admin tasks, but we ignore safeguarding and H & S issues at our peril.

        • Hablar

          I agree. But it also seems to me to be a pretense at a solution.

          The real problems in the church are not volunteers abusing people, but church leaders abusing people and bishops etc covering it up. The current safeguarding isn’t even addressing this. When abuse is found and becomes public theres zero discipline for anyone except the direct perpetrator and often that’s a nice quiet retirement

    • ‘In terms of growth, Christianity as a whole is in decline in the UK.’ You keep repeating this, and I keep pointing out it is not true. Read my article ‘Is the church in decline’?

      Please don’t keep repeating falsehoods in your comments.

        • By the factor that counts most, church involvement and regular attendance it is quite a long time since Christians were really a majority; during my lifetime we have seen a slow erosion of an artificially high nominal Christianity. On that you are right. But I think Ian may well be right that among that more serious involvement things are pretty healthy. Some mainstream denominations continue in decline because they started with a high volume of only nominal members who furthermore were likely to be theologically liberal….

          • Are they? In 2002 a WVS survey found just 11% of the UK population attend a religious service every week. And not all those will be conservatives and evangelicals or traditionalist Anglo Catholics, indeed some will not be Christian at all but from other religions. So if you exclude those who only go to church for weddings or funerals or the 16% who only go to church about once a year, exclude the 5% who attend religious services monthly, and exclude those who say they are Christian but don’t attend church you are looking at less than 10% of the UK population being in your words ‘serious’ Christians rather than the 46% who the census found are at least nominal Christian and will indeed include more liberally minded Anglicans, Methodists or members of the Church of Scotland


          • Simon, yes, and that 11% has remained steady, so to say ‘Christian faith is in decline’ is false.

            The number who ‘identify’ as Christian in a survey’ is a measure of culture and nominalism, not a measure of the Christian faith.

          • So you don’t care about falling levels of Christianity in the UK overall then, just as long as the percentage of the UK population who alone in your judgement remain true faithful Christians remains stable. It is a policy of rejection not growth, demanding ever more ‘purity’ and cuts the vast majority of the country off from Christianity.

            Regular church attendance is not ‘steady’ really anyway. In actual fact in the 1980 11% of the English population attended Christian churches regularly regardless of denomination. By 2015 that had fallen to just 5%. So if the percentage of people in the UK identifying as Christian falls, so almost certainly will the percentage who attend church services

          • What I do care about is your refusal to actual read what people have said.

            ‘Christianity’ is not ‘people who label themselves in a survey’. It is people attending to and following the teaching of Jesus. If the percentage had dropped to 5% by 2015, then we should be very encouraged, since it is about double that now.

          • Yes, I know you dismiss the majority of even self professed Christians in this country as not pure and faithful enough. It is precisely the opposite attitude to what the Church of England as established church should be, ie Parish based ministry engaged in the local community and offering weddings and funerals to all, attending community events, represented at Remembrance Sunday etc. Not just dismissing anybody who doesn’t attend church every Sunday or who does not refuse to accept any recognition of homosexual relations.

            Of course the 11% attending religious services every week on the KCL survey included Muslims, Hindus, Jews and other religions, not just Christians

          • ‘Yes, I know you dismiss the majority of even self professed Christians in this country as not pure and faithful enough.’

            Can I again say I am interested in discussion. I am not interested in these kinds of fatuous insults. Please take them elsewhere.

          • Ian, T1

            There’s no reliable metric for measuring Christianity so the best thing is to make sure you’re comparing like with like and are specific about what is being measured. Church attendance is not faith, nor is lack of attendance atheism. It can be used as a measure of Christianity, but you also need to be careful because some churches are very zealous about counting and others arent. Some people if they attend two services in the same week get counted twice. If they go to two different churches then both churches may count them. There are also factors, such as covid, that artificially keep very faithful Christians from attending church. Some churches may try to count on a service with a baptismal party in to boost their numbers, others may only count regular attendees

          • ‘There’s no reliable metric for measuring Christianity’.

            In the C of E, a member is someone who has been baptised as is a regular attender.

            I see no problem with this as a reliable metric.

          • Ian

            Church attendance isn’t a reliable metric because some people attend for social reasons (especially in the 20th century and some still do now). I know someone who attends church because his wife believes and he likes the community. And lots of faithful Christians don’t attend church, either because there are no churches in their area where they would really be welcome, or because they have seen too much corruption etc to stomach it.

            Adult baptism isn’t a reliable metric because, although it does imply a professed faith at some time, it doesn’t mean that person continues to believe. I can think of at least two people known to me who were baptised as adults, but no longer believe or attend church. Lots of faithful Christians are not baptised as adults

          • In this post-Christendom culture, attending for social appearance is evaporating, so attendance is becoming more and more a reliable metric.

            Your example of friends who were baptised but no longer attend rather proves my point.

            And I never said ‘adult baptism’.

            It might not be a perfect metric, but it is generally reliable, and I don’t know of a better one.

  12. You mention “The success of the church planting initiatives that have grown out of HTB (Holy Trinity Brompton) have not been a result of managerialism, but a confidence in the gospel and the power of God to change lives.”

    Our daughter —having grown up in our Christian home—was converted at the age of 40 by an outreach group in a block of council flats on the Isle of Dogs run by St Lukes Millwall—I understand with funding from Holy Trinity Brompton.

    St Lukes now occupies their own new building (!) which our daughter attends with her three children. She runs her own childcare business and is a governor of the local school, providing the church with a connection to the local community.

    There you go?

  13. I am as amazed as many others to agree with many of Ian’s criticisms of the Episcopate.

    I would extend that even more strongly to the Archbishops’ Council. Ian’s views on that are not immediately clear to me, and apologies in advance if I’ve overlooked them.

    I worry that a church should be careful on safeguarding when, to name just the very tip of a much larger iceberg it has been associated with/enabled/encouraged the likes of:

    Peter Ball, John Smyth, Chris Brain, Iwerne Trust, several other Bishops, Jonathan Fletcher, Titus Trust, Iain Broomfield, Mike Pilavacchi, the abusers of Jo Kind, Gilo, Matt Ineson etc etc, and shown so little concern to victims, let alone repentance, beyond sacking the ISB and failing (to this day) to even acknowledge a survivor of the ISB who told the majority of the AC, both Archbishops and 4 of the 5 most senior Bishops in the Church that ‘he was desperate’ at the sacking of the ISB, all of which is set out in Sarah Wilkinson’s report.

    • Thanks Simon—though I am curious about your surprise! I think I have quite a good reputation for being willing to ask questions of those in power.

      There is a real danger that issues of managerialism, traditionalism, secrecy and power amongst bishops, and theological differences are getting confused. These are different issues, and they play out in different ways, even though there are overlaps.

      Wilkinson was particularly critical of the rush to making decisions—driven specifically by Justin. ISTM that is where we need to ask questions.

      • I notice that you haven’ addressed a single one of the failings of the AC re the ISB, which was (by far) the main very specific point of my contribution

        • I have elsewhere….but that is not the subject of this post.

          The ISB spent £760,000 in two years. They reviewed one case. It was my clear view that they were completely failing. They should have been closed down a year earlier.

          For me, the failure of the AC was to not act soon enough. But as the Wilkinson report noted, the main thing that prevented clarity and decisiveness was the hesitation of the archbishops.

          • Ian

            I don’t think its the closure of the ISB per se. Its the lack of accountability, independence and the fact there’s still no replacement for it.

            In the police I think I’m right in saying that when there’s an investigation into police officers its carried out by a different force than the one with the person under investigation.

            Having on diocese investigate another still would not be independent or fully accountable, but it seems an easy way to make a vast improvement on the status quo. Call me a conspiracy theorist, but I think the bishops simply do not want accountability and are doing everything in their power to kick the can on this too

    • In any secular organization people who covered up sexual assault woild , at the very least have been fired.

      I’m furious at the unnamed senior leaders who knew about Pilavachis abuses and did nothing after my generation were encouraged to attend Soul Survivor events, including teaching on sex and relationships…all the while he was abusing young men in his care. Yet nobody has been disciplined at all. He’s been allowed to take a quiet retirement. Andy Croft, himself both a victim and enabler, has left ministry.

      And nobody in senior church leadership seems in the least bit interested in discipline, repentance or lessons learned. Its also yet another abuser who just happened to be connected to Justin Welby. I’m sure JW was as oblivious as he was about John Smythe

  14. Cardinal Pell wrote this pseudonymous shortly before his death:

    The Successor of St. Peter is the rock on which the Church is built, a major source and cause of worldwide unity.

    Historically (St. Irenaeus), the Pope and the Church of Rome have a unique role in preserving the apostolic tradition, the rule of faith, in ensuring that the Churches continue to teach what Christ and the apostles taught. Previously it was: “Roma locuta. Causa finita est.” Today it is: “Roma loquitur. Confusio augetur.” ….

    After Vatican II, Catholic authorities often underestimated the hostile power of secularization, the world, flesh, and the devil, especially in the Western world and overestimated the influence and strength of the Catholic Church.

    We are weaker than 50 years ago and many factors are beyond our control, in the short term at least, e.g. the decline in the number of believers, the frequency of Mass attendance, the demise or extinction of many religious orders.

    The Pope does not need to be the world’s best evangelist, nor a political force. The successor of Peter, as head of the College of Bishops, also successors of the Apostles, has a foundational role for unity and doctrine. The new pope must understand that the secret of Christian and Catholic vitality comes from fidelity to the teachings of Christ and Catholic practices. It does not come from adapting to the world or from money.

    The first tasks of the new pope will be to restore normality, restore doctrinal clarity in faith and morals, restore a proper respect for the law and ensure that the first criterion for the nomination of bishops is acceptance of the apostolic tradition. Theological expertise and learning are an advantage, not a hinderance for all bishops and especially archbishops.

    These are necessary foundations for living and preaching the Gospel.

    Okay, so it is about the Catholic Church – but doesn’t the message apply to the Church of England too?

    The preoccupation shouldn’t be with size, money and political influence. It should be about doctrinal clarity and fidelity to the Gospel.

    • Jack,
      Do you think your church will avoid schism? Francis started with great acclaim but went on to repeat every left-wing cliche you could imagine. Why isn’t he an Anglican?

      George Pell may have thought ‘the pope doesn’t need to be the world’s best evangelist’ but John Paul II did a pretty good PR job for his cause. I sometimes wonder how things would be if a very bright and articulate Anglophone bishop like Robert Barron had a go at being Pope.

    • It took some time for the Catholic world to twig Francis as committed to liberal theology (a few are still in denial) but the Cardinals who voted for him, and who made him runner-up in 2005, knew this – and there will be more liberal Cardinals today than 18 years ago. I am regretfully uncertain that the next Pope will tackle secularism in his denomination.

    • @ James

      No, I don’t think there will be a formal schism – except possibly in the case of the German Church.

      Oddly, the Church is struggling with deciding how to evangelise to baptised Catholics and especially to those living in what is termed “irregular situations” – i.e. objectively sinful sexual partnerships. How should she stay pastorally close to the divorced and civilly remarried and those in same sex relationships? Should the Church break with past doctrine and continue to exclude them from the sacraments (and “blessings”), or discern/judge each case separately and determine degrees of individual, subjective culpability? Is doing so accommodation to the world or is it good pastoral accompaniment consistent with Catholic practice and moral theology?

      I don’t believe Pope Francis to be a heretic – though some of his advisers are most certainly heterodox – but he is a destabilising influence in the Church. Then, he set out to be! The Church will eventually emerge from all this, as she has from the past division.

      I read this recently and it struck a cord with my own experiences:

      Last week, I went to confession at a shrine near me, which I will not name. It was one of those infuriating confessions in which you try to convince the priest that what you are confessing, though not in the “mortal sin” category, is still sinful. He was polite, gentle, and meant well, I think. But his overall message was completely therapeutic, without the slightest indication that he even believed in the concept of sin (short of murder or piracy on papal waters).

      Everything he said to me was geared toward making sure I understood that all of the circumstances surrounding my actions were utterly reducible to rather typical psychological factors that so mitigated my guilt as to make my entire confession seem like an exercise in runaway scrupulosity. In the end, what he really seemed to want was to make me feel more guilty about coming to confession in the first place than about my actual sins.

      Even if my confessional experience is not the norm, it is expressive in an almost cartoonish way of the entire approach to moral theology “from below” that so characterizes the overall project of the current papacy and of a certain kind of pastoral theology that has been deeply influential in the Church for these past 60 years. In short, even as I robustly affirm that Pope Francis is not a heretic, I also affirm that he has put forward a model of pastoral practice that is overly horizontalist, psychologistic, and strangely lacking in any strong mystagogical orientation to the supernatural realm of grace.

      This papacy, in other words, is my confessional experience writ large.

      This is the meat of the issue:

      In the grand interplay between the various components that go into the making of a moral act there are always objective and subjective considerations as part of the equation. While the tradition has always emphasized the objective pole as the proper starting point, Pope Francis and his allies have tended to treat that objective orientation as somehow expressive of a certain pastoral heartlessness and rigidity which must now be counteracted by a reforming of moral theology “from below.” And it will be guided less by theological “doctrines” and more by the psychological and sociological sciences. These disciplines, they say, can embellish and deepen our understanding of the subjective pole and make for a less pastorally rigid approach to real human beings in the full, existential reality of their concrete situations. Once situated, the subjective pole of human moral action should then become a far more determinative starting point than ever before.

      Given my career, I have some sympathy with this perspective, but rather than post the full article text, let me say I agree with author.

  15. An interesting and challenging article. I particularly liked “The progressives and technocrats still believe in the old faith of High Modernism; the populists opportunistically penetrate its crumbling walls, like migrating peoples into the late Roman Empire, without themselves being able to create a new organising principle for society.”

    The attitude and reaction of archbishops and bishops to the Covid epidemic was disgraceful and appalling. Yes, the government reaction was over-hyped and fear-mongering – this was not the plague that killed 40-50% of the population in 1349-51 – but to retreat into hiding was the opposite of what should have been done. It simply confirmed what many thought: the christian church has nothing to say at times of sickness or in the face of death, and nothing to offer – because it was forbidden – to those suffering and in fear of death. How different from the example of clergy during the Black Death, who suffered a disproportionate death rate due to their ministering in the face of fear! Priests would celebrate Mass in town squares so that the faithful, sheltering in their houses, could at least participate in worship, albeit distanced. What were we told to do? Cower, as those who do not believe in the perfect love that casts out fear, or that death has been conquered. Disgraceful.

    In 1999, in my first year in a new parish, I suffered a serious fall on holiday, breaking multiple bones, including the talus, which meant that for 3 months I could not drive and for two was largley confined to a wheelchair. At the start of that convalescence my mother died of cancer. The two events caused a severe bout of depression. During that period I received not a single supportive phone call from the bishop or archdeacon, or my 6 six churchwardens, and only one offer to drive me to meetings or other support from a member of the three congregations; I did receive a letter asking why I had told my churchwardens that I couldn’t manage 3 Sunday morning services and evensong in 3 different locations whilst I was convalescing!
    You talk about “Crisis in Leadership”: absence of leadership would be a better description, allied with absence of pastoral care.
    As others have mentioned in these comments, the “Safeguarding” burden is ridiculous. At least now I only have to be vetted once (every 3 yrs) instead of the 6 in the parish (Church, 2 schools, youth group, Playgroups). But surely the DBS was supposed to make all this multiple vetting unnecessary? One certificate to cover all? Why do professionals, teachers, physicians etc, have to jump through a diocesan hoop as well? It means that there are not a few church members unwilling to take up important tasks within the parish church, and is another unnecessary stumbling block and hobbling.

    The bishops are not “managers”, nor should they be; nor financial experts or lawyers. Pastoral care of the parish clergy, support for the parishes in their care, and proclamation of the gospel is their remit. Their model of leadership should be that of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet, of striding ahead towards Jerusalem. The motto of the R. Military Academy Sandhurst is “Serve to Lead”: our bishops would do well to take that ideal to heart.

      • Indeed so.
        And as zealous to proclaim the gospel as they were to prohibit it for fear of suffering or death!
        Throughout the pandemic years my wife and I were delivering to homes for the local Foodbank. So often I was asked, “why are you the only clergyman we ever see?”

        • I was privileged to give the first in a series of short online sermons for the free church I was then in during the first lockdown in March 2020. Here is some of it.

          The final Bible reading in our congregation before we ceased to gather ended with a famous phrase: the just shall live by faith (Romans 1:17, quoting the prophet Habakkuk). Such a time is upon us. The previous Friday evening I had been in central London, and never seen the West End so quiet. Most people were at home with their families pondering their mortality. I wondered if that might not be a good thing, instead of eating and drinking large amounts raucously with others.

          We still don’t know the mortality figure for this virus, but scientists at Imperial College say it is similar to the virulent flu strain in the last year of World War I. Then, hospitals and mortuaries were already geared up because of the war, but our response ought to be better with a further century of technological progress behind us. SARS-CoV-2 is not comparable to the Black Death which killed 1/3 – 1/2 of the population in the mid-14th century, when the phrase “if we be spared” was on every tongue. That mediaeval bubonic plague took several years to get here from the East, whereas this virus took three months from Wuhan, thanks to globalisation.

          Our government is torn between a fuller shutdown for a shorter period that damps the epidemic but means it recurs as soon as restrictions are lifted, and a lighter shutdown that tries to ‘flatten the curve’ but still means that hospitals are likely be overwhelmed until everybody who is going to get it has done. Either way, it is worse than anything else that has happened here in our lifetimes. But it is not worse than anything that might have happened, for my generation was brought up under the shadow of nuclear annihilation in the Cold War. Civilisation could have ended in fire in a day. Living under that awareness must inevitably have had a large influence on our culture, if a subtle one. As for this virus, although I am blessed with good health, I am at greater risk because I am over 60. But I expect to be dead in a decade or two anyway. It’s not about if I die, but when. It always was, and that applies to everyone else, too. What did Jesus say about it? “Those 18 men who died when the tower at Siloam collapsed on them – were they more guilty than anyone else in Jerusalem? I tell you, No! But unless you repent, you too will all perish” (from Luke 13).

          If, like Jesus’ audience, you are not a believer, be glad you are alive to hear His words; repent of your wrongdoings and come to him without delay, for this month your soul may be demanded of you.

          For believers, this is a preaching opportunity. Most people in our land have supposed that they could wait until they were 70 to think about death and religion, by which time they had lost all interest in religion – but suddenly, here death is! That is what is terrifying to them about risks which are, per individual, not large even for the elderly. “Nobody is so old as to think he cannot live one more year”, as Cicero said (On Old Age, §24). But heed this warning of James (4:13-14): “Hear, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to this or that city, spend a year there, carry on business and make money.’ Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.”

          From scoffers, you hear the usual complaint: How could God let this happen? They assume that God is all-powerful and good. They are right, and they are afraid; so turn their fear to God, for “fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (and knowledge of Him is understanding: Proverbs 9:10). Then you can settle their question by explaining the Fall of man and of the natural world, which God will one day undo. As to how God could let this happen, my reply is: I’m surprised He took so long. Look at abortions, family breakdown, the numbers of children being brought up in households without both parents, which they need. God doesn’t act quickly but He does act suddenly. This virus is a fairly gentle reminder to a land which has the vanity to call itself Christian, yet ignores God and his laws, that He hasn’t gone away. Jesus even warned of plagues as his return draws near (Luke 21:11), and with globalisation and weapons of mass destruction in the hands of sinful man this event is obviously closer than a century ago.

          So let us turn to God and, like Habakkuk, be glad. Glad? Indeed: “though the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord; I will be joyful in God my saviour.”

          God has seen fit to put you, Christian, into this event. Be His ambassador to the world, be His servant in it. St Paul wrote these words to the believers at Philippi: “If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labour for me… I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.”

          God be with you all.

  16. Recent appointments to the bench have been:
    (a) half female and therefore on average increasingly culturally conformist;
    (b) often scholarly but with a lamentable lack of biblical scholarship – in any other age there would have been a member of the bench to critique Steven Croft’s poor-quality publication on LLF;
    (c) nominally evangelical, which is almost the worst thing, because then that gives a false view of where evangelicals are at – maybe that was the idea (or maybe they were following HTB as the only alternative to freefall);
    (d) absurdly conformist in the voting of 5 years ago, far less so now;
    (e) more managerial and administrative – worst case scenario: managing decline.

    • Christopher,
      The female bishops are overwhelmingly liberal and have given no help to clergy hit by the LGBT lobby. The utter failure of the Bishop of Derby to support the chaplain sacked by Trent College is symptomatic of the ‘Scandinavian’ character of the C of E episcopacy: ceremonial figures (like the pointless House of Lords) who may grace community occasions but do nothing to see the nation converted to Christ.
      Sarah Mullaly was chosen not because of her intellect or theological depth but because she was once the Chief Nurse of Britain – Welby’s managerialism, in other words, which nearly inflicted Vennells on London.
      And who could forget the atrocious ‘Gaia theology’ of the Bishop of Reading?

      • Of course the female bishops are liberal. Only liberals – not evangelicals – feel themselves free to ignore St Paul’s command to Timothy. that an episkopos should be a “man of one woman” (word-for word translation of part of 1 Timothy 3:2).

          • Only from leadership. But just as LGBT has entered the church from Western culture, so has feminism.

            Having decided that men are to blame for everything wrong – since feminists regard everything as political and society has traditionally been patriarchal – then, as society goes further off the rails, feminists intensify their scapegoating. Feminists took up, ironically, male criteria for success, such as survival of the fittest in job markets. They say that men ‘should look for their feminine side’ when it is actually feminists who should do that! Women have won the battle of the sexes today. This is obvious in children’s books and TV soaps and adverts, which are a barometer of our culture. Female characters are smart, confident and attractive; men are either shabbily dressed losers and wimps, or evil. Educational psychologists have warned that the educational system is now geared to female rather than male strengths, which is why girls now out-perform boys at school. The British government enacted the Human Fertilisation And Embryology Bill, ending the child’s need for a father to be considered when granting women access to NHS in vitro fertilisation treatment. Lord Darzi, a Health Minister, stated in 2008 that it was “unnecessary, inappropriate and out of step with practice in society” to take into account the need of a child for a father, and that “retaining the need-for-a-father provision… would be inconsistent with the wider Government policy of promoting equality” (incoherent, since government accepts the need for a mother).

            In the Church of England, a survey by (Rev Prof) Leslie Francis found that female Anglican ordinands typically have masculine personality traits, and male ones have female traits (in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, vol. 12, pp. 1133-40; 1991). Have you ever felt slightly sick singing words to Jesus that you would never say to another man (You’re altogether lovely, altogether wonderful to me), words the disciples never used that make him sound like the singer’s boyfriend (try changing ‘Jesus’ to ‘baby’), closer to the Song of Songs than the Psalms, eros-love rather than agapē? How will a feminised church appeal to bikers, or soldiers? Women will follow women or men, but men will follow only men. That is why men drain away from female-led congregations. St Peter told women converts to win their husbands for Christ by loving them better (1 Peter 3:1-7), not by preaching (nagging), which is for a male convert to do toward his wife.

            Feminised churches present Jesus as a wonderful friend rather than an infallible guide along life’s thorny path and the supreme leader in the battle between good and evil – in the world and in oneself. But not everybody wants a new friend, whereas all are sinners. Another common feminised form of evangelism, particularly in charismatic churches, is to preach Jesus first as healer of negative emotions rather than forgiver of sins. This heresy leads to churches filled with people who have not repented deeply.

            Jesus as judge and executioner lies ahead. But he proved his worth for these tasks by performing the archetypal act of male heroism, as seen in war films: He gave his life for his brothers. Jesus chose the cross himself (John 10:18). The Christian faith offers a noble leader who sacrificed himself for his friends yet defeated even death; a freeman’s choice between good and evil; and a hero’s reward for the steadfast. Christian life is a battle as much as any in the Norse Sagas, Homer, the Mahabharata or (of course) the Old Testament.

            Ecce homo!

          • Kick out all the women and the homosexuals from Church of England leadership roles and that is over half the C of E clergy and bishops gone, yes

          • Ridiculous, there are plenty of women priests with lots of men and fathers in their congregation. The idea that men won’t follow women leaders is also absurd, look at the number of men who followed Margaret Thatcher as PM or Queens Elizabeth I and II

          • T1: 93% of fathers who are in a nuclear family will bring their family into the church if they are converted, but only 17% of women (statistics from Christian Vision for Men, UK). Where should the church be putting its emphasis in evangelism?

          • That doesn’t tell you anything other than husbands are more likely to make the decision whether the family should attend church or not. Increasingly however both fathers and mothers are often as comfortable and sometimes even more comfortable with women priests if they have children leading their local church. For starters as safeguarding worries are much lower given the fraction of female clergy who have sexually abused children is next to none where the percentage of male clergy who have sadly sexually abused children is much higher. Women priests also find it easier to include children in services too. Males alone may prefer male priests but that is different

          • That’s a smokescreen, T1.

            As for “Kick out all the women and the homosexuals from Church of England leadership roles and that is over half the C of E clergy and bishops gone” – yes please! (Apart from principled celibate SSA males like Vaughan Roberts.)

          • How do you know what it tells us, T1? You are inventing that. All we have is the raw data that fathers’ church attendance is far more likely to be determinative for the family than mothers’. This could just as easily be something about the intrinsic nature of fathers. Don’t be limited by only being ‘allowed’ to say things that are culturally acceptable. Acceptable to whom? And why is putting down or minimising men (against all this evidence) and their specific role and abilities remotely acceptable to anyone, any more than it would be in the case of women?

          • Which is even more to the point as to why the likes of you should not try and dictate to the rest of the C of E, We will tolerate you in your ultra conservative evangelical church but your rejection of women priests and same sex blessings and homosexuals is of no interest to the majority of the C of E. Hence Synod voted for women priests, women bishops and now same sex blessings

          • ‘We will tolerate you in your ultra conservative evangelical church.’ I am interested here in discussion, not in pejorative put downs.

            If you cannot manage that, please comment on another site.

          • It is fairly obvious what it tells us given the vast majority of sexual abuse of children within the church was committed by male, not female, priests. Hence many parents (fathers as well as mothers) feel more comfortable on that basis with female rather than male priests if they are taking children to church.

            Personally I am not minimising the role of male priests overall though, there are many excellent male priests and bishops it is you who minimised the role of women priests

          • Anton said: ‘But he [Jesus] proved his worth for these tasks by performing the archetypal act of male heroism, as seen in war films.’

            And also a picture that Jesus himself gave was of a hen gathering chicks. Just sayin’

          • Do you think a hen behaves like this?

            I saw… a white horse, and He who sat on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and wages war. His eyes are a flame of fire… From His mouth comes a sharp sword with which He may strike down the nations, and He will rule them with a rod of iron; He treads the wine press of the wrath of God Almighty. On His robe and on His thigh He has a name written, KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS. Then I saw an angel… and he cried out… to all the birds which fly in heaven, “Come, gather for the great supper of God, so that you may eat the flesh of kings and commanders and mighty men, and the flesh of horses and those who sit on them, and the flesh of all men, free men and slaves, small and great”… they were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse.

          • Anton

            As I am gay, no I haven’t felt sick singing love songs to Jesus, but I agree with your general point about that.

            I also agree that churches are generally not very inclusive of (stereotypical) men.

            I don’t agree that this is all women’s fault or that it has been caused by feminism. I think its more caused by a disconnect between the church and secular society

          • Peter,

            I didn’t say it was “all women’s fault” and I don’t believe that. Feminism entered the church from secular culture, a fact which shows that there is indeed something of a gluf between them. As there should be, for the New Testament regularly contrasts the church and the world. You seem consistently to be on the side of the world.

          • Anton

            If we are Christians then we should all be feminists. In Christ we are all children of God regardless of gender! There is no difference between male and female. Indeed all 4 gospels agree that Jesus chose his female followers to appear to first.

            The church establishment has been slow to recognize the value of women. I don’t agree that the exclusion men feel is due to women being treated better. I think both male and female exclusion is due to a failure to connect the church to real life and this is also a root cause of British people no longer valuing faith. The church has failed to explain its relevance

          • If we are Christians then we should all be feminists.

            Then you should be *very* much at home in the CoE, for the reasons I gave.

          • Anton

            The CofE is I credibly toxic for gay people and still does not treat women as the full equals of men

          • If the C of E is ‘incredibly toxic for gay people’, how come gay people are represented amongst the clergy at around six times the rate of the general population? Why are these gay people drawn to such a toxic organisation?

          • Anton

            In respect to everything

            As one example, women are still not allowed to lead in every church. In most churches, yes. I think its doubtful that they will be ever eligible for to be archbishops without serious structural change.

          • So you are ignoring what St Paul says about episkopoi (which in those days were congregational leaders) being a man of one woman.

          • Ian

            I’m not sure that’s true? In any case things can be simultaneously popular and harmful. When I was a teenager lots of my peers smoked, but that doesn’t mean smoking was good for them!

            I think it sometimes helps straight people to understand better if they replace “gay” with “Jewish”

            Imagine if Jewish people were allowed to work for a company, but only in certain departments and only if they obeyed social rules that didn’t apply to non Jewish people.

            The company public meetings are more times than not dominated by discussions about the Jews, sometimes without any Jewish person being allowed to give their thoughts on the matter.

            Eventually a Jewish person rises to the position of a middle manager and there is such outcry amongst the non Jews that he is demoted again.

            The board becomes stuck between wanting to improve their reputation by improving the lot of their Jewish workers and retaining more customers, but also avoiding another outcry amongst their more extreme workers who don’t want the Jewish people even to exist, let alone work alongside them

        • Excellent observations by Anton. The feminisation of the Church of England has only accelerated its decline. Of course this was not its intended consequence but it reflects a failure to understand – or rather to recognise – a fundamental creational dynamic about the nature of men and women and their relationships.
          It’s the same reason why a feminised police force and army are failing today.
          Happy Jack alluded to this above in his quotation of someone’s experience of a psychologised Catholic confession: negative emotions are addressed rather than actual sin and guilt.
          T1 is in denial. Feminised churches are failing in Britain and the US just as surely as they have in Sweden,

          • Eh? I haven’t seen a mass surge in attendance at Forward in Faith churches which reject women priests and even many evangelical churches which oppose same sex blessings welcome women priests. Dismissing the role of women in the church is outdated, alien to the modern world and will just turn the church even more into itself and disconnected from the modern western world

          • Count the errors.
            (1) The mission of the church is to be more like the world? So why do we have the church at all?
            (2) Who on earth dismissed the role of women in the church? It is best to amplify it – the reverse. And if you fudge men and women together as though they were the same, that is backward, since it destroys two central things, biology and romance.
            (3) Since when has ‘outdated’ been something good or bad rather than neutral? You are showing you do not understand the philosophical fallacy of chronological snobbery.
            All this is unthought-through cliches.

  17. Ian often gets annoyed – I hope with good reason – when people say ‘Christianity is dying in Britain’. Certainly Christianity and the C of E are not the same thing.
    But it can’t be denied that Anglican church attendance has not recovered from pre-Covid days – and the closure of churches by Welby and Cottrell was a disastrous move.
    The C of E is now under 600k in uSa. Why so many diocesan posts, then?
    And one of the most calamitous signs has been the crash in numbers of children in C of E churches. A recent ‘Anglican Ink’ article documents the decline in 10 years or so.
    In Canterbury diocese, for example, the number of children in church has fallen from 1600 to just 1000. A similar story can be found across the country.
    Meanwhile the Anglican Mission in England churches seem to be growing steadily with a strong emphasis on children and youth work.

    • James

      The traditional denominations in the UK have been in decline all of my life. Certain things have made these worse, but there has been broad decline for a long time. I have been a “young person” all of my life because the average age of church attendance increases with every passing year.

      I think there have been serious attempts to look at this, but I also do think there’s a deep unwillingness to accept that there is anything fundamentally wrong with establishment Christianity, a total failure to repent (especially of sexual abuse of children) and a lack of integrity

    • 1. James, yes.
      1.1 You have answered in part, a question I’ve asked on this site before: what has been the effect of female ordination on the current trajectory of the CoE, particularly ssm/b.
      1.2 It seems that AMIE affliated churches with their emphasis on male ordination and a concomitent commitment to familes and children are growing and looking to plant. And as a result engage men and women, married and single and a large children’s/ youth ministry, looking to grow and prepare children in faith and a life away from the family, such as university.

      2.2 Anton, thanks for taking the time and effort to make and answer points re, role and feminisation.
      One point I’d make is that Godly emotions are integral to men woman and children, and while I understand the point you make in respect of the songs, believers are to worship and adore our Triune God (as the bride of Christ). Misuse, of itself, is not an argument for none use: it may be one for correct use. ( Such as, ‘Lives laid down in adoration’-Kendrick).
      No doubt you be aware that Edwards wrote his book Religious Affections in response to what he saw a ‘misuse’ of affections in revivals.
      3.. James + Anton. Your comments taken together have not been considered by Ian.
      4. Happy Jack. Agreed thanks.
      5 Our host, Ian. Thank you for all the work you put into this. The Bishop’s training schedule says it all.
      And it is at odds with a question I asked of a Methodist Local Preacher, Business Studies prof. at a Russel Group university: can leadership be taught? A short answer was that although the Americans think it can, he was of the view that it couldn’t. (Mangement could.) He was a Christian and character was central to leadership.
      One of our chuch midweek group, used to attend New Wine and speaks very highly of you when you were there.
      6 It is with a heavy heart that I say this as a one coming to faith, converted as an adult in the CoE: Why would anyone, believer, with eyes wide open, seek ordination in the CoE today? Why would anyone, want to be a Bishop? Fleshly ambition? Career or calling. A calling from and into what and by whom or what?
      When I read and rejoice in the good news of the conversion of Colin Hamer’s daughter I see it set in stark contrast to the whole burden of the article, and especially the photograph at the beginning, which may represent, be a symbol of, the public face, of the CoE as little more than Cosplay Christianity, yet thankful that it is a Curate’s Egg for Colin’s daughter.

  18. If it is true that Vennells has shaped much of Welby’s thinking over the years then that might explain quite a lot.
    Surely the time has come for Welby to go. With whom does he have any credibility now?

  19. Augustine’s “The City of Man and the City of God” provides a key for interpreting history and maintaining a proper perspective of human events and the trials facing Christianity.

    Augustine sees history as a great drama between two cities: the City of Man and the City of God. The City of Man, is founded on self-love, sees pride, ambition, greed, and expediency reigning supreme. The City of God, is founded on selflessness and love of God where humility, sacrifice, and obedience are paramount.

    Membership in the City of God is not exclusionary. Augustine writes: “So long, then, as the heavenly City is wayfaring on earth, she invites citizens from all nations and all tongues, and unites them into a single pilgrim band.”

    The “cities” are distinct yet comingled. Each individual struggles with membership in both cities. At times, the citizen finds himself immersed in the City of Man and at other times he is in the City of God, but, more often than not, he bestrides the two.

    Augustine’s construct illustrates that the “meaning of history lies not in the flux of outward events, but in the hidden drama of sin and redemption.” For Augustine, the sack of Rome did not constitute the end of the world, as some feared, nor a repudiation of the Faith, as the pagans claimed. Rather, the event is understood as the free-willed action of inhabitants of the City of Man, focused on selfish goals.

    Do you think modern Western man, entrenched as he currently is in the City of Man, is open to the City of God? Are people looking to God and the Church today for hope or to the State? And what happens when the State fails to deliver and/or when the State fails to hold its citizens together? And as confidence in government shrinks, what do you think lies ahead in the short-term?

    This perspective gives a calm hope in our times.

    Pope Benedict XVI once predicted that the Western Church would continue to shrink before it grew again. In 1997, as Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger he warned:

    Perhaps the time has come to say farewell to the idea of traditionally Catholic cultures. Maybe we are facing a new and different kind of epoch in the Church’s history, where Christianity will again be characterized more and more the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world—that let God in.

    Ratzinger doesn’t want a smaller, “purer” Church. But he expects one because lukewarm Christians are leaving the Church in droves, and will continue to do so. “Cultural Christianity” may slow the trickle, but it can’t stop it. It’s people’s unwillingness to practice the Faith that makes them “cultural Christians” and not Christians.

    The Church has brought countless temporal benefits to Western society. But she did so only by teaching men to forget their own temporal good. C. S. Lewis writes:

    If you read history you will find that the Christians who did most for the present world were just those who thought most of the next. The Apostles themselves, who set on foot the conversion of the Roman Empire, the great men who built up the Middle Ages, the English Evangelicals who abolished the Slave Trade, all left their mark on Earth, precisely because their minds were occupied with Heaven.

    It is since Christians have largely ceased to think of the other world that they have become so ineffective in this. Aim at Heaven and you will get earth “thrown in”: aim at earth and you will get neither.

    • “…will again be characterized more and more the mustard seed, where it will exist in small, seemingly insignificant groups that nonetheless live an intensive struggle against evil and bring the good into the world.”

      In the small Catholic parish my wife and I attended in rural France, 3, then 2, full time priests had charge of 26 parish churches. They designated 3 of them as ‘every Sunday at 11’ and put the others on a 9.30 rota (so if you were in one of those, you attended the Mass at 11 at one of the hub services, and the one at 9.30 when your time came around.

      This shortgage of clergy gave rise to something impressive: a sense of responsibility and involvement by motivated lay people: for Sunday music, catechism, school and hospital chaplaincy, and so forth. I sensed that the investment their parents had made in seeing to them being catechized in a dedicated way, meant that as adults, they were ‘all in’ in wanting their parishes to thrive and to raise up a new generation of children. “Father” arrived in his car to say Mass, vestments already on, coming in from the 9.30 service. The Parish council and he say to it that the distributed tasks unfolded as best they could.

      The big and active churches in Paris have their own form of this model.

      In brief, crisis and loss of (notional) membership have given rise to commitment and joy in being a catholic Christian, happily ‘different’ than the culture around them, but engaged with it all the same.

      These are anecdotal accounts of course, and the situation differs in other places in France (old communist-leaning quartiers). And the law of laicisation ‘resolved’ a good deal of the property issues, freeing the church to focus on being the church.

      When one reads about “50 FTE staff persons” measured against this model, it seems obvious that this just can’t be anything except a busted system.

  20. I’m astonished that a diocese could have 50 central staff for 113 stipendiary clergy posts.
    In our Church of Ireland diocese we have about 50 clergy posts and less than 5 diocesan staff (7 individuals, all but two of them part-time). Our Archdeacons are also parish incumbents.

    • Sounds like the Church of Ireland correctly realises Parish ministry should be the priority. Hopefully the C of E learns that lesson too

    • The expansion of government is the story of the modern world writ large. The Royal Navy is only a shadow of what it was but it still seems to have a lot of admirals.
      Universities have ever increasing levels of bureaucracy as well as expense. But like the Navy, not much evidence it is producing a better product for the money.
      The managerial Church is simply aping the world. I know Church House figues who boast of the number of people “under” them. Secretly they think of themselves as businesspeople.

      • So do I…

        If one turns the clock back to the 1970/80s in Chester Diocese… one of its two archdeacons was also a parish incumbent of two churches. Aren’t most Area Deans (Rural Deans often by another name) also incumbents? Though I think Manchester (?) recently advertised for a full time RD.

        The problem for Archdeacons is probably the immense amount of centrally generated workload. That’s soluble if the centre was leaner…. which I think it should be.

        It’s not that every central role is “bad” but that it’s often at the expense of parishes… How many parish based youth specialists/evangelists/ would cost the same as one central role?

    • It feels very odd to be replying to my brother on here but… can you remind me what the roles are of those 7 individuals on the diocesan staff? (Are you counting +Andrew among those?)

    • David, please note that I have added some further information on the numbers. 9.5 of these are deployed in eg schools, and another chunk are covering statutory duties in education and safeguarding.

      • Thanks Ian, that helps. For comparison, the Church of Ireland has about 180 schools, and 2-3 central staff in education roles.

  21. Happy Jack
    January 12, 2024 at 9:38 pm
    Augustine’s “The City of Man and the City of God”

    Brilliant HJ. There is a terrific paper that I recommend to expand your thoughts @
    Detailing the first and last city,
    “The Scripture tells us that Cain founded his city when his son was born (Gen. 4:17). In contrast, when a son was born to Seth, men began “to call upon the name of the Lord” (4:26).
    While the ungodly dedicate themselves to building the earthly city, the godly look by faith to inherit the city of God.” [ Warren Gage. Ligonier]

    The Church at the end will not be seen as triumphant but the Overcomers will be; this is a time for the overcomers to shine forth, Mat 13:43 and stand fast and begin from the beginning.

  22. Thanks Ian – an interesting article – I am not an Anglican but I am not unaware of the protections that the free churches enjoy on the coat tails of the established church – sadly I fear the days for those protections are numbered.
    We too have had to turn our attention to producing safeguarding policies but our volunteers have little time to scrutinize the small print in such wordy documents so I am left wondering how much of this is a ‘box-ticking’ and litigation defence exercise.
    That said it is probably worth gently reminding everyone that ‘administration’ is a gift of God to the church (1 Cor 12:28) – why? – surely to facilitate and enable mission, evangelism and the spread of the Gospel.

    • Er, yes, except that that gift is not ‘administration’, but kubernesis, which is the technical term for the person steering the ship! TNIV says ‘guidance’, but ‘leadership’ is a better term.

      • Yes. Etymologically of course (not that that is always such an infallible guide) kubernesis produces ‘government’ (and ‘cybernetics’).

        Does not experience also tell us that leadership is one of those things, like the others in the list, which some clearly have and some clearly haven’t?

        • I like your thinking Christopher – Ian’s comment led me to dip into David Prior’s commentary on 1 Corinthians in the BST series. Whilst he agrees with Ian he suggests that ‘helmsman’ is a more useful translation, a sort of CEO steering the whole ministry team and congregation as well as holding everything in good order for the effective outworking of the church.
          Regardless, I think we can all agree that these lists are not exhaustive and God gives many different gifts to his church for effective ministry; administration being just one of the body’s many different parts.

      • Point taken although my Greek translation says ‘governings’ whatever that means.
        What about the previous gift ‘antilempseis’ – helper I think – surely all our churches need helpers to run things effectively – after all we are one body with different God-given gifts serving in unity for the common purpose of the Gospel are we not? Those whose gift is to help others must surely include administrators…

      • Just a thought – the early church practiced communal ownership and living and was also rapidly growing. Perhaps this is referring to the people who had to organize the household of the church, make sure everyone had enough to eat and take account of monies coming in and going out?

    • the protections that the free churches enjoy on the coat tails of the established church

      The established church has done nothing at all to protest against secular parliamentarians who have removed peaceable free speech on various subjects – speciously categorised as hate speech – or who have liberalised abortion or other activities which the Bible calls sin, and which are therefore bad for our society. Indeed it has sometimes approved of these.

      In the 18th century the Established church was behind the requirements that nonconformists register their places of worship and not meet elsewhere, and behind the denial of the professions and the universities to English nonconformists. (Many went to Scottish universities.) This malevolence actually proved to be a good thing for the nation, because many of them channelled their energies into the innovations behind the Industrial Revolution.

      In the 17th century, nonconformists were forbidden to meet outwith the CoE before the Civil War, and again for the three decades between the Restoration to the Glorious Revolution.

      I accept with gladness that CoE congregations have, through all these times, included many committed Christians. But its senior leadership has, with exceptions like JC Ryle, acted with malevolence toward the rest of the body of Christ. As I have said before, I would be content if the bishops were merely useless, and I would put up with the waste of money funneled to them from the faithful, which would be a matter between them and their Maker (although perhaps they should tremble); but they are worse, far worse, than useless. We have seen this abundantly in the last 12 months.

  23. Thank you for a very informative piece. My experience on the ground in the CofE, as chaplain in the Diocese in Europe, is all I know first-hand. I too have gone through the safeguarding turnstiles and paperwork.

    Can you explain “we have a total of 50 FTE central staff posts.” What are these people doing and why does it not amount to an alleviation of the many chores you speak of visited upon the Diocesan?

  24. The end of your article tends to imply that issues around marriage and sexuality are not at the heart of the Gospel.

    Perhaps it is time to reflect on Heb 12:2 Let us fix our eyes upon Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame …

    So what is the joy that was set before Jesus ?

    Surely it the joy of the bridegroom finally being married to his bride. That is what marriage is all about, as the entry on ‘marriage’ in ‘Vocabulary of the Bible’ (ed von Allmen) which begins:
    The biblical doctrine of marriage is intimately linked to the unfolding of the history of salvation.
    And ends:
    That is to say that the Church stakes its faithfulness not only on doctrine but on sexual and conjugal discipline also.

    The above probably influenced by Luther.

    The gospel is GOOD NEWS to all, without exception. Lambeth 1:10 is necessary, but not sufficient.

    It seems to me that the only organisations in the UK which have much of a clue about what the good news is to those who, by no deliberate choice of their own, find the gospel as preached not good news in the area of sexuality, are Core Issues Trust and the related IFTCC, with support from Christian Concern, Coalition for Marriage. They are in the frontline against attempts to close down any so called ‘Conversion Therapy’ which is a major challenge to Christian healing prayer of any kind, let alone gospel preaching. They CIT) are also making brave testimonies available via X-OUTLOUD.

    This part of the wall is broken and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up and extending sideways to repair other wobbly bits (abortion ?).

    • ‘The end of your article tends to imply that issues around marriage and sexuality are not at the heart of the Gospel.’ Not at all. Have you read around the blog?

      What I am suggesting is that putting more energy into fruitless efforts to contest the settled doctrine of the Church is a waste of time.

      • Ian

        Its not just a waste of time, but a deliberate waste of time.

        Rather than dealing with the real issues the bishops have been playing kick the can for at least 20 years (not just Welby, although he has a particularly strong right leg)

  25. I was a bishop’s chaplain for five years 20 years ago and loved the role. I observed the huge pressures on bishops – we had three in the diocese – and four archdeacons and 25 rural deans. Huge diocese geographically. The role of the diocesan was very much one of oversight and vision setting.
    But the pressures from the national church, the House of Lords, the various specialities that each bishop had to have as part of their portfolio were huge. Not to mention a daily avalanche of e mails, press events, articles to be written, several sermons or talks each week. The challenge that I think has emerged in the last 25 years is that vision has been replaced with managerialism. It is almost impossible to set vision now without talking about resources. My own experience is that if the vision is right, the resources will follow.
    A factor which happened during my time was the complete collapse of Confirmation as a rite. Bishops found that hard.

    • Why is a bishop setting a vision? A vision for what? What loyalty should parishes have to a diocesan ‘vision’? Why? Of course, in reality they don’t—each parish has its own vision.

      Where did all this come from? The diocese was originally a Roman administrate unity. It has no theological meaning.

      • Your own diocese has a vision. It’s emblazoned across the home page of its website.
        Theological meaning is an acquired thing.
        Each Parish having its own vision is Congregationalism. That’s what I have always suspected you would prefer, so no big surprise.

        • Ian – Andrew – when they put out a job advertisement, what does it say? Does the advertisement ask for candidates who have vision? Or is this not a requirement? ‘Wanted – Archbishop of Canterbury – drifters and drinkers need not apply – preference given to candidates who have vision’.

          • Jock

            There isn’t a advert for the senior bishops – they are effectively appointed by a shadowy group of individuals.

            They put forward two names to the PM who then has to pick one on behalf of the king (Brown changed it to one because he didn’t want to be choosing bishops, but I think Cameron changed it back again).

        • “Each Parish having its own vision is Congregationalism.”

          So would that definition not apply to an individual diocese;”having its own vision”?

          I think a bishop should have a vision of what God wants BUT it’s not generated by them … The core vision is given in scripture and the task of the Bishop is to encourage and to hold the church to it. “Afresh in every generation”.

          A change of bishop should not cause a change in this, apart from a fresh voice and enthusiasm and asking hard questions…. Not that the New Testament has much place for lone leaders.

          Surely the task of the local church is to decide vision priority/ strategies for the place in which God has set them. No bishop can do this from afar… or should be even trying. It’s not congregationalism, it’s taking responsibility.

          • Ian: the CofE ordinal is clear about the role of a bishop. You can see it here:


            But to implement all of that, vision is needed. And of course much of that vision will be found in scripture, in tradition, in experience and so on. But the vision needs tailoring to the local situation. For example, The Diocese of Exeter is vastly different to the Diocese of London.

            When a vacancy occurs in a diocesan bishopric the diocese will produce a ‘statement of needs’, drawn up by a vacancy in see committee. The new bishop will need vision to fulfil those needs.

            The money to then carry out the work to fulfil those needs is provided by the Parishes through Common Fund. It isn’t called ‘Common Fund’ for nothing.

            If a particular congregation doesn’t want to work within this common structure then of course it is free to go its own way. Which means leaving the building and so on. And if it doesn’t want to pay Common Fund it will soon find it can’t replace its Vicar when he or she moves on. And no, a parish can’t just employ their own Vicar because a Priest can only operate in a Parish if they have a licence from guess who? The diocesan bishop.

            This is how it works.

          • Yes, the ordinal is clear. ‘Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock5 and guardians of the faith of the apostles,6 proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission. Obedient to the call of Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit, they are to gather God’s people and celebrate with them the sacraments of the new covenant.’

            None of that mentions vision, strategy, budgets, or determining what sort of ‘vision’ a diocese should have. It does not even mention the existence of a ‘diocese’.

            What it does to is clarify that bishops should believe the doctrine of the faith as the C of E has received it, which a number of bishops clearly do not, and that they should teach and expound it, which a number do not.

            And note that the loyalty of clergy is not to an individual, or a particular vision, or someone’s set of preferences; it is to someone holding an office, and that office stands for the continuity of the apostolic faith and the teaching of Jesus, including as set out in Canon B30.

          • Or indeed each Cathedral setting its own entrance fees. Post-code lottery.
            Cost- benefit analysis is required to keep out the impecunious riff-raff.
            Why not revert to this from Bishop Joscelin of Bath and Wells 1219, St John Hospital:
            “No lepers, lunatics, or persons having falling sickness or other contogious disease, and no pregnant women, of sucking infants and no intolerable persons, even though they should be poor and infirm are to be admitted to the house; and if such be admitted by mistake, they are to be expelled as soon as possible.”
            That should do it, but putting up the price of admission is less offensive.

            Just as well Jesus paid in full the cost of admission to His church, unpayable by any one of us.

          • Geoff I’m not at all sure what relevance your comment has to either the topic or my previous comment. And Cathedrals are not part of a bishop’s responsibilities.
            And no Cathedral makes any charge for somebody attending a service, wishing to pray, or seeking the counsel of a Priest – which happens a great deal. What they charge for is tourists. And they charge a great deal less than a National Trust property does. As I’m sure you would be wanting to attend for one of the other reasons I mention you would get in free.

          • Andrew

            If the diocese of Exeter is so different from London then why was Sarah Mullaly taken from Exeter to London? Would not a local suffragan or vicar of a large church in London have made more sense?

          • Peter, Sarah was a suffragan in Exeter Diocese. Sarah also had a great breadth of other experience – which was no doubt what made her suitable for the Diocese of London. Not least she is great on vision 🙂 Her episcopal experience as a suffragan was presumably just one factor.

          • She had 11 years experience in parish ministry in London before being shipped off to Devon.

            It actually reads like she was sent to Devon to train her up as a bishop.

            But if these posts are not interchangeable then surely someone with some connection with rural west country life would have been put in that job, not someone who spent their entire career in the metropolis

          • It does not Ian and neither should it.
            I have explained how the vacancy in see committee provides a statement of needs – which of course will include vision. And that committee will include lay and ordained. Holding the vision and taking it forward is just one of the bishop’s roles and they will always have to do that in conjunction with others, taking advice etc etc.

          • The fact that a C of E committee takes it upon itself to create a ‘vision’ for the diocese does not give that meaning or authority.

            And given every parish will have its own context, it is unclear why the wider context of the diocese will have any impact on that.

          • I am very aware of the ‘statement of needs’ process. Logically, that does not mean that the ‘vision’ of the diocese has any particular status, or that such a vision statement should have any impact on any parish. I have never seen any parish say ‘We won’t do X that we wish to, because that does not fit with the vision of the diocese. Instead, against our better judgement, we will do Y because it does.’

            The vision of the diocese need be nothing more or less than to deploy its resources in the best way so as to see the good news of Jesus proclaimed in such a way that as many people as possible come to a living faith in Jesus. What else do we need? What else does a parish ‘vision’ statement need?

          • Andrew, if you had read the article, you will have noticed that I cite precisely the evidence from London as outlined by David Goodhew. That is where the ‘full fat faith’ statement comes from.

            But that is not a vision which is projected onto churches. It is a policy to work collaboratively with growing churches who have distinct visions, and refusing to press them into a ‘diocesan vision’ mould. So it is a very instructive example.

            Here is the explicit commitment to that from your link:

            ‘The intention is not to impose an add on programme on parishes, chaplaincies, schools and the other communities in the Diocese but rather to invite them to reflect on how to relate their own plans for mission to this overview of the period 2007-2012.’

          • So Ian it actually looks like we are in entire agreement here.
            London calls it ‘Capital Vision.’ Vision is the word. It’s a diocesan vision statement.
            And i agree wholeheartedly with the proviso.

        • ‘Each Parish having its own vision is Congregationalism. That’s what I have always suspected you would prefer, so no big surprise.’

          Again, you are welcome to comment. But you are not welcome to make these silly and snide comments. I will start deleting again.

    • The C of E would be even more impoverished; doctrine and canon would certainly have been revised by now; we would be in the situation of TEC; and there would be no turning back.

      • Presumably, the revisions would have applied to and by those remaining in the CoE, that is the the liberals, rather than to the cohort of evangelicals who would have separated as MLJ advocated.
        There would have been clear water between the two, with no drinking and swimming in the same muddy water.
        The CoS may be an example of what happens when evangelicals stay, thinking they could change the CoS from within by stopping the church’s early drift to liberalism and declension.
        The quickest way to change an organisation is to change the leadership and that is not likely in the CoE with its direction of travel and its appointments and training systems.
        It has been said that “culture (of an organisation) eats strategy for breakfast.”

        • If the faithful are to change the leadership of the CoE it will require robust action going beyond the usual structures of that church. Embarrassment, i.e. showing up the bishops’ hypocrisy, is part of the winning strategy – for victory is guaranteed if evangelicals act, as the Bible states – but evangelicals are probably too squeamish. Every public appearance and service of the Archbishops and perhaps bishops should be picketed peaceably with leaflets stating the bishops’s salary and with detailed contrasts of the number of parish priests and diocesan bureaucrats over the last 10 years. Local media should be informed and the bishop should be challenged to a debate on local radio. That’s just for starters.

          • Yes, and obviously.
            Consider the fatalism in the other view.
            Which is bound up with the management of decline.
            Restoration and redemption is a daily necessity anyway, so it is never not going to be necessary anywhere.
            The history of the church is, and is bound to be, a history of restoration, decline, restoration.
            The heroes are not the managers of decline but the leaders of restoration. Moreover this is obvious.
            And the idea that we have to choose between a positive option and a negative one makes no sense.
            Plus the facts on the ground are that the dissentients are not even remotely well-enough read in the research, or even in the Bible. They are aware of their own culture – the easiest thing for anyone to be aware of. All that gives them an equal place at the table??

  26. Ian Paul
    January 14, 2024 at 8:33 pm

    The C of E would be even more impoverished; doctrine and canon would certainly have been revised by now; we would be in the situation of TEC; and there would be no turning back
    Sounds to me like presumptious theological speculation.
    How can you be so certain? Discuss.

      • Either they will merely have delayed the incursion of the world into the Church or England or they will put an end to this present heresy among the bishops. But to win they will have to fight actively rather than reactively.

      • One of the news headlines this morning relates to the US Republican caucus in
        Iowa. Trump is likely to win because of the evangelical vote. It looks increasingly likely that Trump will return to power and I think that’s a very troubling thing for the whole world. The fact that evangelicals will aid that return is also troubling.

        • ‘Evangelical’ in the US means ‘white right wing voted’. A recent survey found 80% of ‘evangelicals’ never went to church.

          There is little connection with ‘evangelical’ in the UK.

          • In the sense that US evangelicals are anti abortion and anti same sex marriage like UK evangelicals obviously there is some overlap. Though whether Trump returns to the presidency or not probably depends as much on his legal cases as the evangelical vote

          • I am not pro abortion on demand, I believe in time limits for abortion but I wouldn’t ban it completely either. That is also the position of most Anglicans, whereas Roman Catholics and Baptists for example tend to oppose abortion outright

          • Ian

            Yes, but most evangelical church leaders in the US are passionate Trumpers. US evangelicals are different to UK evangelicals, its true, but its not as easy as saying that evangelicals who support Trump are just cultural Christians

            We now know that this started because Jerry Fallwell (the very influential leader of the largest evangelical college) and his wife were having three ways with a pool boy and Trump blackmailed him into announcing his support for him. Its fairly likely that had this not happened Ted Cruz would have been the nominee in 2016.

          • T1

            I think even without the legal problems, Trump would lose to Biden again, but it is, once again, going to be scarily close.

            Part of the issue is that Biden probably needs to get 2-3% more votes than Trump in order to win the electoral college. Its very unlikely Trump will win the popular vote unless there is a significant third party candidate

          • Please read the comments policy. Whether anyone here can pass a test of ‘orthodoxy’ on their views of Donald Trump has nothing to do with this post. I am sure there are other good places to discuss this.

          • The leading Christian evangelical publication, Christianity Today, is resolutely anti-Trump.

            How did this topic get air time when the excellent article being responded to is on episcopal leadership in the Church of England?

          • Andrew, if there are only 2 horses, it will very often happen that neither of them is up to scratch.

            Even if there were 5 that could happen.

            Your line of argument cannot possibly be that anyone who surveys a 2 horse race and is unenthusiastic about candidate A is a dyed in the wool fan of candidate B, can it? That would be an example of flawed reasoning.

          • Yes, but as you can see, the question mark is nullified by the subsequent ‘Interesting.’ which in English usage constituted a judgment based on relatively firm information. Were there no information, that could not be interesting.

          • Not at all. The ‘interesting’ simply implies that I am interested by his response to my question. You do have this habit of reading everything in terms of black and white Christopher. There are millions of shades in between.

          • Then you (to repeat) need to communicate better. ‘You support Trump’s return? Interesting.’ is naturally interpreted, according to English usage, in one way which is clearly likelier than any other. If you wanted to communicate that which you said you wanted to communicate, that would have been done by saying: ‘Do then support Trump’s return or not? I will be interested in you answer.’ Which means making about 3 changes from what you say. When all the while what you did say was word-for-word a stock response of the kind that regularly means something different from your intention entirely.

          • As so often Christopher you write according to the way you like to understand things rather than looking at the several ways of understanding. You need (to repeat) to read a little more carefully and with a more open mind.
            It is interesting – perhaps – to speculate on James’ answer to my question. But he is the only one who can actually answer it. Until then I suggest we keep an open mind.

          • Cartels making more money per day than many small countries.

            But just out of curiosity, has the argument not going anywhere obliged AG to bring in the T word?

            The horse race analogy is relevant. The incumbent–leaving aside the abject mess of the last years–will be closer to 90 in the middle of a second term than 80. That is *90 years old.* (He is doubtless being driven by the disenchantment being articulated strongly by Obama and his spokespeople.)

            For many, that is just not a good idea by any standard of success or failure as President and Commander and Chief. And that standard is extremely poor. Making it far more likely people are interested in DeSantis, Haley, Kennedy, Ramaswamy, Joe Manchin and others waiting in the wings. And yes, Trump. People want an alternative to the aging and invisible and incompetent Biden. The polls make that crystal clear.

          • Christopher (Shell)

            Where are you taking your reference to English usage from? Cambridge dictionary has it this way:

            Someone or something that is interesting keeps your attention because he, she, or it is unusual, exciting, or has a lot of ideas:
            She’s quite an interesting woman.
            She’s got some very interesting things to say on the subject.
            It is always interesting to hear other people’s point of view.
            Oh, I didn’t know they were married – that’s interesting.

            That’s the usage I was using. James said something interesting on the subject of Trump. I was keen to get greater clarity about his opinion, because it’s ’interesting’ .
            Hope this helps.

          • Please read the comments policy. Whether anyone here can pass a test of ‘orthodoxy’ on their views of Donald Trump has nothing to do with this post. I am sure there are other good places to discuss this.

          • Ian Paul – I suspect that the comment may have been on-topic – that Andrew Godsall thinks that Donald Trump may be in the running for next Archbishop of Canterbury if he misses out on the White House – and that this is the result of a sinister plot by the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Anglicans.

          • Mr Godsall, I don’t answer questions from manipulators and uninformed amateurs.

            “How much time have you spent in the USA, where, and under what conditions? Do you know how the caucus works in Iowa? Am I to mention Nigel Farage and ‘skinheads’ whenever I sense I am not making decent progress otherwise?”

            You are silent on these simple questions.

            If you can’t up your game, I fear comments like the following will capture the level at which you are being taken.

            “Andrew Godsall thinks that Donald Trump may be in the running for next Archbishop of Canterbury if he misses out on the White House – and that this is the result of a sinister plot by the Conservative Evangelical wing of the Anglicans.”

          • “I don’t answer questions from manipulators and uninformed amateurs”

            Neither do I Chris. It’s a good policy I’m sure.

        • Andrew

          Evangelicals in the US are quite different to the UK. They generally prefer guns to bibles for a start. My speculation is they like Trump so much because he is the embodiment of all the things that they have been told they aren’t allowed to do.

          There’s a lot of sickening deification of Trump by these groups, which Trump himself has engaged in – either saying Trump was appointed by God or is the second coming of Jesus! There was even a golden statue of him at one point.

          There’s a slight hope that some people are too scared not to say they support him, but will secretly vote Biden or not turn out, but the US is once again in a really dangerous place and would not be so if conservative religious leaders stood by the values they claim to hold and teach others to hold.

          (I think it is true that UK evangelicals increasingly receive negative influences from US evangelicals and this is a real danger)

          • Please read the comments policy. Whether anyone here can pass a test of ‘orthodoxy’ on their views of Donald Trump has nothing to do with this post. I am sure there are other good places to discuss this.

        • How much time have you spent on the ground in the USA?

          What do you know, first-hand, of the things you opine?

          I lived for over 20 years in Germany, the UK and France and would be loathe to weigh in so self-confidently, as you do, about the elections and candidates in the respective nations. It’s like the way ‘con evo’ is made to do duty for the very complicated ‘evangelical’ reality in the US.

          I say that being neither, but being a citizen of this country.

          I think if you want to introduce this line of argument you need to establish your bona fides, and reading the Guardian is a very poor shortcut.

          How much time have you spent in the USA, where, and under what conditions? Do you know how the caucus works in Iowa? Am I to mention Nigel Farage and ‘skinheads’ whenever I sense I am not making decent progress otherwise?

          “If you bother to read the thread you will see exactly why I brought in a reference to Donald Trump.”

          I read it and I have an idea why you mention the T word. Failure to stay on topic and to speak about things you have actual on-the-ground experience of.

          As noted, “No, it is an expression of your prejudice and sense of superiority.”

          Are you able to hear that accurate judgement? It is spot-on.

          • Chris: the fact that you are a card carrying supporter of Trump will suprise no one. The fact that you think such support is compatible with being a Christian should surprise everyone.
            As you often say – Be well. And wear your MAGA cap with pride.

          • Mr Godsall. I have no idea what you are talking about. That is not unusual, but it is now verging on steady-state. MAGA hats? You have absolutely no idea about my political choices. None.

            But one thing is crystal clear. You cannot listen. You enter areas of discussion for which you have no bona fides. When you get caught in a web of rhetoric and nonsense, you shift to MAGA hats and Trump and prejudicial and uninformed cant.

            I am beginning to feel sorry for you. I thought there was a higher level of intelligence and rational thought operating. Be well indeed.

          • Chris: Mr Godsall was my dad. I’m not sure why you are referring to him, but if you have no idea what is being spoken about, then why reply?

            I don’t know your political choices. I only know what you write here. And as has been noted elsewhere several times before, you will change what you write and avoid any questions so as to avoid giving any direct answers.

  27. ‘Your own diocese has a vision. It’s emblazoned across the home page of its website.’
    I’ve never quite understood why a diocese needs to have a vision, at least not one that’s different from every other diocese. Do the dioceses think they are in competition – who has the best vision? And really, does anybody care? I wonder if anyone can quote the vision of their own diocese.

  28. As a matter of interest how many of the 50 diocesan staff are involved with the Board of Education? The CofE seems absolutely wedded to Church schools and I’m not convinced the money is well spent.

    • It isn’t objected to, after all the King has vowed to uphold the structure of the Presbyterian Church of Scotland which is as Calvinist as Congregationalists (albeit governed by elders) as well as being Supreme Governor of the Church of England.

      Congregationalism is however not compatible with Anglicanism as it does not believe in leadership by Bishops within the Church as Anglicans do (hence the Anglican church in Scotland is the SEP not the Church of Scotland)

    • From a long history, dating back to 1660, of persecuting non-conformists and inflicting civil penalties on them for being on the winning side in the Civil War and executing Archbishop Laud and King Charles the Martyr.
      Think of the Five Mile Act and control over admission to Oxbridge.
      The English constitutional theory holds that the King is the Supreme Governor of the Church of England with the power to appoint bishops (having been crownedby the Archbishop of Canterbury), and if there are no bishops, there is no King. This theory doesn’t seem to apply in Scotland or Northern Ireland, for theological reasons I don’t understand.
      This peculiar constitutional theory was bolstered in the 19th century with the rise of the Oxford Movement and Anglo-Catholicism which holds that ministers who have not been episcopally ordained are not true ministers (priests) and do not have real sacraments.
      Therefore a congregational fellowship is really a gathering of laymen. This belief explains why a Baptist or Presbyterian minister who wishes to minister in the Church of England must first be ordained to priestly orders by a bishop “in the historic episcopate” but a Roman Catholic priest (many of whom are in the ministry of the Church of England) is not re-ordained.
      Of course this wasn’t the rule in the 16th century, when continental ministers like Martin Bucer were admitted to the ministry of the Church of England.
      Andrew Godsall may be able to explain it further.

      • Yes, in part because the Church of England like the Roman Catholic church is a church of apostolic succession, unlike Baptist or Presbyterian churches

      • Before 1660, James! Nonconformists, ie Puritans outwith the CoE, were persecuted under Elizabeth I, James I and Charles I. That’s why the Mayflower set sail, and it was one of the two main causes of the English Civil War (the other being Charles’ policy of levying new taxes withour parliamentary consent). For the early stages, read Patrick Collinson’s book The Elizabethan Puritan Movement.

        • Anton: yes, there was persecution of non-Anglican Protestants before 1660, I don’t know what was happening to non-Anglican Protestants in the reign of Elizabeth I (there were plenty of Puritans in the Church of England then), but I do know that Reformed Continental ministers were accepted into the Church of England without being re-ordained. Charles I of course started the Civil War over his foolish imposition of episcopacy on the Church of Scotland.

          • We agree, although at risk of pedantry it wasn’t an English civil war when the Scots revolted and, to emphasise their point, invaded England’s north, which was the first military action of the entire convulsion. I’d say the English civil war began when Charles declared war on his own people’s representatives and raised his standard in Nottingham in 1642.

  29. What I have learned is that Mr Godsall has absolutely no experience of life on the ground in the USA. He has no interest in Joe Biden’s advanced age and horrible track record — the worst positive numbers amongst Democrats, I repeat Democrats, in history. He can only indulge in MAGA projections. He does not seem to be aware that there are a number of very talented Republican challengers, and that a lot of people will vote for them — not only because they prefer them to the former president, but because they cannot countenance a continuation of the incumbent’s terrible record and frankly troubling age and competence (I cringe to think what Macron and other European leaders say about time in his presence, showing him how to leave the stage etc). He and others do not seem to understand that the main evangelical publication in the US, Christianity Today, is now and has been opposed to the former president. That there is a ‘left wing’ of evangelicalism (some of it is generational) that is not in favor of ssm or abortion on demand, but is concerned about the environment, race relations, women’s rights and who would never vote for either the incumbent or the former president. For them, Kennedy, Haley, Vivek and other third-party candidates are the best hope. Top of the heap of sloganeering and cliches and ignorance is Mr Godsall, and he shows no interest in coming up to speed about a culture not his own. That is embarrassing.

    To quote one of the sages, ‘Worst kinda dunno. Dunno he dunno.’

    Many of us hope to see surprising results in Iowa, and most of all, long for the media circus to be placed on ‘pause.’ Most Americans realize that Joe Biden is a very poor president and say that in polls, regardless of party. They may not view the former president as the best antidote, but they cringe at the idea of four more years and a President pushing nineties (if indeed he lives through the term). And they see plenty of good alternatives on his right and his left.

    Professor Seitz

    • So do you think the Dems will pull the plug on Joe and crown Michelle as their nominee in August? That’s what I hear from some corners of the fever swamp.
      Gavin Newsom is hovering in the wings as well, along with RFK Jnr.
      I agree that Vivek is a very smart guy.
      I don’t think an incumbent has withdrawn since LBJ in March 1968 (IIRC).
      Michelle Obama would of course be a puppet of her husband (as Biden is also an Obama puppet but one that isn’t doing well) but her candidacy would mark the full Argentinisation of US politics.

        • THANK YOU!

          Once the topic is raised, it is painful to see the discussion. It would be like someone from rural Iowa talking about bad teeth and bad food in England, or Brexit being a plot designed to waylay Liz Smith down the road, or little England being overrun by Muslims, or whatever.

          • Just as a matter of interest, Professor Seitz, are you going to answer my question about Paul Grice and implicatures?

          • I genuinely do not know what you are talking about. Sorry.

            I said above you must be confusing me with someone else. Can you check your notes and speak to the person you want to answer your question?

          • Professor Seitz, can we have one last ‘go’ at this? I have been asking if the ‘canonical’ approach to interpretation (your approach?) takes into account theory and research from linguistic pragmatics (the work based on Paul Grice and his notion of implicatures).

            You wrote in _The Character of Christian Scripture_ (87) ‘The canonical approach has not turned its back on the findings of historical-critical inquiry, but it has put it under a light [YES!] and asked what is really being said that helps with interpretation of the _literal sense of the text-‘ (my emphasis). You also frequently use _plain sense_.

            My question simply is: does your literal and plain sense include ‘meaning’ that _has_ to be _inferred_ by a reader? That is, reference assignment (pronouns etc.), disambiguation, and filling in omitted syntactic stuff as well as information from the reader’s understanding of the world (in Relevance Theory terms, _context_). From what I have read so far, it may do but I find in other places you seem to suggest otherwise, notably when you comment on linguistic-type topics (e.g. on speech act theory, narrativity and your comment on Penny’s ‘pristine text’ in the previous thread). (Too much aligned with ‘Is there a meaning in this text?’ and reader-response criticism??)

            So I ask again, can you point me to a place where canonical-approach people have interacted specifically with the pragmatics notion of implicatures (understanding and interpreting a text based on inference)? If they haven’t, ok, I’ll go and annoy someone else, but I will wonder, why not? General linguistics, including how language works in communication (pragmatics) might be useful for biblical interpreters.

          • Mr Symons,

            Can you kindly point me to where you raised this substantive question with me, to which you advert in detail below?

            My mind may be failing me, I sometimes ask that, but this is the first I can recall anyone asking me about canonical hermeneutics or about books I have written, in this forum.

            As for ‘Paul Grice and implicatures,’ I confess in my long career, the name and term mean nothing to me, not from my PhD students and their research, nor from any of the multitude of professional colleagues I interact with, nor from any journal discussions or scholarly footnotes I am aware of.

            Thank you for persisting, even if it is something akin to Hezekiah’s tunnel, unknowns groping with sound/noise alone.

            Professor Seitz

          • Professor Seitz, are you saying that you, your colleagues, your PhD students, and research that you have read on biblical interpretation have had nothing to do with current general linguistics?

          • Bruce, I don’t know what this exchange has to do with the article. This is not a message exchange board; why don’t you write to Chris by email?

          • Apparently, Christopher, it was not possible to do systematic exegesis for the first 19 centuries of the church, until the appearance of the prophet Paul Grice.

  30. Thanks for the comments about congregationalism T1 and James.
    It would seem to me that unless there is a formal process that can remove Bishop’s from their positions in the same way you can with vicars and other clergy, then nothing will really change. Their lack of accountability to anyone but themselves is what is wrong here. Make them accountable in a way that has teeth then things will change. I assume that Synod can’t do this – is that right?

    Something close to to removing a Bishop occurred with the Bishop of Winchester but l imagine he is still a Bishop?

    Are Bishop’s subject to CDMs even?

    • Chris, Common Tenure, the form of ‘employment’ under which clergy are contracted actually gives them a huge amount of security. It’s really difficult to ‘get rid’ of clergy. And it’s fair that they have a good degree of security because they are obliged to live in tied accommodation and their families have very little security because of that.

      Bishops are subject to the CDM process in just the same way as any clergy. So that is the accountability. Though you note that Tim Dakin was forced to stand down. That was a pretty big shock to the system.

      And yes the former Bishop of Winchester remains a bishop. He was ordained a bishop and will remain one forever unless he resigns his orders. Just as other ranks of clergy do.

      • I’ve never quite been convinced about a bishop remaining a bishop after retirement. The Diocesan responsibility goes and their ministry reverts to that of Deacon /Priest in retirement.

        Added to that is the not quite New Testament way that “Bishop” is used in the CofE. Is it an honouring of what’s gone… or a comfortable Fudge that has no real import…. certainly enhances the pension…?

  31. Andrew, many thanks for your reply. l do read the accounts of CDMs that are published on the CofE website and the outcomes where some clergy are removed from Holy Orders. I have not come across any CDMs brought against Bishops let alone where they have had their orders removed.
    So in the case of a badly behaving Bishop how can he/she ever be removed? Unlike lesser clergy there seems to be no process for doing so.

    • Chris I am not sure what you have in mind by the phrase badly behaving bishop but I can assure you that the CDM process applies equally to bishops. It’s just that there are only 120 or so serving bishops compared to many thousands of serving clergy.
      Removing from holy orders is the most stringent of penalties and not very often applied. There are several other penalties.

        • If I understand correctly, one of the complaints is that ‘lower’ clergy have been hammered by bishops on perceived safeguarding failures while Steven Croft and John Sentamu failed similarly but Croft (at least) faced no discipline; Sentamu was already retired so losing his PTO didn’t affect his employment or income.

          Safeguarding has been a fiasco in the C of E. Too often it looks like the episcopal system protects those in power – and that isn’t how the New Testament understands the ministry.

      • Andrew, what I mean by a badly behaving Bishop is a bishop whose beliefs are inconsistent with the received doctrine of the CofE and who’s moral and personal behaviour is unbecoming to their office.

        So as an example, suppose that Paula Vennells was appointed as the Bishop of London after leaving the Post office and during her tenure as CEO of the Post Office, it was subsequently found in a court of law and public inquiry, that she had acted in a way to deliberately suppress evidence that would have led to the acquittal of sub-postmasters who have been convicted, fined and sent to jail with some committing suicide.

        Unless she voluntary stepped down, would there be any mechanism to remove her from office and who would enact it? In the case of Tim Dakin he did voluntary step down but suppose he hadn’t . What then?

        Would she have been treated in exactly the same way as lesser clergy?

        • Chris: look at the case of Steven Croft for your answer. Compare that with the way Bishop Tim Dakin treated the Dean of Jersey – and the £200k legal enquiry that Bishop Dakin instituted and then covered up.

        • Well..
          The CDM process can not be used in the matter of doctrine. For any clergy.
          Some will argue that is one of its failings.
          It has many other failings – one of which is the public shaming, for which there is no need. I was involved in some independent assessment of the CDM process, and it will be superseded this year [i think] partly as a result of that assessment.
          I suspect Tim Dakin was subject to a CDM and possibly stood down first? Who knows. And we don’t need to know, I don’t think. People deserve privacy. You will recall that David Hope, when he was bishop of London, was ‘outed’. He – rightly – said that this was no one’s business and his sexuality was a grey area. He faced the press very bravely. You can imagine that nowadays some clergy in the London Diocese would want to take out a CDM against him. The process did not exist back then.

          In the case of Paula Vennells ..I suspect that if your scenario came to pass, she would have stood down.

          • “I suspect Tim Dakin was subject to a CDM and possibly stood down first? Who knows.”
            Well, not you, Andrew. But his treatment of the Dean of Jersey was a big public matter which caused a long suspension, great grief, a very expensive High Court judge enquiry (suppressed by Tim Dakin) – and the eventual vindication of the Dean. Even the senate of Jersey was dismayed by this. Winchester went on to have a number of very expensive NDAs – about £500k worth IIRC – indicating serious breakdowns in pastoral relationships.
            David Hope’s “outing” was by Out!Rage, one of Peter Tatchell’s operations. The implication was not just his own private feelings (who could know or really care about these?) but whether he acted them out. Out!Rage pursued about ten bishops over this, probably working on some inside information.

          • James I think you will find that the ‘outing’ of David Hope was not by Peter Tatchell actually. David Hope evidently admitted that he went public not in response to Tatchell, but following an approach from a Telegraph reporter who gave him the impression he was about to be exposed by OutRage!. David Hope was, it seems, bounced into coming out by a journalist who gave him false information. Outrage were not planning to ‘out’ him, but had been encouraging him, and other bishops, to ‘out’ themselves.
            My point remains that David Hope would probably have been subject to a CDM these days, given the stance of some clergy in the Diocese of London.

            Yes, I agree with your comments about Tim Dakin. What I still don’t know – and perhaps you do – is whether he was subject to a CDM, which was Chris Bishop’s question.

          • It is, of course, also worth noting that Tim Dakin was very much an evangelical, a conservative, and was trying to redirect resources towards church planting and church growth.

          • Tim Dakin was mostly (sadly) someone who drew power to himself, operated secretly, and didn’t speak to his clergy.

            Some of us tried to point out that this was not a good strategy—but for some reason he would not listen.

  32. Andrew writes: “My point remains that David Hope would probably have been subject to a CDM these days, given the stance of some clergy in the Diocese of London.”

    I do not understand how that could be, unless he was actually involved in forbidden behaviour or relationships, and I haven’t seen or heard any evidence of this. Maybe Out!Rage knew something? I didn’t say that Peter Tatchell did the ‘outing’ but that he was behind the campaign to ‘out’ gay bishops – who are obviously known as such. How could this be if personal conduct is above board? David Hope was actually my DDO for a while, before Richard Chartres.

    I knew Tim Dakin a little, a long time ago, when he was still with CMS in Kenya. I was and would still be pretty much in agreement with his theology and his understanding of the role of parish churches in preaching the Gospel and building up Christian communities. I was astonished how quickly he rose ‘through the ranks’, given his lack of parish experience, and regrettably, he began showing poor judgment. I thought the Jersey business was completely mishandled, an attempt to demonstrate cojones when the Church was under the spotlight over safeguarding. (A similarly foolish reaction was shown in the ‘damnatio memoriae’ of George Bell.) Evidently Jersey wasn’t the only failure of judgment. One of the contributors to the sadly defunct ‘Archbishop Cranmer’ website said they used to refer to Winchester as ‘the Diocese of North Korea’.
    I think Tim was and is basically a good person but out of his depth in leadership. And that’s one of the reasons I think episcopacy should be a fixed term post of 3-5 years, then back to the parish – a bit like the Presbyterians’ Moderatorship.

    • “I do not understand how that could be”

      Then your memory is short. Remember Jeffrey John? Forced to stand down by conservative evangelical clergy even though his relationship was celibate, just like Bishop Nicholas Chamberlain.

        • IIRC, Jeffrey John and his ‘partner’, a clergyman to whom he was sexually attracted and he to him, had actually bought a house together, which is a pretty strong indication of intimacy.
          I think if I lived with a woman who was not my wife and we owned a house together, people would draw some obvious conclusions.
          Would you believe someone was a teetotaler if his home was full of booze?

      • Andrew: are you saying that David Hope was in a romantic same sex relationship with a man?
        I hadn’t heard that, though I lived in London and then later in York diocese.
        What information do you have on this?

        • I’ve no idea and I could not care less about David Hope’s personal life. You seem keen to draw conclusions about things.
          Bishop Nick Chamberlain and his civil partner have been together for 30 years or more. What conclusions do you draw from that?

          • That whoever okayed his consecration was in counterscriptural endorsement of such activity in the Church of England.

          • Andrew: your reply makes no sense. You say you know nothing about David Hope’s personal life but that London clergy could have made a CDM complaint against him. For what? Having a homosexual “orientation” – but not acting upon it or proclaiming it – has NEVER been a barrier to serving as a minister in the Church of England.
            Do you mean that David Hope was in a romantic relationship with another man, and perhaps more?
            What information did Out!Rage have that they targeted him?
            Please tell us what you know. A clergyman in York diocese hinted something to me once, having been to Hope’s home, but I asked no more.

            As for Nick Chamberlain: nobody in a civil partnership should be a minister in the C of E. It is plainly wrong by the Gospel and principles of prudence and avoiding scandal. Catholics call it ‘avoiding the occasions of sin’. The C of E erred seriously here. Anton is correct.

          • No, what I said was:

            “You can imagine that nowadays some clergy in the London Diocese would want to take out a CDM against him.”

            I repeat, I know nothing and care even less about his personal life.

          • Andrew comments:
            “No, what I said was:
            “You can imagine that nowadays some clergy in the London Diocese would want to take out a CDM against him.”

            I repeat, I know nothing and care even less about his personal life.”

            Your comment is without any substance and is really just a vague slur on “some clergy in the London Diocese”. If Hope didn’t break any rules of clergy behaviour, how could a CDM be entertained?
            What did Out!Rage know about him that they suborned a Telegraph journalist?

          • Neither had Jeffrey John or Nick Chamberlain broken any rules of clergy behaviour yet even here you are saying Nick should not have been ordained. So it is by no means fanciful to imagine some clergy in London diocese being equally judgmental about David Hope is it?

          • Well, Nick Chamberlain said his relationship was celibate. Jeffrey John said his relationship was no longer sexual, as they had lost interest.

            So quite a difference there.

            But this thread has gone down quite a rabbit hole, and I think belongs elsewhere.

          • What on earth is this thing ‘personal life’ that is hermetically sealed from other compartments of life?

            Secondly, one would have thought that anything ‘personal’ would be close to the centre not far from it.

            Thirdly, that is a cliche and therefore unlikely to be thought-through.

          • Christopher’s comment is on point. For the Christian there is no such thing as a “personal life” which is distinct from being a Christian, and a fortiori for a person in church leadership. The Father “sees what is done in secret” (Matthew 6.7) and nothing is hid from God’s Spirit (Psalm 139). The personal qualifications to be a leader in the ministry of the Church of God are set out in the Pastoral Epistles, and the Church of England is bound by these, as the Ordinal states.
            It is only in modern secular life that we have begun to separate the private sexual life of a person from his or her public duties, and still in some of the professions one’s personal behaviour can lead to discipline or disbarment for bringing the profession into disrepute, as lawyers and doctors often discover.
            And with that I exit this rabbit hole.

          • Christopher and James: what absolutely self righteous tosh! If I asked either of you to discuss your sexual lives you would rightly reply that it is none of my business. It’s one reason you have doors on your bedrooms. That’s what is meant by personal life.

          • Andrew – ummm – you’re right that it is entirely out of order to ask people about their sex lives, but if the person in question claims to be a Christian, then we should be able to assume that this aspect of their life is in order – and if the person belongs to the clergy, then we should be able to assume that he or she will quit the clergy and sit in the pew and listen, like ordinary lay people, if this aspect of their life is not in order. Anything else should be considered an absolute scandal.

            I’m wondering about your general views on deviance. What if Deacon Brodie had been a church man? What if he had been known for giving excellent sermons and excellent pastoral care? Would his secret night life as a house breaker and gambler really have been no business of the congregation? Would it have been out of order for them to get annoyed with him when he eventually got caught?

          • Jock: I suggest you read Zeal for thy house by Dorothy L Sayers. You’d find it answered your questions.

          • Andrew, you write: “If I asked either of you to discuss your sexual lives you would rightly reply that it is none of my business… That’s what is meant by personal life.” So if a PCC is interviewing candidates to be their vicar in a diocese where the bishop listens to locals, and they discover that one candidate recently dumped his wife for a woman married to someone else, that should absolutely not be taken into account?

          • Anton: they wouldn’t even be on the shortlist if that were the case. So it’s a non question.
            If they asked a candidate their favourite position the candidate would rightly object and say that was personal and out of bounds.

          • People make the category of a personal life because that allows them to do all the secret things they want to do and simultaneously justify it by its being in a different compartment (as though it were).

            Mark 4.22.

            The fact that some things are rightly confidential has nothing at all to do with any claim that it is ok for them to be immoral too. And the logic of that would be a complete non sequitur, of course.

          • Private, personal, confidential. These three things are not interchangeable. Ask a lawyer.
            People have a right to privacy and confidentiality about a variety of matters that relate to their personal lives. That isn’t some invention.
            For example, one’s medical records are quite personal – belonging to or affecting a particular person rather than anyone else. They are also private and confidential, though – as with the King’s disclosure yesterday – there may be good reason to make such personal matters public. That is for the person to decide, and not someone else. Hence ‘outing’ something personal about someone should usually be considered immoral.
            Your interest, and the interest of a number of others here, seems more like prurience. There is no ‘invented’ category of personal anymore than there is an invented category of shoe size. It is just an element of someone’s life.

          • If I have an ‘interest’, how come I just said that some things are properly confidential?

            Secondly, you did not address my main point: that things that are especially close to one’s person/identity are *central* to one and therefore are in close conjunction with (or even often ruling) other aspects of one’s (noncompartmentalised) life.

            Third, you are advocating either schizophrenia or dishonesty or both.

          • Christopher I am not advocating for any such thing. I am advocating for integrity – especially amongst those who are Christians – and I am advocating for charity rather than judgementalism.

            If you don’t have any ‘interest’ then you really won’t care about David Hope’s private life. I wish the same could be said of James.

            As to your main ‘point’: I am afraid I don’t know what you sre on about. You seem to just be advocating some very general ideology about ‘compartmentalism’ as if I have some idea what it means. I don’t. You will need to be specific and not talk in generalities.

          • None of which connects to, affects or understands what I am (and most Christians round the world together with me are) saying. Which is that the true perspective is that our lives are not compartmentalised, everything is important, important to God, and interrelated. That applies to all of us. Others’ character is not liable to be under our control unless we are parents or in loco parentis. Nor is it on our radar. But between that person, whichever of us it be, and God, it matters and matters a lot.

          • “Which is that the true perspective is that our lives are not compartmentalised, everything is important, important to God, and interrelated”

            Who has denied that and where? Please be specific and support your reply with reference and a link. There are far too many of these types of accusation being thrown around here

          • That was not the part you were denying, but it provides the full picture, which is the picture I am throughout assuming. The part you were at odds on was the importance of all our acts being done in the sight of God, whoever we are, and the idea that somehow there is this thing a ‘private life’ which so often in common parlance is the things people jealously guard and try to justify by means of saying they are in a separate compartment, as though they were.

          • ‘Personal life’ Jan 16, 5.24. It’s a cliche oft repeated but rarely scrutinised in the public square.

          • So in other words you are just making assumptions and have actually not bothered to scrutinise very carefully. Please do not attribute to me things I have not said.

  33. Actually James, I don’t think that is a bad idea. Episcopacy should be for fixed terms-say 5 years and then 5 years fallow. It would help stop dominating personalities and power centres developing and allow other talent (better or worse) to come forth.

    • Chris, thanks for your concurrence. It is for the same reason that I support fixed terms for MPs.
      I would also require bishops to be serving parish ministers.
      If it is objected that this would make the job of bishop too onerous, I reply that in that case we have forgotten the nature of the work.
      When I was in teaching, I thought head teachers should always have some teaching responsibilities, to remind them of what they required others to do, and to keep their basic skills up to scratch. The rise of professional managerialism detached from the actual tasks (playing human chess) is one of the curses of our age. And as we have been reminded, management is not the same as leadership.

  34. I am immensely grateful for this thoughtful, extensive and helpful piece.

    Just before the first lockdown in 2020 I published Just John, the biography of John Habgood, former Archbishop of York. In many peoples’ eyes, John embodied the worst of liberal modernism, but I saw a different side and thought John was far, far bigger than that label. In writing the biography, I realised I was setting out a view of the Church and episcopacy which was a corrective to the prevalent one, which makes the fatal mistake of treating the Church as an organisation rather than an organism. As this extract (surveying John’s Durham diocesan letters) makes clear:

    ‘Ever the biologist, he senses the Church is an organism, which it is, none other than the Body of Christ. But organisms effect how we use language, both limiting and enhancing it. You can run a bus, but you can’t run a person; you can improve a machine, but you can’t improve a child. You can observe a child, cherish a child, desire their flourishing, but you can never control him, unless he becomes an automaton rather than a person. In short, John sees the church as a ‘you’ to be encountered and adored and wept over, rather than an ‘it’, to be dragooned and controlled and organised.’ (Just John, page 112)

    We are all tempted to streamline and make more efficient what seems cumbersome, but the concomitant danger is that such good intentions can bring about the cumbersome’s destruction rather than its improvement. Successive CEOs of the Post Office no doubt wanted to make the organisation run better, but forgot that at its best it was an organism, a kindly village postmistress guiding a confused old lady how to complete her TV licence. At its best the Church is an organism too, just a mother nursing a baby in a stable born in a far away land…

    • What a fascinating reflection—thank you. I think you highlight the difference between the theological liberalism of a previous generation with the reductionist liberalism we are now seeing.

    • David thank you so much for your most helpful observations about the distinctions between an organism and and organisation. What a brilliant thought.
      The early 1980s were a very hopeful time in the Church of England. Who can forget the positive contributions reports like The Church and the Bomb and Faith in the City made to a society that was struggling to focus on anything other than materialism. The Church really had a voice in the public square. That voice has now been lost and the Church of England has lost its credibility. There is very little hope for it left. Archbishops John Habgood and Bob Runcie were primarily theologians and teachers, and certainly not managers. Now we have an Archbishop who only sees the Church as an organisation, claims things like Iwerne, Paula Vennells, HTB as his primary influences and says different things to different people with a lack of integrity.

      The Church of England under John Habgood and Bob Runcie was also much broader. The loss of that characteristic has also impoverished us.

      • Runcie, when asked what the cross meant to him, could not think of an answer.

        That is not a breadth I am very interested in. It was also Runcie who pursued a ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ policy around sexuality. Do you think that kind of institutional dishonesty was a good thing?

        • Yes, you’ve made that claim before and it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Added to which he taught and preached and spoke about the cross many times, very effectively. What he didn’t do was provide quick, cheap and glib answers about anything.
          Better to focus on the very positive quote from David Wilbourne’s book.

          • He was in that liberal tradition which believes Jesus’ death was a great moral example, but did not effect anything. So it is hardly surprising.

            This was the era in which the non-realist Sea of Faith movement thrived. A group who not only didn’t believe in God, but didn’t believe in the reality of anything transcendent. In the Church of England. By clergy who took ordination vows.

            I am struggling to see the positive here.

          • “He was in that liberal tradition which believes Jesus’ death was a great moral example, but did not effect anything.”

            And you have evidence that is what he believed right? I’d like to see it please.

          • A great moral example of what, did he think?
            Of meek submission, letting other people kill you?
            That is an example for all of us to follow, is it? Let other people kill us? That is noble? Did he think that?
            The exemplarist view is common (it is the only way of flattening out the specificity and strong meat, and popping anything ethereal in favour of the mundane), but I have always struggled to make the slightest sense of it.

          • I have no need to offer anything to the contrary Ian. You make a baseless claim with no evidence. The onus is on you if you want to make wild claims and take cheap shots.

          • Andrew, just wondering if Christopher’s 18January 10.21pm response is an example of a “quick, cheap and glib answer”?
            Maybe it’s due to the time of night, maybe it’s due to a number of other things, but Chris seems to have missed Philippians 2 somewhere don’t you think?

          • Bruce, I’ve honestly no idea what either Chris nor Ian are on about if I’m honest. They obviously never heard Bob Runcie speak during Holy Week and Easter. And have obviously not read any of his writing on the matter.

          • Neither wild not cheap. If they are so easy to refute, feel free.

            And at the same time explain your support for non-realist clergy in the C of E.

            But let’s get back to the article, eh?

          • Read Adrian Hastings biography. And you can’t provide any evidence for your claim about Bob Runcie. If it’s so easy, please do so.
            Where do I say I support non realist clergy? You keep making these kind of claims and you don’t have evidence for them. Please show me where I have said that.

          • You lauded the breadth of the C of E in the 1970s. That is when the Sea of Faith movement thrived—as a result of that breadth. Do you think such breadth is a good or bad thing?

          • I made a perfectly reasonable reply but you delete anything that you think might suggest you are not being entirely fair. Which of course you aren’t.
            This place gets worse each week.

          • This place is made bad by people trading insults, which you do often. I am now going to delete all ad hominem comments. If it is so bad, why are you here?

          • I didn’t ignore Php2 but is your idea that (a) self-emptying as a sign of humility is an end in itself, or that (b) Jesus knew that it was a means to glorification and acted accordingly? Neither seems to add up. His humility and self-emptying are certainly real and extreme, although in context.

          • Actually Ian it might be helpful to remind you why I came here in the first place. You invited me to. I was a contributor to John Richardson’s blog, The UgleyVicar. John and I didn’t agree on many things but did agree that conservative evangelicals should be represented amongst the House of Bishops. He knew that was something I spoke up for and thanked me for it on more than one occasion before he so suddenly died. John could also respect the fact that people thought differently to him and positively wanted a different voice on his blog. For a while after you invited me to contribute here the same was true. But that has certainly changed over the years ~ in practice if not in theory. And I am certainly now minded to give up.

          • That is up to you. I have always welcomed a diversity of views and engagement. Sadly, in the last year or two, there have just been a small number of you who mostly rubbish the views of others and insult them.

            Looking back a few years, I grieve the loss of an earlier diversity and respect in commenting.

      • Breadth is a virtue per se?
        Ye gods.
        John Habgood was more secular than the secularists. I had a long exchange of letters with him in the early 2000s, and could not make him abandon that cold rationality, even when it was logically incoherent in reality.
        That is your idea of great leadership? I always found those days to be days of small things.

          • Don’t be silly. Breadth can be infinitely extended. The end point is anarchy and anything goes, as you must know. Therefore, where do you draw the line?

        • I don’t know whether or not he was convinced, because he did not address points directly some of the time. However, had I been 15 (I was not) that would have been all the more praiseworthy on my part.

        • “I always found those days to be days of small things.”

          I am absolutely astonished by that comment. The early 80s were the days of things like The Church and the bomb, and Faith in the city and a thinking response to the Falklands War, the role of Great Britain in Europe and more. The CofE was actually doing its job of providing some theological thinking in the public square. It was especially important in the days of Thatcherism. It is equally important now, but all the CofE can seem to do is talk about sex, and do that very badly.

  35. Its job? Where is its core job description to be found? Or is it all “ad hoc” duties as proscribed from time to time; dedicated followers of secular cultural, intellectual, philosphical, sexual-anthropological, pluralistic, fashion; mores. A regression to arrid yet brightly multi-coloured paganism, sold out-to sin dressed in Jacob’s coat woven with hidden self-serving, superior, unacknowledge, or unrecognised denied, malodorous, mal- intent of Jesus Christ- jettisoned unbelief, no matter how covered in the sophistry of sophistication.
    My, oh, my, we all scrub-up well in the mirror of self-reflection. Not so in the mirror of scripture.
    How much more so, do we need a a God/Man Saviour, to save us from, sin, satan and self…..sss… the living-death. Being Called – Out Ones to call-out to to the living dead to the Living-Life -Triune God is the Christian churches jobthat transcends, time, space and place.
    It is a qiestiom of eternal import.

  36. Hasn’t there basically been a crisis of episcopal leadership within the church ever since the time of Eli (1 Samuel 2:27 onwards)?

      • The Bishop of Eli? Short-sighted, corpulent, unable to discipline his sons and still in his post at 98 – no, I couldn’t possibly comment!

      • Aren’t CoE priests in the order of Eli?
        There is only one New Covenant High Priest in the order of Melchizedek in the Royal priesthood of all believers, who have access into the presence of God, cleansed by the sacrificial, substitutional , blood of the Lamb of God, who lives to intercede.


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