The Ecclesiastical Doughnut: is the Church of England ungovernable?

Jon Kuhrt writes: Last week saw yet another Church of England report into safeguarding and institutional failings in the handling of abuse allegations. Almost 400 new cases involving actions by clergy, officials and volunteers against children and vulnerable adults were uncovered. In a foreword to the report, Justin Welby and Stephen Cottrell, the archbishops of Canterbury and York, wrote of their ‘great sadness and profound shame’:

We sincerely apologise for our failures and want to reach out to those who are still suffering from the pain and misery they endured…We are so sorry that this ever happened. It was not your fault and you are not to blame.

I do not wish to simply heap on more criticism. Both my sons attend vibrant C of E churches, both my brothers are vicars of lively congregations who reach out to their local communities and my parents continue to be heavily involved in their parish after a lifetime of ministry. Only Crufts has more dog collars than my family. Though I no longer attend a C of E church, I know there is a huge amount of positive things happening within its churches. I also know that other denominations have a host of similar problems but are less high profile.

Weary and angry

But I agree with those survivors and activists who are weary and angry of seeing more heartfelt apologies from senior bishops. I wrote last year about the way my brother’s safeguarding concerns were weaponised against him by his diocese and led to a completely unjustified suspension. In some ways the crisis has passed and he is back at work, but the way he has been treated since has continued to be incompetent and vindictive.  I have zero confidence in those in senior positions in his diocese to act in a decent way.

The Archbishops are clear that the continued safeguarding inadequacies are not the fault of the victims. But who then is to blame? What is the root of the on-going problems?

Some emphasise theology as the key issue. There are endless internal debates about the need for the C of E to be more evangelical/catholic/liberal (delete as appropriate). I have come to believe that much of these debates are a distracting, tribal sideshow.

Some blame poor leadership. That everything would be fine if only Bishops had more skill/integrity/bravery (delete as appropriate). It must be very hard for bishops to handle the public critique many have to endure. I believe most are decent people encumbered by the institutional pomp and disempowering culture they operate within.

The core issue

Both theology and leadership skills are important. But neither are as critical as one issue which is consistently overlooked: governance. Governance is the basis of authority and accountability for an organisation: the element that ensures the right things happen and takes action when it doesn’t. Governance is what holds senior leaders to account. And in many parts of the C of E it barely exists.

Forget the theological tomes, the leadership seminars, the hard-hitting reports, the statements on safeguarding, or even the training and procedures. None of these make any real difference if an organisation is not governed properly.

I have long thought that the culture within the C of E is a bit like a doughnut: no one feels at the centre and almost every constituency within it feels marginalised. Evangelicals complain about being misunderstood and judged harshly. Anglo-Catholics are upset that their traditions and sacramental emphasis is marginalised. Liberals feel threatened by their perceptions of a conservative take-over. Everyone feels on the edges. This leads to a widespread sense of aggrievement, fragility and disempowerment. This provides combustible fuel for the internecine conflict which abounds on blogs and at conferences.

But this culture is also reflected in the C of E’s governance. There is an absence of leadership and the accountability in the centre. Many would assume that the Archbishop of Canterbury is something like the ‘CEO’ of the C of E. But he is not.  He has influence but is more of a figurehead. In many ways he has the worst of both worlds: he has to assume responsibility and apologise when ‘The Church of England’ fails but he does not have his hands on levers which control the institution.

The 42 different dioceses in the C of E are all separate legal entities. Each has their own diverse history, theological and sociological texture and Bishops with an equally diverse range of skills, experiences and sympathies. In terms of practical management, they each do their own thing.

Coherence and accountability

This means that as a national body the C of E cannot act either consistently or coherently. And this affects many issues beyond safeguarding. Take for example the excellent report that the C of E produced last year about housing and homelessness called Coming Home. The report was widely praised for its good analysis and it willingness to commit the C of E’s own resources to addressing the issues.

But the outworking of the report, what will be done as a result (i.e. the bit that really matters), is almost completely down to individual dioceses. No one can mandate them to act on it or to commit any resources to implementing it. As I have seen, this means that some Dioceses will act, whilst others will do nothing. When no one is in charge, no one is accountable and there are little consequences for those behaving badly.

In my brother’s situation, despite overseeing a complete debacle, none of the bishops or senior diocesan officers involved will face any proper accountability or disciplinary process. It is hard to find anyone who has any faith in the Clergy Discipline Measure, especially when applied to bishops.

This is terrible governance. It means that incompetence, dishonesty and negligence are simply not addressed. Its neither good for leaders nor the people they are responsible for.

Critical dynamic

Changing culture and practice in any organisation is no easy task. It is especially difficult in an organisation as large and complex as the C of E. But change is impossible without effective governance.

I worked for 8 years as CEO of a church-based organisation which employed around 100 staff running a wide range of services for people affected by homelessness, offending and addictions. Much of our work was high risk and complex.  I was responsible to a trustee board and the relationship between myself and the trustees was critical to the health of the organisation. As a leader, I needed to be accountable to a group of skilled, experienced and wise people. Their task was to monitor key aspects of the organisation: financial performance, risk management, strategy and major decisions. And to ask hard questions when things went wrong.

After I had been there for a few years, one of our accommodation services hit a significant crisis due to poor management and significant misconduct. We had to take decisive action to keep the service running. In the aftermath, the board insisted on a full and frank review of what had happened and why. It was tough but appropriate and critically important. They also oversaw an annual 360 degree appraisal for me so that all managers in the organisation could feedback on my performance.  Aspects of this could be difficult to hear, but it was healthy form of accountability and drew out issues that needed dealing with.

A good trustee board are gracious and supportive to senior staff, but they are also truthful and challenging.  This is what good governance looks like.

Proper accountability; good theology

All layers of the church require good governance because you cannot get away from the need for the appropriate use of power.  The donut needs filling.

The decisions, performance and behaviour of bishops and senior diocesan staff need to be accountable to a group who have power to act when things are not being done properly or effectively.  Strong governance, which ensures transparency and accountability, is more important than the depth of their theology, their spiritual devotion or their personal leadership skills. Unless governance is improved then I cannot see an end to the safeguarding scandals and institutional failure. If its key leaders are essentially unaccountable, then the C of E will remain essentially ungovernable. And the apologies will keep coming from the Archbishops.

It is worth ending by saying that effective governance is simply the practical implementation of good theology. However skilled a pastor, preacher or leader, we are all frail, damaged and inadequate in different ways. And, these tendencies are not just individual; our fallenness and sin is compounded in organisational systems and culture.

Therefore, all organisations need just structures which are effective in encouraging and enabling our strengths whilst managing and mitigating our weaknesses. No person or institution remains healthy without these forms of grace and truth.

Jon Kuhrt was Director of Community Mission for Livability (formerly the Shaftesbury Society) from 2002 to 2010, and Chief Executive of the West London Mission from 2010 to 2018, leading their work with people affected by homelessness and addiction. He is now Rough Sleeping Adviser to the government, specialising in how faith and community groups respond to homelessness. He lives in Streatham with his wife and three children, is a member of Streatham Baptist Church and is involved each summer with Lee Abbey Youth Camp. He is an avid cricket lover. He blogs at ‘Grace + Truth’ where this article is also published.

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63 thoughts on “The Ecclesiastical Doughnut: is the Church of England ungovernable?”

  1. This is an excellent contribution to the Governance debate and I thank both the author and editor for advancing the debate so clearly.

    There are similar observations running through Dr Martyn Percy’s book “ The Humble Church”. These thoughts cross “party lines” which suggests to me that there is a core truth being explored here.

    A major question is why the vigorous intelligent debate seems to be happening outside of General Synod. That is absolutely not to decry the work of the Governance review but no matter how well someone like Bp Nick Baines advocates engagement, a synod chamber comprised of 60% new members will struggle to get up to speed through the current debate structures.

    Presentations with questions is not an effective way of engaging in depth. We need people who have thought about it to be given time to explain.

    May I urge GS members to consider and sign my non partisan open Private Members Motion urging a Commission to explore Transparency and Accountability throughout the Church – top to bottom. If you know a GS representative – please ask them to support it.

  2. Thank you Jon for this excellent analysis.Governance is at the heart of the matter and governance as you say is largely about ensuring accountability. This is as true at parish and Deanery level in the CofE. Parish clergy are not accountable as they are not employees. The best clergy make themselves accountable to the PCC but even there deference and the absence of consequences means that accountability is more apparent than real. Even where there are good review systems, they are effective only where clergy want them to be.

    • The only way to detect them is to be intimate with God.

      Intimacy with God is both word and Spirit. To be mature – to be able to discern between spirits – one must receive the full counsel of God (be acquainted with all of scripture) – and one must be relying on the Spirit for insight and power to please God.

      Churches who focus on safeguarding instead of discernment have given up – they have no discernment – they refuse to obey God – which is the beginning of wisdom – as part of their commitment to disobedience they act as if the best they can do is seek to minimise the influence of abusers.

      • OK that answer has thrown me because it is true. The second question is: Why do parts of the so-called Christian world “speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love”?

        It’s so common, it’s depressing.

        • Anyone who “does not have love” does not know God – is not part of the church.

          1 John 4:8 ESV
          Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.

        • Joe, I said that safeguarding is an expression of giving up – the result of a lack of discernment – and I said that to discern wolves in the church we must be intimate with God – but I should have put those two things together to make a third point – all churches have leadership structures which exist in order to safeguard the church (whether the safeguarding is acting against negative influences or growing positive influences). With that in mind the decision of leaders in the Church of England to create an entire ALTERNATIVE safeguarding infrastructure is a vote of no confidence in their own leadership – they are sending a clear signal that they do not believe that they are competent to grow a church which is counter cultural – and should be taken at their word.
          It’s limitless – if the safeguarders don’t protect the church (they won’t – no set of laws/principles can substitute for leaders being able to discern wrongdoing in the church) who will safeguard the safeguarders?

          • Darn – when I said “All churches have leadership structures which exist in order to safeguard the church” I was referring to the bible’s leadership offices – such as the office of apostle and the office of elder – and to those who have been appointed for centuries – such as archbishops and bishops. Not the people who run “safeguarding ministries” – those appointed in recent times to handle issues of abuse.

            That is my whole point – that failed churches nowadays are creating a second safeguarding infrastructure – this being an admission that they don’t have confidence in those who have for centuries been appointed to protect the church. This behaviour is potentially limitless – who will safeguard those safeguarding the safeguarders?). Churches who express lack of confidence in their own leadership should be taken at their word.

  3. When a church in the United Kingdom fails to act in a manner worthy of God there is no formal governance procedure followed by the wider church – and yet we know that when the wider church responds to a failure (currently literally never in the United Kingdom – a sign that the UK church is finished in its current form) it has real power.

    If there are structural issues in the C of E – issues which affect its effective operation – it doesn’t change the fact that those who could be using MORAL authority are not doing so. Which bishops have spoken out in condemnation of Archbishops Welby and Cottrell? None.

    I therefore don’t agree with the following sentence from the article about C of E bishops:
    “I believe most are decent people encumbered by the institutional pomp and disempowering culture they operate within”.
    No – the bishops of the Church of England are NOT decent people. Why are we still absolving people in senior leadership in the C of E of responsibility? Each bishiop is either a false teacher – in supporting practising homosexuality – or a coward (why not let each one choose which they are – since whichever they are each bishop no longer has authority to remain in their position?)

    • “No – the bishops of the Church of England are NOT decent people”

      Philip… That’s an unfounded and appalling statement. I wonder how many you know or have had actual encounters with. I certainly prefer some to others and a few I have thought should not have ever been bishops…. But your totalitarian damnation is simply untrue.

      As an Anglican evangelical, running in the orthodox biblical groove … I have known and know Godly Bishops. People I would thank God for.

      • Ian Hobbs – I emphasise that I know nothing about the C. of E. and I suspect that you are correct that the totalitarian damnation made by Philip is untrue.

        Nevertheless, I think that John 11:49-51 strongly indicates that we should not expect too much from church leaders (Caiaphas was high priest that year); bad leaders are, sadly, much more the norm than we might like.

      • Ian, I think your condemnation of Philip Benjamin’s comment as ‘totalitarian damnation’ was over the top; it would be less inflammatory and more straightforward to say that it was a sweeping statement with which you personally disagree. Of course you would have every right to say that. And if you are judging most bishops as decent people simply because they know how and when to present themselves with impeccable middle class English manners, you may well be right. But at very least these people have promised and are paid to act with integrity in defence of their church’s teaching. To remain in office while failing to do that by speaking out publicly when necessary is not the action of a decent person; of course that judgement would not apply if they chose honourably to resign.

        And I would find it nigh on impossible to suggest that a decent person (let alone a bishop) should remain silent when the organisation in which he or she plays a leading role is treating its more junior members with blatant injustice. As examples, and from a non partisan position (which is how justice should be tested), the Revd John Parker, the Revd Martyn Percy, and the Revd Bernard Randall have not received fair or just treatment from their respective bishops: Chelmsford (at that time), Oxford, and Derby. All three cases have been highlighted on the Cranmer blog. Which bishop, from the Archbishop of Canterbury down to the lowliest suffragan, has spoken out and condemned the unjust treatment?

        • Fair comment. All three men have been treated abominably by their Bishops who have used silence and refusal to communicate (Croft toward Percy), denigration and personal attack (Lane toward Randall), and dishonesty and encouragement to leave the ministry (Cottrell to Parker).
          To say nothing of bullying and NDAs (Dakin toward great numbers in Winchester), and legal manoeuvres to evade safeguarding failures (Sentamu to abused persons in York), or defamation of the dead and harm to relatives (Welby on George Bell).
          The legacy is not good snd falls far short of what Christian behaviour should be.

      • Hi Ian Hobbs,

        You have corrected me before when I made a particular comment about Justin Welby (it was a blanket overall statement about him – it suffered from the same wrongdoing I have committed here – keep reading) and you correct me again. Thank you – I believe you are right to do so both times. (As I will explain I don’t accept your view expressed in your final sentence – I don’t believe that any bishop in the Church of England should in the current circumstances be labelled godly – however that doesn’t make what I said correct either – please keep reading). I felt the correction of the Holy Spirit after I pressed send (I should have sought it before) that my comment was beyond what was correct. But I couldn’t see why – I waited for the Lord to tell me but I did not hear him speak – and then I left it – only seeking him again on the matter now. But now I believe I know what my fault is (that should not be considered binding on anyone else!) – it isn’t in saying that every bishop of the C of E has leadership obligations to all of the C of E (to say otherwise would be to say that bishops have no obligations beyond their group of churches – no obligations to hold their Archbishops to account – it would be to say that only the two Archbishops are responsible for the direction of the entire denomination) – it isn’t in saying that public silence from any bishop on the trashing of orthodoxy in the C of E is unacceptable – it isn’t in saying that this is cowardice – and that since this cowardice has been going on for years that the bishops are cowards (keeping in mind that the issues reach to the whole direction of the C of E) – it is to then conclude (I replied to someone else saying the opposite) that the bishops are – for the reasons stated – not decent people. This final assessment prevents ANYTHING that is to the credit of these men from being admitted (even if what should be admitted cannot turn any bishop into a faithful leader). God is EXTREMELY alert to ensuring that anything that can be credited to people – even those who have substantially failed him – whereas my attitude does not match his grace – I have acted as if their failure makes them – as leaders – worthless. I am sure there will be a day when I will be grateful for God’s recognising ways in which I have been faithful amidst failure.

        I remain open to criticism on these things.

        • Which one of us has not sometime pressed ‘send’ and then wished we hadn’t, at least in the form of words we used. To acknowledge a mis-step of some kind is humility, and I really respect that. The same Spirit who spoke that correction to you, I think prompted the same point to me: that though we may find fault and critique people on specific actions they do (or lack of action)… the God who we love always seems to introduce grace into the equation, and sees people’s good actions too, their private prayer life, their care for their family, or whatever it is. And so such people – however much we take issue on specifics – may still be *decent*, and indeed, more decent than we feel inclined in first instance to give them credit for. But I’m just making this second post, to acknowledge the grace that the Spirit fed into your heart, in this follow up post of yours. The humility in the response touched my heart. May God bless you, Philip.

          • This whole thing is so sad.

            Father we ask that for the sake of those who have served the Church of England faithfully in years past – for the sake of those in the Church of England whose heart is humble before you – for the sake of young people in the future being able to go to the local youth group and hear about your love (as many of us writing here experienced) – that you will do what you did in relation to Sodom – that you will save the C of E for the sake of even a few righteous people – favouring their faithfulness over the wrongdoing of even many who are unfaithful. We ask that unrighteous people will have no opportunity to affect the futures of those who are righteous. But Father when we mean save it – we mean save it. We pray that you will sovereignly act to ensure that NOTHING stands in the way of the C of E being godly for generations to come. We pray that EVERYTHING that will be an ongoing obstacle will also be set aside. In as much as it relates to the healing of those terribly wronged (wronged in ways that most of us have not been wronged) we ask for visible justice – for what is hidden to be exposed. We ask for your total intervention – now Lord. We accept your will for the Church of England – confident of your perfect character. Your will be done on earth as in heaven.


            Genesis 18:26 ESV
            And the LORD said, “If I find at Sodom fifty righteous in the city, I will spare the whole place for their sake.”

        • You said:
          “No – the bishops of the Church of England are NOT decent people”
          You did not confine it to the Archbishop. (whatever I think of that.

          I stand by my response and it’s wording. You were totalitarian, not giving an iota of wriggle room to any other Bishop.

      • We are not to judge their characters; that is for God alone. But we may – and must – judge whether “Each bishop is either a false teacher – in supporting practising homosexuality – or a coward”.

        • You just taught me something Anton.

          It has been my belief that no-one except God can decide if someone is or is not a Christian – I have understood the sin of judging people to be about doing either this (Matt 7:1) or making premature or poorly based positive or negative judgements about people (John 7:24) – but I have acted as if we can make total judgements about someone’s character. However I have just realised that if the bible has passages like 1 John 4:8 – which say that someone who is without love does not know God – it follows that to make TOTAL statements of character amounts to making indirect statements as to whether someone knows God.
          It’s a fairly fine business because our judgements about people’s character are obviously more comprehensive the more we know about people – or the more that the Spirit reveals to us about them. But when making such assessments we must be expressing ultimate faith in God instead of our own judgements.
          Thank you.

  4. Thank you John for this excellent article.

    One huge problem in the C of E is that bishops think they run their dioceses, and General Synod appears to think that every decision they make is noted and acted upon by the parishes, when as you rightly say, many diocesan bishops do nothing about what synod decides and pontificates on. (Like the silly nonsense of becoming “Zero carbon” – the unexplained science behind it, the assumptions about CO2 – some of us did physics and chemistry at “O” and “A” level so some of us know that the “science” doesn’t add up).

    For years I have said repeatedly, bishops don’t run dioceses; the diocese is the individual parishes, where the “coalface ministry” takes place, where pastors and people meet in worship and prayer, and mission in the local context happens. The bishop and his team should be serving the local congregations by enquiring what God is doing in the local context and offering support where it is needed.

    The lockdown exposed the house of bishops for what they are – not connected to their clergy, not caring about their clergy, and often treating us with contempt. My experience was one phone call from an archdeacon in March, then weekly patronising emails from a no-reply address about mental health. Not a single phone call nor personal email from a bishop in seven months. (I got action in the October when I sent an email asking whether the diocesan had issued orders not to communicate with the clergy at all- that got things moving..) Governance? They didn’t know what to do, so did nothing of any significance except to meet on Zoom and issuing government propaganda.
    Any bishop with an ounce of pastoral gifting would have rung round and prayed with each clergyperson.

    Why would any vicar/priest do anything the General Synod suggested when we only ever heard it third hand if we were lucky, because there’s no communication from GS to clergy in the parishes, and little the other way except by those elected to GS – and how many of them communicate anything to their diocese and to local clergy who are not members of DS?

    If you want Governance, the House of Bishops, the archbishops, need to realise they are serving us who do the job, not ignoring us most of the time, and us having our two or three yearly appraisal, which amounts to very little as we only have to tell a bishop what we want him or her to know and prime five supporters to write a short appraisal on us that says little further.

    If you want good governance, you have to be involved with your clergy, and there has to be real trust – and when bishops and their staff tell lies, treat clergy with contempt, who over-promise and under-deliver – as witnessed in Winchester diocese where I was one of those who dared to challenge the situation and who helped formulate a motion of no confidence in the bishop, and later challenged the chief executive for his not telling the truth at a synod, which led to his resignation – there has to come a time for bishops to realise they have to change their culture and understanding of their roles, learn to serve, get some backbone and stand up to the extremists in synod who press for heresy over the understanding of Christian marriage, and stop being mesmerised and duped by episcopal “group think.”

    • Please don’t ruin your argument by making unsupportable comments about carbon dioxide. The role that gas plays in the energy planet has been well known since the 19th century – but was not covered in ‘A’ level physics when I did it. Someone before WWI commented that all the coal that was being burnt would get the planet into trouble. The use of oil and natural gas has only made the problem worse. Increasing the amount of the gas in the atmosphere by 50% over pre-industrial levels is bound to have a noticable effect on the global climate – as has been apparent for some years.

      I heard about all this from a talk at LICC from Sir John Houghton, an expert in climate and also a very public Christian. I prefer to believe him than the subtle propaganda the oil and gas industry has been putting out over the years (just as the tobacco industry did for smoking and health).

        • Thanks Ian and David – please ignore my comment about CO2 – point taken – an issue for another time:
          Just to add, I hope the rest feeds in to the nature of governance: we have to ask what models of Church are being imagined, with lines of accountability and responsibility.
          We don’t have line managers in the C of E because we are not employees, so any idea of governance is a figment of imagination. Surely time to turn the pyramid upside down….

          • A recent WWF study of 32000 species found a 69% drop in their world population (i.e., over two thirds) in the last 50 years alone.
            So it is clear that the climate change protestors are not going nearly far enough.

      • I am a research physicist and I disagree that there global warming of dangerous magnitude due to CO2 emanating from human burning of fossil fuels. This isn’t the place to say why but please note that the science is NOT settled and the debate is NOT over. Of course both sides of this debate would be glad if nuclear fusion turned out to be the goods.

        • But it doesn’t matter if (against the scientists…) you are right. Let us suppose that fossil fuel burning has no effect, in a world where even the smallest thing has an interconnected effect, Still then if 32000 sampled species’ population has shrunk by an average 69% in 50 years alone, that means that humankind and its packaging and plastic and rainforest destruction is on a suicide trip for the world. The reality that the biblical idea of self centredness attests to.

          • Ecology is a different subject, but I would point out two things:

            1. You use the word ‘if’. Can you back it up?

            2. You say I am ‘against the scientists’. I *am* a scientist, and by no means the only one who holds the view I do. Check for yourself.

          • Christopher – Anton – gentlemen, great topic and I’d like to contribute to this, but I’ll wait for a suitable post where it is on-topic (for example `Climate Change and Sexuality’ might work).

  5. Thanks, Jon. I found this a convincing and illuminating account that rings true with my several decades experience of ministry. But how to make parochial clergy and bishops seriously accountable is a tough challenge.

  6. I’m having difficulties understanding this article. Isn’t the sort of abuse that the article is referring to a police matter? If it is a police matter, then what has it got to do with church hierarchy or governing the church? The really bad eggs, who perpetrate the abuse referred to, are able to put on a nice face, come across as absolutely charming. Isn’t the fact that abuse was taking place, with nobody being brought to justice, more a failure of the police rather than anything else?

    If some church person perpetrates abuse, shouldn’t the first port of call be the police rather than their bishop – who is probably ignorant of their evil deeds? The bishop’s job is to proclaim the Word of God; it is the job of the police to catch criminals and get them banged up in chokey, surely?

  7. A truly most excellent article. Best I’ve seen in a long while but is anybody listening I wonder? Most, it seems to me, are so full of their own opinions and self importance, they fail to see what is so so obvious. Were it to happen therefore, it would be a very very difficult uphill struggle but well said!!

  8. I think one real danger, if an organisation’s safeguarding processes fail to create the ‘safe space’ of independent good practice, is that victims will not have confidence to come forward. I think one thing that’s hard to feel or understand from the inside, unless you’ve done it yourself, is the anxiety, fear, vulnerability, and exposure that can be involved in finding the courage to come forward. In a sense, it’s an act of resistance against the system and against power, and I know myself how easy it is to back out. So if systems lack integrity and independence, or if there’s fear that you (as victim) may end up being victimised again by the very act of complaint, then others in similar positions may find the very real courage they need being subverted.

    I can think of a number of cases where the victim becomes ‘the problem’, and where slurs or doubts about their character or reliability, result in negative reactions against them.

    When others in similar position see that happening, it adds to the mindset that perhaps it’s safer to say nothing. Of course, in terms of mental well-being that may not at all be the case, but a system that feels ‘unsafe’ may end up silencing people, because of the vulnerability involved, which also involves reliving the original experiences all over again, and bringing them up to the emotional surface.

    • So if systems lack integrity and independence, or if there’s fear that you (as victim) may end up being victimised again by the very act of complaint

      Not ‘may’ – you most certainly will.

  9. Governance is everywhere in the CofE if we choose to see it and use it. Take Bishop’s Council for example. Every diocese has one. It coordinates the diocesan synod agenda, and allows clergy and lay people to check the bishop and diocesan secretary (and others) are acting fairly and openly. But the thing depends on the bishop being open to that kind of accountability, and those on it being courageous enough to challenge when necessary. Otherwise it’s a toothless meeting. The same opportunities for good governance exist at deanery synod, diocesan synod, and all the committees of the diocese. But most people will only sign up to be on such committees if they know their time will be well spent and that the agenda can be framed around real issues, not just nodding through pre-prepared business. The CNCs need to do more work investigating how the prospective bishops have led through good governance in their previous roles.

  10. Jon Kuhrt says that governance is the core issue, but points out that the Church of England has, in law, a diocesan structure, not an archdiocesan or a papal one. So perhaps the core issue is structure. I tread lightly on this subject on Anglican blogs but, as it has been raised, I can find in the New Testament no officer class set apart by ordination, only statements that all believers in Jesus Christ are priests of God and He is our great High Priest. And a plurality of episkopoi in a single congregation, not the reverse.

    • Hi Anton,

      You make an important point.

      In the New Testament the apostles were overseeing churches they planted – they knew deeply the leaders they appointed to those churches when they moved on to plant elsewhere. The C of E bishop to congregation relationship isn’t of this nature – in the case of most of churches under their care bishops don’t have relational history with vicars. That’s a much weaker form of governance (does it exist anywhere in scripture – do any leader or leaders get appointed to take care of people with whom they have no established relationship? Not that I know of).

      It would surely improve governance if all churches were planted out of existing C of E churches – those newly planted churches being overseen by the leader of the church out of which it is planted (even if that requires the leader of the originating church to be freed up by additional local leadership). Until the church being planted begins to itself plant churches (at which point its being released is a formal decision that must be made – if there was doubt the planted church which then plants could remain under the responsibility of the church that planted it.

      Not only that but every vicar who wished to go to bible college would have to be in relationship with some C of E church (not sure what the rules are with this now?) – those who go to bible college are SENT from a particular local church (or the model of training is changed so they never leave the local church – which is an important maturing element in the life of the emerging leader). If there are churches which need leaders and haven’t sent leaders for training they must at that point choose to be overseen by another C of E church (in the same geographical area) – and if no church wishes to oversee that church (a sign that it isn’t seen as having a future by churches who have a future) then that church must close – its building then existing as a possible location into which a growing church can plant.

      While the above would provide an effective governance future I believe that the following two governance changes are needed for the Church of England to have a present:
      1. Both Archbishops would have to be faithful in their teaching and living – in their guardianship of the truth.
      2. As part of transitioning all churches to the structure I described above where bishops come out of the local church – for now churches should be able to indicate if they wish to be bishoped by a man – or a woman – or whether they don’t mind – and then bishops should be allocated to churches. How they are allocated should be done based on the choice I just explained – followed by factors such as there being some kind of relationship between the church and the bishop – and geographical proximity.

      The issue of woman vicars and woman bishops will disappear in the next decade – since churches run by women aren’t growing in numbers – and therefore presumably aren’t planting churches – the existing women vicars and bishops will therefore diminish to zero.

      • “The issue of woman vicars and woman bishops will disappear in the next decade – since churches run by women aren’t growing in numbers – and therefore presumably aren’t planting churches – the existing women vicars and bishops will therefore diminish to zero.”

        I am afraid this is nonsense Philip. In terms of numbers coming forward for ordination women equal if not exceed the numbers of men.
        Very few churches are growing in number. But there are some that have women in leadership that are.

        • I didn’t say they would disappear from bible colleges. I said that if their churches were disappearing – neither growing numerically nor planting nor renewing other churches – then it’s logical that they will ‘disappear’ with their churches. And that under my suggested system of governance they therefore also would not become bishops.
          However let me make one change to my altered governance model – I believe that the New Testament church were focused on character over results (they would talk about people being appointed who were full of the Holy Spirit). While above I suggested that bishops be people who got results in terms of numeric growth and churches planted my main point was that such people already had relationships with other churches. The focus isn’t necessarily on who gets churches planted or renewed – it’s on having bishops rise up from out of local churches to oversee leaders and churches with whom they have some kind of relationship.

          • What tends to happen, however, is that those who grow churches do so because they are passionate about that particular ministry. If we then remove all those ones to be bishops, then we have a plethora of square pegs in round holes. Together with unnecessary church shrinkage because all the best local church leaders have been removed. Which is why we need the NT model of charismatic ministry according to gifting and aptitude.

          • We don’t have bible colleges. We have Theological Education Institutes. They operate a wide variety of training models. Have a look here:

            What you claimed was about women in ministry. But what you claim is not related to gender. In fact one diocese where there is growth – London – has a woman bishop.

            The CofE will continue to train, form, deploy and support women in ordained ministry in the same way as men.

          • Thanks for the feedback/criticism Christopher.

            Let me check if we are seeing things the same.

            I don’t believe there is a huge amount of difference between an overseer of the vicars of one or more churches with relational history with those leaders – and an overseer of the senior leadership of a single church who has relational history with them. In both cases it’s one to several/many – and in both cases it is relational. (I therefore don’t have particular concern about leaders who have proved capable of growing a church and planting from it becoming leaders who lead leaders of leaders!).

          • It’s necessary to remove from our mind any limited form of engagement we may currently associate with Bishops (if we do) – I am talking about active oversight – being actively involved in the issues affecting the success of churches – just as vicars are actively involved with the issues affecting the success of their leadership team.

          • We don’t have bible colleges. We have Theological Education Institutes.

            And therein lies the trouble.

            Why should people pay to be ministered doubt?

          • By the same token we could just as easily ask: Why should people pay to be ministered fundamentalism? Both are stupid remarks. Why would going to a bible college as opposed to a TEI suddenly stop people having doubts? We want people to have faith.
            I’m not sure what point you are trying to make about TEIs Anton, but Ian worked at one. Have you actually read the link I pointed to?

          • ‘Douobt’ is an undefined word. It only works if everybody knows what the correct perspective is before they even start.

            For every one thing we think true, we doubt ten trillion things. Every single answer that is right thereby makes ten trillion other answers wrong. And you say we can avoid doubt?

          • Andrew: A bible college studies the bible. A “theological education institute” studies, well, just about anything. As I see from your link. Pages and pages of managementspeak about the qualities needed to lead a congregation or be a deacon. It’s all in 1 Timothy 3.

          • Anton surely candidates for ordination need to learn about Church History? Doctrine? Liturgy? Mission? Evangelism? Ethics? Personal relationships? Of course, the bible will have a part in each of those areas.
            These are the things studied at theological college.
            There are churches that have a sola scriptura approach. But the CofE has never been one of them.

  11. Governance is a core issue. You can have bad governance even with a good constitution, but a bad constitution makes good governance almost impossible. So in reality we are talking about establishment and disestablishment.

    Every normal organisation makes provision for its members to improve its constitution from time to time; only the Church of England is stuck with a constitution that can only be altered by the will of Parliament. And Parliament has a vested interest in altering nothing, because when bad stuff happens, it is so convenient for them to have someone outside the political structures to point a finger at.

    • Or for doctrinally orthodox C of E chaplains?
      Or for someone like Jonathan Fletcher who when battling woke sexuality in a C of E school was told that if he didn’t like the C of E approach he should just leave (by Stephen Cottrell)?
      Or for Episcopal ministers sanctioned by Episcopal leadership for obeying Christian teaching?
      Or for those who stood up against Welby at Lambeth (not the bishops!) for welcoming bishops with lovers of the same sex?

      There is only one way to explain these things – that being that bishops of the Church of England don’t exist to serve the ordinary person – or to stand up for the truth if it involves paying ANY personal price at all.

      • John Parker not JF. However if even the secular world has now woken up to the danger of Mermaids (and therefore by extension, of Educate and Celebrate) the C of E following the Zeitgeist at a respectable distance is left with egg on its face.

      • ‘Or for someone like Jonathan Fletcher who when battling woke sexuality in a C of E school was told that if he didn’t like the C of E approach he should just leave (by Stephen Cottrell)?’ You have completely the wrong person. And you might also at least note that the Archbishop denied saying saying of the sort to the person in question.

        • We’ve already dealt with the fact that he has the wrong person, and he said ‘Somewhat of a blunder!’ above your comment.

          You cannot, surely, be other than appalled at the treatment of John Parker.

          When you say ‘saying of the sort’ I’m sure you mean ‘saying anything of the sort’. The truth is:
          (1) he apologised afterwards for the words that were or were taken that way, or at least in general in this context;
          (2) but the words in question – which may have been less strong (and couched as a logical conclusion), but otherwise to the same effect – had always been held to be said in a larger meeting, not to a single individual;
          (3) we do not remember every detail of every conversation we have.

  12. OK – I’ve looked up `safeguarding’ and I found the wiki page

    I’m still more-or-less in the dark. Could someone give me an example of the sort of harm or abuse of children or vulnerable adults, that is not criminal and is not a police matter?

    In other words, things that fall into the category of `safeguarding’ which should be the responsibility of a bishop, rather than something that instantly gets referred to the police when people become aware that it is going on?


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