Fewer Suffragan Bishops?

7 June 2009

Writing in the Church Times in May, Bishop John Bickersteth raises the question of the number of Suffragan Bishops in a Church with few clergy.  He argues that their function could be carried out by archdeacons and cost saving achieved.  His approach is based on the ASB service for consecrating Bishops which puts the emphasis on the main responsibility of a Bishop being the care of the clergy.

I scribbled the following reply to the Church Times:

“The Rt Revd John Bickersteth raises an interesting issue when he asks “Why not cut some Bishops”?  Yet his argument focuses on cost and function, rather than leadership and mission.

In the introduction to the Ordination of Bishops we are reminded that “Bishops are ordained to be shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles, proclaiming the gospel of God’s kingdom and leading his people in mission.”

A reduction in the number of suffragan bishops would inevitably result in the remaining bishops becoming increasingly inaccessible both to the Church and also to the wider community.  In an age of connectivity, networks and subsiduarity we need to ask how encouraging such rarity would assist in leading people in mission.

The fundamental question raised by Bishop John Bickersteth, but not addressed, concerns the nature of leadership needed for a Church committed to mission in the twenty-first century.  Resolving this question applies as much to incumbents, as it does to bishops   Models of oversight and leadership from the past may not always be helpful in determining what is right for the present.  Yet the relationship between leadership and mission is well established.

Quoting clergy numbers and ratios of bishops to clergy is to ignore the changing nature of the church.  In my area we have over 350 laity who have undergone training to equip them to unfold various aspects of ministry and to become part of the public face of the church’s ministry.  Relating to them, maintaining a mission mindset and ensuring that their gifts of ministry are well used, requires a different approach both from their priests and also from their bishops.

In the same way, parish priests are taking on significant complexity as their ‘cure’ encompasses increasingly diverse communities.   Supporting, encouraging and pastoring the clergy requires a far more informed understanding and involvement than may have been needed in the past.

Cost and function are pertinent, but the nature of leadership and appropriate shapes for that leadership are perhaps prior questions.”

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Incumbents and Extended Oversight

7 June 2009

With more and more Vicars/Rectors being asked to take on more parishes or even another multi-parish benefice into their ‘cure of souls’, I have written a paper about how the model for being an incumbent needs to be revisited.  It is a discussion paper to stimulate thinking and it can be found on this site at:  Incumbents and Extended Oversight


Transforming Conflict

15 March 2009

I have just finished a really useful book for church leaders about resolving conflict – well worth a read.  I wrote the following review of the book for the Foundation for Church Leadership, who commissioned the research:

Transforming Conflict

Eolene Boyd-MacMillan and Sara Savage

Fundamental to effective leadership is an ability to interpret and engage with human and institutional complexity.  In the life of the church such complexity is to be found in abundance and it is a reality which needs to be embraced by church leaders.  A significant element to this complexity is that of conflict. In sponsoring a major piece of research into how church leaders handle conflict, the Foundation for Church Leadership (FCL) has engaged with an aspect of church life which is too frequently treated as an inconvenient truth or a sign of failure, rather than as a reality of institutions and of those who inhabit them.   The importance of this timely research is that, in a time of change for the church, conflict will be a factor for those attempting to plot a course for the future and when it is left unaddressed or misinterpreted, then conflict leeches energy and fosters dysfunctionality.

book-cover-only-212x300Given the reality of conflict within the church, it is not surprising that Eolene Boyd-MacMillan and Sara Savage were able to gather 29 church leaders from across the ecumenical spectrum to engage in research days on conflict transformation.   These research days and the material shared during them form the content of this handbook. Whilst the bibliography for work in conflict resolution has become extensive, it is the practitioner research base which gives this publication its authority.

Many of us regard conflict as a negative experience, but Boyd-Macmillan and Savage contend that conflict is holy ground, offering a potential driver for spiritual growth.  They describe ten steps on a journey towards transforming this dimension of human engagement – moving it from destructive negativity to that of learning “to see something good in the enemy, rather than rejoicing in their total destruction”.

Central to Boyd-Macmillan and Savage’s approach to achieving peaceful conflict resolution is Integrative Complexity (IC).  This they suggest refers to the “extent to which we consider different and even opposing points of view” about an issue and then incorporate that understanding into our work.  In promoting IC they draw on a well researched field in psychology and make it accessible to those who, just by virtue of office, find themselves trying to make sense of conflict within an organisation which proclaims peace and goodwill.   Working positively with conflict requires the high IC which comes with a differentiation between the many viewpoints of those involved in a conflict situation and then the integration of those viewpoints and values into a solution.

Boyd-Macmillan and Savage offer a strategic approach to transforming conflict which is based on their ten steps.  Those who follow this journey into transformation will discover that achieving a healthy outcome to situations of conflict will involve the leader taking into account their own conflict style and spirituality.

This is a practical resource book for those in church leadership and will become essential reading for those taking up senior appointments.  The authors’ understanding of the church is a key factor in making the book both accessible and pertinent, although it is not always easy to discern how the ideas have been informed by the research itself. The only substantial criticism of the material offered is that Boyd-Macmillan and Savage make conflict transformation sound too easy, when experience suggests that it isn’t quite like that, but I suspect that this is because few of us adopt the strategic step approach to conflict transformation which they commend.   The transformation they seek requires training and practice for those involved in leadership, but the Action Checklist offered for leaders who find themselves immersed in a conflict situation should be printed on a separate card, to be reread in the corner of a parish hall, the wings of a synod or the edge of a staff meeting – indeed at any time when “all about you are losing theirs and blaming it on you”.

Publisher:  The Foundation for Church Leadership

ISBN  978-0-955057335


Lambeth Day 4

20 July 2008

In the last session of the retreat, Archbishop Rowan picks up from the theme he left us with yesterday about bishops being in communion and prompts the question “What is Christian leadership like”?

The simple answer he offers us is that Christian leadership is not about commands or making decisions, but about following the example of Jesus in “clearing the way and going before”.  The quality of such leadership depends on the ability to discern the way which lies ahead.  So he picks up on Alan Ecclestone’s paper to the 1978 Lambeth Conference which suggests that a bishop’s leadership has to be both insight and oversight.

We need courage to be set free for some institutional risk-taking and be prepared to ask whether what is being suggested or promoted  is part of the new way of God.  When we fail in leadership it is because we have been too much about command and not about being part of the new living way.

In conclusion he asserted that it is essential for us to know that their is a new way – to know what God has done, is doing, will do.  The Archbishop then asked us to keep silence together and let that soak through us.

It was a very profound silence – 650 bishop at one in silence.  Thus ended our days of retreat during which we had experienced some very profound and accessible teaching from the Archbishop in his role as a focus for unity in the Anglican Communion.

There are many critics of the Archbishop, but, as I hear them, they want to judge him by measures of leadership which are wholly inappropriate for the leader of a worldwide communion of Christians.  In the meditations which he offered us over this time of retreat, Rowan has given us a different tool for discerning and exercising leadership.  The impact on those who have come from around the globe appears to be profound. When we come to discuss the difficult issues which lie before us,  I hope that our engagement will be enriched by a very different understanding of the quality of leadership lying at the heart of the Anglican Communion – a quality vastly at variance to the distorted caricature that has been promoted by the media and by those who use negative criticism to promote their own agenda.

The Conference itself opens tomorrow afternoon.  We have now been joined by Ecumenical guests, bishops in communion with Anglicans, a variety of lobbyists and an abundance of rabbits and ducks!