Mary Judkins asks some basic questions about Turnbull

TURNBULL, TO BE, or not to be: that is the question: Whether ’tis nobler in the mind to suffer …. ” (with apologies to W. Shakespeare)

What a question! We are told that the Archbishops’ Council proposed by Turnbull is not about central control because that is undesirable and impossible to do. Someone once said that “controlling bishops is like herding cats”! So if it is not about control, what is Turnbull about? That, in the words of the Bard again, is the question.

Is it really about coherence, and an overview of opportunities, as has been said? Is it really about mission and not management? Will it really lead to more effective service of the gospel? Will the laity know less about what happens in the Church of England than they do now? How will the proposed new Council really serve others in the Church? Why cannot General Synod fulfil these roles? What is to prevent it degenerating into a hierarchical form of control, a “Star Chamber”, perhaps?

Any committee or council is often perceived by those not its members as being in control, whatever the reality. Think about PCCs. Sometimes they may even seem to control the Vicar. Deanery Synods may not appear to have control over anything and much the same could be said of Diocesan Synods, but what about the Diocesan Agenda Sub-committees? What about the Deanery Chapter meetings? What about Bishops’ Councils? Members of these committees are perceived to be part of the hierarchy, those special people ‘in the know’. It does not seem so bad if the members are elected, but co-opted? Oh dear!

As the newly-elected Chairman of the House of Laity of the Diocese of Wakefield, I am well aware of the feelings of those who think that I am now ‘on a higher plane’ and that I have been ‘elevated’. Fears that I may know something that others do not know, or that I may have the ear of someone important are very real. I can do my best to alleviate those fears and worries by getting to know other lay members of the Diocesan Synod, by entertaining them informally, for example. I can inform them about what is happening, and ask for their opinions and suggestions. Accountability is a big issue, and I realise that I have an extremely important role.

But could members of the proposed Archbishops’ Council do that? They would inevitably be less accessible to ordinary churchgoers, and would inevitably be set apart from the rest of us. Is it likely that they would be able to listen to folk in the Church? The General Synod would still exist, but what for? Would it not just be a sounding board, or worse, a rubber stamp? We have been told that Synod would have power to accept, reject or amend policy proposals from the Council, but how could that actually happen? How could it possibly happen if Synod were to be fed a diet of apparently well-formed, “ready-to-serve” decisions?

Yes, change is inevitable. If we stand still, we do not get anywhere, but neither do we want to set off on the wrong path. So it is essential to discover where we actually are, and where we would like to go. We need to do more thinking, more consulting with and questioning those in our parishes, the person-in-the-pew, those working at the grass roots of the Church, so that they do not feel left out and marginalised. How could the Turnbull proposals possibly achieve this? That’s what I should like to know.

But, as well as asking the questions, we must listen to the answers. What are the people in the parishes really saying to us? Why are they saying it? We may possibly lose this personal touch if we start to run the Church like a business. More importantly, we lose sight of Christ. It is so easy for Church leaders to forget that not everyone knows as much as they do about the internal workings. Spectators can often get frustrated, or they may lose interest, or they may just leave. We need to be seen to be involving more people. Again, the question is, will the proposed new Council be able to do this?

Of course this opening up of Church procedures, politics and government does not make life any easier at first. But what did Shakespeare ask, “whether ’tis nobler …. to suffer”? Discontent, distrust, dis-ease, disappointment, disagreement and disquiet will not evaporate overnight. But the experience could eventually be a liberating one. These negatives will be replaced by positives, having more loyal disciples, greater discernment, new discoveries and fairer work distribution. More people will be involved. We need to work as a team, with everyone relying on each other, and knowing where each fits in, having appropriate training, encouraging one another.

So, to go back to the question, “Turnbull, to be or not to be?” Change is difficult to accept unless the vision for that change has been made crystal clear. Have we a clear enough vision now in the Church of England? Yes, we know the present situation is not satisfactory, but will the proposed one be any better? I don’t claim to have the answers, but I do ask the questions!

Mary Judkins is Chairman of the House of Laity of the Diocese of Wakefield. She is also a member of the General Synod.