As this issue of New Directions goes to print, a remarkable Church of England row is gathering steam. The row is not about women in the episcopate or blessing same-sex partnerships. It is about leadership: specifically, it is about the identification and formation of those who (might) have a calling to episcopal ministry, or to minister as the dean of a cathedral, or to lead a ‘large church’ or a theological college or mission agency. The immediate cause of the row is the publication of the Green report on senior leadership: a key part of the strategy for growth and renewal to those who welcome it, an untheological mish-mash of secular managerialist assumptions to the report’s detractors.
We hope to examine the proposals embodied in ‘Green’ in more detail in a future edition of New Directions. In the immediate aftermath of publication, two observations can be made.
The first is to note the language which has been employed by some of those who have swiftly come out in defence of the report’s conclusions. One bishop has written that the Church of England is ‘in last chance saloon,’ and that ‘the old wet liberal ethos has no traction anymore.’ Similarly, one of the principal architects of the report has been minded to declare that ‘the Church of England is in crisis’ and the need for a change of direction ‘urgent.’
Is this language – this apocalyptic language – hysterical, hyperbolic, or deadly accurate? The difficulty is that when an institution has become so obsessed with (and in many ways so adept at) depicting everything as a good-news story, it is difficult to know how to respond to the language of crisis and imminent collapse. Every set of attendance figures is spun to persuade the world (including ourselves) that everything is all right really, that the growth in attendance on a Tuesday afternoon among the under-fives at the local expression of Messy Church proves that all is well in the Established garden. Some more transparent, sober and (frankly) grown-up discussion of the real state of the Church of England might have paved the way for a more mature reception of the Green report. No institution (and the Church of England is both an institution and, of course, far more than that – it is a part of the one Church of Jesus Christ, against which, tout court, the gates of hell cannot prevail) can tell two stories at once, a story of success, and a story of imminent disaster, and expect either (or both) to be taken seriously. The publication of Green is surely a call to a realism which is grounded in the virtue of Christian hope, not built on the quicksand of Blairite optimism, especially as expressed in the public domain.
The second observation is to note the extraordinary ham-fistedness which allowed the Green report to be published just as the report of the Faith and Order Commission on Senior Church Leadership was coming to the boil. Your editor (who must declare an interest as a member of FAOC) treads carefully; and it is not helpful – and no part of the FAOC agenda – to suggest that there is an irreconcilable opposition between the two pieces of work. But that no thought appears to have been given to how the two projects might inform one another, still less to how their near simultaneous publication might help the Church conduct this conversation, beggars belief; rightly or not, it now appears that a substantial piece of theological study and reflection has been (or might have been) sidelined for reasons of political expediency. Presentational skills cut both ways.
It is facile to imagine that there is an easy answer, any kind of easy answer, to the challenges of discerning the leaders of the Church and equipping those so discerned to carry out the task – always remembering (as the FAOC report rightly insists) that ‘leadership,’ at least in a sense which can be straightforwardly ‘read’ from secular models, is not a category known to the writers of the New Testament. The old saying reminds us that, no wonder the clergy are all so hopeless, the Church only has the laity to draw from. And – until we return to the days of the call of St Ambrose – bishops and deans can only come from that pool of clergy. Whatever steps the Church might take to sharpen its work in leadership development, catholic Christians will always put their trust first in the gift and charism of ordination, and in the miracle of the Grace of Orders.