Bishop John Gladwin sees Turnbull as “a window of opportunity for all of us to face up to change”


HERE ARE TWO inescapable realities. The first is the fundamental shift that is going on in our culture and in the life of the church. The emphases of our times are about plurality and diversity, individuality and freedom, lateral thought and flexible patterns of life and work, a distaste for hierarchy and inherited styles of thought and behaviour. That has fuelled mistrust for distant centres of power and authority and a desire for local and accountable systems of organisation. All of this has led to the vital search for those essential and defensible core values and beliefs which can inform and undergird this post modern world in which we live.

The second inescapable reality is the trouble the Church of England is having adjusting to this new context for its ministry. It is clear that its central institutions are not working well and are rooted in a culture which is passing and not in the one that is emerging.

The bottom line for all of us, as we try and make sense of the reform of the Church’s institutions, is our shared obligation to carry forward the historic ministry of the church to all the people and all the cultures of this nation. Serving the people in the name of Christ is what we are about. That drives us to face the harsh questions about the adequacy of our inherited order. We are under obligation because all of this is rooted in the journey we all make in response to the transforming vision of God offered to the world in Jesus Christ.

The Turnbull Commission Report, Working as One Body, has come at a critical time. It has touched a vital chord because people across the church recognise the need for change if we are to fulfil our responsibility today and for the future. That is why, although some have expressed reservations, the Church of England as a whole has responded positively to this Report.

It is important, however, to understand the character of the response. Simply put, there are two ways we could have responded. The first is to welcome Turnbull as the answer to our problems and treat it as some sort of blue print which we must implement in detail. Alternatively we can address it as a window of opportunity for all of us to face up to change. No part and no institution is exempt from having to think afresh about what needs to be done to both their order and procedure if we are to begin to respond to the deeper issues at stake.

The Church of England has wisely chosen the latter route of response. The process of reform which we are addressing calls all to participate. Archbishops, Bishops, Synods, Commissioners, Boards and Councils are all having to face up to the question, what is required of us to enable the church as a whole better to respond to the demands of our time?

The Steering Group, set up to continue the process of work on our national institutions is seeking to enable all to find agreed new directions.

There are a number of crucial outcomes to this process. First, a capacity to agree priorities and set people free to pursue them. Second, a more flexible central order able to adapt to the ever changing needs of our ministry. Third, the growth of a culture of communion – of people working together in communion in an episcopally ordered church. Fourth, a commitment to support the church in dioceses, parishes, cathedrals, networks and on the borders of mission to carry out their ministry with freedom and responsibility.

How are we trying to progress this? By a process of conversation, the development of ideas and shared concepts about new structures and then by encouraging real and effective decision making with which we all stick. The practical outcomes will be multiple. Some legislation to reform organisation which cannot be altered by other means has to be undertaken. Alongside this are conversations about better ways of working to promote ministry at all levels, enabling the considerable resources of our boards and councils to work flexibly and effectively

as they engaged with the national agenda, and efficient and collaborative financial management in which parish and diocesan representatives are fully involved. Issue Groups, set up by the Steering Group, are busy working on these and other matters, pulling in a wide range of people in doing so.

All reforms in the church must be rooted in theological reflection, That is how Turnbull did its work and we must continue in this mode. We learn as we do the work. That is why the Archbishop of York’s group which is reflecting on matters concerning our ecclesiology is crucial to the process. Not only now, but also in the future, we have to go on thinking about the adequacy of the models of church we are using and about their rooting in what we understand of God.

What is not open to any of us is to sit on our hands and hope the challenge God is setting before us will go away. Let none of us underestimate the unseen work of the Spirit of God in the hearts and minds of the people of God today. Often inarticulate, it is a powerful movement for change and for a church which is able to meet the spiritual and faith needs of our own age. Constructive participation in the process is what is required of all of us. Defensive criticism from the touchlines is not a credible or effective position to take.

John Gladwin is Bishop of Guildford.