Non-Executive Directors sought for well-known National Charity

A rather thin envelope dropped through my letterbox the other day. It contained a splendid bit of marketing hype. “The Church of England”, it trumpeted, “into the 21st century”. Not quite a sentence, but perhaps allowable as a headline. The document turned out to be the copy for a press ad to solicit applications from people who might like to be appointed by their Graces, with the approval of Synod of course, to the Archbishops’ Council.

“The Church of England is reforming its central decision-making structures to meet the needs of the Church and nation,” it read. However, it was not entirely clear whether the picture of their Graces walking in the garden was meant to illustrate the central decision making structures which the Church of England needs to reform or the new structure it was intended to create.

“You (or someone you know),” it cooed, “may be an ideal Appointed Member – our nearest equivalent to a non-executive director.” So the model which has been used to fashion the shape of the Archbishops’ Council (the board of a public limited company) emerges from the shadows. There are problems with the appropriateness of this model when you’re trying to run a church and extend the Kingdom of God. It is all very well for a company which is in business to make a good return for its shareholders. There is a common denominator by which all the company’s activities can be measured – money. All the board members understand that and they have to take hard decisions from time to time -selling or closing down non-performing parts of the business, for instance,

Working as one body, the original Turnbull report proposed that their Graces would nominate up to three additional persons as members of the Council. That has now been upped to six, presumably to provide “balance” to the elected clergy and laity who have been added since the original proposals were made. However, we do seem to have lost the four executive chairmen who would have had direct links with Synod’s boards and councils.

Synod did vote fairly decisively at the February sessions and all this is now inevitable, given Royal assent to the National Institutions Measure later this year. We have new structures and we must make them work. Much however will depend on the views of the Nominations Committee who will sift the applications for the unremunerated non-Executive director positions.

The application forms they will have before them will probably not be particularly informative – the “experience” and “qualifications” sections run to about one third of a sheet of A4. The committee will learn as much from that about the candidates as one discovers from a General Synod election address! I suspect that the CVs which are submitted will count for rather more. Oh to be a fly on the wall when the shortlisted candidates are interviewed!

There is the interesting question on the application form about the candidate’s denomination (they must be communicant members of the C of E or another church in communion with the Anglican Church). I have to confess that I am not sure I know what exactly is “the Anglican Church” with which a candidate’s denomination has to be in communion. For instance, the Church of England is in communion with the Anglican Church of Australia, of which the Diocese of Sydney is part. The Diocese of Sydney, as I understand it, is in communion with the Church of England in South Africa. So is CESA, a church totally committed to the scriptures, the 39 articles and the formularies, in communion with the “Anglican Church” or not?

If a member of CESA were to apply to become a member of the Archbishop’s Council, would his application be considered? Would an application from Bishop John Spong be considered, and if not, why not? He is retiring shortly and would probably be able to give a very satisfactory answer to the question, “How much time are you able to give?” Their Graces, however, might find that any answer to that question amounted to rather more than they would desire.

The supplementary information supplied to potential candidates gives a fascinating insight into the hopes and aspirations that the Council’s Chairmen have. There is a disquieting radicalism in the description of the functions of the Council. Candidates are told, “The Council is green-field. You will help to establish its modus operandi to develop the Church’s direction.” Now to describe a new structure that will exercise a leadership role in the Church as “green-field” does seem passing strange. Has the Church been rudderless and directionless these past two thousand years? Should there not be at least a nodding acknowledgement that some, if not all, of the functions of the Archbishops’ Council have been performed by others (in other ways) all this time?

And “to develop the Church’s direction”? We may need to rethink our appropriate response to the Great Commission for the 21st Century, but I hardly think the Church’s direction is in doubt or needs to be “developed”. We are emphatically not a political party with the capacity to reinvent itself and espouse any policy which may win votes. We are the body of Christ seeking to find appropriate ways in each generation to be faithful to the mandate he has given us – and that will not change until he comes again.

What names will this novel process produce? We must wait until the autumn to find out. But I trust the Nominations Committee will not take Synod’s approval for granted because we don’t want a Westminster, rather than a Whitehall, farce. If you saw the film Brewster’s Millions, you may remember the electorate being urged to vote for “none of the above”.

Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.