RUMOURS are the stuff of life. Well informed rumours even more so. However the rumour I heard during the summer from my mole in the diocese of London turned out not to be very well informed at all.
It was said that the diocese was looking carefully at its costs and at the justification for all its expenditure. It was said that posts were to be frozen and that in particular the vacant area bishopric of Willesden might be left unfilled.
After all, the diocese does have a diocesan bishop, three other area bishops, one suffragan bishop and five honorary assistant bishops, so the absence of a Bishop of Willesden would hardly have been the cause of great episcopal deprivation in a diocese so remarkably well provided for. Indeed had the Church Commissioners been relieved of their responsibility for maintaining, funding and housing a Bishop of Willesden, there might have been many thousands of pounds extra available for the support of poorer dioceses elsewhere in the country.
CHIEFS AND INDIANS
The rumour was certainly plausible in that an average Synod member, even one without financial qualifications, could easily have made a case for saving the costs of a supernumerary bishop in order to redeploy resources to areas of greater need. As the Church of England contracts in size, it would seem eminently reasonable to keep the ratio of Chiefs to Indians roughly constant. A case could be made for reducing the number of Chiefs lest the bureaucracy becomes too top heavy, but it would be hard to produce a credible case for increasing the ratio of Chiefs to Indians.
However in the Church of England the normal laws of economics, good management and good business practice have long since been suspended. Decisions about whether to appoint an area bishop and who to appoint have become the gift of the diocesan. Of course he consults widely and takes advice from all quarters. But as old Synod hands know, consultation means listening to everybody’s opinions and then doing whatever you were going to do anyway. In the end a diocesan bishop can decide to appoint Joe Bloggs (who is surprisingly often someone who was a curate under the diocesan when the diocesan was an incumbent), and have to give account to no-one.
The Diocesan Synod learns in due course that Joe Bloggs is to be the new suffragan and no-one questions the wisdom of the diocesan’s choice. Certainly no-one asks for the rationale of how Joe Bloggs was picked from amongst the 9000+ potential candidates.
In the case of the Diocese of London there is a looming financial crisis. The number of parishes failing to pay their quota in full is rising and it would not be surprising if the Diocese were to be taking steps to increase its income and control its expenditure. So one must assume that the siren argument has been employed that bishops aren’t actually a charge on the diocese because the Church Commissioners pick up the tab.
And what a beggarly argument that is! It was the now discredited Sir Douglas Lovelock who once told the Synod that “we only have one pot of gold” . What he meant was that if the Commissioners money is spent on one thing, the same money can’t be spent on something else as well. In that he was absolutely right. It is high time that we realised that a supernumerary bishop in one diocese is sucking up Commissioners’ funds that might otherwise be used to provide additional parish priests in poorer dioceses.
Surely we need to deploy our resources where the rubber hits the road – in the parishes. For far too long we have been indulging ourselves with non-parochial appointments galore. And what have we achieved? We now have a church that has shrunk faster in the last fifty years than at any time since the reformation. Our Archbishops preside over two provinces, which with the major exception of ECUSA (and the less said about ECUSA the better), are among the very few provinces in the Anglican Communion which are declining.
So much for the principles involved, just before Christmas we discovered that a new Bishop of Willesden had been appointed. And of all the candidates the Bishop of London might have chosen, he chose our very own Archdeacon Pete, who will now be able to add a range of purple hues to his collection of clerical shirts. The Church Times said that he enjoyed films and was a member of the National Trust. It is hard to imagine what more weighty commendation The Church Times could offer of someone about to take Episcopal orders. It also noted that Pete was “one of the more articulate members of Synod”. Isn’t it gratifying to know The Church Times is on the same planet as the rest of us (at least on the days they aren’t on retreat at St Gargoyle’s)?
But while we must congratulate the Archdeacon on his appointment, I confess to having very mixed emotions about it. Synod will be deprived of one of its ablest members. Pete has been a member of the Archbishops’ Council; he was an effective Chairman of the Business Committee and was involved in much else beside. He had high profile roles and humdrum ones too, like chairing the Elections Review Group (on which I served). We often disagreed, but he argued his case well and usually with a light touch of humour. The Church is desperately short of talented administrators and managers. Can we think of nothing better to do with them than consign them to the obscurity of area bishoprics – at vast expense?
Gerry O’Brien is a lay member of the General Synod. He represents the Diocese of Rochester.