Gerry O’Brien

Who runs this place? And what is it here for?’ asked the Bishop of Willesden in last month’s ND. The answers, as he must know, are that although the General Synod is the only forum in which lay people could collectively have any direct influence in the affairs of the church, it is bureaucrats rather than the members who run it. Aspirations for influence from the pews are routinely stifled by those whose vested interests require that the role of the laity should be diminished as far as is practicable.

Synod’s problem is that there is a great reluctance amongst the bureaucrats to grasp the fundamental issues of the day. It is all very well to allow us to debate whether particular posts should be open to either gender or not. Unfortunately we never get around to debating why we are funding these particular posts and what we expect the post holders to deliver.

Nobody challenges the Sir Humphreys dedicated to the preservation of the status quo. The ‘give us a job’ industry that the Bishop of Willesden referred to is so entrenched that it is all but impossible to do more than tinker with the anachronistic apparatus of church government. Fundamental questions remain unaddressed. The church has atrophied over the last fifty or more years, overwhelmed by an ethos of managed decline. Yet you can hear Sir Humphrey mocking the very notion that the church might grow.

Synod could refuse to support dioceses that are living beyond their means, but it throws money at them. Synod could require every parish to have a programme for teaching the faith to those of school age, but it doesn’t. Synod could require every parish to run a basic Christianity course for adults, but it doesn’t. Synod could challenge the culture of managed decline, but would it succeed?

The choice is simple. Managed decline is ceasing to be a viable option. Either we get a grip on the problem, or sooner or later we will find ourselves at the mercy of the accountants and auditors.