Julian Mann explains why team working can cause liberal policies to prevail, to the detriment of the Church’s reputation

The rhetoric of the deanery review is rapidly changing. Before the recession, the talk was of how churches in a deanery could ‘own’ the need for greater team working. But now, with the diocese facing a significant budget deficit, the Area Dean is telling the deanery synod, ‘We need to start working as a team before we are forced to.’

As an institutional prognosis, the Area Dean’s comment is surely right. As John Richardson pointed out in an excellent article on his blog The Ugley Vicar about a Times news report that the Church of England will lose as many as one in ten paid clergy in the next five years: ‘Of course, for many Anglicans, this is not news at all, especially if they are in rural areas (which means anywhere outside an urban environment). Typically, rural ‘parishes’ now consist of agglomerations of individual parishes, even into double figures. Recently I met a clergywoman from Norfolk looking after no less than fifteen. And the number of parishes involved is no ‹uarantee of a full-time minister. In our local area another clergywoman is overseeing “five parishes whilst holding down a part-time diocesan post.’

Theological differences

The problem with the rhetoric of the cluster is that it fails to face up to the profound theological differences between churches in a deanery. And that is ironic because the deanery review sales talk was all about reflecting our theological differences. ‘We are diverse, yet united. Let’s celebrate our differences and yet learn to partner together in mission.’

But once the deanery review becomes incarnated in ‘pastoral re-organisation’, with clergy and Readers being licensed to the team rather than to individual parish churches, liberal policies tend to prevail and orthodox clergy and congregations are vulnerable to being bounced into practices with which they are theologically uncomfortable.

Managerial pronouncements

Take remarriage after divorce, for example. The team adopts a policy of conducting marriage services for those who have been divorced. When St Griselda’s-by-the-Pond had its own vicar, he offered a service of dedication after civil marriage instead of the full marriage service. Now the church finds divorcees being fairly freely remarried in its building, and the practice is now beginning to cause a scandal locally.

Mr Smith married his second wife in church shortly after the change in policy. The younger woman he has just run off with wants a traditional white wedding at St Griselda’s. The Revd Jezebel Gomer-Jones told the Team Rector that it would be ‘discriminatory’ to deny the bride her dream. After consulting the Area Dean, he heartily agreed. But down at the Dog and Duck, the regulars are taking bets on the timing of number four.

Godly people have simply been ground down by the bureaucrats and the reputation of the Go«el is suffering by practices such as serial remarriage. That is why in these difficult times orthodox support networks such as Forward in Faith, Reform and Anglican Mainstream have a vital part to play.

They can provide invaluable legal advice to churches to ensure that they are not steam-rollered by high-handed managerial pronouncements that are open legally ambitious if not erroneous. This is not for the sake of obstructive nit-picking but for the sake of faithfulness to Christ’s revealed will for his ministry and mission. ND