Ken Leech writes, "Dear comrades, I have an article in today's Church Times (5th August) entitled 'Beware the bureaucrats'. It does fairly accurately reflect what I wrote. However, it does omit some of my text, so I am attaching the original version as I thought it would be of interest to you." -- Ken
Almost ten years ago, on 17th November 1995, Bishop Eric Kemp's article 'Following the example of Mammon' appeared in the Church Times. It was a warning about the centralisation of power in the Church of England and the danger that archbishops would come more and more to be seen as managing directors. The following day, Professor Richard Roberts, writing in The Independent, described Archbishop Carey as 'the John Birt of the Church of England', and the Church as a managed product-driven organisation.
Ten years on, these words still haunt me. They seemed to confirm my worst fears about the Church. Come back, Max Weber: you did warn us.*
Before readers leap to their computers, I am not attacking central institutions, or even bureaucrats as such, but questioning where our priorities should lie. The retirement of Gordon Kuhrt as head of the Ministry Division (previously ABM, previously ACCM, previously CACTM, now reverted to a well-tried military term 'Division'), and the advertisement for this very highly paid job, must call into question what Anglicans think ministry, and indeed the church, is about. Some years ago the telephonists at Church House, Westminster -- I presume under orders from some bureaucrat -- stopped answering the phone with the words 'Church House', and switched to 'The Church of England'. (I believe this has now been modified.) I had hitherto believed that I was a member of the Church of England, but the bureaucratic centralisation made me wonder whether I was -- or whether I was 'simply', 'only', 'merely' a baptized Christian. When I started to visit the Church Commissioners' office, and was always asked which 'company' I represented, my worries about the Church's current ideology -- and lack of theology -- increased.
As a result, I am not at all sure that I should be writing this article.. Do I want to encourage yet more highly paid officials, some of whom may be priests, but who are basically managers, based in Westminster? Do I want to encourage this centralised approach to Christian ministry? Do I want to encourage the view of ministry expressed in Gordon Kuhrt's book An Introduction to Christian Ministry (Church House Publishing 2000) -- a kind of 1950s managerial evangelicalism with little attention to priesthood, diaconate, sacraments or the world? Of course not.
So maybe I should be writing this article. After all, I have nothing to lose, and others have. But I want to begin, not by asking what kind of person we want at the Ministry Division (or whatever new term replaces it), but with the theology of church and ministry.
The theology of baptism -- which hardly figures in recent English writing on ministry, though it is central in much writing from the USA, and from the early Christian centuries - is crucial. Experience in that remarkable, poor but immensely creative, Diocese of Northern Michigan has shown how harmful has been the substitution of ordination for baptism, and the debasement of 'the laity'.
The former Bishop of Northern Michigan, Tom Ray, wrote in 1996:
In terms of authority, dignity and expectation, there is a greater distance perceived between the baptised and the ordained than the distance between the baptised and the unbaptised. To the degree that there is any truth in this observation, to that degree we are in deep trouble.That diocese has abolished the word 'laity' because of its associations with 'untrained', 'second class', 'merely a lay person' etc, and simply speaks of 'the people of God'. We have so much to learn from them, more than from the more affluent parts of the USA. Surely we should be looking for someone with a wholesome, non-clerical, understanding of ministry. So let me float some thoughts.
From CACTM to MDiv, as far as I can tell, the 'chief executives' have always been white, ordained males. None seems to have been appointed for his (note 'his') theological expertise, though many have had considerable pastoral experience. In spite of the increasing stress on diversity of ministry, none has been a lay person. Although women have been ordained since 1987 to the diaconate, and since 1994 to the priesthood, no occupant has been female. Although issues around black Anglicans have been raised since the late 1970s, none has been black. In spite of the stress in reports on participation, formation and 'lifelong learning', my sense is that none of this has been reflected in appointments to this post. At a time when 'spirituality' is very much in fashion, I am not clear whether the spiritual discipline of the occupant of this post has been seen as of central importance.
Then there is the problem of Church House itself, where I worked from 1981 to 1987. Its ideology and ethos owes more to the Civil Service than to the Christian tradition. The chapel is one of the more obscure and marginal parts of the building. 'The Office' is a place in which you sit, not a liturgy which you pray. The problem is that the Church at central level has never had an institutional form which is related to the Gospel. So, greeted on entry with 'All passes must be shown', nobody is surprised. It is just like the Home Office.
So much of recent writing on ministry has been functionalist. What then about the Christian minister as a person of prayer? 'Prayer' does not even appear in the index of Kuhrt's book. Yet surely, if sacramental diaconate, priesthood and episcopate can be justified at all, they can only be justified, defended and strengthened by an emphasis on the character and identity of ministry. Themes such as silence, prayerfulness, inner maturity, are surely more important than most of the issues with which the ecclesiastical institution seems concerned .I say 'seems' since I have no way of knowing what the ecclesiastical institution thinks or wants. Kuhrt's book hardly spoke of the laity except to say that 'the Church needs to mobilise lay people'. Some of us thought the Church was lay people. I do not want to encourage more of this kind of stuff.
By contrast with Northern Michigan, the Church of England. in its national persona, seems excessively clerical, managerial, lacking in creative imagination, and untraditional. (Nothing is so central to the 'great tradition' as the doctrine of the Body of Christ, while clericalism, managerialism and bureaucracy are relatively modern phenomena.) So should anyone apply for this job? From a programmatic political perspective, I know that many people will, and that someone will be appointed. I will pray for her or him -- it will probably be a 'him'. But I wonder whether this is where our focus and our priorities, not to mention our money, should be.
The church has moved on, and centralised bureaucracies like Church House are increasingly archaic, albeit expensively archaic -- though more modest in the Church of England than in the USA and in some parts of Europe. Doesn't the future of ministry lie more and more among the majority of the church who are not ordained as deacons, priests or bishops? Is this not where the energy lies, and where the Holy Spirit is most active? Ought we not to be reconfiguring ministry at the local level, and trust that the 'national Church' will catch up in due time? Frances Ward's recent study Lifelong Learning (SCM Press 2005) could help us forward. Speaking to colleagues in Cornwall, another poor but creative diocese where ministry is thriving, I was told that Church House seemed utterly irrelevant.
In case this is seen as sectarian, let me draw attention to the focus in the Second Vatican Council on the crucial importance of the ecclesia particularis. Or to the fact that most of the progress within English Anglicanism -- and other places -- has occurred because movements of renewal have developed at the local level, and, maybe a hundred years later, been promoted by the hierarchy. In fact, there have been remarkable and enduring examples of the renewal of ministry all over the church. After 46 years in London, I moved back last year to my birthplace in Manchester. In both cities I have been impressed by the holistic understanding of ministry in place after place. The local church is flourishing in many areas. Maybe the future of ministry depends less and less on the bishops and the bureaucrats. However, the future of the bishops and the bureaucrats does depend very much on the nurturing of the grass roots. What is the point of bureaucrats if the rest of the church has withered? What is the point of the episcopate if there is no one to whom they can minister? In the world of episcopi vagantes, where almost all are bishops and there are few laity, this is fine -- but is this what we want in the Church of England?
*The German sociologist Max Weber, writing in the early 20th Century, was one of the first to warn of the dangers of increased bureaucracy.