Tuesday, May 31, 2011

The wreckage of the Anglican Insitution

There. I leave off blogging for a week and see what happens.  Andrew Brown's story of 25th May is the latest of a series of utterly depressing incidents involving the national leadership of the Church of England. 

There's little I can add to the huge number of words already written on this.  The Church Mouse (who one suspects of being a journalistic mouse), as always, provides good commentary.  However, anyone interested in getting to the bottom of the affair should see Colin Slee's original letter, which for the time being at least, can be read online here.  (thanks Gurdur for the link).  Only read if you aren't easily upset by tales of church leaders behaving in a disappointing way.

By way of comment, I offer a few observations:
- Whatever else may be said about the context and Colin Slee pushing his own agenda, his words have the ring of truth.  His description of the conduct of the CNC meeting is sadly consonant with what the grapevine has been saying for some time.  This is how our Bishops are being chosen. 
- The reason Nicholas Holtam was blocked was because he was married to a divorcee.  Since then, the House of Bishops has changed its policy and he has been appointed as the next Bishop of Salisbury.  Clearly, he is not thought as controversial as Jeffrey John, who has now been blocked at least twice that we know of. There is more to say on this, but in another post.
- The same Jeffrey John is on record as saying that his relationship with his partner is celibate. This is exactly what the Bishops have been asking gay priests to say for years.
- Slee's letter was written in response to an enquiry which was set up to investigate the leaks from the CNC. That enquiry is now complete, but in General Synod at the end of last year, Archbishop Rowan Williams refused to reveal its findings, saying "It would not be appropriate to give this a wider cir­culation". Why it would not be appropriate was not made clear.

The scenery described by the late Dean Slee in his letter is familiar to me.  On the south bank of the Thames stands the magnificent Lambeth Palace with its ancient walls and imposing gates. Within the grounds stand the Wash House and other buildings where a small company of staff work to enable the numerous functions which are overseen by the Archbishop. Not far away stands Church House, where even more people are employed to maintain a kind of ecclesiastical civil service. They are worthy people, many of them them among the most talented that the Church can produce.  But they are servicing a leadership that has lost its way and a machine which is broken.

These cloak-and-dagger proceedings, secret meetings in the toilets and backstabbing in the corridors, might have been acceptable in the 19th Century, or even in the 1970s, but not today. Our culture values transparency, democracy, and accountability, qualities which are utterly foreign to the DNA of the stuffy institution that the Church of England has inherited from its Victorian heyday. There is no longer anything to be gained from shoring up such dinosaurs as the secret Nominations Commission.  The whole edifice lies in ruins for all to see, except perhaps those who move around inside its broken walls.  This embarrassing incident should be treated as a welcome opportunity to dismantle the whole thing and start again.


Lay Anglicana said...

I so agree with all that you say, particularly the last paragraph. I think you are right to pick on the 1970s as the time when institutions of all sorts in this country, beginning with the Civil Service, were subjected to root and branch reform of the way they operated. I have had experience of two quangos which fought off this reform, by saying that it didn't apply to them because they weren't really part of the Civil Service. They were successful in the delay but reform, when it came, was a good deal more painful than it would have been if they had accepted change at the same time as the Civil Service.
I can't help but see a parallel here, where the Church hierarchy has successfully fought off reform by loftily saying that its business is God: so it is, but much of the way it functions is as bureaucratic as any civil service department.
It's time to call in the advisers to the Civil Service to advise on recruitment, promotion etc etc!

Perpetua said...

Oh, what a shambles it all is. I agree entirely with your post and only wish senior people in the Church could see and acknowledge the damage all this is doing.