Saturday 6 October 2007

Women’s Ministry & Servant Leadership — NOT Oxymorons

Great joy, today, as I welcomed the Ven. Karen Gorham as new Archdeacon of Buckingham. This appointment, created in the eleventh century, has now for the first time been filled on an equal opportunities basis! I wonder about the Ecclesiastical Women’s Leadership Labyrinth. How can those of us with headline responsibility for the wellbeing of the Church engage seriously with that?

We inaugurated Karen’s ministry near the Dove window in All Saints’ High Wycombe. In 1896 Frances Dove (1847-1942), educationalist, founded Wycombe Abbey, the highest performing academic school in Britain. As a woman, she was blocked from election as mayor of Wycombe, and retaliated in 1933 with a stained glass window, designed and executed by women, illustrating the core contribution of women to the English church over 1,000 years, strategically placed near the council pew!

All Saints’ is an interesting reference point in the story of women's ministry in England, as home parish of the first English woman priest in modern times, the Reverend Joyce Bennett, ordained in Hong Kong in 1970.

Plainly women's ministry began way before the Chatterly Trial and the Beatles' first LP. But what have we done with women’s senior leadership? However much more faithful and realistic, however less blokey C of E culture may be this century, to what extent have we managed to match gifts to calling and potential, and to what extent, and why, do we still tolerate a lot of idiotic Father Ted gender stereotyping?


Anonymous said...

Except that some people are more equal than others... The recent Church report - Pillenger - made quite clear that there is demonstrable discrimination against those who don't support women's priesthood, for senior Church posts both of Evengelicals and Catholics. Women, on the other hand, it makes clear, are not so discriminated against.

So before trumpeting equal ops, could you please put your money where you mouth it?

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dear Anonymous (!)

I can't see how supporting women's priesthood is something you are born into and have no choice about, like gender or race. It would have been difficult (but not perhaps impossible) to have as archdeacon of Buckingham someone who didn't believe in the reality of the priesthood of 40% of our clergy. In fact the 2/46 who applied for this job who were opposed to women's ordination were treated in exactly the same way as all other applicants. Had the preliminary process put them in the top 6, we would have explored how they believed they could do the job with them at interview.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bishop Alan,

Well I think you address the second part of your response - that opponents of women's priesthood could have been elected in principle and were treated equally with supporters - with your earlier assertion about the 'difficulties' of demurring against your 40% of women-priests. Other dioceses seem to manage with the odd senior Trad, and this is what the 'two integrities' is all about; for whether we like it or not, that is the present reality, normatively and descriptively, of the Church. But your earlier assertion, I suggest, betrays your view that the two integrities is (largely) untenable - and this is precisely why the Report I mentioned commented unfavourably on such a view, as leading to discrimination against what the Church claims is an 'honoured' position. Traditionalists precisely DON'T believe in the 'reality' of women's priesthood - and you appear to be surprised they they could not!!! I suggest, with respect, that this is naive. They simply accept that there is one legitimate view that women-priests are authentically so - but that the acceptance of the 'dualist' position is essential if the integrities are to remain in one Church. Your view, it appears, could not enable this...

Furthermore, it's too easy to suggest that the assessing of candidates for senior posts is even mainly objective: it's notoriously difficult to assess priestly ability, and therefore potential for leadership - as though the candidates were applying for management roles in a secular context. Politics - Church politics - will always intrude to a goodly degree. Commentary about the Vacancy-in-See machinations leaves no doubt that a multitude of subjective factors apply. I would ask, therefore, whether you had any opponents on the shortlisting panel? If not, I would not share your confidence that the 'best' candidates - whatever that can possibly mean! - necessarily presented from a 'fair', representative, range of selectors. That is why the aforementioned Report proposes changes to senior selection procedures.

As a postscript, I'd add that anyone who *thought* they should be senior clergy by applying for such posts would be my definition of those their clergy couldn't possibly want ('I'm better than you and God told me that I should seek to be your senior.' Ghastly!!!) I certainly don't think that being able to apply entails any more meritocracy than being 'fingered'; in fact, the latter is probably more honest (and entails less per capita disappointment) because the 'fingered' will have been told to apply and have 'enhanced' backing in virtue of this. If applying for promotion is now considered right, when will this apply to bishops, do you think?

With good wishes.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks for your comment. Quite honestly I was only commenting on the last senior appointment for which I was directly responsible and had direct knowledge. All I wanted was an excellent archdeacon, and I didn't care what their views were on women's ordination as such. Part of the job, however would be coping with the reality of the workforce we've got.

I think you're raising a very important point, to which I don't know the answer, about the limitations of advertising, etc., when you stack up its implications against the realities of vocation. Having said this, the Holy Spirit worked through the drawing of lots in the Scriptures, so I wouldn't get too obsessional about the systems.

I think where I find it most difficult to come with you is about the whole level of politicisation that you seem to imply is appropriate to this sort of appointment. I'm acutely uncomfortable with that, partly because it's a barmy way to run a railway,and partly because justice is commended in the Scriptures as a key value in the kingdom.

As to the genuineness of women's priestly ministry, it's not a debating point for me, as perhaps it was before 1993, but a simple daily experienced reality. Those heated debates of the 80's and 90's, when this was a big deal, frankly, seem pretty silly now.

So you can tell I'm not an ecclesiastical politician by any manner of means. I don't pretend to be. I think there's been far too much politicking in the Church, and I'd rather get on with the practical business of kingdom building, which I take far more seriously, because it is far more important.

Anonymous said...

Bishop Alan,

I'm not suggesting that politicization is appropriate a priori - but that it is the inevitable, and properly justified, response to an *already* politicized situation. Church polity - inevitable as it is - is precisely about the 'political'; the question is whether the 'politics' is faced fairly, in terms of equal representation of the traditions, etc, or in a partisan manner. There can be no institutional Nirvana, as you seem to think possible, whereby the Church lives without division and dissent. The question is only how it deals with this, and my argument is that it has been, and continues to be, unfair to the 'original integrity'. And the Church Report I mentioned above endorses this (and in fact enjoins you as a bishop to play your part in addressing it). That cannot simply be dismissed as the machinations of 'old Church', from which you wish to move to the "more important" matters of now.

Furthermore - and you know this - Traditional Catholics and Evangelicals, for different reasons, *don't* see debate about the validity of women's priestly ministry as "pretty silly" but as absolutely fundamental. For such Catholics, sacramental validity, or assurance, is the touchstone of priestly being, and may not be manifested in your "daily experienced reality" (a rather debatable category of theological taxonomy) but is most definitely about Ultimate reality - Ultimate validity. This cannot be addressed by reference to women's (contingent) niceness and daily effectiveness - or however you might put it - not via Anglican theology, anyway, I submit. Thus, the practical business of the Church you aspire to engage in simply cannot happen until the theology's sorted out, and that pain won't go away by trying to ignore it or dismiss it as faux pain... Theology as science, if you like, has to be deployed, and that seemingly lack of theologizing is becoming a sad characteristic of CofE PLC - too concerned with matters of structure and management; too unconcerned with the science of the saving of souls. This isn't surprising, as it's allowed a gross buracracy to grow - one which now manages decline.

Needless to say, therefore, I completely endorse your contention for a Kingdom of justice - but where you seem to misunderstand me (maybe I'm not clear) is that it is precisely a lack of justice, as I and some others perceive it, that I'm arguing against! And so are your counterparts (the one's with balls), the PEVs!

Would that bishops didn't need to be the politicians you say you aren't. You can only do your best, but earthly justice should try to anticipate Divine judgment. And if justice includes or entails fairness, and fairness entails, in this case, honouring the two alleged (by the Church) "honourable" integrities, the wisdom of serpents is required, as well as the gentleness of doves, in episcopal ministrations. You *seem* to wish to disclaim this, and I wonder how such disclaiming could be possible...

On the 'management' issure I would add that the Diocese of Oxford, with four bishops, three archdeacons and the usual Cathedral establishment, is perhaps overstaffed by chiefs. The stipendiary clergy are in steady decline, at least generally across the dioceses, but this is never matched by a reduction in 'managers'. This, I suggest, is another matter of fairness to the poor old parishioner, as well as to the junior clergy. Ultimate respect would have been accorded to the Diocese if it had not replaced the last Adn of Bucks but diverted the funds to mission or parish. I think I'm right in stating that there are more dignitaries now, both absolutely and relative to junior clergy, than ever before (or at least for some centuries). This doesn't give a good impression.

Kind regards.

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Dear Anonymous,

Like you, I am very concerned about the saving of souls, but notice that mission and evangelism flourish regardless of women's ordination or not. Actually that's not quite true empirically. Bob Jackson's book the other year found a clear positive correlation between women's ministry and church growth. I wouldn't push that point, and can think of clear exceptions I know.

The old canard about how overloaded with senior clergy the church is needs exposing for the twaddle that it is. Compared to any other organised human endeavour in Britain today, the Church is specatacularly flat in its structure. Compare the services, education, local government, or business. The last time I compared notes with a business man who had been reading the Telegraph on this subject, I discovered that if this diocese were as lean as his company we would have over 30 senior staff, not 6.

One sad aspect of the flatness of the Church is the clear phenomenon reported by the Clergy Appointments Adviser (who sees the whole picture better than anyone else) of vastly able and godly clergy in their fifties who do not receive the promotion which, in a less flat organisation, they plainly would have received. They don't do the job for recognition, but I would be a fool and liar to deny their pain and frustration. I'm not suggesting having larger numbers of senior staff, but it's something I have to be very honest and realistic about with colleagues.

Another by-product of this is that there are fewer jobs than there otherwise would be for people from minority positions, particularly ones over women's ordination, which a large majority of lay people simply can't get their heads around as a serious point of view these days in the way they could twenty years ago. In some ways that's a shame, but it's a big reason some of the ingenious political solutions arrived at in 1993 look bizarre now.

As a bishop I do my best to operate the present rules, but parochially they are creaking a fair bit.

Anonymous said...

Dear Bishop Alan,

Yes, I read Bob Jackson's book and liked it. I too want to be cautious in what he says about women-priests: his daughter's one. I'd only say that it's a contentious point because I think the 'evidence' would be very hard to quantify, and I thought he was noticeably weak on that particular point...

I have to disagree with you about the number of senior posts. Comparison with secular entities is very questionable and I'm not sure of its validity. It's questionable because, as a charity, and a financially 'challenged' one at that, we don't have the luxury of largesse over more 'managers' that secular counterparts may have (witness constant complaint over the alleged overplus of NHS managers); and I repeat my point that the senior-junior clerical ratio has substantilly lessened over the last several decades. Is that mirrored in the other places you cite, and were there too few seniot clergy before? Moreover, morally speaking, is it right - and does it *look* right - that parishes are forever being amalgamated and (junior) clergy numbers cut, but this hardly ever happens with senior posts! Again, is that happening in those secular institutions? The last archdeacon I spoke to about this, in Eds and Ips, agreed that this had to change for this reason alone...

So I think your analogy questionably valid; and in any case, the fact that we are relatively 'flat' managerially doesn't make others' 'fatter' management structures right. Comparisons need be no more than mildly interesting. It should also be noted that diocesan staff perform many management roles and some should, therefore, be included in your 'manager' comparative figures.

I'm not persuaded that the fact that some clergy are upset at lack of promotion is a good reason for more senior posts. They may be sad and frustrated; the question, surely, is whether they *ought* to be, and I suggest they shouldn't. The CAA is reporting how things are in fact, and we know that we can't get from an 'is' to an 'ought' (so David Hume demonstrated). Such clergy may be entitled to be bitter when they see some foolish senior appointments, as there are. Perhaps they'd be less inclined to feel envious if suffragan bishops and archdeacons were seen to work in a parish in tandem with their senior role, as they once did before 'managerialism' set in...

Finally, I have to say that it doesn't follow that if there were more senior posts, minorities could or would be better represented. Why can't they be represented now? In Oxford, for example, how many more than the eight senior clergy posts it has would it need before even one could be a 'minority' representative (four bishops, three achdeacons, one dean)? I find it hard to take such a point very seriously!

I take issue, too, with your claim that 'a large majority of lay people simply can't get their heads around [objections to women-priests] as a serious point of view these days'. You and I mix in different circles, but when I go around parishes as a chaplain and assistant priest - parishes with no resolutions - I meet plenty of folk who quietly demure from women-priests, in what you suggest is an antique, niche position. Plently of folk accept women - but plenty don't, and it's unwise to extrapolate your perception from the number of resolutions parishes.

We both, perhaps, see what we want to see, not necessarily what is, and all we can do is to try to be honest and open to that which we are ideologically or temperamantally opposed...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thank you for your thoughts and reflections, which I greatly value, although I don't agree with many of them.

As to the progress of managerialism, I think your caution about topheavyness and managerialism are really valuable questions to be asking of changes in Church.

As a matter of fact the proportion of senior clergy to other ordained people in the Oxford diocese has substantially deceased over the past thirty years, mainly because of the growth of non full time ministries. The last time we increased the number of senior staff was, I think, 1921. I'd be fascinated if you could find any other organisation in the country as resistant to top management bloat. I gather that the entire NHS had 510 in 1979, and, after almost thirty years is around the 40,000 mark! I think we need to watch the tendency.
I'm also interested to note, historically, that in 1810 80% of the incumbents in the Oxford diocese were non resident — so much for the fantasy that every parish had a full-time resident incumbent before the eighties.
I wasn't saying we should be less flat — just pointing out to you that we are, so the whole premise upon which much comment in the press is made about this subject, is, in fact, simply wrong.
The closest I have ever had to a yougov poll on the subject of women's ordination in Bucks was when a colleague tried to push through resolutions in a particuoar parish, and there was a rection which became more vigrously against him the more he tried to push it. In the end I invited his parishioners to write to me and give me the parish's view (as I already knew the incunbent's well, and wanted to set it in context) about women's ordinations. In this conservative Buckinghamshire village the score was 31 letters, 29 (mostly very strongly) in favour of women's ordination, 1 in favour but saying people should be loyal to the vicar (a noble thought), and one saying she hadn't actually thought it through, but here was an article the vicar had written on the subject — not exactly a yougov poll and even if it was it wouldn't affect the rightness or wrongness of ordaining women, of course.

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