Sunday, 2 September 2012

How to Change Your Vicar (Part Two)

Clergy have all kinds of unusual talents. Vicars have managed to combine ministry with keeping bees, woodcarving, climbing the Himalayas, even inventing submarine detection equipment.

Some clergy have Really Useful collateral skills — playing the guitar, journalism, fundraising, stage magic for school assemblies.

Second Last Thing
My second piece of advice is for people who believe there may be a capability issue with their vicar. For this to go anywhere formally, it should normally relate to what incumbents are actually there to do. A hymn writing, guitar playing or beekeeping fail is bad news. But it’s unlikely to support capability proceedings.
What are parish clergy actually there to do? What fails really count? The answer lies in Canon C24 of the Church of England. Such is the variety of circumstances in which clergy work that these norms are indicative, taken in context, not exhaustive and literally applied. Bear in mind that nobody scores 100% in any or all areas, but these are their core functions.
  1. Prayer
    Maintaining a pattern of prayer in the parish, traditionally understood as drawn from the Daily Office — the prayers of the whole Church provided for in Prayer Book and Common Worship.
  2. Celebration of Holy Communion
    They should provide for the regular celebration of Holy Communion, especially on Sundays and Holy Days.
  3. Preach
    Clergy should provide for regular preaching in the Churches for which they are responsible.
  4. Teach
    Clergy should teach, both adults and children, being willing to visit schools when invited
  5. Present candidates for Confirmation
    having prepared them for discipleship within the life of the Church.
  6. Visit
    both the sick and housebound, and make themselves available for spiritual counsel and advice.
  7. Consult with a Parochial Church Council
    about matters of general concern and importance to the parish. This should meet at least four times a year.
  8. Arrange substitutes
    when unable to perform their basic duties themselves
You might react to this list in various ways — where are the targets? Where are Performance Indicators? You may indeed see praying, leading Sacraments, preaching and teaching as less than vital functions for the Church compared to other things. Yet these are still the primary activities clergy are there to enable in the Parish. Why no KPI’s? Well one reason is that clergy do have tremendous liberty to approach these tasks according to conscience and personal conviction. Imposing on the consciences of clergy is likely to induce more losses than gains. The breadth of the working space clergy have is not always ideally used. The besetting sin of clergy, however, is far more often overwork than laziness.
So, secondly...
If you are thinking of Capability, relate your concerns to what Vicars are actually there to do.


Tom said...

"You may indeed see praying, leading Sacraments, preaching and teaching as less than vital functions for the Church compared to other things."

If anyone is seeing these things as less than vital, then it is not the priest that needs changing, for these are surely the raison d'être of the Church!

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Thanks, Tom. I agree. I see the task of clergy as to catalyse these activities and do this work.

Anonymous said...

Arguably, an awful lot of people (including some clergy) do see these as less important - if your reference point is "making converts" or "seeing signs and wonders", you might dismiss it as mere admin. That this is (i)woefully short-sighted, and (ii)unBiblical does not prevent it happening.

Tom said...

@Anonymous: Indeed, clergy are just as guilty as us lay folk.

Unfortunately choosing the reference points (or similar ones) you refer to is putting the cart before the horse somewhat!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for these posts, which I found very informative. I was wondering, though, if you think there is a case for changing canon law in this area? It seems to me that the current notion of the "historical liberties" of the clergy is an argument from convention, and is incapable of distinguishing between valuable and disvaluable liberties.

I recently experienced the misery of submitting a complaint under the clergy discipline measure, using exactly the reasoning you suggest -- ie asking "would this conduct get someone in trouble in the workplace?" Unfortunately, it turned out that this test did not translate into the church's practices.

So I (and others) have ended up in a situation where we identified serious failure of pastoral care, workplace bullying and, in the case of another complainant, unfair dismissal; and yet the response, no doubt "correct" from the diocesan registrar was that none of these things were actionable because they are not covered by the canon you mention. And yes, we invoked the "conduct unbecoming" bit, but the issues were considered not quite serious enough for that to obtain.

Having served the church as a volunteer for many years, I have come away from this with the impression that the clergy discipline measure is in place to protect priests from allegations made under it. The risible statistics on how many complaints go to tribunal would seem to support that impression.

claire alcock said...

I felt dismayed, after reading the list of things we're supposed to prioritise, that there was no mention of mission/evangelism or outreach towards those outside the congregation. Maybe it's just me but they all look like congregation-focussed things. Haven't we gone a bit too far in the decline of Christendom for these listed things to be sufficient? Aren't we supposed to be discovering our missionary focus again these days?

BlackPhi said...

"...these are surely the raison d'être of the Church" - surely 'proclaiming the Gospel' and 'making disciples' ought to be in there somewhere. However, just because these are important parts of the church's work that doesn't necessarily mean the vicar has to be involved.

As I read Alan's list, things like leadership and centralised control are not part of the vicar's job spec. This seems a little strange given all the fuss about who can have leadership authority that has arisen over the years, but makes sense when you consider the wide variety of talents and types who seem to go in for vicaring.

Hakuna Matata said...

I agree with your steps given. The prayer is the most important things we have. Thanks for this post. God Bless!

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Anonymous said...

VG here. Proclaiming the Gospel is teaching and preaching; and God makes disciples.

BlackPhi said...

VG - at the end of Matthew's Gospel Jesus is quoted as saying to his disciples: "Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit". It seems God likes to work through people in this, as in so many other things.

As for teaching and preaching being the same as proclaiming the Gospel, not if it's internal to the church it isn't. Preaching to the converted really has little to do with proclaiming the good news of the kingdom to those who need to hear it.

But I would reiterate that these are tasks that the whole Church (ie the body of God's people) is called to do, not just vicars.

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