Speaking of inclusivity and disagreement

‘So what’s it to be?’ It’s a hard question and one most frequently asked of people, or institutions, when they have arrived at what might be thought of as decision time.

Is it too fanciful to suggest that ‘so what’s it to be’ is the question facing the Church of England in 2018. The decision that the Church of England must face up to and answer is this:

‘Are good disagreement and radical new inclusivity to be mere pragmatic, managerial, political and, perhaps, ultimately vacuous strap-lines or, are they going to be guiding theological motifs?’

Put another way will 2018 be the year when the Church of England decides whether it is going to rely on managerial and political solutions to our most contentious debates, or whether the hard work of doing our ecclesiology properly will win through?

Ecclesiology, as (well) defined by the conservative theologian Gerald Bray is the obligation to describe  the church not merely as it is has historically been and currently is constituted in practice ‘but as it ought to be in principle.’  I suspect, or rather know, that Gerald and myself would come to rather different conclusions as to what a healthy church might look like in ‘principle’ and ‘practice,’ but I hope that we would agree that ecclesiology can only ever be verified through practice. 

Principle and practice, I would want to suggest, are the two characteristics which differentiate a strap-line, or slogan, from a motif. The Lutheran bishop-theologian Anders Nygren was big into motifs and motif research. He was adamant that motifs had to possess both internal content and external manifestations. The internal content is the guiding principles, or theologies, at play. External manifestations relate to practice and, performance. Put the two together and, hey presto, a motif is the result! Leave principle and practice standing in isolation from each other and what you end up with is a meaningless strap-line, or slogan.

In some ways the introduction of good disagreement and radical new inclusivity (by ++Justin), as notions to be transformed into motifs,  obligates a revival in ecclesiology. Radical new inclusivity can, after all, hardly be regarded as either radical or new if retention of the status quo is the end result!

For the Church of England our ecclesiology is verified through our liturgy. So if radical new inclusivity is to mean anything at all, if it is to become a guiding motif, then some form of rite of affirmation, dedication or blessing for same-sex couples will be required. Without this all that that can be offered are ‘informal prayers,’ which can only ever be an expression of inclusivity at the level of the local church, rather than a statement of theological principle by the national, and established church. The Church of England, it should be remembered is a formal, national, established and liturgical church. These are, perhaps, the most significant internal characteristics of our ecclesiological motif. ‘Lex credendi, lex orandi’ is the principle at stake should the Church of England continue to insist that only informal, non liturgical, prayers can be offered to same-sex couples.

The challenge for the Church of England is that not everyone is going to be cock-a-hoop with any form of movement towards rites of affirmation, dedication, or blessing. This is a statement of the obvious! And, this is why the notion of good disagreement is so important. Good disagreement, if it is to be a motif, has to be disagreement about two things: principle and practice. If good disagreement only ever relates to principle, its only real concern is the nature of our internal debates. At this level good disagreement translates as ‘kids play nicely.’ The problem is that in high stake games kids tend not to play nicely!

Over the last year it has become clear to me that good disagreement only makes sense in relation to radical new inclusivity and, that radical new inclusivity, as a guiding (theological) motif,only makes sense ecclesiologically  if it leads to new forms of practice, the only verification for which are liturgical rites of affirmation, dedication or blessing. Without such rites all that we will be left with is a couple of essentially meaningless strap-lines, or slogans.

‘So what’s it to be?’ Are good disagreement and radical new inclusivity to be mere pragmatic, managerial, political and, perhaps, ultimately vacuous strap-lines or, are they going to be guiding theological motifs?’

For the Church of England and her leaders we really are approaching ‘make your mind up time.’ Strap-lines or motifs, managerial pragmatism or ecclesiology, these are the questions. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Can the C of E learn a lesson or two from Tim Farron

It is easy to jump on the bandwagon and have a pop at Tim Farron over his views on homosexuality. During the election campaign he managed to annoy both conservatives and liberals alike.

From a liberal perspective he was far too slow in eventually saying that he didn’t believe homosexuality to be a sin, in fact he was so slow that very few liberals unreservedly believed him . From a conservative (evangelical) perspective he was seen as selling out. The poor bloke couldn’t win! And, let’s be honest neither him, nor his party (my party), ‘won’ in any meaningful sense on election night.

Tim Farron was also slaughtered on the altar of the oughts. Surely, the argument goes, a political liberal should also be a social, and some would argue theological, liberal. For many Tim Farron came to epitomize a distinct lack of joined up thinking and, yet, I have the feeling that there is a positive lesson for Church of England from the way that Tim Farron has conducted himself.

Now don’t get me wrong, I don’t agree with Tim’s views on homosexuality as he now states them. I think he is wrong. I also understand the political problems that arise when the leader of a socially progressive party holds socially conservative views. However, I also think that Tim Farron has something to offer our theologically conservative bishops.

Tim Farron has a good voting record when it comes to supporting LGBTI rights. He voted in favour of same-sex marriage. He has also spoken from the floor of the house about the appalling treatment of homosexuals in Ukraine (Anglican Primates take note – you did after all pledge to speak out against institutionalized homophobia.)  He has been consistent in seeking liberty for members of the  LGBTI community. He has managed to relegate his own views to a place of secondary importance. It is others, primarily in the media, that have escalated his views to being of primary importance.

Whilst I fully accept the inadequacy of  comparing the challenges of political leadership with the teaching mandate given to bishops I do wonder whether there is something that the House of Bishops might learn from the way that Tim Farron has managed the tension between what we now know to be his own views and, his voting record?

I cannot see, for instance, why a conservatively minded bishop wouldn’t be prepared to support rites of affirmation for same-sex couples, providing there is an opt out on the grounds of conscience.

Why should it be that the view of an individual bishop, or the House of Bishops as a somewhat divided  collective should be of primary importance on what is, after all, a second order issue?

If the notions of ‘good disagreement’ and ‘radical new inclusivity’ are to have any real currency I suspect that it rests on the ability to differentiate between first and second order issues. In a very real sense Tim Farron has managed to do this for, despite his own personal convictions, he did vote in favour of same-sex marriage.

‘Good disagreement’ and ‘radical new inclusivity’ will end up being one of two things: meaningless (political) strap-lines, or real and enduring (theological) motifs. Ensuring that they become theological motifs is contingent on the willingness to differentiate between first and second order issues. Good disagreement and radical new inclusivity are, perhaps, most of all an invitation to theologically minded conservatives to accept the principle of subsidiarity in relation to second order issues.

Subsidiarity is, in many ways, the most challenging of all values for it implies the willingness to relegate self, even our own most cherished (second order) convictions and, to re-locate control, power and authority. Subsidiarity is, in and of itself, messy and seemingly inconsistent; just like Tim Farron!

Is there, in fact, something that the Church of England, and her bishops in particular, can learn from Tim Farron?

 

 

 

Talking of mission: something old, something new.

The Christian story is not just an old but, a timeless story. The plot never changes nor does the chapter outline. The colour coded story, at least from a C of E, perspective begins in Advent and moves through Christmas, Epiphany, Lent, Holy Week, Easter, Pentecost and Trinity. The chapter headings never change. The plot outline is never re-written. Yes, various sub chapters are added in to further animate the story: harvest, remembrance, saints days and so forth, but the basic story line remains constant. Thank goodness for this, for to change the story would be to cheapen the story. And, it would be wrong to cheapen a story which seemingly ends with the most painful of all deaths. Of course, for the Christian, the story line can be summarized in the phrase ‘God so loved the world that he gave his only Son…..’ (John 3, 16).

The Christian story is the consummate love story. It is the story of  the God who constantly gives. It is the story of the God who gives of himself in creation, in and through the pangs of labour, from the cross, through the resurrection and, then again at Pentecost. ‘Our’ Christian God is no-misery-guts instead he is utterly selfless and always self-giving. So we are not at liberty to tweak, amend, or even change the story line.

And, yet I was struck at the midday Eucharist on Wednesday when I read from Psalm 98 which begins with the phrase ‘O Sing a New Song,’ (it then makes it clear that the new song is to be sung ‘unto the Lord’ – the psalm is one of praise). Over the last couple of years I have become increasingly convinced that the church does need to sing a ‘new song.’ Singing a new song doesn’t imply putting the record collection in the loft for safekeeping. I have far too much respect for the traditions of the church to suggest that, but it does mean reaching out in new ways and trying new things, so that God can ‘do a new thing,’ (Isaiah 43, 19).

Let me clear, transparent and up front: the churches I am responsible to and for as their parish priest could be described as liturgical, choral and sacramental. We happily occupy what might be thought of as the modern catholic tradition in the church. We are corporate members of Inclusive Church and the Prayer Book Society, and we are growing in number and, hopefully, in holiness. We care about the story we are obligated to tell and seek to do so through both word and sacrament. We are not about to jettison our inherited tradition and, neither should we. To do so would be an act of reckless folly. It would also be a missional disaster.

But, and this is my sneaking anxiety, for I would love everyone to accept and endorse my tradition, it’s simply not enough. If we are to meet our aspirations to grow in number and holiness new ways of telling the greatest of all love stories need to be developed and incorporated into the missional mix.

The only reason I ‘know’ this is experience. ‘Our’ way of expressing ‘our’ communal praise and adoration for God works for many and not just those who are steeped in the traditions of the church.

Young couples, those seeking baptism for the children, families and friends of those we have taken funerals for, have all remarked on the beauty of the liturgy, the experience of community and the dignity of our worship, but others have been left confused and, if I am honest, ever so slightly wary of the formality. For some new comers our liturgical, choral, and sacramental style of modern catholic worship really is a ‘new song,’ for others it simply cannot be their song. So we, not they, need to do a ‘new thing.’ 

Because the story won’t change, just the ‘set’ and method of delivery there is nothing to fear. There is simply no competition over the overall story, and the chapter headings, for the simple reason that God, not we, is the author. God is the narrator, the alpha and omega, of the story.

Its funny, or perhaps it’s not, a few years ago I was fairly cynical about Fresh Expressions and Pioneer Ministers and now I am not. I still, again in a spirit of honesty and transparency, have reservations about church plants (but maybe I will get over myself). I would prefer to see existing parish churches being resourced and  equipped for mission and evangelism than new churches being planted. I have no problem with new (parish) churches being established to serve new communities. I continue to believe that the parish system should be central to the Church of England’s ‘mission strategy.’ It is hard to see how the C of E can be a truly national and established church, serving the entirety of the nation through maintaining the widest and deepest nexus of relationships, separate from the parish system. If the parish system is undermined or eroded any notion of being the national and established church will simply be a matter of constitutional niceties. The Church of England should avoid any temptation to do mission by project.

I believe our small-medium and medium-sized parish churches can and should be powerful engines for growth in the communities they serve, if strategically resourced.  I now believe that such churches should be encouraged to find new ways of telling our never-changing story, whilst at the same time honouring, even deepening,  their existing tradition. It’s a about a complimentary theologies of worship, mission and evangelism. It is not either-or but and-both.

For me it’s not out with the old and in with the new, but about equipping parish churches up and down the land to invest in both, for then, and only then, will we be a true missionary church; only then can the stated aim of Renewal and Reform to evangelize the whole of England stand a chance.

I hope that one of the  Renewal and Reform strategists overarching concerns is how to resource the ordinary parish church to achieve extraordinary returns. I was encouraged to see a letter from William Nye, the Secretary General to the Archbishop’s Council, sating that ‘we have also supported churches in outer estates in Blackpool, rural ministry in Salisbury and Cumbria, parish development across County Durham and, traditional parish work in the diocese of Coventry and in the Bishop of Ebbsfleet’s traditional catholic parishes.’  I would like to see much greater levels of strategic investment funding, both through R & R and directly by dioceses, in ordinary parishes, although not just in their ‘traditional work.’

One of my greatest desires, as an ordinary parish priest, is to work with a Pioneer Minister sharing in the job of story telling, mission and evangelism, so that those who know and love the Lord will grow in number and in holiness. They will do so by listening to different, yet entirely complimentary,  new songs telling an old and never-changing story.

And, I never thought I would say that!

 

Speaking of hope

I don’t make New Year resolutions. But, each and every year, I do try to think about some values, or virtues, that I hope will animate my life over the coming twelve months. I then write a prayer, or select a bible verse or two, which I hope will deepen my understanding of my guiding virtue over the coming twelve months. What I end up doing is a form of extended Lectio Divina. In 2017 my guiding virtues were trust, humility, service and gratitude. The prayer I wrote for myself was:

‘Loving God, help me today to drink from the great well of trust that I may serve you with humility and gratitude all the days of my life.’

One of my virtues for 2018 is hope. Hope is, of course, one of the three ‘theological virtues,’ (1 Corinthians 13, 13). I have felt strongly led to deepen my life in hope over the course of Advent and Christmas. So what is this hope that I am talking of? The Thematic Bible (one of my favorite resources) defines hope as:

‘A confident expectation for the future, describing both the act of hoping and the object hoped for. When grounded in God, hope provides the motivation to live the Christian life, even in the face of trouble.’ 

I guess that the difference between a wish and a hope, at least in Christian terms, is one of grounding. Whereas a wish, however longingly felt, is groundless, hope is grounded in God. Hope in other words is part of a larger story, the author of which is God, the Alpha and Omega. It is belief and trust in God that provides the grounds for hope.

Hope is in many ways the antidote to despair. We need hope when all seems bleak, when life seems cruel and, even unfair. We need hope when the record player of our minds is stuck and all we hear time and again is a voice uttering messages of woe. We need hope when we feel ganged upon and experience a lack of autonomy and control. We need hope when we are, in the words of the Lord’s Prayer, ‘trespassed against.’ We need hope when innocence is removed and the potential for bitterness, anger and hatred sown. We need hope when lethargy and passivity take over and   motivation disappears. Hope, it seems,  is not only a virtue; it is also divine and supernatural energy.

It is easy to see the world as hopeless. So many people live in total poverty and fear. Great swathes of the world’s population live under the rule of injustice and tyranny, trespassed against,  knowing no peace. So many families (including my own) live with the ongoing reality of illness, pain and disability. So many people, myself included, are crying out to God in pain and despair and wondering how much longer will they have to wait for justice, peace and healing. Justice, peace and healing are, I suspect, the expectations we long for, and work for, in living hopeful lives.

The Old Testament reading (Jeremiah 31, 15-17 ) and the collect for the Festival of the Holy Innocents make the relationship between peace, justice, healing (or at least restoration) and hope clear. A verse from the O.T. reading is given at the end of this article whilst the collect petitions God to ‘frustrate all evil designs and establish your reign of justice and peace.’ 

The Church itself often feels a place of despair. A real lack of peace exists between various groups within the church. This is sad because, presumably, the church should be the one institution (or body) that animates and brings into being radical and properly grounded hope? So here are a couple of  questions for 2018:

‘What would a confident and hopeful church look like; how would a confident and hopeful church behave?’ 

I don’t know the answer to these questions but I do know that a church that doesn’t anticipate and work towards a better more just and peaceful future would be an anemic, shallow and, hopeless church.

Maybe one of the reasons that I feel called on to reflect on hope over the next twelve months is my inability to answer my own questions for, in reality, I don’t as yet know what a confident and hopeful Andrew looks like, let alone how and a confident and hopeful Andrew behaves. In 2018 I hope to discover what it means to live a hope-filled life. I hope to do so by reflecting on the verses below which I believe have been graced to me by the ground of all hope, God:

‘Thus says the Lord: Keep your voice from weeping, and your eyes from tears, for there is a reward for your work, says the Lord: they shall come back from the land of the enemy; there is hope for your future, says the Lord: your children shall come back to their own country,’ (Jeremiah 31, 16-17).

‘But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint,’ (Isaiah 40, 31).

May I wish you all a hope-filled 2018.

 

Speaking of despair; talking of ‘healing.’

Someone once asked me what was the most painful injury I have ever experienced.  My questioner knew that I had played rugby into my early thirties and no doubt expected me to say a broken bone, a popped cartilage or a ruptured ligament. But, even though these things hurt my most painful and enduring injury is in fact a combination of depression and anxiety.  In my experience there is something permanent about anxiety and depression. Even when I am not feeling acutely  anxious or deeply depressed I know that my very own twin impostors are lurking in the background ready to colonize my mind.  Yes, I live with their constant threat.

The good news is that I am not alone, for I now know that many, many people live with and suffer from mental illness. In fact I would like to suggest that helping people live with and through the threat or reality of mental illness is one of the church’s challenges. Naming and acknowledging mental illness perhaps needs to be normative to the church’s healing ministry?

Thinking about mental illness and healing has been at the forefront of my ponderings these last few months. I minister in what looks like a very ordinary market town. Of course it isn’t really ‘ordinary’ because there is no such thing. Inside each and every person and community is to be found a complex and competing relationship between light and dark, pain and joy, hope and despair.

In looking after myself and ministering to my community it is important to help create the situation where light, hope and joy stand a chance of winning through. In many ways this is how I now understand the concept of Christian healing. In saying this I in no way wish to discount the possibility for the miraculous, rather I simply want to stress the ‘ing’ in healing. The ‘ing’ helps me see healing as an ongoing process rather than an event.

This year I have had to look the worst consequences of depression and anxiety squarely in the face. In my very ordinary parish I have taken funerals for those who have simply been unable to find the means to carry on, and it has been heart rendering. I have also spoken to many people who feel that life is either not worth living or is a never-ending uphill struggle. Such conversations are part and parcel of my ordinary pastoral ministry. Such conversations demand that I take my own vulnerability seriously.

For many years I tried to hide the fact that I have suffered. I was ashamed of my ‘fragility.’ I strongly felt that I shouldn’t feel as I sometimes do. I thought I was a freak, a uniquely tortured specimen. The more ‘successful’ I became the more tortured I felt. I both felt and thought that I was always on the verge of being found out, uncovered and revealed for the sham that I thought that I was. Being a Christian didn’t help, after all as someone of faith surely I shouldn’t think and feel anxious and depressed? Surely God is all the medication that I need? But, as I have already suggested, the good news is that I am not uniquely tortured.  Just like me other people have a whole collection of scratched records stuck on constant play in the jukebox of their minds. Through the healing process I have come to learn that the jukebox doesn’t need to be on constant play and, that other songs can be added to the play list of the mind.

Nowadays I carefully and selectively choose to share my vulnerability. It helps me and, hopefully, others. Sharing and caring builds up a feeling of solidarity and ‘ubuntu.’ Ubuntu is the African philosophy / theology that stresses that we are all in it together: ‘without you there is no me.’ When we care and share we build up that most precious of all commodities: good neighbourliness.  Thanks to the help of doctors, specialists and friends I now have a range of strategies open to me to help me not only cope but occasionally thrive. Not everything I have tried has worked and this means I am very careful about making too many recommendations. There is  no one single  cure-all. If there was I would have found it and taken it. So, although anxiety and depression are commonplace each individual needs, with assistance, to find their own means of firstly surviving and then, hopefully, flourishing. For what it is worth prayer, meditation, exercise and writing are all core elements in my from surviving to thriving strategy. And, yes, medication has also, at times, played a significant role. I know that many, many people appreciate and find significant value in ‘talking therapies.’ In all honesty I didn’t.

Having said that I am loath to offer general recommendations I would like to ‘big up’ two resources and one possible strategy. I do so with some nervousness!

Recently Bishop Steven (Oxon) has been reflecting on depression and anxiety. In November he gave a wonderful presidential address to the diocesan synod and has subsequently written a very gentle reflection on the Lord’s Prayer as a prayer of healing. It is available though the link below:

https://blogs.oxford.anglican.org/seven-reasons-to-say-the-lords-prayer-each-day/

The other resource that I would highly recommend is Katharine Welby-Robert’s ‘I thought there would be cake.’ It is (again) gentle, grounded, humane, honest, reflective and funny. Oh, and its realistic. Katharine talks about her own battles with anxiety, depression and chronic fatigue. For me she is an exemplar of the importance of ‘ing’ in healing. At only £7:99 her book is great value for money.

The strategy I would suggest is laughter therapy. I am nervous about suggesting this and recognise that for someone staring into the abyss my suggestion might appear to be a little insensitive. If I have offended you please accept my apologies. Recently I attended a seminar on ‘laughter, mirth and merriment,’ during which I took part in something called Laughter-Yoga. Fortunately for me , and the other participants, I was able to remove my cynical hat and found the session intriguing. Someone very close to me suffers with permanent and chronic pain (alongside other conditions) and I told her that I had attended the workshop. A few days later she phoned me back to tell me that she had, with a friend, done some ‘purposeful laughing’ and  that it had paid dividends. So why not google ‘laughter therapy’ and give it a go?

I am extremely grateful to the likes of +Steven, Katherine Welby-Roberts and Ian MacDonald (who led the course on Laughter, Mirth and Merriment) for helping create the conditions whereby naming and acknowledging the cruel reality of mental health problems paves the way for the breaking through of light, hope and joy; healing in other words.

For all who are suffering; prayers.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Speaking of vocation

Let’s start with some good news: the vast majority of people working in education, medicine and, health do so out of a sense of vocation. One of the privileges of my ministry is that I get to work alongside educators and health professionals. Put bluntly one of the reasons they do their jobs is because they care. Their professional (and professed) desire is to use their carefully and diligently developed skills and interests to serve others.

Now the bad news: in contemporary society the notion of vocation has been devalued. This is in fact really, really bad news. Such is our society’s obsession with business and the ‘economy’ that vocational jobs are not only undervalued but underappreciated. I am not using the word appreciated sentimentally. My criticism is that in undervaluing those in vocational employment we fail to appreciate their contribution to the economy. In a book I co-edited (Theonomics) Alan Wilson and Rosie Harper made the following audaciously obvious claim:

‘A banker is no more a wealth-creator than the nurse who saves his life in casualty, and no less.’ 

Tragically over the last thirty or so years the west’s chosen method of doing economics has led to the acceptance of a belief that the banker, or business manager/ leader, is in some way entirely self-made. The worst excess of this way of thinking is the belief that somehow they have ‘made it’ in spite of the system. This I would want to suggest is economic gobbledygook, yet it many ways it is ‘our’ current economic orthodoxy.

Such thinking has spread into our public and charitable institutions. Vice Chancellors, for instance, are no longer regarded  by themselves or those who set their pay and rations as having reached the height of their vocation. Instead they have been re-categorized as educational entrepreneurs operating in the mythical international market for talent. The ‘fruit’ of such faulty thinking is the extraordinary levels of remuneration granted to the Vice Chancellor of Bath and Bath Spa universities.  Vice chancellors, just like the vast majority of corporate managers, are not, of course, entrepreneurs in any academic understanding of the word. They don’t take significant personal risk, they don’t invest their own capital or stake their all on the ‘success’ of the institution they manage and administer. One of the peculiarities of modern economic ‘thinking’ is the category confusion between entrepreneurship and business  administration. I wonder whether the desire to describe, and be described in, entrepreneurial terms can be regarded as an economic  manifestation of capitulation to an emerging culturally economic norm: hubris? Hubris, of course, undermines the economic and theological virtues of care and service. Hubris is by its nature inward looking and self serving even when it pretends to be otherwise. Vocation by contrast is always outward looking. True vocationalists use their interests and passions for the benefit of others.  The ‘average’ academic (teacher and healthcare professional) bears the impact of such crass, sloppy, and hubristic thinking remaining undervalued and underappreciated, whilst their most senior ‘business administrator’ is rewarded as an entrepreneur  and, this matters. It matters economically and, it matters theologically.

It matters economically because empirical research shows that excessive wage disparity seriously harms productivity. And, in this country, we have a problem with productivity.  It matters theologically because significant disparities in income erode our ability to relate to each other and, trust each other. As Alan Wilson and Rosie Harper state economic equality ‘liberates the rich from status anxiety and the poor from abject hopelessness.’ I would add that greater income equality liberates the hard squeezed middle from resentment and exasperation. Equality, it seems to me, makes sense both economically and theologically. It makes sense economically because it feeds through into productivity, it makes sense theologically because it places paramount importance on the value of all human beings and, on the relationships between human beings.

If we, as a society, really wish to re-balance the economy, and achieve higher levels of productivity, I would suggest that a re-discovery of vocation would be a great place to start. We need to value and appreciate those who diligently develop and use their skills to care for and serve others. We also need to stop re-categorizing and paying silly money to those who ‘lead’ vocational institutions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

O Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz

Oh Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz? 
My friends all drive Porsches, I must make amends.
Worked hard all my lifetime, no help from my friends,
So Lord, won’t you buy me a Mercedes Benz?…

I must admit to being a bit of a Janis Joplin fan!

But, over the last few days since the ‘resignation’ of the Vice Chancellor of the University of Bath my mind has turned to cars. I think that the reason is that the erstwhile V.C. has had her £31,000 ‘car loan’ written off as part of her ‘resignation’ package.

In a funny way there are similarities between clergy and vice chancellors; hear me out! Both should be interested in teaching and learning. Both presumably entered their chosen field out of a sense of vocation. Both have their pay and rations set through a system of governance. And, in the case of the Bath V.C., both receive grace and favour accommodation. Okay, the Bath V.C. was provided with a ‘flat’ in Bath’s Royal Crescent whilst your average cleric lives in a 1970’s vicarage (although I am sometimes embarrassed at the size of the vicarage we live in when compared to the size of the homes I visit). I am sure that the argument will be made that the V.C. has to entertain, but surely the university has a senate building equipped with private dining facilities? If it doesn’t there are plenty of facilities for hire in Bath. Why does the V.C. require a grace and favour ‘flat.’ I presume that when your average academic moves to a new place of work, just like your average employee in any sector, they have to pick up the tab for their accommodation?

Like the Bath V.C. I too have a car loan! But, it is not interest free and, if I were to resign the Church Commissioners aren’t go to write off the value of the ‘loan.’ Someone, somewhere, is going to have to pick up the tabs for the interest that the V.C. isn’t paying, and the capital value of the loan being written off. Who? Anyway, why on earth, under what rationale, is it reasonable to provide someone who is payed in excess of £450k with an interest free car loan?  Surely like your average employee a vice chancellor should fund their own means of transport?

A myth is frequently perpetuated to support the payment of huge salaries, supplemented by significant ‘fringe’ benefits. The myth is that star employees work in a global market place. Now like all myths there is some truth in this and, some industries are truly global (football for instance) but, there is also a whole lot of rubbish spoken whenever the ‘global market place’ narrative is told, for only a tiny, teeny-weeny, fraction of employees are genuinely free and able to participate in the ‘global market’ for talent. (Theoretically all C of E clergy are equipped to work globally in other provinces in the Anglican Communion, just out of interest).

A few years back when I worked in the investment management industry (another industry that validates the huge salaries it pays using ‘global talent market place theory’)a ‘colleague’  came in one day are resigned. He had accepted a job overseas. He was very excited and bragged about his new package. The next day he came into the office and asked if he could withdraw his resignation. The problem was that he hadn’t told his wife about his new job. His wife didn’t share his excitement, neither was she seduced by the dosh. What she cared about, it transpired, was the place where she lived, the friendships she and her children had made, proximity to her parents and so forth. Notions of family and community overrode the enticements of the ‘global market place!’

As Christians family, community, solidarity and friendship should be our concerns. Yes, pay senior staff well, but lets do so in a way that recognizes their ability and contribution without alienating them from their colleagues and the constituency they serve.

Let me finish with a plea to the Church Commissioners: if you are minded to offer me an interest free car loan please may I have a Mercedes Benz?