Watershed moments

A few days have now passed since synod voted not to ‘take note,’ of the bishop’s report on marriage and sexuality. It was, as we know, a close run thing, with the House of Clergy, ‘wot done it.’ It seems as though, for the most part, the debate was lively  yet courteous and the response, in the form of a pastoral letter from ++Justin and John addressed to the bishops but published for all to see, was positive, encouraging and, gracious.

In the debate (and in earlier sessions) it was made clear that for some a red line had been crossed; a watershed moment had arrived. It appears, from the safety of my armchair view, that this is indeed the case. There are a number (I don’t know how many) on both sides of the debate who are in all probability ready to leave the C of E, unless………unless their own position is affirmed. Should we afraid of such threats? (I don’t think so.) I don’t think we should fear being part of the ‘church imperfect,’ for this side of death the ‘church perfect’ doesn’t exist in any case.

However, I suspect that the larger proportion of folk in both synod and the wider church have no wish to depart, either in peace or acrimony, and have a genuine desire to be part of the solution. The first watershed moment is thus revealed: no longer can LGBTI Christians (and members of society) be regarded in and by the Church of England as problems. This is hopefully made clear in the Archbishop of Canterbury’s declaration that the C of E needs a ‘radical new inclusivity.’ Inclusivity must start with positive self-regard for each and every person and acceptance of their stake in the life of the church.

What the ‘radical new inclusivity’ will look like is of course yet to be determined, but a direction of travel has been set. No longer will, I suspect, it be possible for the C of E to be ‘inclusive at the door, yet exclusive at the core.’ Such sentiments can now be regarded as a false and phony form of inclusivity. LGBTI Christians can now look forward with greater hope.

I also think that another, second, watershed was both recognised and reached. What I am referring to is the nature of episcopacy and episcopal leadership. Again Archbishop Justin appears to have recognised this through his gracious acknowledgment that the message had been heard that the bishops must ‘do better.’ The rejection of the report in the House of Clergy must have both stung and hurt the bishops.

It seems clear to me that over the last few months (maybe even years) things have gone awry in the art of bishoping; in fact I think the bishops know this, hence the introduction of specialist training for senior leaders, with such training being based on the (in) famous Green Report.

I have a feeling that the report that being ‘not noted,’ in synod was a consequence of a loss in the art of bishoping. The loss of this art was, in many ways, recognised in the letter from the retired bishops who suggested that their successors had sought to manage the Church of England’s way to an outcome. They argued that they did so at the expense of leadership. My suspicion is that they were correct. My other suspicion is that the report was written from a place of deep, if unacknowledged, fear.

So I hope that the defeat in synod will in some way lead to a rediscovery in the art of bishoping. Such a rediscovery must start with the throwing off of all fear. It must also involve a willingness to speak openly and transparently about the bishops own inclinations and theology. This cannot be the sole prerogative of conservative bishops.  Mature leadership cannot broker false unity and accepts that it cannot keep all of the people happy all of the time, whatever the peddlers of secular methods leadership training may say.

Good, and effective, training can be characteristic by the 3 R’s: right people, right means and, right ends. If we assume that the right people have been identified (and I have no reason not to), then we can focus on right methods and, right ends. I would like to gently question whether the bishops report resulted, in part, from a perspective that suggested that unity in the senior leadership must clearly be seen to exist; this, if you like, being the ‘right ends.’ But, what if it is not, in the Church of England, the right end? The bishops can, I think, only exercise mature episcopal leadership if they are transparent in their own diversity and recognise diversity within their own dioceses. Diversity, just like inclusivity, must be called out,named, acknowledged and, given its voice.

I am pleased that the Archbishops have asked the diocesan bishops to go back and reconnect with their synod reps. But, I do wonder whether the bishops should go further and deeper. Could it be the case that their urgent task is not simply to gather views, and to work out where the red lines are in order to broker a solution (recognizing that many are on synod because they represent a particular ‘stakeholder’ group), but to take all available fragments and create a mosaic? Such an approach would require the skills of an artist bishop rather, one who is happy to scrap the rule book and reject any notions of bishoping by numbers. Is the current means of senior leadership training capable of nurturing artistically creative bishops?

The decision ‘not to take note,’ also, I think, signified another, and third watershed, moment. It is clear that different parts of the Anglican communion will have reacted very differently to the outcome.  The Anglican Communion is in many ways a strange thing. Is it a real denomination or a federation? This is a question that  remains unresolved. Over the last few years the communion seems to have been moving towards regarding itself as a denomination, with the Primates seeking to act as a global magisterium (and the C of E bishops as a localized magisterium). Now of course the language of magisterium has not been explicitly used, but nevertheless the consequences of magisterial tendencies can be observed: the Primates Communique and, the Bishop’s report, for example.

Ironically it was the Secretary General of the Anglican Communion who hinted in his speech to synod, that the game might be up for the Anglican Communion as a denomination and that the principle of subsidiarity is what remains.

‘The prophetic task for African Anglicans is to denounce violence and civil disabilities that are supported by members of our own communities and leadership. This is about changing attitudes, and we need the space to do this work on our own.’

The prophetic task for African bishops is different to diocesan bishops in the Church of England. But, just as the African churches ‘need the space to do this work,’ so does the Church of England in its discussions about how to ensure that the ‘radical new inclusivity’ doesn’t just become mere rhetoric.

Led by a cadre of artist-bishops we need to do the work of inclusive theology and, we need to do it free of all fear.

A commitment to subsidiarity over and above any notions of unity is the only real way that the radical new mosaic of inclusivity and diversity can be crafted, by the bishops. It is the only way that the Church of England can become a place where all may flourish and none need fear.



3 thoughts on “Watershed moments

  1. The Secretary General of the Anglican Communion has been well chosen. The African churches have great struggles. The Secretary General’s speech reminded me of the “I-am-that-I-am” in the OT. It’s an unchangeable quality that must work with change.

    By the way, in the sixth paragraph “array” should be “awry”?

  2. Keith Grint, one of the secular leadership people you seem somewhat dismissive of, has written a book called the Arts of Leadership. Good read, and captures a lot of the tensions around what leadership in the house of bishops might be like. He begins from the point that leadership isn’t a science. He describes 4 arts, which are all needed, but are unlikely to come from the same person. They are the Philosophical, Fine, Martial and Performing Arts – ‘these four particular arts mirror four of the central features of leadership: the invention of an identity, the formulation of a strategic vision, the construction of organizational tactics, and the deployment of persuasive mechanisms to ensure followers actually follow.’ There’s certainly a battle over the identity of the CofE, and in the Anglican Communion as a whole. And a set of followers unsure about following!

    • Thank you for responding & for recommending the book. I will order it! I am if not dismissive then very cautious of much of secular leadership theory and ‘scholarship.’ This is something I can’t deny. There is good stuff out there but…….anyway thank you for your response, Andrew

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