A Church of England Bishop Looks Forward to Change

Simplicity itself

“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest”

If the Church of England is to take seriously the need to reverse its trend of decline and commit itself to the renewal of the faith and the re-evangelisation of England, it needs the tools and structures to make that process possible. Four Task Groups have been working to devise a framework for change – in how we identify and train our senior leadership; how we allocate our resources better and focus on mission; how we call, equip and structure clergy and lay oversight; and how we simplify our structures. None of us is under any illusion that lasting change that makes a difference for the Kingdom of God can be achieved by tinkering with structures. The Church is first of all a Divine Society, underpinned by prayer, listening to scripture, worship and the life of the Spirit. A change of heart and a reorientation towards love for God and love for neighbour – obedience to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment – these are the things that will breathe new life into the Church. The work of the Task Groups is to make what’s under the bonnet work better.

The remit of the Simplification Task Group has been to identify hindrances to mission. We asked bishops, archdeacons and dioceses – “What is it that prevents you from making changes that will enable parishes, churches and congregations to flourish and new initiatives to take shape?” The response was overwhelming, and cumulatively ran to ninety or so pages of A4. Our report lists a swathe of legislation – canons, measures and regulations – which are too complex, cumbersome to operate, and militate against change.

Top of the poll came the regulations around Common Tenure, closely followed by the Mission and Pastoral Measure and the over-elaborate procedures for Bishop’s Mission Orders. Whether it’s provision for new mission or reorganisation of the church on the ground, the framework for change is far too complex and bureaucratic.

Of course, the genius of the Church of England is that it is an ordered church – our legal framework is part of the law of the land, and has prevented us from sliding into sectarianism and irresponsibility. But there has been a tendency over recent years, in framing our legislation, to over-prescribe, to defend against every possible eventuality, and to create a defensive bureaucracy that is in many instances no longer fit for purpose.

The Simplification Group recognises that a programme for change runs the risk of being time-consuming, intricate and at times controversial. There will need to be a balance between the rights and duties that legislation is framed to protect and the need to make a missional difference in the life of our dioceses and parishes. Identify the essential – what makes for good governance, proper legality and a clear process? Eliminate the rest. If we’re given a mandate, there’s plenty more to do, and we’ll be asking parishes for their take on an agenda for the next five years. For the sake of the gospel, mission and the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.

+Pete Broadbent

The report on Simplification is available here.

A transcription of the video interview with the Bishop of Willesden is available here.

The discussion forum on Simplification can be found on the Church of England website here.

______________________________________________________________Bishop Pete Bradbent’s interview on video here describes the Church of England’s need for institutional changes to take place – in order to better forward the mission and ministry of the Church in the U.K. Looking in on the video, one becomes more convinced of the urgent need for a review of the archaic structures and management skills of this nationwide ecclesiastical organisation – both in its intimate relationship to the State, and in its day to day management of human and material resources available for the continuance of its Gospel-centred raison d’etre – which is to live out the values and teachings of Jesus Christ in the diverse cultural and spiritual ethos of the present-day population of the United Kingdom. 

Although the Church of England has its connections to the other world-wide provinces of the Anglican Communion, its ministry, first and foremost, is to the people of Britain, whose needs in many way are different from those of most other countries where Anglicans are situated. The Church of England – for instance – is governed by the Laws of the Land, where the reigning sovereign is titular Head of the Church and the Houses of Parliament are responsible for its legal status. This makes the process of any change in the doctrine or liturgical renewal in the Church a matter of being subject to secular parliamentary permission.

Being the original Church of the Anglican Communion, the Church of England has also inherited significant traditions and buildings derived from centuries of Church polity and provenance – all of which – especially in the case of Church buildings, have to be carefully maintained and preserved for future generations of citizens as well as congregations. The Church of England is also officially responsible for the pastoral care of every citizen who wishes to take advantage of any aspect of its ministry. As the State Church, it is used for formal and informal State occasions – in ways that are not incumbent on any other religious organisation in the United Kingdom. Such heavy responsibilities are unique, in the Anglican Communion,  to the Church of England.

The sheer cost of undertaking its national and local responsibilities can no longer be borne by the local membership of the Church itself, and a rigorous re-organisation of resources is needed in order to meet the requirements for its continuance as the influential spiritual force for good in society that has long ever been its mission and motivation.

Whatever is decided by the next session of the General Synod in March this year, there can be little doubt of the real need for change and reorganisation – of both clerical and lay functionality – a situation that can only be brought about by the radical review of ministerial and administrative deployment, requiring a talent for exercising a diversity of application that will allow rural, suburban and provincial mission and ministry to effectively encourage young people to become active in the Church. The life-blood of the Church is in its Christ-centred capacity to attract new membership. If corrosive and out-dated rules and regulations continue to inhibit an influx of the younger generation, then only a miracle can save the Church.

(See also:)  http://www.churchtimes.co.uk/articles/2015/16-january/news/uk/task-group-aims-to-slim-down-church-legislation

Father Ron Smith, Christchurch, New Zealand

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About kiwianglo

Retired Anglican priest, living in Christchurch, New Zealand. Ardent supporter of LGBT Community, and blogger on 'Thinking Anglicans UK' site. Theology: liberal, Anglo-Catholic & traditional. regarding each person as a unique expression of Christ, and therefore lovable.
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