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Sunday, 29 April 2018

The Real Takeover of the Church of England

Ignoring the spurious takeover of the Church of England by the evangelicals, the Bishop of Burnley tells us that the selection procedures for ministry in that denomination favour the middle classes.

Well, you could have knocked me down with a Toyota Rav4. An establishment whose leadership traditionally came from the landed classes, and which requires its members be able to know where to look in at least two and possibly three books in order simply to take part in its regular meetings. How could it be that it favours literate, assertive people in its selection criteria? After 500 years of the Church of England, in 400 of which the best qualification for being an incumbent was being related to the patron - how could this have happened? But I reckon it is in fact true. The Church of England has in fact been taken over by the posh. It happened in the 16th Century - if not earlier. And, like Cybermen, your best chance of joining the club is to be like them. If you're not like them, get assimilated. And so the Church of England continues its merry way, the last refuge of the 18th Century.

An - ahem - acquaintance of mine can indicate some personal experience here. On a Bishop's Advisory Panel, he discovered that one of the Advisers was the Archdeacon of Charing Cross. Although this particular candidate was working class in upbringing, he was fortunate enough to have got into Oxford, where he had learnt to treat people with silly titles with equanimity. And so he was merely able to reflect that he had accidentally wandered into a Trollope novel. If he'd been by trade a welder, he might have decided to have a few at the bar and then just legged it for Stafford station.

Now I'm no student of Anglican culture. But I'd like to make some suggestions. Have a look, see what you think. There may be something in some of them. And if not, maybe your realisation of my mistake will help you to come up with something better.

  1. As people in business are gradually realising, "leadership" is a very amorphous concept. "Leadership" often just means "self confidence". People who are brought up knowing where the next croissant is coming from, who have been taught that they can achieve their aspirations, will have more self-confidence than those who have struggled throughout. Having to succeed from a working-class background can make assertiveness look like aggression - because one has always had to struggle. Confidence is an illusion. Advisers and DDOs* should really be looking for competence.
  2. Don't have people with grand titles as BAP advisers. Or if they are, just let them say they're called "Jim". Unless they're women of course. But then, I'm not going to oppress them. Jim it is. Best of all, get some people with local accents and let them be BAP advisers. If you're from a working class town and you end up talking to an adviser who lives in a limestone cottage in a rural village - what's that going to tell you?
  3. Consider working-class attitudes to education, training and relocation. To a posh chap from Wiltshire, who spent three years at Durham University, another two years at "Staggers" might sound quite reasonable. To a working-class woman from Swindon, it might seem like an alien existence.
  4. Don't use stupid, public-school terminology like "Staggers".
  5. Likewise, consider time constraints and flexibility in training. A shop manager will have the team-building, leadership and - let's face it - entrepreneurial skills to be a good minister. In this world of dispersed courses, with maybe fortnightly getting-together for seminars and residential weekends - how do you give them the chance to get there?
  6. That and times ten for a single parent with a job.
  7. And if you're asking yourself "should a single parent with a job or a shop manager with shifts be even considering ministry?" then you're part of the problem.  
  8. And don't diss non-residential training. As the Church of England becomes more like the Flyte family, clinging to genteel existence while having no money and living off appearances and the past, economics are important. And yes I know that even using this reference has put a certain stamp on me. And no I don't care. It was deliberate. 
  9. Consider the "Common People" syndrome. Well-heeled types might feel called to inner-city or working-class estate ministry. But they are also essentially aliens there. This means they are likely never truly part of that community - they are always "ministering" to the "ministered".  Is that the model of church we want? And, like the Greek with a thirst for knowledge who studied sculpture at St Martin's College, if the worst comes to worst there's a good chance they can call their daddy, who'll stop it all. Somebody who came from that neighbourhood will see it differently. They'll know not to trust the locals. They might decide they'd rather do anything than go back there. But they will, like it not, belong. Or they might really want something rather different.
  10. During preaching training, telling someone they should "enunciate better" really means that they should sound more like you. And if you say like Prince Charles that's not necessarily a good thing. Apart from Prince Charles, obviously. But if he's training for the ministry then (a) you know there really is a problem with class and (b) he's decided his mum's going to live forever. Good luck to her, I say. Gord bless 'er.
  11. Sherry receptions at residential weekends? Really? Do you know what century it is?


* Diocesan Directors of Ordinands - clerical talent-spotters


Want to support this blog?
Want a good laugh? Want to laugh at the church? Want to be secretly suspicious that the author has been sitting in your church committee meetings taking notes? Then Writes of the Church: Gripes and grumbles of people in the pews is probably the book for you.

From Amazon, Sarum Bookshop, The Bible Readers Fellowship and other good Christian bookshops. An excellent book for your churchgoing friends, relatives or vicar. By the creator of the Beaker Folk.

12 comments :

  1. Although, to be fair, if you’re at a cash-strapped church, the communion wine is likely to be Lidl sherry, so best get a taste for it early ...

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  2. Mmmmmmmm Lidl sherry - reserve some for me.

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  3. My husband still has flashbacks when we pass Shallowford on the M6 (despite being accepted). Torquemada has nothing on the Church of England.

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  4. I certainly recognise the Church of England that is portrayed in this article.

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  5. My own experience of Selection and Discernment indicated an academic snobbery within the clique of DDO and National Selectors. I come from working class stock in East London, left school at 16, worked for a time for the Post Office than joined the Army. I had no University based academic qualifications, which apparently are "evidence of academic achievement and of the ability to study".

    In my Army Career, I had acquired three Certificates of Education, the highest equivalent to A Level GCE. I had attended professional trading courses, which required written and practical work too a high standard, which eventually led to a Level 7 Qualification in Leadership and Management. I progressed from Private soldier too retiring, having been commissioned at a Major. None of this counted. I still had a bit of an Estuary accent, and was written off as a vocational tart. In other words, Level Seven at City and Guilds, isn't the same as a degree from the Poly Tech in Liturgical Dance.

    The assessors were quite senior people in public life. One a retired Professor, another a Leading Psychologist, another a leading Cleric and the leader was the spouse of a very senior CofE Cleric (a Cleric herself).

    Relating to any of them was difficult, because they really couldn't relate to me. During the discernment process, I had been encouraged to down play my military leadership experience and speech and to learn 'Church Speak' (whatever that is), having to learn a whole new language, just didn't seem possible.

    At the Pre-BAP interview, the Bishops told me not to hide my military background (contrary to his DDO opinion) and be myself. Bad advice?? The jury is out on that one.

    At a diocesan panel I shone, and was given s strong recommendation to BAP, but that counted for nothing at Shallowford.

    The BAP report was all about not fitting in, no evidence of academic achievement and doubt of my inability to undertake a course of academic study.

    So, for anyone who comes with a life time of experience in various demanding scenarios, with acknowledged and rewarded leadership qualities, but doesn't have a degree and doesn't do church speak, the assessors can't see you fitting into the social and cultural pattern of clergy and condescend to detect a strong vocation to lay ministry.

    I've got over it now, but the fact that I write in this fashion, as a response to your post, perhaps points to the fact of some residual resentment about how the Church treats those from less privileged backgrounds.

    But now am content as a Reader, having undergone the rigors of three years of academic study and passed with acceptable standards. A demonstration perhaps that the assessors at least got that part wrong.

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    1. Bloody Norah ... sorry you were lost to the ordained ministry & glad you've found a good place.

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    2. My Archdeacon keeps me entertained in retirement by assisting parishes facing large challenges to make the necessary changes. In the several very different benefices I have worked, the one, almost the only one factor linking them all was poor leadership. It almost suggests that the BAP system is designed to weed out those who can actually lead; the easily frightened and paranoid are certainly preferred. We need exactly folk like you to become incumbents as fast as possible Your DDO may have had a point though as the techniques which work in the church resemble little those most effective in the military.

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  6. Perhaps on reflection the social snobbery that is inherent in some parts of the church has some relationship to the Army, with the Social related to Offices and Other Ranks (everyone else) and a Degree and Sandhurst Training, as opposed to be commissioned from the Ranks, as I was. Nowadays, those commissioned from the Ranks are sent to Sandhurst to knock off the rough edges, to learn knives and forks etiquette and learn their place as 2nd Class Officers. Perhaps the Church needs the same sort of training institution to do the same for those coming from the 'other ranks' to make them more sociable and marketable.

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  7. Wonder how the bloke who ran his own fishing business would have got on today. The 'son of thunder' - not quite cut of the right cloth. Lindi.

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    1. I do recall hearing a sermon that suggested a BAP would reject St Paul as unsuitable and tell St Peter to go and get a couple of A-levels and come back. Probably fairly accurate.

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    2. Yes ! So that's Peter , James, John and Paul crossed off the list. Lindi.

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  8. What tosh! My well educated (theology, music, teaching) wife was bounced from a BAP at the first attempt, by a panel chaired by a woman priest (must have been one of the first) for being "Too competent"! My wife BTW came from a working class family. As my feminist mother once observed after chairing an annual meeting of the National Council of Women, "Thw worst enemies of women are other women!"

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