The Green Report

Martin Hislop casts a critical eye on the recommendations of the Report recently commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council

The Church’s one foundation
Is Jesus Christ her Lord,
She is His new creation
By water and the Word.
From heaven He came and sought her
To be His holy bride;
With His own blood He bought her
And for her life He died.

When my younger brother, Michael, left school he did not go to university but found a job with Australia’s oldest bank, the Bank of New South Wales, later branded as Westpac, Western Pacific Banking Corporation. When this name was unveiled Dame Edna Everage, that epitome of Australian standards and insights, observed, ‘Westpac – sounds like something you would whisper over the counter to a Pharmacist’.

Culture clash

Michael rose steadily through the ranks of the bank and found himself manager of a branch in Cairns, a city in Queensland’s tropical north and famous as a gateway to the Great Barrier Reef and the tropical rainforests of the Daintree River. Cairns is also surrounded by sugar cane farms. One day Joe, a sugar farmer originally from Malta, came into the branch and asked my brother to arrange for the roll-over of his term deposits. Michael replied, ‘Sorry, Joe; the bank has reorganized its deposit service and they are now all handled by a specialist team in Brisbane. But I can give you a phone number to call.’ This, of course, was before the days of online banking.

‘No, I want you to arrange,’ replied Joe. Again my brother tried to explain that the new corporate and management structure of the bank meant the local branch could not handle such matters. ‘You can’t do – that’s OK,’ said Joe as he left the branch. A few hours later Joe and his brother returned and closed their accounts with Westpac, taking with them over $10 million!

When both Brisbane, the State HQ, and Sydney, the National HQ, demanded of my brother how his branch had lost $10 million, he replied, ‘Well, if the bank employed people who actually knew about banking and customers, and not MBA whiz kids, they would know that Maltese sugar farmers don’t handle their financial affairs over the telephone or with people they don’t know.’

There is something about that clash between managerial fads and the reality of service at the heart of the latest ill-judged corporate wheeze to come out of the Archbishops’ Council.

Considered rejection

The Green Report has been greeted with a range of responses from hilarious disbelief to serious theological criticism. The Green Report and its recommendations, commissioned by the Archbishops’ Council, adopted by the House of Bishops and funded to an initial tune of £2 million by the Church Commissioners, must be rejected on the grounds of Presumption and Process.

The Green Report (a.k.a. ) has achieved one thing of merit in that it has galvanized people, lay and ordained, from across the broad, diverse and often contradictory spectrum of the Church of England to a considered and inherently theological and ecclesial rejection of the corporatist construction of the institutional Church that underpins this dangerous document and mindset.

Presumption

The Parochial Fees Order 2011 took the presumption one stage further. The local parish is no longer competent to determine how much it should charge locally for its locally incurred costs. John Keble’s assertion that ‘if the Church of England were to fail, it would be found in my parish’ is now being removed and undermined as a pastoral and ecclesiastical truth. In its place, the ‘managerial revolution’ has triumphed, and succeeded so completely that no one seems to think it odd that the body of Christ is now governed though a creeping and needless compulsion.

Misplaced view

The focus of the Green Report is on providing effective leadership for strategically important centralized aspects of ministry in the Church: cathedrals, large churches, dioceses, and so forth.

This is a misplaced view that large equals better. The authors are wedded to a top-down style of leadership, and the cult of the ‘charismatic leader,’ where ‘field operatives’ are mysteriously inspired by a remote and distant guru; where parishes are but franchises to carry out the strategic marketing of a centrally determined and increasingly uniform brand.

But doesn’t the history of the Church tell us that reform and growth frequently, and usually, come from the margins? In a mission-focused Church, should not the most effective leaders be in the toughest of contexts; contexts which are resource poor? This means the rural church and churches in deprived areas.

Large churches and cathedrals might benefit from outstanding ‘leaders’ but what they need above all else is competent manager-stewards. So the Church, if it is serious about growth, needs to distinguish between management and leadership. Why is there to be created a new cadre of high flying managers in Holy Orders?

‘Managing growth’

What is needed is a Church in which bishops, priests and deacons are freed up to be bishops, priests and deacons. The Church is fortunate that the expectations it might legitimately place on its clergy are documented in and through the Ordinal. And yet the Green Report seems to want to adapt and expand its requirements. Why?

It is ironic that so many secular corporations are seeking to learn from the Church’s treasure box, and yet we in the Church want to offer our aspiring leaders modules in ‘managing growth.’

Any training initiatives that the Church puts in place must above all else equip clergy to fulfil the vows made at ordination. Some of the Green proposals radically alter what it means to be a bishop.

Using management skills to enable priests to become better leaders is not necessarily a bad thing. It could perhaps help them to be faithful ministers of the Gospel and to effectively reconcile the broken community. But in its soul searching, the Church is looking for help from a sector that has proved time and time again to be morally vacuous.

Selfish ‘talent’

The banking sector is just one example of ethical ineptitude. ‘Talent’ there, and all over the corporate world, is measured by one’s success, regardless of whether that success comes at the expense of others. Selfish ‘talent’ is often rewarded, perpetuating performance-based leadership. If you don’t show profit, you’re fired.

The Church is already succumbing to similar values as attendance continues to decline. There is an increasing pressure to demonstrate numbers to justify its existence, fuelled by an obsession with numerical growth as the only real indicator of health drawn from the more evangelical sections of the Church.

The very idea of changing the vocation of priests through training as managerial leaders is not a solution to this problem. Let’s drop the aggressive rhetoric of the business school, recapture the peripheries for Christ, and imagine what it might mean to be led by a set of modern-day Hildas, Cuthberts and Benedicts, not to mention Kebles and Dollings, all of whose stories are still being told.

Process

As the Very Revd Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church Oxford, argues, the Green Report arose from a flawed process:

‘In terms of process, there is a problem about the composition of the group who produced the report. Not one ordained woman was on the review group – and at a time when the Church is about to welcome women bishops. This is breathtaking. Nor was there a recognised theologian, or an academic specialising in continuing professional or vocational

education. And, despite the fact that the report raises secular ‘MBA-style’ programmes to a level of apotheosis, no recognised scholar with expertise in management or leadership from the academic world formed part of the core working party.’

Pre-determined

The pre-determined nature of this innovation is highlighted by the Revd Canon Jane Charman, from the Diocese of Salisbury, in Thinking Anglicans: ‘The bishops received the Lord Green report at the end of July. By September the proposals were beginning to be rolled out. I was given the report by my bishop early in October and was immediately struck by the wide ranging and controversial nature of the contents. At General Synod in early November I asked how Synod members could access the report and to whom they should address any questions and comments. We were told that a ‘digest’ of the report would be circulated in January. I then asked whether the bishops thought that given the important nature of the report there ought to be a discussion at the February Synod. We  were told that it was not for the bishops to decide.’

Arrogance

Canon Charman then reveals that at the end of November, after repeated requests, the report was circulated to Directors of Ministry in time for their annual meeting.

‘+Ely, Caroline Boddington and Christopher McClaverty who is the main architect of the report joined us for an hour. We shared concerns and asked them to pause the process until there could be some wider consultation. The answer was a categorical no. We were told that the Church of England is in crisis, the need urgent, the new direction non-negotiable. If people are uncertain about the proposals it is because they are change averse and displaying resistance which needs to be overcome by senior leaders. Christopher McClaverty described our concerns as ‘turbulence’ which he interpreted as à sign that change management is working.

Such arrogance indicates the serious contempt that exists within hierarchs of the Church of England towards consultation and participation in decision making.

Ill-conceived

Michael Chancellor, also writing in Thinking Anglicans, went further when he described those driving these changes as being about:

‘building strong defences; creating your own inner circle; making friends with those who most naturally share your world-view; exploiting friendships to the full; and, most telling, the side-stepping of those who question your confident assertions. No wonder the most consistent criticism has been the lack of diversity and inclusivity in the composition of the steering group and the proposed beneficiaries of this scheme. These proposals can only compound the perception that many of us have formed: that a small, unaccountable group of people are seeking to tighten their grip on power; and impose an ill-conceived solution to the C of E’s current demographic and financial pressures.’

Task groups

The Green Report is, of course, but part of major overhaul of the Church of England being driven by the Archbishops. The plans have been developed by four task groups. They were commissioned by the Archbishops a year ago to explore four areas of the Church’s life: ‘the discernment and nurture of those called to posts of wider responsibility’; resourcing ministerial education; the deployment of resources; and simplification.

The groups are chaired by Prebendary the Lord Green; the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Steven Croft; John Spence; and the Bishop of Willesden, the Rt Revd Pete Broadbent.

The four Task Group reports and a report from the Church Commissioners will be discussed at the General Synod in February ‘in the light of a paper that explores what it means for all Christians, lay and ordained, to be a community of missionary disciples’.

The reports, the Church House briefing note says, have been prepared ‘in the light of the supportive discussions at the Archbishops’ Council, the House of Bishops, and the Board of Governors of the Church Commissioners’.

In the wake of criticism of the Green Report, the Archbishop of Canterbury promised that there would be ‘opportunities for people to engage with and comment on the proposals’. But he warned that: ‘We can’t simply go on as we are if we are to flourish and grow as the Church of England. Our call is not to manage decline.’

What is clear, as Canon Charman revealed, is that an agenda has already been determined and a relentless programme of further centrally driven managerialism is to be put in place.

Corporatist agenda

As the January editorial in NEW DIRECTIONS pointed out, this Report is published without due reference to a prayerful and theological study undertaken by the Faith and Order Commission on ‘Senior Church Leadership’.

Perhaps members of General Synod would do well to read ‘Taking the Cat for a Walk: Can a Bishop order a Diocese?’, by Ian Cundy and Justin Welby in Managing the Church?: Order and Organization in a Secular Age, by G.R. Evans and M. Percy

(Bloomsbury Publishing, 2000). Ian Cundy became Bishop of Peterborough, and perhaps other readers can remember what happened to Justin Welby. The writers lamented the tendency of church leaders to adopt uncritically insights from business, 15 years after management thinking has abandoned those insights. I hope the Archbishop is encouraged to re-read what he wrote then.

Despite this relentless corporatist agenda, it behoves the Catholic Group in General Synod and groupings such as the Society of the Holy Cross to challenge the presumptions that underpin these proposed changes, and call the Church of England to remain faithful to the effective and renewed stewardship of the vocation of the priesthood as set out in the Ordinal and anchored in the sacrificial nature of Jesus Christ. ND

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