50 shades of Gray-Green?

Despite its flaws, there are good things in the Green Report, writes Gary Waddington

Much opprobrium has been heaped on the ‘Green report’ – Talent Management for Future Leaders and Leadership Development for Bishops and Deans: A New Approach? It should be read – if only to discern where the rumours and glosses have taken over.

The CofE has always had an opaque system for filling senior appointments. At college, few knew the verisimilitudes of the (then) Crown Appointments Commission, the preferment list, or the Fielden File for those who showed ‘potential’. Such byzantine processes reeked of the ‘old boys network’. So attempts to clean that process up would be welcome? Surely that is better than the whiff of cronyism or ecclesiastical nepotism? Practical training, mentoring and opportunities ought to be obvious to prepare people for senior appointments? Of course. But that is where the story has gone off the rails.

PR disaster

The present report has serious flaws. The first (no Schadenfreude, now) is to ask how appointing anyone who had chaired a multinational bank embroiled in a toxic global financial scandal would not be potentially controversial. That is now a PR disaster, another nepotistic alpha-esque Lambeth appointment. The second is that written as a business case for a spending task group, it entrenches a syntax not of theology but of a Seventies management consultancy seminar:

‘The key issues for identifying leaders of the future will be around transformation impact, radical and imaginative message, and a clear potential to make an impact in different contexts and across the wider agenda.’ Hmmm #talentpool.

The real flaw

The style and authorship furore now eclipse the central issues, and that is the real flaw. There are good things in the report: bringing clarity in the preferment process; proper support and training, both for  those who might hold ‘high office’ and those who won’t;  provision and targeting of quality CMD and appraisal; broadening the college of Bishops to a wider, more representative group. This should all be good news. Even crumbs of theology are welcome, albeit avoiding deeper questions about vocation, discernment and training.

In 10 years in a UPA parish, there were huge areas I (and the parish) would have benefited from if CMD had been better considered and resourced. First incumbency training was little more than a crash course in parochial basic survival. So much had to be learned ‘on the job’ with little real guidance or support, at times it felt like floundering.

Plate spinning

Now in a very different setting, I would have loved a ‘mini-MBA’ to prepare me for the minefield of employment contracts, health and safety, fire regulatory reform, budgetary frameworks and grant funding applications which come with a stunning grade 1 building that requires vast work (and the money to pay for it) as well as trying to lead mission, prayer, care, study and worship. No wonder I feel on bad days like the priestly life is more ‘plate spinning’ than any ordinal description.

The cry ‘get someone in the congregation to do it’ does not always work. The laity with whom I have had the privilege to work sometimes have the right skills but, increasingly, do not have the time to offer. Too often, it is the Incumbent who has to write the job descriptions or move the parish to digital banking from the quill and ink finance system. Information flows ever faster than the halcyon, pre-internet days of my curacy. I am incredibly fortunate here to work with a committed clergy and lay staff team – but I often feel I let them down because of the ‘you’re coping!’ mentality that cannot replace proper continuing training to help me better release their gifts.

The need for support

The real support, mentoring and training of clergy is crucial, as stipendiary clergy numbers fall. (Yes, we moan about doing it, because the provision is often poor or patronising.) That is as true for those in senior appointments as for the most recently appointed new incumbent. Future catholic bishops need this ‘know how’ even more importantly than a glitzy precious mitre if they are to be of real support to their clergy when the roof leaks, the boiler is broken and the PCC is in revolt just as a safeguarding issue appears, the reserves are exhausted and the administrator retires... And support and encouragement are what many clergy need if simmering resentment and burn-out are not to increase.

If curates eggs’ are the stuff of legends, the Green report will undoubtedly be the prebendary’s egg. The sadness is that what is good in it will be lost in the sulphurous odour that now surrounds it. That should be, for all of us, a matter of much regret.

Fr Gary Waddington is Team Rector of the Parish of St Wilfrid’s Harrogate ND

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