REFORM UPDATE

WHO WILL BUY SHARES IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND PLC?

The immediate reaction to the Turnbull report from within the ranks of Reform clergy was hope that some of the proposal would work, but scepticism about whether the Church’s real problems has been addressed.

“It seems fairly irrelevant to the evangelisation of the nation and the doctrinal and moral purity which come top of Reform’s agenda. Part of me wishes it had been far more radical then we could have got more worked-up about it.

"It is primarily to do with finance but we will need to see whether the proposed National Council believes it will have the power to steer the Church on the deployment of clergy and, for that matter, doctrine” commented Reform’s chairman, the Revd Philip Hacking.

Preparing a paper for his PCC on the proposals, the Revd Peter Breckwoldt, Vicar of Moulton, near Northampton, said the new National Council was on the Roman Catholic curia model. He felt a dictatorship could result.

"What if this National Council had been in place when we came to women’s ordination? Suppose they had proposed it and the Synod had voted it down? What checks and balances of this sort are going to be in place? If two or three very strong personalities drive the Council, we could be in real trouble,” said Mr Beckwoldt.

The chairman of Reform Southwark. the Revd Hugh Balfour, of Christ Church, Old Kent Road, said there was an inevitability about the management model that had emerged form consultants KPMG.

"The model for the Church should be Greenpeace - highly devolved, locally organized, no one person centrally running it. The French government couldn’t lay hands on an international organisation for disrupting their atom bomb tests because Greenpeace simply doesn’t operate like that. We are a federation of local parish churches, not a business, and we should be organised that way”, commented Mr Balfour.

The Vicar of All Hallows, Bispham. near Blackpool, the Revd Simon Cox, who is also chairman of Word and Spirit, said that if a business structure was imposed that made the Church more accessible to its membership, he was not too concerned. But did one slim down a bureaucracy by creating more central councils? More real power had to be devolved to the parishes.

Reform’s national press officer, the Revd Gordon Fyles, on the ministry team at Emmanuel, Wimbledon, questioned the wisdom of giving more responsibilities to diocesan bishops who were already bearing a multiplicity of burdens.

“To assume these men can simply tack-on yet more to their agendas is pure fantasy. The shepherds are to become even further removed from their pastoral role among the flocks, even less accessible, more prone to heart attacks, breakdowns and family and moral stress. KPMG may see them as convenient pegs to hang management functions on, but the Church has to step in and say no because at that point the business management model has no spiritual validity”, said Mr Fyles.

The thought of a central authority without sufficient checks on its power worried the Revd John Hutchinson, Vicar of Lydney, Gloucestershire. To streamline was sensible, but to hand power to a small group of bureaucrats would be questionable.

The kitchen cabinet model was “fairly horrifying”, thought the Revd Dick Farr. Vicar of Kenham, Bishop's Stortford. The assumption had been that Turnbull was all about nuts-and-bolts but there were bound to be doctrinal assumptions in deciding on the model. More decision-making power invested in the centre was not good news.

Reform’s own thoughts about the Church’s future and the pressure group’s role in it will become clearer this autumn when a working party reports.

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