Last Chronicle of Salchester

Like a stone thrown into a still pool, the resignation of the Archdeacon of Salpuddle sent ripples throughout the Diocese of Salchester. There had been disquiet before. Bishop Longbridge had been widely criticised as having a ‘managerial’ approach to bishopping. (‘You accuse me of being a mere manager,’ he had told a deanery meeting in Ufton Major, ‘if by that you mean that I value efficiency as much as ‘caring’, I suppose you are right. I am a manager, I am proud to be a manager.’) But now things came to a head.

Shortly after the Archdeacon’s unexpected departure came the resignation of Judy Templeman, the Bishop’s Adviser on Pastoral Care and Counselling. It was a highly publicized and highly damaging affair, which reached the national newspapers and the BBC Sunday programme. ‘How can I go on,’ Judy asked, ‘working with a man who is universally known among his clergy as ‘The Rottweiler’, and who has not spoken to me for eighteen months?’ The matter was clearly beyond the control of the Diocesan Media Office, so Sylvia decided to take it in hand.

Alas, the series of hastily arranged clergy meetings at which her husband and employer was expected to demonstrate his ‘caring nature’ and ‘pastoral heart’ – as Sylvia had described them in the Ad Clerum she had written for him – were less than the success she envisaged. They produced, instead, a sequence of unhelpful one-line quotes which further fuelled the media attack. A mutual support group for women priests was told to ‘drop the motherly sentimentality and start acting like bank managers.’ The Revd Dick (formerly Patience) Strong was described as ‘Coming into Dickens’ category of old women of either sex’ – a slur which was the subject of an irate letter from the Secretary of NATiVe (National Association of Transsexual Vicars) to the Church Times.

A Report was then commissioned from an independent board of assessors (chaired by a retired high court judge who had been at Marlborough with Longbridge’s brother) which was intended to demonstrate that pastoral care was alive and well in the Diocese of Salchester. The Report satisfied no one except the bishop, and remained largely unread. Its only lasting effect was the shredding of countless slanderous memoranda on the personal files of diocesan clergy.

* * *

How long the pastoral insensitivity and managerialism of its bishop would have remained the principle topic of conversation in the clergy chapters of Salchester is hard to say. But to Sylvia’s and Malcolm’s intense relief it was soon replaced by another, bigger issue: money.

Joint Meeting of SCC (the Sodality of Catholic Clergy) and PCA (the Protestant Churchpersons Alliance)

August 14, 2002 at 10.30am
(Soft drinks provided, bring bridge rolls)

Bishop Ryle Memorial Hall
Emmanuel Church
(corner of Zwingli Drive
and Cranmer Crescent, Cove)

Cut Quick and Cut Deep
 – a response to the present financial crisis

Speakers:
Revd Beauregard Branscombe
(St Anastasia’s, Salcombe Regis)

Revd Ricki Ribble
(Emmanuel, Cove)

All welcome.

The withdrawal of grants from the Church Commissioners, together with the requirement to find funding for clergy pensions, had left a black hole to the extent of about one and three-quarter million in the diocesan budget. It was an anxious and somewhat tetchy bishop who chaired the relevant meeting of the Diocesan Board of Finance, where a strategy of cut-backs would be outlined.

Malcolm, who had curtailed his expenses to a mere £85,000 and acquiesced in the move from the Palace to ‘Bishop’s Dingle’ (an off-the-peg Wates creation with brown stained woodwork and expanses of ‘rustique’ cement rendering, painted a fetching ochre) was in no mood for further retrenchment. The suggestions of the Board of Finance, on the little green paper which had been circulated, appalled him. Above all, Malcolm was determined to relinquish not a single suffragan or archdeacon.

Suffragans and archdeacons, as Malcolm saw clearly, conduce to the dignity and status of a bishop. With them he can have Residential Staff Meetings and discuss Strategies for Evangelism. He can establish Diocesan and Area Mission Teams, at meetings of which he can periodically ‘share his vision’. (For in the eyes of suffragans and archdeacons episcopal banalities appear sublime.) And best of all (on a more intimate, person-to-person level) he can indulge all the delicious indiscretions of clerical gossip and call it management.

Archdeacons and suffragans, impressively attired by Watts and Company in acres of silk damask, precede a bishop in processions in his Cathedral Church. They lend solemnity to his state by the dignity of theirs. And they are, most important of all, an arena for the exercise of patronage. Patronage, it had not escaped Malcolm, is the very mechanism of power. Without patronage a man can neither reward his friends nor snub his adversaries. He is left without a single carrot to dangle before the malleable and the ambitious. Without patronage he goes naked into the Synod chamber.

In short, suffragans and archdeacons, as Malcolm knew well, are the little Versailles that gives éclat to the Monarch. But more than that. Because it is from archdeacons and suffragans that future diocesans are chosen, they bestow life beyond the grave. A judicious cabal of like-minded diocesans, working ensemble, can ensure the future of us all by providing a gene-pool of the cloned.

The proposed cuts, Malcolm concluded, would have to be made elsewhere. It was true (as the Diocesan Secretary pointed out) that archdeacons and suffragans are expensive and that five archdeacons and three suffragan bishops was a generous, even lavish provision for a diocese whose communicant numbers were in plummeting decline. But they would have to be made to see that it was a price worth paying.

At the end of a long debate, during which, if truth be told, tempers became a little frayed, the Bishop of Salchester concluded with an aphorism which, in his own opinion at least, clinched the matter.

‘If we cut down on essential dignitaries now,’ he said, ‘the Church of England will never be the same again.’

Bridget Trollope is a lay member of the General Synod representing the diocese of Barchester.

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