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Just Managing Is Not Good Enough

By Sue Walrond-Skinner.

In February this year, Sue Walrond-Skinner resigned from her post as Adviser in Pastoral Care and Counselling in the Diocese of Southwark. She explained her reasons in the following open letter which appeared in the Church Times. While the context is specifically Anglican, we are grateful to the author for permission to reprint the article here because she raises some important ministry issues which are not restricted to that Anglican context.

I have not resigned as Adviser in Pastoral Care and Counselling in this Diocese because of some personal quarrel with the Bishop. What has brought us into profound conflict is, I believe, a matter of justice. Resignation has become the only way open to me to draw attention to a gaping void in our Diocesan life, a void which has led to damage and distress among those I am called upon to serve.

I dissent from the current culture of the Church, which is not confined to the Diocese of Southwark, but which is manifested in a particularly sharp and uncompromising way here a culture of management that all but denigrates and belittles a culture of pastoral care, making it increasingly difficult for pastoral care to flourish. This is a supremely important struggle in which the Church is engaged and which, I believe, if we are to be true to the Gospel, the culture of pastoral care must be enabled to flourish again.

The importance of dissent

But the dominant culture is all-pervasive and the voice of dissent is hard to articulate. Yet it is a vital voice. For Christians, and those who may be drawn into belonging to Christ, do not want primarily to be managed, they want to be pastored. Thus, those of us who have the luxury of being able to articulate a voice of dissent need to do so at this moment in time perhaps more than at any other.

Where a Bishop fails to prioritise pastoral care or actively disclaims that role in word and action, the task of a Diocesan Adviser in Pastoral Care, amongst other people, is to call attention to this situation. For the one nonnegotiable part of a Bishop’s role is that of pastor. In particular, a Bishop is called to be a pastor to his clergy. The fact that a Diocese like this one is divided into episcopal areas, with pastorally active Area Bishops, should not alter this in any way. If it does, and if this were what the organisational structure required, then the structure would be wrong. The role and task of pastor is laid upon a Bishop at his consecration and it is symbolised throughout his episcopate by his shepherd’s crook. It is non-negotiable and if pastoral sensitivity and pastoral skill does not come easily to any particular individual, then these have to be acquired, as they do for us all. No Diocesan Bishop can refuse the role of pastor. It is what primarily defines and gives meaning to the role.

Who are the pastors?

Moreover, being a pastor is a non-negotiable role for every Christian, which is why the Diocesan Bishop must personally epitomise, symbolise and model this role for his flock. Of course, the management culture of the Church can too easily make Bishops into victims along with the rest of us, even when they are particularly sharp exponents of the culture themselves. They may even, because of their position as leaders, experience the pain and exhibit the symptoms of this culture with greater force than others - symptoms of burn-out, obsessive over-work and the inevitable displacement onto others of their own punitive expectations of themselves.

Embracing a pastoral care ethic

I believe that a way forward out of this impasse is wholeheartedly to embrace instead the ethic of pastoral care, which leads to the proper and necessary love of the self and thus to love of the other. This ethic both acknowledges the depth of our depravity and simultaneously accepts and rejoices in the extraordinary, shocking mercy of God, extended to us and to all people, just as we are. This double acknowledgement of our own failings and God’s mercy are the sources and springs of all pastoral care, for it is only by knowing our own depravity that we can begin to know the mercy of God, a mercy that enables us to know that we are loved and able, therefore, to extend that love to others.

Inner knowledge of our weakness and a direct experience of God’s mercy is the Gospel blueprint for our ministry - a reality which is being hijacked by an alternative belief in our own human competency. Such a belief crucially and inevitably erodes the pre-eminent imperative of pastoral care within the Gospel. Only some inner knowledge both of our self and God’s beneficence can furnish us with the desire and the momentum to make us into pastors. These are what create the pastoral imperative. Can Bishops, I wonder, give themselves permission to acquire and go on refining this pastoral knowledge, awareness and skill, rooted in a belief in their own weakness and in the mercy of God? Can such inner knowledge ever be a priority within a management culture? But can it ever not be, if our leaders are to be saved from their own areas of omnipotence, anxiety and disablement which, if not understood by them, they must project, disown and denigrate in the other?

Good management and pastoral care are not in opposition to one another. On the contrary, while they are to some extent distinct and do have some areas of contradiction, there is a large area of overlap and congruence between them. For a Bishop to say to a clergy Chapter meeting, for instance, that “he is not in the business of stroking and protecting the clergy”, would, I believe, be profoundly mistaken on both counts, for the role of a good manager is exactly that - as it is of a pastor. Clergy need their Bishop’s protection, affirmation and his caring concern (my interpretation of the term ‘stroking’) if they are to be effective in their work and engage in the high risk caring and prophetic strategies that they are often called upon to undertake.

A report in the Church Times last year stated that the number of clergy retiring before pensionable age on grounds of stress and ill-health has doubled in the last ten years (Church Times, 5 May 2000). If that is true, then episcopal pastoral care, both direct ‘hands-on’ and delegated to others, is more essential than ever. Management needs surely to be about enabling people to work effectively - it is about leading, inspiring, encouraging, valuing, team building, collaborating and enabling the work of the human resources components in an organisation. In Gospel terms, good management is about building up the Body of Christ - and so is good pastoral care. In fact, good management cannot do without good pastoral care, rooted, as it must be, in prayer, personal awareness, particular contact within a face-to-face encounter and having a prophetic and political dimension. The good manager is thus a pastor. One cannot exist effectively without the other.

Self-giving is the root of pastoral care

Pastoral care requires the gift of the self. However important and excellent an individual Bishop’s contributions to the mission and ministry of the Church in other areas, they are hollow in their effects if they are divorced from an intense and compassionate face to face pastoral engagement with individuals and groups, “in their minute particulars”. This is where the struggle for justice must be earthed, in the costliness of minute-by-minute loving regard. In the same way, that minute-by-minute loving regard must always be contextualised and not divorced from the need to change and challenge those unjust structures which trap individuals in poverty, inequality and discrimination. Pastoral care is about the joining together of both in a seamless whole - for that is the work of love. Ultimately we shall only be judged by the quality of our pastoral care because pastoral care is the tangible expression and outworking of love. St John of the Cross, following St Paul, was in no doubt about the non-negotiable nature of this most excellent of gifts: the only question we shall be asked at the end of our earthly life is “How much have we opened ourselves to love?”

(Do you agree or disagree with Sue Walrond-Skinner or do you have another perspective entirely? Do write and let us know. Ed.)

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You are reading Just Managing Is Not Good Enough by Sue Walrond-Skinner, part of Issue 22 of Ministry Today, published in June 2001.

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