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Has the C of E Got Its Act Together?

By Rob Mackintosh.

While I agree with the concept of a curacy as an ' apprenticeship' of sorts, and while it is quite possibly true that induction to ministry in the Church of England might be more thorough than that of other denominations, Colin Buchanan's article nevertheless begs some urgent and vital issues about the whole direction and content of Post Ordination Training, of which the curacy itself is obviously the centrepiece.

What model of ministry is being absorbed under the present system?

Watch the loneliness of the long-distance runner in action?

And who coaches the 'coach'?

There is no consistency of procedures or practices across the dioceses. What role could or should the deanery (a collection of geographically related parishes under a rural dean) have in this process? And - I think the most crucial one - what of the role of the local church as a 'learning community', not just the 'medical model' of the 'body' (even if it is the 'body of Christ'), to 'practise' on?

We may have a better 'ladder' than other denominations, but is the ladder leaning against the right wall? We may have a better deck -chair, but in common with almost all the other denominations, it may be occupying a space on the deck of the Titanic. More -much more- will be needed for the future growth of the church than patting ourselves ourselves on the back for our superior approach to Post Ordination Training. The historic superior approach system for training curates was developed in an earlier age for the maintenance of a largely church-going population, not for outreach to post-modernists amongst whom interest in church-going is waning. The house church movement, which has probably the least developed ministerial training of any of the churches, has also had one of the fastest growth rates of the last decade. Without the mission dimension driving the training process today, there may be very little need for curates tomorrow.

Other issues arise from this, which affect the kind of organisation the C of E is, and the nature of Post Ordination Training offered by it.

Network vs Hierarchy?

The church of England has a much flatter organisational structure than most comparable secular organisations employing 11,000 people; nevertheless it is strongly hierarchical in its historic' culture' .The fact that it is not one organisation, but a collection of largely autonomous dioceses, further complicates the organisational context in which training is taking place, as many diocesan variations abound.

In contrast, and in reality, parish clergy operate week by week through a series of informal networks, alliances and interest groups which for the most part completely by-pass the 'centre'. For all organisations, hierarchy is cumbersome, authoritarian, and generally doesn't know how to delegate. Networks, on the other hand, flatten hierarchies. Perhaps the centre doesn't know how to trust, or how to select the people it can trust, as the ever-growing list of the church's rules, regulations and reports shows. Consistency is clearly valued over creativity.

Community vs Committee?

Team ' is a heavily overworked word. Some examples of excellent teams do exist, but in organisational terms their success is almost accidental. All too often where teams are formally constituted (eg as in a Team Ministry), this is not much more than a collection of individual clergy having in common a limited-period contract. Committees are in the main agenda-driven and frankly disempowering. True teams empower, but they are risky, creative, and that is a price many parish clergy are not prepared to pay (the Church of England is not alone in this of course). Effective teams learn how to nourish differences, develop shared meaning and joint commitment to action. These skills can be learned, but there are woefully few instances where they are systematically and effectively taught.

Doing the right thing vs doing things right?

Another aspect of the model imbibed in many curacies is the 'urgency addiction' all too evident in workaholic priests. Many clergy (and this is equally true of those designated as training clergy) live their ministries in the context of Quadrant I (Urgent and Important) and Quadrant III (Urgent and Unimportant) activities. The model given is that of an 'emergency room' ie response - and crisis-driven. This form of ministry inevitably produces a high burn-out rate.

Quadrant II (Important but not Urgent) activities have to be prepared for. This problem no doubt afflicts bishops as much as parish priests.

Leadership vs Stewardship?

Lastly, and surely the most important for any denomination which seriously wants to wrestle creatively and effectively with a future changing at lightning speed, is vision. The essential commodity of leadership is vision. It is still true that 'without a vision, the people perish'. A system of curacy geared to maintenance is ill-suited to nurture either vision or a culture of mission.

Yes, there is merit in the system of curacy in the Church of England, but it is not in itself an adequate instrument for the depth of transformation which the present kairos demands of the church.

The Revd Rob Mackintosh is Rector of Girton and Co-ordinator of the Leadership Programme for Clergy in the Church of England, Ridley Hall, Cambridge.

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You are reading Has the C of E Got Its Act Together? by Rob Mackintosh, part of Issue 7 of Ministry Today, published in June 1996.

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