Sunday, June 01, 2008

How Good is Your Vicar? (updated)

Interesting story in the Sunday Telegraph today (thanks Pluralist, I've got the right paper now!):

Church of England bishops believe that thousands of vicars are not up to the job, according to a confidential report. It found that there are "serious concerns" at the top of the Church hierarchy over the quality of its clergy.

The internal report suggests that the standards of new clergy has dropped, because of the demands on the Church to fill vacant posts, while many vicars who have been in the job several years have lost their energy and enthusiasm.

The report, being confidential, isn't on the CofE website, so it's hard to get behind the ST story to get the full background. If, for example, "90 per cent of the bishops believe that a third of the new intake of clergy do not have the necessary gifts and abilities." does that mean that 10% of the bishops are ordaining 1/3 of the clergy, none of whom are good enough? Was there anything about the quality of the senior clergy of the CofE? And how much attention was given to the structures we have to work in?

Meanwhile a new book due out this week will "suggest clergy should urge their parishioners to post blogs giving their opinion on the sermons and plans for the church", according to the Sunday Times piece. Yes please! There must be someone other than me with an opinion on our church.....

HT Thinking Anglicans.

Excellent post on this one from Pluralist, which concludes:
And often managers find that when the training improves, when the communication improves, when the systems are in place, when people know what they are doing, and the goals are there, and people are empowered, that there was nothing inherently wrong with most in the workforce after all: they had just been badly managed. Amen.

Update (Monday morning): Dave Walker is keeping tabs on people blogging about this story. I'm hoping Bishop Alan will have something to say, being a Bishop, and being one of the wisest Anglican bloggers around.

A couple of other thoughts.
- I know (or, to be more accurate, am aware of) some excellent Bishops, and some excellent clergy. It's also obvious that most bishops are stretched to the limit themselves, so it's quite hard for them to spend long enough with clergy to know what we're like and what we're up to, most of their information probably gets fed back from other sources. A report into the quality of clergy shouldn't just be canvassing opinion from the CofE hierarchy, but from the grassroots too. It should also be asking clergy what would help them do the job better. This kind of stuff may be in the report, but we only have the ST story to go on, and we don't know what's been left out.

- There are plenty of us who are struggling, and a large number who were ordained into an entirely different Church of England from the one we now have. Most Somerset clergy seem to be 55 and over, ordained back in the 70's when sizeable numbers still turned up at the church door to be hatched and matched. Society has changed massively since then. One of the insights of the Mission Shaped Ministry course is that, in a fast changing society, initial training goes out of date much faster than in a stable society. Effective training in a changing society involves a high level of ongoing input and learning, rather than a big chunk at the beginning and a couple of voluntary training days a year.

- Training also covers the quality of curacies which people get - Bob Jackson rightly makes the point that we should be training curates in growing churches so that they learn to lead growing churches themselves. Some clergy have only ever experienced a shrinking church, which both battes morale, and doesn't equip them to lead a growing one. Some parishes are chosen for curacies based on size, or whether they're judged to be prestige parishes, and not for the training and development skills of the incumbent. I was blessed in my training parish, I know of others who weren't.

One blogger has 'lost energy and enthusiasm' because of the way the deployment system in the CofE works. I did as well: told 18 months before the end of a 5 year contract that my post probably wouldn't be renewed, it was incredibly hard to be motivated for my job, and to sit in on discussions about how the parish would function once I'd gone. What support I did get from the church structures (outside the parish) came from a couple of fellow clergy who noticed that I was looking rough round the edges.

Update (Tues, HT Dave Walker) Bishop Alan has posted on clergy numbers, including the surprising fact that there are more active licensed clergy now than 50 years go, though a much higher proportion are self-supporting or retired, and the number paid by the church has dropped substantially. He also refers to a 'straw poll' of bishops, and the 'crude stats' in the report - which doesn't really match with the "90% of bishops" claims in the ST report.

and bishop Pete Broadbent has posted a couple of times on the Thinking Anglicans thread, and all of his comments I found very encouraging, especially this:
Where the report does have some important questions to ask is in the area of
(1) readiness of clergy for mission in the fast-changing C21 society
(2) whether those being trained on some courses are getting proper theological education, on a par with what is offered in colleges
(3) whether dioceses are planning for growth or decline

These seem to be exactly the right sort of questions for the CofE to be asking. I hesitate to get into 'shoot the messenger' mode after being unfair on Ruth Gledhill over church attendance stats a few weeks ago, and the trouble with a confidential report is that you can't debate whether it's been reported correctly by journalists without publishing the contents.


  1. I confess that after I wrote my piece, I felt its conclusion was not there, and so the words I wrote that you quote from me were added a little after I first wrote the posting.

    This is the nature of blogging. I further confess that I think Raspberry Rabbit is on to something in his questioning of the survey figures in the closed report, and we really do need to see the survey in the report.

  2. Seems to me that one the whole, vicars are horribly underpaid and overworked.

    If there is a problem, it is more to do with the structures than the staff.