Unsolicited advice to the new Bishop of WhitbyMay 11th, 2009 | By Ian Poulton | Category: Church of Ireland Comment
The Church Times came this morning. The jobs pages mostly make better reading than the editorial. This week a bishop’s post is up for grabs – they are looking for a new bishop of Whitby, which is in the cold north and miles from anywhere you might see Bruce Springsteen in concert. The advertisement welcomes comments and nominations.
Well, I think my wife would make an excellent bishop, but the English do have a problem with women, lagging years behind Ireland, and the pay in the Church of England is significantly below what we are paid here.
So that’s my one nomination dismissed, what about some comments?
Well, I would say the bishop should look around at what works in churches and what doesn’t work.
Firstly, forget about all that ‘Fresh Expressions of Church’ stuff; it’s coming out of a culture of decline. Where are there strong churches? I’ll tell you, across the length and breadth of rural Ireland. I have a friend who has 401 parishioners – more than 300 of them attended on Easter morning.
It’s not fresh expressions you need; it’s strong expressions. The church is strongest where it is rooted in a place, where it’s part of the life of the community. Go back to having a priest in every community – appoint your non-stipendiary ministers as parish priests. People are not worried what a person does for a living all week; they want a sense that the church is among them and cares about them. They want vicars they know, who they see in their villages; who are part of the community. They want someone they see in the village pub, who walks their lanes, who waves as they pass. Want a theological basis for ministry based in the community? Jesus of Nazareth.
Secondly, you don’t make friends with people by poking them in the eye. If the crusties want to say their prayers in Sixteenth Century English, for goodness sake let them. It’s not as though the new stuff is exactly packing in the young ones, is it? If you stop alienating the few supporters you have left, you might find they are more responsive. And stop mucking about with the hymns. I saw one English hymnbook where the lines of ‘Be thou my vision’ had been changed; instead of saying ‘High King of heaven’ it said ‘Sovereign of heaven’. This is PCness gone bonkers. It didn’t say ‘High King’ to be sexist; it said ‘High King’ because the person who ruled the whole land in ancient Ireland was the ‘High King’, he was not the blooming ‘sovereign’. It might stick in your craw to allow unreconstructed old conservatives to have their way, but you can regard it as obeying Saint Paul’s injunction to have regard for the weaker brethren.
Thirdly, would you ever pay your clergy a decent wage? You can afford it. Stop wasting your money on constant rounds of meetings and ineffective projects. Let your clergy keep the fees for ceremonies; if they have done the work why on earth should they hand it to the diocese? What incentive is there for anyone to work harder if there is never any reward for effort. Clergy are as human as anyone else when it comes to a bit of encouragement and Jesus is clear in saying that the labourer is worthy of his hire. It is embarrassing to talk to English clergy at times, they express astonishment at Irish clergy getting four weeks summer leave – I never mention skiing to them.
Fourthly, would you ever look at how bishops look in the media? They look plain daft. Get rid of the silly medieval mitres and silks worthy of Vogue; reconnect with people. I mean to say, you can’t do much worse than your colleagues are presently doing, and you might even do better.
Finally, please forgive this unwarranted intrusion into the affairs of another Anglican Province, I’m sure there is some Lambeth Resolution forbidding such comment.