In the past couple of years I have attended so many interviews that I stopped counting them ages ago. I am now in a position where I have enough experience of these that I can discern common themes and trends.

It is apparent to me that, despite fancy words about vision, mission and pastoral care, the number one concern of the interviewing panels, especially the clerical members, is leadership. So much so that even if you are a contemporary St. Francis you do not get the job unless you are also Alan Sugar's, slightly more cold-hearted and manipulative, twin brother.

What on earth does this say about the laity of the Church of England?

For years the laity has been claiming more authority for themselves in the running of the Church, in particular at the parish level. Quite rightly, the clergy have encouraged this and we are now in a position where the "Father knows best" paradigm of the parish priest is a thing of the past and all changes and initiatives in a local church have to be approved by the congregation members. However, failure to please every member of the laity on any and every any given proposal leads to hissy fits, letters to the bishop, cancelling of weekly giving and threats of leaving the church from those who do not get their way. Archdeacons and bishops, fearful of losing more money and ever mindful of the declining numbers of their church, bend over backwards to appease the complainants whilst often, if not always, making the parish priest the fall guy. No wonder so many good priests in the Church of England are having nervous breakdowns and leaving the ministry.

To put it bluntly, it seems to me that the laity of the Church of England are demanding the authority of adults whilst insisting they only have the responsibility of children. In stead, of promoting the damage control form of leadership amongst its clergy, surely the more Christian and sensible thing to do would be to give the laity a good slap round the face and insist that they are responsible for their own behaviour. In some of the parishes I have been to the laity have actually been proud of their bolshiness and view the appointment of Attila the Hun as their vicar as a badge of honour.

For goodness sake people of the Church - Grow up, will you?!!!



  1. I hear what you are writing, MadPriest. But, take it from a committed layperson, leadership does not mean telling the laity what to do and think. Leadership consists of enabling everyone to do their best and give their talents and the like to the common goal.

    Consider what would happen if a parish selected a priest who did not have leadership qualities. What would happen is that the laity would soon get in a tussle with Father (it’s almost always a male priest) about how he proposes to reorder the sanctuary and which prayerbook to use. The priest would pull rank on the laity (whom he sees as a threat to his authority) and select churchwardens and PCC members who would do and agree with whatever he says. He would drive away or neutralise everyone who did not agree with him on everything.

    I am in such a parish, and I know whereof I speak.

    What the laity need is a priest who is prayerful, comfortable in his or her own skin, able to provide expertise and a suggested way-forward for the parish, and comfortable with enabling the laity to play their proper role in the life of the parish. Such priests are, sadly, few and far between.

    What one normally gets is an insecure power-mad man who is unwilling and unable to really listen to his parishioners, who has no time for prayer since he is such a busy priest, who doesn’t visit his parishioners because he is so busy, and who talks the talk of enabling people while walking the walk of keeping all the authority and power in his own hands.

    Oh dear.

  2. I am the ideal priest you describe, Chris. But I have not come across a parish yet that requires such a priest. As I say in my post they are all after Alan Sugar’s twin brother. the problem is that the parishes say they want what you want on the profiles and then, when you get to the interview you find out that what interests the most is how strong a leader you are when it comes to stopping the congregation members fighting each other.

  3. I suppose that the battle needs to be fought when the parish is drawing up its profile. It’s also important to ensure that the Archdeacon and Area Bishop aren’t conspiring to saddle you with their own candidate.

    When our previous incumbent was forced out by the Area Bishop 15 years ago, we drew up a parish profile and appointed the two representatives to the selection committee. The Archdeacon wanted us to take candidates one-by-one and then the first one who was suitable we would take. I told him that it would be better to have a panel from which to select. He wasn’t very pleased. He also refused to advertise the post, as he said “we aren’t paying relocation costs”. He was fibbing.

    We got four possible candidates. One was a woman with MS, who would have been very good but who was pretty ill. The second was an alcoholic (unreformed). The third was a man who a few months later was caught as a major book shoplifter. The Archdeacon was a character witness at the trial. Paying off a debt, no doubt. The fourth was the man we picked ultimately.

    We should have asked for another panel, but the Archdeacon and Area Bishop would not hear of it. We were stuck. I can email you privately with lots of detail about the subsequent 15 years but would hesitate to put it in a blog.

    Oh, and keeping the parishioners from fighting each other is definitely important. However, it’s not necessarily the incumbent’s job to do that alone. The Archdeacon and Bishop need to be involved in that process. Unfortunately, they usually withdraw when the incumbent has been installed and leave him or her to it.

    And Lord Sugar would make a terrible incumbent. You can’t fire your parishioners, after all.

  4. There is something in what you say, MP. It has taken the people in these parishes almost 8 years to realise that I am not going to tell them what to do, but advise, lead, and generally walk with them in a god-ward direction. I worked under a Rector who was so full of his own importance that on one occasion when he declared that so-and-so would do as they were told, I gently reminded him that so-and-so was a volunteer, and they would in all probability tell him where to stick his directions. There was a look of incredulity on his face.

    I have a saying of the Chinese philosopher Lao-Tse in the front of my PCC folder …
    Leaders are best when people barely know they exist; not good when people acclaim them; worst when they despise them. But of a good leader, who talks little, when their work is done, their aim fulfilled, their people will all say, “We did this ourselves.”

  5. This post isn’t about the relationship between clergy and laity but about the laity’s inability to behave like grown ups when they are together and the pathetic way they look to the clergy to stop them acting like pre-teen siblings rather than growing up.

  6. Yes, I know. I’m not disagreeing with your assertion, just being an awkward layperson as is my wont. I do think that when Jesus said ‘feed my sheep’ he was being more predicitve of the nature of congregations than he intended.

  7. It’s always worth putting up with awkward laity because a priest never knows when he or she may need an awkward person who can’t be sacked by the bishop to save his or her ass. Bad tempered, grumpy, argumentative et al are all fine. It’s childish nastiness and petulance that causes priests the most trouble because, like teenagers, it is illogical.

  8. A dysfunctional relationship hurts both parties. Assigning blame only puts off getting to the root of the dysfunction. (My 2c.)