I have received an extraordinary letter (extraordinary because of its honesty) from a lay member of an interviewing panel I was up before recently.
I have posted the entire letter on CHIN WAG @ OCICBW... but there is one point, made in the letter, that I want to highlight here on my open blog because it is so indicative of the problem innovative and mission minded priests have in getting a parish job in England.
The writer informs me that the laity on the interview panel had been allocated the questions they should ask by the bishop involved in the interview. The writer goes on to say that the laity on the panel would have loved to ask me questions, the answers to which were far more important to them than those they had been told to ask, but that they were too scared of "the bishop's wrath" to dare to ask them. They had identified the fact that I would have challenged them if they had appointed me and were undecided as to whether or not they wanted to take such an "uncomfortable" path. If they had been given the chance to ask follow up questions they would have had the information they needed to make a more informed decision regarding this. Without the information they decided to take the safe option (and, believe me, the bloke they went for in the end, is so "safe" that two of the three churches in the benefice will probably be closed down before the end of his time with them).
So here is the problem. Many congregations are prepared to consider going for a "dangerous" choice of priest if there is a chance that this will result in their continued existence and growth in their numbers. However, I have not yet met a bishop or archdeacon who is prepared to take such a risk, even if the congregation wants to. In the appointment process we now follow in the Church of England, the clergy (bishops, archdeacons and deans) have far too much influence on the final choice and, worse still, they are deliberately engineering the process to favour their idea of parish priesthood from the outset. As the higher ranked clergy are predominantly administrators nowadays this means that the priests favoured by them will be in their own image. Eventually some of these parish administrators become rural deans, archdeacons and bishops and so the vicious circle continues. The Church of England is sinking gently and safely under the waves of secularism. For goodness sake, if we're going to drown we really should go out with a splash and the only way to do this is to employ, at parish level, at least a few priests who will make some waves.
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