We read in The Observer that there are likely to be divisions over the value system behind a radical programme to make the Church of England “fit for purpose.”

Martyn Percy, the dean of Christ Church, Oxford, is one of the loudest critics of the Reform and Renewal Program. Fulcrum heard Bishop Pete Broadbent describe the Reform and Renewal program this April at one of its Pivot^Point evenings.

London clergy are hearing about the values that underpin such thinking in the diocese's Riverside Leadership Program hosted by St Milletus college, Kensington which was opened by Richard Chartres and his challenge to be 'Vision Ied and not problem obsessed.' There is a need to 'look at the clutter and simplify.' We need a 'clear direction of travel and improvisations are important.'

We are hearing the clarion call for change and are being encouraged to do something before it is too late and the church faces a very real crisis. Money is to be redistributed, clergy are to be better trained for vocations that require them to engage with the world as it is - health and safety, safeguarding, lone-working agreements, human resourcing, employing and equipping, we are registrars, we are managers, we are balancers of budgets and communicators of financial forecasts, we are also counsellors of sorts and teachers of the scriptures. We hear that 40% of the church’s clergy will retire in the next decade and MBA-style management courses will train the newly appointed to take on wider briefs and meet various targets. A particular kind of pragmatism is to be taught if it can't be caught.

Percy's concerns are over “the uncritical use of business principles, which are mostly untested...' In the Riverside Leadership program we learn that we are to be unapologetic about our explorations and training for 'leadership.' All agendas are value-laden and we can critically engage with secular management theories and discern consonance there with the values of the faith and so claim for God what might in business be building the markets.

I am not concerned by visions for simplification and a necessary pragmatism. I am in favour of flattening dualisms and capturing what we can for God. Reading D'Costa in College taught me to watch for the work of the Spirit in those places and people, books and theories that do not proclaim faith in God, that if it's all God's initiative anyway, then I can look anywhere for signs of the Kingdom, it is discernment we are to pray for as we spot what can be used for Him.

I trust that we will not be throwing babies out with the water that might seem to be filling the 'sinking ship.'

As Parish priests we grapple with Church Representation Rules, Churchwardens Measures, Ecclesiastical Law,  Annual Parochial Church meetings and how to recruit paid and voluntary people under Diocesan Safer Recruitment processes etc. We also develop our study and practice of prayer, liturgy, Anglican Communion history and exegetical and hermeneutical approaches to the scriptures, preaching and spiritual disciplines. We disciple and are discipled, we are formed and chipped away at. We become rightly accountable, learn prophetic edge and make mistakes, we are challenged to combine theological rigour with the simplification process being championed because hopefully these things will complement and informs each other.

The church will be challenged to hold tight to its development of ‘character’ together with its approach to the accumulation of technique and approach which can be taught and nurtured. Alister McGrath believes that ‘the promotion of the well-being of an institution, and compliance with its culture seem to take priority over the gospel.’

From what I have seen of the church’s structures to this point in my ministry, I am convinced that this is not so: there is being modelled to me that vital engagement with the gospel that is surely our mission here on earth.  It will be interesting to see how plans for the Reform and Renewal of the Church of England are hatched over the next five years as Synod is launched next week. 

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A little background reading so we might mutually flourish when there are different opinions