UK: The men from the ministry - a look at how the Church of England is run. (4 of 4)

UK: The men from the ministry - a look at how the Church of England is run. (4 of 4) - The "parson's freehold" has much to justify it. In the days when a powerful bishop or squire might take exception to his views, the humble parson clearly needed protec

Last Updated: 31 Aug 2010

The "parson's freehold" has much to justify it. In the days when a powerful bishop or squire might take exception to his views, the humble parson clearly needed protection. These days, however, many people believe that it might be better to work on contracts, as team ministers and chaplains do. In short, the argument goes, with the right sort of ecclesiastical employment legislation, the freehold should be abolished.

But even if the Church takes this controversial step, there remains the fact that it has few structures for evaluating its chief resource. As Philip Mauer, secretary general of the General Synod, remarks: "The personnel systems within the Church are rudimentary." There is "no coherent set of personnel procedures, for lay employees or for ministers, whereby they can see a career path with training and proper systems of appraisal."

A number of bishops have instituted some form of voluntary assessment, the Bishop of Durham being one. But, Jenkins warns, when neither promotion nor a pay increase is on the agenda, annual appraisals may be wrong. It is also, as he points out, rather hard to measure the productivity of a minister. A head count of the congregation has obvious flaws.

Nonetheless, when one's spiritual master remains silent, it can be comforting to have a pat on the back from an authorised agent. One passionate advocate of appraisals is Canon Hardaker, whose lucid guidelines should be compulsory reading for many a line manager. He maintains that a distinction must be preserved between work and the inner life. To address the latter, he suggests a spiritual friend freely chosen and consulted in confidence. By contrast, appraisal of a minister's work should be formally conducted and recorded. The subject of the appraisal should be given time to prepare and the opportunity to corroborate the report. In other words, Hardaker wants to adopt the best of those personnel systems employed by the secular world.

Changes ARE afoot in the Church but, as with any big organisation, they are slow. Moreover, its unique mixture of democracy and authority can impede progress, for no primate of all England can simply pronounce "ex cathedra" to his flock.

Over the past 20 years the Church has begun to appraise itself. The Christian Organisations Research and Advisory Trust (CORAT) was established in 1967. As chairman Michael Graham-Jones explains, its purposes were threefold: to consult with internal and external advisers; to research appropriate management principles; and to run management courses. CORAT still administers two summer schools, though its other functions have diminished. But in its time it represented a real advance.

Three years ago the Church also called upon adult education lecturer Dr Norman Todd to run a series of induction courses for bishops. He addresses such things as time management. Another stalwart is Professor Charles Handy, who commands much respect in secular circles.

However, John Barton, an archdeacon in the Birmingham diocese, would like to see such work go further. "Any organisation ought to subject itself to the sort of management consultancy which will allow it to define its objectives," he believes. But, with a few honourable exceptions, the Church has relied upon "home-grown consultants".

The Church of England is by no means about to collapse. But, though it may have perfected the art of crisis management through long necessity, it will have to face some additional strains in the next few years. The recession has hit the Church Commissioners as badly as everyone else. The ordination of women and the treatment of homosexual clergy - both sensitive issues - may well cause rifts. There is also the continuing challenge of secularism. The "Decade of Evangelism" may do something to refresh the parts that other influences cannot reach, but even this new drive has critics among those who do not want the Church to become a "holy disco".

In recent years, as the Bishop of Durham admits, "there's been the beginning of a realisation that the legal and structural diagrams (of the Church) are not the same as the financial diagrams". All need to be sorted out. In the end, however, to quote the Right Reverend Richard Harries, Bishop of Oxford: "I don't think you can treat the Church as a business." He is, of course, right. Though formerly something of a manufacturer, God is clearly rather more than a management guru.

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