… the average country parson is now a comparatively poor man… he spends much of his time clerking, teaching, examining, or taking services in neighbouring parishes during sequestrations… simply for his own personal profit. His wife probably goes out to work; and if he inhabits a large rectory or vicarage, he can make a considerable income letting rooms. This is all wrong.
A. Tindal Hart, The Country Priest in English History (1959)
In the autumn of 1988 I went to see the Diocesan Director of Ordinands to begin the process leading to ordination. During the meeting he fixed me with a steely glare and sternly admonished me: “I hope you don’t want to be ordained for the status that being a clergyman affords you, because the social status of the clergy is lower today than any time since the Reformation”. I took him for his word, because I trusted his judgement, because I liked the man, and because he went on to become, in short order, Bishop of Stepney, Bishop of London, Prelate of the Order of the British Empire, Dean of the Chapels Royal, Privy Counsellor, and executor of the will of Diana, Princess of Wales.
Even so, there is but one Bishop of London, and for the rest of us Dr Chartres’s warning hold true; there is precious little status to be found in the life of a cleric today. This chapter explores how and why we have reached the status we do possess, and what that status might be.
I was ordained to a title parish (as a Curate’s first job is technically called) in Cirencester. Just outside Cirencester was a small village called Barnsley. It isn’t one of the heart-stoppingly lovely Cotswold villages, and other than a well-known garden, it didn’t attract coach parties of day trippers like Bibury just up the road. There was one road through Barnsley, and, except for the church, the only public amenity was the village pub, called, imaginatively, “The Village Pub”. The name was painted on the sign which hung above well-tended baskets of flowers. It depicted the road through Barnsley. A car was parked on the road, complete with running boards and huge head-lamps, a 1940s kind of car. In the foreground was a village bobby, again, in a 1940s kind of uniform. He had his arm out to shake the hand of the village parson; tweed jacket, bald head, round smile, glasses. A 1940s kind of parson. The Village Pub, with its Village Policeman, and its Village Padre. The glory of England, combined in one pub sign.
The glory of England is celebrated in a thousand different cultural artefacts; in literature, music, film, television, radio, plays, and memories, the village parson is present, in body if not in mind, for we all know that parsons, like all sky pilots, are likely to be a little eccentric. Thomas Hinde, in A Field Guide to the English Country Parson (a significantly zoological title, don’t you think?) thought that the whole idea of village parsons was a social experiment: “give a reasonably educated middle-class Englishman a modest income, a house in the country, and job security for life, and see what he will do… the most important thing the Anglican Church gave England was a gentleman in every parish.”1 Hinde’s book then catalogues a fair selection of the mad, the bad, the learned and the depraved. Some clergy of this ilk remained in post even as late as the beginning of my ministry. A rector in a gaggle of parishes to the north of Cirencester had been in the living for forty years or more; let’s call him Edwards. A retired priest once told me he received a telephone call from Edwards: “Could you take some services while I’m away on holiday?” “Certainly,” my friend replied. “Just let me get my diary.” “You’d better hurry up. The taxi’s outside waiting to take me to the airport!”
For all that disorganization, Edwards was a rural parson of the old school; I am sure he would have done well in the competition organized by the genteel magazine Country Life in September 2005. The editors put out an appeal for “Britain’s best loved parson”. They were overwhelmed with nominations for one man, Richard Morgan, rector of Therfield and Kelshall in Hertfordshire. When the writer went to meet Mr Morgan’s parishioners, they enthusiastically endorsed their man:
‘He had his beard shaved off for charity in the village pub…’ ‘[he] writes many of his own prayers and hymns…’ ‘[he] gets involved in everything, in all the social gatherings— the village fête, the book club, he comes to watch the sports club, plays with the Therfield Thespians, leads the sponsored walks – you name it he does it.’ … ‘He’s everyone’s friend, Anglican or not,’ and that comment has all the parishioners nodding.
This enthusiasm was confirmed for the writers when they attended a service in service in Therfield for the beginning of a new school term: “… you understand immediately why his parishioners have warmed to him so much… From the moment the first hymn begins, and the rector starts waving his hands to mime the words ‘He’s got the whole world in His hands…,’ his infectious energy and steady smile have everyone glued to their hard seats.”2
We can celebrate this eccentricity, just so long as we don’t have to work with it; we can be cheered by this diversity, just so long as we don’t have to worship under it; we can be comforted by this ubiquity, just so long as we don’t have to believe in it.
For there is just one small problem. The vision of “The Village Pub”, and The Field Guide and Country Life, is of an England which no longer exists, in fact, may never have existed. A parson in every parish was an invention of the nineteenth century, a time when there were many more clergy in England than there had been at any time since the Reformation (and many of those earlier clergy were monks or friars, whose vocation was emphatically not to parochial life). Some numbers: in 1841 there were 14,613 clergymen in England and Wales. By 1901 this had risen, not quite in line with the growth of population, to 25,235. That was the high-water mark. Thereafter the numbers are 23,918 (1911), 19,147 (1931), 13,429 (1961), 12,056 (1976). In the latest year for which there are figures, 2004/2005, the situation seems to have improved: 13,654 priests. However, the breakdown of that number is significant: 9,138 licensed stipendiary clergy, 2,888 licensed non-stipendiary clergy, 1,628 in chaplaincy and “other ministries”. The remaining 4,468 are the “active retired”, clergy who have ceased full-time ministry (whether paid or not) but have permission to officiate from their bishop (there are another 4,215 inactive retired clergy)3. There are, therefore only about four hundred more licensed stipendiary clergy than all the other types (non-stipendiary, chaplaincy, retired) combined. If “The Village Pub” were to have an accurate sign, then village parson would need to be shown as retired, or working in another profession.
The word ‘parson’ itself betrays the cultural context in which clergy ministered at first. ‘Parson’ is an Anglo-Norman word, dating to the thirteenth century, which in turn comes from the Old French ‘persone’ which meant, in this case, ‘ecclesiastical dignitary’. Parson was, originally, and simply, the person in the parish, the person who was there as the representative of the Church.
Anthony Russell’s magisterial book, The Clerical Profession, explores the eight different ways in which the function and status of this parson/person was expressed in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. The parson was, primarily, a Leader of public worship. Sometimes, most times, it has to be admitted that this was the sum and total of the parson’s responsibilities. J. J. Blunt, writing in 1856 admitted as much:
There was a period and almost within my own memory when a notion prevailed that the duties of the clergy were the duties of Sunday and little more; that their sphere lay pretty exclusively in the due performance of the public services of the Church. That was, I need not say, a very imperfect view of clerical obligations.4
Along with the public services of the Church was the obligation to take the Occasional Offices, what was known as “surplice duties” in the eighteenth century. The clergyman received his stipend, variable from benefice to benefice, no matter how many services of public worship were taken in his church: surplice duty (for marriages, baptisms, burials and the churching of women), was an important source of additional income, if managed properly. Unfortunately, the management was often abused in order to maximise income: the rich were attended to, the poor were treated perfunctorily. We see this distinction made in John Clubbe’s advice to a young clergyman (1770): “Carry not a rich man into the church and read over him the whole burial service and huddle a poor man into his grace with a small portion of it.”5
The parson was expected to be a Preacher: it was almost the “charter role”6 of the cleric, and in the eighteenth century churches were built or remodelled to aid the delivery of the sermon. In fact, the existence of pew rents (by which people paid for the rights to a particular seat in church, like a debenture seat in Wembley stadium) meant that many urban clergy were dependent upon their ability to attract people to hear them preach. Unhappily, and inevitably, not all clergy were up to the task, and other, entrepreneurial clergy made a tidy living by printing ready-made sermons in copperplate lettering, so that if the parson’s text was overlooked, it would not be thought he was reading another’s work.7
Preaching was superior to the other liturgical function of the parson, the Celebrant of the Sacraments. Holy Communion in the eighteenth century was not just a dominical sacrament; it was also an expression of national and social conformity. The Test and Corporation Acts of Charles II’s reign meant that anybody holding public office in England must be a communicant member of the Church of England. By this requirement, the parson became the gatekeeper to social inclusion and exclusion: the eucharist was a shibboleth. This also meant that if there was no pressing social need for a communion service, there was no pressing religious need. In the twenty-five year ministry of the Revd. R. W. Finch in Barrington, Cambridgeshire, there was no celebration of Holy Communion at all, and Thomas Secker, Bishop of Oxford (and later Archbishop of Canterbury), in his Visitation of 1741 pleaded with his clergy: “One more thing might be done in all your parishes; a sacrament might be interposed in that long interval between Whitsunday and Christmas”8.
The Parson was expected to be a Pastor, but despite Herbert’s advice, and the advice of some of the other clergy manuals in the eighteenth century, it is apparent that this was not a duty much observed either. William Jesse, an Evangelical reformer, wrote in 1785:
Very few of the clergy seem to have any idea of the necessity and importance of parochial visitations, that is of going from house to house to inquire particularly into the state of the people’s souls, to teach and press upon their conscience truths which have been delivered from the pulpit in a more general way.9
The Canons of 1604 required every “person, vicar or curate” to examine the children of the parish in the articles of the faith; so the parson was a Catechist. It was an integral part of the parson’s Sunday duties, supposedly to be held during Evening Prayer after the second lesson. The parson was enjoined to instruct in the Ten Commandments, the Thirty Nine articles, the Lord’s Prayer, as well as the Catechism in the Book of Common Prayer. With the decline of evening services through the eighteenth century there was a corresponding decline in catechizing. However, the parson was very often the only teacher of any kind in the parish, and so, in the eighteenth century most parochial schools were run by clergy, and the private tutors of the wealthy were also clergy. Robert Walker of the Lake District held school in his church for five and a half days a week, using the altar as a desk, supplementing his income by spinning wool at the same time10. We can see in teaching, the expansion of the parson’s role into areas which we would now regard as wholly secular in nature: the parson had responsibilities beyond the church porch.
As, often, the only literate person in the parish, the parson acted as Clerk, registrar for births, marriages and deaths. The records he kept were the only legal record, and legacies and inheritances were often dependent upon his diligence. Often the parish registers were used to record parliamentary legislation, and the parson was the contact point for all people needing something from the state: the “clergyman’s signature was in constant demand on the papers of emigrants, sailors, soldiers, clergymen’s widows, pensioners, lunatics, and persons wanting to keep a public house”11. Along with this implicit role as an officer of the state, often the parson fulfilled an explicit role, as an Officer of the Law, usually as a Justice of the Peace. Diana McClatchey has examined the records of the Quarter Sessions held in Oxfordshire in the eighteenth century. Whereas in 1775 only 31 per cent of the J.P.s were clergy, 83 per cent of convictions were overseen by them. In 1797-1800 the parallel figures are 28 % clergy J.P.s and 75 % convictions12. In other words, the clergy acted as magistrates in disproportionate occasions to their numbers. It is clear the clergy relished the opportunity to serve their society by this means; whether such a high conviction rate helped their Sunday duties is another question. Charles Kingsley certainly didn’t think so. In an address to a clergy meeting in 1848 he said:
It is our fault, our great fault, that you should sneer, sneer at the only news that ought to be your glory and your strength. It is our fault. We have used the Bible as if it were the special constable’s handbook– an opium dose for keeping beasts of burden patient while they are being overloaded– a mere book to keep the poor in order.13
In the centuries before an integrated welfare state the clergyman fulfilled three roles as Almoner. First, the Elizabethan poor laws required a local tax to be imposed by each parish’s Vestry in order to pay for a workhouse or a poorhouse. The parson was the chairman of the Vestry. Second, a network of charities were in existence, founded by benefactors for the alleviation of suffering. The parson and churchwardens were frequently, if not always, the administrators of these monies. Third, it was expected that the parson, himself a member of the gentry, would have sufficient income to provide relief for the poor, the unemployed and the homeless directly. Gerard’s handbook said: “It is incumbent on a minster to search out the poor and indigent in his parish and to contrive means of supplying them.”14
Although it was not part of the clergyman’s ordination charge, many of the handbooks of pastoral practice, from Herbert onwards, recommended that the parson have at least nodding acquaintance with the basic skills of medicine: the parson was an Officer of Health. Herbert advises his readers: “if there be any of his flock sick, he is their Physician, or at least his Wife, of whom instead of the qualities of the world, he asks no other, but to have the skill of healing a wound, of helping the sick.”15 Parson Woodforde had a great reputation in Castle Cary as a veterinarian and Sidney Smith, when he moved to Combe Florey, set up an apothecary shop in the rectory, from which he spend much of his time dosing his parishioners. In 1820 there was published a guidebook for those clergy without Woodforde or Smith’s confidence: Instructions for the relief of the Sick Poor in some Diseases of Frequent Occurrence, Addressed to the Parochial Clergyman residing at a Distance from Professional Aid. It was written by a doctor, so there seemed to be a tacit understanding that there need not be a demarcation dispute between parson and doctor.
The final role delineated by Russell is the parson as Politician. Before parliamentary reform in the nineteenth century, the vote was restricted to those owning property worth more than forty shillings a year. In many rural areas the clergy were the only men who qualified, and so the clergy vote was an important one for the political parties to woo. Very few clergy participated directly in the political process; only one was ever elected as an M.P., the Revd John Horne Tooke of Old Sarum in 1801. This caused such disquiet that Parliament passed an act which fined him £500 a day unless he resigned his seat: Horne Took swiftly complied! Most clergy restricted themselves to canvassing support for candidates, especially those great men who could act as patrons for advancement in livings, and to agitating for the social status quo, especially after the horrors of the French Revolution: there was “no body of men more active in supporting the established order and repulsing infidelity and revolutionary actions than the clergy.”16
At the beginning of the nineteenth century there was little to distinguish a clergymen in his day-to-day life from any other member of the gentry. His “charter roles” were not the most important part of his function in society, and certainly were not the most visible. By the end of the century that had all changed. Industrialization, enormous population growth, the expansion of an urban environment and new discoveries in science, medicine and technology, all led to the increasing complexity of Victorian society and the inability of its governance by men who only qualification to do so was their status as gentlemen. Victorian society became “professionalized”.
This doesn’t just mean that society became more diligently managed, although that is the most common understanding of the word: to be professional means to competent and efficient. The professionalization of society, in a technical sense, meant that different functions within civil society (like officer of the law, social worker, charity administrator, doctor) became much more tightly defined and entry into the new profession was closely controlled by either the executive or a professional governing body.
Richard. H. Hall, an American sociologist, produced a model of what constitutes a profession in 196817. The strength of Hall’s model is that it includes not just what he calls the “structural” characteristics of a profession (its governance, its formal educational and entrance qualifications), but also its “attitudinal” characteristics, which “reflect the manner in which the practitioners view their work”18. Hall describes five marks in these attitudinal characteristics. First, there is professional reference: the profession is itself the major source of self-definition and understanding for each individual, who seeks his ideas and judgements about his work from his colleagues. Second, a profession has a service orientation: there is a benefit to the public from the performance of the profession, and the performance is indispensable for a complete functioning of society. Third, a profession is subject to colleague control: fellow practitioners are the best people to judge a professional’s performance. Fourth, a profession is an expression of a vocation: a professional is dedicated to his profession, and “would probably want to do the work even if fewer extrinsic rewards were available.”19. Fifth, a professional exercises autonomy, able to make decisions about his work free from pressure from clients, non-professionals, employers.
The structural professionalization of Victorian society meant that clergy divested themselves (or were divested) of what Russell calls their “non-charter” roles over the course of the nineteenth century. It became less common, less expected, for clergy to function as the politicians, officers of the law, school teachers and social workers of a locality (although clergy still functioned in those roles, they did so as members of the professions which had taken on that function in society. When a clergyman taught in a school he did so because he was a school master not because he was a clergyman). Entrance to the profession was no longer guaranteed by the general education of the gentleman: taking a degree at one of the two old universities was no longer seen to be sufficient. The first theological college, Chichester, was founded in 1839 by Archdeacon Manning (who later crossed the Tiber). By the end of the nineteenth century there were forty of them, catering to every flavour of churchmanship and academic ability.
The structural narrowing was matched by an attitudinal narrowing as well: clergy, to have any status in a professionalised society, needed to become a separate caste. Defining their place in society more narrowly, just as other professions had done, enabled them to retain a place in society. Both the Tractarian and the Evangelical movements found it necessary to emphasise, for very different reasons, this separateness. The most obvious sign was the growth in a special uniform for clergy in their everyday dress. Whereas in the eighteenth century, clergy dressed like a sober country gentleman, in the nineteenth century they resisted changing secular fashions, and affected the clerical collar. Clergy associations grew up, clergy newspapers were published, and even hotels which catered especially for clergy were opened.
By the end of the nineteenth century the social function of clergy was that permitted by their ordination, not by their previously existing status as gentlemen.
No longer was the role legitimated principally by appeals to its social utility, but in terms of the spiritual and sacramental nature of the Church. If, in the eighteenth century, the clergyman had been a member of the leisured class free to indulge his interests in gentlemanly sports, the administration of the county, together with scholarly and social pursuits, the typical mid-nineteenth century clergyman was a man without leisure.20
The clergy of the nineteenth century became, in Martyn Percy’s vivid phrase, “technicians of the sanctuary”21.
The nineteenth century saw serious, wide- and deep-ranging reforms in the clerical profession; the hard work of the Tractarians and the Evangelicals, growth of the theological colleges and the missionary societies, at home and overseas, structural and attitudinal reforms. Even so, in 1900 the Times could authoritatively state that the average country parson was reckoned to work
perhaps three hours a day on weekdays and six on Sundays, the latter forming a demand on his powers for which the country parson generally feels the need of special rest and support.22
In 1925, J. W. Robertson Smith judged the place of the gentleman priest in a Cotswold living with these harsh words:
The blunt fireside judgement of the mass of agricultural labouring families on many a parson is that he is witless and lazy, a self-satisfied drone, who, by the advantage of his social position, has secured a soft job.23
Adrian Hastings extrapolates from Robertson Smith’s judgement:
…clergy were ‘good sorts’, they visited the dying, they were kindly, a few were actually saintly, a few were scholarly, mostly in rather irrelevant matters. They were feeble preachers but— more important— many of them were far too obviously concerned with sport and with maintaining class. Some were quite definitely odd. They were a bunch of very ineffectual men.24
But at least they were a bunch of ineffectual men in a stable society, which, while not necessarily valuing their expertise, at least accorded them some service. They know their place, and, once, their place was known: the village parson, immortalised on the sign for the Village Pub. The Village Pub sign depicts a profession with an expertise that is valued by society, if not regarded as indispensable to society.
But the high summer of the Village Pub did not last: the changes of the Victorian Church did not stop there. Society became increasingly more complex, technology (and especially the technology of war) more advanced, education more widespread, and each one of these changes affected the status of clergy, self-perceived and perceived by society.
It seemed at the time that the Church was managing to manage this change. After the shock of the First World War, when expressions of hostile atheism became, if not common place, then certainly more common, the Church settled back into its comfortable groove of affirming the status quo. Clergy handbooks continued to be published, before and after the Second World War, in which the assumption was the Christendom model of ministry, the nation and the Church being almost exactly coterminous, and all that was needed was a little more and better organization. We can see this tendency very clearly in the most influential of the clergy handbooks of the post-war period, The Parish Priest at Work, by Charles Forder, Vicar of St Clement, Bradford and later Archdeacon of York. The book is an exhaustive, and exhausting, encyclopaedia of actions, attitudes and achievements. The assumption throughout is that the mission of the Church in any given parish is the cure of souls, and that work is the responsibility of the priest. For example, in the section on church maintenance, Forder advises “All churches need an annual spring clean, and volunteers can be found to help.”25 It is the priest’s job; laity will assist. Forder sets out this assumption explicitly when he turns from discussing administration (over which the parson has complete control), to ministry (in which he is dependent on the co-operation between parson and people):
The parish is the world in miniature and contains wide varieties of people, and the difficulties of co-operation often lie not so much in the differences between clergy and laity, as in the vast differences among the laity themselves. It often seems in the parish that the parson’s main task is the keeping together of all the people worshipping and working happily together.26
The influence of Forder’s book on post-war ministry can be seen in the warm endorsement by Michael Ramsey, then Archbishop of York, to the second edition, in the days before such endorsements were ubiquitous. Even so, Forder’s book appeared in a world which was still changing. Most sociologists, historians of religion, and even some churchmen, have characterised this changing as the process of secularisation: inevitably and inexorably, as society became more technologically advanced and socially complex, public expression of religion decayed. Further changes will lead to further decay. The models and assumptions of Forder, Dearmer, Martineau, Hocking, and Southcott27 and their ilk can no longer apply.28
Here isn’t the place to rehearse the details and validity of the secularisation theory; Callum Brown, Adrian Hastings and Martyn Percy all give excellent surveys of what we can and can’t say about the changes of the last hundred years. What we should note, however, is the effect upon the status of clergy of these changes. The structure of the professions changed, but, this time, clergy as a profession did not follow. Whereas in the nineteenth century the workplace of the professional was usually individual (the single-doctor practice, the accountant with his brass-plate in the high street), over the course of the twentieth century professionals began to work in what Hall calls “organizational bases”: accountancy firms, solicitors’ companies, multi-doctor clinics. The parson remained in solitary splendour.
Moreover, as our society was increasingly structured by and for the professions (look at the number of lawyers in Parliament who determine how our society is governed), the skill-sets of certain professions became indispensable for a competent functioning in society. Who would think of getting a building designed by someone who wasn’t an architect, built by someone who wasn’t a chartered structural engineer, the project not managed by a chartered quantity surveyor and the budget unsupervised by chartered accountants? The skill-sets of these professions are valued and necessary: here we see Hall’s ‘service orientation’ at work.
But what of the skill-sets of the “technicians of the sanctuary”? What can we say is the ‘service orientation’ of the clergy, or, changing the metaphor to advertising, what is the ‘Unique Selling Point’ (USP) of the clerical profession?
My wife and I spend our honeymoon mountain-walking in the Dolomites, where we met an American couple. “Smoke” was in his late sixties, a mountain guide in his native Sierra Nevadas in California. We accompanied them on two high-level walks, pushing through the snow fields, still thigh-deep even in mid-June. As I followed Smoke down the mountain I envied his mountain craft, his knowledge of what was safe to do and where was safe to go, and his ease in the mountains. I wondered what my equivalent skill-set was: Smoke could lead me through a mountain wilderness, but I could preach a really mean funeral sermon! Somehow there seemed to be no equivalence!
My encounter with Smoke, although a little self-regarding, has been replicated in parsonages up and down the country in the years since the Second World War. Even in, what we are now told, was the last golden age of public Christianity, the 1950s, clergy were finding themselves becoming increasingly marginal to the needs, desires and outlook of modern society. Paul Ferris, in his 1962 survey of the Church of England, reports a conversation with the Revd Morton Gervaise (a pseudonym), rector of a country parish:
“I was advised when I came to the country, never use a word that a child of thirteen can’t understand. I never reproach and I never scold: they’ll probably see it, in time. It’s no good thundering in the pulpit. All you can do is strengthen the attitude of the faithful. It’s a bit platitudinous, but you can’t be concrete in a small community. People bring their children to be baptised, even though they never come to church. Ultimately one feels the outcome of these things is in the hands of Heaven. One’s only an underling, a deputy and all that.”29
Our shared values in society, in so far as we can say that we share any values, are based upon empirical knowledge that is falsifiable, the application of this knowledge through technology, governed by bureaucratic, democratic structures: that is, we all agree on the things we can measure, we use that agreement to produce commodities which have an inbuilt value, and the way we organise our society is based on principles that are, in theory, open to participation by all. In other words, it doesn’t matter where you stand or where you come from, a pound’s worth of bananas is a pound’s worth of bananas, because the government has fixed our weights and measures.
Set against this materialist and empirical world, the values mediated by clergy are personal, based on precedence and transmitted authority, and point to an experience of transcendence which is, by definition, not open to all in the same, falsifiable manner. In other words, to use the banana metaphor, there may or may not be bananas in your shopping bag, but how you feel about bananas will depend upon the stories your community tells about bananas, and the role they play in your shared culture. None of this will, necessarily, be affected by their weight, length or cost.
No wonder the skill-set possessed by clergy is not valued by society. Precedence and tradition and transcendence are worthless currencies in our measured, democratic age.
It wasn’t until the 1960s that this great change in values, this paradigm-shift, began to be recognised by large numbers of the clergy. The outward ‘success’ of post-war national religion (increasing numbers of ordinations, church building and attendance) camouflaged the underlying changes. Some clergy, heroically, recognised that what wasn’t needed was ‘more of the same’: the world was transforming under the complacent eyes of the Church of England in the 1950s, with its “renewed institutional confidence, its mildly anti-intellectual leadership, and its half-conscious complicity in the ‘end of ideology’ mood in the wider intellectual climate.”30 Attempts to deal with the shift, attempting to reformulate the Church’s traditional teachings and practices in an attempt to become ‘relevant’ to the modern world, were tried throughout the Church of England, and nowhere with more energy and determination than in the diocese of Southwark. The parishes and priests south of the Thames were so closely identified with the project, that “South Bank Religion” became short-hand for anything that was perceived as innovative, shocking, or slightly unhinged in teaching and practice. The great dynamo for South Bank Religion was Nick Stacey, Rector of Woolwich.
He transformed his church into a centre of non-religious social activity, with coffee bars, advice bureaux and youth clubs. His innovations were met by much criticism, with one Southwark vicar threatening: ‘If Stacey thinks he can build the Kingdom of God by frying eggs on the altar and percolating coffee in the organ pipe he should think again.’31
This was, unknown to its participants, the last feasible attempt to implement the Herbert model of parochial ministry. Stacey unconsciously had attempted to adapt Herbert’s model for his day and time. He drew around him a multi-skilled and multi-disciplinary team, members of which were all exceptionally gifted university men (double firsts from the old universities were the rule), men who might have had profitable and prestigious careers as university orators. The pastoral care provided by the team was to be as much centred on physical well-being as spiritual: whereas Herbert advised his parsons to know something of law and medicine32), Stacey required his team to know how, for instance, to rehouse homeless people. This concentration of talent was not supported by the wider church, morally or financially: such a group of men and women led to jealousy, and the diocese would not pay their stipends. These were paid for with Stacey’s own supplementary income from journalism: “if the team was a taste of Heaven, then finding the money to pay for them was continual hell.”33
The only substantive difference from Herbert’s model was that Stacey consciously set out to be ecumenical in outlook and practice: St Mary’s, Woolwich hosted a church-sharing scheme before such things became common (or even legal) in the Church of England. It was Stacey’s invitation to the local Presbyterian church to worship in the parish church building which led to the passage of legislation through the Church Assembly and Parliament to permit the sharing of church buildings. I wonder how many local ecumenical projects around the country recognize their debt to Stacey and Woolwich?
As with the building, so with the staff. Stacey early on ensured that there was a Methodist minister on the team, and, in their later, secular-employment incarnation, he even managed to invite a Baptist minister and a Roman Catholic priest to share the work: “with [the priest’s] appointment we only lacked a Congregational minister to be able to include all the major English Churches. No other parish in England ever had such a team.”34
And yet, the fact remains that Woolwich was the last attempt in which the George Herbert model of parochial ministry might possibly have worked for the Church of England:
The agony of so much of our pastoral work in Woolwich was that the things people did want from us— the name of a safe, cheap abortionist; the loan of £20; a roof over their heads, or a new husband— we were unwilling or unable to provide. But the things that we were able to give they did not appear to greatly want.35
After four years backbreaking work, Stacey rethought the project. A bitter article in The Observer of December 1964, in which he lamented the failure of four years of social-praxis religion, was followed by another article for the newspaper in May 1965 entitled “How the Church could Survive”. Now Stacey had three proposals, vitally important for the church if it were to survive. First, he advocated that 90% of clergy should seek secular employment, for secular jobs give better expression for “challenging the mores of our society” by teaching, counselling, and social activism: “few people— except perhaps in suburbia— any longer come to the clergy with spiritual problems.”36 Second, the Church must divest itself of the burden of so many unnecessary buildings, expensive to maintain and irrelevant to the needs of 1960s Britain. This would allow the release of vast amounts of capital, to aid in the dispersal of the immigrant populations from the ghettoes of the cities. Third, there needs to be a parallel theological ‘stripping-down’, of what is taught and what is believed in: “Increasingly, thoughtful Christians find themselves believing more and more in less and less— more deeply committed to Christ, more ready to be reverently agnostic about much else. The maximum of faith and the minimum of dogma must be the keynote for the Church in the twentieth century.”37
Stacey’s recommendations were not met with wholly willing acceptance. The Observer asked a number of commentators to respond the following week, some churchmen, and some secular. Eric Mascall, doyen of the scholarly Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church of England, ridiculed Stacey’s theological economies: “presumably then, the really modern Christian would be the man who had infinite faith in nothing at all.” Bryan Wilson, the sociologist Fellow of All Souls’ College, Oxford, who had begun the serious examination of the decline of religious observance in England, wondered if Stacey’s title was inapposite: not “How the Church could survive” rather “how the Church might surrender”38. Even the laity, the people for whom Stacey had expended his prodigious energy, questioned what he had achieved. A parishioner in Woolwich wrote “it was not surprising that, despite Mr Stacey’s assurances that their help was needed, many hung back, feeling perhaps that better qualified people were now at hand to do the jobs they had previously done.”39 (There is still a hint here of parish life being something done for and to the laity.) As James Bogle, a historian of the South Bank project, wrote, “it may not have been a coincidence that the Bingo and the Samaritans, which both had substantial lay involvement, both flourished.”40 Stacey himself admitted, in his autobiography published after he had resigned from stipendiary ministry and was working as Director of Social Services for the London Borough of Ealing, “I plead guilty to underestimating massively the depth and significance of social pressures which keep the English working class away from the worshipping community of the Church.”41 After the failure of the Woolwich project (and, despite the huge number of people who passed through the doors of the church every week, and the lasting impression on the people of south-east London made by the professionalism and pastoral care of the clergy, it was acknowledged then and now as a failure by Stacey himself), “Herbertism” was bankrupt.
The clergy of the Church of the 1960s were assailed on all sides: the fashion for religious observance of the 1950s was in steep decline, the Church produced report after report that sought to change the basis of clergy pay, deployment and employment (‘Paul’ 1964; ‘Morley’ 1967; ‘Tiller’ 1983)42, and for the first time since the English Civil War, anti-clericalism was a fashionable attitude to espouse: “the irony was that it originated from people receiving their incomes from the church.”43 Transcendence and ritualism, the only possible skill-sets left to the clergy, were to be thrown over, and in their place came a rather etiolated form of social work. It was keenly satirised in Prism, normally the obedient house-magazine for the South Bank Reforming tendency of the Church of England. A new liturgy, called ‘Neo-Matins’ was presented, which concluded with this blessing:
Go forth into the world, to proclaim that the only obstacles to Truth are Religion and the Church; and may the Depth of all Being grant you a modern outlook and a muddled mind, and keep you from coming here again to expose yourselves to this retarded and probably hypocritical congregation. Amen.44
Ironically, this attempt to redefine the USP of clergy in terms of social work, and counselling, and social activism has been comprehensively rejected by the laity for whom it was undertaken. What is more the very attempt at redefinition by the clergy has lost their status as moral exemplars or practitioners for society. Fay Weldon, after a lifetime of literary and feminist writing, came to faith despite, rather than because of, the clergy. In an interview with The Guardian, she described how the clergy were once central to our society’s well-being. They were “part of a very necessary socialisation that brought civilisation with it. We’ve abandoned the church and I think abandoned a great deal with it.” But the problem is furthered by the failure of the clergy themselves. Clergy now refuse to engage with the great moral issues of our day, and she would never dream of seeking their direction:
“I wouldn’t consult him [the parish priest]. Would you consult a priest on moral matters? They’re all therapy and touchy-feely. They’re not actually engaged in moral debate. It’s my problem with the church— I am a Christian, but I am afraid they have failed their flock in their inability to confront moral issues.”45
Even so, clergy are still expected, vicariously, to be good, to be good on behalf of others. A number of years ago, when a newly-appointed suffragan bishop was left by his wife for another clergyman, a local newspaper pompously and tendentiously wrote:
In a world which seems to have forgotten basic Christian qualities, it is more important than ever for the Church to take a moral stand… Admittedly, it is a huge responsibility to place on its shoulders, but it is one it should accept gladly. After all, clergymen have preached hellfire and damnation from their pulpits for centuries. The Church has decreed a set of values to which we should all strive to live by. If its own vicars are incapable of toeing the line, what hope is there for the rest of us? That goes, too, for the wives of vicars.46
And yet, it is clear that the authority of the clerical profession has constricted beyond the area of public morality. Like the narrowing focus of spotlight, the area illuminated by the special insight or magisterium of the parson has become smaller and smaller, even, finally and amazingly, so as to exclude the expertise of the sanctuary technician.
In case these stories are too anecdotal for you, Yvonne Warren published her PhD thesis in 2002 under the title The cracked pot: the state of today’s Anglican parish clergy. Her interviews with two sets of clergy, in a northern and a southern diocese showed:
Several clergy in the south expressed the feeling that the community they ministered to had no interest in whether the Church was there or not. They felt the institution they represented and the Gospel they preached was irrelevant to the way people live now.47
Clergy in both dioceses felt an insecurity about their ministry under the influence of five different contextual factors: the issue of relative poverty in an increasingly affluent society, in which disposable income was a measure of social status; the decline in a culture in which the Church, its ministers and its message, are understood and valued; the constant battle against declining numbers and the very real fear of the effect this will have upon the stipend; a sense of wasted effort, in that no number of new initiatives and strategies seem to have any effect upon the numbers of people attending, and the quality of people’s understanding of, the Church; and finally, the ‘cognitive dissonance’, the mismatch between what you believe and what you experience, that comes from the ideal of the Church as the gathered saints of heaven, and its reality as a incorrigible, quarrelling group of sinners.
The problem fundamentally comes down to two aspects of the clergyman’s work: first what the work represents, and second how the work is expressed.
In a society where value is afforded to the empirically verifiable, the technologically innovative, and the socially novel, the Church and its clergy represent older, outmoded values of precedent, authority and hierarchy. Even the seeming interest in the “spiritual”, which was such a source of comfort to the leaders of the churches ten or so years ago, is now recognised to be more an expression of the self-focussed and consumerist dynamic of our society: “look at me! I may have all the trinkets which our society values, but I am also a deep person!” So Paris Hilton, the apotheosis of consumption without responsibility and celebrity without cause, is photographed going to jail carrying a bible, as a signifier of her personal quest to become a better person. Some clergy and ministers, particularly in the emerging church movement which set out to plough this particular “Gen-X” furrow, are crashing straight into the barriers of consumerist Christianity: people “church shop” with all the forethought and selflessness of window shopping. Skye Jethani, a pastor at an American “destination church” describes in Leadership Journal how he was told by two members of his congregation that they had decided to shift their allegiance to another, larger, better church:
Being fully formed in a consumer worldview, Greg and Margaret intuitively accepted that the personal enrichment and fulfilment of desire is the highest good. As a result, they chose the church that best satisfied their family’s preferences without bothering to consult their community, the Bible, or the Holy Spirit to gauge the legitimacy of those desires. After all, in consumerism a desire is never illegitimate, it is only unmet.48
The second problem comes from the way the clergyman’s work is expressed. There are many parishes in the country in which, during the day, during working hours, the parson may be the only person of working age present. His ministry happens among the retired, the unemployed, house-wives or house-husbands at home looking after children. These are not working people, in the sense that our society means and values, people who are in paid employment outside the home, whose salary and job title gives them an immediately recognisable position in the pecking order of our society. This daytime work is very often invisible to parishioners who themselves are away from home working in those hours. The times when the parson encounters his employed parishioners is in the evenings, or at weekends, especially on a Sunday, which, despite the degradation of the differing character of the day from the rest of the week in the last twenty years, is still not recognised as a “working day”. The parson “works” at times when other people (most people?) aren’t working. He encounters them when they are volunteering; their time and effort and money into PCC meetings, or charitable functions, or even Sunday worship. The parson holds the anomalous position of being seen to do his main work when everyone else is volunteering: and he gets paid for it!
So, in the years after the Second World War until today, we see this shift in the status of clergy. His social status is decayed:
The old vicar had been, typically, a graduate, a gentleman living in a large if uncomfortable house, a sort of sub-squire excelling at cricket, where he could mix as an equal with his parishioners while still receiving a fair measure of deference. He was known. …The new vicar was living in a comfortable but insignificant house— not necessarily near the church— with an assured but limited income. The image of the gentleman was gone. The vicar had almost ceased to be a figure of fun, but he had almost ceased to be a public figure at all.49
His educational attainment and standing has radically altered as well: “He has rapidly passed from being the intellectual doyen of society to being a member of the profession with the lowest specialist educational demands.”50 And, in a society which equate value solely with payment, clergy stipends say this:
Salary may be an uncertain test of the social evaluation of the ministry, although in England it must be acknowledged that the salary of the clergy has fallen relative to that of the professions with which they like to be compared, and that society at large makes no effort and voices no concern about clerical stipends… the priest’s work is not accorded much importance; society in general does not account its welfare to the efficacy of those who spend their lives praying for it, not does it confer very high rewards on those who seek to bring men under the influence of God.51
The expertise that he might offer, the ‘service orientation’ of the profession, is no longer contained within the ‘closed shop’ of clergy:
… the clergyman, more than anyone else on the contemporary scene, is a jack of all trades. He occupies a unique position, but the uniqueness of his position has nothing to do with unique skills, or even with unique competence. There is nothing which he does that could not be done equally well by a lawyer or bricklayer in the congregation whom the bishop has ordained to the Auxiliary Pastoral Ministry. He does not have a job at all in any sense which is readily understandable today, and today, more than ever before, a person must have a job in order to fit into society… The clergyman… is in a position which is marginal to society and at the same time highly visible, He is a public person who, alone in our society, wears a distinctive uniform at all times. When he discards the uniform, as many clergymen do today, he evades the problem posed by his marginality, but he does not solve it.52
The parson is no longer the gentleman of the parish; he is no longer the professional ‘person’ of the parish, for the skill and knowledge which he possesses is no longer valued by a wider society.
And yet the show must be kept on the road. There is no vocation in the Church of England for church-closing: congregations must be pastored, taught and grown. We are presented with new challenges and new techniques for meeting these challenges. We are encouraged to find “new ways of being church”53. We are to engender voluntarism in a society in which voluntarism is either dying, or undergoing profound, and as yet, unmapped out changes. All the while, we need to keep the money coming in, the old people comforted, the young people entertained, the new initiatives staffed and old initiatives fresh. The Church is, in the provocative words of Rowan Williams, “essentially a lot of people who have something in common called Christian faith and get together to share it with each other and communicate it to other people ‘outside’… a mass of individuals vaguely looking for things to do.”54 It is the priest’s role to hand out the jobs. For the priestly ministry in the Church of England is now longer presbyteral, in the sense of acting as an elder of a church community. It is no longer episcopal, in the sense, as some once thought it would become, a bishop-in-little, exercising oversight over the Christian witness of others. It has become phulaxal, which is the nearest Greek word I can find to “wicket-keeper”. The parish priest is there, in his marginal and un-understood55 occupation, to pick up the balls that go flying past the wicket when the other players wander off. He is the “paid volunteer”, an oxymoronic, marginal, position.
So we arrive at a definition of “Herbertism”. This is the dominant model of parochial ministry in the Church of England, a development which grew out of our reverence for the life and ministry of George Herbert, which, in turn, is an expression of the Church of England’s need for ecclesial legitimacy in the years after the Reformation and Commonwealth. In Herbertism parsons are not just representatives of the Church of England, they are “the Church of England” in any given place or, more precisely, the particularity of organised religion in a locality: (think what the common attitude of “say one for me, vicar!” betrays about the relationship of the parson to the institution). The parsons’ work-place is the parish church, in which they are readily found at all hours of the day or night. They officiate at the rites of passage of a community, or a family or an individual: they will bless the opening of a cricket pavilion as readily as a marriage or a birth. The religion and deity which they represent are both benign, and they, remembering the gentlemanly roots of their profession, will never behave in an indecorous or discomforting manner. They are well-educated, highly-educated even, although their education should never come in between them and their parishioners, for much education about God is the product of “ivory-towers” and is “academic” and therefore repugnant to the needs of the church community. One acceptable characteristic of their learning is a tendency to be unworldly, and if this is expressed through eccentricity, then that is all to the good. They are ubiquitous, present for every activity in a community, whether “church” or “civic”. Their function in this ubiquity is to affirm and encourage, marking especially worthy contributions to community life by individuals or sections. They are society’s animateurs, that wonderful French concept by which an individual is responsible for “l’animation socioculturelle”. Like Mr Grace in Are You Being Served? they should expect to be wheeled on at the end of any function to proclaim “You are all doing very well”. In short, under Herbertism the clergy of the Church of England are to be omni-present, omni-competent and omni-affirming.
Look at the following definition of priestly praxis given by a prominent layman of the Church of the 1960s:
My parish priest enters completely into whatever activity he is engaged on at the moment, and is felt by others to be doing so: and yet he remains in a sense withdrawn, uncommitted. He can go from a funeral to a football match, from a committee to a confirmation class, giving to each all he has, as though their concerns were the only thing that mattered to him. He can switch from one wavelength to another, as it were, at the turn of a knob.56
In Herbertism, the parish priest is no more than a particularly well-worked transistor radio.
A story is told of how every evening the parish priest takes a short walk to the railway line that runs through his parish. When he gets there he stops and waits for the London express to pass by. Night after night a friendly parishioner notices this routine, and puzzled, one evening joins the priest at the level crossing. He asks the priest what is so fascinating about this particular train. The parish priest sighs. “Today I have printed the parish magazine, visited three people in hospital, chaired a meeting of the school governors, attended a meeting of the deanery mission plan committee, written to the Sunday school volunteers with the new child protection arrangements, completed the diocesan census returns and interred some ashes. Sometime later this week I have to write a paper on the licensing regulations for the church hall, choose next month’s hymns and write three sermons for Sunday. So it’s pleasant to come down here and watch the only thing in the parish that I don’t have to run.”
This is part of a series of posts. Others in the series are:—
- KGH : Death to Herbertism
- KGH : Lin-Chi, the Curate and the Anglican Divine
- KGH : “…how many live so unlike him now…”
- KGH : The only thing I don’t run
- KGH : The Cult of Nice
- KGH : A little soft around the edges
- KGH : Herbertism Habilitated
- KGH : +ABC and the 3 Ws
- KGH : Witness
- KGH : Watchman — The Biblical imagery
- KGH : Watchman — Cultural Literacy
- KGH : Watchman — A Dissenting Opinion
- KGH : Watchman — Richard Niebuhr, Christ and Culture
- KGH : Watchman — Niebuhr and finding meaning
- KGH : Watchman — Niebuhr’s “Five Types” of culture
- KGH : Watchman — Niebuhr’s legacy
- KGH : Watchman — Not Niebuhr, but Barth
- KGH : Weaver — What is a “community”?
- KGH : Weaver — Bonhoeffer and community
- KGH : Weaver — Communities and Ethics
- KGH : Weaver — a human society unlike other human societies
- KGH : Weaver — Bonhoeffer’s “Life Together”
- KGH : Weaver — “Life Together” 1
- KGH : Weaver — “Life Together” 2
- KGH : Weaver — “Life Together” 3
- KGH : Weaver — “Life Together” 4
- KGH : Weaver — “Life Together” 5
- KGH : Weaver — The Head of the House
- KGH : Weaver — An insight from the Masai
- KGH : Weaver — Weaving, Worship and Worth
- Thomas Hinde, A Field Guide to the English Country Parson, (London: Phoebe Phillips/Heineman, 1984), p. 4. [↩]
- Sandy Mitchell, ‘Britain’s Best-Loved Parson,’ in Country Life, 22 September 2005, pp. 85–86. [↩]
- Figures up to 1976 taken from Anthony Russell, The Clerical Profession, (London: SPCK, 1980), pp. 262–263. Figures for 2004/2005 taken from the Church of England’s Statistics website (accessed 14 June 2007). [↩]
- J. J. Blunt, The Parish Priest: His Acquirements, Principal Obligations, and Duties (1856), quoted in Anthony Russell, The Clerical Profession, (London: SPCK, 1980), pp. 53-54. [↩]
- John Clubbe, A letter to free advice to a young clergyman (1770), quoted in Russell, Profession, p. 80. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 85. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 88. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 101. [↩]
- William Jesse, Parochialia, or observations of the discharge of parochial duties, (1785), in Russell, Profession, pp. 114-115. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 187. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 143. [↩]
- Diana McClatchey, Oxfordshire clergy, 1777-1869 (1960), quoted in Russell, Profession, p. 152. [↩]
- Charles Kingsley, Politics for the People (1848), quoted in Russell, Profession, p. 168. [↩]
- Alexander Gerard, The Pastoral Care, (1799), quoted in Russell, Profession, p. 170. [↩]
- Herbert, Ch. 23 ‘The Parson’s Completeness’ in John N. Wall (ed.) , Parson, Temple, p. 88. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 219. [↩]
- Richard H. Hall, ‘Professionalization and Bureaucratization’ in American Sociological Review, Vol. 33, No. 1. (Feb., 1968), pp. 92-104. [↩]
- Hall, ‘Professionalization’, p. 93. [↩]
- Hall, ‘Professionalization’, p. 93. [↩]
- Russell, Profession, p. 233. [↩]
- Martyn Percy, Clergy: The Origin of the Species, (London: Continuum, 2006), p. 26. [↩]
- The Times, 5 November 1900, quoted in Callum G. Brown, Religion and society in twentieth-century Britain, (Harlow: Longman, 2006), p. 44. [↩]
- Quoted in Adrian Hastings, A history of English Christianity 1920-1990, 3rd ed., (London: SCM, 1991), p. 71. [↩]
- Hastings, History, p. 71. [↩]
- Charles Forder, The Parish Priest at Work, (2nd, rev., ed.), (London: SPCK, 1959), p. 127. Emphasis added. I am grateful to the Very Rev’d. R. M. C. Jeffery for directing me to Forder’s book. [↩]
- Forder, Parish Priest, p. 76. [↩]
- Percy Dearmer, The Parson’s Handbook, (multiple editions from 1899 to 1965!), Michael Hocking, The parish seeks the way: a strategy for a working class parish, (London: A. R. Mowbray, 1960), Trevor Beeson, New area mission: the parish in the new housing estates, (London: A. R. Mowbray, 1963), Ernest Southcott, The parish comes alive, (London: A. R. Mowbray, 1956), Robert Martineau, The office and work of a priest, (Oxford: A. R. Mowbray and Co. Ltd, 1972). [↩]
- There was such a spate of “priest in the parish” books in the late 1950s and early 1960s that David Paton, editor of the SCM Press, and later Secretary of the Missionary and Ecumenical Council of the Church Assembly, observed, “If a vicar writes a book about his parish, then it means he is leaving.” Paton was a shrewd observer of the Church of England. (Private correspondence with R. M. C. Jeffery). [↩]
- Paul Ferris, The Church of England, (London: Gollancz, 1962), p. 95f. [↩]
- Rowan Williams, Anglican identities, (London: Darton, Longman & Todd, 2004), p. 110. [↩]
- Quoted in Mark Chapman, ‘Theology in the Public Arena: The case of South Bank Religion’ in Jane Garnett, et. al., (eds.), Redefining Christian Britain: Post 1945 Perspectives, (London: SCM Press, 2007), p. 97. [↩]
- The Country Parson desires to be all to his Parish, and not only a Pastor, but a Lawyer also, and a Physician… Now as the Parson is in Law, so is he in sickness also: if there be any of his flock sick, he is their Physician, or at least his Wife, of whom in stead of the qualities of the world, he asks no other, but to have the skill of healing a wound, or helping the sick. (Ch. XXIII, The Parson’s Completeness [↩]
- Nicolas Stacey, Who cares, (London: Anthony Blond, 1971), p. 97. [↩]
- Stacey, Who cares, p. 197. [↩]
- Stacey, Who cares, p. 158. [↩]
- There were and are dangers in this approach, neatly identified by Alec Graham in an article in Theology in June 1968: “The clergy can still fill the gaps in the social services and act as a kind of ecclesiastical counterpart to the “God of the gaps”, but this cannot compensate for the fact that clergy no longer figure prominently in the magistracy, no longer largely control primary education, no longer are responsible for poor-relief, nor do the Church’s views on moral matters carry the weight that they once did.” (p. 244). (We’ll come across Graham’s article again). [↩]
- Nick Stacey, ‘How the Church could Survive’, in The Observer Weekend Review, 23 May 1965. [↩]
- Eric Mascall and Bryan Wilson, responses to ‘How the Church could survive’, in The Observer Weekend Review, 30 May 1965. [↩]
- Quoted in James Bogle, South Bank religion: the diocese of Southwark 1959-1969 (London: Hatcham, c2002), p. 26. Emphasis added. [↩]
- Bogle, South Bank religion, p. 26. [↩]
- Stacey, Who cares, p. 77. [↩]
- The ‘Paul Report’ of 1964 was written by Leslie Paul, and marked the first time that the Church had used the skills of a lay, trained, sociologist and statistician. It was bitterly resented by most in the Church, partly for its conclusions (replacing freehold with a time-limited leasehold, increasing group- and team-ministries, and imposing regional patronage boards for the various confusions of lay, college and episcopal patronage), but mostly for its methods. The letters page of The Church Times was filled for the four months after the report’s publication. At first, the writers, including a number of letters from the common rooms of theological colleges, were broadly in support of Paul’s conclusions, but gradually opposition won out, and Paul’s recommendations were watered down, and set to one side and ignored until the decade was over. The irony is, forty-five years on, as most of Paul’s recommendations are in place (especially with the introduction of the Clergy Terms of Service Pastoral measure in the 2004 General Synod), is that Paul was hopelessly and spectacularly wrong. His whole report was based on the assumption that the previous fifteen years high numbers of ordinands would continue, in fact increase, in the coming ten years to 1971. Instead the publication of his report coincided with the precipitous collapse of ordination numbers. The sixty-two recommendations would have been impossible to implement without those increased ordinations. In fact, the difficulties of much of the last forty years of ‘clergy deployment’ has come from attempting to square the circle of Paul’s assumptions and the reality of numbers. As Adrian Hastings put it in his judgement on Paul: “There is something rather pathetic, indeed a little ludicrous, about the Church turning for the first time, in this new age of efficiency, to lay sociology to obtain a thoroughly professional view of what it should be doing with its priests and how many of them it would have, and being quite so grotesquely misled.” (Hastings, History, p. 535). [↩]
- Chapman, ‘Public Arena’, p. 93. [↩]
- Donald Hughes, ‘Neo-Matins’, in Prism, No. 85, May 1964, p. 68. [↩]
- Stuart Jeffries, ‘Fay Weldon: Lie back and think of Jesus’, The Guardian G2, 5 September 2006, p. 10. [↩]
- I don’t give a reference for this article, as I don’t want to identify, even by the name of the newspaper, the clergyman and his wife. [↩]
- Yvonne Warren, The cracked pot: the state of today’s Anglican parish clergy, (Stowmarket: Kevin Mayhew, 2002), p. 13. [↩]
- Skye Jethani, ‘iChurch: All We Like Sheep: Is our insistence on choices leading us astray?’ in Leadership Journal, Summer 2006. Available online here. Accessed 20 August 2007. [↩]
- Hastings, History, pp. 614-615. [↩]
- Bryan Wilson, quoted in Paul Ferris, The Church of England, (London: Gollancz, 1962), p. 12. [↩]
- Bryan Wilson, Religion in Secular Society: A Sociological Comment, (London: C. A. Watts, 1966), pp. 81–84. [↩]
- R. Towler and A. Coxon, The Fate of the Anglican Clergy: A Sociological Study, (London: Macmillan, 1979), p. 54–55 [↩]
- I hate that phrase, because it turns “church” from a noun into an adjective. Like the unhappy use of “christian” to mean ‘a good and ethical attitude to others’, “being church” is just one step away from “being churchy”. [↩]
- Rowan Williams, ‘The Christian Priest Today’, a lecture give at Ripon College, Cuddesdon, 28 May 2004. Available online here. Accessed 20 August 2007. [↩]
- Not “misunderstood”, because that implies an attempt has been made to understand. “Un-understood”, because it has not been thought necessary to make the attempt, or even that there is anything there to understand. [↩]
- Humphrey Mynors, ‘What I look for in my Parish Priest’, Theology, (LXXI/572), February 1968 p. 64. Emphasis added (although you could fairly italicise the whole passage). This is taken from an address to the Guildford Diocesan Clergy Conference, and Sir Humphrey (yes, really!) was deputy governor of the Bank of England, and the son, nephew and grandson of six priests. [↩]