Body of Christ, Cathedral Close, cathedrals, Cathedrals Working Group, Chapter, Church of England, Deans, individualism, Religious Communities, Residentiary Canons, Rule of St Benedict, Team Ministry, Training Curacy, Training Incumbent
This week’s report from the Cathedrals Working Group, speaks of the need for penitence for those occasions when relationships between cathedral and diocese, bishop and dean have broken down. And they might have added between residentiary canons and deans. Approaching any conversation about church institutions on one’s knees seems like a good starting point.
Tensions in a Cathedral Close are not new, they are the stuff of literature and occasionally of newspaper headlines. At best they are undignified and at worst deeply damaging to the wider Church’s reputation. So what is to be done about them? This latest report suggests yet more new rules and regulations but however well intentioned will this really solve the problem?
The truth is clergy falling out is not just a cathedral issue. Team ministries are also a regular source of clerical tensions to such an extent that bishops are often hesitant to create new team ministries and even break up the ones already existing. Similarly relationships between training incumbents and curates can be fraught and each year some curate has to be rescued and given a new parish.
Clergy do not always work well with other clergy. In part this just reflects their natural human frailty. But there is also something more fundamental going on. For all the talk of collaborative ministry, and no one ministering alone, the core model of the Church of England is the priest and his or her parish. The focus is the lone priest working their own territory; working in teams is the exception. Whatever the intention of their training, clergy emerge as solo artists.
Yet when Jesus sent out the disciples, he sent them out in pairs. From the beginning the model was of shared ministry. Similarly religious communities offer models of ministry as a corporate not an individual undertaking. Their rules of life, such as the Rule of St Benedict still have much to teach us:
This, then, is the good zeal which monks must foster with fervent love: The should each try to be the first to show respect to the other (Rom12:10), supporting with the greatest patience one another’s weaknesses of body or behaviour, and earnestly competing in obedience to one another. No one is to pursue what he judges better for himself, but instead, what he judges better for someone else. To their fellow monks they show pure love of brothers; to God, loving fear; to their abbot unfeigned and humble love. (Ch72)
We know the first apostles did fall out with each other and religious communities can be riven with division, but they nevertheless set the model of ministry as a shared undertaking. Perhaps if we could return to a sense of priests as “Clerks in Holy Orders”, individuals under authority, part of the wider corporate whole – just a part, one part among many, of the Body of Christ, then just perhaps many of the recommendations of this report would not be needed.
Sadly the individualism of the age has infected the ranks of the clergy as much as other parts of society. The opportunity for the Church is to model how it can be different, where individualism is not the hallmark, where teams are places of mutual flourishing and leadership inclusive and enabling.
Until the Church changes its underlying model of ministry, cathedral chapters will dysfunction, team ministries will fall apart and training curacies will come undone. If we do not foster a more shared approach to ministry then this latest report will just create new structures that will, in due time, create more trouble at cathedral and in ten or so years time create a new crisis leading to a new report. The deck chairs can be rearranged but the fundamental problem with the good ship, Church, remains.
Truly the place to start to a different future is on our knees.