An unhappy pragmatist

by Richard on April 8, 2011

Angela Shier-Jones has been on a roll with her blogging recently, though for any Methodist with more than a passing interest in the affairs of the church it will likely make painful reading. Sometimes, of course, pain is good and necessary and what she has been saying should be carefully attended to. Her post this morning struck several chords with me. I hope I’ll be forgiven for lifting an extended quotation.

I only have myself to blame. I allowed myself to be seduced by the theology of the priesthood of all believers, to be intoxicated by the idea of truly representative ministry, where lay and ordained sought to model the coming kingdom by their work together in the circuits and local churches. Circuit ministry was different from Parish ministry I believed: diakonia, collegiality and collaborative leadership - lay and ordained - was written into our structures. Connexionalism bound us together in an outlandish equality before you God. Small rural churches were deemed as important to the body of Christ as large suburban churches were: a probationer minister was paid the same basic stipend as the President of Conference. Yes there was a hierarchy of sorts, but it tended to be based on respect and seniority, earned through fidelity to the Gospel and the service of your people rather than granted by job title. We were all under the same discipline of the Church which called us to a life of scriptural holiness and social justice.

Of course this was all an ideal - and yes - Of course I knew this - I’m not THAT much of an idiot: but it did seem to me at one time that it was an ideal, a model, that the Church was still holding up and striving for: The reconfiguration of the representative session of Conference as a means of ensuring parity between laity and clergy being but one recent example.

But I think I was mistaken. The dream was mine.

I can find little evidence in what I read of our new structures, disciplines, and forms of ministerial oversight of a theology that can be reconciled with a search for truly representative ministry or with the doctrine of the priesthood of all believers. To take but one example - gender equality : we have to concede that the number of women superintendents is declining, not increasing. Team focus has apparently led to a significant reduction of women in positions of leadership at Connexional level, and we are a long, long way from parity at District level. Have we unwittingly been walking backwards, by forging on with the management of our priorities without thinking through how this might impact on the practical outworking of our core doctrines?

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TonyBuglass 04.14.11 at 11:20 am

I’m surprised nobody else has commented on this - I haven’t been to her blog to see what has been said there, but I thought it might spark something here. Perhaps it smells too much of internal church politics for some of our regulars…

I have heard a few folk comment on the relative decrease in numbers of women superintendents. I have been a super for 13 years, in 2 circuits - 3, if you count the old and new versions of my current circuit separately. I am looking forward to handing it over in a few years, and hopefully concentrating on being the preacher, teacher, and pastor I was called to be. I am pig sick of the ’stuff’ which continues to cascade in our direction, frankly. And it explains why there are fewer women willing to be supers - they’re not daft enough to take it on!

All of which raises a few questions for me. It isn’t that anyone is saying women can’t be supers (although I was horrified to hear on the grapevine of a woman super who is having problems in a circuit reorganisation because one of the other supers is refusing to work with her - I thought we’d got rid of dinosaurs like that…), but that our structures are developing in ways which may be ‘male-manager’ shaped. Now, I have come to the conclusion that history is more often driven by cock up rather than conspiracy, so I don’t think this is a deliberate policy by men in suits on the top floor of Methodist Towers. I do think it is a consequence of our increasing adoption of business management-speak - the latest version of Ministerial Development Review is a case in point. Who is doing the theology here, about what it means to be the Church, the disciples of Jesus? Instead of buying into management structures which are very male-oriented (and which a lot of industry is now leaving behind, or so I’m told), shouldn’t we be critiquing such ideas in the light of the gospel, so developing people-centred and faith-centred management?

Don’t ask me how that works - I don’t have the skills to design such a structure (I had enough fun trying to design a new circuit!), but I’m one of the supers in the trenches with the troops trying to make it work, and I can understand why women (and quite a lot of men) are saying no to superintendency. I will not do it again when I leave this appointment. I’m joining with Angela in asking a question -surely someone has a clue as to the answers?

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