Monday, 16 May 2011

Ministerial appointments

Our Superintendent has asked for his initial five-year appointment to be extended for a couple of years. As it happens, I'm all in favour, but I've never been too happy with these situations. Until quite recently, the slightest criticism of any minister, no matter how dire, was always met with the most appalling patronising speeches from those in power about how wonderful and special ministers were. The sun shone from every ordained backside, God was in his heaven, all was right with the world, and if the churches were unhappy that was their problem. If you run a church that way, is it any wonder if members vote with their feet?

The result, of course, was that it was almost impossible to get rid of any minister wanting to stay. I remember one in the late 1980's, who people were seriously unhappy with. He asked for an extra two years, and the vote, by a show of hands, didn't go his way. The Circuit Stewards announced a miscount, asked us to raise our hands again, and a couple of the people who voted neutral changes to a yes vote. They repeated this charade three times, and eventually got the result they wanted. We then decided that future extensions were to be decided by a paper vote, which at least stopped that nonsense.

Then we had the practice of Circuit Stewards going round with a minister coming to look at the circuit, telling us not to ask them questions, and assuring us that if we said no, we'd be left without a minister. In fact, of course, the worst that could happen is that we might be short of a minister for a year, while the existing Circuit ministers covered the extra churches. The result of this approach was that we had a couple of ministers that the churches were extremely unhappy with. That's obviously not in anyone's interest.

We've currently got a situatiuon where there's a shortage of Superintendents. The District Chair thinks the answer to this is for Circuits to amalgamate, so fewer are needed. As far as I can see, that makes even more work for them, and makes the job even less attractive. You don't solve a recruitment problem by working the present incumbents to death! What we need to do, of course, is to look at the role, lighten the burden a bit, and try to make it more attractive.

The result has been that Circuits have come under pressure to amalgamate. A very large Circuit has been formed in Birmingham, next to us, and it has financial problems. Allegedly, some are blaming this on the fact that we, and once other Circuit, refused to join. Our current Super is being very supportive over this, and if he moves, we're likely to come under pressure again.

That's fair enough, but I've just had an argument with one person at the meeting, who claimed that if we didn't grant the extension, we'd be compelled to amalgamate. I felt it was another piece of manipulation, and made it clear that I didn't believe there was any mechanism for compelling us. In the end, the guy half admitted it. I checked Standing Orders as soon as I got home, and sure enough, there doesn't seem to be any such provision. I've got no issues with Paul's extension, but I have very considerable issues with the stuff that goes on; our only chance of avoiding any more dodgy minsters they try to send us is to have an honest discussion, air any concerns, and reach an unmanipulated decision.


  1. You raise some very valid points here and I am sure that too often the threat of not having a minister is used. In reality it may be better to not have a minister that to have one who a) doesn't want to be there and only ended up there because of the stationing process, and b) is the proverbial square peg in a round hole.
    It strikes me that as in any occupation or profession there are people who are extremely able and those who are not - such is life.

    As for merging circuits this happened last year in our district and we now have a circuit that is 100 miles from one end to the other - what does this do to carbon footprints etc?

    The latest idea is a merging of two districts which would create an exceptionally large district and it seems to me not really serve much purpose - except a reduction in Chairs (two into one).

    I suspect you may well generate a few comments from this post and it will be interesting to see how the debate around the topic develops.

  2. I agree entirely, and I want to stop the threats; they're completely counterproductive. We need leadership which places the needs of the church first, rather than manipulating it for the sake of a bureacratic system which often seems to work in nobody's interest but its own.

  3. I wrote in the MR (I know how to live!) a few months ago about this, arguing quite simply that one size doesn't fit all. Having heard about various mega-circuits happening elsewhere in the land, we were faced with the question of what to do with the 4 circuits in Calderdale, and decided to join into 1. The alternative was possibly 2, but we could see that in time they might have to join simply on the grounds of viability. In general, it's working. It isn't a huge circuit, indeed it's no bigger than some where I've served previously. There are problems which have emerged since we joined, principally due to some things which weren't disclosed beforehand and perhaps should have been, but this isn't the place for that discussion.

    The relevance to this conversation is that the question posed to us by the District was which shape of circuit would be best for the churches in Calderdale. There was no policy decision "You will amalgamate or else!" As you say, the District has no power to enforce such a change upon circuits: the circuit meetings are the place for that decision, and that's that. As long as the circuit is viable, there is no pressure to change - if it ain't broke, don't fix it. The argument that we're short of superintendents was true before the "Mapping a Way Forward" process began, and was already becoming critical: in 2004, I knew of a minister who was being lifted from his first appointment after 4 years to become a super. Yes, he had prior work and life experience, but that doesn't necessarily translate into circuit experience which provides the wisdom needed for good superintendency. However, the situation now is that the number of circuits is somewhat reduced, and the need for supers reduced; it is now possible according to my Chair to contemplate stationing experienced ministers in non-superintendent appointments which need someone of that level of experience.

    One further comment about megacircuits: I hear along the grapevine that one of the very big ones has posted something like assistant chairs to oversee sections of the circuit. I'm open to correction on that, but if it is true it says the megacircuit was far too big to function as a circuit, and should not have been formed. All that has happened is that an additional level of bureaucracy has been added, and the existing circuit relationships possibly lost.

    I think there was a need to look at circuit and District boundaries - we had the same structures but a significantly smaller membership, and it was becoming unmanageable. However, a doctrinaire "amalgamate or else" policy would never work: if there is the slightest truth in the theory that this is to be mission-driven, the first question has to be "What would work best in this place?"

  4. I think that's about the size of it. I could see a mega-circuit working in a very rural area with scattered churches, for instance. But you've confirmed what I suspected, that some mega-circuits are having to develop pseudo-District structures with another level of superintendency. What's the use of that?

    As for amalgamating Districts, the Anglicans have a history of splitting dioceses, and appointing ever more bishops. We seem to be drifting in the opposite direction, without much thought being given to the process. Last year there was a proposal to amalgamate Birmingham and Wolverhampton Districts, producing a District about the same size as the Saxon kingdom of Mercia. The diocese was subdivided long ago, with good reason, so what made anyone thing such a huge district could work? The notable thing was that not a single argument in favour of a merger was ever put forward.

    It all seems to be predicated on the assumption that numbers will continue to decline, and that we just need to keep some semblance of the current structure going until we fade away. But what if the structure has something to do with the problems? It seems to me that the whole thing needs a radical rethink.