The Archbishop’s Remarks this morning

No, not the Thought for the Day but the interview afterwards.

Justin WelbyThe reality is that where you have a good vicar you will find growing churches.

[The church] needs to be very flexible in how it engages locally and it needs to be very clear about it’s intention of growing numbers. It doesn’t happen accidentally. All the research we’ve got is that if we don’t actually set out to grow the number of people and draw people to the reality of the love of God in Jesus Christ it doesn’t happen. It’s not an act of collateral benefit to existing [congregations]. So you’ve got to be very intentional and you’ve got to be very flexible about how you do it.

Some people are not very happy about this.

Was the Archbishop saying that if your congregation isn’t growing that you’re a bad vicar, or did he mean something else?

Remember three days ago when I said that the honeymoon will have to end at some point for Welby? First lovers’ tiff on the horizon?

20 Comments on “The Archbishop’s Remarks this morning

  1. Have to say that I am not convinced that growth=good vicar either. I know of at least 1 church where they have seen net growth but a lot of people who had previously been actively involved in the life of the church have left because he was not good at building relationships.
    I think that some churches have got growth built into their DNA from a previous incumbent and that it is infectious in the way that those that join seek to join in with it. You don’t need a good vicar to come in and keep this going, you just need someone who is not completely disastrous.
    Likewise I think that there are some churches that need to be torn down to the foundations before being built up again (the people, not necessarily the building!), which takes a good vicar to do and can take a long time to happen.

    So, in answer to YOUR question, I think that this could be the end of the “honeymoon” unless ++Justin explains himself in a way that placates (most of) those that are currently aggrieved.

    • I agree with most of that, except the vicar-focused bit: tearing down and rebuilding needs to be driven by the entire congregation to avoid being oppressive. Anglicanism needs to get away from its authoritarian, clergy-focused model. Lay presidency, and empowered congregational meetings, would be good places to start.

      • Have to disagree. I have been at, and know of, congregations that refuse to change. A priest in those situations MUST tear that down and build from the bottom up, regardless of anyone joining in or not. To not do so would be failing in his/her role to build up the body of Christ.
        That is not to say that authoritarianism is the way forwards, far from it. But when the rest of the church refuses to change then the authority is there to be used!

        • Why “must” a priest impose their will on the congregation? Perhaps the priest is wrong.

          If they’re right about the need for change, it’s wrong to impose it by force, instead of to build consent. If the congregation refuse to budge, on their heads be it.

          • Have I not spelled out the situations in which I am saying this must happen well enough? I am not saying that it should happen in every situation, only in those where the the church members have decided that can’t be bothered with growth. THAT is a situation where there is no doubt that the priest wanting growth is right. To just leave it “on their heads” is poor shepherding.
            This doesn’t mean that it is always going to be painful, nor that the pain will be the same for everyone concerned, but particularly for an Anglican church, it is VITAL that they seek to be an outward-thinking, growth-oriented body, not one that is inward and backward-in-coming-forward.
            If a priest leaves a situation like that and does nothing then he/she is complicit in it and deserves to be removed and retrained or defrocked for failing in their duty of care for the spiritual well-being of their parish.

            • My objection’s not about the merits of the minister’s objectives, but the principle of them having the right to impose their will on their congregation.

              That said, the constitution isn’t a suicide pact. Can you think of a structure that’d limit the exercise of such a power to these extreme circumstances?

              • There is a structure that restricts it, it’s called the hierarchy. PCCs, bishops, archdeacons etc all play a part. Believe me, I’ve been there too!

                But the key thing is that a vicar/priest/minister has the “cure of souls” ( and as such must fight for the church to put that at the centre of parish life. If they don’t, then it is the vicar’s role to rectify that. Of course, even a church that couldn’t give a stuff about changing can still kick up a fuss if they don’t care for what the vicar is doing. There are, sadly, many stories out there of vicars who were bullied out by PCCs that were happy with things staying as they were, so bringing change is never guaranteed, regardless of means and methods.

                Also, just to point out, it would never be a case of the vicar forcing his/her will upon the congregation if they sought to rebuild the DNA of the church. It would be a case of them forcing God’s will upon them. After all, reaching out the those not already in relationship with God is the whole point of the Gospel!

        • When I arrived in my current parish, the same clique had been re-electing each other on the PCC for more than 20 years and pretty much paralysed any initiative from the congregation, of course you sometimes have to tear down.

  2. I’m coming round to the view that the new churches have a better system with elders anyway. One person can’t be good at everything. I have known a very good vicar at one church be a bit of a failure at the next one. His weaknesses were all exposed there by a criticising church. You can only be “good” if your weaknesses are lovingly covered by others in the church.

  3. The cult of leadership marches ever onwards. It’s authoritarian, and sets the leader up for a fall.

    There are rare, gifted people who draw others in by force of personality — Richard Holloway drew a distinction between “intrinsic” and “extrinsic” authority –, but no organization can run on that basis.

    Honeymoons always end. If Welby wants to build a relationship, he needs lose the management-speak, and look at deeper questions.

  4. I think that he is partly right. I am concerned that his comment is a bit too utilitarian for my taste — I think that people should be judged on their efforts and ability rather than their results (although obviously the two are strongly correlated in practice). Secondly, it is not just about “bums on pews”, although that is part of it. How good a vicar is depends on how well he fulfils the purposes of the presbyterian vocation. From what I see the purposes of a presbyter in the Church are (as recorded in the New Testament): teaching faithfully sound doctrine; prayer; administering the sacraments; pastoral work; maintaining moral discipline in the congregation; maintaining spiritual discipline in the congregation; helping the laity realise their gifts so that they can go out and evangelise, teach etc.; and, especially in these degenerate days, evangelism. Perhaps the clergy can add more. A good vicar should either excel at all of those or (where appropriate) have at least one member of his congregation excel where he falls short so that the work of the Church is done well. So a good vicar should work to have his congregation grow, either indirectly through the efforts of his congregation or, especially if that is not working, directly himself or (preferably) both. That is part of what makes a good vicar, but it is not the only thing that makes a good vicar. A good vicar marked by (baring my initial quibble) growth of his congregation, but a lot of other things as well.

  5. Rejoice! Church growth is on the agenda !!

    Yes, ++Justin was a bit simplistic/ clumsy (does his good vicars=church growth apply to good Archbishops too?) but the big picture is that church growth is going to be a key priority within the Church of England in the next few years – that has to be a good thing.

    • “(does his good vicars=church growth apply to good Archbishops too?)” Eaglet2

      Not sure about Archbishops but it doesn’t appear to apply to Diocesan Bishops. Attendance in Southwell & Nottingham diocese is falling through the floor but the Bishop has just been promoted to Durham!

  6. I cannot escape the suspicion that Welby prefers to talk about anything other than Christian teaching – banks, credit unions, food banks, etc etc. It may go down very well with sections of the media and with his chums in the House of Lords, but the ministry of the Archbishop is to lead the Church, and that inescapably means “doing” religion. Perhaps he doesn’t know enough about it? Perhaps he wants to avoid controversy at all costs? perhaps he thinks it will put bums on pews? But if he continues this way he will be remembered only as a dispenser of trivialities.

    • Dear Sigfridi,

      I think we need to be careful to distinguish between what the ++ talks about and what the ++ is reported as talking about. I suspect he talks a lot about christian teaching, but that isn’t news, even to the C of E newspapers!

  7. Agreed. It’s fair to say that that this is a major cultural shift – a lot of clergy simply have not any training in growing churches, and have grown up in situations where it’s not part of the mindset or expectation.

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