Hello everyone and welcome to this week’s video.
The senior staff team have just returned from our annual residential at Holland House, the Worcester Diocesan Retreat Centre. It was an opportunity to discuss the life of the diocese in a more general way, outside the confines of administrative process. These meetings are very helpful for sparking ideas and prayerfully discerning directions of travel to share with the wider community.
In the New testament leadership is always seen as a collective activity. Jesus sent the disciples out two by two. In the first Councils of the church recorded in Acts, there is clearly a primus inter pares, but he (and it always was a he then) announces a decision of the whole group arrived at after a process of prayerful discernment.
We have the first of our celebrate events this coming Saturday, which will be a chance to share where we are in our thinking about the next steps for our diocesan family, celebrate the good things that are happening and encourage one another with good ideas that have been fruitful in our parishes. It has been billed as a sort of ‘come and hear Bishop Richard’s vision for the diocese’. That vision is however a distillation of many conversations over the last two and a half years, it isn’t something I dreamed up in my study over COVID! So, if at the events the speakers slip carelessly into talk about ‘we’, its not the royal ‘we’, but I hope a genuine us, emerging from many voices across the diocese in conversation over the last two and a half years.
What is striking about the decision making we see in the early church in Acts 15 is a preparedness to live with complexity and hold a space for difference while decisions are being processed. They take their time, ensure they hear all the sides of the story, reflect on different practices and identify non-negotiable principles against which any decision needs to be judged. The senior staff try to do this in our decision making. When we appoint new clergy for example, we seek to hold a space open for all the aspects of the person to be considered. We are usually looking for a range of skills and character traits. No-one has all of them. Part of the discernment is to assign the right weight to each. The sense of a person’s calling to a parish is a combination of character, competence and chemistry. Prayerful weighing all those up is vital in coming to a spiritually discerned decision rather than a process akin to a job interview. Its an art not a science.
This is also why we do all we can to eliminate unconscious bias. At the short-listing stage personal details are removed so the panel can make an initial judgment on the basis of the persons experience and qualifications. The initial screening should be gender, age, disability and ethnicity blind. There is a joke (based in experience sadly), that all parishes are really looking for a new vicar who is married with at least three small children, 35 years old, but with at least 30 years parish experience, who is always out visiting and at every benefice event, but always in their study when needed and who preaches against sin but never upsets anyone.
There is a need for this kind of leadership and wisdom in our world at the moment. The pressure to polarise into factions, each with a simplistic, non-negotiable view of how things should be done is very strong. People don’t like chaos and uncertainty. Where a combination of circumstances generates such uncertainty, the most pressing desire is often to make the difficult feelings go away. Simple winner takes all proposals become very attractive. Twitter and other social media platforms decrease people’s attention span and make it very difficult to live with nuance and complexity, even though life is usually nuanced and complex. The decisions leaders have to make rarely please everyone. Sometimes its even better to make wrong decision in good faith than to make no decision at all. Its possible to do the wrong thing for the right reasons and vice versa. I’m sure that’s why Paul encourages us to pray for all in authority, political and spiritual. We certainly need it!