Church of England

Bishop of Chelmsford repudiates episcopal "talent pool"


It was a glorious sermon, with an audacious, if not subversive (which some may call prophetic) intervention on the Church of England’s emerging “talent pool” approach to recognising bishops. St Paul’s Cathedral hosted the consecration of the Rev’d Anne Hollinghurst as Bishop of Aston, the Ven Ruth Worsley as Bishop of Taunton, and the Rev’d Ric Thorpe as Bishop of Islington. The sermon was delivered by the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev’d Stephen Cottrell.

He began with wafty angels ascending and descending; the heavens opening to reveal the Son of Man (Jn 1:51). And he then lured the congregation into sentient slumber, telling us of grandmas who called him “duck” and “angel”, with homely tales of tea and toast. “Be an angel, put the kettle on..”

But then he segued skilfully into ominous messengers and guardians, telling us of the pastoral imperatives of love and care: “So let us think about the work and office of a bishop in these three ways – messenger, sentinel, pastor..”

This ministry I have been called to is not something I put on in the morning and take off at night, it is a sacramental identity, part of what it means for me to be baptised, to be a follower of Jesus. And one of the first responsibilities of a bishop is to be an angel, a messenger, an evangelist, the one who endlessly and constantly tells the story of what God has done in Christ.

And although I don’t much like the soundbite culture we live in, if you pushed me into a corner after the service and demanded one from me, I think I would say that for our culture at this particular time, it is that in Christ you can become yourself. You can be set free from the snares and temptations of a world that tells you you aren’t good enough, good looking enough, thin enough, clever enough, young enough, and find a new identity and become completely yourself as you are meant to be in the communion with God that the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ makes possible.

And it gets better:

As teacher and evangelist this is the first job of the bishop. Not MD of CofE plc; not safe pair of managerial hands, not just emerged slick and shiny from the talent pool, not even graduate of the latest whizzy business school offer of better organised salvation (though these things can help us), but storyteller, poet, theologian: a gospel person, with the good news of Christ and on our lips and in our hearts, and this good news translated into the languages of the smorgasbord of cultures in which we serve. Which is also why being a bishop is so dangerous. We either draw back from such an uncomfortable proclamation. Or end up holding back the Spirit’s sure advance into all truth. Meanwhile, to o many people still treat us with the wrong sort of deference and respect, and believing our own publicity, we collude.

And he quotes Gregory the Great:

“A sentinel always selects a high vantage point in order to be able to observe things better. In the same way, whoever is appointed as a sentinel for a people should live on the heights so that he can help his people by having a broad perspective.”

And then comes to the nexus of his ministry imperative:

What are we looking at? Where do we go? To whom do we speak? What is our perspective? What demands attention? And what is it we choose to ignore? Are we just going to be a church for those gathered in; or once again a church for all the world?

And he reminds us of Gregory’s exhortation to honesty, humility and aspiration, if bishops are to be leaders in the Church of Christ:

For to be a sentinel – a contemplative watchman for the Lord is, to quote Sr. Isabel Mary SLG ‘hard, combative and boring’; it is not to detach yourself from the world, but to stand on the heights and survey the world in all its joys and horrors, interpreting the world to the church and the church to the world, warning of danger when everyone is feeling safe, and proclaiming the victory of Christ when everything looks and feels defeated.

And, finally, he goes for the jugular:

So – a new line for the litany – Good Lord deliver us from successful bishops, from too well prepared or even too well organised bishops, from ready answer in the back pocket and PowerPoint strategy self-sufficient, all efficient bishops. Take us to those high places, places of perspective and reality, where we and all our schemes are set on fire, which, paradoxically for us, are also those places where life is raw, and pain and darkness requisite. Take us to the heights of prayer, to the depths of the scriptures, to the bottom step before the altar, to places of silent waiting where, with mitres off and staffs laid down, we will be replenished and know our need of God, and there be renewed and strengthened for the things that lie ahead as bishops of God’s church – messengers, sentinels and pastors.

Rarely does a bishop – an Anglican bishop – proclaim such a forthright, prophetic message of the episcopal imperative. We can’t escape “the soundbite culture we live in”, but the Church can escape the managerialist mentality of “MD of CofE plc”. In this, he echoes the concerns of the Rev’d Canon Professor Martyn Percy, Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, whose response to the Green Report for Talent Management for Future Leaders.. was equally prophetic:

The report expects to see all senior leaders equipped with a standard toolkit of MBA-type organisational skills. But it does not say how this might connect with the primary calling of bishops as “shepherds of Christ’s flock and guardians of the faith of the apostles”. Or what the implications for public ministry might be if bishops now move from being chief pastors to chief executives. Despite the report’s stated aspiration to increase diversity in senior leadership (much needed), there seems to be no space for the bishop as scholar, evangelist, contemplative, theologian, prophet, or pastor. Or scope for senior church leaders who might be visionaries, risk-takers, and pioneers.

Bishops cannot be “slick and shiny” safe pairs of hands from “the latest whizzy business school”. Such is the way of the world: it is how political parties now determine vocation; a touch of diversity sprinkled with celebrity and ephemeral photogenicity which all combine to trump decades of party loyalty and philosophical integrity. Those who are ‘approved’ to stand for Parliament are those whose beliefs are agreeable to the elite and whose ‘talents’ are universally admired.

But bishops cannot be so discerned: far from being “slick and shiny” and “safe pairs of hands”, bishops must be prepared to get dirty, and, if necessary, to hold their hands in the fire; to proclaim unpalatable truths when they might offend; to preach the gospel of salvation in season and out. Oh, don’t expect some appointed developmental committee of technocratic elites to approve of your visionary candor, which they will mistake for insolence. And don’t bother waiting for your MBEs or OBEs or knighthoods to affirm your tortuous ministerial contemplations or your prescient tales of looming apocalypse: these things are commended to the false prophets of inoffensive flattery and politically-correct flummery.

Politicians no longer do poetry or theology. God forbid that bishops ever cease doing prophecy.

  • Demon Teddy Bear

    The establishment can only appoint (which, under a mass of smoke and mirrors, is what it does) executives. Nor has it any intention of appointing anybody not pliable in principle. The current bishops represent nobody outside of a tiny clique.

    • Mike Stallard

      Tiny? Not so.
      There are an awful lot of people where they came from.
      As the organisation sinks into history, the number of Bishops grows very fast until, in the end, there is nothing left except the Bishops presiding over empty churches.
      This is already happening with alarming rapidity.

  • alternative_perspective

    Bishops talking to bishops. Seriously, who turns up to these cathedrals to hear such stuff, or are these cathedrals filled with other bishops and whipped clergy?
    I find it difficult to imagine the laity turning up to listen to such naval gazing opinion; whether right or wrong.
    I feel for the ABoC, he seems to have a really rubbish job.

  • Pope Francis put it thus recently:

    “We can get caught up in measuring the value of our apostolic works by the standards of efficiency, good management and outward success, which govern the business world.

    Not that these things are unimportant, of course. But we have been entrusted with a great responsibility, and this is why God’s People rightly expect accountability from us but the true worth of our apostolate is measured by the value it has in God’s eyes, to see and evaluate things from God’s perspective, calls for constant conversion in the first days and years of our vocation and, need I say, it demands great humility.

    The cross shows us a different way of measuring success. Ours is to plant the seeds. God sees to the fruits of our labors. And if at times our efforts and works seem to fail and not produce fruit, we need to remember that we are followers of Jesus Christ and his life, humanly speaking, ended in failure, the failure of the cross.”

  • Owl

    Excellent. I like the idea of a Bishop who actually believes what he preaches. I may not agree with him but he has my full respect and attention as I believe that his belief is genuine. A nugget of gold in these PC days.

  • carl jacobs

    a bishop is to be an angel, a messenger, an evangelist

    This is all well and good, Mr Bishop, Sir.

    Except the bishops have their feet firmly welded into the offices and interests of the state. They preach a message that was long ago made subservient to the needs of the state. They haven’t so much as the courage to call out the wolves among their fellow bishops who even now steer their church along paths dictated by the state and the culture it leads. Where is the sentinel crying “Alarm!” as the CoE prepares to surrender to the dictates of post-modern culture and its idol of self-worship? The CoE is becoming a clone of TEC. Who leads this headlong rush down the Gadarene cliffs but these selfsame sentinels, messengers, evangelists?

    If these bishops were faithful to their calling, they would despise the state of the institution they serve and thus seek to cleanse it with a whip. But they are not willing. Let the bishops state clearly the “uncomfortable proclamation” that the wrath of God burns white hot against a stiff-necked and idolatrous people. Let them like Jeremiah preach judgment to a deaf nation, and perhaps end up three days in the pit for their efforts. Not enthroned and feted in palaces. Not honored with titles and robes. Not seated in positions of authority and power. Let them be despised and rejected for the sake of Truth.

    The crowd says “We play the tune so you must dance. We play the dirge so you must mourn.” And the bishops think themselves courageous for suggesting a small change in key or perhaps a few modified notes. Let them instead tear up the sheet music in front of the crowd. Then we will once again see angel and messenger and evangelist.

    • Mike Stallard

      Authority to speak the Will of God:
      Where does it come from?
      From tradition?
      From the majority of pew fillers?
      From the very complex, much discussed and very often contradictory Bible – or just the New Testament?
      From the bishops who have sworn allegiance to HM the Queen?
      From individuals who think they are specially gifted?
      From other Churches and Faiths?

      The CoE has absolutely no answer to this.

  • David

    Preach the gospel, in season and out of season, for that is the primary job of a bishop.
    But as in the Wesley’s time we get time servers and the politically acceptable appointmented, not gospel preachers. Apart from a few, the Good News is being spread not from the top, but from some of the roots.

    • Merchantman

      From what material did the Lord himself choose?

      • David

        From whatever situations presented itself to him in ordinary life.

  • Martin

    Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel. Whenever you hear a word from my mouth, you shall give them warning from me. (Ezekiel 3:17 [ESV]

    And if the watchman sees wickedness should he not warn, and if he does not warn is not the blood of the wicked on his head?

    Seems to me that the bishops of the CoE failed to warn of the wickedness of ‘gay’ marriage and chose, instead to follow convention. What then of their flock, are they caring for them in not warning?

    If they can’t warn of evil can they preach the gospel? Do they even know what the gospel is if they don’t know their duties?

  • Sigfridiii

    Always fashionably risque, but he never actually delivers the gospel – which requires repentance, not an admiring audience.

  • Ian G

    Given the above job description, what are the chances of such a person getting through CACTM/ACCM or BAM or BAP or whatever initials it is called by these days? As for a vacancy-in-see committee… I was told that discernment is a process. Actually, it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. And therein lies the problem, God is out; committees are in.

  • jsampson45

    I don’t see any biblical distinction between a bishop and a pastor or elder. The C of E version (as opposed to the biblical version) of a bishop will need all the skills appropriate to the job and I should think will have little time to preach the gospel.

    • dannybhoy

      I agree, but the CofE is the established church, and as long as we have men like the Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Rev’d Stephen Cottrell, at this juncture I don’t care what we call them. We need men and women who will stand for our Lord, follow our Lord, and inspire the laity into looking outwards rather than retreating inwards.
      In our own “pseudo-Anglican” experience, my wife and I feel there is plenty of ‘old building’ worship, plenty of reverence for ritual and robe, and ensuring we keep the ‘wrong sort of people’ out!
      The idea of trendy bishops complete with i-phones and pie charts frankly appals me.

  • Inspector General

    Having decided what the ideal bishop should be, the Church of England Revolutionary Committee is going to do its damnable best to see that no one else gets a look in.

    So it is going to nurture carefully selected grubs on royal jelly. As the grubs grow, any deviation from the blue print will be noticed by the overseeing ones (not angels, of course, but the revolutionary apparatchiks tasked with monitoring – to wit, the fully grown grubs, if you will…) and said jelly will be withheld, and the grub expelled from the queen’s nest to languish forever as a thin worker at the sharp end.

    This disgraceful setup the established church has cursed itself with may work well in the world of social insects, but for humanity?

    Would Welby himself ever have made it to bishop. He came late to the cloth. One puts it to you all he would not. He was too much an unknown quantity. He hadn’t been monitored at a younger age when his direction could have been determined. He was too much of a risk to be made a bishop.

    It stinks. Absolutely stinks. No good will come of this central controlling, nothing at all…

    • Mike Stallard

      Maggots on the corpse…

  • len

    ‘What are we looking at? Where do we go? To whom do we speak? What is our
    perspective? What demands attention? And what is it we choose to
    ignore? Are we just going to be a church for those gathered in; or once
    again a church for all the world?’

    Seems like the church needs direction, wisdom, and the power to carry out ‘the great commission’ I wonder from where this help will come?…

    Jesus gave us the answer;

    ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes to you. Then you
    will be my witnesses to testify about me in Jerusalem, throughout Judea
    and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’.(Acts 1;8)

  • Mike Stallard

    If, instead of seeing the CoE as a branch of the Catholic Church, we start to see it as a protestant Methodist Church, perhaps that would help? The Bishops are the Superintendents. They should wear normal dress, be either men or women, elected, presentable, responsible. The services should stop pretending to be Roman Catholic and start to be what the CoE has always really been – protestant with the old three decker pulpit, the divine service read reverently by a person who has been specially chosen and blessed.
    At our village church, for instance, we should start to have Methodist Services with extemporary prayer, Bible readings and sermons based on the Word of the Lord. The Minister should be someone who really believes in preaching the Gospel of Christ and the social life should centre round the Bright Hour.
    Clothing? Best suit. Minister? Anyone who can do it. Congregation: the faithful of whatever sect. Supper of the Lord? Whenever is fitting and whenever the correct preparation has been done. Superintendent? Someone who sorts out the quarrels!

    • dannybhoy

      I would love to see extempore prayer in our church. Written prayer does nothing for me. I would like to see us more like the Methodists; providing they are devout Methodists!

      • layreader

        Come to our church one Sunday, Anglican through and through, to hear extempore prayer.

        • dannybhoy

          Oh don’t get me wrong. I came to salvation through a charismatic, evangelical Anglican church. I don’t mind our saying the Creed together as a statement of affirmation.
          But the formulaic prayers leave little room for the Holy Spirit to break through in a congregation..

    • alternative_perspective

      I think the concept of catholic and reformed is important.
      I would like to see more individual churches attempting to hold both in tension simultaneously rather than a few pretending to be more catholic than the Pope and others more reformed than Calvinists.

    • Harry

      There is already a Methodist Church. What a ludicrous contribution.

      • steroflex

        Harry, If you strip off the religious clothing and the lovely buildings, what you have left is surprisingly like the Methodist Church, don’t you think? Very much linked to the Labour Party. Men and women superintendents and ministers with enormous circuits. Friendly, informal approach with a very generous liberalism (compare say with the Baptists or the Pentecostalists). To me the theology seems very similar too.
        The question I want to ask is this: how many Methodists are signed up today? I thought is was just about 300,000. That proves nothing – but it does show that the approach is not bringing in the people any more.

  • mbtimoney

    I think one of the difficulties with the movement for ordination of women as bishops within the Church of England, and within other churches too, is that it tended to frame the arguments in terms of equality of power and leadership rather than equality of service. Being a bishop was seen primarily as a position of power that was denied to women, rather than being presented as a position of service to the Church. When ministry is conceived and presented primarily in terms of power and leadership rather than service, then the true nature of episcopal (and priestly) ministry is diluted.

  • Harry

    Women are forbidden from leading the Church. Full stop. They are pagan priestesses, nothing more or less.

    • ceige

      How can you perceive someone like Jackie Pullinger as forbidden by God from creating a church in the poorest place in the world because she is a woman? I am unsure who is committing the heresy here, calling the works of the Holy Spirit evil/bad is it not the unforgivable sin?