The leaking in The Times of a confidential in-house paper on radical restructuring of the Church of England is yet more worrying news. It contains all the management-speak that we have become accustomed to under Justin Welby, but also new details about a diocese merger and specialist episcopal non-geographical appointments, including a ‘Brexit Bishop’ and a ‘Covid Bishop’. How this is supposed to help vicars on the ground is hard to see.
As a vicar of twenty-five years, I despair at the creeping corporatisation of the national Church. Since the mid-1970s, there has been a persistent push from the centre to reject our Anglican sensibilities of subsidiarity and parochialism, resulting in an increasingly politicised Church. A command and control governance overseen by a myriad of Anglican policy czars (usually to the Left) is only going to alienate the laity further and fail to energise the base.
There is an unhealthy paternalism here that seeks to present the clergy as the fonts of all knowledge. It smacks of clericalism. Our job is to get our own house in order first, say our prayers, and achieve theological consensus before we attempt to tell the rest of the country what to think. We utterly failed to achieve this during the pandemic, instead morphing from priests into public health officials at a time when our congregants wanted God. We became, as historian Tom Holland warned, a second rate version of the Liberal Democrats.
No doubt official voices will clamber to the airways to say this is all being done to “release the laity”. But if we continue to tread down this path of bureaucratisation and politicisation, we will only end up with a depleted and demoralised flock. The bemusement from the public and the pews is matched by the behind the scenes frustration of burnt out bishops and archdeacons too drained by the paperwork to pastor their own clergy. The bloated centre ends up devoured in its own feedback loop.
UnHerd contributor Douglas Murray predicted that the West was overdue for a new religion, arguing that the old supernatural religion of Christianity will emerge with a non-woke face. I would add that for this version of Christianity to work, it must integrate a deep intellectual patrimony as an alternative to the trans-humanist digital technocracy that the Church is drifting towards. This is a very real fear for civil and religious society, but I worry that the CofE is too busy reorganising itself with nonsensical roles and titles to take note.
Daniel French is the vicar of Salcombe, Malborough with South Huish, cohosts the Irreverend podcast and occasionally writes for various publications on faith. He tweets as @holydisruptor