by Daniel French
Tuesday, 8
February 2022
Debate
10:08

A Covid Bishop is the last thing my Church needs

As a vicar of 25 years, I despair at the creeping corporatisation of the CofE
by Daniel French
Credit: Getty

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

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James Pence
James Pence
6 months ago

Excellent, if too short, article. Would love to hear you say more. The same thing is happening here in the colonies, where my own self-righteous and proudly woke denomination, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), has also become “a second rate version of Liberal Democrats” and our pastors have ceased being priests and over the past two years have also happily morphed into public health officials. The joke here is that “In order to say our name — Evangelical Lutheran Church in America — you have to lie three times.” Quite sad to see what the historic Christian Church has become and how easily the clergy have discarded their role of proclaimers of the gospel to embrace the role of being woke, hip, progressive social activists.

Derek Hackett
Derek Hackett
6 months ago

Well done Rev Daniel. It takes courage to speak out. As a Christian I am totally disillusioned with the response by the Anglican Church and the Scottish Church to the “engineered” pandemic. How can the church hierarchy call themselves representatives of God? Did Jesus not give succour and comfort to the sick, poor and leper’s? Shame on the church for being cowards and hypocrites,and hiding behind their portcullis Gates whilst their flock were left to fend for themselves without the comfort and spiritual support from their church leaders.
Let’s see more of the clergy come out of the woodwork and stand up for their beliefs, in spite of the lack lustre support from Welby and his woke cabal.

Michael James
Michael James
6 months ago

You have to admire the C of E’s imagination in finding ways to make itself irrelevant.

Matt M
Matt M
6 months ago

Spot on! I would like to read your thoughts in the final paragraph developed into a full article.

JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Matt M

Yes please!

V Solar
V Solar
6 months ago

‘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’. If you believe in the old supernatural religion you must surely also believe that it isn’t entirely down to us. People are sometimes converted without their expecting it to happen. I was.

Andrew Mildinhall
Andrew Mildinhall
6 months ago

I entirely agree but it’s exactly what has been happening elsewhere. The Archbishop and his allies have swallowed the business speak Bible which simply brings the church into line with everyone else. Gobbledygook from the centre created by people utterly out of touch with the troops at the sharp end. Far too much MBA inspired theory without any practical base. As you say the Anglican parochial structure with its strong tradition of subsidiarity is what makes it work. Take that away and there’s nothing left apart from the fringes.

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
6 months ago

Yes and this approach is mirrored in Methodism in England where the Church is considering appointing Bishops and has, of course, appointed a Diversity Director at a salary double that of the stipend of a Minister. Instead of seeking to convert the ungodly in England in the manner of their founder John Wesley they concentrate on closing their Churches and “managing decline” while preserving the paid functionaries as far as possible.
The congregation at my church gives voluntarily enough to pay for a minister his accommodation and pension etc and maintain the fabric of the church but they are Assessed by the circuit to deliver enough to fund two Ministers. The congregation are struggling to meet these demands which emanate from a remote and unresponsive bureaucracy that seems more intent on asset stripping and selling off the local churches than fostering their flock. If they were corporate they would at least have to answer to their shareholders.

Last edited 6 months ago by Jeremy Bray
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago

I’m not sure we need a new religion, the old one was pretty good, but such is human nature we prefer what looks like new even if it is just repolishing the old. (See: socialism, wokeness, save the planetism).

We need the church to concentrate on faith, goodness, kindness, restraint, eternal truths, and even godliness. Mr Welby seems entirely driven by management speak and trendiness. Even at the time it seemed a mistake that he got the job rather than John Sentamu, and that becomes more pointed with every utterance from Lambeth

Last edited 6 months ago by JR Stoker
Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
6 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

We’re all rebels without a cause now.

Adrian Maxwell
Adrian Maxwell
6 months ago

Years ago a clerical friend of mine said he was applying for the position of ‘Team Vicar’. Apparently the Church of England could no longer afford a vicar in every parish hence Team Vicars covering 5 or more parishes. At the time the church was investing in American supermarkets. I see now that the church has an endowment of £8 billion invested, bringing c.£1 billion a year. It is not surprising a corporatist momentum has overshadowed pastoral affairs.

Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Ethniciodo Rodenydo
6 months ago

“I despair at the creeping corporatisation of the national Church”
You get rid of God and morality what else do you have left besides a tambourine that is)



Last edited 6 months ago by Ethniciodo Rodenydo
Andrea X
Andrea X
6 months ago

I don’t really understand this:
“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. ”
I find this kind of language to be part of the problem.
Anyway, what I would like to ask the author is why he doesn’t convert to Catholicism; at least he won’t have a Bishop of Brexit.

Andrew Dalton
Andrew Dalton
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

My take on it is this.
Technocracy is the process by which politics and decision making is run by specific expertise, typically scientific. The CofE has embraced this form of technical, managerial governance in contradiction to its origins and legacy as a two milenia old religion.
This is an extremely paradoxical position for a religion to find itself considering that technocracy and theocracy (or in this case, a secular theology) are pretty much opposite ends of a spectrum.

I’m an atheist, and would like to consider myself a rationlist, for what those things are worth. However, I find the Church’s drift to these positions a little disturbing. Certainly more so than I ever thought I would.
A society is a plurality of views and experiences and the direction that society takes cannot be monopolised by a single ideology. As such, I think religion has offered a strong counterweight to technocracy, as it is something that can say “yes, we can do these things, but should we?” I need not agree with the Church’s reasons to acknowledge there is purpose to pause, reflection and argument.

Last edited 6 months ago by Andrew Dalton
JR Stoker
JR Stoker
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

He’ll have a Pope of Woke instead

Andrea X
Andrea X
6 months ago
Reply to  JR Stoker

Popes come and go.

John Hicks
John Hicks
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

I don’t understand the gobbledegook either. Smartening up decision making? A drifting church in a sea of inherited property? Inheritance through males only? Intellectualising the whole catastrophe? To say nothing of what all this is an alternative to? Maybe, “Praise the Lord and pass the ammunition!” might work.

Andrea X
Andrea X
6 months ago
Reply to  John Hicks

Hahahahaha, quite!

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
6 months ago
Reply to  Andrea X

That is not an easy conversion for a Protestant. You confess to priests. We confess without intermediary. That’s a big difference.

Peter Francis
Peter Francis
6 months ago

I am a churchgoer in Scotland. There is a very similar trend going on in the Church of Scotland, a (mildly) presbyterian denomination, despite no managerial connection to the Church of England. Thus you cannot blame everything on Justin Welby. Arguably, Welby’s predecessor did more harm to the UK by giving the nod to Sharia courts.
It seems to be only the older denominations that are haemorrighing congregation. The smaller scale, evangelical churches seem to be doing just fine.
There are far too many Christian denominations. There only really needs to be four: (1) homophobic and mysogynist; (2) homophobic and non-mysogynist; (3) non-homophobic and mysogynist and (4) non-homophobic and non-mysogynist.

Andrew D
Andrew D
6 months ago
Reply to  Peter Francis

or (5) doesn’t define itself in terms of gender or sexuality

Martin Smith
Martin Smith
6 months ago

Orthodoxy is the future of Christianity. Those former Churches such as the CofE are seeking to appease atheists and pantheists who neither believe in nor respect Christ. Welby and company want to become part of the technocratic elite. They have no chance. Roman Catholicism will split into traditional and a liberal wings. Cof E will go with the latter while the former will align with the Eastern Church. African Anglicans may declare UDI and go ‘east’. This traditonal bedrock will be the base of the revival in the west when it comes in a generation or so.

Liz Walsh
Liz Walsh
6 months ago

This recent pandemic social hysteria has revealed some very deep rot in the mission of the Anglican Church. That was a great short article, but inevitably leaves much implied. The speed with which the hierarchy jumped on the woke bandwagon (although “we follow The Science” didn’t take long to look like an increasingly undignified version of the game, Twister) revealed that when they had a choice to minister to the spiritual lives of their congregations or make points with the secular establishment, they did not hesitate a moment to chose the Idols of the Theatre, the world. Does the thinking of the current Archbishop and his minions ever include the honest question: what is the purpose of the Church? I would submit that the total ecclesiastical identity is only meaningful when arrived at by the sum of the souls it works to save. You can still see it going on, the working of the yeast, in functioning parishes. But by the time one arrives at prelates’ palaces, the leavening power is disappointingly played out. The Church in England deserves better than to go out with a whimper as a second-rate social services agency. In its long history, it has needed renewal before, and got it. Oremus.

Daniel Holt
Daniel Holt
6 months ago

Speaking as a fairly recent convert to faith, and one who lives abroad in a place where there isn’t the opportunity to attend Anglican service, I have to say that the Daily Prayer app that the C of E has developed has been wonderful for me. Of course, this isn’t ideal, but it has certainly drawn me closer in terms of my faith.

But I am uncomfortable about the points raised in this article. Some of the people I admire either belong to or have written warmly about or converted to the Orthodox church. Perhaps Justin Welby might take a leaf out Rowan Williams’ book and look a little more east this winter.

Hosias Kermode
Hosias Kermode
6 months ago
Reply to  Daniel Holt

There are other movements within the Anglican church, viz; Save the Parish, a group set up by Marcus Walker and Giles Fraser among others – two of the most interesting current Anglican priests. They are all about the importance of the local. I had the wonderful experience recently of hearing Fraser preach in St Barts the Great, oldest parish church in London (900th birthday next year). This is Marcus Walker’s imaginatively run parish. That Candlemas service had the best choir and most powerfully moving sermon I’ve heard in years. Father Walker is also running a six week course on Mediaeval Christianity, which is a wonderful opportunity to connect with the generations who worshipped before us. The gems are still there. You just need to know where to find them and then give them all the support you can. Interesting that St Barts manages to put more bums on seats each week than the horribly oatmeal Southwark Cathedral which I have also tried. Wonderful building, unbelievably bland clergy.

Dawn McD
Dawn McD
5 months ago

“holydisruptor, Batman!” I couldn’t resist. French is obviously talented at naming things (the Irreverend podcast? Brilliant).