Westcott Foundation 2016-17 Programme

WF programme 2016-17 cover smallerIt is a great pleasure to publish the programme for this year’s Westcott Foundation.

As ever, there is a range of study days to resource church leaders in worship and mission, preaching and pastoral ministry, drawing on the riches of the church’s tradition to enable engagement with the contemporary context.  You can download study day programme here: Westcott Foundation Study Days 2016-17 

The annual retreats (for Deacons, and for established clergy) make the most of Westcott House as an oasis in the heart of Cambridge, perfect for taking time out to reflect and recharge.  You can download the retreat programme here: Westcott Foundation Retreats 2016-17 

All events are also listed on the main Westcott House website and calendar

To book a place at any of the events, simply call 01223 741000, or use the downloadable booking form.

You can read more about our first event this year (5th October) here, timed to resource planning and thinking in the lead up to Remembrance Sunday, and in the wider context of current conflict and the centenary commemorations of WW1.

The Bible, the Great War, and Remembrance
Wednesday 5th October 2016, 10am-4pm
Led by Andrew Mein, Nathan Macdonald, and Ally Barrett
Remembrancetide is challenging. How do we meet so many diverse needs and expectations? How do we both remember the past fallen and speak into the complexity of contemporary conflicts? 100 years ago, as the world faced the horrors of total war, the Bible was crucial in enabling Christians to make sense of their experience. Introduced by the leaders of a Cambridge University research project on the use of the Bible during WW1, and by Westcott’s Director of Pastoral Studies, we will reflect on current practice of remembrance, and draw on the use of the Bible during 1914-18 to find new resources for theology and preaching.


Responsibility Without Authority

by Revd Prof Dr. Michael Fass (Senior Research Fellow, Westcott Foundation)


This article is about the way that those who do not take a Stipend from the Church can reflect on their roles and responsibilities and the way that the Church can respond to them.

It is written from an Anglican perspective but its content may be applied to other churches who engage with such individuals. It is about the local church and is not about the multiple ministries that many non-Stipended clergy have in that part of the world understood as secular.

As the Church experiences falling numbers of those who offer themselves for full time ministry, issues of engaging with those who are Ordained but who are not in receipt of payments becomes more important. For example, in the Church of England the number of non-Stipendiary clergy is increasing at c. 3,000 whilst the number of Stipendiaries is reducing to c. 8,000.  The CofE has never paid much attention to this part of its clergy workforce and has no non-Stipended individuals in any position of authority anywhere.  At a recent workshop at Westcott one Bishop was reported to have declared that the non-Stipended clergy in the CofE were: “simply too diverse to do anything about!”.

As a consequence, this group can often feel marginalised and neglected and whilst it is true that it is very diverse, ways can be found to identity and develop common ground about its purpose.

The use of the words “Non-Stipendiary” to describe the role are in themselves derogatory and a number of attempts have been made to soften them at the same time that a variety of alternative non-Stipend-taking models have been experimented with – and introduced. Some of these usages must be a complete mystery to non-Anglicans and increase the confusion around the titles which now include: Self-Supporting Ministers (SSM); Ministers n Secular Employment (MSE); Locally Ordained Minister (LOM/OLM); Collaborative ministry, Voluntary Minister and Clergy with Permission to Officiate (PTO).

These difference in nomenclature, usages and understandings of role are not a sufficient reason for failing to appreciate the part these individuals play in the life of the Church. Rather, they describe an institution that is struggling to understand the nature of ministry (and by implication of Holy Orders!) at a time of rapid change, the most significant of which is the decline in church numbers and the call to mission.

One aspect of the discourse about non-Stipends is that it is very often framed in negativity.  This comes from both those who are non-Stipends and from those who are responsible for them.

I call this the seesaw effect of the abused and the abusive. On one end are the abused who are called upon to perform all those tasks in ministry (and there are many!) that are too tedious or time-consuming to attract the attention of full-time ministers. These individuals can become dis-enfranchised, dis-interested and destructive to the life of the local church and make the lives of the full-timers miserable. At the other end of the seesaw are those who are themselves abusive.  That is, they will only do what is convenient to them and are not willing to share in the “heavy lifting” of the life of the local Parish or of the wider Church.

Of course, there are many non-Stipend ministers we know who are at neither of these extremes and enjoy fulfilling ministries but the fact that the Church has no deliberate policy about their work suggests that something is not right that needs to be addressed.

As an alternative to framing the discourse of the role of non-Stipends in such terms, I should like to examine what lies behind the role and to explore what it means to have “Responsibility without Authority” that is intended to make a contribution to a revised theory-practice paradigm for those who do not take a Stipend from the Church.

However, it is important that the direction of travel from which I come is appreciated. I was Ordained into the Scottish Episcopal Church 20 years ago after half a life-time of lay discipleship. I served as a Non-Stipended Team Priest in the Diocese of Edinburgh and as Priest in Charge at Rosslyn Chapel for 9 years throughout the Da Vinci Code phenomenon before being appointed the Bishop’s Officer for ministry development. I now hold a PTO in the Diocese of Hereford; I work in three universities teaching theology and business administration at doctoral level and I am Fellow at Westcott Foundation in Cambridge. Throughout all of this time I have continued in secular employment and have not been paid by the Church except when I was part-paid at Rosslyn. I have also acted as Chair of ICF (Industrial Christian Fellowship and Moderator of CHRISM (Christians in Secular Employment).

I have divided my thinking into four parts in order to try to introduce some clarity into issues of “Responsibility without Authority” in ministry.  These are issues of: sociality, theology, ecclesiology and the ministerial role.

Issues of Sociality

Having responsibility for something usually goes along with the authority for its implementation but this is not always so. Most non-Stipends take on responsibilities in the local Parish and beyond, but few have the commensurate authority. Responsibility is about being answerable and accountable, being trusted and having the independence to fulfil the role. Authority means having the power to get something done with the attendant knowledge and expertise to achieve it.

Freud (1856-1939) put ideas about responsibility down to early-life experience and the way that our ‘unconscious mind’ learns to accept or reject responsibility; have it forced upon us or denied to us. Marx (1818-1883) referred to responsibility as structural and a function of ‘the buffers of destiny’.  In these ways ideas about responsibility are ‘hard-wired’ into our lives in both positive and negative ways.

Likewise, ideas about authority come from issues of structure as in Weber’s (1864-1920) ideas about hierarchy and ‘the grounds for authority’ in his bureaucratic model and from models in human history in, for example, De Gaulle’s (1890-1970) mystical self-belief.

Difficulties in dealing with responsibility include issues of denial, blame and punishment

whilst authority can involve difficult issues of rigidity, rules, certitude and entitlement. Each of these meanings can affect the way that we think about these words, their meanings and how we respond to them in the tasks of ministry.

Issues of theology

One of the founding Anglican thinkers about the idea of non-Stipends in the modern era was a CofE clergyman who in his work as a missionary in China came to the conclusion that the model of being church that was based on the primary role of the priest would simply not work in that vast country with its expanding population. Roland Allen (1869-1947) experienced the way that the work of mission was frustrated by clergy who held all the power; that the churches would never be able to provide the resources needed and that it should be the people of God who ministered to themselves and to others. Allen called this the ‘overflowing abundance’ of the Gospel. His ideas were considered so dangerous that he was removed from mission activity and, back in England, was banned from preaching from his own pulpit by the Bishop of Oxford. In our own times, the experience of Father Vincent Donovan amongst the Masai was not dissimilar.  He too was recalled to Ireland and was never allowed to go into Africa again.

However, signs had emerged in the post-war era that alternative ways of mission would be needed in its chaotic aftermath and in France the Little Brothers in Christ offered an example of the worker-priest deeply engaged with secular culture whilst maintaining a life of piety.

It was Archbishop Michael Ramsey (1904-1988) who in league with his Cambridge friend Bishop Mervyn Stockwood (1913-1995) of Southwark declared that the idea of the non-Stipended minister was inclusive of ‘the inward meaning of priesthood’ and theologically authentic. In particular, Non-Stipends would be self-supporting, mission orientated and would face both church and the world – Not unlike a number of the models in the early Church.

Whilst some of these objectives were distorted by the world oil crisis of October 1973 (my training Rector, the late Revd. John Farrant, used to say that non-Stipends were then used to fill ‘gaps in the thin black line’) the original aim was not entirely lost. As the churches have continued to lose adherents since then, the challenging words of Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s (1906-1945) ‘What does God mean for people today?’ have come to be at the centre of the direction of the purpose and future of the churches.

Non-Stipends potentially now have both the responsibility – and the authority – to become the explorers of the Church; to work in those liminal places that other kinds of ministers are less likely to access and to minister in both contradiction and conciliation.

Issues of Ecclesiology

The CofE, as might have been expected, opposed such ideas and in a series of Convocations and Synods over many decades rejected non-Stipendiary ministry as being antithetical to Ordination and of the need to keep faith with Pope Gregory the Great’s (AD540-604) ideas of simony and celibacy (which maintained the separateness of the clergy) and of Justin Martyr’s (AD100-165) remark that ‘The blood of the martyrs is the life of the church’ (which made the stress and overwork of clergy to be the norm).

This compared starkly with the experience of those entering the CofE via the Southwark Ordination course who included the chief inspector of buses at London Bridge station and Jim Storey, solicitor to the TUC.

These individuals and many generations of non-Stipends who have followed in their footsteps understand their roles as contextual (don’t we all!), interpretive, recognisable and prophetic – each of which has the potential to add to the overall mission effort which is needed for our time.

Issues of role

Whilst Ordination comes from a variety of ontological motivations, ministry comes from that part of it which is about ‘doing’. Ministry is a ‘performative act’ in which something is expected of the minister in and of the social world.

All ministers share this responsibility for action and many non-Stipends (but not all) often have a double responsibility in more ways than one. In addition to their involvement in that part of God’s world known as secular, they often act as the ‘second chair’ or the ‘first follower’ in the local Parish to their full-time clergy counterpart.

This is a difficult role to play. Many non-Stipends enjoy major responsibilities in their secular role and are leaders and followers in their own right and on their own terms. Playing what they may feel is ‘second violin’ to another is not always easy for them. This is especially the case when they witness their full-time clerical leader behaving inappropriately or leading the local Parish ineffectively.

In such situations tolerance and Godly patience are needed on both sides to prevent the breakdown in relationship that is so common and which can lead to the distain that the two parties often express about the other – the “you lot are too diverse to take seriously or do anything about” attitude already identified.

This raises the question of the qualities that non-Stipends should aim to develop that will help them to own a ministry that is of both challenge and contentment within the local Parish. However, it should be recognised by their full time sisters and brothers that for many non-Stipends this will often only be a part of their lives when they are of working age and in  secular employment but that this does not mean that they are not in and of God and His mission when so engaged.

The ministry of non-Stipends is a gift to the Church and non-Stipends should not be passive about their Parish ministry but should contribute fully to the local church’s efforts (IE not to abuse it).

This raises the issue of the extent to which non-Stipends are of the Church but not in it. One of the reasons for the dis-enchantment of full-time clergy towards their non-Stipends is the way that some of them snipe at the inadequacies they observe in the practice of full-time ministry in the Church. As the Lay leadership of the Church becomes increasingly empowered through its knowledge and experience, many full-time clergy can feel threatened and correspondingly dis-empowered. Much of this lay criticism can be justified by the Church’s managing of its business but neither Church nor secular organisational practice is either wholly good or wholly bad.

There are a number of qualities that can be associated with those who have responsibility without authority and who act as first followers and second leaders. Amongst these are: the vocation of followers with responsibility; the ministry of followers without authority; the relationships of those with responsibility and the power of those without authority.

The vocation of followers with responsibility

It is not an easy task to fulfil ministry in our time even with the full authority the Church gives to its leaders. Ministry is full of ambiguities with or without the authority that goes along with the full-time role. The vocation of the non-Stipended clergy person is also ambiguous and often complex with one foot in the secular part of God’s world and the other in the local church. In particular, non-Stipends should ask themselves of their ministry in the local Parish – and of their responsibility to its leader – of the ways in which they can challenge, shape and contribute to its life and progress compared to their being passive, acting only as an implementer of the ideas of others or as its critic. In this model, followers have onerous responsibilities to act for good with or without the authority to do so.

The ministry of followers without authority

Whilst conventional thinking may propose that responsibility is a function of authority, it does not always need to be so. Followers can take responsibility upon themselves for their actions with the assumption that what they are doing will be in the general direction of travel of which their clergy-leader would approve. The giving of service does not always need the permission of another but can be an autonomous act of love. In the secular part of God’s world, current leaders quite deliberately say to their followers: “don’t ask me, make up your own mind!”. Active followers can also provide an aspect of challenge that is critical when alternative courses of action are under consideration and are valued by leaders who will ask: ‘what do you think we should do?”

Active followers do not leave their brains at the door; should struggle with complexity in the tasks of transformation and ill often find that their leader is engaged in the same struggle and will appreciate their supportive critique.

Lastly, followers are entitled to speak to power when this is needed if, for example, the leader is going in the wrong direction.

The relationships of those with responsibility

The relationship between the non-Stipended clergy person and their (usually) full time colleague-in-leadership will be one of the critical challenges that they will face.

One way to deal with the idiosyncrasies of the full-time leader is to focus on the purpose of the local church and not on the person of its leadership.  This is not easy when personality plays such a large part in the performance of ministry and when members of the congregation start playing Chinese whispers about what the leader has or has not done. Non-Stipends need to remind themselves of the privileges of Ordination and not get trapped in differences or disputes about personality. Another way to manage relationships is to seek to act as a mentor to the other in appreciation that the tasks of ministry are hard and that the role of the ‘critical friend’ can make a real difference.

The power of followers without authority

The idea that followers who are responsible but do not have authority cannot act is one of the main barriers to thinking and acting in the non-Stipended role. Followers have many opportunities to use their followership in ways that will support their full-time colleagues at the same time as developing their own distinctive ministries. These include a commitment to the tasks of ministry (or not shirking some of its tiresome activities1) as well as speaking truth to power, setting high standards and making hard choices. Many non-Stipends have extensive networks across the local church and beyond it that can help their full-time colleagues link themselves quickly and effectively with the local community. This can extend their mission boundaries and take them into liminal places they would not otherwise be able to go. Non-Stipends should be enablers and not gate-keepers whilst appreciating that very often their networks will last longer than those of their full-time leader who will move on. This situation is both a gift and a responsibility and has little to do with authority.


One way of considering ways to fulfil the non-Stipended role is to reverse the question and ask: ‘what do leaders seek from those who follow but also lead?’

Leaders seek individuals who will be their partners in ministry and who will serve the needs of the local church. One way that this has been defined is in the words ‘the towel of service’ (appropriately in the context of the Passion story!) to describe the qualities of the good follower. These include the credibility to act in the support role developed through long experience and of the trust that comes from it; one who is demonstrably patient with others, who is consistent in their loyalty and is a co-operator.

From this analysis it is possible to identify a ministry for non-Stipends that provides both challenge and contentment, both pastoral and evangelising opportunities, that is both performative and reflective and, above all, does not permit the role to be infantilised but gives proper place to the integrity and responsibility of the follower.

‘Always be ready to make your defence when anyone challenges you to justify the hope that is in you but do so with courtesy and respect (I Peter 3.15).

(This article first appeared in ‘Ministry Today UK’ Edition No. 67, Summer 2016)




‘Crisis in Employment’ by Revd Prof. Dr Michael Fass


Michael Fass is a Senior Research Fellow at the Westcott Foundation, Cambridge, & former Chair of ICF (Industrial Christian Fellowship)


As the news came through about the latest job losses at Newport in South Wales and Redcar in the North East of England memories came back to me of the hard years of the two great recessions in 1981-1984 and 1989-1994. The first recession was a so-called “blue collar” one with shipyards, coal mines and steel works closed down in all the formerly great and historic industrial areas of Central Scotland, the North East and South Wales. The second was quite different and was a “white collar” recession with many office workers, middle managers and professionals, for example, architects, put out of work throughout the UK. The first attracted national attention not least during and after the Miners Strike of 1984-1985. However, the second was less visible with a slower “after burn” of destructive force as the national economy recovered and boomed in the years following “big bang”.

In the first recession there were double blows to working age individuals. The 1981 Budget doubled VAT from 8% to 15% which brought the national economy to a shuddering halt and put many self-employed people – of whom I was one – out of work with no prospect of re-employment throughout the recession. Increases in direct and indirect taxes did for the rest of the economy.

The second recession which led to the closure of many corporate headquarters finished off white-collar professionals many of whom were never to work again although only in their 40s and 50s.

In the first recession I was more fortunate than many others because through my part-time work with the world’s first Small Firms Service inspired by the Bolton Committee’s 1971 report and started up by Harold Wilson in the mid-1970s, I was taken on to manage the Government’s response to unemployment in West Lothian, the UK’s fourth highest area of unemployment (TWA). Coal mining had been its traditional industry and on nationalisation vesting day in 1951 there were 31 collieries employing 12,000 miners. By the mid -1960s many of these had closed and in 1983 when I began work only two were still operational of which one – whose main shaft was named the Gallipoli shaft – had been sunk in 1915!

In 1964, as part of a national industrial dispersal policy, British Leyland were instructed to build a truck and engine building facility in the area and by 1983 this plant employed 9,500 – mainly men – that included over 600 engineering apprentices with a further 3,500 ancillary jobs in the surrounding community. I remember the local MP, Tam Dalyell, telling me that inside the plant was the largest concentration of machine tools in western Europe – 1400. The only problem was that Leyland had dumped their oldest equipment into the factory and most of the machines had manufacturers identification plates dating from 1953!

Between 1984-1986 all of these local jobs were lost, the level of adult unemployment rose to c.29% and unemployment amongst young people aged 19 was at c. 90%. Less than 5% of economically active people worked in smaller firms and one third of the adult population of c. 45,0000 out of a total population of 148,000 were without work or prospects. I remember going out of my office in my first week at work to buy a sandwich and being puzzled to see the number of young families pushing prams in the street during working hours. In retrospect I think that it was at that moment when I realised that the job on which I was about to embark was going to be more about prophecy than about national policy; more about action that economic theory and more about pastoral care than about personal boundaries although at the time I hardly knew the meaning of the word pastoral!

The role of prophetic leadership

The initial reactions of the community to the multiple closures that followed their announcement were those of shock and anger. This was closely followed by despair. It took a long time – around three years – for this to become the determination to create a new way for the community. I remember being asked by a redundant Leyland truck worker if I thought that he would ever work again. I responded that I believed he would not but that if what we were planning to do doing was successful, then his children and grandchildren would have good jobs. The community enjoyed a close knit culture – like many industrial areas –  and began to mobilise in a variety of ways. Much of this was related to temporary work schemes (the UK Govnt’s Community Programme was in full swing) but the resources available were quite inadequate to cope with the social and economic consequences of the situation and the large numbers of individuals needing support.

The most remarkable feature of the area that emerged was the quality of its leadership. At that time there were four layers of public authority in Scotland. These were: The national government at Westminster, the Secretary of State for Scotland and the Scottish Office in Edinburgh and the regional and local authorities in the community. It might be imagined that this would a recipe for inaction at worst and duplication of effort at best but because of the quality of the individuals involved at all of these levels – and in particular, those responsible for the planning function – the actions that were first planned and then implemented, were unprecedented in the modern economic history of Scotland when applied to a local community.

For example, the two Westminster MPs, Tam Dalyell and the late Robin Cook, lent their support and lobbied ceaselessly for what needed to be done. One measure that was proposed but was considered totally unreasonable by those in control, would be the re-opening of the passenger rail line into the city of Edinburgh that would provide access to jobs in the short term whilst local jobs would take longer to be created.  This was achieved when the Convenor (Mayor) of the local authority hired a helicopter and flew the Secretary of State for Scotland along its proposed route. The route was the only new railway line built in the UK throughout the 17 years of Margaret Thatcher’s government!

Tam Dalyell, already with a fierce-some reputation at weekly PMQs, would visit my office most weeks to enquire how things were going and did I have a question for next Tuesday afternoon at 2.15pm – Questions to the Secretary of State for Scotland-  conveniently placed immediately before questions to the Prime Minister at 2.45pm! The railway initiative was also an example of co-operation with no regard for Party lines: London and Edinburgh were ruled by the Conservatives but the regional and local authorities by Labour.

At every level of public service, plans were made for both short and long term developments that included better road networks and motorway access points, an increase in industrial building of small and medium sized factories and offices; access to venture capital funds that could be drawn upon by local businesses and an increase in education and training provisions in local high schools and colleges.  All of these proposed activities were founded on a new vision for the community that was developed and promoted that would replace its former reliance on one way of work and life to provide a more diverse future. Whilst the initial focus of leadership was on key infrastructural improvements, the long term task was about  changing hearts and minds.

The focus for practical action

Whilst planning work progressed there was much to organise. I remember the Convenor (Chair) of the Planning Committee asking me how many months it would be before I would be in a position to open our offices to the public and offer advice to businesses. I replied that we were open for business on the day of my arrival and could the local authority help to promote the services we could provide? From a standing start of a total of three staff and a budget of £180,000, the agency grew in the next three years to a total of 19 staff and a budget of over £5 million a year. The programmes that were initiated included a woman-only enterprise programme, the first in Scotland, and work with young people starting up in business in addition to management services for existing companies but the main priority was to stabilise the local businesses that remained and to encourage new ones to start up.

The public authorities primary and secondary schools were of a high standard but entry to higher education was low as formerly there had been an expectation that the majority of young people would become apprentices in local factories or go to work in the public utilities.  These routes into work were now blocked. As a way to help young people adjust, we initiated a Soc.&Voc. programme for both students and teachers that was designed to introduce them to the economy in which they would be working in the future. After initial resistance, over 100 high school teachers participated in the scheme.  Similar changes were introduced into the curriculum of the local FE college so that young people would be able to participate in new employment opportunities when these should arise.

The voluntary sector in the area was already well developed but, for example, CAB became a key resource for the community. The local authority embarked on a major house improvement programme in its smaller settlements and community-based social agencies were very active in providing a wide variety of social and economic services.  These would now be called ‘social enterprises’.

The need for pastoral attention

Such was the high level of suspicion about the situation and the charge that I was a government lackey, it took me almost two years before I was invited to meet the Joint Shop Stewards Committee (JSSC) representing 19 separate union organisations inside the Leyland plant to discuss ideas about the alternative ownership of manufacturing operations. In addition to the 98 series engine being fitted into Leyland’s own truck range, it was also used in a number of other applications including JCB back-loaders. The hope of the shop stewards was that the plant could continue to produce the engine -although at a lower volume of production – by selling to other users. This led to one of the most sensitive car journeys in my life as the Convenor (Chair) of the JSSC and I travelled by car down to England and after an overnight stay in a nearby hotel, met with JCB’s leadership the following morning to discuss our proposal.   Although not successful, the experience changed the way I thought and felt about opposition to the changes that were happening to individuals and groups who found themselves in situations for which they were completely unprepared and illequipped to manage for themselves and for their families.

Such interventions occurred on a daily basis either in our own offices and workshops, at meetings with individuals and groups throughout the community and alongside those who were responsible for providing the resources required which involved public and private institutions in the UK and EU. In each of these settings there were opportunities for engagement both with those to whom I wished to explain and promote plans and activities and with those who were anxious about their future.


Thinking about areas that are currently being challenged by profound changes in industrial and employment infrastructure – let alone the additional pressures of global trade and competition – I wonder what the lessons for ministry might be for today.

First, my experience tells me that the most important feature for taking action is the quality of the leadership that is available locally and regionally. This demands an equally high standard of response from church leaders so that by their example, knowledge and commitment they can participate in all that needs to be done. I was at a meeting of clergy recently which was discussing the role of mission in the Parish. Each individual was asked to draw a map of their community networks. Most could not get much further than conducting the Remembrance Day service for the British Legion each year! Ministers need to have extensive networks of relationships already in place that canl anticipate trouble that might lie ahead.

Second, there are many practical actions in which the local church can become involved. The  local church is often located at the centre of the community both socially and psychically and can be used as a focal point for those who would not otherwise meet or communicate with each other. Ministers need to draw up mind-maps of who and where the key sources of intelligence, power. leadership and resources can be found and identify the ways of influencing their plans and actions.

Third, the local church should also plan to provide resources in its own right and as a partner in the provision of services. In the second of the recessions the church in which I worshipped started up a ‘Crisis in Employment’ group for which I was responsible that provided CV writing, interview practice and personal support.

Prophetic leadership, practical action and pastoral attention are all issues about which the church knows a great deal from its accumulated wisdom over many generations and ministers  who are serious about the industrial and employment situations in which they and their communities face have a vital role to play in their resolution.

After many years of struggle and hard work, the area in which I worked between 1983-1992 now has over 45% of its economically active people working in smaller firms, an unemployment rate of less than 6%, a prize-winning local authority and a community that considers itself to be socially and economically successful. I make no claims for my part in these changes except for the privilege of having been a participant in them.

(This article first appeared in Urban Bulletin Issue No. 30 June 2016) .


Re-imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation

Re-Imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation
Wednesday 4th May 2016, 10am-4pm
Westcott House, Cambridge

Forgiveness and Reconciliation are not only two major themes of Christian faith and the life of the church, but also of the world and for humanity.


Re-imagining forgiveness and reconciliation is a one-day event facilitated by the Revd Dr Stephen Cherry, Dean of King’s College Chapel and author of Healing Agony (Continuum, 2012), and Dr Elizabeth Phillips, Tutor in Theology and Ethics at Westcott House and author of Political Theology (Continuum, 2012).

Morning sessions will focus on forgiveness and reconciliation in the life and teachings of Jesus, including discussion of a contemporary parish-based case study. One theme of these sessions will be the relationship between reconciliation and justice; afternoon sessions will further explore this theme in relation to the pressing problems of, and various Christian approaches to, racism.handshake

You can find more information and a booking form on the Westcott House website.
The cost is £35 per person, which includes lunch, teas and coffees.

‘Talent’: Pros & Cons

Michael Fass.jpgAn article by the Revd. Prof. Dr. Michael Fass, Senior Research Fellow at the Westcott Foundation, who will be a seminar for the Westcott Foundation this term:  Responsibility without Authority (Saturday 5th March, 10-4) – a day for SSMs, NSMs, and retired clergy who hold significant responsibility for the ongoing mission of God’s church.

In the last few months there has been discussion about talent in the CofE that has raised hackles.  What is ‘talent’ as an idea and what might its role be in the Church?

In secular language it is used to describe individuals with a ‘special aptitude or faculty’ and of ‘high mental ability’ (OED). Anyone thinking about this definition – and with a modest turn of mind – might feel that they did not meet this standard!

In the life of faith, there is the parable of the talents in which Jesus reprimands the individual who has done nothing with his talent except to bury it in the ground and condemns him to a life in the dark.

A talent group could have its place in both secular and faith organisation – think of Jesus’ selection of the first disciples – but it has come to be associated with the secular rather than the Church until recently.

leaderIn that part of the world called secular – from which a number of the current leaders of the Church are drawn – talent management has been used as way to identify individuals who can be helped to develop themselves into future leaders. To be fair, any human organisation, secular or faith-led, needs leaders in its own generation. I always keep in my mind the words of a wise person who said: ‘If the leader is not leading the organisation forward, then who is?’

However, it is one thing to have this idea of the management of talent – and of developing it – but quite another to identify those who should be included in its activities.

We all have our own experience of how this works and I always remember (when I had just failed yet another set of school exams!) my uncle’s salutary warning in his story about his head of class with every prize under their belt, bursting with potential talent and expected to go to the very top, ending up managing BAs landside operations in Singapore!

Does this mean, on the one hand, that those outside the magic circle of talent risk becoming bitter and disillusioned about their talents and, on the other, that those who are selected risk becoming arrogant and demanding?

There is no dispute that in this age of uncertainty when so many alternatives are available and so many different opinions exist, that the role of clergy is complex and that the use of talent development to meet these challenges is important, but should this be of, and for, the many or the few?

jigsawOne should start from the premise that each individual has talent and is talented in their own God-given way and that by Ordination these talents are enhanced, for the common good. We are all different in our ability, personality and motivation but we all share the desire to do something for God and His people. Does this mean that the talents of each and every clergy person should be developed with no special treatment of any individual or should the Church identify those with ‘special’ talent and, if so, what would these talents be and how could they be identified?

Would Jesus have qualified for the talent ‘pool’? He was from a small village (Parish!); He may have had some formal education in the synagogue but not much (no tertiary education then!); He went round with a thoroughly bad lot (no fixed abode or mobile billing address!) and came to a sticky end (no CV!). So, how can talent programmes cope with mavericks, non-conformists and those who do not travel traditional roads?

If talent pools are going to work, those responsible for selecting the individuals who will participate in them, would need to have advanced skills in appreciating the infinite variety of humankind and the ability to recognise those with a strong desire for change and doing things differently; the ability to think and act creatively; a dogged persistency to see things through and pursue their dreams and be hard-working and visionary. A tall order indeed!

In other words, those who might be rather difficult to deal with but who might be counted on to help the Church to find new ways of doing things. Are these the types who sit around the table at the Bishop’s Council?

Finally, is talent a function of age so that talent programmes are inherently ageist as they over-represent the younger age group and neglect the over-50s? We all know about this older group, who we are in danger of leaving too long in their posts so that they are at risk of becoming demotivated and unproductive.

If the resources used in talent programmes were re-directed into the mentoring and support of all front-line clergy would this have a similar effect as a talent programme? There is a sense in which a top-down talent programme suggests displacement activity as in: ‘We know we cannot reach all clergy so we will act on, and with, a few of them and hope that things will improve.’

The pros and cons of talent management are complicated but I always keep in mind the words of Hugh Lister, a radical priest of the East End of London in the 1930s, who said: ‘Here is your life, here are your circumstances & endowments. Now make the most beautiful thing of it you can.’

The Revd. Prof. Dr. Michael Fass is a Senior Research Fellow at Westcott Foundation. This term he will lead a seminar for the Westcott Foundation:
Responsibility without Authority (Saturday 5th March, 10-4) – a day for SSMs, NSMs, and retired clergy who hold significant responsibility for the ongoing mission of God’s church. To book a place for this event, or on any of our other seminars, please contact us or use this booking form.