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)




Occasional Worshippers

An article by Ally Barrett, Tutor for the Westcott Foundation, who will be leading a seminar on Occasional Worshippers at the Westcott Foundation on 18th November 2015 – there are still places available, please click here for a booking form.

euch-church-doorwayThe mission literature is as full of terms such as ‘unchurched’ and ‘dechurched’ as it is full of critiques exploring why such terms are problematic. Just as problematic is the term ‘churchgoer’.

The truth is that many people simply don’t fit into the category of ‘churchgoer’ or ‘non-churchgoer’ – statistical research has demonstrated that a significant factor in the decline in bums-on-seats church attendance figures is due not to their beingpews fewer people who ever come, but due to a large proportion of people coming less often than previously.
‘Regular churchgoing’ means something different now from in generations past. This is particularly noticeable in churches where there is, for instance, a monthly all age service which may have its own congregation – regular attendance at that service means twelve times in a year, which is rather different from 52 times… An interesting test case for the changing definition of ‘regular’ is found in the way that ‘regular attendance’ gives a qualifying connection for marriage.  Most of the clergy I asked reckoned that for these purposes monthly is regular.

This does have some implications, and not just for statistics, but for the place of worship in the life of those who attend it. The Sunday lectionary, though it works on a standalone basis, works best when there is some continuity week by week – working through the gospels and epistles allows themes that preoccupied their writers to be heard again and again in different ways, and this repetition can help create a coherent landscape (the breadth of scripture) in which the foreground (any particular reading) may be enjoyed and explored. The changing of the seasons, the arc of salvation history that weaves through the church year, and the way that that grand liturgical pattern is reflected in microcosm during each act of worship from gathering/advent to dismissal/Pentecost into the ordinary time of life after the church service – these may be slower to take root in the heart and mind when there is only a monthly service in which to plant and nurture the seeds.

It is also worth noting that the guidelines for the Church oall-age-groupf England’s relatively new Additional Eucharistic Prayers for when significant numbers of children are present are clear that this provision is not intended for weekly use – in other words, the intention is that these prayers should not be all that a congregation experiences. Which is all well and good if everyone comes every week and the AEPs are used only monthly – but for those whose only experience of church is the all age service, those prayers will indeed be their diet. This is only one manifestation of a larger liturgical dilemma: common worship, with its vast range of resources, assumes that churches will use a variety of material, so that during the course of attending church regularly the congregation will experience a balanced liturgical theology.  But because we know that many people do not come to church all that often, there is an impetus to make each act of worship doctrinally or theologically complete – each Eucharistic Prayer therefore would need to contain a brief, but comprehensive summary of salvation history as the content of and motivation for our thankfulness. This tension is not going away.

couple-pointingAnd what of those who are regular churchgoers in that they attend church regularly once a year at the village carol service or on Remembrance Sunday? Or those who go to church for baptisms, weddings and funerals? Can such ‘occasional’ services (in the sense that they happen occasionally, and on particular special occasions) provide a balanced liturgical diet in themselves, and, if not, can they still be a place of transformation, or at least a place where the seeds of transformation might be sown?

Perhaps the church is betwixt and between: on the one hand we are partly working a model that assumes regular, even weekly attendance, and on the other hand we are responding to the reality that for many people a church service is a one-off event. We may subscribe (based on our own experience) to the theory that worship is formative of our faith and our life of discipleship when it functions as a drip-feed, week by week and year by year, and yet we may strive each week to lead an act of worship that is, by itself, transformative.

In the above paragraphs there is a striking omission: God. There are, in fact, many works of liturgical theology that treat liturgy and worship as something that can be described on a purely human level, with valuable insights from psychology, semiotics (and other meaning-theories), ritual studies (how rituals work in human communities) and more.  But whether an act of worship is formative or transformative can be understood not only in terms of psychology or cognition, but in terms of how such an event may (or may not) facilitate a (deeper) encounter with God.  prayingAn exploration of the nature of worship from a faith perspective, rather than as a merely human phenomenon, must assume not only a theistic worldview but specifically a theistic anthropology.  And if we work on the basis of a theistic worldview and anthropology, then we will quickly find that the regular or occasional public worship of the church is by no means the only location of laptoptransformative encounter.  Some would go as far as to argue that the primary place of transformation is not so much the gathered church as it is the world (generally) and in the specific life experience of human beings: work,
relationships, parenthood, death, traveling, boredom, sport, and so on.

Should worship then respond to the ways in which God may already have been encountered outside the church walls? I think it should. People should not have to leave their experience of God in the world at the church door in order to subscribe to a liturgical expression of what that encounter ‘should’ be like. But the converse also holdscouple-on-a-sofa true. What takes place in worship can provide a tried and tested language through which human life experience can be articulated in the context of God. The psalms are perhaps the supreme expression of that conversation that draws life and faith together, but they are not the only expression of it. (My own research hopes to uncover more areas of resonance as well as dissonance, particularly for those who are less familiar with the church’s modes of expression and established symbols, and particularly in regard to how attendance at a worship event may reinforce or undermine any sense of belonging or membership – but that’s another story).

The best of our liturgy continues in the tradition of the psalms, with metaphors and symbols that resonate on the horizontal plane (with what happens to us and what we do in the rest of the week) vertically (in the way that we perceive and engage with the action of God) and through time (drawing on the tradition of the faith that has been passed down the generations and received by the contemporary church, and in turn handing that tradition on either more or less as we found it). Worship can be seen, then, as a multi-dimensional event that may be an agent of transformation along any of its axes, and into which transformative impetus may come via any of its axes.  No wonder so much is asked of the church’s liturgy, and no wonder it so often, and in hard-to-define ways, it seems not to have quite lived up to its potential or its purpose, and no wonder that when it’s good, it’s really good.

What, then, can we reasonably expect of the liturgy, especially when it comes to those who do not normally attend church, and who therefore may taste only a small slice of the liturgical-theological pie, or to whom many of the scriptural or traditional metaphors and symbols are unfamiliar?  And do the answers to that question depend on what the church hopes for in their brush with the liturgy, or upon the intentions they themselves may bring with them? People who do not regularly come to church, but who may come on occasion are highly diverse in theilight-a-candler motivations – they may come through an invitation (to a baptism or wedding, perhaps) or through a personal / emotional connection (a funeral or all souls service), or out of a sense of tradition (a carol service) – these are only a grossly simplified handful of possibilities. And their reasons for not coming more often are probably even more varied than their reasons for coming ‘that one time’.

Equally their experience of God outside church is diverse, and they may well not be able to articulate it to themselves (because matters of the heart and soul are hard to express) let alone in any kind of descriptive language that the church might recognise. The Church House research on Christenings found that words such as ‘meaningful’ and ‘special’ were indicators of the way that life experience and liturgical experience at a Christening converged in a positive way. Doing Christenings in such a way that that point of convergence is maximised is one current mark of the work that the church is undertaking in this whole area of liturgy and life and mission. A carol service, on the other hand, has a very different set of parameters and intentions, and will generate very different hopes and meanings; Remembrance Sunday is different again.  As planners and leaders of worship, how do we learn to be attentive to tradition and culture, intentions and hopes, points of connection and faultlines, in order to lead worship both regularly and occasionally that brings people closer to God, whatever their starting point?

These are some of the issues that we will be looking at during the Occasional Worshippers seminar on 18th November at the Westcott Foundation. There are no easy answers, but through an exploration of the big questions and reflection together on our practice (particularly where our intentions and reality either wonderfully converge or are frustratingly dissonant) I hope we may be able to draw out some real theological and practical wisdom on the many and varied opportunities and challenges presented by those who come to church occasionally.

Please do come to the seminar if you can – you are also welcome to leave comments, questions and reflections on your own experience here.

Welcome to the Westcott Foundation

Westcott House, Cambridge, has long been a place of foWestcott Iconrmation, study, prayer and inspiration for those training for ministry in the Church of England. More recently, we have been delighted also to welcome more independent students, and exchange students from across the globe. Over the past few years we have sought to continue to nourish, inspire, and encourage those already in ministry (whether or not they originally trained at Westcott) in a lifetime of learning and growing, and in response to the changing patterns and challenges of ministry in a variety of contexts.Salford

At the Westcott foundation we therefore seek to inspire the renewal of the church, though its leaders and ministers. We draw on in-house expertise (including our own research fellows) and the wisdom of our colleagues and friends from the University of Cambridge and beyond to provide a range of seminars that are relevant and insightful, spiritually nourishing and theologically grounded.  You can read some of the comments on our past events here.

C0190_001This year the programme includes events as varied as the acclaimed leadership seminars to the National Gallery event (Passion and Compassion – in Preparation for Holy Week), and from the Urban Ministry seminars (Nurturing Urban Virtues and Building Community) to clergy retreats.

It also features Re-imagining Forgiveness and Reconciliation, the first event in what we hope will become a major strand of the Foundation’s programme reflecting on peace and conflict at the international, communal, and personal levels.

This season’s brochure, and a booking form, can be downloaded here – if you are a church leader or minister, whatever the context of your ministry, there will be something for you. And if there are aspects of your ministry for which it feels as if nobody has prepared you, or for which training and development is hard to come by, please let us know.

We look forward to welcoming you (back) to Westcott House, and helping to inspire and resource your ministry this year and in the future.