“Simplicity boils down to two steps: Identify the essential. Eliminate the rest”
If the Church of England is to take seriously the need to reverse its trend of decline and commit itself to the renewal of the faith and the re-evangelisation of England, it needs the tools and structures to make that process possible. Four Task Groups have been working to devise a framework for change – in how we identify and train our senior leadership; how we allocate our resources better and focus on mission; how we call, equip and structure clergy and lay oversight; and how we simplify our structures. None of us is under any illusion that lasting change that makes a difference for the Kingdom of God can be achieved by tinkering with structures. The Church is first of all a Divine Society, underpinned by prayer, listening to scripture, worship and the life of the Spirit. A change of heart and a reorientation towards love for God and love for neighbour – obedience to the Great Commission and the Great Commandment – these are the things that will breathe new life into the Church. The work of the Task Groups is to make what’s under the bonnet work better.
The remit of the Simplification Task Group has been to identify hindrances to mission. We asked bishops, archdeacons and dioceses – “What is it that prevents you from making changes that will enable parishes, churches and congregations to flourish and new initiatives to take shape?” The response was overwhelming, and cumulatively ran to ninety or so pages of A4. Our report lists a swathe of legislation – canons, measures and regulations – which are too complex, cumbersome to operate, and militate against change.
Top of the poll came the regulations around Common Tenure, closely followed by the Mission and Pastoral Measure and the over-elaborate procedures for Bishop’s Mission Orders. Whether it’s provision for new mission or reorganisation of the church on the ground, the framework for change is far too complex and bureaucratic.
Of course, the genius of the Church of England is that it is an ordered church – our legal framework is part of the law of the land, and has prevented us from sliding into sectarianism and irresponsibility. But there has been a tendency over recent years, in framing our legislation, to over-prescribe, to defend against every possible eventuality, and to create a defensive bureaucracy that is in many instances no longer fit for purpose.
The Simplification Group recognises that a programme for change runs the risk of being time-consuming, intricate and at times controversial. There will need to be a balance between the rights and duties that legislation is framed to protect and the need to make a missional difference in the life of our dioceses and parishes. Identify the essential – what makes for good governance, proper legality and a clear process? Eliminate the rest. If we’re given a mandate, there’s plenty more to do, and we’ll be asking parishes for their take on an agenda for the next five years. For the sake of the gospel, mission and the Kingdom of God in Jesus Christ.