Monday, October 27, 2014

Vicars - A Great Resource Squandered?

A major survey of clergy views on a range of issues has just been published, covering everything from austerity to the parish system, immigration to assisted suicide. Full tables are here, press release from Linda Woodhead here, and a helpful summary at British Religion in Numbers.

There are various fascinating bits of detail, e.g. a much higher concentration of liberal clergy in Cathedrals. The bit that caught my eye was this question:

Based on your experience, do you feel that the Church of England is generally good or bad at identifying and supporting clergy’s talents, gifts and initiatives?

Bad 16%
Quite Bad 33%
Neither Good nor Bad 20%
Quite Good 25%
Good 3%

Women were slightly more likely to rate the CofE better, as were younger clergy, and those ordained in the last 14 years, since 2001. The only subgroup in the stats who gave a net 'good' rating were Archdeacons and Bishops. Well, you would wouldn't you, if you were the ones who had the main responsibility for 'supporting clergy talents, gifts and initiatives'. (And this makes the problem worse - those who are mainly responsible for supporting clergy, or for making sure the support is there if they don't directly provide it themselves, actually think they're doing a good job)

This is a shocker, to say the least. About 70% of our budget goes on clergy, but only 1/4 of those clergy feel that their talents, gifts and initiatives are well supported by the church. Almost 50% feel unsupported to some degree or another. If half of your main workforce aren't being supported and resourced in using their talents and gifts, then it not surprising the whole enterprise is struggling.

Mind you, it would be interesting to see a similar survey of CofE laity. I don't recall any training in my 4 years at theological college on how to recognise and support the talents and gifts of my congregation. Though a key part of leadership is spotting, nurturing and deploying talent, we are still wedded to a vicar-does-everything model. In some places, it's the laity who are more determined to maintain it than the clergy. For a great post on what a gift-affirming church could look like (but doesn't) read this at Learning to Float.

Though a lot of the comment on this survey will focus on split views on same-sex marriage, or on whether the church can/should 'disagree well', this is a stat that needs close and sustained attention. If we really are failing 50% of our frontline paid staff then the CofE needs to look long and hard at how it supports us, and helps us to support others.


  1. Hi - interesting post

    - the survey's demographics seemed to me - from memory - to not reflect the dominant baby boomer age profile of CofE ministers

    - and some of the questions were a little like asking turkeys to vote for xmas (eg the clergy/laity power question)

    - is the representative sample standard lower on these type of made for religious headline surveys - or is this the standard also echoed in political national surveys?

  2. I'm currently using a system of appraisal (not in the church) where the appraisee gets to appraise the organisation as part of a dialogue around how to improve. The comments are collated and discussed by the senior team. We also interview everyone who leaves to ask for their comments and, if they are willing, their reasons for leaving. A good way to learn which I suggest the church and many organisations could adopt!

  3. I suppose when an 'episcopal review' by a retired archdeacon every two years is the best encouragement you can get it is hardly surprising that clergy might feel underappreciated and undersupported. Whatever happened to the concept of pastor pastorum?

  4. Another interesting reflection thanks David.

    I can only conclude that 'Useful in parts' is either unfamiliar with statistical research and/or trying to discredit it: the survey is of a random sample of every 3rd clergyperson aged 70 and under (a standard and reliable a way of constructing a random sample; comparison with CofE stats confirms that it is representative in terms of demographics; asking for clergy views about lay/clerical power is designed to get at clergy opinion - which it does.