Appointing the Archangel Gabriel

There is a common saying in the Church of England that parishes are looking to appoint the Archangel Gabriel to posts. In other words, the parishes are looking for some incredible super-human that does not exist. Dioceses are aware of this and archdeacons and other diocesan staff work to encourage more realistic parish profiles and job adverts. However, the expectation that the incoming minister will be able to fulfil a huge range of often contradictory requirements persists. Clergy sometimes collude with this, and the minister who comes closest to promising to fulfil all the requirements at interview is appointed, however unrealistic that is. It is also commonly reported that parishes are looking to recruit a man with a wife who does not work and with young children. This leads to very difficult conversations during the recruitment process, and is very stressful for candidates. A doctoral thesis reported on interviews with 31 clergy about preparing to move jobs, it states:

“Clergy are at best conditional in their acceptance of the changes and at worst resisting them. This is because the decision to adopt secular-style recruitment systems has disrupted a process of delegated authority to bishops which is rooted in an almost unassailable body of history, tradition, custom and practice by shifting the authority for a transition to clergy themselves.” There is a feeling that the relationship with the bishop has been weakened through this – leading to further isolation, previously the bishop appointed and could be sought for guidance and support for the role that the bishop had chosen the cleric to do. The whole thing has become a source of cognitive dissonance, one priest says: “So I think it’s not what it seems and it’s neither one thing nor the other, it’s neither the open recruitment process that it presents itself as being, nor is it the old system of, you know, bishop knows best and will tell you where to go. But it seems to be somewhere in between but never quite acknowledging all that.”

This is considered in part in the Covenant for the Care and Wellbeing of Clergy:

“Parish Profiles and Role/Job Descriptions often reveal an over-challenging set of expectations, ranging from large numbers of churches to serve, unrealistic and competing sets of tasks, and the absence in them of any evidence of commitment to clergy care and wellbeing.”

The recommendations of the Covenant are to:

  • Acknowledge in the licensing service the importance of clergy wellbeing
  • Ensure parish profiles talk about clergy wellbeing
  • Have realistic expectations in the parish profile and in the job description about what the clergyperson can do

There is a further issue which is the gulf between what the clergy expect of the parish and what the parish expects of the clergy. At theological college the emphasis can often be on mission and evangelism, whereas in the parish the emphasis can often be on keeping the building upright, pastoral visiting and things staying the way they have always been. When there is a vacancy in a parish it would be very helpful if there were attempts to ensure the expectations of the parish and the expectations of the incoming minister were aligned. For example, questions around approximately what percentage of the minister’s time will be spent do the following:

  • Praying
  • Liturgical duties
  • Intentional outreach
  • Preaching and Teaching
  • Working with children and young people
  • Studying
  • Using social media
  • Attending various meetings
  • Preparing for and taking Occasional Offices
  • Fixing the building
  • Visiting elderly parishioners
  • Doing work in the local school
  • Setting up new services
  • Working with the community
  • Managing others
  • Doing administration
  • Fundraising
  • Attending events

Obviously being overly prescriptive would not be helpful, as the incoming priest will need to follow the vocation they feel God has given them, but setting some priorities and expectations will inform the recruitment process and may make the parish more realistic about what can and cannot be done by the priest. It will also allow clergy who are looking for posts to know whether this particular role is for them or not.

3 thoughts on “Appointing the Archangel Gabriel”

  1. Obviously I don’t have much personal experience of this, except as an observer but it seems to me that one underlying problem with the dear old C of E is that it’s trying to use business models for the church, and I’m not absolutely convinced that the church can be run as a business…

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