4 JULY 1952, Page 12

Hornets' Nest


THE Church of England has a partiality for washing dirty linen in public. And yet it must be admitted that, although some of the soiled garments may feel themselves indecently exposed, they usually survive the wash, and are the better for it. The editor of Crockford certainly knows no blushes. Each year he throws the doors of his laundry wide open and invites the Press, the gossip-writers, the friends and enemies of the Establishment to inspect the contents of the clothes-basket. His most recent and notorious effort is no exception. In his preface to the 1951-52 clerical directory he produces an alarming assortment of articles—dwindling con- gregations, incompetent bishops, third-rate scholars, a glut of unnecessary dioceses.

I am not sure whether the editor means his readers to take him literally, or whether he mixes exaggeration and waspish- ness with a little bit of cheek's tongue to drive home his points. In any case I could have wished that he had lodged his grava- men a little less unkindly, because his ungracious approach has inevitably alienated those who, had they been approached more sympathetically, might have given his formidable criticisms the consideration they deserve. He points out that a survey of York in 1901 estimated that out of a population of 48,000 the Anglican churches drew congregations of 7,453; in 1948, when the population had increased to 78,500, the con- gregations had dwindled to 3,384. He recognises that this unhappy state of affairs—and York is merely an illustrative symbol—is due to many causes, but he does not hesitate to apportion most of the blame to the alleged incompetence and unsuitability of the episcopal bench. He goes so far as to suggest that, if an unfriendly Government had wished to impair the influence of the Church by depriving it of leadership, it could not easily have done worse. Although the editor, in my judgement, is grossly unfair, one is forced to` .admit that the Church is not leading the country, and sometimes seems unaware of the need. To what extent are the bishops to blame ? Before finding an answer two fac- tors must be taken into consideration. First, the hall-mark of the present episcopal regime is efficient administration. The editor seems to despise this,, mourns, perhaps, for the glorious but „tragically short eign of William Temple who, because of his unique gifts, made religion matter to so many of his countrymen: But the fact remains that, although we des- perately need prophets of the calibre of Temple, we cannot dispense with the virtues of the administrator. When the history of the English Church in the twentieth century is written, it will be appreciated how much was done by Dr. Fisher to overhaul a hopelessly inadequate plant and, within limits, to make it more efficient. Establishment is, he is glad to see competent diocesan admini- strators on the episcopal bench. They do not lack other gifts. Some are scholars; most are pastors; a few are outspoken in secular affairs. Bet much of their time is spent in their offices reorganising their dioceses, amalgamating parishes, coping with a critical shortage in man-power, and devising methods to pay the clergy a reasonable wage. What is the alternative ? It is easy to blame the bishops for devoting their energies to com- mittees, dictaphones and statistics, but if the parochial organisa- tion is to survive, this work must be done.

Second, the historical set-up of the Establishment makes leadership difficult. The bishops, and, to a lesser extent, the clergy, are neutralised by their privileged positions. When a man puts on a clerical collar he is removed from the cut-and- thrust of secular life, and tends to be separated from his fellows. He becomes a custodian of an ecclesiastical gymnasium for supernatural exercises, and if he interests himself in more worldly affairs he is advised to stick to his business.

But leadership cannot be developed in such an environment. If a man is to be heeded by his fellows, he must work with them, share their interests, appreciate their ambitions, be a party to their decisions, and suffer from their dangers and disappoint- . ments. For instance„it is often said that the bishops and clergy failed lamentably to lead the working classes in the years between the wars. But how could they ? Even those who worked in the distressed areas, no matter how much they sympathised with their people, could not be counted as one of them. They had different backgrounds and standards, and they were never in the position of having to take sides.

Inevitably the parishioners looked for leaders elsewhere, usually among those who queued with them outside the labour exchanges and knew what it meant to bring up a family on the dole. That is why, as the survey of York suggests, the Establish- ment is regarded as an alien and irrelevant institution by a large section of society. And the position will not change until the clergy jump down from their fences and put themselves in the places where men's minds are influenced and decisions are made.

What is true of the working-class world is also true of the academic world. I am not sure what the editor of Crockf9rd has in mind when he deplores the lack of scholars. If he means that the bishops should have more time to study theological subjects and write books on Biblical criticism and liturgical correctness, it is unlikely that the Church will make a single recruit. What we need are men with acute theological minds to staff the world of learning. The universities have a plethora of specialised theologians who train young men to answer ques- tions nobody asks, but there is a dearth of profound Christian minds among the physicists, historians, psychologists, econo- mists and scientists; and yet they are the people who determine the spiritual and intellectual climate of the country.

I do not believe it is possible or desirable to jettison our traditional organisations and habits, though I hope our episcopal administrators will make radical modifications. At the same time I am convinced that out of the womb of the old order something new must come. The worship of God, the reality of the I3ody. of Christ; and the quality of positive Christian leadership, must manifest themselves in the places where people live, work and think, and not be confined within a context which may have been appropriate in feudal times but is almost meaningless today.

And that is why the editor of Crock ford, in..stirring up a hornets' nest, has done the Church a service. When his readers have overcome their reasonable annoyance at his approach, they may be compelled to ask some pertinent ques- tions : What does the word " leadership" imply ? How can the Church "lead " society ? How can the bishops and clergy " lead " the Church ? Episcopal administration, canon-making in Convocation, the passing of resolutions in the British Council of Churches, do not constitute a complete answer, however necessary they may be to keep the ship afloat. The Church will count for less and less so long as it is _,content to remain an insulated ecclesiastical system. Men will be won for Christianity only when they find thernselv,es living and working with others who have Christian insights. The Marxists are wiser in their generation. They list the places where people are influenced and decisions are made, and put their supporters there in the hope they will establish around themselves Communist cells. The Church could do the same. Leta bishop, for instance, make a list of a thousand responsible positions in his diocese and devote to the staffing of these positions—which might include employers' federations, trade unions, schools, clubs, social groups—the same care as he gives to parochial matters. Inevitably Christian cells will follow, demanding a different type of church organisation, fresh expressions of worship and a radically altered ministry. Of course, such an experiment would be fraught with dangers, but it is danger, not caution, which produces leadership—and that, perhaps, is where apostolic succession, if it means anything, justifies its claims. In any case, even if we dislike the writing of the editor of Crock ford, we shall be foolish to ignore the writing on the wall.