Monday, 1 June 2009

Too many Bishops?

The article in the previous week’s Church Times which sparked most letters in this week’s issue was about whether we need fewer Bishops. This is the first thing I noticed; I had looked nervously to see whether there were any negative comments about an article I had written about Community Pay Back (most of the material for which had been blogged here first).

The argument was that if just over 50 Diocesan and Suffragan Bishops was enough for the Church of England a hundred ago then over 110 is too many today, especially if expressed as a percentage of a much lower number of clergy and churchgoers for which they have care. But nobody seems to have spotted that the emphasis on total clergy and churchgoing numbers smuggles in the assumption that this is where we expect Bishops to relate. What if we said instead that the ratio of Bishop to population was about 1:280,000 in 1909 and is 1:460,000 in 2009?

I notice that the appointment of a new Bishop of Carlisle this week was marked by his visiting Sellafield and the Wordsworth Centre, and meeting a range of people from MPs to University Vice Chancellor. He said As Bishop of Carlisle I will hope to be a Bishop for the County as well as the Church. This means that I will attempt to engage with and support our farmers as well as our teachers, and our tourism industry as well as our nuclear industry. I will be trying to develop and deepen links with our MP's, emergency services and local government. In particular I look forward to further immersion in Cumbria's wonderful artistic heritage, literary as well as visual.

We had a consultation in this diocese when a Suffragan see last fell vacant. I dutifully wrote to Deanery Synod members across three Deaneries. Exactly half the responses said that Bishops' posts should be cut as much as clergy posts have been. But the others said both the care of clergy and engagement with society required a new appointment. I’ve heard the voice of the person appointed twice in the last week - on a diocesan podcast about homelessness and on Lincs FM commenting on the impact of unemployment.

Meanwhile, the Southern Marsh Orchids are in full bloom again in the Cleethorpes dunes and I took this picture of one yesterday.

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