Monday, 8 October 2012

Not just an extra Archdeacon

Things are changing very rapidly in the diocese. There were a range of real and imagined worries when a new Bishop of Lincoln arrived a year ago, and he quickly commissioned an external group to do a review. The reviewers spoke to a large number of those on Bishop’s Staff, at the Cathedral and at the Diocesan Offices. They also spoke to eighteen other people across the diocese, of which I was one.

The Chief Executive resigned soon after the first draft was circulated internally and the Area Bishop of Grimsby announced his early retirement shortly before the contents of the final report were made public a couple of weeks ago, so the ground was beginning to move before we even saw it. Further changes in our strategies and our financial arrangements will follow.

Alongside the Bishop of Lincoln, we have been operating with an Area Bishop of Grantham and an Archdeacon together serving the southern half of the diocese (the Archdeaconry of Lincoln) and an Area Bishop of Grimsby and an Archdeacon together serving the northern half (the two separate Archdeaconries of Stow and of Lindsey - in reality a bit more than half the diocese).

The review recommends the Area Bishop system be discontinued partly in response to apparent fears that two quite different dioceses were developing, and the Bishop has simply got on and done that. It seems quite possible that consultation will result in the one remaining Area Bishop continuing as the only Suffragan Bishop in the diocese; a large amount of the ministry strategy work and the routine appointment process work will then need to be done elsewhere.

The review recommended a new senior-status Director of Ministry post to hold the whole recruitment, review and support of the clergy processes, which is where it envisaged the ministry strategy work being implemented. It also noted that the two Archdeacons were seriously over stretched.

What the Bishop and Diocesan Council have in fact recommended, and what the Diocesan Synod agreed last week, is the immediate recruitment of a third Archdeacon. The idea is that the sizes of the three Archdeaconries are adjusted so that each covers about a third of the diocese, and each Archdeacon gives perhaps a third of his or her time to strategic work across the whole diocese in the areas of use of buildings, nurturing of lay discipleship and deployment of ministry.

Contributions to the Synod meeting were limited to two minutes each. All l was able to do was ask for clarification about this. Two Archdeacons giving six days a week each to their Archdeaconries doesn’t appear to be any different to three Archdeacons giving four days each and so doesn’t appear to be a response to the review finding them over stretched. One Archdeacon giving two days a week to ministry issues is also much less than a full-time Director of Ministry appointment if that is what the report recommendation meant and the loss of Area Bishops requires.

The diocesan Press Release after the Synod persists in saying that the changes are in part ‘to reduce the significant administrative burden currently placed on the two Archdeacons’ - something which I understand may in fact be achieved in part through a different plan for a ‘triage’ system by which the overwhelming flow of requests for things like permission to undertake minor work on churches will go to the diocesan office and only those which would then benefit from Archidiaconal ‘treatment’ would reach them.

It is over ten years since I last went to a Diocesan Synod. It seemed to me then that it had been so managed that it had no realistic chance of being a real player in policy development, so I stopped going. This time the Synod gave a fair wind to the rest of the report, noting it and authorising the setting up of nine panels which should indeed make a difference as they to work at the whole range of other recommendations within it.

What I have spent the last twelve years doing is serving as a Governor of a large College of Further and Higher Education where I’ve got very used to an extreme level of scrutiny of our standards and rigour of governance. With examining how we measure ourselves against the new Common Inspection Framework and with the on-going process of assessing whether a recommendation can be made to the Privy Council finding us worthy of having Foundation Degree Awarding Powers (FDAP), this process feels almost continual.

So it was slightly surreal being back at Diocesan Synod simply being informed of the Area Bishop changes and voting through the new Archdeacon arrangements. I realise that a large Synod cannot really operate as a tight governing body and has a different role, but I know what Ofsted and the FDAP assessors would say if the College Governors had agreed radical adjustments to the provision of Deputy and Assistant Principal posts on the basis of a couple of paragraph in an external review and a one paragraph proposal from the Principal which didn’t appear quite to match it, with a single two minute window to raise questions, and without things like detailed Job Descriptions, impact assessments and organisation charts. Which doesn’t, of course, mean that it isn’t an appropriate and potentially creative way forward. We shall see.

Meanwhile, I sometimes encourage people who come across local ironstone church walls to look for shell fossils, and found this example myself at the weekend on the tower wall of St Helen's, Kirmington.

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