Sunday, June 28, 2009

New Archdeacon comes to town

I had a visit this afternoon from Peggy Jackson, our new Archdeacon of Llandaff, just getting going in the job, and wanting to acquaint herself with the role and ministry of the city parish, as well as doing a site inspection in relation to our umpteenth Faculty application. I was delighted to discover that she had been in her previous post a city centre mission 'practitioner', as we say in today's esoteric trade jargon. It's so good to have someone who not only asks the right questions about church in relation to civil society, but has the fire of enthusiasm for what the church can contribute to secular public life. This gives me hope that the kind of thing I've attempted to do in the Parish over the past seven years has some chance of continuing when I retire.

We talked for a couple of hours, and then she came to Evensong. After meeting the crew, I took her on a short walkabout to give her an impression of what was going on in the city centre. It was pure providence that we should run into a couple of the regular street care volunteers, out and about early, as the city's homeless was something we'd not yet got around to. The brief conversations made summarising past and present developments in relation to the Council's statutory social service commitments a lot easier.

Archdeacons have a lot of thankless tasks thrust upon them because of the hierarchical and bureaucratic character of the modern church. I hate it when I hear them described as 'line manager'. Sharing in the Bishop's episcope as an Archdeacon does at the highest level is first and last a pastoral and missionary endeavour. It has everything to do with enabling freedom and confidence, with stimulating intiatives that make the church more responsive to its calling.

The idea of 'manager' is about regulation, control, implementation of the plans of others. Some of that is necessary, so that all holds together safely. However the role of 'giving permission' to do things has become far too closely connected to compliance and anxious conformity, keeping out of trouble with authority. 'Permission' should be more about affirming and encouraging responsibility to do the right thing with confidence. If this doesn't happen today the way it should, it is to my mind because the church has refused to resist the encroachments of over regulatory governance on common sense responsibility.

One example. Thousands of churches could be easily encouraged to take steps towards zero carbon footprint buildings, using solar panels fitted to roofing. Surely this is an urgent national priority if not a vital investment for the economic and physical survival of churches as community buildings and places of worship. However, this initative is effectively vetoed by quangos like CADW and English Heritage, as they will approve no such changes to the appearance of Listed buildings they contribute little if anything to maintain.

The church seems to lack vision and/or courage to confront on this matter, to demand open policy debate, to question whether preserving architectural appearance matters more than climate stabilisation initiatives. It thus gives no public witness to this real moral concern for the future at this time when radical solutions are needed. Moreover, as long as there is no huge demand to cover the churches of Britain with solar panels manufacturers have no incentive to make aesthetics a strong component of design development.

Sadly, cozying up to authority rather than questioning it is what churches have too often done. When will we learn this does nobody any good?

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