A problem with the appointment process in the Church of England

A view across Prague © Ricky Yates

A view across Prague © Ricky Yates

‘How did you end up in Prague?’, is a question I have quite frequently been asked over the past eight years. My simple answer is always, ‘Because I applied for the job’. I chose to come here – I wasn’t sent.

For the past twenty years or more, nearly every vacant position in the Church of England has been advertised in the Church press. If you wish to apply, you complete a now fairly standard application form and submit it by the closing date. In due course, a short list of candidates is drawn up and those selected are invited for interview. An appointment is then made.

Putting it in simple terms, the Church of England has adopted the normal secular method of filling a vacancy. A change of position or advancement within the Church is now by competitive interview, rather than based on who you know. One can always cite instances where this still isn’t quite the case, but normally it is.

As part of this process, the vacant parish/benefice/chaplaincy has to draw up a profile, describing what they are like – the situation in which the new appointee will have to minister. They also have to write a person specification, saying what kind of individual they would like as their next Rector/Vicar/Priest/Chaplain. I must say that the expectations expressed in some person specifications that I have read, have left me feeling that only the Archangel Gabriel need apply, and even if he did, there would be no guarantee that he would be appointed 🙂

Whilst overall, the process does seem fair and right, I do have one major problem with it in relation to those of us called to ordained ministry within the Church. One question on the application form asks, ‘Please specify how you meet each of the selection criteria?’ In other words, how do you fulfil all the expectations contained in the person specification?

Answering this question in the manner expected, requires you to say what a wonderful, gifted Christian minister you are – basically that you are the best thing since sliced bread! You have to sell yourself and I find that being at complete odds with my calling.

I have expressed this view verbally, many times in the past, particularly quoting the words of St Paul; ‘For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgement, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned.’ Romans 12. 3. Yet to be appointed to a new position, you are required to do the exact opposite – to think very highly of yourself.

As a result, there are inevitably some people who have gained new positions and advancement within the Church, in part because of being very good at selling themselves. And others who should have gained preferment, but haven’t, because of having the sober judgement that St. Paul recommends.

One person I knew, who was junior to me in the sales and marketing department of the publishing company I worked for before ordination, trained for ministry shortly after me and is now the Dean of a Cathedral. He was very good at self-promotion when in secular employment and I’m sure that has contributed to him being where he is now. Interestingly, in the process, he has gone from being a Charismatic Evangelical to being a Liberal Catholic 🙂

I am not saying that one shouldn’t be self-aware. As an ordained priest, I should know what are my strengths and what are my weaknesses. But when people ask me how a service has gone, especially a wedding or a funeral, I usually say in response, ‘Ask those who were there; those who were on the receiving end of my ministry’.

I have been promising to write a blog post on this very matter for a few years. But I have finally been prompted into doing so by a series of verses from the Gospel of Luke which have occurred within the Gospel readings set for recent Sundays by the Revised Common Lectionary that we, and so many other Churches, follow.

In Luke 14. 10-11, Jesus says that, ‘when you are invited (to a wedding banquet), go and sit down at the lowest place, so that when your host comes, he may say to you, “Friend, move up higher”; then you will be honoured in the presence of all who sit at the table with you. For all who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.’ That last sentence recurs again at the end of the Gospel passage I shall be preaching about tomorrow – the parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, as recorded in Luke 18. 9-14.

Jesus is also recorded, speaking to his disciples, saying, ‘So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, “We are worthless slaves; we have done only what we ought to have done!” ’ Luke 17. 10. In other words, don’t go around saying how wonderful we are in all that we do.

Basically, my premise is that the Church should be encouraging and admiring humility amongst its ordained clergy. Self-awareness, yes – but not self-aggrandisement. Having this week, written and sent my formal letter of resignation as Chaplain of St Clement’s, Prague from 30th April 2017 when I will retire from full-time ministry, all I can say is that I’m very pleased that I will not once again have to sell myself, in order to gain a new post.

10 comments to A problem with the appointment process in the Church of England

  • Chris Gardiner

    Heartfelt words – well said Ricky!

    You’ll be missed in Prague.

  • Fergus

    Ricky- I’ll be totally honest and say I often disagree with things you write about the direction of the CofE, however I found myself in 100% agreement with this. We find ourselves apeing a discredited secular management culture that has no place in Christ’s Church. Thank you for expressing its failings so well

    • Ricky

      Fergus – Yes, we’ve had our discussions before now which I do welcome. I don’t always expect everybody to agree with me 🙂 But thank you for your support & kind words regarding this matter. They are much appreciated.

  • Em

    I hope that, although humble, you can be glad for and proud of all the service you’ve given to communities whilst in your posts! (Will you continue to blog in retirement?)

    Unfortunately, it seems that in any job if a person simply works hard and never draws attention to their skills or accomplishments, they will fall behind adept self-promoters – but I agree this must especially hit a nerve in an occupation where you must practice what you preach! The fox/owl/sheep/donkey manegerial model comes to mind, which states that you must have some level of political awareness in a leadership job in order to be effective.

    • Ricky

      Hello again Em – I can always look back & see how I could have done things better, but I’ve always sought to serve my congregations and people to the best of my ability. I shall certainly keep blogging in my retirement. One of things I want to do is give a lot more time to writing.

      You are quite right – adept self-promoters will almost always do rather well in any career. But I don’t think it has a place in Christian ministry.

  • Robert Doolittle

    Ricky: We probably are miles apart politically, but we always felt welcome at the worship services at St. Clements. We especially enjoyed the Bible classes we participated in at your flat, they were always a high point of the week. We were spiritually enriched by your sermons, and we are certain that you conduct your personal and ministry life by the faith the Holy Spirit has given you.
    I personally found your blog posts and the included photography very informative, stimulating wonderful memories we hold of our times in the Czech Republic/Praha.
    I keep a close eye on your blogs and your photography is outstanding.
    I will probably communicate with you further prior to your retirement date.

    • Ricky

      Bob – thank you so much for your kind words. It is good to know that you have fond memories of your time worshipping with us St. Clement’s in past years. Thank you too, for your appreciation of my blog posts and photographs. Please do keep in touch.

  • Sean Mccann

    Ricky, like many others I’m saddened to hear such ‘corporate nonsense’ has found its way into the appointments process of the Church of England. Not a great deal of room there for God’s Spirit working in all sorts of different ways in all sorts of different people to achieve his will. It almost makes me wonder if God (in any personage of the Trinity) applied for a post, would He be found wanting? God help us.

    • Ricky

      Thank you for the sympathy, Sean. Whilst the basic secular framework of advertising posts & candidates applying, using a standard application form, is fine, it is the lack of recognition that ordained Christian ministry is a little different to other forms of employment. I’m sure those involved in the appointment process do pray, but as you rightly say, there is little room left for God’s Holy Spirit to move & work.