Thursday, June 07, 2007

This is not a conversation?

A novitiate monk, having taken a vow of silence, was told that he could talk but once a year, to the abbot. At the end of twelve months he entered the abbot's study and was invited to speak. 'Well,' he said 'I've had an excellent twelve months and I find the contemplative life very agreeable but I wonder if there is something you could do about the porridge at breakfast. It is terribly lumpy.' The abbot promised to attend to it.

After a second year the same opportunity arose. This time the novice suggested that the porridge had been over-thinned and was now too sloppy. Again the abbot promised action.

By year three the porridge was too sweet and by year four too salty.

The novice was looking forward to taking full and lifelong orders but was shocked to discover the abbot was not recommending this. At his five year interview he was dismissed because he was constantly complaining.

To Keynsham today then for a 'Conversation morning' with my Bishops. Makes me sound jolly privileged but I have to tell you there were 80 of us there. All privileged then. Gosh I can creep.

Bishops Peter Price and Peter Maurice (Bishops Peter? The Bishops Peter? Peters the Bishop? Peter our Bishops? Help) are giving four mornings aside to discussing with diocesan clergy the progress of the Changing Lives project into which I appear to have parachuted.

I think the collective noun for a group of clergy should be something along the lines of a prattle, or a cynicism. One recently ordained woman came up to me afterwards and asked if I had any advice as to how she might avoid turning out like the rest of them. I think there may have been a compliment, or perhaps even a chat-up line, hiding in there somewhere.

So we had an introduction setting out some starting points in terms of values and then a time in groups, as a result of which the things our group wanted to say, and the things we wanted to say as individuals (we had been warned to prepare for this) were annotated onto Post-it notes and placed on tables.

The promise was that the notes would be read, grouped and responded to; some immediately, others over a period of time. I went and read them during the coffee break. Given the opportunity to express thoughts of great grandeur and clarity to two bishops who had promised to listen, someone had used their Post-it note to write, 'This is not a conversation...'

I avoided the temptation to write, 'Why do you say that?' on a note underneath.

I acknowledge an occasional outbreak of cynicism and prattling but please, brother and sister clergy, if the Bishop phones don't spend the whole conversation telling him he never calls.

The porridge may be lumpy, salty, sloppy or sweet but is it just possible there are more important things to say when the occasional opportunity arises?


Kev Webb said...

Steve, How about a murmur of clergy, and after some sermons (none of yours, yet, I hasten to add) a confusion of parishioners.

Tom Allen said...

Guess the point of the post-it is that the Bishop is NOT phoning to have a personal conversation in this exercise and perhaps his time would be better spent this with each clergy person over a period of time.

In no other organization that I have come across would be acceptable for a senior figure to be so out of touch with local staff as to need such an event.

As my dad once put it (a senior figure in the Church of England) if a Bishop has 300 so clergy sharing his charge then that is less that one a day - perhaps the + Peters would be better putting their energies into this.He would have been driven mad by the notion that a Bishop could ask for important things which clergy wanted to say to him to be written on a post-it - why not a side of A$ before the event.

I was advised by my pastoral tutor never to spend too much time apologising when visiting a neglected or forgotten parishioner - once you with them the important thing is not that you haven't called etc as perhaps you should have - but that you are there now.

I guess my question for the Bishops is whether or not the sheer numbers involved are bound to make such an encounter so impersonal as to be ultimately irrelevant or at best a hostage to the vocal and disatisfied or for ever be perceived as a token event.

St said...

Cheers for the comment Tom. I guess the overall feeling of the day may have generated dissatisfaction. My personal hope is that, however allegedly out of touch our senior staff are, we take the opportunities presented to us to contribute with good grace.

My diocesan bishop had to devote the bulk of two days last month to TV appearances following the imprisonment of a priest for sexual offences. Who am I to say that phoning each of us once a year would be as easy as it sounds?

I'm also unconvinced that any MD would keep in touch with 300 local staff. Are you sure? Wouldn't they have regional managers? And if they did wouldn't a 'Meet the staff' day be a good thing. I think my bishops are doing OK in a world more complicated than I can imagine and I want to support them