I had a chat last night to an old friend in ministry. ‘I’m making a big effort for Rogation-tide’ and I heard about all sorts of creative ideas to stir the imagination of a rural congregation. ‘But when I set about getting them involved, they all had other things to do and said they wouldn’t be there. And then one of them said, ‘Do you think our congregation will be there in ten years time? To which I replied, ‘Not if we go on like this’

There is half a page in today’s Sunday Times about MOT’s for ministers and about getting rid of the hopeless ones. Which is a pity because I am pretty hopeless some days. And the days on which I think that I am Super-Rev are the days on which I am particularly hopeless.

One of the signs of stress in the church is the blaming. And you need to get behind that to find out what is going on.

I think that we haven’t done even half enough to provide in-service training, appraisal, accountability and support for clergy. And clergy, in my experience, remain a bit equivocal, probably because they fear that it is all a bit managerial. And I think that we haven’t worked out an agreed understanding of how the church has changed and must change if it is to minister effectively in today’s society. I constantly replay in my mind what I regard as the best Rector/Curate exchange of all time. Yes I’m afraid it’s Father Ted again – when he said, ‘It makes you think Dougal .. it makes you think.’ To which Dougal replied eventually, ‘About what, Ted?’

My father was a teacher in the days when nobody quite knew what a teacher did when he went into the classroom – it isn’t like that now. Nor are things the same for bank staff or for farmers or for doctors or nurses. Airline pilots are no longer glamorous figures – more glorified bus drivers who fly computers with wings attached.

And things have changed for clergy as well. The days when clergy output could be measured simply in doors knocked are long gone – replaced by the need to be missional and entrepreneurial and to radiate holiness of life in a context of indifference. No wonder we find it difficult.

Blaming clergy – or congregations for that matter – isn’t going to get us very far. We need some real openness about what we believe that we are called to do – and a shared understanding of the context in which we are called to do it.


  1. This is such a true, and challenging, post. No “answers”, but asking the right questions. It is encouraging that we share pretty much the same problems here in the USA, especially in rural areas where I serve as Rev. It is also discouraging, to be honest…couldn’t you all in the SEC please figure out the perfect solutions, then share them with the rest of us? Oh well. I guess we’re all in this together. Lord, have mercy.

    1. Hi Chris.

      Hope the Lutherans of Minnesota have all this sorted out. For my favourite Father Ted, read instead Garrison Keillor. I always remember with affection the black lady pastor who used to squeeze members of her congregation at the Peace as if testing them for ripeness

      One of the other problems at the heart of all this is a lack of humour. There is an inherent ridiculousness in it all – antidote to the flat-footed heavy-treadedness which creeps in when one is trying to give expression to the most serious things of all. But a church which is anxious and stressed loses the ability to laugh at itself.

      Plenty to laugh at around here!

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