November 2019

Follow my leader

I am writing this the day after a meeting of our local chapter (the clergy who work in our deanery plus the wondrous Anne Lloyd, our Deanery Mission Coordinator) where we had a couple of visitors in the form of the Bishop of Hereford (not for the first time) and the Archbishop of Canterbury. It was a chance for him to ask us about all that has been going on within the deanery (he was impressed!) and a chance for us to raise with him issues of importance to us. You will be pleased to hear that what one the main things spoken about was financial support for church buildings, and it was suggested that we might invite The Church Commissioners, the body managing the historic property assets of the Church of England, to come and listen to us.

It was a very positive session. Someone asked me afterwards what it felt like being in the presence of my leader. Which is an interesting question from all sorts of points of views, some of them theological! The Church of England has, i feel, always had a rather fuzzy view about what it means by ‘leader’. I am told, for instance, that as a Vicar, I am a leader in my parishes, which, in my view, is stretching the meaning of leadership somewhat uncomfortably. After all, as Vicar, I don’t ‘lead’ anyone anywhere. I am told that, as Rural Dean, I lead the local clergy. But I don’t. My role is to help to clergy to work together as a team and to enable them to use their talents, as well as to represent their views and concerns to higher authorities, and I don’t think that is a pattern of ‘leadership’ which many would recognise. Even when it comes to Bishops, what one means by ‘leadership’ requires a degree of imagination. Our diocese is the largest - I think - land-based diocese in England, and it has the smallest population. Uniting, inspiring and communicating with such a hugely scattered population is unfathomably challenging: what leading it means, I have no idea.

Of course, for followers of Christ, what we mean by ‘leadership’ ought to look totally different from how the world recognises it. We follow someone who showed his leadership of his followers by washing their feet, and by making the ultimate sacrifice for them. He showed that to lead means to serve, and in the end, for anyone given any sort of responsibility in the church, lay or ordained, lowly or senior, that is the pattern we must follow. And it is not an easy one in a world where, all too often, leadership means throwing your weight around and getting that you want done done. And, yes, there are people in the church who act in that way. But all of us who are followers of Christ need to be wary of this and be ready to be honest with ourselves - and with God -  about the extent not which we are true servants, ready to give of ourselves.

Following Christ is not - and should not be - easy: it means, after all, giving of oneself for others. But, if it was a pattern we could all embrace, it would certainly make the world a richer and a kinder place.