Daylight robbery in the Church

"Cathedral" by David Marchant - Own work. Licenced under CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Source: David Marchant. Licenced under CC BY 3.0.

You know all that money which your parish church pays in tax each year through the diocesan quota? Do you ever wonder what they spend it on? Happily, I can enlighten you. I have just read an advertisement, a job description, issued by the Diocese of St Alban’s which spells out precisely how that diocese plans to waste £36,885-£44,797(pro rata) of churchgoers’ money. I have read, several times, the whole four pages of this advertisement and I have no more idea now than I had before I started of what the job involves. Frankly, it’s just nonsense. To say it’s jargon and management-speak would be to glorify it with a dignity it doesn’t possess. Here goes then…

“Three interconnected themes: going deeper into God; transforming communities and making new disciples…clarify the vision priorities and goals…articulate a vision…share best practice…define the processes that will achieve wide engagement, participation and ownership…”

And then what? Do you understand that? Are you any wiser now than you were before you started to read this piece?

When I read that slogan, “Going deeper into God,” I must say my first thought was Poor Old God. In any case that phrase does not fit with the language surrounding it – such as the nebulous, bureaucratic and utterly meaningless tripe about “engagement, participation and ownership” and “best practice.” To set the theological concept, even the mystical aspiration, “going deeper into God” within a surrounding context of psychobabble verges on the blasphemous.

You will have to be a very special person to apply for this job and imagine you have any hope of bringing it off. You will also need, “a flair for engaging, enabling, mobilising – making things happen and generating momentum.” Yes, but enabling and mobilising what? There is no clue offered. “Making things happen.” What things exactly? “Generating momentum.” In which direction – apart from running straight into a metaphorical wall of gibberish. You will need to have “strong written and verbal communication skills” – unlike the compiler of this illiterate, inarticulate job description. You will have the “ability to tailor words and pictures to different audiences.” How does one “tailor” words and pictures? By taking their inside leg measurement perhaps?

You will do the job – whatever it might turn out to involve – “on a day to day basis.” Clock in each morning, or what? And “develop and implement a process of consultation.” About what? Then this goo: “Enable the diocese to listen to itself, to its communities and to the Holy Spirit.” The diocese saying what? And what’s the difference between “the diocese” and “its communities”? We note also that in that list “the Holy Spirit” comes last.

Don’t think the outline I’ve given so far exhausts the – I’m sure the Diocese of St Albans would say “parameters” – of what this mysterious employment opportunity provides. You will also “explore the effectiveness of the communication of key messages.” Is this before or after you’ve made the tea and nipped out to get the Bishop’s copy of The Guardian? Anyway, when you get back into the office again, you will be required to “lead a process of analysis” and “design a process for the implementation of priorities and goals.” After lunch, you will “create imaginative materials.” And before you finally get to knocking-off time, you will “identify key individuals or champions.” What sort of champions? Darts players? Yorkshire County Cricket Club?

Really, it is unfair of me to single out the Diocese of St Albans for the award of the Annual Claptrap Prize, as if its apparatchiks were the only offenders. The Church of England is riddled with the stuff. If you added up the total amount of money wasted nationwide on this sort of drivel, it would run into £millions. I speak from forty years experience as a parish priest when I watched the galloping accumulation of this nonsense over that time: every day some new “initiative,” “exciting development,” “challenge” or “action plan” would fall dead-born through the rectory letterbox.

These “processes” have nothing to do with mission, the church or Christianity generally. Actually, Christianity is the antidote to this poison. Cut it out. It’s more than a waste. It’s extracting people’s money with menaces. It’s daylight robbery. And, when they involve the name of God in their jargonising circumlocutions, it becomes a blasphemous scandal.

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