On Monday morning, as Coventry Cathedral made preparations for their very special guests from Kensington Palace, I was headed south on a train to London to Lambeth Palace.
For those who don’t know me, my name is Rev Charlotte Gale and I am currently the Chair of the House of Clergy in Coventry Diocese. This is an elected post, though as no one else stood, I didn’t need to do a lot of campaigning. On the face of it, the role is a lot about chairing meetings – Diocesan Synod, Bishops Council and the Business Committee – in conjunction with the Bishop and my lay counterpart.
I am also a pioneer minister in the diocese, at St Clare’s at the Cathedral, in the heart of Coventry. I can be found most days at St Clare’s, in what used to be the cathedral gift shop between the old and new cathedrals. We run a shop as part of our outreach as well as to generate income. We have a huge range of second hand theology books, resources for ministry and church supplies. You are welcome to pop in to browse, or to chat. There is always a pot of coffee on.
Popping in to see me helps me fulfil the other less defined aspect of being the Chair of the House of Clergy. As the ‘elected’ representative of the clergy in Coventry Diocese, I try to make sure I speak up wherever and whenever I can on issues that are concerning the clergy. I always try and offer the ‘ordinary clergy’ perspective on things (not that any of our clergy are anything less that extraordinary!).
I discovered after taking on the role that there is a National Network of Clergy Chairs, and a couple of times a year we get together to hear about what is going on in the national church and in our varied dioceses. This is why I was heading to London on Monday, instead of being at the Cathedral with the cheering crowds. The Clergy Chairs had a special treat. We had been invited to Lambeth Palace for our meeting.
The Archbishop of Canterbury
It was bitingly cold in London but the sun was shining, and the Palace as we arrived was bathed in golden light. After coffee and a chance to catch up with one another, the first speaker of the day was the Archbishop of Canterbury. He spoke with humour and real candour about issues affecting the Anglican Communion and the Church of England. He shared with us about the recent meeting of the Primates where thirty three Archbishops met to grapple with difficult issues such human trafficking and climate change, as well as talking about evangelism, witness and outreach. He reminded us that the average Anglican is a thirty year old sub-Saharan woman living on less than $4 a day with a 50% chance of living in a place of conflict.
Closer to home, the Archbishop shared how challenging and difficult the work of safeguarding is. The church is continuing to work to make sure that our new structures are the best they can possibly be, as well as facing the consequences of past failures with humility and repentance.
He also touched on clergy wellbeing, acknowledging that parish ministry was one of the hardest jobs he’s done, in part because of the isolation and lack of colleagues. He assured us that tries to keep to all the same disciplines as any other clergy person in the Church of England, including MDR.
The floor was then open to questions, the last of which asked him what message he wanted us to take back to our dioceses. His reply concerned clergy wellbeing, urging us to ensure that all clergy have real accountability, support, and a Spiritual Director, so they are growing in their relationship with Christ.
Holy Communion and Lunch
We next headed down the stairs into the Crypt chapel of the Palace to share in communion with the Palace staff and members of the community of St Anselm, a new monastic order based at Lambeth. It was such a privilege to be in that ancient place, praying where so many have prayed for hundreds of years.
Lunch followed, and there was an opportunity to have a little snoop around. The walls of every corridor are lined with portraits of former Archbishops. The extraordinary number of them pays testament to the longevity of the Church of England. I was pleased to finally track down Cranmer, in a back corridor behind our meeting room.
Our second speaker was William Nye, who is the Secretary-General of the Archbishops’ Council and Secretary General of the General Synod. He shared how he felt that 2017 had been a year of real encouragement for the Church of England, with many good news stories coming out of the Renewal and Reform programme.
For example, three years ago the Church of England decided to aspire to increase the number of vocations to ordained ministry by 50%. He was happy to report that there was a 14% year on year increase in 2017, with 544 ordinands starting training. There are also hopeful signs of this growth being sustained.
He talked about the change in funding from the central church, Resourcing the Future, sharing stories of some of the projects being funded by the new Strategic Development Funding, including our own Acceler8 and Serving Christ projects. At General Synod in February I hope to attend a seminar about SDF projects, so will have more information for you then.
He was also asked the question about what message he’d like us to take away. His answer was simple ‘Missional Ambition’. He then posed a couple of questions. Are we being ambitious enough in our mission? What would the church in your diocese be like if your diocesan strategy was successful?
After a quick break for a cup of tea, our final speaker of the day was Liz Gravely, a researcher at Church House, who came to talk to us about the ‘Living Ministry’ project that she heads up. Its a ten year research project mapping the wellbeing of Church of England Clergy and Ordinands. It’s in its early stages, but if you want to know more you can read the Project Summary and first report.
We then headed back to the four corners of the Church of England to the varied parishes and ministries in which we serve. Many of us will be back in London in just a few weeks time for General Synod, and we will all gather together again for a residential at Launde Abbey in late May. This is when we get to really share with one another what is happening in each diocese, and what are the ‘live’ issues. If you are a member of the House of Clergy in Coventry Diocese and there is something you think we should be talking about at a National Level, or if there is something you would like me to raise on your behalf in Coventry Diocese, then please do pop in for a chat and a coffee. It would be lovely to see you.