I watched, with a combination of anxiety and sympathy and horror at the unfolding saga of the sacking of the coach of the Matildas (Our women’s soccer team), Alen Stajcic.
The first thing that astounded me, though I don’t know why it should after all this time, was the absolute ‘institution speak’ of the person making the announcement. It was like this “We have made a decision (exercise of power) to sack the coach. We have to give an account of it to the media. We cannot tell the truth because it is too embarrassing or complicated, or we don’t really know why. What can we say? Let’s speak in vague tones. Here is a quote from David Gallop, the Football Federation of Australia CEO. “These matters are accumulative and there was a real view that things had deteriorated over a period of time … and that’s why the decision was taken.” (ABC News 22nd Jan 2019.)
This reminds me that institutions will behave like institutions. The important thing is not to listen to what they say, but to watch what they do. They are like ‘black boxes’: things go in, and decisions come out, but how the decisions are made and what is going on inside the black box remains an unknown.
The Church is an institution. We cannot escape them. At a congregational level though, I think it is possible to be more transparent, more telling of the truth, and clearer about why things are done.
So what was accumulating? From my reading of some articles, here are some of the issues that lie behind it (1) Alen Stajcic was trying to lift the performance of the team to a new, world class level. This required an increase in performance from team members. Some of them did not like how he went about the task.
(2) In order to measure fitness Alen Stajcic was measuring skin folds. This was considered by some members of the team as ‘body shaming.’
(3) Some of the team members were in relationships with one another. What happens when players of equal ability need to play in the same team, after they have broken up with one another? Do members of the team who are in relationships get a single bedroom while those who are not have to sleep in single rooms?
(4) There were some people who had previously dedicated themselves to the rise of the Matildas, who were losing power in the new, more professional era. They did not like being sidelined.
Regardless of what the strength of these points, I experienced a shudder of recognition about the fact that someone who thought that they were doing a good thing finds themselves embroiled in issues that eventually lead to their demise.
How does ‘measuring skin folds to make sure that no one is overweight and very fit’ (a normal thing for athletes) become ‘body shaming’?
This must be to do with ‘Who has the power to name what is going on and make that naming stick?” This is a political question. If Alen Stajcic had support from higher up the institutional tree, then the complaints from the team might have been heard, but not taken seriously. If the power lines go from certain members in the team to the hierarchy of the institution, then the coach is caught in the middle, and must go.
In this regard, parishes are much like the Matildas. In the present state of the Anglican Church there is much that resists the ‘lifting of our game’ that everyone must be involved in, if we are to respond to the challenges of the present time.
I have been asked, when talking about the need for increased baptismal discipline whether or not I am ‘questioning the faith’ of those who apply. I have been asked whether I want the Anglican Church to become a ‘sect’ when talking about the need to ‘lift our game’ when it comes to the rates of attendance and knowledge of members of congregations. I have known of clergy who have departed their dioceses for another because their bishop asked them for ‘mission action plans’
In some of the theory that I have read about how to be a parish priest there is talk about the tension that exists between ‘relationships’ and ‘task’. In the past I think that I have been too ‘task oriented’ in saying ‘This is what we need to do, and what we agreed to do when I came’. I have neglected the relationships. As such I spent my ‘clerical capital’.
In other places I have resolved to be more relationship focussed. Even then there were people in the congregation who did not want a relationship but said “I don’t know much about church, but I know what I want: and you are not doing it!”
This is the most difficult thing for me about being parish priest: I have felt responsibility for the future of the institution in the parish where I am, but have, like Alen Stajcic fallen foul of various institutional or parish powers, and I have not felt as though I have ‘succeeded’. On judgment day, I will say, though, that I struck few blows for the Gospel. These kinds of reflections come in retirement!