What a ‘Ministerial Review’ Made Me Think About

Reflection 9th June 2013



I have just had what is called a ‘ministerial Review’. This is where I answer some questions about the work here, and some members of the congregation answer some questions and then I talk about them with the Archdeacon. We agree on some action that will help in the next three years. The good news is that the things that I thought about the work here were by an large the same things at the members of the congregation thought. So we are on the same page about the major directions that the work is taking here. This was also evidenced in the Annual General Meeting a fortnight ago.


The conclusions we reached were very helpful. I have decided to see if I can set up a regular monthly lunch with some clergy colleagues. One of the things that I miss here in Switzerland is the regular contact with friends. This is not to say that people here aren’t friendly, but that in Australia, I have a small number of very close friends. Talking to them about ‘everything’ makes me feel accepted and able to ‘flow’ as a person. Coming to a new country means leaving them behind. I feel a little more isolated, and so prey to the ‘fears and phantoms of the night’ that come to me when I am working alone.


The other thing I am going to do is to take a course at Sarum College in England. The principal of Sarum college came to our Archdeaconry Conference and was very helpful. The last thing I will do is to seek some spiritual direction from a person who offers this.


So you can see that the direction of the ministerial review was to say ‘Yes, the direction is good, but you need some support, Paul’. I agree!!


As we were talking about ‘ministerial review’, I also heard tat the ‘Scots Kirk’ in Lausanne was having a five year ministerial review. This is a pretty gruelling process for them, because it takes longer, and involves the whole congregation.


This I don’t mind at all. I think that their way of doing a review is better than the Anglican way. Here is my reasoning. I ask myself the question ‘Who is reviewed?’ As a clergyman I am connected in two directions. One is my connection to the whole congregation through the Chaplaincy Council and my contacts with the congregation on Sundays. The other is my contact with the Bishop and Archdeacon as (literally) ‘overseers’. Together we make up the body of Christ in its expression in this place. To leave out the Archdeacon and the Bishop from our congregation’s review is to leave out the wider dimension of our belonging. Is it not fair for us to ask the Archdeacon and the Bishop ‘About Montreux, how do you think you have gone? Do you think that you have been a good overseer?’ Similarly, we could ask the same question of the Chaplaincy Council and the members of the congregation. Everyone has a gift of the Spirit for the building up of the Church. Can we not ask the Council members and members of the congregation ‘How have you been exercising your ministry?’ That would give recognition to everyone’s mutual responsibility within the Body of Christ.

As it stands, the only people that are reviewed in the context of congregation ministry are the clergy. This way of thinking is to me more of an ‘employer model’ than a ‘Body of Christ’ model. Bishops are mostly untouchable. Congregations are too, because no matter how much they exercise their ministry or not, no one is going to call them to account. If they do not like the process, they can leave. There is no money involved.  In its worst light, clergy are the only people who are reviewed because they are the only ones on whom any leverage for the process can be exercised. This does not look like the Body of Christ to me.


Mind you, I am glad of the review process for me. This time I have focussed on some good plans that will make life better! The direction that we have set together has been confirmed by others. So the ‘review’ process is not bad. My wish is that others who also belong to the business of mission in this place could also be included so that everyone who has a stake in our future might have the opportunity to be valued and be evaluated for the benefit of all our ministries.


One of the things that was said to me as part of the review was something along the lines of ‘There seems to be some cultural difference. The English do things less directly than you. Perhaps you could attend to that’. The Archdeacon gave me a sheet of paper that had a list on it with three statements. The first column had in it ‘What the British say’, the second had in it ‘What they mean’ and the third had ‘What others Hear.’ Here is an example.


British say:     ‘I would suggest’

British mean:   ‘Do it or be prepared to justify yourself’

Others hear:    ‘Think about the idea but do what you like’


You get the picture, but I’m not sure what to make of this. Is the suggestion that I should learn to be more British? Growing up it is true that people have said to me ‘You are just so honest’. This is true. I am not good at walking around in what to me is a fog of meaning, where everyone is supposed to know what is meant, but no one spells it out. As a teenager they told me that ‘God answers prayer’. What was asked for either happened, or it didn’t or it happened in the future. This was interpreted as ‘God wants you to have it now, or not, or sometime that is better for you!’ All the bases were covered! Asking the ‘unaskable question’ ‘What does it really mean to say ‘god answers prayer’ was the beginning of my adult faith journey.


At a more sinister level, not spelling out clearly what is meant is a way of maintaining the status quo. Like the story of ‘The King’s New Clothes’ the existing positions of power are kept the way they are so long as nobody asks the question that will reveal the state of the case. Does the encouragement to me to ‘Be more English’ mean that I should not disturb the status quo by asking the questions that I have been asked to investigate like ‘how can we be a missionary congregation.’ Perhaps they mean that I should do it in a way as Jack Point did it in Yeoman of the Guard by ‘gilding the philosophic pill’ so that the power arrangements change like the temperature in the water with the frog in it perhaps: slowly and ‘unhasting and silent as light’. Maybe I could learn from that. I’ll need an ‘English coach!’ (And here I thought that French was the foreign language!). What I want to sort out is the difference between learning ‘English’, and not being as the psalmist says in psalm 12 and 28 of those who ‘speak peace to their neighbours, but nourish malice in their hearts.’! I’ll keep you posted!



About frpaulsblog

Paul Dalzell is now a semi-retired priest living in Alexandra, Australia
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