Saturday, August 25, 2012

Private life? What private life?

[UPDATE (Tuesday 28 August): An excellent sermon by the outgoing Dean of Wellington, Frank Nelson, touching on the story below, is available here, courtesy of Taonga.]
"I have a private life and I'm endeavouring to get on with that to deal with the difficulty of separating from my wife. 
"I love the church . . . and I have no intention of turning around and walking away from the church."
So speaks Tom Brown, former Bishop of Wellington, i.e. predecessor of current Bishop Justin Duckworth.
As clergy, do we have a 'private life' if by that is meant something other than when and how we perform our morning ablutions? Have we not been enjoined to a particular discipleship through ordination in which our lives are called to be exemplary in all respects, transparent to the world which sees us as representatives of God through preaching, presiding and pastoring? Are we permitted to draw a distinction between 'private' and 'public' lives? I once challenged a priest who thought he could do one form of ministry in his 'private life' which he was not permitted to perform in his 'public life'! 
Which brings me to the second sentence, "I love the church." What do you think? 

Here is my thought: To use the phrase "love the church" when one surrenders one's licence five minutes after laying down one's crozier is, well, striking. As the rest of the article makes clear, an entirely predictable thing has happened. Everyone Lots of people in the Diocese of Wellington is are upset and aghast at this news. And rightly so. Let's remember just one role of a bishop: it is to stand at the head of the whole system of licensing for ministry, including the system of maintaining those licences through education in appropriate ministry according to the standards of our church, to say nothing of being the 'chief judge' should infringements of those standards lead to a need for 'determination'. To find that within months of laying down the crozier one's bishop has felt a need to hand in his licence must indeed be disturbing for the people of the Diocese of Wellington.  
Some big questions are raised by the very publication of this article. One of course is whether it is true and accurate in all respects, but one can have a degree of trust in our media when they use actual comments made within quotation marks, and we may trust the judgement of eminent Wellington clergyman Sir Des Britten in his observations.
Episcopacy is not a job one stops doing once one ceases to be paid a stipend for it. It is a calling into a role in which great trust and faith is placed by clergy and laypersons. The remarks cited above are troubling when placed alongside that calling.
POSTSCRIPT: Do we need some urgent discussion about the nature of our licensing system, the underlying legislation beneath it (Title D), and the processes by which education and training are conducted in order that we live well by that legislation. I wonder what this situation means for the education and training sessions we are compelled to attend. At the very least we need to ask the question whether these sessions are beneficial to the trainees (i.e. licensed ministers)? Here we have a bishop of our church feeling compelled to hand his licence in. There is merit and integrity in making that decision. But has something broken down about our education and training re licensed ministry and its obligations that we can end up with such an outcome? Can we hope that our church collectively will ask and discuss such questions?  I do not know! We do not always seem to be at our best re discussion and engagement of the issues at hand when faced with the awkwardness of  the reality of our lives clashing with the expectations of our parishioners, our colleagues and our canonical standards.


Peter Carrell said...

This comment is from Glynn Cardy but posted by me because Blogger's security system is working overtime:

Like with most things you write I have a contrary opinion. That said, you mention here that episcopacy doesn't stop once the paid job does. I concur. Indeed unlike the thinking around priesthood and the diaconate where we can identify the essence of a vocation separate from a paid [or non-stipended] position as a vicar, we have yet to delineate the same with the episcopate. What is the essence of episcopacy? To say 'leadership' is too broad a brush.


Peter Carrell said...

Hi Glynn,

An excellent question and not an easy one to answer as I am sure many 'retired' bishops would tell us.

On the one hand the DomPost makes the point that it is a licence to function as a priest which has been handed in. Might we expect a retired bishop to exercise a high quality of priestly ministry?

On the other hand, even as a stipended/active bishop lays down their stipended/active role, they remain bishops of our church: entitled to attend and speak at General Synods, on circulation lists at certain levels re communications, and invited to dinner with the ABC when he visits the country! Some (such as the late Sir Paul Reeves, or Bishop George Connor) exercise what could be called 'significant' leadership roles in the life of our church, either on an occasional basis as called, or in a particular role (+George remains a consultant to the CLLC).

A final observation (which is not intended to presume a complete answer has been given) is that retired bishops still have a unifying function in the life of our church: mostly they exercise that precisely by not interfering in the work of current bishops, but potentially they could take a, so to speak, more active role in church affairs, for unity or against it (cf. certain bishops around the Communion!!)

Sande Ramage said...

Thanks for your comments Peter, however everybody in the Diocese of Wellington is not upset about this. As a priest, I wish Tom well for the next steps of his life and value the contribution he made over many years to the church. It is for him to decide on his life and not for us to have hurt feelings and opinions about it all. He absolutely is entitled to a private life. Given that it's very hard to be human and vulnerable, and even more so in the church, I think grace and space could be freely offered.

Peter Carrell said...

Hi Sande

I too value the contribution Tom has made over many years to the church.

I disagree with you that any of us who have been ordained 'for life' are entitled to a private life if that means we can make decisions which the remainder of the church is not entitled to feel some upset over if they involve unexpected dissonance between expectations of us and the reality of how we live our lives.

I note the irony that normally privacy is requested and granted for a couple working through their marriage difficulties, but in this DomPost report we have Dwyllis not seeking that privacy but commenting freely, and, might I add, most generously.

Corinna said...

Hi Peter
Most people liked and respected Bp Tom. I would say that there is a feeling of 'unease' more than 'upset' around the place. It starts people thinking "If it could even happen to him, what on earth might be going on with the rest of the people we trust in the Anglican hierarchy?"

I feel very sorry for Bp Justin. I don't suppose he had any idea that all this was ahead of him as well as all the other difficult things involved in that job.

Our church is praying for them both.


Peter Carrell said...

Thanks Corinna for that insightful comment!