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Lessons in leadership with Sir Alex

Or… ‘what the Church can teach Manchester United about choosing their leaders’

And so Easter Sunday passed this year with a hostile crowd and a vaunted leader sacrificed, but it wasn’t at Calvary and it may take a lot longer than three days to sort out (h/t David Keen). The inevitable finally took place as David Moyes was sacked as manager of Manchester United.

Regular readers will know that I’m not a fan of Manchester United so I have no football axe to grind here.

A comparison of Moyes & Ferguson's first 30 games in charge.

I am tempted to write about the fact that he wasn’t given enough time (see the photo right for all you need to know about the need to be patient).

I’m also tempted to write about how Moyes was set-up to fail because he inherited an ageing squad well past its best. A squad that had been propped up last year by world-class players in the twilight of their careers (Scholes & Giggs, and to a certain degree also Van Persie). Fergie hadn’t left him very much.

But what I’d like to write about is how I could see all this coming a mile off because it looked very, very familiar to me from the world of the Church. Specifically, what happens when one Vicar leaves and their replacement is chosen. So, here are a couple of quick lessons on what the Church could have taught Manchester United.

The Vicar has no voice in choosing their replacement

When a Vicar leaves a parish (whether by retirement or by moving on to a new role), they have absolutely no say in who replaces them. Once they have left, there is always an ‘interregnum‘ (space between two reigns) and then the people of the parish are asked what they would like to see in their new leader. The comments of people like the Bishop and other overseers are also fed in, in case they are aware of some strategic things that may not be known at local level. But the one person who gets absolutely no say in the matter is the outgoing Vicar.

What does this guard against? Well, firstly, it’s very hard to be objective about your parishes when you leave. You may be tempted to try and justify your work or even cover up mistakes or failures. You may not have a good sense of what they need now, and (of course) it’s hard to be honest about your weaknesses and allow space for a new leader who may be gifted in those areas. There is also that temptation in human beings to choose their successor by finding someone not quite as good as we are, so that it makes us look all the better when they fail.

What you definitely don’t want is for the outgoing Vicar to choose a carbon-copy of themselves as their pre-anointed successor. That pays no attention to the way in which the parish has changed and grown in the intervening years since that outgoing Vicar was first appointed. The people have changed, society has changed, the local culture will have grown and evolved. You need an appointment now that reflects the Church as it is, now how it used to be.

It also means the new Vicar has slightly more freedom to be his own man or woman. If you’ve been chosen to be a carbon-copy of the last leader, what chance do you have to be yourself? If you divert from their well-established model, people aren’t going to like it and you’re going to get unnecessary flack.

The outgoing Vicar is not seen or heard from again

Now this is a tricky bit because it doesn’t always work out this way. But there is an unwritten rule amongst Clergy that you never, ever go back and that when you leave a Parish, you very definitely stay out of the new Vicar’s way. For many Clergy keeping this unwritten rule is easy. Their new parish or retirement residence may be some considerable distance away from the old parish. Indeed, there is an unwritten understanding that (if you are retiring) you put some serious geographical distance between you and the parish in which you served (although there are sometimes very good reasons for wanting to be more local).

Why? Because anytime you turn up, it has the potential to undermine the new Vicar. They may be very talented, very strong as a leader. They may not mind your presence at all (although they might). But if anyone has a grievance or a problem with the new leadership, seeing the old Vicar in the congregation can be an opportunity for the aggrieved to stick the boot in. If a new initiative is announced, some may look at the old Vicar and see if he or she is in agreement. It never works. It always undermines.

Now, of course the Church makes mistakes. There’s plenty of bad decisions out there with the wrong people in the wrong places. But these ways of doing things in Church circles are used because, over the years, considerable wisdom has built up through countless situations. Many, many times we’ve learnt that its far better to move on and not look back. It’s the new Vicar’s ship now, not yours. You need to butt out for the good of their leadership, for the good of the community you led and also for your own good too. Move on.

QED

So perhaps you can see why I thought this was always doomed. One working-class Glaswegian with red hair anoints another working-class Glaswegian with red hair. It seems that the fans, the players, the Board don’t have much of a chance to comment or consider what Man United need in the 21st century. The Board give Sir Alex far too much latitude in making the choice. The old Manager joins the board and goes to watch every game. Every time a goal is conceded, the television cameras don’t cut to the new manager, they cut to the old one.

Sir Alex, if you truly care about Manchester United, you need to disappear. Don’t get involved in the choice of the next manager. Don’t comment on who you would like to see replace David Moyes. Become a sleeping member of the Board (or better still resign your membership). Don’t turn up to games and very definitely don’t comment publicly on anything to do with the club. Only then can you give the new Manager a fighting chance to lead.

Trendy Vicars look like Neo!

A photo of Keanu Reeves as Neo in the Matrix

The Daily Mail isn’t prone to running ridiculous stories about Trendy Vicars, at least not since they last did it a month ago. It does slightly boggle the mind, however, to think that the Daily Mail thought the best way to greet Christmas was with a ridiculous story about Trendy Vicars and what they choose to wear in church.

“Never mind the Cassocks” they say, “vicars could soon be conducting services in shell-suits, shorts or even football shirts under radical plans to overturn centuries of Church tradition.”

“The Horror” says the nation. “Typical” says Mr Angry of Tunbridge Wells. “Pile of garbage, Daily Mail” says anyone with an ounce of common sense.

Read more

Remembering that this isn’t a game

A photo of two red dice rolling.

In all that follows, I want to underline and emphasise what is always true of posts on this blog. These opinions are my own personal opinions, and do not represent the views of my Bishop, diocese or other colleagues. Any alignment with their own views is purely coincidental.

In the last couple of days, I have been trying very hard to process devastating news.

Since 2011 when I arrived in my current parish, I have been championing Kings Hill’s need for an extra primary school. Kings Hill very obviously needed the extra school places and local people felt that the Local Authority wasn’t listening. Just as I arrived, a Free School bid had been unsuccessful but the pressure in the community was beginning to mount. Read more

The Genesis of a Non-Story

A screen grab of the headline from the Mail on Sunday

The other day I received an email from the Comms Unit at Church House. A journalist from the Mail on Sunday had been to church (at All Souls, Langham Place for a family event) and was intrigued to see the church used projector screens and also had flat screens on pillars. She wanted to write an article about its use in church.

The journalist spoke to the Comms Unit. The Comms Unit spoke to Publishing. Spotting the chance for a bit of free promotion, the staff at CHP talked about the days of Visual Liturgy, their current work and the (relatively less complex) development of a couple of new iPad apps to help clergy with the lectionary. Finally, they said, if she wanted to know about projection, she really needed to talk to me. Read more

The discrepancy between Diocesan and General Synods

Fairness

The list of who voted yes and no in the debate on women bishops (opens PDF) has now been published. Electronic voting systems have their plus points and their negatives, I guess.

The Head of Communications for the CofE has encouraged everyone to “love your enemies” as they look through the list.

I certainly think it is important that people don’t vilify or criticise those who chose to vote ‘no’. That doesn’t help anyone.

I would, however, like to use it to illustrate something of the Read more

Where did it go wrong? Structural issues have done us

A photo of tears, frustration and disappointment at General Synod today

I appreciate that, in the rarified bubble that clergy can sometimes inhabit, it probably feels like the entire world will have noticed tonight that the Church of England has failed at the final hurdle to pass legislation to enable women to enter the ranks of Bishops.

I’m sure the reality is that lots of people aren’t paying the blindest bit of notice.

I’m not going to comment on the why’s and wherefore’s of those in favour and those against. My task now, like all of us in the church, is to Read more

If it was me, I’m starting to think I’d say no…

A word cloud on the subject of women bishops
Word Cloud by Rt Rev David Hamid

Anyone keeping an eye on the Church of England will not need me to tell them that in July this year, General Synod will be given the chance to provide ‘Final Approval’ to the legislation that will finally allow women to be bishops. I appreciate it is likely to be a close run thing anyway and it’s by no means certain that they will get two-thirds approval in each of the houses of bishops, clergy and laity in order for it to pass.

That said, with something of a heavy heart, I think General Synod should say no and reject ‘final approval’ and thus throw out the possibility, for now, that women can become bishops.

Let me be clear. I support women’s ordination. I think that it is self-evident that they should be in the House of Bishops as well. I can construct a solid, biblically-based argument, to say that women have been leaders from the very earliest days of the church and that Read more

There are good men in the House of Bishops

Bishops at General Synod

There are some good men in the House of Bishops.

There, I said it.

With the decision of the House of Bishops to amend the draft legislation for women in the episcopate, all sorts of stuff has been written about this particular bench of bishops. Little of it complimentary.

This is the first of two posts I’m going to make about the proposed Final Approval for women in the episcopate, but before I say what I want to say about that, I want to Read more

We have a ‘Simplification’ Group?

A caption that reads 'Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication' Leonardo da Vinci

The earth was trembling with anticipation a couple of days ago when the Church of England announced that the Church Representation Rules are to go online, free of charge, for the first time. Church Rep Rules, for the uninitiated, is a vital but dull publication that tells PCCs and Synods how they are to function.

As a side point, because it’s vital, it was also a good regular seller for Church House Publishing. Decisions like this one (giving good sellers away for free) were amongst the reasons why CHP always found it hard to make money – and why the decision to outsource their function was so poor. Anyone seen anything like Mission-shaped Church recently?

Anyway, I digress. What grabbed me in this momentous news was Read more

When the church is a donut

A photo of my all-time favourite donut from Krispy Kreme

Q. When is the church a donut?
A. When it forgets its lessons from history.

There is something that has mystified me about the debate over women in the episcopate since the church first started debating all this aeons ago.

In recent days, the topic has been in the headlines again because the House of Bishops have made some changes to the draft legislation that will go before General Synod in July.

In this draft legislation (as amended by the House), one of the provisions for the dissenters is that they will Read more