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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.


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.

Easter Parable: The Beam of Light

Happy Easter everyone!

With thanks to the children of St Mary’s & St Michael’s Church who helped me put together this Space Ranger parable entitled ‘The Beam of Light’. It was told on Easter Sunday 2014 at both churches for an all-age audience in place of a sermon. If you like it and it’s useful to you for future years at Easter time, feel free to use or adapt, because I’m sure you can improve it! The good bits are the kids’ work, the bits you can improve are obviously mine.

An artist's impression of a Beam of Light shooting into the sky

This morning I would like to tell you a story.

This is the story of a Space Ranger whose name is Captain Steve. He has a spaceship called the Eternal Sunrise that can travel the universe. He shoots from planet to planet, and quest to quest, a hero to the galaxy and a friend to all.

One day, as Captain Steve was journeying a thousand million light years from planet Earth, he noticed Read more

A contemporary Advent parable

A photo of Paddy and the girls from ITV show Take Me Out

The girls were ready, Paddy had the TV studio audience to their usual fever pitch but as the lift descended, some of the girls were already making up their mind.

No pounding dance track, no rappers promising steamy nights of passion or singing of male bravado. Instead, the haunting voice of Enya singing ‘O Come o come Emmanuel.’

The audience were momentarily silenced, not quite sure what to make of it all. Read more

Robbie and Jesus… part two

Robbie Williams, Bodies CD cover

Well, if you ever want to boost your blog stats, write a post about Robbie Williams! Not only has my little exploration of his latest song Bodies become my most viewed post ever and the most commented ever, but I’ve also had to refuse to publish a handful of comments for the first time ever! Not a particularly good claim to fame, that last one, I’m afraid. :/

I do hate having to censor comments and it’s not a decision I took lightly, but for those that found comments weren’t published – a few pointers. If you make an anonymous comment and/or are deliberately insulting and/or accuse Robbie of satanic things that border on defamation and/or mention the illuminati or other such hogwash, well then I won’t be publishing your comment. To be honest, the number of the beast comments that I did publish were getting pretty close to the bone as well. To all those that would make such comments – just remember Robbie Williams is a human being too. Do unto others… love your neighbour… ring any bells?

On the other hand, can I say a very big thank you Read more

Robbie Williams – pro or anti Jesus?

Robbie Williams, Bodies CD cover

This afternoon, driving home from a meeting I caught Robbie Williams’ new single on the radio – his first for a couple of years entitled ‘Bodies’. Very interesting lyrics.

God gave me the sunshine,
Then showed me my lifeline
I was told it was all mine,
Then I got laid on a ley line
What a day, what a day,
And your Jesus really died for me
Then Jesus really tried for me

Read more

Pausing and wrestling

Coldplay album cover

Well, that was a hectic week last week of blogging! For those that have been counting and watching, yes I know that I still haven’t said anything about my ongoing wrestling match with membership of New Wine. I guess it’s testament to the wrestling and struggling that I’ve yet to get any thoughts down on (e-)paper. So you’ll have to watch this space on that one.

Clearly I can’t sustain the daily habit long-term with the demands of parish ministry but this is one of the shorter posts that I intend to do in between the mini-essays!

The Future of CHP posts have generated a lot of interest and the ‘ol blog stats took a bit of a ballistic hit upwards on Saturday which was a slightly nervy surprise. I must admit that initially I didn’t think anyone was watching since my blog platform only looks for trackbacks and so hadn’t picked up on Dave Walker’s Twitter post until someone mentioned it here. Thus far I’ve avoided Twitter although that’s another story and another blog post altogether!

Anyway, the debate continues so please do comment on those posts if you have something to say or just lend your support. There’s more to say on that whole subject of CHP and one or two other things have occurred to me since writing those two posts so watch this space for more on that too. I am kinda wondering what, if anything, can be done about it though. Anyone got any thoughts?

In the meantime, if you need something of a soundtrack to which you can do your own pausing and wrestling, then Coldplay have just released a live album of nine songs totally free online for people to download as ‘a thank you to our fans’. I know my youth group don’t think I’m very cool for liking Coldplay but I like them, so shoot me. Heartily recommended.

Is the truth stranger than fiction

Episcopal punch-up

When I picked up the Guardian this morning (one of my Monday rituals because of the new media jobs section… old habits die hard), I was surprised to find an article covering the Bishop of Southwark’s black eye and the alleged way in which he may or may not have received said black eye. I had originally heard about Bishop Tom’s shiner via Ruth Gledhill’s blog but accusations of drunkenness were new to me.

It got me thinking and particularly because, also last week, the Archbishop of Canterbury attended our Ridley Advent service with his arm in a sling. His injuries were less well reported, in fact I’ve not been able to find very much coverage at all except this article.

Finally, also last week, the Living Church Foundation in the USA reported that several other bishops have been in the wars lately.

Surely, drunkenness, muggings, cysts and whatever else are all smokescreens for something far more straightforward. Our senior churchmen have had one almighty great punch-up! 🙂

In keeping with the spirit of my previous post encouraging excellence in blogging, I feel compelled to point out that I know I am making two plus two equal five and that this is utter rubbish and fluff. So shoot me… I just loved the thought of crosiers at dawn! Plus it gives me a chance to chuck a jedi picture on my blog and ultimately I am hoping Dave Walker does a suitable cartoon for the occasion.

Dear Santa…

Image of a child writing

It’s less than a month to my birthday and just a week or so after that Christmas will be upon us. When I was growing up, I used to despise the fact that my birthday was right on top of Christmas. Inevitably, you always ended up getting a bit of a raw deal compared to others who had their birthday a good way away from the Christmas period. My presents seemed to be a merger of the two events… roughly equivalent to 1 and 1/2 times a set of prezzies compared to the two sets that other people got. At least, it always felt like that.

These days I’m still not much of a birthday fan but my reasons are entirely different. As an adult, birthdays have been pretty depressing in the past. The onset of time just reminds me how little I have done with my life, how much remains on my great wishlist of things to do, places to visit, people to see.

However, I turn 33 this year and for once I feel quite settled about it. Whether I will feel the same in just over a fortnight’s time we’ll have to wait and see. However, the fact that I am now on my way to being ordained… that I have found my vocation and am actively involved in preparing for it… things feel much smoother. I know where I am going and what I am here to do. There is a lot less restlessness in me… or rather that restlessness has a sense of direction to it all now.

Anyway, if anyone feels so inclined, you see what I am wishing for this birthday and christmas by looking at my Amazon wishlist. What can I say… I’m not proud! Buy me something! 🙂