Sunday, November 07, 2010

NT Wright: "you can work with that; bring new life with that

Q: What did you learn about institutional leadership as a bishop that surprised you?
Having been a member of the Church of England all my life, I think one learns to accept that it’s a very odd sort of organization, and its many-sidedness means that it doesn’t turn around very easily. It doesn’t move very fast in any direction. Once you accept that it is actually “Like a mighty tortoise / Moves the church of God,” as the old hymn says, then there are things that you can do and things that can happen within it.
Sometimes the inertia is itself a strength, because there will still be people going to that church even if the last three vicars have been a complete dead loss. There are people in that parish who know that, in this community, this is where you go and say your prayers and where you go and get married or buried or whatever it is.

You can work with that. You can bring new life within that, even though sometimes it is absolutely deeply frustrating and you just want to get the bulldozers out and say, “Let’s clear this off and start again.” You can’t actually do that in a community like the Church of England. Some of these beautiful churches go back to Saxon times. It’s deeply part of the community.

So I don’t think in terms of institutions. I think in terms of community. The institution is like the scaffolding that you need to be working on the building. The scaffolding isn’t the reality. When people say, “Isn’t General Synod frustrating?” I say, “General Synod is basically the plumbing.” When you go into a friend’s house, you don’t expect to see the plumbing, but you need to know that it’s working, because if it’s not, fairly soon there’ll be a bad smell in the house.

On the business side, the institutional paraphernalia has got to be working. Otherwise, things go wrong. People get hurt. Of course, when you’re bound up with the institution, it does sometimes feel as though you’re working on scaffolding all day, and you’d rather be living in the house than hacking about with the scaffolding, but somebody has got to do that stuff so that the mission of the church can go forward.

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Hey, thanks for engaging the conversation!