Wednesday, 10 October 2012
Future Spiritual Leaders
Ray Anglesea reflects on leadership in the Church and beyond
Americans will go to the polls on Thursday November 6, 2012 to elect a new president. Incumbent President Barack Obama is running for a second and final term, his challenger is former Massachusetts Governor, Republican Mitt Romney. A week later on Thursday 15th November the British public in England and Wales will go to the polls in new elections to elect a Police and Crime Commissioner, a new role that will replace the local police authority.
At the URC General Assembly 2012 held in Scarborough the Revd David Grosch-Miller was elected ministerial moderator of General Assembly for 2014-16. Mr John Ellis was announced as lay moderator for 2013-16. At the Methodist Conference Revd Ruth Gee, chair of the Darlington Methodist District was elected conference president designate. The post of the Chief Rabbi of the United Hebrew Congregations of the Commonwealth will also be going begging following the retirement of Lord Sachs in September 2013. In November 2012 the Holy Synod of the Coptic Orthodox Church will enthrone the leader of the Coptic Church of Alexandria, known as Pope Alexandria and Patriarch of all Africa.
As I write the body responsible for choosing the next Archbishop of Canterbury has failed to agree who should be the successor to Dr Rowan Williams. Despite a three day session, aided by prayers invoked on Twitter, the 16-member committee has been unable to decide on who should take on the job that the present incumbent today implied was “impossible.” One wag writing in The Times suggested a Trinitarian arrangement; another suggested drawing a name out of a mitre!
Is political and religious leadership possible anymore? What do we expect from our political and church leaders? During the last 40 years there has been an explosion of leadership programmes, courses and studies, from the town planning world where I spent my professional life to the Wesley Study Centre, Durham now offering a postgraduate pathway through a missional leadership course for synod moderators, archdeacons and circuit superintendents and others who are leading complex Christian organisations. And there is more. Leadership has begun to enter into the very definition of what universities see themselves as doing; providing leaders. Alas all this is happening at a time when respect for leaders has fallen to an all time low. Sharp declines in confidence in leadership can be traced sector by sector, in politics, business, finance, the media, sport, education and faith-based organisations.
Barbara Kellerman in her recent book “The End of Leadership” suggests three possible causes for this trend. First is the long historic march towards ever greater democracy. Second is the collapse of traditional authority structures within the family that took place in the 1960’s. Third, the impact of the instantaneous global communications and social networking that has led to the Arab Spring, The Occupy Wall Street movement and other assaults on the citadels of power. In the hyper-democracy of cyberspace everyone has a voice, all the time.
A few months ago I officiated at a funeral service of a former midwife. I took as my theme the midwife’s tale from the book of Exodus, the story of the Hebrew midwives, who fearing God saved many a male baby, one of whom was Moses, arguably one of the most outstanding leaders in the bible. As a self supporting minister I like to think that God used Moses’ secular experience in preparation for his ministry. At the start of his leadership, miracle upon miracle occurs (recorded in the books of Exodus and Numbers). Moses leads the Israelites to freedom. All along the way there are signs and wonders - the division of the Red Sea, manna from heaven, and water from the rock. Whatever the people need, heaven sends. Which political leader today wouldn’t relish the wonder working powers of Moses - budget deficit, unpopular cuts, a new oil field, a £10bn cut in welfare benefits?
Alas as we move through the story of Moses fascinating and unpredictable as it is, miracles don’t solve the problem of Moses’ society, they don’t help, the people don’t change, and they remain quarrelsome, ungrateful, ready to despair at the slightest setback, unfit for the responsibilities of freedom. So what do we find this great leader of Israel doing as we move out of the books of Exodus and Numbers to Deuteronomy? He starts to teach. He gives them 3 speeches on the eve of the occupation of the Promised Land; a speech that would spell out a radical new form of leadership. Moses stops performing wonders; he becomes a teacher. He talks of a future society of justice, compassion, social responsibility, and love of neighbour, care of the poor, the lonely and disenfranchised. Throughout the Old Testament God chooses individuals, not for themselves but in order to choose a people.
Some of the great leaders have been teachers – Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Mandela. They spent inordinate amounts of time reading, thinking, learning, and writing. Then they taught. They told stories so that people would understand the long journey ahead and the sacrifices they might have to make along the way. They new that the only way to negotiate change successfully was to educate their people. They taught and they were tireless. Jesus in true rabbinic style sat down and taught his people. He empowered them, and he trusted them. In the centre of the East Rose window in Durham Cathedral Jesus is seated, like a Jewish rabbi, enthroned in glory, the window overlooks the tomb of St Cuthbert of whom Bede states ‘like a good teacher he (Cuthbert) taught others to do only what he first practised himself. Bede also tells us that ‘Cuthbert was so skilful a speaker, and had such a light in his angelic face, and such a love for proclaiming his message… that all confessed their sins to him’.
When our political leaders tried religion, they got it badly wrong. Gordon Brown, a son of the manse, was roundly condemned when he quoted the Bible against his opponents. Douglas Alexander, Brown’s protégé, sounded ridiculous when he claimed that the Church’s mission was to “afflict the comfortable”, as if he had discovered a Dead Sea Scroll relating to class war. Last week, at the Labour Party Conference Ed Miliband not a man for synagogues or churches, said, he is emphatically a man of faith. “Not a religious faith,” he said, “but a faith none the less. He listed (after Moses) the tenets: a duty to leave the world a better place; a desire to tackle injustice; a belief in the power of collective action. When Mr Cameron argued that Britain was a Christian country, he observed we have a rich Christian heritage, some of the world’s greatest churches, the best hymns and a Queen who is head of both Church and state. Alas all we’re missing, however, is the congregation!
We will look to our new spiritual leaders to educate certainly and to draw us out of the sludge of self-preoccupation. They cannot make people believe, but they must have a voice of intellectual confidence to be credible enough for people to take what they say seriously.
Ray Anglesea is a self supporting minister working in St Andrew’s Dawson Street LEP, Crook and in the wider West Durham Methodist Circuit