The Vicar writes...
One of my close clergy friends presented me with a set of modern day Ladybird books for my sixtieth birthday last month.
I used to enjoy reading the series as a boy. They would often be abridged and illustrated classics of such great tales as Treasure Island or books on How to build a rocket or other dangerous boyish activities. I even read their versions of Bible stories when in Sunday School.
But the set of Ladybird books I had for my sixtieth birthday are very different to the ones I read over five decades ago. They are written specifically for adults and poke fun at modern day life - especially at the all pervasive management culture.
One of the books in the adult series is entitled 'The Meeting'. It begins with these words, "People at work spend a lot of the day in meetings. Meetings are important because they give everyone a chance to talk about work, which is easier than doing it." It goes on to say, "At a meeting everyone can have their say. Most of the people have nothing to say, but they say something anyway. That way the meeting has not been a waste of everyone's time."
Though these words are very much tongue in cheek they contain more than an element of truth. For in many walks of life these days people spend so much of their time attending meetings, many of which achieve very little indeed.
When I came to Oystermouth, eighteen plus years go, one of the first things I did was to resign from several of the diocesan committees I was a member of. I did this for two reasons. First, because meetings have never really been my scene and, second, I didn't think that I could serve the parish well if much of my working week was spent travelling to and attending meetings in various diocesan offices.
This said, I do believe that meetings have their place. Members of our Parochial Church Council play a key role in making important decisions about the worshipping life and mission of our Church. They also oversee our compliance with important safeguarding and health and safety legislation. Without the Appeal Executive and its various subcommittees we would not have raised the near three quarters of a million pounds we needed to restore our ancient and modern Church. Members of our congregation often come together to plan fundraising events. Though we try to keep all these meetings to a minimum without them the work of our Church would be very much be diminished.
But I don't think that I am alone in thinking that there is too much of an emphasis on management and administration these days. It's a criticism often made of the NHS or of other service industries, where there is the perception that there are growing numbers of office staff and fewer nurses or teachers. In the Church in Wales we've seen quite a significant growth in paid administrative staff while stipendiary clergy numbers serving in our parishes are decreasing. In many spheres of life we have fewer people actually working on the coal face.
When our risen Lord commissioned the Church to continue his work on earth he didn't tell us to go and form institutions and committees, however important they may be to us. He just said, 'go and make disciples!' He also promised to 'be with us to the close of the age'.
So perhaps we would do well to reflect on the influence management culture has today and whether it is a help or hindrance to the work we are called to do.
As I do some reflecting of my own I look forward to reading another of the spoof books my clergy friend gave to me. It's a modern take on an Enid Blyton story, 'Five go on a strategy away day!'