I know just the vicar for my parish church. Pity he’s fictional

Church of England recruitment ads are full of leftism and management speak. Here’s what I’d prefer

21 March 2015

9:00 AM

21 March 2015

9:00 AM

For cheap laughs you should look at the situations vacant column of the Church Times — pages of jobs for Anglican clergy. The language, with its dreary emphasis on compliance and its neglect of individualism, may help to explain why the Church of England has become the Labour party at prayer.

Number one word in these adverts is ‘team’. Applicants need to be ‘team players’. Other hot words: ‘passionate’, ‘change’, ‘management’ and ‘skills’. A couple of weeks ago the Diocese of Lichfield needed a ‘team rector’ near Tamworth — ‘a visionary, imaginative and inspirational team leader, passionate for evangelism and discipleship, with experience of managing change and able to enjoy modern styles of worship’. ‘Managing’ change may be a euphemism for ‘enforcing’ it.

The Diocese of Oxford, plainly feeling the Cross to be insufficient, illustrated its job ads with a multicoloured baby-bricks corporate logo saying ‘Living Faith’. The subtext might as well be, ‘Don’t come here if you are looking for grown-up worship.’ Oxford was looking for a rural mission dean — ‘an effective communicator who understands the complexities of envisioning traditional structures’. After reading that several times I still haven’t a clue what it means. Meanwhile, Chelmsford’s archdeacon was seeking a priest-in-charge for the Southend area — ‘a strong collaborative and compassionate leader who can grow mission and outreach’. The use of ‘grow’ as a transitive verb for anything other than fruit and veg always worries me. The Southend job will include ‘nurturing and discipling all in the church for every member ministry’. You may wonder if the Archdeacon of Chelmsford is an ‘effective communicator’. Is English even his first language?

Our village church in Herefordshire — Prayer Book, Hymns Ancient & Modern, no sign of the peace during communion, thank you — needs a new vicar. Our last one retired in the summer. Since she left we have made do with a handful of retired chaps and a couple of services have been taken by members of the congregation. During that time, attendance has risen.

An advertisement for our church’s vacancy will be placed in the Church Times quite soon. Church regulars have asked us to attend a meeting with a church official to explain what sort of priest we want.

I might just hand over a book I recently read. It is The Kappillan of Malta by Nicholas Monsarrat, who in addition to being the man who wrote The Cruel Sea also happened to be a distant relation of mine. Kappillan is Maltese for ‘chaplain’ and the hero of the book is Father Salvatore. A shuffling, shambolic figure, he likes to eat and drink, has a twinkle in his eye and is loved by his people. I’m not sure he would tick many Church Times boxes.

The novel is set in the second world war during the siege of Malta. Justin Welby recently agonised over what RAF Bomber Command did to Dresden. Malta probably suffered as much as Dresden. In two years the Italian air force and Luftwaffe mounted 3,000 raids on that tiny island. Some 30,000 buildings were destroyed, including 111 churches and 50 hospitals. More than 17,000 people were killed at sea, another 1,300 civilians on land. At the start of the siege, Malta was allegedly defended by just three creaky Gloster Gladiators nicknamed Faith, Hope and Charity.

Down on the ground in Valletta, under the bombs, works Father Salvatore. The people despair. He assures them that God loves them.

With his encouragement, the people shelter in the ancient catacombs where many centuries earlier monks were buried. In the evenings, as they huddle under the bombardment, Salvatore performs Mass with dignity. He tells them stories from Malta’s noble history — stories about how St Paul was shipwrecked there, how the Knights of Malta defended the island, and how Malta shrugged off the depredations of Napoleon. While never glorifying war, he celebrates feats of arms. His vivid tales stir the morale of his frightened flock.

Salvatore is well-read and high-born — the second son of one of Malta’s great families. He understands that private wealth can be a source of good: it can build churches and can buy a barrel of wine for the wedding feast of an impoverished couple. Salvatore has the social confidence to walks with princes and peasants and treat the two alike. Though impertinent to his notional superiors, he is a not an itchy revolutionary with ‘experience of managing change’. He respects the traditional ways and prays devoutly. Unlike the C of E bishops with their recent letter about the general election, Salvatore steers clear of party politics.

Fr Salvatore inspires and re-assures his congregants because he is constant, unimpressed by fashion, humorous, pugnacious, patriotic, unambitious. At personal risk he rushes to the dying. Salvatore is practical, haggling with black-marketeers, chiding swindlers and pessimists. He walks everywhere in a pair of workmen’s boots. He loses his temper, not least with his church’s hierarchy. He runs out of money (oops, no management skills). He is prey to human longings. This man is real.

One day he has lunch with the Governor of Malta, Lieut-General Sir William Dobbie. Monsarrat did not invent Dobbie. Dobbie was a keen member of the Plymouth Brethren. A veteran of the Boer War, he was once sent to quell some rioting in Palestine in the 1920s. ‘We will have to fight only four days a week,’ he said. ‘The Arabs won’t fight on Friday, the Jews on Saturday and I certainly won’t on Sunday.’

Mountbatten, a naval commander at the time, complained that Governor Dobbie ‘prays aloud after dinner, invoking the aid of God in destroying our enemies. This is highly approved of by the Maltese, who have the same idea about God, but I would prefer an efficient air force.’ I’m not sure Fr Salvatore would have liked the urbane Mountbatten as much as he liked Dobbie.

Salvatore eventually comes unstuck because the local bishop and a sly monsignor decide he is getting too big for those boots he wears. And because he is exhausted. He retires to a monastery and grows things — not ‘mission and outreach’ but beans and onions and melons. Never again is he seen in public.

It is unlikely we would ever find one but I wish we could advertise for a Fr Salvatore for our next vicar. It would at least make for a more interesting Church Times advert than all that lefty management-speak rubbish.

Got something to add? Join the discussion and comment below.

Quentin Letts writes for the Daily Mail.

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Show comments
  • gerronwithit

    Were you being paid by the word on the Maltese story, Quentin? However, I was very pleased that in your references to job ads in The Church Times the word ‘progressive’ never appeared. The rest of course was leftish, mind numbing gobbledygook and no wonder no one goes to Church.

    • Simon de Lancey

      Nobody goes to church for the simple reason that non-attendance carries no stigma in this day and age.

      • gewaite

        And religion is boring.

  • Damaris Tighe

    The mindless automatons who place these ads have completely lost their way. They should be calling for Priests (intermediaries between the people & the infinite) not for team leaders (intermediaries between manager & staff).

  • DonCamilletto

    Fr. Salvatore would, indeed, be an excellent choice, but there are two other outstanding candidates ready to throw their cassocks into the ring.
    Dr Christopher Syn. Very traditional. Prayer Book. Opposed to government interference especially in matters like the free flow of commerce. Very useful for keeping the flock in booze and fags. Can keep the congregation riveted during sermons – preached normally with two large [loaded] brass bound pistols in hand. NB is known to have a fondness for a drop of rum, dodgy sextons and singing the occasional ribald pirate ditty.
    My mentor Don Camillo. Well known for his doughty opposition to all things lefty – usually with a bench in his hands as a teaching aid. Loathed Vatican II and dealt with it largely by ignoring it. If your congregation has a taste for Italian High Baroque, Latin and fearsome penances [WARNING: can involve the use of corporal punishment such as kicks up the backside] this is the Priest for you.

    • Dodgy Geezer

      Alas, I fear the engaging but essentially harmless antics of Don Camillo would not really fit in an English village. We prefer our pleasures darker, but with a lot more word-play.

      Someone like Father Brown….

  • Crispin Pemberton

    It’s not easy for the clergy that are out there and have the same response to such advertising of vacancies. They’re slowly being squeezed out of the mainstream of parishes where they might actually minister sacrificially, and into vast multi-parish benefices where management skills and an ability to direct cabaret/cafe worship is becoming the norm. Kyrie eleison.

  • Andrew Smith

    “Since she left we have made do with a handful of retired chaps and a couple of services have been taken by members of the congregation. During that time, attendance has risen.”

    Perhaps that is the way forward – priesthood of all believers anyone?

    • Spock Puppet

      A very Protestant notion. But even in the Anglican church a non-priest can’t consecrate bread and wine, so I don’t see how you expect to obey Christ’s injunction to take communion.

      • George Drake

        Is it not more probable that the choice of bread and wine has something to do with these being the staple food and drink of the culture into which Jesus was born? “As often as you do this” does not mean “once in a special building on Sundays”. A sensible suggestion for someone who wanted his followers to think about what he was telling them many times a day for the whole of their lives. The injunction is to bless the bread and wine, break the bread and share the wine. Nothing in there about a mystical group of special people being the only ones who can do this.

        • Damaris Tighe

          The mystical significance of bread & wine originates in the ritual of the Jewish Temple. See Margaret Barker (former President of the Society for OT Study), ‘Temple Theology: An Introduction’.

  • Edward Prys

    The Diocese of Hereford love these ‘Consultations’ – you will get who they want!

  • WalterSEllis

    Don Camillo would be my choice. But then I’d also like Peppone as mayor.

    • Brogan75

      As an Italian, I grew up with Don Camillo. great choice

  • Belsay Bugle

    The C of E like every other British institution and association hitherto independent of the state has been infiltrated by Marxism.
    Its status as the national church made it an easy target, through the clever conflation of socialism and egalitarianism with Christianity that began during the 1960s and has accelerated through the last fifty years until it is now almost impossible to find a ‘priest’ that isn’t a lefty/liberal.
    Not that the RCs have escaped this infection, but there are still significant numbers of Roman Catholic Christian priests left.

    • Simon de Lancey

      No, I had it on good authority that it’s the Chosen People rather than the Marxists, as part and parcel of their Byzantine scheme to destroy the Gentiles.

      • Belsay Bugle

        What is your ‘good authority’?
        And what is Marxism other than a confection emanating from the Chosen People?

        • Simon de Lancey

          Are you familiar with the term “sarcasm”? It is a form of humor practiced here in Britain which very often defeats foreigners and lesser breeds.

          • Belsay Bugle

            Sarcasm is a word, not a term; in English it is spelled humour; and used as a verb it is practise.
            I’m sorry if what you intended to be humour in your post eluded me.

          • Simon de Lancey

            I’m sorry if what you intended to be humour in your post eluded me.

            And in turn I am not all surprised, troll.

  • Bene

    I look at those adverts in the CT fairly often and am bemused by all the things that are required of a vicar – none of them seem terribly close to a description of what Christ did.

  • henryGrattan1800

    Dreaming of Ealing England of the 1950’s that never existed in real life, Letts lives with his head facing his buttocks.

  • rob232

    Out of idle curiosity I went to the situations page of the church times and read two or three adverts. Nothing like what the writer has described.

    • Tim Gilling

      Well said. The content of the ad will largely be down to the PCC(s). I suspect that the writer has very little understanding of what priests actually spend their time doing. This romantic view of the traditional church, 1662 and King James is all very well but as Alan Bennett so rightly pointed out, “Cranmer did not die for English prose”.

  • country_exile

    Superb stuff from Mr Letts.

    Whenever I get depressed by the church I remember the role of the parish priest as Chaucer described it: ‘Wyd was his parisshe, and houses fer asonder,

    But he ne lafte nat for reyn ne thonder,

    In siknesse nor in meschief to visít’

    I remember listening to my old English teacher, a veteran of the war in the far east, gathering his academic robes around him against the cold speaking quietly and with feeling about Chaucer’s priest. I have always used him as my benchmark.

  • The Elderking

    The Church of England began dying at it’s birth.

    The destruction of village churches and theft of community assets, the banning of traditions and the forced conversions and penalties broke the peoples faith.


    That is why the CofE became the Tory party at prayer – the common people had their links severed whilst the local worthies commandeered it – and now it is run by socialists and unbelievers.

    It is dead and gone and it will not be mourned.

    So sad but those in charge of the CofE are entirely to blame. It now exists only to exist. It does not benefit the people of England, it is just a wealthy self perpetuating quango.

    • Damaris Tighe

      You are right. Which is why in the 18th century the common people were so lost (see Hogarth) & why in the 19th & early 20th centuries one of the most successful outreach movements within the CoE was the Oxford Movement & Anglo-Catholicism. It’s amazing from today’s standpoint to know that in the 1920s Anglo-Catholic conferences & other events would attract thousands of people.

    • Ken

      The CoE has actually kept in use around 17,000 parish churches – which are far better maintained and used than churches in, for example, France. Banning of traditions? Which? Is the writer referring to the Reformation?
      Maybe worth noting how traditional ways in the RC Church were junked by Vatican II….

    • Dave Nielsen

      Yes, things were going well before that. No corruption, nothing bad at all. It’s not like the abbots were living like kings, they’d never improperly use the wealth of those huge estates, and of course sexual abuse by priests and monks is a modern problem. There’s no way that happened in the Middle Ages. It goes without saying that none of that ever happened in those nations that have remained Catholic.

    • Mark

      Meanwhile, back in the real world, the Torys protected the peasants while Whig landlords exploited them.

  • Ken

    I think Letts exaggerates – but it is certainly the case that many clergy seem to regard their role as more about social work than spiritual leadership. Because of the inevitable merger of rural parishes the CoE in rural areas is strictly middle of the road, little of Evangelical fervour or Anglo Catholic ceremonial. I can’t quite see the relevance of the Maltese priest, a Roman Catholic. But if Letts is so traditionalist why does he favour women priests? The case for them was a classic liberal position – argued on equal rights grounds, ignoring tradition and scripture. Liking the BCP does not make you an orthodox Anglican!

  • Solage 1386

    Priests consider themselves to be the intermediaries between humanity and the divine, the arrogant, deluded fools. Who on earth do these people think they are? They consider themselves to be holy, but they are wholly transparent, their motives plain for all to see……though not apparently to themselves. Ludicrous imposters and charlatans, they are beneath contempt. Their irritatingly fake meekness and mildness conceals an all-too-obvious ego on the rampage. Chosen by God? Don’t make me laugh! They are madmen, and I dislike them intensely. Finally, since there is no God they have wasted their miserable lives and all their labour has been in vain. Good.

    • Freddythreepwood

      You won’t be applying for the job then?

    • Mark

      I’m picturing you breathing really hard while you type and flipping through a thesaurus.

  • Freddythreepwood

    Brilliant Mr Letts. Just brilliant.

  • Cymrugel

    I think the COE is caught on a hook of its own making and this sort of article is typical of one side of the argument.

    The management speak and silly jargon are true enough as is the woolliness of much liberal church thinking, but the supposedly traditional wing can be just as bad. I am not a fan of the happy clappy expression of the COE, but at least its joyful and evangelical churches are pretty much packed to the gunwales with actual believing Christians. Traditional church music is after all what’s left of the past – plenty of the music of the past was dire and derided every bit as much as the Kumbayah stuff of today.

    The church going described here seems more like a cultural ritual than anything to do with belief in God. It all has to be in agreeable old buildings with no fuss and minimal interaction with the churchgoers. It’s more of a day out and an assertion of culture and social class than a religious experience. I can’t help but think some of those pining for the good old days spiritual home is really English Heritage or the National Trust rather than the COE.

    The main problem the COE has is a clergy that quite simply do not believe their own theology.

    The “liberals” seem to be simply ignoring Christian teaching and making it up as they go along, while the conservatives basically want to use the church to enshrine the social values of the 1930s.

    Neither side seems to have much in the way of faith.

    If this goes on much longer it will simply cease to exist. The real Christians will either be in the RC church or belong to independent evangelical churches.

  • JWM

    6 months late to the party, but as a parson who from 24 years of parish ministry in unfashionable parishes finds himself identifying rather more with Fr Salvatore, Don Camillo, and Graham Greene’s Whiskey Priest than the ecclesiastical powers that be, I too find the Situations Vacant in the Church Times to be depressing and alienating.

    With 14 years served in my current post, and 16-19 years to go until voluntary or compulsory retirement, it may be that the Lord has another appointment for me, who knows? I certainly don’t from the gobbledygook in the Church Times! It’s a different Church.

  • poulter11

    Spectator articles, on the evidence of this nonsense, are more cliched than ads for vicars, the language of which comes straight from management-think, more “rightist” than “leftist”. No wonder the author writes for the Daily Mail.