Sunday, 25 September 2011


Today we were thinking about 'authority' (which is to say that I was thinking about 'authority' and hoping that others were listening!) as a result of the Gospel passage given to us today  - Matt 21: 23ff.

The episode of South Park which gave us the clip I have placed here always made me laugh. It also reminded me of much authority exercised in churchy circles. I am not here to talk about what authority is and its sources, but I wonder sometimes if we don't use it in odd ways or even wrong ways. The "it has been like this years so we will do it like that for ever" is one such way that the authority of time and tradition is used. Needless to say, it is the axiom of all anti-women dogma in church life. 

Then you get the Cartman style of authority (see above) - exerted by coercion. It is the "I have authority because I say so and you can't stop me". We see this in church life in the hands of the passive-aggressives who rather than being overtly strong, are self-weakened so that we can keep our distance. This is a very significant source of much authority wielded in churches. 

The thing about authority is that it is in larger part granted us by others. Be can't really take authority upon ourselves, but rather receive affirmation from others that authorises us to act or behave in given ways. Even us vicars are in danger when we start the "we are the boss so you will respect my authoritah" and it long since not been the case that Father is Always Right. So often mistaken for power, authority is granted not taken [apologies for the typo that inverted that statement]

Just saying ...


  1. There is so much truth in what you say. It know that in the Army,(Autocratic system) while in a position of authority, I still had to earn the mutual respect of my mixed team of military and civilian to be able to exercise that authority. It had to be in a way, which empowered them, while retaining a measure of oversight of what was being done, and because the ultimate responsibility for success or failure was mine, not theirs. Delegation with trust and feedback was the tool, which ultimately I learned got the best results. Sure occasionally, I was let down, but not often, and situations were always retrievable.

    In the church, I have had to get used to the fact that we not autocratic, but democratic, in a way which should motivate and lead, very much as Jesus led - by example, by word and action. In Our Benefice, we have something of this. We all know that the ultimate responsibility stops with the Vicar, but work very much on our own delegated responsibilities, within a team, which meets weekly for discussions and feedback. We assess what has happened, what is due to happen and try to allocate people to tasks within their remit, but with lots of support along the way. Active mentoring is in place alongside it. I've learned so much from this, that I doesn't feel like a democracy, but a team of equals, working alongside each other.

    It's a great place to be and to serve with so many opportunities to grow and develop. Off course there are frustrations, in the main, dealing with the administration that all of this activity causes, but we try to share the load evenly and generally make it work.

    I still feel that the Vicar and Curate are overloaded, but can also see that this is their calling and vocation, and I've never heard one moan from either of them. I'm not saying they're Saints, just humans, trying to serve the community to the best of their ability.

    Perhaps authority in the church, further up the line needs to realise the pressures on Parish Clergy just a little more.

  2. Going to correct my last statement - authority is granted not taken!



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