Resignations, Dysfunctionality and the House of Bishops

by Jayne Ozanne, Editor of ViaMedia, Director of the Ozanne Foundation and Member of General Synod

I resigned from my Bishop’s Council this week.

The decision has been a long time coming – I’ve felt I’ve been hitting my head against a brick wall over our failure to prioritise the poor and disadvantaged, especially given we are such a rich diocese, for years. In fact, I’ve been banging the drum since I got onto Council five years ago. Interestingly, even though we constantly rated serving the poor in our diocese as a “the top priority” during our discussions, it rarely seemed to make the cut into any paperwork . In virtually every meeting I can remember I have had to remind those in authority of the commitments we had agreed as a Council.

I realised things would never change when after one Diocesan Synod meeting I was told, when the priority yet again failed to be mentioned to those gathered, that it was because it was too long to fit on the slide! All rather ironic given that we’d just had a report that emphasised the real issue in our diocese was that of “hidden poverty”!

In truth, I know I was as tired of banging my drum as Council members were of hearing it.

So, eventually, it got to the point where I felt that the best way for them to hear me was by my absence. You see, sometimes leaving is the only way left for people to be heard….

Since I resigned, I’ve been reflecting on why it is so difficult for those in the central Church or Diocesan structures to hear what those outside or on the fringes of the Church see as completely obvious. It came into sharp focus again this week with the IICSA report which stated what so many of us have been saying for some time now – that we need a completely independent safeguarding system in the Church in order for it to be fully functional.

I have decided that the real problem is that our boards and councils are populated by mostly white, mostly male, mostly middle class and mostly middle aged (and that’s being kind) people who all hold virtually the same world view – and who are incapable of recognising that there is legitimacy to any other view other than their own. Because they all end up endorsing each other, they confirm their own legitimacy, and nothing therefore ever changes.

That’s why we find it difficult to embrace those from other backgrounds – those that are different to the monochrome “norm” that the Church of England has built into the warp and weft of its very foundations. You just have to look at the make up of General Synod to see what I mean.

It is why we’ve an appalling record on nearly every measure of diversity – we are seen by those “on the outside and margins” as racist, sexist, homophobic and transphobic. We are outrageously bad at dealing with people with differing abilities too. Although it’s “not good show” of course for us to admit this in public.

And what does this “monochrome” system result in? Well, I won’t be popular in saying this, but I believe this ultimately results in the single most critical problem for us as a Church. It’s the real root of most of our problems, which few are prepared to admit let alone publicly name – it is that we have a leadership structure that is, I’m afraid to say, deeply dysfunctional. It seems our House of Bishops operates like a boys public school, with prefects and head boys who whip the younger boys (and they are of course mostly boys!) into line. It may seem like the body that so many aspire to, but once you’re there you get sucked into colluding with a system that few feel able to break free from. Although thankfully, there are some brave individuals who do.

It is interesting to question why so few have called this out publicly over all these years?

Especially given that to many of us on the outside and fringes this dysfunction is plain to see. We have bishops leading double lives, which no one seems to bother about or challenge. We have bishops preaching one thing and practicing another, particularly when it comes to the way in which they treat LGBT+ clergy in their midst. We have bishops who lament safeguarding failures, but whose own record is pretty poor. It all leads to a postcode lottery, which everyone knows about but no one does anything about because they (we?) have all got too much to lose…or worse, that they don’t think that somehow anyone will notice.

But we do, and we all know. The charade was up a long time ago.

It’s just like my own experience with Bishop’s Council – no one can be bothered to bang the drum any more. We are resigned to letting it all continue, with no one rocking the boat.

But time is running out. Many are tiring of this game. And they’re leaving.

So much so that soon the primary problem won’t be the fear of people rocking the boat, but rather the fear of ensuring that there are still people who are prepared to sail in it!

So reform is needed – and it needs to start at the top.

The House of Bishops is about to release resources for the Church of England to engage with over sexuality. What they seem to have failed to see (again!) is that the vast majority of people in the pews made up their minds about LGBT issues long ago….what they’re waiting for is for the House of Bishops to finally do so themselves. And to do so in a way that has some credibility.

So it’s time the House of Bishops had an OFSTED inspection. They need to turn the mirror on themselves and take a long hard look at what they see. They need to be honest about their dysfunctionality, their divisions and their double standards.

Miracles can happen – and with God’s grace this might just be one of them. Goodness knows we need it!

This entry was posted in Disability, Human Sexuality, IICSA, Jayne Ozanne, Racism, Safeguarding, Sexual abuse, Social Justice, Spiritual Abuse, Transgender. Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to Resignations, Dysfunctionality and the House of Bishops

  1. Roy Clements says:

    You have fought the good fight, Jayne. But at last you have realised that the real problem with the C of E is its unreformed ecclesiology. There is no biblical warrant for the kind of centralised authoritarian episcopacy it perpetuates. Baptists, congregationalists and other independents have their faults, but they can CHANGE!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Kim James says:

    Kicking issues into the long grass is quite a speciality in many organisations that are embarrassed by their own failures. The CofE is very good at it at all levels of the hierarchy – from PCC subcommittees all the way up to Synod and the archbishops.


  3. Madeleine Barnett says:

    Well said Jayne


  4. Susan Paterson says:

    Absolutely nailed it – well done. We need a Reformed Anglican Church – though sadly the initials are already taken!


  5. Philip Feakin says:

    Excellent. It is a great pity that you have had to resign. The Church needs more people to be speaking out about the Church’s very evident shortcomings.


  6. Jan Dean says:

    And that pattern repeats all the way down to parish level where the skin of my teeth is finally giving up.


  7. James Normand says:

    Speaking as a white, middle class, late middle-aged man, not (yet) on General Synod, I think your assumption that we ‘all hold virtually the same world view – and .. are incapable of recognising that there is legitimacy to any .. view other than [our] own’ is far too much a generalisation and simply not true.
    That is not to say that I’m critical of your decision to resign from the Bishop of Oxford’s Council. I fully appreciate that ‘there comes a time’ and I’m very sorry that that time has come for you – who have done so much to open the eyes of old fogeys like me.
    Keep battling on, Jayne, in the forums which you continue to inhabit – and, in particular, through your Foundation and Via Media.


    • Jayne Ozanne says:

      All generalisations are, by their very nature, that – generalisations. But given the exceptionally large number of people who have today agreed with this caricature of Church of England Boards and Councils I think those who fit this description need to reflect on how diverse their groups actually are…


  8. Jayne, I went to a public school and it taught me how the system works. There is a consensus about who counts, who is worth listening to, and who can be ignored. There are unspoken systems for making decisions within the clique. It’s a great shame that so many bishops have bought into it.

    Liked by 1 person


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  11. Roger Bryan says:

    It’s a sad truism that power tends to corrupt, and the C of E has never been different from any other institution, whether (nominally) sacred or secular. Once one joins and becomes a member of any establishment there seems to be an unspoken expectation that one will conform – almost unthinkingly and unquestioningly – to its mores, conventions and received traditions. Very few have the moral courage to question and criticise the very body that has conferred perceived status on them.


  12. Froghole says:

    Thank you for this moving piece, and I am certain that you will be a considerable loss to the Oxford diocese. Your views elide closely with mine: what I have found staggering is that the Church has absented itself from the public debate about welfare, poverty and other problems that have become still more urgent as a consequence of the virus. As they used to say of the UK in the days before it entered the EEC, ‘les absents ont tourjours tort’. So too with the Church.

    Whilst I do not doubt that many churches have provided much in the way of community support during this crisis, I was truck when reading COVID-19 section of the belated birthday honours, that out of more than 500 recipients, only one – the vicar of Gorleston (in Lothingland) – had any identifiable connection with the Church of England (though there is one ordained recipient of an OBE in Co. Londonderry). It would appear that the overwhelming bulk of charitable support and community endeavour has come from people who, in all probability, have little or nothing to do with the Church. Hospital and prison chaplains have been mentioned, but none are listed in Crockford. Now I do not wish to suggest that the Church has not been doing its bit, but this might amount to some slight evidence of the weakness of the Church, or that it has perhaps turned in on itself, most especially during lockdown, when it appeared to retreat into a virtual (and, dare I say, middle class) cocoon on Zoom.

    This is all of a piece with the rather underwhelming response of certain senior figures (other than Jonathan Gibbs) to the IICSA report. I have therefore reached the painful conclusion that the Church is very indifferently led.


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