Church Bureaucracy

We have all come up against bureaucracy in our lives, from the moment we need to see a doctor, claim sickness benefit, get planning permission to build a new garage or extension to our home, deal with our tax declarations and all that sort of thing. That is in civil life, and no one expects the Church to suffer from the same malaise.

I left the Church of England as a young layman, and I had very little experience of committees and everything that makes people do nothing urgently! This is an article that has been recently published about bureaucracy in a large ecclesiastical institution – The Episcopal Church: Bureaucracy, Madness and Methods.

My first reflection is that human institutions can get too big for their own good and cease to serve the purpose for which they were originally intended. Bureaucracies take away personal responsibility and accountability and replaces human values by meanness and selfish ambition. The sole motivation of many politicians is to get voted into power and get second and third terms in office. Bureaucracy enforces compliance through regulation to cover up its own failure in human terms. They depersonalise human beings and turn them into objects to be administered and controlled. Thus, church institutions prefer to sue their internal “enemies” than examine the reasons why there is dissent and revolt, why people perceive grievances and injustice.

This article discusses the American Episcopal Church, but all Churches become bureaucracies once they have grown to such a number of staff and members that they can no longer deal with people as unique human persons. We are given a fine quote by Sir Winston Churchill – “insatiable lust for power is only equalled by their incurable impotence in exercising it“. The same thing happened in France when the plutocrats took over from General Charles de Gaulle.

I see this as one of the biggest causes for the disintegration of the big “mainstream” Churches. We are all alienated from them, even if we are believers, convinced Christians, morally upright and critical of the materialist / consumer culture. Bureaucracy has turned those institutions away from what they were intended for.

All we could do as Continuing Anglicans, traditionalist Roman Catholics, etc. was to break away and start again with our intimate little dioceses and communities. We in the ACC can hardly claim to be the “true Church”, but we can at least claim to be a Church of human dimensions.

* * *

Update: Fr David Chislett has sent the link to Reorganizing Religion – Why the Church Bureaucracies Have to Go by David Mills in the comment box to this posting. This article is so apposite that it deserves greater emphasis. Read it and you’ll understand everything!

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5 Responses to Church Bureaucracy

  1. Father Martin says:

    I just received an e-mail form a colleague in the UK, apparently the C of E has voted to consecrate women “bishops”. Can anyone verify this?

      • Father Martin says:

        Father Anthony,

        This is truly amazing, one bishop calls the decision “nothing short of miraculous”, I think “demonic” would be a more fitting adjective. Perhaps this will be the catalyst necessary to force the Catholics out of the C of E and hopefully into the ACC. This same decision in the US brought about great change and growth in the world of Continuing Anglicanism. If the C of E did no commit Apostolic Suicide in the 16th century it’s done so now.

    • Dale says:

      Personally, I sincerely doubt that it will have any affect whatsoever. Places such as S Mary’s Bourne Street will simply continue to play 18th century Baroque Catholicism and enjoy the show…it is interesting to note that the two major centres of discontent against both the ordination of women as priests and bishops in the United States, Ascension and S Agnes and S Paul’s K Street, have, under new vicars decided to become complete supporters; now welcoming womyn clergy and disassociating themselves from Forward in Faith. S Paul’s continues to be mystical Sarum whilst Ascencion & S Agnes continues with chasubles stiff as a board.

  2. Father Anthony, thank you for that piece. You are absolutely right. For a penetrating analysis of the problem (and the spiritual sickness behind it) see this article by David Mills:

    http://www.touchstonemag.com/archives/article.php?id=17-07-039-f

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