Rev Canon Bob Lewis was elected unopposed to the Chair of the House of Clergy at Diocesan Synod at our March meeting. We talk to him about why he values the role and some of the challenges that he thinks we face over the next few years.
“It’s a privilege to be a priest in our diocese,” said Bob as he reflected on how he sees the role of Chair of the House of Clergy working. A well-known and experienced priest, Bob comes with a long track record in ministry in both urban and rural contexts, and he has personal experienced seasons of numerical decline and growth.
From his early call as Diocesan Youth Officer to his current role as Vicar at St Margaret of Antioch Toxteth, Bob has ministered in a variety of places and contexts. This includes university chaplaincy work, and ministry in Winwick, Cheshire, where he was also Area Dean. This experience grounds Bob with an understanding of the pressures, challenges and pleasures of ministry across our diocese.
He wants to bring this experience to bear as Chair of the House of Clergy which he states is a privilege to be called to serve. “This is not about shuffling agendas and keeping meetings to time,” explained Bob, “I have an important agenda to reflect the needs of clergy in the pressures of an ever changing ministerial environment.”
Bob’s reflective style leads him to see the need for balance in all these areas. Drawing on his experience he wants to help fellow clergy express genuine concerns and anxieties that this period of change understandably brings. “I come from a standpoint that it is a great vocation, our diocese is a really good place to live work and minister but modern ministry comes with increasing stresses and pressures that need airing.”
Bob has four main areas he thinks strike at the heart of the issue for clergy. The first surrounds the increase in the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM). “Having stood alongside clergy who have been taken through the CDM process I have witnessed the problems with a lack of clarity over how it works. This needs to be addressed. We see so many times in the media the church being criticised for its failure to have a robust system. Everyone needs clarity, the complainant, the clergy, the church. We minister in a hostile environment where individuals are tried by the media not proper process and we need to be careful we are not sucked too far in that direction”.
Secondly Bob talks about the Ministerial Development Review process. As ever he comes from a supportive position and is fully signed up to the growth agenda and the pursuit of the vision to be a bigger church making a bigger difference. He explains, “My involvement with Social Responsibility in the Diocese suggests that a bigger diference can lead to a bigger Church.” His concern centres around the drive for growth that puts pressure on those for whom the context makes that growth difficult.
Bob also wants to see a honest debate about the competitive interview process raising an awareness of the pressure that comes with this. He doesn’t want a return to the old style but there is a realisation that the process of curates’ development, for example, can make the competitive interview very difficult. “Our curates train together, pray together, work together and then find themselves in a competitive situation,” Bob explains. “This is quite unlike the competitive interview in the secular world and just needs a bit of sensitive thought”.
Finally Bob is interested in thinking through the shift that has led to the empowerment of the laity. “This is quite right in many ways,” he contends, “the worry is for colleagues who can feel threatened or disempowered and we need to find appropriate ways to show support.”
It is clear there is a job to do and Bob is looking forward to being a supportive voice for the clergy in our diocese.
“I come from a standpoint that it is a great vocation, our diocese is a really good place to live work and minister but modern ministry comes with increasing stresses and pressures that need airing.”