john davies
notes from a small curate

    Committees of Hope
    - a short story

    By JIM HART, December 2001

    It was around 3 a.m. when George Carey, Archbishop of Canterbury, was awoken by another visit from Our Lord. He always came at the same time and said: "George, when is the C. of E. going to do something about My lot - the poor?" and frankly George was getting a bit pissed off. Didn't Our Lord know that he had things to do? That morning he had the Dilapidations Board to chair, and then an address on business ethics to deliver at a City lunch.

    Anyway he thought that Our Lord was being a bit unfair. They'd had Faith in the City, the Church Urban Fund, Mission England, Urban Priority Areas and much else in his time alone. He'd got all the T-shirts. It was true that the church was depending now on Partnerships, Single Regeneration Bids and so forth but this was because God's People had won with regard to this one and the stuff about The Poor had become mainstream. Everybody from Blair downwards were sleepless with worry about The Poor and it was fitting that the church should network, not try to do it all itself. There was an ecumenical and civic dimension, George thought, which Our Lord should take into consideration. He was supposed to be omniscient but seemed unaware of the church's funding crisis. George groaned. He supposed that he might as well get up and shave.

    The Dilapidations Board filed into Room 223 at Church House and the Archbishop sat at the end of a vast polished table. There were eleven Board members plus three consultants and two secretaries in the room at a gross hourly cost of 700, sandwiches extra. There was a sense of urgency about today's meeting. The report on the Code of Dilapidations for Clergy Garages was scheduled to be debated by Synod at the end of 2002 and there were eighteen working parties and eleven regional sub-committees still to report. Members stopped munching their sandwiches and laid out huge sheafs of paper in front of them together with laptops, diaries and personal organisers which soon covered the entire surface of the table and the meeting was underway.

    "Hi! I'm Bill Downspout, folks, from Arcadia, the leader in garage consultancy, and it's a real pleasure to give this presentation on Team Building in the Garage Provision Environment." Mr. Downspout began his remarks with a series of overhead projector graphics which consisted of lines of text operated from a keyboard with words like 'Getting the ethos right,' Keeping straight to the vision' and 'Carrying your staff with you the holistic approach to colleague management.' The Archbishop had heard plenty of this sort of stuff in his time, good as Mr. Downspout undoubtedly was, and, what with Our Lord's nocturnal visit, was getting a bit dozy. He hoped that he could keep awake. Mr. Downspout's voice droned on. He had reached the line on the screen which read 'Focus Groups and their role in the bigger communications package' and was beginning to speak to it: "In the caring, staff-aware, client-oriented culture of today, you can't afford to let the vision blur George was nearly asleep when suddenly he'd got it. "Our Lord'll love this one! I might get a good night's kip after all."

    George got home a relieved man and at last slept without interruption. He moved like lightening under the guidance of the Holy Spirit. He felt like a man possessed. Within six months he had appointed a Steering Group and a secretarial backup team and only three years after the Board vision the Archbishop's Conference on Faith in the Bias towards Urban Priority Mission Alongside the Poor (ACFUBUPMAP as it became known afterwards) was convened at Swanwick and five hundred of the Great, Good and Worthy were speeding along Britain's motorways towards that hallowed place. The conference costs plus salaries came in at 7,500 per hour, inclusive of refreshments, and George thought that it was cheap at the price. In fact he hadn't thought much about the cost. He left that sort of thing to his chaps and they didn't say much about it. The Spirit worked well at Swanwick and often there were up to three separate groups there with different beliefs and He was able to sort out their prayer streams and inspire them to believe things completely at variance with each other at the same time. Sometimes the Ways of Grace are mysterious.

    Modest as he was, the Archbishop felt a glow of pride as he looked at his team strolling in the grounds of Swanwick. Only he could have gathered so many. Our Lord had a focus group of only twelve and he had five hundred! It was true that it was those present who had devised all of the previous outpourings of the Spirit - except of course for those whom God had called to their Eternal Reward - but George knew that he could inspire them in a new way. He would leave his mark in the pages of Anglican history.

    The scale of operations at Swanwick made the Council of Nicea seem modest in comparison. Everyone present had mobile telephones and at any given moment one-in-twenty were in conversation with their loved ones elsewhere, often having to leave a lecture or workshop with a hurried "Hi! I'm at Swanwick .... excuse me." One-in-two had personal organisers and one-in-three laptop computers with a combined total of 2,000 million gigabytes - sufficient to store the entire written archive of the world forty-three times. There were ten plenary sessions and forty optional workshops. The presentations in total used seven hundred overhead projector slides and fifty-three percent of these consisted of lines of text which presenters uncovered one-by-one as they went along. In half of the presentations the audience had been given the lines of text in advance and most of them followed the paper in front of them. One percent of the speakers were rated inspiring, ten percent bearable, forty percent tedious, another forty dead boring and the remaining nine frankly offensive. These last caused more discussion than all of the others put together and knots of members fumed all over the site about them. During the leisure and meal periods 10,000 conversations took place. 5,000 of these included holiday airport congestion stories; 3,500 motorway congestion stories; and 9,800 clergy gossip and promotion stories. The gross cost of ACFUBUPMAP was 225,000.

    The Archbishop was delighted with his achievement and was determined not to let any of the crumbs be wasted. The entire proceedings had been recorded and a team of transcribers was set to work with the Steering Group processing the vast wordage into forty position papers. These in turn became the Carey Report on Urban Deprivation. CRUD had arrived and A Decade of CRUD was launched. The CRUD Fund was established and gigantic fund raising operations occupied 7,000 committees countrywide. They met for a total of 35,000 meetings during the first five years and there were 70,000 pages of minutes written and 700,000 sets of minutes distributed. They raised I million - over 740 pounds per committee, 74 per committee member, and fifty pence per church member. This was considered to be one of the most generous fundraising efforts ever and showed that God's People still knew what sacrifice meant. The fund meant that a thousand church halls had remodelled kitchens and another five hundred were re-roofed. It looked like this time that Revival was really on.

    Every diocese was to run a CRUD Consultation with the Parishes programme under the guidance of one of the country's leading consultation consultants. This comprised setting up a Central Working Party under the direction of the Diocesan Board of Mission. Working through Deanery Sub-Working Parties each parish was to set up a Parish CRUD Group which would train leaders and research parish needs and opinions using a CRUD Pack, containing a survey outline, exercises and a 'theological reflection kit' to make sense under God of the data which they had assembled. The parishes laboured for two years and fed their findings through to the Deanery Sub-Working Parties. These in turn were collated into Deanery CRUD Mission Statements which eventually arrived on the desks of the Central Working Party staff and their eighteen focus groups.

    By the time the exercise had been completed six years had elapsed and the National Church of England CRUD Mission Statement was issued with massive press coverage and enormous Synod scrutiny. The Statement found that God's People had an especial call to The Poor and urged bishops, clergy and laity to move forward and leave no stone unturned to reach them for God. Bishops promised that every effort would be made to find resources, both financial and human, to answer the call which had been so forcefully made.

    Four years later A Decade of CRUD was completed and the Archbishop felt that this time Our Lord couldn't complain. It was true that there were one-fifth fewer urban clergy; ten percent of parishes were amalgamated with others; sixty percent of the remaining clergy said that they were overworked and depressed some or all of the time; and teenagers and young adults had by this time entirely disappeared from church membership. Still he had done his best and no one could ask for more.

    That night Our Lord appeared again to the the Archbishop.
    "Oh, no! What's he want this time? I did all right, Lord, didn't I?"
    "A nice try, My son, but somehow it wasn't quite what I was looking for."
    "Are You going to keep on bothering me like You did last time? I'm due for retirement surely."
    "No, I don't think I'll be bothering you. I've got to rethink this one somehow."

    Moral: If you want to reach the poor, live and work with them and cut out all the CRUD.