Make your own free website on

Return to main page

The Wesley Carr Report (1980)


1. In the Autumn of 1980, the Revd Barry Rose, who had recently been appointed vicar of Stansted, approached the Cathedral Centre about a consultancy to the Parish of Stansted. Following some initial exploration of the issues between vicar and Dr. Wesley Carr of the Cathedral Centre, the wish was expressed that the consultancy should be to the Parochial Church Council of Stansted. Dr Carr therefore met the PCC, the members of which ultimately decided to invite the Cathedral Centre to act as consultants to the PCC. The task of the consultancy was to examine the activities of the church in the Parish of Stansted, with particular emphasis upon the way in which the church and the community interact. The PCC appointed a client group to whom the consultants could relate. These were the Vicar, Mrs Margaret Booker, Mrs Aileen Snudden, Mr Alan Corbishley and Mr Edwin Toft. For this part Dr Carr said he would carry out the consultancy himself together with a colleague from the Cathedral Centre, and the client group agree to this. In due course he invited Dr John Ponter to assist him.

2. In the course of this study the consultants have either together or separately interviewed at length some 20 individuals representing both the church and the community across a wide range of interests. They have in addition met on three occasions with the incumbent and on one occasion with the client group as such.

3. It is not unusual in work of this kind for considerable hopes to be invested in the consultants and for these to be expressed. Our experience in this study was no exception. It may, therefore, be helpful at this point to underline the status of this Note. It is a Working Note, in that it presents the current thinking of the consultants for evaluation by the client. It is in no sense a blueprint. It rather represents an interpretation of the evidence presented to and discovered by the consultants. This interpretation is in the form of a hypothesis, in the light of which the organisation and activities of the church may be subjected to scrutiny. But that is a matter for the client, in this case the PCC, and the consultants are not proposing any particular course of action. At the end of the Note some suggestions for more detailed consideration are made, but these have no prescriptive force which demands that they be carried out. The responsibility for initiating the consultancy lies with the client; naturally whatever is done with the work of the consultants is also a matter for the client to decide. The consultants, however, are very willing to assist by consulting to that process too. Nevertheless an interpretation of the way in which the church in Stansted seems to interact with the community may well be valuable in assisting the PCC in ordering the multiple tasks which the church is performing.

4. Throughout this consultancy it has been clear to us that the very idea was novel for the PCC and for others in Stansted. We therefore feel that it may be helpful at this stage if we make a few remarks about the approach which we have adopted. These may be useful for reference when the PCC begins to consider the consultancy overall. Any enterprise, such as for example a church, exists within an environment with which it interacts. It is in this interaction that we find evidence about the life of the enterprise. The interchange takes place in a variety of ways and at different levels of consciousness. In the case of a church there is the example of worship. In this people come into a building, undergo an experience and return again to the outside world. In addition to this and other obvious interchanges, however, it will also be readily recognised that similar interaction takes place at an unconscious level. For example, in the occasional offices - baptisms, weddings and funerals - people approach the church often in a confused and unsophisticated fashion. These occasions represent not only specific interactions between the church and the community, but they may also indicate that all the time at an unconscious level such an interaction is going on. For example, a couple bringing a child for baptism may have nothing to do with the church in the ordinary course of events, nevertheless at this point in their lives they expect it to be there. It is as if it has never occurred to them that it might not be there. We may go further and note that even a disused church building may continue to function within a community. The mere threat to close a redundant church or even demolish a ruin can cause a considerably outcry, not least among those who have no immediate connection with it or with its history.

5. A church then may be viewed as an institution within an environment. It relates to people at a variety of levels and in so doing performs a sometimes bewildering range of tasks. Among these, however, one task at any moment is given primary significance. This is not necessarily the task which its members believe to be most important. Nor is the adjective 'primary' used to assign any special value to the task so discerned. In order to perceive this, however, it is necessary to look at the unconscious factors which are at work in the community, so that the task which the church is performing may become clearer. The consultants, therefore, immerse themselves so far as they are able in the institution and in its environment in such a way as to be able to discern and clarify the boundary across which the interaction to which we have referred takes place. 6. In any form of research involving people there is inevitably a personal engagement between the researcher and those whom he is interviewing. This might suggest that there is no objectivity which can be attained, and in one sense this is true. We would prefer to underline the notion of integrity and suggest that constant scrutiny of the consultants' behaviour, both by themselves and by the clients, may lead to a position of critical trust. We use our feelings and the critical evaluation of them as evidence and so we employ ourselves as a sort of measuring instrument. In order to function as objectively as possible, we have talked extensively with each other and with colleagues who are not directly involved in the project. We have also tested our thinking here against other pieces of work in which we are engaged elsewhere. The evidence which we present will be familiar to members of the PCC but they may find the use to which it is put and the interpretation of it which is offered unfamiliar. It is at that point that the consultancy to the PCC really takes place.


Our initial experience

1. It is only to be expected that when we embark upon a new piece of work we should experience some confusion as we enter an unfamiliar world. This is part of the usual experience of consultants and we were as prepared for this in the case of Stansted as usual. It is, after all, only by absorbing some of the conflicts, dilemmas and uncertainties of the organisation that we can offer an interpretation. In the case of our study of Stansted, however, our initial and continued experience seems to have fallen into particular patterns, which therefore become part of the data that need to be examined.

2. First, we were constantly presented with the problem of the two church buildings - St Mary's and St John's. Each interview began to conform almost to a routine. It began with the person saying how fine a place Stansted is and how much they love the church or appreciate its existence, but soon moved into presentation of what that person believed to be the focus of the consultancy: 'You'll want then to know about the two churches.' Clearly the issue of the two church buildings is a significant one, and at first we were to some degree seduced by this behaviour. It soon, however, became increasingly clear that we were being presented with this issue and that it served to obscure more fundamental matters. It seemed, in short, to be becoming a smoke-screen. We wondered therefore from time to time what was being hidden and why. We increasingly became aware of a sense in ourselves that something, either in the church or in the community at large, was not to be shared with or made available to us. We were either being deceived or there was even something obscene, i.e. that could not be publicly acknowledged. This feeling was reinforced in us by the way in which so many people seemed able to blame others for the present state of affairs concerning the two churches and at the same time almost everyone we interviewed had their own solution. Which of these is realistic or possible is, for the moment, irrelevant. Some would urge the closure of St Mary's, some would urge the closure of St John's and some would urge that the status quo be sustained. But everyone, whichever solution they were propounding to us, also said it was not possible to own this publicly in, for example, the PCC. There was also a universal belief that since no solution was acceptable, it was only possible for each individual to hold in private to his or her own solution. It seemed to us that the sense which we had of hiddenness or deceit may well be one which prevails in the PCC but is not acknowledged.

3. A second aspect of the strangeness of our experience was found in the oscillation of behaviour. It seemed to us as we interviewed people that at one moment they would be saying that all in Stansted is well, that it is a delightful place, that the church has a great future, and the like; and then, almost as if a switch had been flicked, some extraordinarily passionate anger would be expressed against an institution or an individual. This was expressed either through tears or a quite vitriolic brief denunciation of someone or something or, at a less intense level, by the instant and simple dismissal of someone else's point of view. We found ourselves so bewildered on occasions that we asked ourselves what we could have said to have induced such a response. On reflection, however, we noted that these sudden switches were to a greater or lesser degree present in all our interviews and therefore we began to take it as evidence that there was something in the prevailing culture of the place which was being expressed by individuals.

4. A third factor may be described as a fading of expectations. At its inception it seemed to us that this consultancy was invested with the not unreasonable hope that it would assist the PCC in coming to grips with a number of major issues facing the church in the parish. We became progressively aware in our interviews, however, that there was little expectation of any significant change. In all cases people were kind, but from time to time we felt patronised. It was almost as if the consultancy was being carried out for our benefit and that the interviewees were participating in order to humour us. In part we recognise that this may spring from a reasonable sense that Stansted has been over-surveyed. Not only has it been specifically examined by Essex County council and Uttlesford District Council, but it has been for many years subjected to surveys associated with the possible development of the airport. Our feelings, however, were somewhat confirmed when we experienced the meeting with the client group. Not only was another major meeting concerned with the future of St John's arranged for the same evening, which presented some members with divided loyalty, but also an extra person was casually invited in, and we found some unwillingness on the part of the group as a group to come to grips with the task of the consultancy and the work which was required that evening. Certainly it seemed to us that expectations had faded quite considerably.

5. We outline these experiences because they seem to us vital evidence in any quest for understanding the task of the church in Stansted. For just as we the consultants experienced these feelings and, in reflecting on them, found that they come from outside ourselves, so it is also the case, we believer, that many of the feelings and experiences which are found inside the PCC in particular and the churches in general, owe something of their origin to the community around.

Stansted Mountfitchet

1. Stansted is easily locatable on the map and its geographic boundaries are not difficult to draw. On the other hand, we found - and this was shared by others - that it was a very difficult place to define. Although there are still the remains of a Norman Castle looking down on a Roman Road and several other monuments in St Mary's church that evidence a long and distinguished history, these can give a misleading sense of the antiquity of Stansted as a whole. For the present day community is essentially the product of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century. It was during this period that the original three settlements - one around Bentfield End, another around Silver Street and a third around Chapel Street - were welded into one by extra building and in-filling. A simple view of its antiquity, therefore, is mistaken. If, instead of looking at present day Stansted in relation to its past we look at it in terms of its geographic environs, similar problems arise. With a population of around 5,000 it is a little large for a village but rather small for a town. It is indeed not quite clear how it should be categorised, and both terms were used frequently in discussion with us. And yet there is also the third factor that for a number of people it is virtually a dormitory suburb of Bishop's Stortford, to which many turn for shopping and leisure activities. In terms of population, there are at least three general categories in Stansted which are easily definable. First among these in apparent influence are the commuters. These are primarily those who travel to and from London, although its position on the motorway system now makes Stansted attractive for some who commute further afield. There are also a number of residents who represent a more settled existence in Stansted. And there is thirdly a housing estate, on which apparently live a number of old Stansted families. The inhabitants of this estate look primarily to the immediate environs for employment. it is not our purpose to examine these in detail in themselves. They do, nevertheless, suggest that there are likely to be several quite significantly different views about Stansted held within a comparatively small population. And some evidence was presented to us that the continuing saga of Stansted Airport and attitudes towards it represent a focal point around which some of these differences may be expressed.

2. The fact of the existence of the two churches in Stansted may perhaps first be examined in this context. Although St Mary's is referred to by many as 'the old church', all that now exists of any great age is an impressive Norman door and some tombs inside. It was in fact extensively rebuilt only one year before St John's Church was opened in 1889(8?). Two points in the history of these buildings which continue to be of relevance are the question of patronage and the question of the different functions each have performed. St John's was built by the generosity of a local family in order to meet what was perceived as a need for a centre of worship at the point where the local community was beginning to develop. So far as we can now assess it was built to meet a real need. A pattern of worship had already been developed in the school before St John's was built to accommodate the worshippers, who proceeded to fill it. And at the same time St Mary's, the old parish church, appears to have continued through the generosity of local patrons. We shall comment further upon the phenomenon of patronage later in this Note. On the other matter - the different function which each church performs - it is instructive perhaps to note that although many of today's church members feel that any development in one church can only be at the expense of the other, a major shift in emphasis had already occurred sometime previous in this century. The patterns of worship introduced and sustained by Canon J H Barrow are essentially those which prevail in the present. In spite of this, there seems to be a widespread and earnestly held belief that unusually radical change is going on. Even though knowledge of history may illuminate some facets of life today and may help out contemporary beliefs in context, it cannot totally explain them. The persistence of strongly held beliefs - sometimes in spite of the evidence - and the manifest wish of groups of people to hang onto these views invite us to seek beyond the history of a place for explanation.

The Church in Stansted

1. We now turn to the church within this context. By 'church' we here mean strictly the Church of England within its parish. We are aware that in Stansted there are also a URC church, a Roman Catholic Church, and a Society of Friends, and in the course of the interviews we met at least one member from these churches. We were also introduced to the new magazine project which is operating on an ecumenical basis. For the purposes of this study, however, we are using the term church in this restricted fashion. It may also be helpful here to recall that we are examining the church in its context with a view to understanding better the interaction which takes place between it and its environment. Some of that interaction is obvious, such as occasions for worship, social events, and efforts at mission. There is also likely to be a more covert relationship, which will be evidenced not so much by words or overt actions, but by assumptions which may be made.

2. We noted above that the existence of the two church buildings was regularly the presented problem. We have also seen that it is a long-standing issue but noted that any historical explanation will not suffice. It is what people invest in things that we wish to understand. As we went on in this study it became clear to us that the two churches served as a convenient repository for deeply held feelings about other matters. For example, we were struck by the way in which St Mary's was referred to by some as 'the old church' and the way in which a sense of newness was sustained around St John's. Yet we have noted that in the history of Stansted in their present form they both largely originate from almost the same year. And in addition the shape of Stansted itself changed so significantly around the end of the nineteenth and beginning of the twentieth century, that notions of 'new' and 'old' need careful scrutiny. It may be that these two notions relate to two obvious groups within the life of the community. There are, as we have noted, a number of people who represent old Stansted by contrast to those, chiefly commuters, who represent the new community. Perhaps this assumption lies behind the occasionally expressed notion that somehow or other St Mary's should continue because it would form the base for mission to the council estate which, it will be recalled, was regarded as the place where a number of the 'old Stansted' (i.e. originally local people) lived. Yet clearly this will not do. There is no evidence that St Mary's has ever formed a particular base for Christian engagement with those on the council estate. Indeed we were informed that what contact there was - and there is little - was directly with the Vicar and with the congregation of St John's. It seems to us, therefore, that the notions of 'new' and 'old' are actually being used to reinforce beliefs rather than to describe reality. It may be that those who are new to Stansted, and these are primarily commuters and people who have moved out of an urban and suburban environment, have an investment in the notion of oldness. They wish Stansted to be for them an old English village and therefore invest in what they believe to represent that. To them, therefore, anything which is 'new' is going to be that which does not represent the old village. The likelihood is that they essentially would stand against development of the airport, for example, regardless of any benefits that it might bring to the originally local population.

3. Another issue which was regularly located in the existence of the two churches was that of liturgy. Although we were given abundant evidence that evensong is an unchanged service from the old Rite, whether celebrated at St Mary's or St John's, we were nevertheless made to feel that St Mary's represents the old liturgy whilst St John's is used for radical and innovative activity. To be more specific, worship at St Mary's sustains Matins, with a monthly Sung Eucharist, while at St John's the Parish Communion has been the main form of service. During the period when the interviews took place, this issue was coupled with that of choir and forms of music. Although the position has changed somewhat with the resignation of the organist, the evidence presented at that time still seems to us significant. For under the guise of an argument about the continued existence or not of the two church buildings, it seems to us some other investments were being worked out. For example, it is not without significance that the one Sunday on which the choir came in full to St John's to sing at the Parish Communion should be the very Sunday on which children and families were particularly invited. It was almost as if there was some collusion between the choir, as representing St Mary's, and the people of St John's to prove to each other their own point of view. The choir cannot but have gone away with the feeling that their sort of music was not appropriate at St John's at all, having had children running around during the service. Equally some of those at St John's must have felt that the imposition of a choir and all that it brought to worship can only have been inhibiting on the style of worship which was appropriate for children and families. The issue would be raised in such a way that no possible exploration of its significance for the life of the church in the parish could be possible.

4. Here we turn to the role of the PCC. We have not been able to attend a full meeting, but in the course of our interviews we have met a number of members of the PCC. We were given a sense that the PCC functioned almost in isolation from events. Its members show apparently a high level of commitment and attendance is very good. Yet each member of the PCC with whom we spoke expressed to some degree or other dissatisfaction with the PCC. We were given the impression that the Council had great difficulty in every completing an Agenda. Again, although various interests are represented on the PCC and strong feelings indeed about one or other of the two churches, it seemed to us from the evidence presented that these issues and the passion with which they are felt very rarely if at all are raised at the PCC. One instance of strange behaviour by the PC arose around the same of the church cottage greenhouse. We understand that in the middle of the meeting the whole PCC adjourned to the site to inspect a piece of property with which every single member was certain to be familiar. On the other hand things get done, and we were regularly told of the willingness of individuals and groups to do things on behalf of the church. The choir some years ago, for example, took upon itself and ran successfully a Flower Festival. We do not wish to judge the merit or otherwise of such activities: we simply note that it seems to be a characteristic of life in the church that the PCC on the one hand deliberates and fails to complete its business, while on the other hand individuals and groups, apparently without any overall supervision, offer to do things and get on with them.

5. It is particularly remarkable that in a parish and congregation in which intense feelings are clearly engendered and privately expressed the PCC appears to act upon the somewhat bland assumption that absence of dissent may be taken for unanimity. It is as if, when the PCC meets, the members, in order to be members, have to leave outside the door their personal feelings and even their particular skills. By contrast the feelings are vented very strongly in families or other groups, while the skills are utilised to keep the church running. It is this dissociation between the PCC and the activity and feelings of people which is striking. And it seems to issue in one other phenomenon, namely the turnover of members. Several people commented to us that while the core of the PCC seemed to remain the same from year to year, other members were able only to sustain membership for about three to five years before they sought relief, and did not stand for election. Some characterised this as merely being apathy or exhaustion. We note, however, that such feelings are usually caused when intense emotions and anger are merely contained and not expressed, either constructively or destructively.

6. In such a context, leadership would appear to be a very difficult function to perform. And we were presented with some evidence that the present incumbent, and indeed his predecessors, had experienced problems in this area. It was our impression that the Vicar was expected to lead but was regularly denied the opportunity. On the one hand, the PCC seems to find it difficult to come to any decision about matters of policy, and therefore leaves the Vicar feeling that if anything needs to be done he must do it. On the other hand when he does act, he is not likely to find himself publicly supported. In other words, members of the PCC appear to find it difficult to take responsibility for the church and for any decisions about its policy which may be first discussed and then carried out. We felt that there was almost a preserved sense of impotence in the PCC, which then put pressure on any outsider to put his head on the block. For this purpose we would regard an incumbent - and particularly a new one - as an outsider. Occasionally a comment was made which suggested that the Archdeacon might be put in such a position, not least when questions of redundancy or otherwise of the buildings arose. But we also felt this in ourselves. We have commented above on the sense which we increasingly had that our work was expected to be futile. It was as if we in our turn were being invited to put our consultants' head on the block in order for the PCC, as client, to chop it off and thus vindicate its own stance. This is not surprising, since presumably any consultancy is likely to bring into the open some issues, whereas as we have noted the function of the PCC appears to be primarily one of contentment. We may surmise, therefore, that the PCC is being used by the church, and in so far as the church is likely to be used by the community, then also by the community of Stansted at large, as a sump into which questions of responsibility for change and its management can be poured so as to allow real questions not to be faced. In this way each individual or small group, such as a family or similar grouping, may continue unchallenged in their views. We may also not in passing that we received some information which suggested that the Civil Parish Council, although very different in make-up and activity, seems to be performing a parallel function. We should not wish to press this point, however, since we have not been able to assemble as much evidence as we would wish.

The task of the church

1. What function then does the church perform within the parish of Stansted? Several people suggested to us directly that the continued existence of the two church buildings represented the persistence of two views or constituencies in the village. We have, however, we think produced enough evidence above to show that this is a simplistic point of view. We have, however, felt throughout this study the intense feelings which people have about themselves and about their neighbour. Indeed theses are expressed even about the place itself: a number of people emphasised what a splendid place Stansted was whilst with the next breath they could talk about The Stansted Disease. It would seem, therefore, that individuals and small groupings powerfully invest their own personal fantasies in Stansted. We have noted above how these tend to be expressed around the issue of the airport, but there are other issues which also illustrate this. For example, it is clear that a number of people hold such strong feelings around the question of the Cathedral style choir which at one time was sustained. Feelings were polarised around it. Again we may instance the question of what the village needs socially. On the one hand it appears that some people have a very clear view that Stansted is a place which needs amenities; others by contrast would underline that its very lack of some so called amenities is what makes it so attractive a place. It is generally the case that one way of sustaining strongly held personal beliefs, in which one invests a great deal of oneself, is to project outside other aspects which one cannot own because they question the deeply held belief. So, for example in Stansted, we noted that there was a tendency on the part of different social groupings to categorise others: 'the council estate', 'the newcomers', 'the commuters' etc. It may therefore be that, by having two buildings at present the church in Stansted is caught up in such feelings. Indeed it may almost appear to confirm the existence and fact of two views. It is all too easy then to imagine that the village is split around the two churches. We suggest, however, that Stansted is a place in such transition that it is very difficult for people to know what really is the case. The result is that it comprises a whole range of incompatible views and beliefs about it which different groups and people hold. Yet whenever this range of views is polarised, then the polarities are focused in the two churches. This might make members of the church no doubt feel more acutely the sense of the two buildings as a major problem, but at the same time they would also possibly have an increasing sense of bewilderment about why they were feeling so strongly about something as obvious as this. We may make three points about this misleading, but very understandable perception.

2. Although each church in Stansted clearly represents something, it would appear to us that the fact of the two churches, taken as a fact in itself, does not represent anything very obvious about Stansted. For example, the old inhabitants are not clustered around one and the new about the other. There is a complete interchange of expectation of the two churches among the different strata of Stansted society. It was interesting in talking with people both inside and outside the church to note how real they felt the issue of two churches to be but at the same time how difficult they found it to define what each or either signified.

3. We have referred to the way in which Stansted is to some degree created from a whole range of incompatible beliefs about the place which different people and groups hold. This is likely to produce a problem of consensus, using that word in its basic sense of a sufficient range of shared feeling for there to be a common mind. This is a very obvious difficulty which the church itself experiences in its congregations and its Council. but it is also interesting to note that a similar experience about life in the village generally was often expressed, not least by those who have some responsibility in the Parish Council. In such a context the church, which presumably stands for some sense of unity and wholeness, is likely to be caught in difficulty. It no doubt may feel that it is expected to impose a whole view of life, but it knows that it has not the power to do that. Yet if it gets caught endorsing one particular sector within society, it may well feel that it is abandoning its basic vocation.

4. The third point is that of patronage. We have mentioned about how the village of Stansted in the past has very much depended upon the patronage of one or two significant families. These patrons have provided what was needed when necessary. As is well known, however, when patronage is at work the beneficiaries tend to hand over responsibility to the patron rather than take it for themselves. It is not difficult, then, for them to reach a frame of mind which assumes that all resource lies outside of them. This is not just the case with the old style patrons who provided public works and buildings. It is also evidenced in many contemporary studies of the patronage exercised by social and welfare workers and the like in contemporary society. It is as if the patron creates the client, and in so doing takes from the client any sense of ability that he or she may have. In the light of this, it may be that the people of Stansted have considerable difficulty in taking responsibility for their environment. For after all one of the major potential patrons, for good or ill, is the British Airports Authority.

5. In the light of these considerations, we find ourselves looking beyond the presented problem of two churches in a comparatively small village. What is the village's expectation of the church? As might be expected in the light of the foregoing, it is difficult to discern any one basic expectation. It seems to us that a number of those who represent different aspects of village life are caught in a rather depressing cycle of experience. From time to time there is the hope that if two aspects of life in the community can be linked together, then something new and beneficial for all will be produced. As we have suggested above, the fact of the two churches and the range of views accruing around each provide a suitable focus for these somewhat vague expectations. Yet at the same time everyone whom we interviewed, whether they had a connection with the church or not, recognised that to have the two buildings was a very unreal situation. Indeed the feelings which were generated on several occasions were those which we would normally associate with bereavement. Thus the hope that something might be produced if the two churches, representing different views within the village,could be made to work in harmony, was already stymied from the start. And it is this, we suggest, which leads to the somewhat introverted image which the church presents to the village and to itself and the struggles which go on within in.

6. It seems to us, therefore, that the task of the church in the parish of Stansted at present is to contain potentially destructive divisions and transform them into constructive tension. It will be recalled that the notion of task which we are using is slightly specialised. We use the term to describe the interaction, as we perceive it, which is going on between the church and the community in which it is set. And since this is an interaction, we would expect to find within the church some patterns of behaviour which illuminate or are illuminated by the perceived patterns in the community at large. There are at least two very clear instances of this. The first which is focused in the issue of the two buildings we have dealt with at some length. This is less a question of the continued existence of the two church buildings, than the persisting struggles which polarise around them. These are experienced within the church as all too clear and powerful, but at the same time mystifying and almost malevolent. We suggest that an explanation of this is that the church is handling feelings from the wider community, but is perhaps not aware of what it is doing. The members, therefore, tend to hold onto the struggles within the church as if they were their own private property. But since they are not, these struggles are experienced as mystifying, not least in their intensity.

7. The second is that of the PCC. We have already noted how the PCC has certain characteristics: it has difficulty ever completing its business; it finds it difficult to organise itself for work; it is sometimes at a loss to know exactly what its authority it; and members tend to leave after a short while from time to time, expressing the view that they have done their bit or they are frustrated with the lack of progress. These seem to us to be characteristics of a body which is carrying more emotional load than it understands. At the same time, however, we notice that the worshipping congregations of the churches seem to pursue their own course of action without too much internal trauma. There may be struggles between congregations, but we have no sense of struggles within particular congregations. Our possible interpretation of this is that the range of feelings within the village, which the church as we have suggested may unknowingly be picking up, is being passed on by the congregations to the formal representatives of the church, i.e. the PCC. In this way the worshipping member of a congregation does not have to take responsibility for his or her behaviour; it is possible to leave that to the PCC. Yet it is abundantly clear that the PCC is in no position to take such responsibility from people. Consequently it finds itself frustrated trying to deal with feelings and expectations which it does not fully understand. We have then the picture that the task of the church within the community at its most stressful is being pushed into the obvious split of the two churches, where it surfaces from time to time, and into the PCC. And there the potentially destructive divisions are contained. The issue of ministry, however, is about what is done with them.

8. It seems to us at this point our sense of deceit which we earlier expressed, may be coupled with the apparent inability of people both in the congregation and in the village to take responsibility for their own views and feelings. The question of trust, which is thus raised, may in the end be seen as one of authority. In other words, to be able to trust oneself to another and to be able to accept that trust requires that we have some sense of our own authority to act, and consequently of its limits. We might characterise the PCC as unwittingly being left with a responsibility which it cannot in fact take up. At the same time relieving other individuals and groups of taking responsibility for their actions, it is without knowing freeing them in a curious way to act irresponsibly. Such a system, we suggest, is fraught with problems, which are bound to arise from time to time, usually in an intense fashion. On the other hand, if this understanding of the task of the church in Stansted is accurate, it contain within it the clues to active ministry. For it would seem to us that one declared aim of the Christian Church is that of converting that which is destructive into a constructive part of the divine creation.

Some possible consequences

1. It would be appropriate to begin this section by underlining the status of this Note. It is a Working Note, in that in it are outlined the consultants' interpretations of the evidence which they have so far amassed and assessed. The work implied in the term 'working' is what now needs to be done between the consultants and the clients about understanding, assessing, correcting where necessary, and developing the interpretation. This is, therefore, most emphatically not in any sense a blueprint for the parish of Stansted. This point needs to be underlined as we embark now on some brief indications of possible consequences which may follow from the interpretation offered in the main part of this Working Note. There are no doubt others which the client group in working with the consultants will be able to discover.

2. The client for this consultancy is the PCC. It would seem, therefore, that this body could well be the starting point for further work. It is not only because the PCC is the client but also because, as has been suggested in the Note, within the structure of the church in Stansted the PCC is a focal point for a number of the issues. It seems to us that the experience of the members of the PCC may well be carefully evaluated and interpreted. This is to suggest that this group itself undertakes an educational process of reflection upon and interpretation of what is happening to it as a group. Among the specific points which here arise would be the notion of responsibility and authority. For it may be that there are strongly competing demands placed upon the PCC which make it difficult for that body to exercise authority in the parish. Aligned with this, of course, is the vicar and demands and expectations which are placed on him. At the inception of this consultancy it was pointed out that inevitably his role ad activity within it would come under scrutiny. Such scrutiny could be casual, as is often the case. Alternatively it could take place in the context of an attempt to define very clearly the task of the church and how it may be carried out. In one sense to undertake such a study of the PCC and of the vicar would be to exercise trust in the way that we have suggested above. It seems to us that if further clarity can be achieved on what is happening to the PCC as a body, then not only might that committee be able to take more responsibility for the whole parish of Stansted and its activity, but also it may be able to perceive those matters which require priority of attention from the church members.

3. Clearly the question of the two churches needs to be considered again. We have tried to show that many of the issues around them are personal fantasies or corporate myths. This means that discovering what is really the case is particularly difficult. We would point out here that the pressure in Stansted towards polarising points of view tends to make the issues around the two churches appear confined to Stansted and consequently to be decided in terms of opening or closing either building. To see the problem in this light, however, may be to collude with the prevailing tendency in the village to close in on itself and engage in introspection. Yet just as the church interacts with its immediate community in the parish, so naturally the parish also interacts with its wider environment. This environment may be seen as oppressive, or alternatively it may be seen as something (or someone) with which to engage. By this we refer to the fact that the parish is part of the Diocese of Chelmsford, and that the diocese as interests on a wider front than merely the legal parish of Stansted. This is certain to be the case while the airport question is unresolved. It would seem to us, therefore, extremely unlikely that there would be the wish on the part of any to declare St Mary's redundant or close it at this moment, but this is one issue that might well be explored rather than contained within the PCC. On the other hand, if we release ourselves from the pressure to polarise issues, it may become clear that the question of the use of St Mary's may not depend upon perpetuating either the present use of a presumed past pattern. It strikes us that there is a range of options which the PCC has not been able to face under this pressure towards reducing everything to two. If, however, this pressure is seen for what it is, then it may be that some serious thinking about the use of the church buildings within the parish can go ahead.

4. Although we recognise that the new sub-committee system has only recently been set up and that there is very limited experience of its working, it may be that even that rearrangement includes in itself an assumption about twoness. We note that the basis of the arrangement is, as expressed to us, that the administration and business should be sorted out in the sub-committee so that the PCC may get on with its primary function of dealing with pastoral matters. One person specifically distinguished temporal from pastoral matters in this arrangement. Although the sub-committee system, which no doubt will evolve of its own volition as members become used to it, may well contribute to more efficient work, it seems to us that the question has to be asked as to why pastoral matters are left to the PCC? The argument for the sub-committee appears to have been that the PCC was too large a body to do the work required. As was pointed out people could speak their minds better in the small sub-committees and identify with the job. This, it is hoped, will lead to better performance. Yet if this is the case, then we are forced to wonder why the pastoral concerns of the church have been retained in the large, and to date not very effective, body of the PCC. It is almost as if the assumption is that the work of the church which has to be done by lay people is limited to aspects of administration, while the pastoral work, which is much more difficult to define, is left in the PCC. Indeed we wonder whether there is even an unconscious hope that it will remain there. For we have commented before on the propensity for the church in Stansted to be able to contain within itself vital issues in such a way that they do not get examined.

5. There are also some management questions which are raised by the present organisation of the church. It is not appropriate in this first Working Note to go into these in any depth, although the consultants will be happy to take this further in the next stage of the consultancy, if so requested. But the essential issue seems to remain how to distinguish in the present system between bodies which have the task of policy making and discussion to set a context, and bodies or individuals who execute decisions. It seems to us that there remains a problem about how to authorise executive action. This suggests that there are questions of organisation and authority which could profitably be examined in the light of this Note. Some such issues were presented to us in terms of the problem of the power of the Finance Committee, for example, as well as of the question of where the clergy fit into this system. We believe, however, that useful work can be done on this quite quickly at a later stage.

6. We have indicated the issue of the boundary between the parish and the diocese, which seems to be overlooked. There are also, of course, boundary issues which may well in due course be raised with other parishes, although no doubt this is not the time for that. The fact, however, that it is not opportune to raise an issue does not necessarily imply that the issue should not be borne in mind. This again would contribute to the process of opening up the thinking of the church to a wider world which exists, but often seems to be forgotten. This process, along with those outlined above, will inevitably create pain. It may be that people feel that there is enough pain in Stansted already. However, it seems to us that much of this pain is not generated from work at the ministry of the church. It is rather generated by an inadequate and uncomprehending response to the pressures which are put upon the church within the parish. As with the need to hold on to some reality in the face of all the fantasies which prevail so too with the question of pain. Pain which is borne in the service of the task may become a means towards serving the ministry of the church. That which is born uncomprehendingly from no obvious reason will seem to have little value.

7. One way of examining these boundary issues would be to focus carefully upon certain points at which the church and community interact. We can suggest three instances here, one of which is past history but constitutes a useful example, while the other two offer ways forward for work. The first instance is that of the choir and the organist. Clearly this major problem has been a thread running through all interviews and discussions which have taken place during the initial period of this consultancy. We have referred above to the violent feelings which were generated and are still being expressed. In addition the matter was publicised in the local press. Among some members of the church, there was a sense that this was a total preoccupation of the whole church and of the whole village. Yet on the other hand, we have abundant evidence that the life of the church has continued through all this and that for many members, although the experience has been unhappy, the significance of the issues around the choir and former organist is very much less than might be expected. But even further we have noted that the demise of the choir seems hardly to have been noted at all in Stansted, except by one or two people. It is this sort of reality which the PCC has to grasp, rather than be seduced into all sorts of fantasies and a consequent waste of time, energy and effort.

8. A second issue which might be important is that of the schools and of young people. We have been rather surprised at the difficulty we had in understanding the relationship between the church and the school. It seems to us that, apart from financial questions, it is only the vicar who provides a link with the church and the church school. In addition there seems to be very little, if any, contact with the secondary school. We wonder, therefore, whether the relationship between the church and the community in general is accurately represented in the relationship between the church and the school. By this we mean that there is a sense that there ought to be some connection, but that the detail of it is not understood and therefore it is left to the incumbent. Yet in Stansted, with its high proportion of young people and young families, it would seem to us that contact between the church, the school and families must be integrally bound up. This, therefore, might be a very appropriate point on which the PCC could focus its attention, not with a view to developing an instant new policy or initiatives, but to examining what view it has been holding, whether consciously or not, of the church's relationship to the schools. By focusing on an issue which must be, by definition, a real one, members of the PCC should be able to get into the open their underlying assumptions about the relationship between the church and the community.

9. A third area is that of the occasional offices. When this consultancy began, we underlined the fact that in the nature of its design it would expose the vicar to scrutiny by his colleagues. Obviously at that time we had no idea of the particular pressures which would be on all concerned during the months of this study. Nevertheless, it does seem to us that the PCC should as a group be able to examine the experience which the vicar has of the frontier engagement with the community. For example, what are the policies about baptisms, weddings and funerals? It is not that these become the responsibility of the PCC: they remain the responsibility of the incumbent. Nevertheless the experience which the incumbent has at this point, and the expectations which the community and the PCC invest in him about these issues, could well provide a real point of understanding for the PCC as it thinks about the relationship between the church and the parish. Questions of folk religion and the expectations of the community will then be brought into the open, and it should be easier for those responsible for the pastoral ministry of the church as a whole to seek genuine points of engagement with that community. In this way ministry might be exercised rather than random attempts at different approaches be encouraged.

10. These may seem very mundane matters to which to direct attention. But the underlying question which we suggest to the PCC for detailed and intensive though is that of reality. We have tried to show in this document how strongly we felt in the church and in the village of Stansted that there much escape from reality. The way in which fantasies could develop, together with the capacity which institutions have for self deception, was remarkably strong. This suggests to us that a further step forward for the PCC may not so much be to try and take decisions about what it ought to do, as to seek to understand the way in which the village impinges upon the church. This will in terms of the overt expectations - as in the occasional offices and other rituals - as well as in the much less obvious senses, which will become apparent as the PCC thinks about this. We suggest that in the light of the Note above, it is at these points of expectation that the major opportunities for ministry arise. And it may be that in the recent history of the church in Stansted, for whatever reason, those opportunities have been overlooked or even denied.

11. It is in this context that we suggest that the PCC may consider questions of worship. It seems to us that in the light of the evidence we have presented, the real issues around forms of service are nothing to do directly with the ASB or Book of Common Prayer. Clearly these will be in any church today matters of detailed discussion and debate. Yet if we consider the worship of the church as an aspect of its task and further recognise that that task is concerned with a wider constituency than just the members, then we may examine the question of worship in a new light. Indeed worship is one obvious issue about which people strongly hold views and express them forcibly. In the light of this Note, those who are responsible for thinking about forms of worship may be able to seek and articulate what is the vital and genuine issue at any moment in this confusing and confused area. For example, it is possible (given this interaction between church and community) that a congregation may worship on behalf of other people. Questions then of the order of liturgy will be questions primarily about how the feelings of those who worship, whether regularly or occasionally, may best be handled in relationship to God through the liturgy of the church, rather than of the adequacy or not of the particular proposals being made at any given moment. We do not suggest that this will make the problems of decision any easier. We do, however, think that it would make the discussion more reasonable and any decisions which were taken would carry greater authority. And in our judgement where there is a greater sense of authority there is, however great the argument, much more consensus towards action. For the task, whether liked or not, would have been identified and it is with a task in the end that members of a voluntary association, such as a church, align themselves. A similar approach to questions might profitably underlie the questions of stewardship and the raising of current funds, as well as the larger issue of the St John's Appeal. The PCC may find it difficult at times to distinguish between current finance and Appeal finance and pressure may be put upon them not to do so. this will no doubt take the form of people asking why St John's needs 80,000 when there is a perfectly good church up the road. But the reality to which the PCC presumably would wish to hold would be that the church up the road may not be perfectly good; that the 80,000 is not required for St John's as a place of worship alone, but is being requested in order to keep up a piece of architecture, which the Appeal brochure assures people is of great interest and value to a wider community than Stansted. It is when these and similar questions arise that the PCC is most likely to be thrown back upon questions of how it sees the task of the church and, even more important, how it sustains a sense of reality in the midst of so much fantasy.


1. We offer this Note to our clients for their consideration. It is a descriptive and interpretative document, and therefore will no doubt require considerable discussion with the client before all the implications become wholly clear. We confirm that this is a stage in the consultancy rather than its end, and hold ourselves available to the clients for further work in due course. (Editors note: Who in their right minds would want more consultancy like this!!)

Return to main page