The Revd Wyn Beynon


In 1971 I was in a hangar at RAF Biggin Hill making a bridge from planks, ropes and oil drums. Men with clipboards were watching us and we were being assessed for leadership potential. I was swiftly shown the door because my hearing was discovered to be deficient and that was the end of my dream of joining the Royal Air Force. Making bridges and organising a team is an important form of leadership.

But the thought of clergy being selected for ministry in the same way is laughable. It’s the wrong sort of leadership, though I’ve known one or two clergy who barked orders! It’s just as well I didn’t get a an RAF Commission. I’d have been court-martialed, as sure as eggs is eggs!

I sometimes see press reports where clergy - Parish clergy as well as Bishops -are referred to as “Church leaders”. I understand why, but it makes me cringe. I’m a Minister. Ministry is another word for service. There’s something about the word “leadership” that has more to do with having servants than being a servant. It does not sit comfortably with me. Nor should it.

"Leaders", by definition, must have "followers", and that's the last thing anyone in a dog collar ought to have!

Our “leadership model”, if we must, is Jesus. He didn’t appear to organise much (expect, interestingly, the Last Supper). Another word for my work is Priesthood. Priests get in between, get in the way , make connections and get pulled apart.

I’ve just put a notice over my desk. It’s the warning sign for radioactivity and underneath it says “High Risk Area”.  It’s a costly way of ministering, with many pitfalls.   “Ministerial Priesthood” (that is, “serving by getting constructively in the way”) is a term  that has slipped away in favour of “leadership”.  

It’s maybe what happens when an institution is dying. We look for grand leadership instead of servers. Leadership of that kind can also be costly and hard. We need it in industry and the armed forces, we need it in schools and business. But not in the Church, where ministry is about serving and getting in the way. If I look like I’m trying to turn into a leader, just blow me a large raspberry. Thank you!

And in case you’re wondering, it has everything to do with Easter! Death and resurrection, getting in the way and being there to serve. Yes, everything about Easter!

**The term "Ministerial Priesthood" has been used by various writers, but most famously in the Anglican tradition by the then Regius Professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford University , R C Moberly, who published his highly influential "Ministerial Priesthood" in 1897.

Wyn Beynon (c)2014 first published as my Magazine Letter for the various Wychebrook Parish magazines April 2014