Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 200 000 readers More than 10 000 links Updated every Sunday

New This Week
Everything new is here.

News Centre
News archive
News flash: a summary of the top headlines
Start here
Anglicans believe . . .
The Prayer Book
The Bible

Read letters to AO
Write to us

Resources A to Z

World Anglicanism
Anglican Communion
In full communion
Not in the Communion

Dioceses and Parishes
New Zealand

Vacancies Centre
List a vacancy
Check openings worldwide

Add a site or link to AO
Add a site to AO
Link to AO

About Anglicans Online
Back issues
Awards and publicity
Beginnings, AO today
About our logo

Support AO
Shop for AO goods
Help support us!
Thanks to our friends

Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

Watching sausage be made, it's commonly said, is a bad idea if you want to eat sausage with enjoyment. Seeing tofu (a vegetarian equivalent) be made is at worst boring. Watching scrapple be made sounds rather loathsome. But the phrase that people utter when their exposure to a process reduces their ability to enjoy the end product is 'watching sausage being made'. Much commercially prepared food is best enjoyed by those unfamiliar with its ingredients or with the process of preparing it. It's not just food that's subject to 'sausagemaking'. It's much of life.

Vegetarian sausageIn our travels around the Anglican world we have heard mention of sausagemaking most frequently when people discuss their experiences on the committees or councils that govern parishes. Variously called the PCC, the Parish Council, the Vestry, or the Select Vestry, these are the elected committees that govern the earthly aspects of running a parish. Until you have served on such a body, you could never imagine the number of different ways to start angry disputes about minor subjects. When the Christmas decorations are put up at a church, be glad that those who look at them and enjoy them did not have to listen to the disputes beforehand. We've not heard of anyone having been stabbed to death during a debate about refurbishing the parish kitchen or leasing meeting space to a 12-step organisation, but we know of more than one divorce whose roots were in arguments about parish governance.

There is nothing special about parish governance that breeds sausagemaking behaviour. Parishes, deaneries, dioceses, provinces — no difference. Wherever there is a committee, there seems to be rancour. It's similar to the contentiousness in real life, but magnified and entrenched. And along with that contentiousness comes a full spectrum of unpleasant organisational dynamics. We've watched in amazement as a church employee leapt to the defense of an incompetent and abrasive co-worker, about whom in private she never had a good word, because, well, they were colleagues. A meeting can jump from 'clear and frank dialogue' to 'circle the wagons' in seconds, dividing the group into irreconcilable factions, over what seem on the surface to be the smallest issues.

We've heard many explanations for this phenomenon. 'The church is different.' 'The Holy Spirit is guiding each of us in different directions.' 'The PCC attracts people who just want to fight.' 'There's no way to measure success or failure, so you can never prove any idea right or wrong, other than by seeing what kills the parish.' That last one gets our vote.

Church meetings that go well seem to include prayer, song, or the eucharist at strategic times. The first time we experienced this, we thought 'How quaint', but later came to realise that breaking up long meetings with prayer or song or communion is a wise way to cut down the number of ruined friendships and hardened hearts.

One aspect of instant global communication — such as is enabling you to read Anglicans Online just now — that it has ultimately (and unfortunately) gathered all of us in a gigantic never-ending PCC meeting, in which everyone can opine but no one can vote. Our churches are making their sausage not in a back room, but under international scrutiny. And no one seems to be taking proper time out for remember-what-it's-all-about activities between rounds of the arguments.

We aren't suggesting change to prevent these disputes. We don't think it would work. We're suggesting that maybe all of us need to pay less attention to the process and more attention to the purpose. (Perhaps the pillar saints and desert monastics of the 5th century AD had the right idea.) We find ourselves dealing with it all by paying less and less attention to the details of the global dialogue, neither granting an audience nor picking a fight. In fact, we ought to put down this computer and go light a candle and read a book right now.

See you next week.

Cynthia McFarland's signature
Brian Reid's signature
Cynthia McFarland
Brian Reid

Last updated: 26 September 2004

A thin blue line
This web site is independent. It is not official in any way. Our editorial staff is private and unaffiliated. Please contact about information on this page.
©2004 Society of Archbishop Justus