Anglicans Online banner More about the gryphon
Independent On the web since 1994 More than 250,000 readers More than 30,000 links Updated every Sunday

Noted This Week
Sites new to AO

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
Hong Kong
New Zealand
South Africa

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
About our logo

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

Our search engine


Hallo again to all.

'He's an excellent priest, but a terrible manager.'

How many times have you heard that statement? Or its cousin, 'He's an excellent bishop, but a terrible manager.'

The very concept of 'a good manager' comes from the world of business. A manager is usually held responsible for the success of the business. The concept of 'success' is easy to measure in the world of business, by looking at such quantitative figures as revenue, profit margins, market share, or year-over-year revenue growth. The notion of 'success' in a parish or diocese is more elusive; there is no consensus over whether a more-successful parish has more money, more people, more visible piety, more joy, more years of existence, or more adherence to dogma.* Father Mitty

Alexis de Tocqueville made popular the notion that outsiders are better able to understand and describe administrative and political structures than are participants. His book De la Démocratie en Amérique, was published in French in two volumes in 1835 and 1840, and revised eleven times by 1850. Its twelfth edition was translated into English and then the translation was revised and refined various times, most recently in 2003. The book is frequently cited and quoted but (in our observation) not so frequently read. All of the effort put into revising and translating it bolsters our belief that its technique is productive and its conclusions solid.

In our travels, our custom is to attend a worship service at an Anglican church local to where we find ourselves on Sunday, and to talk and listen to as many people as possible while we are there. We are outsiders, sharing the fellowship and listening to the combatants. We don't claim to have de Tocqueville's skill at analyzing what we see, but our sights are lower. He was studying an entire nation and its founding principles. We are looking at a parish or a diocese, which are smaller, less ambitious, and usually unarmed. We've been doing this for decades, and have visited at least a hundred parishes that are not our own.

The vast majority of parishes that we have visited over the years seem to have some level of 'toxic parish syndrome'. Invariably we listen, coffee cup in hand, to a parishioner complaining about someone in authority exhibiting one or more of the seven deadly sins. As we mentally review all of those cases, the common thread seems to be that bad people aren't getting sacked. An incompetent financial person, an alcoholic youth minister, a tyrannical and arbitrary Chairman of the Fabric Committee, or a verger so odd that several people have made inquiries to the police about his past. Certainly no corporate CEO would be called a 'good manager' if he allowed a grossly incompetent comptroller to remain on the job or failed to sack a technician who caused more problems than she repaired.

We got to wondering what it is about parishes and dioceses that nurtures and encourages the incompetent and tyrannical. Henry Kissinger popularized the saying that 'Academic politics are so vicious precisely because the stakes are so small', and the stakes are certainly small in the world of parish politics. But we've never believed that small stakes are, by themselves, enough to explain or to have created the ubiquitous petty tyrants and entrenched incompetents.

Then we remembered the little Tempest in a Thurible here at AO in Advent 2007 when we grumbled about churches in Second Life. We got to thinking about it again a couple of months ago when we saw mention in The Times of a British pair whose marriages collapsed when they were caught having a 'virtual affair'. We shan't express any further opinions about Second Life or its ilk, but it's certainly true that since long before James Thurber introduced us to Walter Mitty, people were drawn to situations in which they became lord of all that they surveyed by being careful not to survey too much. We recall once hearing someone be dismissed as 'the undisputed champion of the K0K 2K0 Postal Code'.

The incompetent comptroller wants to keep his job not just because of the salary, but because in the Alternate Life that he has built around it, he is the undisputed champion and has adding machines that go pocketa-pocketa-pocketa. The PCC Fabric Committee is a dominion in which someone can enjoy being the absolute monarch, at least until he has to go home and fix the leaky window.

People looking for a way to escape to an alternate reality in which they are mighty or heroic or adored are finding it harder and harder to do that in the corporate world. Competent Human Resources people have largely cleaned them out, and bankruptcies have handled most of the rest. But dominion seekers can still hide in parishes and dioceses, on staff and in committees, whose clergy are taught not to sack but to forgive, and where no one has yet figured out how to build performance metrics that will demonstrate how useless they are.

We measure our performance by the number of people who read what we write, and today we've updated our masthead to note that 250,000 people have read some part of Anglicans Online in the last 3 months. Thank you.

See you next week. Tell your friends.

Our signature
All of us at Anglicans Online

Last updated: 8 February 2009

*We tend to be of the 'more joy' persuasion, but joy without liturgy is hardly Anglican worship, is it?

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. ©2009 Society of Archbishop Justus
. Please address all spam to