Sometimes great comedy succeeds when it finds true to life characters and situations and takes them to extremes, where we see them differently and find the humour in the situation. Jim Hacker and Sir Humphrey Appleby, from the TV programme Yes Minister, are two of those people who have become character classics.
It is clear that the influence of Sir Humphrey and his mantras of delay and obfuscation are thriving in the upper echelons of the Church of England at the moment. Except, it is not funny in real life.
For anyone not familiar with the Jim Hacker / Sir Humphrey dynamic, you might like to view
Yes, Minister – Sir Humphrey’s Stalling Technique – YouTube on creative inertia
“In Due Course, Humphrey …” – YouTube in the fullness of time
Then look at the minutes of the zoom meeting of the House of Bishops from 24 November Meeting of the House of Bishops, 24 November 2021 | The Church of England A grand total of 82 words, including the date, description and mode of meeting. They ‘were updated…approved the direction of travel… received a series of updates… an update was given to the house…reflections…’ The only definite thing was that ‘the meeting ended in prayer’. Sir Humphrey would have been so proud.
The level of obfuscation almost makes me wonder what is not being said. The biggest thing missing is any sort of decision about anything. As Sir Humphrey memorably put it ‘a decision is only an official decision if it was recorded officially in the minutes by an official’ even allowing that some might have recollections of other decisions being made.
Sir Humphrey 1 – Church of England 0
Then there are the latest minutes from the Next Steps group about Living in Love and Faith. These are available to read at LLF Next Steps Group Meeting on 24 November 2021 | The Church of England Frankly watching Question Time at General Synod was far more informative about what was happening at the Next Steps Group meeting than their minutes.
The minutes say ‘[T]he group also agreed actions relating to each of the Synod Questions which Bishop Sarah had promised to take to the Next Steps Group.’ To start with there were three questions – 52, 53 and 55 where their written answers were referred to the next meeting of the Next Steps Group. The supplementary question to question 53 was also referred to the next meeting of the Next Steps group and answering the supplementary to question 55 Bishop Sarah promised to communicate the answers to the matters referred to the Next Steps group.
GENERAL SYNOD (churchofengland.org) question paper
The supplementary questions can be viewed at General Synod November 2021 – Tuesday 16 November 2021 Afternoon – YouTube from about 3hrs 55 mins.
If it is already in the public domain, why not just say what was discussed and decided?
The obfuscation goes further.
‘Discernment to Decision Making
The meeting agreed to work on shaping the process of discernment that will begin once the findings of ‘listening to the whole church’ had concluded. A sub-group will be formed to consider this over the coming months. It will draw on a diverse group of people for wisdom and advice.’
There is so much redundant language used here that I can’t work out if the new sub group is the LLF reference group or if the reference group is the ‘diverse group of people for wisdom and advice’.
Then on Diocesan Synods materials for Living in Love and Faith, according to the minutes the group has just ‘agreed to offer Diocesan Synods a range of materials’, but at Question time at General Synod, in the answer to written question 47 it was stated that these materials would be available at the beginning of December. Perhaps this is what Sir Humphrey would call ‘in the fullness of time’. Still waiting.
Delay, contradiction, meaningless phrases and no clear answers. Yes Bishop.
Sir Humphrey 2 – Church of England 0
For more on Sir Humphrey’s tactics you may like to watch,
Best of Sir Humphrey Appleby – Yes Minister Part 3 – YouTube especially the part beginning around 5 minutes.