Subversive or Supportive – Pt.2 (CofE Titanic)

side bar for 30 years

In the new monastic community any discussion related to the relationship between a new type of monasticism and the historic churches is based on the proposition that this transfiguration into a new expression of an ancient faith is inevitable rather than optional. A new type of monasticism cannot be bolted on to a structure that has been served a ‘relocation notice ’by a new era… [last blog]

Neville promised he would return to let me know if and how the ‘old dodgers’ in the company responded to their crisis. I was astounded by what he had to say when he did return.
To illustrate and contrast his response I would like to share with you a cartoon story I saw in a newspaper several years ago, followed by a story from my own imagination.

First Story
There was a small boat in a very big and troubled sea. Alongside came a cruise liner who offered to take the crew on board and tow their boat to their common destination. In the cartoon the crew of the small ship are seen boarding the cruise liner looking very pleased with themselves as they anticipate the comfort and security of their new transport home. We are then shown a picture of the giant cruise liner moving off into the distance towing the small boat behind it. The final picture is a close up of the stern of the ship and a caption of its name; HMS Titanic.

Second Story
There was a large Cruise Liner in a very big and troubled sea. Alongside this ship came a vast flotilla of small boats of different shapes and sizes. They offered the people on the Cruise Liner safe passage to their common destination. The crew and passengers were unable to believe that such an offer was being made to them yet wondered why so many boats of different shapes and sizes were making such an outrageous invitation. That is, until they heard the announcement over the public address system: ‘Abandon Ship.’ The flotilla is last seen going off into the distance with the cruise line passengers safely on board as their prestigious ship sinks slowly and gently into the troubled sea.

If we could let these two stories travel side by side in our imagination, we can then draw on them to illustrate and contrast what happened to the very troubled though prestigious Insurance Company as it negotiated its own troubled sea.

This is what happened.

The Company Directors once again contacted the Management Consultancy and requested their help to negotiate the troubled waters. The response from the Consultancy was simple and straight to the point: “Abandon Ship” or ‘Go Under’ There was no other alternatives. The majority agreed it was time to abandon ship. (Now imagine yourself in a troubled sea, what would you choose, an old familiar prestigious cruise liner or a small untested ship to grant you a safe passage?)

The plan in itself was simple, the acceptance and cooperation to do it was much more complicated. The company would form a network with existing and newly emerging companies whose flexibility enabled them to respond creatively and practically to the changes and challenges resulting from major cultural changes. In return, the company would give their network the right to use their name, brand and reputation. The network could draw on the extensive resources and expertise of the company when developing new products and for pursing new opportunities they had identified themselves. Customer Data bases were shared and marketing and sales were handled both cooperatively and specifically by different specialists within the network.

All of the major operating systems were gradually dismantled and decentralised, greatly assisted by the advent at that time of computer software. Senior Management were encouraged and supported to form their own companies who remained intimately connected and contributed to the new emerging network.

There were many difficulties that needed to be addressed during the process of growth and change but two kept reoccurring;

First and rightly expected, many employees of the company felt completely unsettled by and unprepared for the changes that were being proposed. This was expressed in open hostility to sincere concern. All responses were treated openly and honestly, under girded by a genuine belief that each response may contribute to the overall shape of the new expression of the company. Those who felt they needed to resist the changes were encouraged to stick it out and come up with creative alternatives to avoid then having to give up on the changes.

Second, there were members of the network of new companies who mistook interdependence for independent and in some cases used the new relationship to further there own agendas. This often took the shape of openly and consistently criticizing and maligning the older company to bolster their reputation. As the success of the whole undertaking was dependent on interdependence it was agreed by all participants that this type of attitude was damaging to every one and was simply unacceptable.

Over a period of a few years, the older company which was a single, monolithic structure emerged as a network of interdependent and interconnected companies, orbiting around the hub of the restored and reconstructed company.

Neville’s story challenged me to think over once again the relationship between a new type of monasticism and the one holy catholic apostolic church. When I visited Bishop David Jenkins in 1985 to ask him to support and locate a new type of monasticism within the Church I was unconsciously thinking in traditional monastic ways of a religious order attached to the Church. As the years went by it became clear that a new type of monasticism could not be bolted on to any church structure in that way, because the church structures themselves were collapsing. Over the years we had experienced and witnessed churches who had tried to do that and they simply imploded. As we became more aware of the new paradigms that were fuelling cultural changes and social upheaval, it became apparent that a new type of monasticism was in the first place ideally located alongside the church rather than inside.

If  Bonhoeffer’s vision of the ‘restoration of the church through a new type of monasticism’ was to be realized then steps needed to be taken that set things going both at local and national levels. To that end, in 2004 I sent a letter to Archbishop Rowan Williams with a request for some advice and some thoughts on how we might move forward in doing just that.