What is an Area Dean?

Eileen was asked by the Magazine Committee to write about the rôle of an Area Dean as she takes up her appointment on 1st September 1998.

Eileen McLean, Area DeanThus far I have asked this question of Bishops, Archdeacons, ex-Area Deans and present Area-Deans, and a significant part of the answer is always "the job is what you make it"! So in trying to explain my new rôle to you in this article I am somewhat handicapped by not having "done it" yet. I must remember to write a magazine article in five years time and compare expectations with reality!

There are specific responsibilities attached to the rôle. An Area Dean: "is to ensure that the life and work of the Deanery and its constituent parishes is sustained and developed".

  • The Area Dean is the Co-Chair of the Deanery Synod and Chair of the Standing Committee, with all the implications for handling synodical business and ensuring that parish shares (quotas) are paid.
  • The Area Dean convenes the Clergy Chapter (all the clergy working within a Deanery), enabling the clergy to meet together regularly for study, fellowship, prayer and reflection.
  • During a period of vacancy within a parish the Area Dean is responsible, with the church wardens, for ensuring the provision of services and pastoral care, and when a new Vicar is appointed of "inducting" him or her into the Deanery. (There are at present two vacancies in the deanery, and one announced for later in the year.)
  • The Area Dean is to share with the Bishop in the pastoral care of clergy and families, advising him on the needs of individuals and parishes, and also to represent the Archdeacon in matters relating to the general welfare of parishes, their property and records.

These are specific elements in the job, common to all Area Deans. There are other tasks harder to define, such as being:

  • "a channel of communication"
  • "an interpreter of the aims and aspirations of the diocese, deanery and parishes to each other"
  • "a stimulant to collaborative work"

These phrases will bear different meanings in different times and places. We are in a time of considerable change in terms of the number of clergy available, and indeed in our general understanding of ministry. The reference to "collaborative" work is not just a nod in the direction of a fashionable 1990s concept. Perhaps more than in any previous times we need parishes and their people to work together. To do this we need to know and understand each other better. I see it as a very important task of an Area Dean to help bring this about.

In particular, within this deanery of Central Nottingham, it seems both necessary and possible. In geographical terms we are very small indeed. My title is "Area Dean". Most deaneries have a "Rural Dean". The names are interchangeable, but a Rural Deanery consisting of a similar number of parishes will frequently cover a vast area. We are very compact – fifteen parishes in the City Centre, Radford, Sneinton, The Meadows, St Anns and part of Mapperley, hardly more than a couple of miles from end to end. In this small area we are also one of the most mixed deaneries economically and socially. Eleven of the fifteen parishes are designated Urban Priority Areas, including the most deprived in the whole diocese, whilst we also include the thriving business and shopping centre, and such affluent areas as The Park and part of Mapperley Park. We visibly need each other, to be aware of what we can give each other in terms of different outlooks and resources. How that can be done is not at all clear. I am clear that it is the task of the Area Dean to enable it to happen.

This is not another full-time job – as I said at the beginning "it is what you make it". However, you will see from the above that, done properly, it will be very time-consuming. Leslie and the PCC have agreed that I should be able to devote one day a week to "deanery business". As from 1st September I shall set aside Wednesdays for that purpose. Obviously this does not mean I shall never do St. Peter’s things on that day and never involve myself in deanery activities on other days. Life just isn’t like that! But it is a useful and helpful guideline to follow.

Please pray for me as I take up this new rôle – and be patient as I learn to reconcile all the new and old demands.

Eileen McLean

© St Peter's Church, Nottingham
Last revised 8th September 1998