From the Very Revd Richard Lewis
Sir, — I fear that the call of the Unite trade union (News, 18/25 December) owes more to the politics of the union than to truth.
After the illness of the Rector of Teme Valley South, in January 2006, I became, at the Bishop’s invitation, Associate Vicar of the benefice.
Three days each week for nearly 18 months, I travelled from my home to work in the benefice. I took the experience of 30 years as a parish priest and 13 as a Dean to the six churches and communities that are the glorious setting of the Teme Valley.
I found only kindness and friendship, concern and care, for the church, the community, and, as well, for a distressed incumbent. I found sadness and bewilderment that they had been labelled “toxic”, and would protest against that description in strong terms.
The people of Teme Valley South are a cross-section of the sort of people I have experienced in any other community. Of course, there are some difficult characters, but they have to be loved, understood, and managed, not shouted at. I judge their alleged treatment of the incumbent to be the product of a fevered imagination.
Rachael Maskell, representing the union Unite, is mistaken when she says that the Bishops “washed their hands like Pontius Pilate”. This was far from the case, and I observed at first hand the concern, the anguish, and the time taken by Bishops, Archdeacon, and senior staff and senior lay members of the congregations in trying to resolve the issues that had arisen. I shared their frustration at the obdurate intractability they encountered in their attempts to find a resolution.
I believe pastoral care to be a two-way street. It has to be received in the same spirit as it is offered. One of the things I observe after half a century of ministry is that all of us carry our personalities from place to place, and that more often than not we are the architects of our own misery. It may be the case that a person shouts so loudly for help that he or she cannot hear when it is clearly offered.
1 Monmouth Court, Union Street
Wells, Somerset BA5 2PX
From the Revd Derek and Mrs Phyllida Coombes
Sir, — We are distressed to read the report “Worcester clashes with union”. It appears that the Revd Mark Sharpe has been treated in a way not unlike the way we were treated in York diocese in 2007.
We moved to a house-for-duty post, but were misled about the vicarage. They housed us in a building called a vicarage, but we would not have housed anyone in it. We were told it would be brought up to church standard, but when we arrived, even before we got inside, we could see they had not done as we had asked.
There were no handrails up the staircase (Phyllida is disabled); electric lights were hanging off the walls; the front door was rotten; there were blocked drain-pipes, no curtain rails, and no phone. The garden was like a jungle. The patio had sunk, and the steps outside were too unsafe to use. These are but a few of the problems.
When is the Church of England going to get its act together and move into the 21st century? Poor housing prevails in many dioceses, and yet the surveyors and registrars earn huge salaries to make sure houses are fit for habitation and meet the correct specification for a vicarage, which is laid down by church legislation.
They washed their hands of us in York, and we were left to find other accommodation of our own, simply to get out for our own health and sanity. We did ask for an alternative worthy of a house for duty, but it was refused.
Bishops always say that they are disappointed when anything critising them is published, but the C of E should be no different from any other employer, and must learn to fulfil its contracts of employment.
We hope that Mr Sharpe wins his tribunal, and well done, him, for going that far. We wish we had; but unfortunately ill health prevented its happening. Derek is dying from cancer.
33 Larch Way
West Sussex RH16 3TY