From the Ven. Norman Russell
Sir, - About 30 years ago, Eric Wild, Bishop of Reading,
stunned Oxford diocesan synod with the words "Not since, as a young
man, when I was a card-carrying member of the Communist Party, have
I been so angry. . ." The outburst was in response to an
uncalled-for and intemperate attack on the clergy.
I cannot emulate Bishop Wild's way with words, but I was very
saddened and even a little angry to read some of your
correspondents' comments on Canon Chris Russell's article (Comment, 6
June) about evangelism, inter alia suggesting a lack of
awareness of context and the need for listening.
Canon Russell (no relation) does in fact mention both in his
article, and they have always been important features of his
outstanding work on the ground in Reading.
From the beginning of his work at St Laurence's, Reading, until
my retirement a year ago, I chaired his support group, and what a
privilege that was. From the smallest of beginnings in a huge,
run-down medieval church at the centre of Reading has grown a work
of which any diocese would be proud. But Canon Russell is not
proud. He may not be a plaster saint, and, like the rest of us, is
not perfect, but he is one of the most reflective and self-effacing
priests I know. He has been effective in leading and growing a
church with a core mission of reaching out to "hard-to-reach" young
people. Some, to put it euphemistically, were known to social
services and the police. There are wonderful and true stories of
young lives, often badly damaged, being turned round.
That did not happen without prayer, leadership, intentional
planning, team-building, and hard graft. Nor did it happen without
serious engagement with context, and profound listening.
The quiet and slowly emerging miracle at St Laurence's began
before the term Fresh Expressions became widely used. Many Fresh
Expressions, sadly, struggle to find a pathway to sustainability.
It took a while, but St Laurence's has become sustainable.
Significantly, it has avoided becoming a "youth church". It has
attracted an all-age congregation, who are expected to be committed
to its core mission of reaching out in a holistic way with the good
news of Jesus Christ to young people in need. I am not alone in
thinking that what has happened in Reading could be a useful model
for work elsewhere.
(Archdeacon of Berkshire 1998-2013)
47A Theobalds Way
Surrey GU16 9RF
From the Revd Charles Peer
Sir, - Your three letters criticising Canon Russell's piece
on evangelism indicate why the case needed to be made. There is a
deeply rooted seam of resistance to the concept of evangelism in
the Church of England, a point that Canon Russell made in his
It is difficult to know exactly what provoked criticism, other
than the mention of the "e" word itself. Your letter-writers call
for listening, respect, and relationship, all of which Canon
Russell was happy to endorse in the original piece. The only point
of difference seems to be on the final act of the conversation, the
"setting forth" of the person of Jesus Christ.
It is difficult not to see this distaste for evangelism as
nothing more than the traditional English dislike for religious
enthusiasm, a sentiment long past its sell-by date. St Francis,
however many words he may or may not have used, would have had no
patience for such delicacy about proclaiming the love of
We live at a time when there is no consensus about religious
truth, but a great openness to debating the question. In such a
world, we need to be able to articulate our faith without
embarassment. If we spend all our time listening but never
speaking, people may start to wonder whether we are actually
interested in the conversation at all.
Mission Development Officer
Diocese of Portsmouth
Portsmouth PO2 8HB