Letters to the Editor

by
01 April 2016

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The prevention of clergy burnout and breakdown

From the Revd Richard J. Adams

Sir, — I was heartened by your report (News, 18 March) of the work of St Luke’s Healthcare in recognising the rapidly changing working contexts and conditions for clergy, and the need to equip them better to handle the demands.

I am, however, disheartened that there is still so much emphasis on helping individuals to cope rather than on the way the “job” is defined and supported, and the measures that can be taken to ensure that demands are realistic.

In 2002, the Society of Mary and Martha produced an excellent, evidence-based report, Affirmation and Accountability, which outlined scores of measures that could be taken to sustain clergy and prevent burnout or breakdown. Most dioceses have barely scratched the surface of implementing those recommendations, and, until a more radical effort to do so is made, problems will continue to be addressed by patching up clergy rather than damage prevention.

One area that surely needs fresh examination is the part played by the bishop: if he or she is to be effective as pastor to the pastors, other work needs to diminish. Attending to the ongoing support and development of individual clergy needs to take greater precedence over so-called strategic tasks: indeed, an episcopal model based more on gardening than on management might be more fruitful (pun intended).

RICHARD J. ADAMS

Tros y Mor, Llangoed

Beaumaris

Anglesey LL58 8SB

 

Theology Now: responses to the complete series

 

From the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Sir, — In the same edition as Canon Andrew Davison’s list of 20th-century theologians appeared (Theology Now, 18 March), there was an interview with the former Archbishop of Canterbury Lord Williams in which he mentions those theologians who have been the greatest influence on him — some, as it happens, on me also.

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But a few of those names, including Austin Farrer, well described as “The one genius produced by the Church of England in the 20th century”, do not make Canon Davison’s list. This raises interesting questions about the relationship between scholarship and influence.

Another theologian who did not make the list was Reinhold Niebuhr. President Carter kept a collection of Niebuhr’s writing by his bedside, referring to it as his “political Bible”. President Obama admits to the huge influence of Niebuhr on his own thinking, and Niebuhr is the acknowledged father of two generations of Democrat politicians and political philosophers.

In Britain, from the late 1940s to the late 1950s, he was the big inspiration for thoughtful Christians who knew that to achieve social justice they had to take power seriously, and also that the malignant powers of the world had to be confronted without losing Christian hope.

HARRIES OF PENTREGARTH

House of Lords

London SW1A 0PW

 

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — The glossary of theological terms (Theology Now, 24 March) provides a very narrow description of liberation theology, saying that it begins “from the perspective of the the poorest and least powerful”.

It actually begins with the gratuitous love of God, acting in history as shown to us in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, which is “gracious and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love” (Psalm 145.8).

In Gustavo Gutiérrez’s groundbreaking work A Theology of Liberation, published in 1971, he writes: “God’s love for us is gratuitous; we do not merit it. It is a gift we receive before we exist, or, to be more accurate, a gift in view of which we have been created. Gratuitousness thus marks our lives so that we are led to love gratuitously and to want to be loved gratuitously.”

For Jesus, gratuitous love included the powerful and rich individuals, such as the tax collectors Zacchaeus and Matthew, marginalised women, and the excluded adulteress and prostitutes.

Liberation theology also sees such a love at work in the liberation of the Hebrews from slavery under the Pharaohs, and the work of politicians which liberates the poorest and the powerless from the unjust structures of states.

Gutiérrez writes: “the preferential option for the poor is much more than a way of showing our concern about poverty and the establishment of justice. At its very heart, it contains a spiritual, mystical element, an experience of gratuitousness that gives it depth and fruitfulness.”

There are profound similarities between the theological work of Dietrich Bonhoeffer under the Fascist oppression of 1940-45 and that of Gutiérrez under that of the Latin American dictators of the 1960s. The need for bold exposition of, and active participation in, divine gratuitous love has never been greater than it is in the current millennium. “Give me a mind that thinks clearly, a heart that loves dearly, and a spirit that is fearless.”

PAUL NICOLSON

93 Campbell Road,

London N17 0BF

 

From Professor Linda Woodhead

Sir, — Thank you for the last instalment of “Theology Now” on resurrection. It corrected the deficits of which I had previously been critical (Letter, 4 March): it was contextually engaged (not context-driven), rich in spiritual insight, more varied in approach, and with a better gender balance. These things go together. They release the energy of orthodoxy, and remind us that a Church gets the theology it deserves.

LINDA WOODHEAD

Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion

Lancaster University LA1 4YD

 

‘Ostracising’ of complainants who allege abuse

 

Sir, — I was gratified to read that the practice of routinely ostracising those who speak out about abuse may soon come to an end. As a curate, I was sexually harassed — groped repeatedly by a serving bishop — and the investigation that took place under Clergy Discipline Measure was so flawed that it took on comedic proportions.

There are two occasions I can clearly recall, both taking place in very public places; the first was in my parish church at the end of a confirmation service, where I was acting as his chaplain; the other when I was watching a stall during a vocations event at the cathedral.

After that, I resolved always to keep a safe distance from him, and took no action until a vulnerable parishioner complained to me of a similar experience at her confirmation in the cathedral the previous week. This woman knew nothing about my history with him.

I took her straight to my vicar, but, while she dismissed both our stories as misunderstandings, she encouraged us to report him. Feeling I had an obligation to protect not just ourselves but any other women he may come into contact with, I made a complaint under the Clergy Discipline Measure.

As part of his defence, this man submitted photographs taken by a photographer during the vocations event, and, in my response, I pointed out that one of them shows his hand orientated in precisely the way I had described, and identified several possible witnesses. I was told the decision had been made not to proceed with the case, and I was not allowed to submit any further evidence.

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After this, I found my reputation ruined; I was disbelieved, and people began to avoid me; eventually, I was offered a post in another diocese. As soon as I was able to, I reported my experiences to the police, and finally was taken seriously. After an extensive investigation, the Crown Prosecution Service declined to proceed, since I was the only complainant; the other lady refused to sign her statement.

The police investigation was very professional, and they took the case as far as they could, considering the evidence they had to work with.

So I move on. I survived these experiences with a great deal of pastoral support from various agencies within my new diocese, but having endured all this, the most painful legacy has been the continuing lack of contact with friends and senior colleagues from my home. I had thought it was because mud sticks and people believed the circulating rumours; now I find that it was more probably on the instruction of their insurers.

I had had no intention of suing the diocese; I was trying to put these miserable events behind me. Now I find that my distress has been prolonged by the underwriters’ desire to limit their damages. The sooner this shabby practice is stopped, the sooner I can resume my relationships with those previous friends and colleagues for whom I have nothing but respect and affection, and the sooner I can begin to get on with exercising the ministry to which God called me.

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Disappearance of clerical garb adds to secularism

 

From Mr Jonathan Luxmoore

Sir, — Your report on sympathetic public reaction to people wearing clerical collars (News, 11 March) raises an issue that has long dismayed many of us: why are members of the clergy identifiable as such so rarely seen on the streets of our towns and cities? So much is made nowadays of the decline of Christianity in a secularised Britain, but is it any wonder that much of society has little awareness of the faith, when those assigned to teach and minister in its name never make themselves visible, as clergy, to most people?

When I lived and worked in Poland, it was normal to see priests and nuns in their cassocks and habits in shops, queuing at bus stops, or hurrying between tasks. That everyday presence of real people (rather than just buildings) was, and remains, crucially important in signalling Christianity’s openness and availability.

It should be made a requirement that all stipendiary or beneficed clergy, who are able-bodied and not otherwise prevented, spend an hour each weekday on the street in their clerical collars, ready to converse with, and explain their beliefs and values to, the people around them.

JONATHAN LUXMOORE

33A West Street

Chipping Norton

Oxfordshire OX7 5EU

 

Garden-centre staff

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC

Sir, — You report that the garden-centre industry supports a fixed date for Easter (provided it is not early) (News, 24 March).

Why do these larger or multiple garden centres want a fixed Easter, and to have it at a later date? Not because they have suddenly become religious, but quite the opposite. Easter Day is one of only two days in the whole year when retail employees are guaranteed a one-day week­end free of work.

It is obvious that this desire is linked to the campaign to make Easter Day a normal working day for retail employees, who are among the lowest-paid and most-exploited employees in the UK. Many will be paid at the national minimum rate for weekday work, and this will leave retail employees with rights to just Christmas Day as potentially the only weekend day off in a whole year.

Easter is a Christian festival, and it is for Holy Church to decide on its date. Even as much as to encourage support from commercial interests is to encourage the greed of the rich retail bosses and those who, having secured their own four-day weekend off, will join together to exploit further the poorest and most exploited of all workers in the land.

The Churches must take no notice whatever of commercial interests, and make their own decision, as it would be dreadful if exploitation was involved in any date-fixing and it led in turn to many more Christians’ not being able to observe the greatest of all festivals because they had to work to satisfy the greed of others.

GEOFFREY F. SQUIRE

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill

Goodleigh, Barnstaple

Devon EX32 7NR

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