Bishop David Jenkins — and ‘living with questions’ in today’s Church
From Nicola Phelan
Sir, — I am grateful to the late Bishop David Jenkins (News, Comment, and Gazette, 9 September) for enabling me and others to articulate our own questions about the Gospel accounts relating to Jesus and the nature of God.
I feel fortunate to have found churches and clergy in Sheffield and Rugby where debate was not closed down and where there was and is excitement in living with questions. I am saddened, however, that many people have left the Church for want of finding such an environment.
Profound differences exist within the Church of England and other denominations about biblical accounts and interpretation, but surely the only way forward is to acknowledge that we are all in the same Church. Many Christians do manage to work together for the common good while holding different beliefs because to them this is what the gospel message is about. I think the key thing is that this difference is acknowledged and respected.
This is not going to happen if some congregations close themselves off from dialogue, as we see in Sussex and Kent. We have two Evangelical Archbishops who have facilitated Shared Conversations about sexuality and biblical understanding; but for some people deep belief about scripture prevents participation. What is the way forward?
Perhaps the example set by Marcus Borg and N. T. Wright in their book The Meaning of Jesus is one to follow: two theologians with different understandings of scripture but who became friends by listening to each other.
53 South Road
Clifton upon Dunsmore
Rugby CV23 0BZ
From the Revd Humphrey Prideaux
Sir, — Your obituary on the Rt Revd Dr David Jenkins stated that, on reading his work, it would not be surprising if someone was unable to articulate his theology systematically. But that was the whole point of his message: if we put God into a “system”, we are making an idol. You can’t pin the good God down.
As for Christology, the primary evidence is so slender that the statement that “God is for us in Jesus, decisively but not exclusively”, has to suffice for us as we continue our exploration of the God who loves us and takes the risk of trusting us.
6 Rectory Close, Alverstoke
Gosport, Hampshire PO12 2HT
From Canon Christopher Hall
Sir, — Those who gave credence to celestial conjuring tricks on Monday morning, 9 July 1984, mistook the timing and target of divine anger.
It was not David Jenkins’s consecration in York Minster on the Friday before. The first rumbles of her anger were heard by the SYNEWS team within an hour of the decision by the six guardians of the Church of England constitution to disregard legal advice and to raise the stakes against women lawfully ordained abroad ministering in this country.
On Saturday SYNEWS GS 2016 had printed David Jenkins’s “Promise of the Week”: “I will lie low, but I will not lie.” He kept the second clause, but, thankfully, not the first. His article of faith published in SYNEWS GS 2018 continues to be fulfilled: “I do believe that even the Church cannot keep a good God down.”
The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB
From the Revd Toddy Hoare
Sir, — I have happy memories of David Jenkins. Often he was taken out of context by the media (“conjuring trick with bones”).
As Durham was 45 minutes up the A19 from the group of parishes I served in North Yorkshire, not a few of us took the opportunity to hear his Lent talks, which were always stimulating. There was much “In the middle of the mess and the muddle there is God,” to give a rough paraphrase, as he sought to get us to identify God in our midst.
I was particularly lucky in getting to know him better when he sat for a head, afterwards cast in bronze. I felt that his final book, The Calling of the Cuckoo, struck an unnecessary sad note at the end of a stimulating ministry.
Pond Farm House, Holton
Oxford OX33 1PY
Sexuality, shadow synod, and Scarborough
From the Very Revd Christopher Lewis
Sir, — Why all this time and energy devoted to the gay issue? It must be because people think it crucial to the Church, to salvation, to the world, to themselves.
I understand the last of these reasons, although gay clergy with whom I have worked have not made gayness their mission; they have got on admirably with their jobs. The world has infinitely more important things to be concerned about: genocide, staggering greed, mass movements of distressed people, how to build peace.
As for the Church, it has a hierarchy of truths and concerns, where on a scale of 0-10, gays must come in at about 1, except only to reject persecution and Leviticus 20.13. Jesus does not mention gays, except perhaps in Matthew 5.22, where he may be saying that abuse of gays deserves the worst of consequences.
The real point of the time and energy, I suppose, is to provide a testing battlefield for conservatives versus liberals. I can, however, suggest numerous crucial fields on which to conduct perennial jousting. Are faithful members of “other religions” on a road to salvation? What does the Bible teach about usury? How best does religion mix with public life? Judgement and damnation?
In the mid-19th century, F. D. Maurice was thrown out of King’s College, London, for saying that eternal damnation did not go on for ever; and in 1863 nearly 12,000 Church of England clergy (there were lots in those days) signed a public declaration of their belief in the eternity of hell. That public debate may sound a bit ridiculous now, but at least it was about something theologically significant.
16 Victoria Road, Aldeburgh
Suffolk IP15 5ED
From the Revd Alastair Ferneley
Sir, — I was puzzled to read about the desire of “conservative Evangelical Anglicans” to set up a church-plant in Scarborough (News, 9 September). I have recently moved away from Scarborough, having ministered there for more than ten years, and found it to be very well served by churches of every conceivable flavour. The Anglican deanery contains churches of all flavours, including Evangelicals, conservative Catholics, and everything in between.
Liberals, Evangelicals, and Anglo-Catholics worship and work together — sometimes in the same churches. If you widen your view ecumenically, there are plenty of “conservative” Evangelical Christians in thriving churches in Scarborough.
The only thing missing from Scarborough which you generally find in other areas is significant discord between the churches. Churches Together in Scarborough works well, and even the conservatives don’t seem to be actively telling anyone else they are not proper Christians, but all are on the whole respectful to each other, and work together to spread the good news of Jesus Christ.
If the proposed new plant is because some feel that there is not enough condemnation or hatred going on, it shows the “revitalisers” up for what they are. If it is not, I don’t know what it is for.
The Vicarage, Dacre Banks
Harrogate HG3 4ED
From the Revd Peter Ould
Sir, — I read with keen interest the letters criticising the Revd Dr Peter Sanlon for hosting a meeting of like-minded clergy hoping to shape the ministry of the Church of England in the future (9 September).
I assume we can be confident that all those clergy who criticised Dr Sanlon are not members of any campaigning, evangelism, mission, or support group beyond their deanery chapter and other official diocesan structures.
3 Goudhurst Close
Canterbury CT2 7TU
From the Revd James Pacey
Sir, — I was interested to read the Revd D. T. Phillips’s letter (9 September) imploring the Church to return to the New Testament. I wonder how he reconciles his segregating label of “the gays” with Galatians 3.28.
149 Beardall Street
Hucknall NG15 7HA
From Mr Stephen Stokes
Sir, — What has upset me is that a bishop’s coming out as gay is news in today’s world. I bet the news of a straight bishop does not hit the headlines, nor does the question what goes on in the privacy of his or her own home and bedroom. Yet a gay person, called by God to serve him, and following the rules (no matter how ludicrous they are), is expected to divulge all.
3 Benians Court
Cambridge CB3 0DN
Correction. The Bishop of Grantham did not sign the Sunday Times letter, as Dr Scotland’s letter stated last week. Our apologies for letting this pass. Editor
Rise in legacy giving is not such good news
From Mr Robin Stevens
Sir, — Dr John Preston (“Parishioners give more — but not enough to cancel out costs”, News, 9 September) is pleased to note that legacy giving was the highest yet in 2014. Surely this is bad news for the Church, as it highlights our ageing and dying congregations?
3 Aldeburgh Way
Chelmsford CM1 7PB
From Mr Michael McIntyre
Sir, — May I respectively suggest that if Paul Vallely uses a quotation, he give it in full: his contribution (Comment, 9 September) quoting Churchill should have read: “Democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others.”
26 Westbere Road
London NW2 3SR
Challenge to England’s clerical shirtmakers?
From the Revd Dr Daniel Trott
Sir, — In response to the Revd David Chamberlin’s letter (2 September) about slim-fit men’s clerical shirts, may I offer the experience of a fairly slim deacon? I have found that shirts ordered from Barbiconi (www.barbiconi.it) are much slimmer in the body than those produced by most English companies, and also a good length in the arm. I have also heard good things about Desta (www.desta.it) and Hammond & Harper (www.hammondandharperoflondon.com), although I couldn’t vouch for them personally.
Flat 3, Enderley House
Sylvan Road, London SE19 2RT
From the Revd Chris Maclean
Sir, — I must take issue with the Revd David Chamberlin’s assertion that shirtmakers mostly produce clerical shirts of “Friar Tuck proportions”, which, he tells us, damages his “sartorial reputation”.
I would consider myself a larger priest of possibly more Goliath-like proportions, and someone who has probably eaten more than his fair share of pies. I, therefore, despair at the continual failure of many manufacturers to offer sufficiently generous clothing. Cuffs too tight, sleeves too short, shoulders too narrow, and waists too taut is my normal experience. And these at a premium price, too.
Sartorial reputation? I would be happy with a modicum of decency. My naked torso should be visible only to my wife, my GP, and foolish house guests who forget to knock — not through the gaps in my shirt front. More generously cut shirts can probably be tailored smaller by any reasonable needleworker.
24 Thistledown, Walmer
Kent CT14 7XE