Migrants: racism is there, beneath the surface
From the Revd Dr Christopher Newell
Sir, — I think it is slightly disingenuous of the Archbishop of Canterbury not to acknowledge the degree of incipient racism that is present in the public conversations surrounding the subject of migration into this country and into Europe.
Moreover, to use words such as “absolutely disgusting” contributes nothing to cooling the conversations. As Christians, we clearly have to speak on this subject with both the simplicity of a dove and the cunning wisdom of the snake, weaving a delicate course between compassion and pragmatism. We are a small country; there is a limited amount of resources available; and it is impossible to allow entry to everyone who wishes to come.
Of course Archbishop Welby is correct in saying that not everyone who is concerned about migration is a racist. But look what happened a day after the news concerning his article was made public (Press, 18 March).
What are we actually afraid of? As far as I am aware, we have agreed to accept 20,000-plus Syrian people from camps on the borders of Syria by 2020. This is hardly an earth-shattering, or Britain-shattering, number, compared with Germany, for example. I suspect that if we were discussing 20,000 Australians or New Zealanders in distress, we would be having a wholly different conversation.
There are people across Europe who are fleeing for their lives — not all of the migrants, but a significant number — and it saddens me deeply that my country, which accepted those fleeing from Nazi Germany (including my mother-in-law); Russian Jews from the pogroms; and Ugandan Asians from the tyranny of Idi Amin, continues to quibble about numbers that are easily contained with the parameters of compassion, pragmatism, and common sense.
By highlighting racism in such a defensive way, I believe that Archbishop Welby inadvertently falls into the trap of those who remain implacably opposed to people of colour being defined as British, and the proud tradition of this country as a place of safety and freedom for those in dire need.
St Austell PL26 6HN
‘Theology Now’: long-ago women mystics; and present appreciation
From the Revd Dr Paula Clifford
Sir, — The sidelining of women theologians is nothing new. Andrew Davison notes that, alongside Mechthild of Magdeburg and Gertrude of Helfta (both 13th-century mystics), “the late Middle Ages give us Catherine of Siena and Julian of Norwich” (Theology Now, 4 March).
Catherine of Siena did not come out of nowhere. She was the last, and the best known, of an extraordinary cluster of women mystics in 14th-century Tuscany. Largely neglected, but duly commemorated by local artists, these include Margaret of Cortona, Clare of Montefalco, Angela of Foligno, and Agnes of Montepulciano, to name but a few. The movement, if such it is, appears to die out in Tuscany after Catherine, but enjoys a last hurrah a century later with Rita of Cascia in the south and Catherine of Genoa to the north.
The writings and stories of these women reveal an innovative spirituality; and tracing their common influences has kept me happily occupied for a few years now. I cannot pretend, however, that publishers are falling over themselves to publish the results of my research.
The Vicarage, 23 Upper Crescent
Minster Lovell, Oxon OX29 0RT
From Mr Keith Ravenscroft
Sir, — I am puzzled by the negative comment that the series “Theology Now” is getting in your letters column. To me it is a godsend — literally. It enables those of us who work at the coalface to get access to some of the best theological minds around today: men and women, academics or priests.
The fact that it is divided into major themes that enable focused reflection is really valuable, and it is a mine of information and insight for anyone who is hungry for new, reiterated, or reinterpreted knowledge of God, but who may not otherwise have the time or funds to probe this deeply.
I have only one request: would you consider collecting this series into a book? If you do, it would live on my desk to refer to, and be inspired by, every day.
17 Legh Road, Prestbury
Cheshire SK10 4HX
A book is in prospect. More details soon. Editor
Those accused of abuse may be victims, too
From Dr Yvonne Craig
Sir — This Holy Week, our present penitential concern for church complicity in covering up cases of child sex-abuse may be increased by viewing the film Spotlight, although relieved that the current Goddard inquiry, with the related Pontifical and Australian Royal Commissions, are now active on behalf of victims.
My 20 years as a magistrate, doctoral researcher into elder abuse, and church mediator, however, with the professional need to observe judicial impartiality in cases of complex relational conflicts, suggests that sometimes the accused may be victims, also. Jesus suffered false accusations as a victim of institutional and public condemnation, and the way in which he silently resisted the attacks have surely comforted those today who quietly bear what they know are unjust allegations of abuse.
Currently, teachers, foster-carers, and parents, as well as clergy, can have false allegations made about them by children and adults, who often have mental-health problems, or who have had damaged lives. Such accusations are hurtful experiences of injustice. Victims who suffer but wish to defend themselves may be helped by the confidential False Allegations Support Organisation (firstname.lastname@example.org), a respected NGO, linked with related agencies.
Meanwhile, children who suffer from abuse, and child refugees, will be especially in our heartfelt prayers this Holy Week.
40 Ridgmount Gardens
London WC1E 7AT
A broader view from the far north
From Dr Philip Lockley
Sir, — As a first-year residential ordinand, I recognised much from my current experience of training in Paul Wilkinson’s exploration of a “generous orthodoxy” in today’s theological colleges (Feature, 11 March).
Yet, if these divisions are reducing, there is another that was, regrettably unacknowledged in that article: the geographical divide in the Church of England.
The principals or spokespersons of six separate institutions were quoted extensively, but all in the south (or Birmingham). Neither the College of the Resurrection, Mirfield, nor Cranmer Hall, Durham, received a mention. My own experience of Cranmer Hall — like that of numerous others here from southern dioceses — is of both a generous orthodoxy and an open attitude to place.
By being formed for ministry in the north, we gain insights on differences and distinctions which forge a further commitment to unity — for the future of the whole Church of England, wherever we will serve it.
Cranmer Hall, St John’s College
Durham DH1 3RJ
Warm memories of a sharp-witted old-school bishop
From the Revd Andrew Clements
Sir — I was amused by Malcolm Johnson’s article (Features, 4 March) on the wit of Bishop Henry Montgomery Campbell.
It brought back happy memories of the year I spent from 1969 to 1970 lodging with him and one of his daughters in Vincent Square, Westminster, in my first year as an undergraduate at King’s College, London. Dean Sydney Evans warned me that there were more stories told about him than any other cleric in the Church of England. I soon came to realise why. Among many memories three particular ones stand out.
Several times during my year he asked me: “And when are you hoping for some mentally-defective bishop to ordain you?”, to which I could give no exact answer.
One thing I found awkward was when he would insist that I accompany him to church at St Stephen’s, Rochester Row. The church was only round the corner, yet his black chauffeur-driven limousine would arrive at the house, he would order me into it, and we would be driven round three sides of Vincent Square and then round the corner to the church. I would then have to accompany him into church, to the amusement of my peers.
He once told me: “You must understand that I never say a kind word about anybody.” This was not entirely true, as he did offer what I took to be a compliment on one occasion. When introducing me to some of his visiting relatives he remarked, “This gentleman is our lodger; we’ve had worse.”
Looking back, I realise what a great privilege it was to have spent time with this famous, sharp-witted bishop of the old school.
The Vicarage, 80 Osbaldwick Lane
York YO10 3AX
Charities exist to lobby for the disadvantaged
From Mr Andrew Purkis
Sir, — Two items in your 12 February edition made the same point about the advocacy role played by charities for the public good.
You reported that Lord Harries, a former Bishop of Oxford, had protested against the Government’s recent decision to ban charities in receipt of government funds from using those funds for any attempt to influence Government, Parliament, or regulators in any way (News, 12 February). He rightly said how unhelpful it was for the Government to describe advocacy as a diversion from improving people’s lives and from good causes.
Bishop Harries’s point was neatly illustrated by your report that the “war on Wonga” led by the Archbishop of Canterbury had turned the tide against the worst excesses of payday lending, and led to a sea-change in public and political opinion (News, 12 February).
Here was a major charity — the Church — drawing on its deep experience of life for poorer people up and down the country in order to magnify their voice and bring their problems into the public arena, where collective decisions are made. This is what diverse charities have always done.
One might have thought politicians would know by now that good causes are often best pursued by a combination of practical work, listening, learning, giving voice to those who might otherwise be excluded, and contributing to the knowledge-base and priorities of public debate and decision-making.
But to judge from the stunningly ignorant statements by the Cabinet Office in recent days, it seems that charities, including the Churches, have to fight these battles in every generation.
38 Endlesham Road
London SW12 8JL
Columba Declaration showed ‘no sense of love and partnership’ with SEC
From the Revd Alexander Faludy
Sir, — The fierce reaction of the Scottish Episcopal Church (SEC) and its sympathisers in the Church of England’s General Synod (News 19, 26 February) is difficult to understand adequately without the benefit of appropriate historical context.
It is often overlooked that, until 1864, the C of E refused to recognise the SEC’s orders. Indeed, throughout most of the 18th and 19th centuries, the Church of England maintained a de facto parallel jurisdiction in Scotland, in the form of external chaplaincies, which were only slowly integrated into the life of the SEC. These chaplaincies were officially recognised by the (Presbyterian-dominated) governmental authorities as “qualified congregations”, and they enjoyed significant legal advantages denied to the SEC under the penal laws of 1707.
These facts explain why the SEC leadership has reacted to the Columba Declaration in a way that may at first appear overblown, and which certainly contrasts with that of the United Reformed Church (which stands in the equivalent position in England). There is a tender folk memory of injustice, to which we English Anglicans need to be sensitive.
Some criticism of the declaration, however, seems unfair. In the General Synod, the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain vigorously opposed the development on the grounds that a principled but controversial public gesture should not be made if it breached established discipline, and risked offending Anglicans elsewhere in the Communion.
This is a laudable principle, but one that the speaker seems unwilling to apply with equal rigour to other matters of public controversy with which he is passionately concerned.
The Vicarage, 381 Station Road
Wallsend NE28 8DT
From the Revd Les Ireland
Sir, — One of the great issues for clergy is the maintenance of personal morale, particularly in the face of declining numbers, issues with buildings, secularism, and so on. I was a priest in the Church of England for 25 years before moving to the Scottish Episcopal Church just over three years ago.
I knew nothing about the discussions taking place about the Columba Declaration before something was leaked on Christmas Eve to the national press. I was not aware they were even taking place.
I still don’t really know what this agreement is trying to achieve. The report is words on paper. It is the words of press releases and senior figures from the Church of England and Church of Scotland which give a true picture of what the whole thing is about. All I can say, from what I hear and read, is that this is a huge blow to morale.
I’m not aware of anyone who knew that these discussions were taking place. All of this agreement was done behind the backs of the vast majority of clergy and church members. In whatever process there was, it was clear that the SEC was not listened to, and was ultimately excluded from a “vote” in the final agreement. (We were patronised by being allowed an observer at the meetings leading up to the agreement.)
Now that the agreement has been published, the Church of England seems to have no sense of love or partnership with us north of the border. We are patronised again: there is a group to implement the agreement, and we are going to be invited to send and observe. We are talking about very meagre crumbs under the table, salving the conscience of the Church of England, and not loving or respecting the SEC.
There is no doubt that the SEC is a small Church (it is significantly smaller than Manchester diocese, where I ministered for 25 years in England), and thus can be ignored. It clearly was ignored in the yearning to get headline-grabbing agreements in place. Is that how Christians work?
The truth is, I suspect, that this agreement will make little impact on the life of the Church, on either side of the border. However the way that the whole process has been carried out, the way the process is planned for the future, and the message it gives to me as a minister in an Anglican church in Scotland, is that I am nothing. It is, quite simply, a huge blow to my personal morale, because it is not loving; it treats us in the SEC — supposedly brothers and sisters in the Anglican Communion — as irrelevant.
I loved being a priest in the Church of England. Sadly, in this process the Church of England has given us in the Scottish Episcopal Church a right kicking. Even sadder: they don’t seem to even realise it. Sorry, Church of England, this is not the way of Christ.
St Cyprian’s Rectory
58 Waverley Park, Kirkintilloch
Glasgow G66 2BP