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Letters to the Editor

19 February 2016


Ministerial training and what the clergy are for

From the Revd Dr Stephen Laird

Sir, — If the college principals (News and Letters, 12 February) really want to see more women, especially younger women, embarking on theological training then they should have embraced the new proposals about which they are so pessimistic.

They are concerned that “the existing pattern and profile of ordinands shows more men than women in the [under-29] bracket entering training”. In the proposals, younger candidates of either gender would attract more training resources.

This ought to incentivise women (with the help of their supporting dioceses) to present themselves as candidates for ordained ministry at an earlier stage, offering an effective challenge to what the Principals describe as the present “bias”. With more younger women in the system, and more older candidates (of both genders) continuing to benefit from the flexibility and excellent, grounded training (not to mention the gender balance) that are features of the non-residential programmes, then everyone would be a winner.

Dean of Chaplains and Associate Lecturer, University of Kent; Priest-in-Charge of Blean and Tyler Hill, Canterbury (Part-time Lecturer, SEITE)
Rutherford College
University of Kent
Canterbury CT2 7NX


From Canon John Goodchild

Sir, — Clergy are official representatives of the wider Church under the discipline of a bishop in a way lay people are not. As such they should wear uniform. Their training should familiarise them with the beliefs and practices of the wider Church in space and time, explore the significance of being representative persons in liturgical, pastoral and leadership roles, and help them live under discipline.

Priesthood is a red herring. There was no caste of priests in the New Testament church. The term was an import from pagan religions in the second century.

39 St Michael’s Road
Liverpool L17 7AN


From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — Your leader comment begins by asking “What are the clergy for?” It then wanders through various admirable statements but never mentions the word “love”. What are we for if it is not to represent the gratuitous and universal love of God in Jesus to each other, our fellow Christians, and to our fellow inhabitants of this strange globe we live on, of whatever faith or none?

If we are to be faithful to that love we are also required to put the poor, sick, disabled, and marginalised first, and battle to mend the unjust structures of state and to extricate the Church of England from decades of introspection.

93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


Theology Now: first reactions to this new series

From the Revd Alan Bill

Sir, — I was disappointed — indeed dismayed — by the first part of your new series Theology Now (12 February). I had hoped for a serious look at some of the fundamental issues that now face Christian theology. But instead we had various restatements of traditional ideas using mostly traditional language that made little attempt to defend or explain its emptiness.

In the past 200 years, our knowledge and understanding of the world in which God sets us has been utterly changed from what it was. Surely this presents challenges for theology developed before that understanding. I suggest as some examples:

(1) We live on a planet circling one of billions of stars in our galaxy, which is one among billions of galaxies. Can we really be as central to God’s plans as traditional theology asserts?

(2) We now know that fundamental to our God-given existence as a species and as human individuals is a process of natural selection in which suffering and death are essential and fundamental. Some food here for necessary new thinking, surely?

(3) The knowledge we now have of the genetic nature of all human beings tells us something about Jesus of Nazareth, born of Mary, that requires fresh ideas about “incarnation”.

(4) The fallibility of human memory and of historical record and the unreliability of our knowledge of the past make the very possibility of reliable “revelation” suspect and should make us dubious about claimed examples. Where does this leave traditional theology?

These and other examples of the possibility of new thinking about new knowledge could perhaps figure in a new and rather different series about theology today.

13 Wilmington Close
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 2SF


From the Revd Philip Corbett

Sir, — I was pleased to read in your leader comment (12 February) a reminder of the importance of theological engagement and education for the clergy. I also welcome your Theology Now series. I do, however, think that there is a disconnect in your thinking. Not a single author in the first edition is a serving parish priest, and three of the articles are written by one person.

While we might enjoy the writing of the Revd Dr Andrew Davison, this seems excessive. I can only conclude that you have done this to highlight the state of theological engagement among parish clergy rather than to discourage us from trying.

St Stephen’s Vicarage
Cressingham Road
Lewisham SE13 5AG


From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, — Thank you for part one of the Theology Now series. As a specific tie-in with Anglican thought, we might conclude: “There is but one living and true God, without body, parts, or passions; of infinite power, wisdom and goodness; the Maker, and Preserver of all things both visible and invisible. And in unity of this Godhead there be three Persons, of one substance, power and eternity; the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” (Article I).

The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY


Government policy on charities’ lobbying

From the Revd Julian Dunn

Sir, — I share the outrage of those who oppose the Government’s attempt to hamstring charities wanting to point out the bleeding obvious about poverty, the environment, refugees, the insidious privatisation of the NHS, selling-off of social housing, etc. (“Ban on charities’ lobbying criticised”, News, 12 February).

I am reminded of Archbishop Hélder Câmara, who said: “When I feed the hungry, they call me a saint; when I ask why they are hungry, they call me a Communist.”

Timbles Brewery
1 Lewington Close
Great Haseley
Oxfordshire OX44 7LS


Troubled by ‘barbaric’ Ash Wednesday rite

From Mr Barnabas Palfrey

Sir, — Experiencing once again the powerful ancient Christian ritual of ashing, I am once again also troubled and repulsed.

Symbols matter: they make our lives, still more our lives with God. However, two massive mutations assaulted the symbolism of ashes during the European 20th century.

First, there was the spread of cremation at death, even for many faithful Christians. Second, there was the Nazi mass murder in which Holocaust crematoria turned victims into fields of ash.

Biblically, of course, one sat in ashes to confess and perhaps pre-empt the righteous fiery destruction of all one’s projects. Here, our own rite precipitately equates such ashes with the “dust” (or earth) of Adam. Is this the Western doctrine of original sin run amok? Our new associations of cremation perhaps mask this oddity from our view.

But it gets much worse. Christians are urged to exhibit this ash-sign of Christ’s violent death on their foreheads in the world. But today, ash, a natural symbol of destructive violence, is also the inescapable historical symbol of “Christian” Europe’s destruction of the Jews and others. Sincerely peaceful penitential intent thus cannot prevent a symbolic broadcast that threatens further unconscious rebounding Christian violence.

Symbols necessarily exceed conscious intent, and the excess in this instance is barbaric.

What is to be done? Well, we might return to the Hebrew Bible and instead wear ashes sprinkled on our heads. And we could receive the sign of Christ on our foreheads in earth instead of ash, in newfound solidarity in Christ with the physical and bio-mortal creation of which we are a part.

Lecturer in Christian Spirituality, Sarum College
94 St Marks Road
London W10 6BY


Place of teaching in higher education

From Emeritus Professor Barry E. Jones

Sir, — British universities have been a great success story on the international stage. This has been because of the high quality and commitment of individual academics. It has little to do with vice-chancellors and university administrations. The traditional royal charters and the funding structure now through student fees do reasonably retain university independence from too much government interference.

Universities are about learning through teaching, research and innovation, and scholarship.

All the many academics I have known over 45 years in four different British universities —Manchester, UMIST, OU, and lastly Brunel — have taken teaching seriously, the Revd Dr John Gay (Education, 5 February) should note. The future realities in British universities are unlikely to be different. A successful academic career of upward mobility will be assured by research, innovation, and scholarship at international level.

In the sciences and my own field of engineering, an ability to move university is maintained through transferable grants, contracts, equipment, postgraduates, and research staff. In effect, a really good academic is his or her own employer, free to develop the subject and learn through teaching students, and keen to find good applications of the newly acquired knowledge and skills.

Administrative busybodies can be given short shrift. Of course, some academics and administrators will allow themselves to be downgraded by “government” if they are unwise or their money is good (and in so-called “independent institutions”).

So, novel research, innovation, and high-quality scholarship will always outbid teaching in the transfer promotion stakes. But high-quality and trustworthy academics will always take teaching seriously and help students to learn.

But the students must meet the challenges. Their fees are but “parking tickets” to grow in a flourishing learning environment. I fear that many of today’s British university students would be much better off doing an apprenticeship in employment, assuming they could persuade an employer of their potential worth. Attendance at a university is not a “rite of passage” or somewhere to go just because you cannot get a job.

I am not sure that Dr Gay really knows his universities that well.

Stancombe House
38 Moorlands Road, Malvern
Worcestershire WR14 2UA


Henson on ‘Nudists’

From the Ven. John Morrison

Sir, — Further to your article (Features, 29 January) and letters (5 February) on naturism: Bishop Hensley Henson of Durham wrote to one of his clergy in March 1933: “The Nudists propose an odd problem. What will be the next absurdity which will flourish in the rank soil of secularised Protestantism? Certainly until the lunatcks [sic] are ‘clothed and in their right mind’ they cannot be confirmed or admitted to Holy Communion. . .”

39 Crown Road, Wheatley
Oxford OX33 1UJ

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