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Letters to the Editor

21 October 2016


Renewal and Reform: issues of vocations, training, and lay leadership


From Dr Phillip Rice
Sir,The absence of any significant mention of digital or web opportunities, let alone expertise, in the debate over training for C of E leadership (News, 14 October) suggests that shifts in culture and practice are being missed.

The potential shift to digital use is critical in Renewal and Reform for the flourishing of the Church among “the missing generation”. The danger is that the ministerial training on growth is still too analogue. At the National Deaneries Network’s (NDN’s) October conference, which I attended, when the statistics on church attendance by age were presented, and later compared with the usage of mobiles by 97 per cent of the active group of teens to thirties, the missing church generation, I was left to wonder what the communication here was.

My group in a “digital pastor session” was asked to identify 14 common phone icons. Area deans’ and lay chairs’ results for how many they identified were patchy. But full marks to the NDN for raising the bar in using and discussing this. So Emma Buchan of the Archbishops’ Task Force reminded the conference of the task of Renewal and Reform by taking us through the media development for the “Thy Kingdom Come” Pentecost prayer, and used a video clip to show group dynamics from West Wing — there are only 364 days left!

This initiative with young leaders in Pentecost 2016 drew 100,000 participants to cathedral or church events which were full, but 300,000 followed on internet the live streamed celebrations — a further missed statistic. I add that key contributions by Bishop Ric Thorpe on church-planting, and John Spence on the £50 million of financial incentives available for deaneries or dioceses, were videoed and are on YouTube on the NDN site. Now that is cultural progress in Reform and Renewal.


23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU


From the Revd Keith Thomasson
Sir, — Equality across all the baptised is essential for its own sake. Having a culture of “equal regard” (Victorin-Vangerud) is a building-block for creating a “culture of vocational discernment”. “Equal regard” reflects an understanding of the nature of God which is communal and rooted in Trinitarian thinking.

To make progress on equal regard, I suggest that it is necessary to explore how vocation is understood. Currently, vocational discernment results in a range of ministries that are given different value. There is a distinction between lay and ordained, and then within each category there is a further hierarchy. This is a far cry from equal regard, and takes no account of the intergenerational dynamic that is essential to fostering mutuality across the community of the baptised.

I wonder whether one key to unlock equal regard is reinterpreting vocation in the light of charism. (Miroslav Volf helpfully explores vocation and charism.) One then exercises leadership in connection with one’s gifts, and not just because of one’s ordination or authorisation. This may replace current dominant leadership models that are rooted in ordination, and which sometimes are carried with an air of superiority.

Ordination is a calling to a distinctive sacramental ministry that has the potential to resource all the baptised. This may be combined with another charism that is not necessarily that of preaching, but could be. Such a development has the potential to open up an exciting synergy between a range of ministries that engender interdependence and foster equal regard within a community. This is shown in how the priest then more clearly receives the ministry of others.

A community committed to vocational discernment is shaped by a culture of reflective learning. It is in the learning that equal regard becomes part of the DNA, and mutuality is fostered. With this, the ministries that emerge have an in-built sense of interdependence. This interdependence is then carried forward into the life of the community. This reinvigorated life, stemming from a sense of equality between ordained and lay, will attract others, and this will lead to growth.


6 Albany Road
Romsey SO51 8EE


From Bridget Rees
Sir, — It doesn’t take much to trigger a response from me on the subject of clericalism, but a few things in last week’s Church Times triggered this one.

My first reaction was to turn to one of my favourite books, A Pattern of Faith: An exposition of Christian doctrine by Bishop Geoffrey Paul (Churchman Publishing, 1985), and to my favourite section of the book, “An Ordination Charge”. This was written from the Bishop’s bed in hospital and read out for him at the ordination service in Bradford Cathedral the next day.

The ordination charge is subtitled “Shades of the Prison House”. Bishop Paul says: “The basic thesis of this charge is that the Church of God is divided into two groups, two unequal elements, clergy and laity, but that the People of God is what it says it is, it is all and only laity, and it needs to be glad of it and remember it all the time. Clergy are laity but with a special calling, a special anointing, a special sign that God means redemption for all the world, but they remain laity, and woe betide them if they ever forget it.

“Shades of the prison house will close upon them, trying year by year to force them into a clerical mould, but in so far as they allow themselves to be ensnared, they betray their calling, and help the Church to fall under that terrible condemnation of David Edwards, that of all the great religions of the world, the Church is the most heavily clerically dominated.

“You are laity, and unless, in the midst of all your clerical duties and responsibilities, you preserve a lay heart, you will not have served the Church of God as he calls you to do.”


5 Lingcrag Gardens, Cowling
Keighley BD22 0AN


From Canon John Wheatley Price
Sir, — On Trinity Sunday, I was thanking God for the privilege of 60 years’ ordained ministry. When I went to Ridley Hall in 1954, after National Service and getting my degree, the large majority of us were 24 or thereabouts. I went before a selection board as a National Service Officer Cadet, aged 18.

I have yet to meet a DDO who would consider sending someone of that age as a candidate.


2 Beausale Drive, Knowle
Solihull B93 0NS


Sir, — I read with ambiguous feelings about the attempts to increase the number of ordinands by 50 per cent over the next few years.

I have been in conversation with a fellow retired priest, and we have noted the number of clergy who are, to put it politely, less than committed, and sometimes lacking in charity — clergy who are privately dismissive of their congregations; lazy clergy; clergy who lack passion; clergy who are actually cruel both to members of congregations and to their colleagues; clergy for whom the compassion of Christ seems not to be visible; clergy who give no evidence of continuing their reading; clergy who regard teaching as an optional seasonal activity; those who do not prepare sermons with care, who do not engage with their communities, and who do not visit.

We cited actual examples of these phenomena and agreed that one good, conscientious, thoughtful, prayerful, and attentive priest was worth five of those who are either full of themselves or empty of conviction, or both.

The latter are not merely poor value: they are a minus quantity. The qualities we require matter much more than the so-called balance of gender, ethnicity, age, etc. It is tough being a priest these days; it is no use keeping up the numbers of clergy in post if, by doing so, we lower the standards, shorten the training, or ordain those who lack the will to be Christlike — however inevitable it is that they will fail in that attempt, as we did.




The C of E and the new GAFCON statement


From the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain
Sir, — “The great thing about the Church of England is that it is the Church for England, for all people in this country.” So says the latest video from Renewal and Reform, expressing the confident hope that the Church of England will be a growing Church able to be present for anyone who feels the need to experience “a little bit of the love of God”. It is a heartening, if wildly optimistic, view of the current state of the Church and its immediate future.

Place that hope alongside the fifth point of the latest statement from the Global South Primates and GAFCON Primates Council, published on 6 October, and we have a problem with the idea that the Church of England can be, in its current state, a Church for England.

The GAFCON statement says: “The brokenness of our world produces many aspects of human behaviour which are contrary to God’s good design. These include slander, greed, malice, hatred, jealousy, dishonesty, selfishness, envy and murder, as well as fornication, adultery and same-sex unions.”

The Bishop of Winchester and the Bishop of Durham were both present when these words were agreed, with, we are told by Anglican Mainstream, the full knowledge of the Archbishop of Canterbury. So, how, I wonder, can the Church of England be a Church for all of England when senior members of its leadership openly associate themselves with such views of the legal rights of the lesbian and gay community? Are we all to be condemned as murderers, slanderers, and dishonest fornicators?

I have been waiting for some official response to the GAFCON statement — perhaps a small distancing of the Church of England from such extreme views — but I am, sadly, still waiting.

I cannot honestly say that the Church of England is a safe Church for me, or indeed any LGBTI person at the moment, or indeed any of those who support our legal right to marry — and that is, of course, a majority of this country and of the people in our pews.


134a Abbey Road
London NW6 4SN


From Mr Timothy N. Nunns
Sir, — Eight clergy recently declared, in a letter to The Sunday Times, that they were married to their same-sex partners. Most of these clergy are in active ministry, four in parishes. All of them are, no doubt, aware that they are acting contrary to the House of Bishops’ declaration in 2014, that “it would not be appropriate conduct for someone in holy orders to enter into a same-sex marriage, given the need for clergy to model the Church’s teaching in their lives.”

But there has been no reported response from their bishops. St Paul’s command in 1 Corinthians 5 is clear: that those who do such things should be removed from the fellowship. If, as a matter of the Church’s rules, these clergy cannot be removed from office, is it not the duty of the bishops to call on the laity in their parishes to remove themselves and to worship elsewhere, under true godly ministry?


15 Hawthorn Road
Bexleyheath, Kent DA6 7AF


House-for-duty terms


From the Revd Mike Newman
Sir, — I note two house-for-duty positions advertised in the Church Times (7 October). Both expect a commitment of 2.5 days per week, plus Sundays. Both have extensive job descriptions.

While both vacancies will, no doubt, be filled without too much trouble, my concern is that such terms are exploitative. To be comparable, for example, to the package that a full-stipendiary minister would receive for six days’ ministry (maybe less in practice), including housing, council tax (not paid for at least one of the positions), pension, etc., such house-for-duty positions ought to pay something in the region of 0.5 stipend in addition to housing (assuming no pension).

While legal, such conditions of service are, therefore, in my opinion, neither ethical nor scriptural (1 Timothy 5.18).


4 Cuthbert Road
Cheadle SK8 2DT


Ken Loach film highlights suffering in the UK


From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — While wholehardheartedly supporting every word written by the Revd Professor Michael Northcott (Comment, 14 October), I suggest that the public focus on migrants as neighbours by the Churches’ news teams unintentionally tends to leave the very dire circumstances of many British citizens in the shade.

Those circumstances have been written about with devastating accuracy, and powerfully acted in Ken Loach’s Palme D’Or-winning film I, Daniel Blake, which is released on 21 October. I have seen a preview. The film portrays the impact on the health and well-being of a single unemployed man with a heart condition and a single mother with two young children of laws passed by Parliament and implemented by the Department of Work and Pensions since the 2008 financial crisis.

The characters in the film have been given the shining integrity that is normal among unemployed citizens of the UK. They become victims of laws implemented by one powerful government department, the DWP. My experience is that there are three powerful government departments that descend, uncoordinated and simultaneously, on a single household, causing debt, hunger, and ill health: they are the DWP, the DCLG, and the MOJ.

This important film, with its tragic and truthful content, understates the consequences of the 2008 financial crisis for the poorest tenants in the UK.


93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


Anglican-Quaker relations: a lesson learnt, and one still to be learnt


From the Revd Dr Nicholas Buxton
Sir, — It was with great interest that I read “Following the Quanglican way” (Features, 7 October), not least because one of my predecessors as incumbent of St John the Baptist, Newcastle upon Tyne, introduced the practice of silent prayer more than 100 years ago, as a direct result of his engagement with Quakers, albeit on the other side of the world.

In 1910, the Revd Cyril Hepher, Vicar of St John’s from 1906 to 1913, spent several months in the parish of St Luke’s, Havelock, as part of an Anglican mission to New Zealand. There he found that the parish church was hosting the local Quaker meeting while the meeting house was being rebuilt after a fire. Much to his surprise, members of the Anglican congregation had started to join the Quaker meetings, and together they practised silent prayer. While this sort of thing may be quite common nowadays, it was evidently rather unusual in 1910, a time when the ecumenical movement had barely even begun.

So impressed was he by the practice of silent prayer which he encountered in New Zealand that, upon his return to Newcastle the following year, he started a silent-prayer group at St John’s.

After leaving Newcastle to become Canon Missioner at Winchester Cathedral, Fr Hepher wrote an account of his encounters with Quakerism and silent prayer, published as The Fellowship of Silence in 1917. One of the most striking features of his recollections is just how popular the silent-prayer meetings were. He relates how one day he met someone in church who did not otherwise attend services, but who came to the silent-prayer meetings and had brought no fewer than 30 of his colleagues with him from the nearby office where they all worked.

A century later, when many mainstream church congregations are in decline, and yet interest in mindfulness and meditation has never been greater, I find it enormously encouraging to know that we have an authentic tradition of contemplative spirituality that can — and does — engage people who might not otherwise want to have anything to do with the church. Perhaps we should be making more of it.


3 Crossway, Jesmond
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 3QH


From the Revd Catherine Todd
Sir, — I was delighted to see the two-page article “Following the Quanglican way”, as I, too, am both a Quaker and an Anglican. I would like to add, however, a very important point that was missing from the piece.

For Quakers, listening and experiencing God in the silence is what leads to everything they do in life. So all their meetings of any type, not just meeting for worship, are grounded in silence, waiting on the Spirit — be they meetings for business, meetings for learning, or meetings for anything else. This means that all they do is rooted in this spiritual practice. In business meetings, there is no confrontational discussion, no trying to win the argument. All points are heard and listened to with a silence between each speaker. The clerk, chairing the meeting, then reads the sense of the meeting.

If the sense cannot be read, then more silent discernment will take place. It is impressive and inclusive. It is, I feel, the true way in which people of faith should work together.

I think the strength of the Quakers and what they can offer to those of other Christian traditions is the understanding that it is only when we are prepared to wait on God in silence that we are open to being real people of faith, people who really don’t know where the Spirit will lead them next. This, I think, is being a true disciple. It is risky and unpredictable, but, as Jesus pointed out, it is the only way.


Address supplied


The Battle of Hastings and the raising of the Holy House at Walsingham


From the Revd Dr Michael Brydon
Sir, — As we mark the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings (Features, 14 October), the Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham also has much to teach us about hope. Although the foundation date has been highly debated, a good case can be made for the traditional pre-Conquest one of 1061. Most recently, this has been reaffirmed in Bill Flint’s fascinating work Edith the Fair, Visionary of Walsingham, in which he sets out to show that “Rychold”, named as the foundress in the Pynson Ballad, should be equated with Edith the Fair, the hand-fast wife of King Harold.

Edith played a small but significant part in the events of 1066, when she identified Harold’s body on the battlefield. The Waltham Chronicle records how she did this by marks on his body, known only to her. If Edith was able to visit the battlefield, then she must have been staying somewhere in the area. The likely contender for this is Harold’s adjacent manor of Crowhurst, whose destruction, as outlined in the Domesday Book, is increasingly thought to be illustrated on the Bayeux tapestry. The scene shows two Normans torching a manor, as a richly dressed woman and a child flee. It is a fascinating possibility that, if this is Edith and her youngest son, Ulf, then we have a picture of the Walsingham visionary herself.

Sadly, it is impossible to prove any of this, but what is true is that the dispossessed Saxons, as they gazed at the new Norman world of grand stone castles, manors, and cathedrals, must have taken great hope from the simple wooden house. It was a reminder that their Saviour shared their lot and stood with the poor and the marginalised. The Saxon world may have been turned upside down, but Walsingham was a reminder of the Magnificat, where the values of the world are not those of God.


The Rectory, Church Lane
Catsfield, East Sussex TN33 9DR

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