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Letters to the Editor

by
22 December 2016

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Christian prophetic voice is absent in education

 

From the Revd Stephen Southgate
Sir, — In the light of this month’s SATs results, showing that barely more than half of primary-school pupils were judged to have reached the expected standards in literacy and numeracy, are we really to believe that the past 28 years of Education Secretaries’ sledgehammers are succeeding in cracking their intended nut?

Then we have the extreme difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers (especially head teachers), and the snowballing of responsibilities, committees, and often poor-quality training required of school governors, which makes it very hard for clergy to fulfil the role on top of the steadily growing demands of ministry.

The academisation programme has skewed resources towards a semi-privatised, interest-group-managed sector, and is faltering; grammar schools have had another airing as the way to achieve excellence; and schools that would recently have been regarded as satisfactory are now counted as requiring intervention.

I am not saying that there were no issues to address in 1988, or that everything required of schools has been unproductive or inappropriate; but, after three decades’ involvement with both primary and secondary schools, as teacher, parent, and clergy governor, I have seen, heard, and experienced the erosion of the conditions required for happy, creative, enthusiastic teaching and learning. This has been achieved by successive Education Secretaries, whose lofty and judgemental approaches revealed little or no awareness or concern for children’s overall development, teachers’ struggles to respond to relentless “initiatives”, and parents’ anxieties, exacerbated by political rhetoric, to do the best for their children.

But, still, the hubristic claims of government ministers and their preference for summary judgement will offload the failings of their dogmatic interventions on to schools and teachers, and now what? The pupils themselves?

Despite heroic local efforts, church schools are just as prone to all this, with the added burden of being custodians of the faith. They are run and supported by outstandingly committed and enthusiastic staff, parents, and diocesan advisers; and all those I have ever asked about the general direction in which education is being taken are similarly frustrated by what I have just described.

Yet the Church’s public statements reveal little more than a hanging on to the coat-tails of the Government to keep our name above the door. All this leads me to ask a simple question: Where is the Church’s prophetic voice in all this?

 

STEPHEN SOUTHGATE
Hambleden Rectory
Reading RG9 6RS

 

Renewal and Reform: theological words, but what of the policies?

 

From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian
Sir, — The Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen (Comment, 9 December) seems to think that a discussion of the words “renewal” and “reform” qualifies as a discussion of the theology of the project that has been given those words in its title.

Some of us might think that the project is actually about the centralisation of power and control in the Church of England, but I guess those words wouldn’t make such an appealing title. It is the project itself that requires theological scrutiny.

 

STEPHEN BRIAN
The Rectory, Church Lane
Earl Soham, Woodbridge
Suffolk IP13 7SD

 

From Mr Peter Bolton
Sir, — The Revd Dr Jeremy Worthen is to be congratulated for trying to explain the theology behind the Renewal and Reform programme, but I think it is a little early for that.

So far, those of us in the pews have heard of little except training for leaders — bishops and deans. The rest of us, the “followers”, if you like, are looking forward to being involved in our turn. It is when this initiative gets to the deaneries and parishes that the real work will begin, when ordinary church members are themselves involved in shaping the theology and the practice of Renewal and Reform.

This is the only way to ensure its success, which is wholly dependent on the active support of the people in the pews.

 

PETER BOLTON
3 Stakesby Manor
Manor Close
Whitby YO21 1HG

 

The relation of British values to Christian values

 

From Canon Paul Oestreicher
Sir, — In your leader comment (9 December) on our Christian values, you cite Jesus’s giving an example of neighbourliness with the story of the Good Samaritan. Similarly, in the same issue, the Archbishop of Canterbury (News) is quoted as saying that there is “no better example of the expression of good values” than this parable.

Sadly, this, the most popular of the parables, is also the least understood. It is, for those to whom it was addressed, a deeply offensive parable. It points far beyond the obvious duty to help a person in dire trouble, which in this case neither of the respected representatives of the faith tradition of Jesus’s hearers bothered to do.

In answering the question “Who is my neighbour?”, Jesus points to the hated Samaritan. Today, it might be a fundamentalist imam who had compassion rather than the archdeacon or the professor of Christian ethics. “You have heard it said, you shall love your neighbour and hate your enemy, but I say to you, love your enemies. . .” (Matthew 5.43-44).

It is this, the hardest of all of Jesus’s commandments, that the parable illustrates. Jesus was hated for it and, in his home-town synagogue, nearly lynched by the congregation. Pope Benedict called this command the Magna Carta of Christian non-violence. This is, uniquely among the religions, a Christian value, but as disregarded in the Church as elsewhere.

Pope Francis points to it in his message for Peace Day, 1 January 2017. This value, if practised, might yet save humanity.

 

PAUL OESTREICHER
Counsellor
Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
97 Furze Croft, Furze Hill
Brighton BN3 1PE

 

From Mr Michael Hawkes
Sir, — Are there others, like me, who feel very uneasy about all this talk of “British values”? Is it a modern form of British imperialistic attitudes — where we British are always the best, and superior to those across the Channel, let alone across the oceans? I feel patriotic about being British, but I want to respect and learn from the values of other cultures when they are based on what contributes to the common good — for me, the most important of all human values.

In the 1960 and ’70s, my wife and I, with our young family, lived for nearly ten years in Botswana. The Batswana greatly helped me to form my own values: the Batswana’s sense of the importance of the extended family (in contrast to our emphasis on the nuclear family), their respect for older people (in contrast to our more child-centred approach), their approach to handling disageements between people by respecting those with different opinions (in contrast to our more adversarial approach of “wanting to win an argument”), and their belief that courtesy was often more important than “truthfulness” in human interactions.

Anyone who has seen the feature film A United Kingdom, which tells the remarkable love story between Seretse Khama and Ruth Williams, will have been shocked at the racism that permeated British society in the 1940s and ’50s (and, some would say, continues to this day). But this racism was the legacy of earlier centuries, when the British way of life was maintained by the slave trade and the practice of slavery.

When I worked for the Anglican missionary society USPG in the mid-1980s, I was shocked to discover that today’s Codrington Theological College in Jamaica had been built on the site of the original Codrington sugar plantation owned and run by USPG. Their slaves were, apparently, branded with the word “SOCIETY”. Traditional British values are a mixed bag of good and ill. Let us concentrate on the best of universal human values that unite people rather than divide them. This is especially important in our current Brexit/Trump era.

 

MICHAEL HAWKES
15 St Chads Road, Lichfield
Staffs WS13 7LZ

 

Confirmation, eucharist, and instruction in Wales

 

From the Ven. M. I. Williams
Sir, — Having served under him as an archdeacon in the Llandaff diocese, I was saddened to read the letter from the Archbishop of Wales (25 November).

It is entirely disingenuous of him to suggest that the recent pastoral letter of the Welsh bishops on admission to holy communion does not, in effect, abolish confirmation. By making “the service of confirmation [sic] . . . a service of response and commitment to God’s grace . . .” and by making it merely an option for those who happen to want it, they have abolished confirmation as a sacramental rite for the completion of baptism and for the bestowal of, or strengthening with, the Holy Spirit.

This completely undermines the traditional practice and understanding of Christian initiation which the Church in Wales has historically shared with the rest of Catholic Christendom.

It savours of theological newspeak to use the term “confirmation” for a service devoid of sacramental content — a service, moreover, that it will be entirely in the bishop’s discretion to use in place of the sacramental rites at present authorised for use in the Church in Wales. The parish clergy (if one is still allowed to use this terminology) have been completely sidelined as pastors and teachers in the whole process.

The Archbishop points out the problem that confirmation is regarded as a rite of passage for teenagers. A similar problem, however, exists with infant baptism as it is currently practised. Abolishing confirmation as a sacramental rite is hardly going to solve either pastoral problem.

The supporting documentation to the pastoral letter explicitly forbids clergy (sorry, “ministry leaders”) from offering any instruction in preparation for the first communion of the baptised of any age. They are simply invited to “receive bread and wine” at the “family table” (not “the Lord’s table”). Is a sacramental understanding of the eucharist also under threat from the Welsh bishops?

Anglicanism has always been a broad Church, in which both a Catholic and an Evangelical understanding of scripture and the liturgical and sacramental tradition have been possible, and we have been able to learn from one another without compromise. We have also understood in the Church in Wales that the Bishops are, constitutionally, guardians of the faith — not managerial innovators, intent on keeping the show on the road, whatever the cost to those who do not share their liberal Protestant opinions.

 

MARTIN WILLIAMS
29 Blackfriars Court
Brecon, Powys LD3 8LJ

 

Childhood needs as well as the blight factors

 

From the Revd Jonathan Frais
Sir, — Thank you for drawing attention to the report from the Dunedin Longitudinal Study (Leader comment, 16 December). Its four factors that blight children’s lives are indeed important: poverty, abuse, low IQ, and poor self-control. But what about faith and family? We should call for data on the influence of a committed faith and of a mother and father.

Is this not the season to remember Christ and his care by Mary and Joseph?

 

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

 

The social revolution: more clergy needed from a Father Potter background

 

From the Revd Robert W. Norwood
Sir, — Taking a break from reading the many letters (9 December) responding to Bishop North’s in some respects most perceptive and, in others, dangerously flawed analysis of our current situation (Comment, 1 December), I randomly picked a book from the shelves.

It opened on a page that included the following, penned in 1926: “I don’t object to Kelham and Co. giving all classes of men a chance provided they are real stuff, like some few we knew in Durham; and not servers with small chins who have been trailed around a sanctuary with an incense boat since they were eight, and have no qualifications but biddable piety.”

The writer was Cecil Henry Boutflower, bishop and missionary, a disciple of Westcott and Hort, a gentle pastor and highly respected bishop in Japan, but also one whose chief passion in England was visiting and preaching in leading public schools.

To be fair to him, he was then arguing against those who were mistakenly claiming that the Church no longer needed ordinands from public schools. Nevertheless, his sarcastic derision of working-class altar boys “with small chins” is quite extraordinary. Those who were the “real stuff” presumably had manly and sporty attributes admired by the bishop.

I have drawn attention to this not just because it is a sadly amusing little gem of ecclesiastical yesteryear but because it supports a picture of the C of E’s clergy and congregations, which are still predominantly upper- and middle-class: sadly so.

At Tonbridge School in the 1950s, Fr Potter of Peckham gave the Lent addresses. Usually, when the preacher was an Oxbridge don or other hierarchically “important” clergyman, the congregation at what was exceptionally a voluntary service dwindled week by week. However, when this earthy and humorous cockney friar delivered these addresses, the boys’ attendance grew each week. He could really get through to us, as he did to the people of south London.

I have to remember that, in the once popular Father Potter of Peckham, its author included a cartoon characterising an effete server representing those who came briefly to the friary to “enjoy” the services but who were unwilling to get down to the hard sacrificial graft: so some similarity to Boutflower’s words.

To come to the main issue, one important message from the Bishop of Burnley is that we desperately need priests, those like the late George Potter, who come from the people and can especially relate to them; and the financial resources of the Church should predominantly be spent on those areas where poverty and deprivation prevail.

 

ROBERT W. NORWOOD
11A Hermon Hill
London E11 2AR

 

The Pax in South India

 

From the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke
Sir, — I first experienced the Peace (Features, 9 December) in the Church of South India in the early 1960s. It was a powerful symbol that in Christ no one is untouchable, and a helpful reminder to me on the first occasion that I went to help at a leprosy clinic

 

MARCUS BRAYBROOKE
17 Courtiers Green
Clifton Hampden
Abingdon OX14 3EN

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