No need for grand declarations in Synod
From the Revd Paul Hutchinson
Sir, — I write as one of those General Synod members who registered their discontent with the proposed Columba Declaration. I am also an ecumenical officer for my archdeaconry, and can normally be assumed to be in favour of ecumenical agreement. Unlike those who spoke passionately against the declaration in Synod, I have neither a direct connection with the Scottish Episcopal Church, nor a perspective from outside the island of Britain; but I believe the declaration to be both inappropriate and unnecessary.
The inappropriateness can be seen by considering three other areas of the world in which English connections are deep and historic: Egypt and the Middle East; South Africa; and the United States.
Imagine that we decided to open ecumenical conversations with one of the dominant Christian Churches in each country: perhaps the Coptic Church, the Dutch Reformed Church, and Southern Baptists. Each of those Churches has a presence in England, and each of those Churches has a presence on the European mainland.
Is it possible to imagine that we would enter into an ecumenical agreement without full and continuing participation in that agreement of the Episcopal Church in Jerusalem and the Middle East, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa, or the Episcopal Church in the US (the latter even after the recent Primates’ Meeting)? If it is not, why should it be more appropriate to make such a declaration for Scotland? As someone who has been a practising lawyer, has been actively involved in Higher Education and schools, and has also worked close to the Border, I remain acutely aware that, even after the 2014 referendum, Scotland continues to be another country.
The declaration is also unnecessary. Several members of Synod spoke of their local ecumenical relations with the Church of Scotland, whether English branches of Scottish presbyteries in the Borders, or the English Presbytery further south in England and the Channel Islands. They talked of good relations, for which new possibilities would be opened by agreement. But these possibilities have already been opened up by the designation of the Church of Scotland under the Ecumenical Relations Measure in July 2014.
It may come as a surprise that this designation is so recent: it is sensible early fruit of the conversations that have gone on to produce the Columba Declaration. But it means that local relations with the Church of Scotland can be constructed under Canons B43 and B44 in the same way as they can be made with local Methodist, Baptist, and United Reformed Churches. What more is needed (apart from simplification of those canons) for good local work?
To work towards the reconciliation of ministries and Churches is a legitimate goal of ecumenical conversation; indeed, it is a gospel imperative. But that is not achieved without respect for local Anglican jurisdictions, and it is not achieved by grand declarations that add nothing to existing practical arrangements.
I have no desire to put Scotland at greater distance; but I am saddened that the General Synod was prepared to take the step that it took, and wish that it had been otherwise.
Leven Close, Stokesley
Middlesbrough TS9 5AP
Unfashionable writer whose novels are infused with the things of God
From Wendy May Jacobs
Sir, — I was thrilled to read the article on Elizabeth Goudge in last week’s issue (Features, 18 March). She has for years been my favourite writer (if I have such a thing), and her books have significantly informed the way I look at the world.
She is someone I reread whenever I am feeling fragile, and her vision gives me courage. Deeply unfashionable, she deals with some of life’s big themes — faithfulness, against all odds; the dignity of old age, incapacity and being bedridden; the anguish that can overshadow the inner life of a child; the sanctity of marriage; the redemptive beauty of nature; God using us even in times of crippling self-doubt; the reality of evil — in a way that is counter-cultural and wise and God-infused..
In The White Witch, in the relationship between the humble old priest and the loving wise woman practising white magic, she manages to convey the distinction between magic (however well-intentioned) and the things of God in a way that is honouring and life-giving, a discernment that is, perhaps, more than ever required in our present world of competing spiritualities.
WENDY MAY JACOBS
33 Orchard Road
Southsea, Portsmouth PO4 0AA
Artefacts reveal Roman’s thirst for the divine
From the Revd. Professor Martin Henig
Sir, — I agree with Mark Vernon (Comment, 18 March) that popular and sometimes, alas, scholarly appreciation of the cultures of Greece and Rome frequently minimise, if they do not totally ignore, the impact of the divine on the daily lives of the people of antiquity. The spiritual dimension extends far beyond philosophy (which can have affected the lives of few, apart from an élite), but should be apparent to the archaeologist from the nature of so many of the finds recovered from Roman towns and villas, as well as from sacred sites. Even in Roman Britain, it is hard to avoid the conclusion that “everything is full of God”, to borrow words from the late Roman statesman, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, with which I prefaced a book on Religion in Roman Britain published 30 years ago. I was, indeed, astonished by the wealth of evidence for Roman belief in the trancendent, even in this distant Roman province. The myriad representations of deities, altars, and votive offerings excavated by archaeologists and displayed in museums proved that religion had a far greater impact on people’s lives than baths or amphitheatres.
Far more evidence has come to light since then, while the sculpture and inscriptions from other provinces of the Roman Empire reinforce this impression. Moreover, it goes without saying that the material evidence for the spiritual dimension of life is just as compelling for classical Greece. This thirst for the divine ultimately was to pave the way for Christianity, which could hardly have spread and thrived without it.
Oxford OX2 6UD
Misleading implications in press comments on cases of abuse by churchmen
Sir,— Some years ago, when I ministered in the diocese of Gloucester, the press was full of the arrest of Bishop Peter Ball. But no papers indicated whether the Bishop had admitted his offences. Recent press coverage of the trial and sentencing of Bishop Ball has implied that, in his interview with the police, the Bishop was economical with the truth. A few years after the Bishop’s arrest, I met a parishioner who was the solicitor present when Bishop Ball was questioned at that first interview (it is doubtful whether he is still alive).
My solicitor parishioner assured me that Bishop Ball was totally honest with the police — “He sang like a canary,” were his exact words.
While not wishing in any way to excuse Bishop Ball’s offences, I am disturbed and saddened that nothing has been said about his honesty when he was first arrested.
Press coverage has focused on the support that came from senior figures at the time, and their implied doubts about Bishop Ball’s guilt.
Name and address supplied
From Dr Ruth Hildebrandt Grayson
Sir, — The first headline in your column on page 10 (News, 18 March 2016) is misleading. Instead of reading “George Bell victim apologises to Lord Carey”, it should have read “Alleged victim apologises . . .” The fact that the Church of England, or perhaps a small part of it, “accepts” that an individual was abused by Bishop Bell is not the same as proof of such abuse, demonstrated in an open court of law. Even the church officials most closely concerned have themselves been known to use the word “alleged” in this case.
It is therefore incumbent on the Church Times to do likewise, until such time as the case is finally brought to a conclusion. This can happen only when the defence is heard, as will hopefully now take place (as is noted in the same issue, on page 5) in the course of the Goddard Inquiry. According to Gavin Drake’s article, it is possible that the alleged victim may have made more than one mistake in her accusations against the former bishop.
RUTH HILDEBRANDT GRAYSON
25 Whitfield Road
Sheffield S10 4GJ
Such good eggs
From Mr Ray Taylor
Sir, — I am Chaplain to the 1st Mid-Suffolk Boys’ Brigade (which includes girls). I was very impressed last year by Sally Hitchiner’s item on “Real Easter Eggs” (Comment, 2 April 2015). I had already got the older members of our company to buy an Easter egg with their own pocket money (rather than letting mum get one from the supermarket along with the shopping) so that they personally had done something give pleasure to a child who would not otherwise have received an Easter egg. I collected 16 eggs from them, and took them to the local food bank for distribution.
This year, without any prompt from me, the younger members asked if they could also give an Easter egg as the older ones did. And last Wednesday I collected 38 Easter eggs for the food bank. This was from a Company that has 42 members ranging from 5 to 16 years old. I am so proud of them, I just want to shout it from the roof tops!
Paupers View, Onehouse
Stowmarket IP14 3EH
Wanted: perfect priest for perfect parish
From the Revd Brian Druce
Sir, — In the 1960s, as a curate hoping for my first incumbency, I waited for a letter on the doormat, or a phone call. The requirements were usually simple: a married man, who was good with youth, and whose wife would run the MU.
Today, the advertising pages of your journal are crammed with adverts for paragons of virtue. They seek priests of impeccable virtues to serve in parishes of limitless attractions. From these adverts, I have culled 57 qualities, ranging from accessible, accomplished, and adaptable, through to welcoming, willing, and wise, a variety equalling only Heinz.
Park Cottage, Elmley Castle
Pershore WR10 3HS
Conscription, conscientious objection, and armchairs for the top brass
From Sue Claydon
Sir, I think the thing that disturbed me most about Robert Beaken’s article on conscription (Comment, 4 March) was the fact that he indicated that conscription was a way of recruitment, not just for the military but for the Church. He fails to mention the men who never had a chance to serve as Sunday-school teachers or on the PCC (including my own relation, Corporal David Slimmon, who was killed at Ypres in 1917).
The disaster that was Gallipoli, and the slaughter that was to be the Somme, had shown, if the previous years had not, that this war was simply adding to the tragedy of humankind’s failing to settle disagreements in non-violent ways.
On 26 January this year, I attended a reception in Parliament to commemorate the centenary of the passing of the Military Services Act 1916, in which, for the first time in legal history, anywhere in the world conscientious objection was recognised.
It was important to commemorate this. “Conscience” was not defined: it allowed individuals to honour the commandment “Thou shalt not kill.”
Along with that commemoration, the present situation was discussed. Today, in many countries, people are denied the human right of conscientious objection to military service. It will surprise many to learn that, each year, nearly 500 men are sent to prison in South Korea as COs. Both men and women are conscripted in Israel and Eritrea (many of the latter fleeing as refugees from conscription).
Recently I learned of a gravestone in Tyne Cot Cemetery, Belgium, on which the family of Second Lieutenant Arthur Conway Young had inscribed: “Sacrificed to the fallacy that war can end war.” I can think of no more relevant words.
Vice-chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
112 Whittlesey Road, March
Cambridgeshire PE15 0AH
From Canon Owen Vigeon
Sir, — I was interested in Robert Beaken’s article on conscription (Comment, 4 March). I am one of what must be an increasingly rare number of people whose father was conscripted in World War I. He was with General Allenby in Egypt, as the war against Turkey began to take a more positive note. His recollection may be of interest.
“On Sunday morning, we had compulsory church parade. We would be drawn up on the parade ground in the blazing Egyptian sun, standing properly at ease.
“There was a podium at one end for the Church of England padre to officiate from, and below the podium there was a semicircle of armchairs reserved for the officers.
“As I stood there in the heat, I said to myself: ‘Any church that has class distinction in its worship like that is not for me,’ and I came out of the army a Methodist.”
Fortunately, I reckon that a Methodist upbringing is a good foundation for an Anglican priest. My sister and I eventually developed a liking for a more disciplined and colourful liturgy.
In due time, my father graduated to being a sidesman, and so here I am today.
Canon Emeritus of Blackburn Cathedral
10 Hall Lane
Coventry CV2 2AW
The downside of choice
From the Revd James Oakley
Sir, — I was grateful for the leader comment last week, entitled “No choice”. It helpfully examined our society’s assumption that an individual’s right to exercise choice is paramount. Without dismissing our free will, our responsibility to make choices, or the resulting empowerment, the leader then carefully demolished the assumption that this right overrides all else.
The arguments were strong: one person’s right to exercise choice can diminish their neighbours’ options. Opening up new choices can actually reduce choice, as old ways become impossible to choose in practice. Last, legislators have a duty to protect citizens, by not allowing options that would harm us.
The topic in mind was Sunday shopping. However society’s attitude — that we must never deny someone’s right to choose — easily becomes the air we breathe, in all manner of church debates. In the coming months, I hope the clearer air of last week’s leader column will pervade the Church’s thinking.
High Street, Kemsing
Sevenoaks TN15 6NA
Where is the freedom to speak one’s mind?
From J. Longstaff
Sir, — That a district judge should be removed from his post for expressing his belief, and that a university student should be similarly dismissed from his course (News, 11 March), is simply wrong.
That the judge’s comment was in the context of a BBC discussion programme, where it is expected that opinions are expressed, is clear evidence that individuals are not free to speak what they believe in this country.
So much for David Cameron’s Easter statement that we are a Christian nation (Comment, 17 April 2014), and that discrimination against the Christian faith happens only in other countries.
1 The Common, Buxted
East Sussex TN22 4LX