Letters to the Editor

by
26 August 2016

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Carlisle diocese’s ‘mission communities’ and the fall in stipendiary clergy

 

From Dr Chris Angus
Sir, — I feel the need to respond to Michael Watts’s letter “Growth: clergy or mission communities?” (19 August), and particularly his premise that “Carlisle diocese seems bent on reducing the number of clergy and replacing them with mission communities.”

It is certainly true that we are looking at a drop in the number of stipendiary clergy over the next few years. We know the age of our clergy, and know how many of them are likely to be retiring in the near future. In response to the numbers of clergy retiring, the Church of England is putting substantially increased resources into the training of new clergy, trying to increase the number of ordinands by a half, but in the knowledge that even if this ambitious target is met, the number of stipendiary clergy will continue to fall for several years.

In Cumbria, we have to face up to this and to two other factors: attracting able clergy and other professionals to the north of England is an uphill struggle (despite its being such a wonderful place to live); and the cost of employing stipendiary clergy is rising faster than our largely static level of giving.

In the Carlisle diocese, we are having to plan for a fall in the number of our stipendiary clergy (which is different from being “bent on reducing the number of clergy”); but we do have ambitious plans for substantially increasing the number of self-supporting and lay ministers. We view our stipendiary clergy as a really key resource. A significant part of our strategy is to free them to concentrate on those things that may well bring about growth, working in partnership with other ministers, the laity, and other denominations.

Mr Watts makes the assertion that we are replacing clergy with mission communities. Not only is that a clear category error, but it masks the rationale behind our move to mission communities as part of our “God for All” strategy. While mission communities may help us to redress the drop in stipendiary clergy numbers which we are facing, they would still be a key component of our strategy even if we were to be able to maintain or increase our stipendiary clergy numbers.

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In drawing up our strategy, and in constantly reviewing it, we have been very conscious of reports on church growth, not just the latest reports, but also reports such as From Anecdote to Evidence; and we review what we are doing against them. The messages from such reports are not simple, any more than our clergy are a homogeneous resource. Once we dig under the headline quotes from such reports, we find that the strategy we are pursuing, not just in the Carlisle diocese but in full partnership with other denominations, resonates substantially with the more nuanced messages in those reports.

One clear message is that what really matters is how one uses the gifts of the clergy, and that too often we squander those gifts — in partic­ular, spreading the clergy ever more thinly in keeping the “gathered church” going, with all that this implies in terms of administration, looking after the buildings, and the like. That is one of the key things that we are attempting to redress with our strategy.

Mr Watts may, of course, be right: we may be doomed to failure. But what we do know is that ignoring the drop in stipendiary clergy numbers which we are facing (and which we cannot reverse) and not putting substantially more effort into reaching out beyond the “gathered church” will undoubtedly lead to accelerating decline.
CHRIS ANGUS
Chair of the Carlisle Diocesan
House of Laity
Burtholme East, Lanercost
Brampton CA8 2HH

 

From Mr Jim Butterworth
Sir, — My good friend and neigh­bour Michael Watts’s letter in last week’s Church Times expressed his concern about clergy numbers, church growth, and mission com­munities. With respect, however, I am concerned that only a part of this issue was presented.

The reality is that our benefice, together with the one to which we will be joined in our new mission community, simply does not contribute enough funding to maintain the current number of Anglican clergy.

It is easy to say that more clergy will aid growth. If the funding is not there to support the current clergy numbers, then we have to look at practical ways of managing that situation for the future. We also have to ask how best the situation with regard to declining congrega­tions can be improved with the resources available.

I do not agree that mission com­munities are “doomed to failure”, as Michael believes. Many of us are really looking forward to working together more closely with our Methodist friends and with our adjoining benefice, and working out how best to grow in future.
JIM BUTTERWORTH
Park Head Farmhouse
Renwick, Penrith CA10 1JQ

 

The Bishop Bell affair; and the plea to unfrock

 

From the Diocesan Secretary of Chichester
Sir, — Marilyn Billingham (Letters, 19 August) asks for an explanation of the basis on which the settle­- ment of the claim made against Bishop George Bell was made public.

As the Bishop of Horsham, the deputy Lead Safeguarding Bishop for the Church of England, ex­­plained last year (Letters, 11 Decem­ber 2015), “Had we not published — and others would — we would also rightly have been criticised.”

In addition, the concern that there might be other victims, and the concern that to keep silent would have made us complicit in main­taining in public an image of Bishop Bell on which doubt had now been cast, meant that pub­lication was important.

The diocese of Chichester participated in that decision and supported the national Church’s media release. A fuller explanation of the decision to settle with the survivor and then to publish can be found in a blog published last month by the Bishop of Durham, Paul Butler (http://cofecomms.tumblr.com/post/147338306887/further-points-on-the-george-bell-case).

I would add that the Church shares the police’s regret that
Bishop Bell’s niece was not informed before publication. The Bishop of Chichester apologised to her in January for the failure of the Church’s efforts to trace family members, shortly after she made herself known.
GABRIELLE HIGGINS
Diocesan Church House
211 New Church Road
Hove BN3 4ED

 

From the Very Revd Richard Lewis
Sir, — The road that borders Wells Cathedral is called The Liberty. In medieval times, the wrongdoer could escape arrest by the civil authority on entering the Sanctuary of The Liberty. In truth, however, with a slight smile, we tell the visitor or pilgrim today that the treatment meted out by the Church was often more severe than that imposed elsewhere.

Nothing has changed, it seems, and the smile has gone. The demand by the Revd Neil Patterson for even harsher penalties for criminal clerics (“The Church needs unfrocking”, Comment, 19 August) has a direct line to those far-off days.

This has little to do with justice, and more to do with retribution and revenge. These should have no place in the lexicon of Christian conversa­tion. Yet it persists. Of one it was said in the upper reaches of the Church that that person “had not been punished enough”.

How dare we say that? Which of us is pure enough to cast the first stone? It is hard not to consider that some seek celebrity rather than justice.

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I have been concerned in recent years with two such persons who have been convicted; the infamy never goes away. One said to me that many, many years ago, “I lost my home, my job, my income, and I have lived with the shame ever since.” Such a person is constantly harassed by media or police.

I have been present when quite early in the morning police officers arrive and try to insist, quite without the knowledge of legal advisers, that they interview a person alone, although that person is halfway already to the dementia ward. False accusations abound, as we have seen in some high-profile cases; the lives of such people are also changed for ever; yet no one seems to care. Our capacity for self-righteousness remains undiminished.

Unfrocking? Let us have none of it.
RICHARD LEWIS
1 Monmouth Court
Union Street
Wells BA5 2PX

 

Gorham case: the part a secular court played

 

From Dr John Mair
Sir, — A need for compression in his excellent review (Books, 12 August) of Dr Serenhedd James’s new book about George Errington may have inclined the Rt Revd Dr Geoffrey Rowell to veer towards inaccuracy in his statement that in the Gorham case “a secular court ruled on Christian doctrine.”

The court concerned was the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council, which in 1850 held that the views — as understood by the Committee — of the Revd G. C. Gorham on the subject of baptismal regeneration were not at variance with the teachings of the Church of England as expressed in its official statements.

The Gorham judgment was thus essentially a legal determination: the Committee was not called upon, and did not purport, to adjudicate on the veracity of the teachings themselves. It was a widespread failure to appreciate this (after all, not very difficult) distinction which gave rise to so much bitter zeal, and to some reckless reactions.
JOHN MAIR
(Reader emeritus)
67 Bromefield, Stanmore
Middlesex HA7 1AG

 

It has been pointed out to us that the Roman Catholic hierarchy was restored in 1850, not 1851 as stated in the review. Editor

 

Clerical attire that ministers to self-projection

 

From Canon John N. Greaves
Sir, — I was dismayed recently that certain female priests were object­ing, in the interest of being more glamorous, to the form of dress of male priests which they had inherited.

For at least 1500 years, priests have had to dress as women: long black frocks on the streets, and various lengths of white frocks in church. The whole concept of priestly dress was to obliterate gender, not to express it, in the interest of being conduits of God, i.e. not an expression of personal attractiveness.

I have been greatly heartened by the article by the Revd Joanna Jepson (Features, 29 July), which recognises completely the function of the minister. As a perambulatory retired priest, I have come across some grotesque male self-assertion: state-of-the-art face hair, chasuble and stole wihout alb or cassock, showing jeans and trainers, and a conduct more appropriate to that of a celebrity presentation of a chat show than an encounter with the glory of God.

I remember, in the late 1960s, a curate dressed in a teddy-boy suit, with clerical collar, drainpipe trousers, and sideburns, being apprehended by the police on a charge of “impersonating a clergyman”. He had to be rescued by his vicar. That sort of vanity seemed to disappear eventually as a more humble conformity prevailed.

Perhaps, as Ms Jepson so wisely suggested, such self-projection will settle down, as holy commitment overtakes secular pressures and self-centred projection.
JOHN GREAVES
3 Sitwell Close
Bucknell
Shropshire SY7 0DD

 

The forgotten elderly

 

From Miss Primrose Peacock
Sir, — Stephen Hammersley is the chief executive of the Pilgrims’ Friend Society, an Evangelical Protestant organisation that operates a chain of care homes and some independent living units.

In a recent issue of The Pilgrims’ Magazine, he writes: “Christian Churches may cherish older people in theory but in practice — and from the older person’s point of view — they are increasingly being forgotten.”

This appears to be accurate, and probably contributes to the CUF paper reported by one of your staff (News, 22 July). I hope that churches will take notice. Whereas currently there is some considerable focus on dementia awareness, very little seems to be done to stimulate the sound-minded elderly.

For this reason, I am about to circulate the third issue of Not Forgotten, a bi-monthly newsletter for older persons of sound mind, either at home alone or in less suitable residential care. It is free by email or second-class post.

It will always be small, owing to my circumstances, but two of the first subscribers are Church Times readers — then unknown to me, but who now correspond quite frequently.
PRIMROSE PEACOCK
4 Crescent Rise, Truro
Cornwall TR1 3ER

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