The row that has silenced York Minster’s bells
From Sue Norton
Sir, — Your report “Safeguarding issue silences bells of York Minster” (News, 21 October) catalogues this sorry affair pretty well.
On Saturday 22 October, the York Press reported: “York Minster has told how it cares for and supports its volunteers in a glossy new brochure outlining the cathedral’s volunteering strategy. Canon Michael Smith said in the brochure, entitled ‘Volunteering Strategy 2016-20, Inspiring, Participating, Adorning’:
“‘The Minster cares for, and supports, the huge community of people who work here as volunteers and as paid employees.’”
I find it hard to reconcile the treatment of the ringers with the sentiments expressed in the Minster publication. I am also amazed that the Minster is systematically sacking its volunteer teams and inviting them to reapply. This seems to borrow one of the most heartless practices from the business world and, in a church organisation, seems singularly inappropriate.
As for replacing each team with a paid head: as The Times asked in a recent editorial, why pay people to do something they were happy to do freely?
The Minster’s mission statement asserts that it will “engage all our community in a participative and consultative way” and that its values are “Courage, Trust, Wisdom”. Now is the time for Chapter to live up to these values.
21 Wentworth Road
York YO24 1DG
Sir, — A member of my immediate family is one of the young people who were members of the recently sacked bell-ringers at York Minster. During their time there, they have been welcomed by the rest of the team and not only grown in their ringing ability, but also developed many friendships. I have dared to hope that this young person would also be able to grow in their Christian faith that our family has always tried to nurture.
Disappointingly, this is what that young person has learnt from the actions of the Dean and Chapter of York Minster over the past few days:
• That it is acceptable to mislead people to achieve a desired outcome.
• That even when your untruth is discovered it is better to try to justify it than apologise.
• That it is acceptable to punish many innocents for the (so far) unproven misdeeds of one individual.
• That in the face of overwhelming support for those you have wronged it is acceptable to make no effort to correct the situation you have created.
• That freedom of speech is unwelcome if it does not support your own position, and should be punished.
• That it is better to build walls of division than extend the hand of reconciliation.
We are called to be Christ-like in our Christian faith. We are called to love, forgive, and reconcile with others, irrespective of where any fault may exist. We are called to show grace and mercy to all.
While many simply love to hear them rung, church bells serve as a reminder to all that God is here, and that many follow their call to worship him. The current silence of the bells of York Minster serves only to remind us that God may be so easily excluded from our daily lives. It is all the sadder that this situation has resulted from the actions of such senior figures in the Church of England; and yet the opportunity still exists for them to remedy this and correct the surely unintended messages above that they have thus far conveyed.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
The future of Christianity in the city of Mosul
From the Revd Angela Robinson
Sir, — There is a lot about Mosul on the news, and some people are planning what sort of city it should be, when it is “liberated” from Islamic State, and whether Shia and Sunni could tolerate one another there.
But there seems to be no pressure to remember that one and a half million Christians used to live there for 2000 years, in vibrant Christian churches, without the enforcement of the tax that can be levied on non-Muslims, and usually in mutual acceptance with them.
It was reported that all the Christians had fled Mosul when IS gave them the choice of converting to Islam, paying the crippling tax, or being killed; but, quite soon, the first options were ignored and they began to massacre Christians — and the survivors fled.
Does that mean that the only option, today, is to shrug and consider that what happened to Mosul Christians at the hands of IS has to be considered as water under the bridge, and something that IS should be allowed to get away with? Must the world keep silence about the rights of those following an ancient tradition and refuse to discuss their right to return?
In the summer of 2014, I went to a demonstration outside Parliament of Iraqi Christians in the UK. I put on the T-shirt we were given (“SAVE MOSUL CHRISTIANS”) and noted the banners and spoke to others there. I found some Muslim teenage girls, who said they were shocked at what was going on and supported the demonstration. Then I found some Muslim men also — and was very touched.
It seems, however, that the world has moved on, and many people are refusing to remember this genocide — and that word has been accepted by the UN and others to describe what has happened and continues to happen to Christians in the Near East, including persecution at the hands of fellow Muslim refugees in the camps and on the road, and even being thrown overboard into the sea.
Would it really be impossible for the West to put pressure on the Iraqi government, in return for their help in the recapture of Mosul, to guarantee the rebuilding and respect of its churches, and the freedom of religion for just one city in Iraq, so that Iraqi Christians have one place to return to?
How could that be asking too much, considering what they have suffered? Such action would also underline that the rest of the world has not forgotten how they suffered, and refuses to ignore it.
32c Lulworth Road, Southport
Merseyside PR8 2BQ
Flexibility and theology in church reorderings
From the Revd Nick Davies
Sir, — The Revd Professor William Whyte’s article (Comment, 21 October) reminds us that chairs in churches are no guarantee of growth, can introduce an unhelpfully casual appearance, and may deter those seeking a traditional experience of church. All of this may be true, but it would be wrong to suggest that pews offer us a more exalted context for divine worship, or might usher us more easily to Calvary.
One of the congregations for which I have pastoral responsibility is about to embark on a reordering scheme, including the removal of pews. In doing so, however, we are not seeking a casual informality, but, rather, a flexibility that might allow us to embrace the inheritance of our great cathedrals as generous spaces in which the sacred and secular can meet under the same roof.
Pews filled this church from its foundation in 1882, to maximise pew rent. Since 1924, however, my predecessors have been removing them. We now hope to complete this task, enabling us to create a more flexible “place of hospitality, for a people of pilgrimage”.
As a member of the diocesan advisory committee for Gloucester, I am clear that many parish clergy and congregations are reflecting deeply and theologically on both the opportunities and the challenges of their buildings, and have an expertise of their own that must be weighed alongside that of the amenity societies.
Indeed, as we consider the architectural merits of such schemes, should we not also take time to perceive the new thing that God might be doing among us?
The Rectory, 80 Painswick Road
Cheltenham GL50 2EU
From the Revd James Graham
Sir, — The Revd Professor William Whyte stated — surely rightly — that the prime purpose of churches is “encountering the divine”. Is this encounter well fostered from a chair, that speaks of me, my comfort, my own space, and my own bottom? Or could a bench be better: a bench that speaks of space shared with friend and stranger, the seeker and the committed, the joyous and the bereft, all who are exploring what it is to be, through his grace, the people of God?
Aside from considering the suitability of benches as opposed to individual seats in any particular case, could more thought be given to the “theology of the pew”?
The Vicarage, Church Street
Eccleshall, Stafford ST21 6BY
Fairness in redrawing constituency boundaries
From Mr Christopher Wain
Sir, — There are so many errors and false assumptions in the Revd Alan Fraser’s letter (14 October) that I hardly know where to start. We have, of course, the usual confusion between AV (Alternative Vote, voted on, not proportional) and STV (Single Transferrable Vote, proportional, never offered to the electorate), maintained vehemently and then acknowledged grudgingly in his penultimate paragraph.
More significantly, the Labour Party’s advantage in 2010 was not “arranged” by it, but was an inevitable consequence of long-term demographic trends which would have had to be corrected periodically, whoever was in power — as it would have been in 2015 had it not been for the Cameron government’s mishandling of its coalition partners.
The extraordinary implication that equally sized constituencies are enough to give all votes equal value is ludicrous. What gives votes equal value is their having an equal chance of electing an MP.
The worst aspect of present changes, however, is the Government’s arbitrary decision to reduce the size of the elected House — on the specious plea of economy. The effect of this will be to produce the smallest Commons since 1800, making it far more difficult for it to hold any government to account, since in a smaller House the payroll vote on which the government can always rely will be correspondingly more significant.
I don’t find the thought that one day — after the kind of political convulsion for which, post-referendum, we may well be heading — there will be an all-powerful Labour government particularly comforting, either. The purpose of Parliament is to hold the executive to account, and nothing that has happened in my adult lifetime has made that more likely or easier.
52 Sutton Avenue
Staffordshire ST5 6TB
The belief questions of the 1960s: superseded, or just suppressed?
From Canon Anthony Phillips
Sir, — The review by the Bishop of Worcester, Dr John Inge (Books, 7 October), of Canon Robert Reiss’s Sceptical Christianity cannot go unchallenged. The Bishop describes reading Canon Reiss with his frequent quotations from Wiles, Hick, Nineham, Robinson, Harry Williams, and Houlden as “entering into a time warp”. He is, of course, unfortunately right.
In recent years, the kind of inquiry into which these scholars entered has in general been abandoned for a simplistic “the Bible says” approach. How often is critical examination of such issues as the Virgin birth, the incarnation, resurrection, or life after death heard from the pulpit today?
Years ago, I interviewed in his dressing room the star of Jesus Christ, Superstar for the BBC. I asked him the obvious question: “How has playing Jesus affected you?”
Puzzled, he replied: “Why should it? If I believed in him, I would have to believe in Adam and Eve and all that.”
No one had told him that the Eden story was one of the most important theological narratives in scripture; for the two trees define what it means to be human. We are mortal and we cannot know “good and evil”: that is that kind of knowledge that only God can have, because he is outside the system he has created.
In other words, agnosticism is a component of being human and must of necessity be part of faith as Job found out and for which, in contrast to his “orthodox” friends, he was rewarded.
While I do not necessarily agree with all Canon Reiss’s conclusions, in showing that agnosticism within belief is not to be feared but embraced, he has done those who would believe but in all honesty cannot a huge service, as well as those who do believe but are uneasy in that belief. His book deserves
wide readership, and would make
an ideal study for discussion groups.
47 Warwick Street
Oxford OX4 1SZ
From Canon David Eaton
Sir, — The Bishop of Worcester’s review of Sceptical Christianity is too dismissive of the issues raised by this readable and challenging book.
It may be that the great and the good of the Church whom Dr Inge names have long since resolved the issues between science and religion, as you would expect, but this is far from the case for many people in the pews, let alone on the Clapham omnibus. Canon Robert Reiss throws them a lifeline, drawing from his own experience and being brave enough to “come out” over just how difficult believing can be. He pulls
no punches, and looks for credible solutions that make sense to modern people.
He draws from the giants of theology from the 1960s, but that is because it was something of a golden age. It was then that theology caught public as well as church attention. On the rare occasions since then when this has also happened, it is
the same issues that have come to the fore. The response has been too often one of shock and horror, as though nothing should or could change; and so the difficulties of Christian belief have remained unresolved.
It is the willingness we find in scepticism to look hard questions
in the face and try new ways of addressing them which will take belief forward. This is what Canon Reiss achieves, and it opens believing to more of those people today who simply find the world of religion baffling.
Two Way House, Wheelers Lane
Surrey RH3 7LA
From Canon Andrew Norman
Sir, — Canon Robert Reiss should know that some of us would want to make a much more positive appreciation of his book Sceptical Christianity than the Bishop of Worcester did. From my perspective of almost 40 years’ parish ministry, it does not at all feel that it is “easier now to believe in orthodox Christianity with intellectual integrity than it was.” Quite the opposite.
Isn’t the elephant in the room for the Church of England’s Renewal and Reform programme that actually it does no good just to repeat the same message more loudly, because for many people in our society the Christian faith as traditionally expressed no longer rings true? This book is encouraging because it tells how at least one of our senior clergy has had the courage to address the issues.
The Rectory, 3 Flower Walk
Guildford, Surrey GU2 4EP
Impertinence of church-planting careerism
From the Revd Christopher Elliott
Sir, — I take issue with the Director of the Church Society, the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss, when he writes: “Some of our brightest young ministers have left Anglican ministry disheartened, to pursue careers . . .” (Letters, 14 October).
I was ordained in the Church of God, about 47 years ago, in response to a vocation, definitely not a career. So I served where I believed God wanted me to be — sometimes guided by my Bishop, sometimes responding to that sense of vocation occasionally coming through the promptings of others, or through a sense that it was time to move on.
The Anglican tradition is parochial in structure and at its heart within a synodical structure. Sometimes these structures need to be examined and tweaked through the synodical process. But simply throwing it over to plant a church in another patch because a neighbouring church perceives that the local church there is not on top of things (to its way of thinking) is to my mind a gross impertinence both to the Church and to the Holy Spirit.
It seems to be at variance with Anglican principles, and would not have been countenanced by the like of the Reformers whom Dr Gatiss quotes. Of course, Evangelicals are a vital part of the Church of England: I was nurtured and brought to faith within that tradition, and still value the biblical tradition that I received at its hands. But I moved away from identifying with it when I discovered that the conservative Evangelicals whom I met in a whole variety of places could not place any value on others’ insights. Theirs is the true and only path to salvation, so it seems. The rest of us are misguided.
Every time I was instituted or licensed to a new post, the Bishop always read the Preface, which stated “The Church of England is part of the One, Holy Catholic and Apostolic Church. . . It professes the faith uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures and set forth in the catholic creeds, which faith the Church is called upon to proclaim afresh in each generation. . .”
We are a part of the whole, not individual churches acting as we believe the Holy Spirit is prompting. We are part of the one holy Catholic Church, through whom the Holy Spirit is at work: collectivism, not individualism.
20 Orchard Place, Wickham Market
Suffolk IP13 0RU
From Mr Humphrey Clucas
Sir, — If it is really true that a recent GAFCON statement named same-sex unions along with slander, hatred, dishonesty, fornication, murder (and more) as products of the brokenness of our world, and that two Church of England bishops were present when these words were agreed (Letters, 21 October), then I have to say that, at least temporarily, I am ashamed of my Church.
19 Norman Road
Sutton, Surrey SM1 2TB
Pay up, shut up?
From Hilary Cotton
Sir, — I find it a supreme irony that the main spokesperson for the report on lay leadership was a bishop (News, 14 October). We have a long way to go.
Chair, Women and the Church
9 Eastgate Gardens
Guildford, Surrey GU1 4AZ
From the Revd Rajinder Daniel
Sir, — I like the new £5 note. I notice the smaller size, however. Does it represent the “prophetic insight” on part of the Bank of England, the approximate drop of 20 per cent in the value of the pound after the Brexit vote? I wonder.
508 Chester Road, Kingshurst
Birmingham B36 0LG