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Letters to the Editor

29 April 2016


Electronic communications for today’s Church


From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — It is good to see the TGI Monday YouTube initiative (News, 22 April) recognised as a positive contribution towards building the digital Church, but how such initiatives develop a wider following raises important questions.

The Reform and Renewal programme has identified the need to engage with the unchurched generation through its preferred medium of social media. More than a year later, we have seen some good videos, but are still some way off a structured venture into the field. We can assume that, even if a useful budget is allocated soon, how we go about growing the digital Church remains uncharted territory.

TGI Monday’s private venture is attracting about 1000 views per episode. It is engaging, and addresses good questions, and the warm human interactions are attractive; so why isn’t the institutional Church taking this up and urging clergy and laity to try it and share it more widely?

Even if one regards this this as only a prototype, the Church should surely be exhorting its members to use this as a dry run, at least until the official programme comes on stream.

A similar story plays out on the other social media. The Archbishop of Canterbury has 89,879 Twitter followers; KitKat has 321,352. Peppa Pig has 29,803, which may make us feel better, except that (a) Peppa is a fictional character (b), she has no “payroll vote”, and (c) most of her fans can’t even read yet.

The serious point is that this vital missionary field has been neglected for far too long. The young generation are not in church, and do not buy newspapers, listen to radio, or watch television. How many church leaders bring this into account when planning missionary outreach?

On the eve of Trafalgar, Nelson signalled: “Any Captain not engaged with the enemy is not at his post.” Our church leaders should be signalling to clergy in similar terms about this vital mission field.


Synod member for Rochester

8 Appleshaw Close

Gravesend DA11 7PB


From Mr Quentin Letts

Sir, — The website “A Church Near You” is not a bad device, allowing us to post service details and times. As deputy warden of a small church in Herefordshire, I am certainly grateful for it. But has the moment come for the C of E to provide a more sophisticated (yet foolproof, please) generic form of website to PCCs?

We can, of course, do our own thing and set our own website or Facebook page, but many of us lack the time and, more disastrously, the computer skills to do that. Were there an easy template that allowed PCCs to advertise their churches, it could prove popular.

Ideally, this would incorporate a few photographs, and would allow us to describe the liturgical “height” and history of the church, along, perhaps, with a prayer board, priest’s message, community notices, and maybe even some advertisements.


The Old Mill, How Caple

Herefordshire HR1 4SR


Thomas the Tank Engine gravestone ruling


From Canon Andrew Bowden

Sir, — Last week we lost, not only our precious autistic daughter, but also an enchanting nine-year-old grand-daughter in a freak accident. So our hearts bleed with the parents of the three-year-old boy who have been denied the simple comfort of the tombstone they want (News, 22 April).

Why? Because church regulations say that “Thomas the Tank Engine is not a Christian symbol.” He is. Thomas is a young child’s version of The Pilgrim’s Progress — the early tales are all about the “journey of life”, just as Aslan and Narnia are about God and the battle between good and evil.

The Revd W. Awdry, author of the early Thomas books, was associate minister in the parish of Rodborough on the edge of Stroud, Gloucestershire, where a “Thomas window” commemorates his life and attracts visitors from all over the world. My wife and I have written two Thomas pageants (which include donkeys, sheep, etc.), and we produced them there as family services — and good Christian teaching services they were.

My wife and I, and I suspect the priest-in-charge and parishioners of Wick, are appalled that the Church of Jesus, whose heart surely bleeds for the parents of Max as he does for our beloved children, should put legal regulations before simple humanity.


Washbrook Cottage, Caudle Green,

Cheltenham GL53 9PW


Being ‘realistic’ about dependence on fossil fuels


From Ruth Jarman

Sir, — I agree with the Revd Michael Roberts (Letters, 22 April) that “Concern for the planet is essential but it must be grounded in realism.”

But climate change presents us with two conflicting realities: the political and social “reality”, that our civilisation cannot function without fossil fuels — that, according to Mr Roberts, “Few commentators expect fossil fuels to be replaced by 2050, if at all” — and the scientific reality, that should fossil fuels not be replaced before 2050, given that 90 per cent of known reserves remain unburned, our atmosphere may well be unable to sustain civilisation and much of life on earth by the end of the century.

The chemistry going on in our atmosphere will not respond to good effort and “least worst” options: we either meet the requirement of a stable temperature or we don’t. If temperatures are allowed to rise too high, where “too high” may be just 1.5°, natural feedbacks will take over and all bets are off.

Another, more hopeful, reality is the recent unexpected and exponential growth of large-scale renewables, demonstrating that renewable energy is a viable alternative to fossil-fuel energy. There are many reports showing that it is perfectly possible to run the world on renewable energy using existing technology.

A further consideration for anyone of conscience must surely be to question whether carrying on living as we are now, with ever-increasing energy requirements, is a non-negotiable reality, or simple selfishness.

We each have to choose for ourselves how to respond, as children of God, to these various realities. For me, until a fully functional and fail-safe carbon-capture and -storage technology is up and running and fitted wherever carbon is burned, I will continue to pray, speak out, and act for the vast majority of all fossil fuels to stay in the ground.


10 Kiln Gardens

Hartley Wintney

Hampshire RG27 8RG


From the Revd Dr Darrell D. Hannah

Sir, — The Revd Michael Roberts suggests that the “robust approach” toward fossil-fuel companies is unrealistic. He asserts, with an omniscience that is breathtaking, that “fossil fuels will be used way into the 22nd century.” He also argues that the very small portion of the world’s energy, about five per cent, currently produced from renewables means that our reliance on fossil fuels is set to last.

His first point illustrates a mind-set, also found among executives of oil and gas multinationals, that refuses to accept the changed reality in which we find ourselves. Just this week, however, the world’s largest producer of oil, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has announced its plan to ensure that it “can live without oil by 2020”. Mr Roberts should ask himself: “What do the Saudis know that I don’t?”

His second point ignores the exponential growth in renewables over the past few years. In much of the developing world, renewables are now less expensive than fossil fuels. Also, some small cities in the United States, e.g., Burlington, Vermont; Aspen, Colorado, and Greensburg, Kansas, already get all of their electricity through renewables. Larger cities, such as Grand Rapids, Michigan, Georgetown, Texas, and San Diego, California — the eighth largest in the US — have pledged to do the same.

There is a something of a “self-fulfilling prophecy” about Mr Roberts’s arguments: if we remain persuaded that fossil fuels are here to stay and that the renewables’ small share of the market are their apportioned lot, renewables will be starved of investment, fossil-fuel companies will never see the need to change, and the cost to the planet and its people will be incalculable.

Fortunately, many, especially in the financial markets, are beginning to recognise that fossil fuels are increasingly becoming a risky investment. I do not think it is unrealistic, in such circumstances, to demand radical and robust change from oil and gas companies, and, if that change is not forthcoming, to take our investments elsewhere.


All Saints’ Rectory

London Road

Ascot SL5 8DQ


Local credit unions need local ethical investors


From Mr David Soward

Sir, — It was good to see Hilary Sams (Letters, 22 April) following up your item (News, 15 April) by informing us that PCC members and office staff can join the Churches Mutual Credit Union (CMCU).

It wouldn’t do, however, to forget that there are hundreds of credit unions in the UK, most of them offering local community savings and loans, and needing local support. As one financial website will tell you, credit unions “aren’t just an oasis for those struggling to qualify for high-street borrowing. As community cooperatives, they can also appeal to those who want to benefit their neighbours.”

In Oxfordshire, for example, there are no fewer than four credit unions, and the one that I help to run is open to anyone living or working anywhere in the county. Credit unions operate on tight margins, and so will welcome the time, energy, and skills offered by local volunteers. With increasing reserve requirements and decreasing local-government funding, they may also need the long-term finance that the ethical investor can offer.


Director, Oxfordshire Credit Union

15 Poplar Farm Close

Milton under Wychwood

Chipping Norton OX7 6LX


Physical resurrection


From Mr Gordon James

Sir, — I can understand Canon Winter’s concern (Diary, 15 April) about an over-literal picture of heaven above, but I cannot accept that all theologically literate Christians take an uncompromisingly non-physical view of the resurrection. He laments “our failure to explain that resurrection, in Christian terms, is a spiritual rather than a physical event” (my emphasis).

Christian doctrine of resurrection begins with the resurrection of Jesus. The Gospel accounts certainly do not tell of the mere resuscitation of a corpse, but they are insistent that the resurrection encounters with Jesus have a physical aspect. All four report that the stone had been rolled from the tomb. Matthew’s Gospel tells of the two Marys clasping Jesus’s feet, and in Luke, Jesus says, “Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” In John, Jesus cooks breakfast.

The resurrection, like the incarnation, is a mystery that our understanding and language can touch, but not grasp. This is at least as true of our sophisticated systematic theologies as it is of the more concrete, narrative theologies of the Gospels. One truth that the latter express clearly is that our faith is about the salvation of the world, not merely the salvation of individuals from the world.

On a planet where looming environmental catastrophe threatens to bite on the bum our hubristic, anthropocentric delusion that human culture and language create reality ex nihilo, the very last thing we need is a disembodied, gnostic gospel. Even a “home for little children above the bright blue sky” comes closer to the truth, as I understand it, than does an ethereal paradise that can exist only on the pages of theological journals.


Apartment 28, Trencherfield Mill

Heritage Way, Wigan WN3 4DU


Big plans? Then get in touch with the DAC early


From Mr Matthew McDade

Sir, — I read the Revd Maggie Durran’s informative article “Check, check, and check again” (Gazette, 8 April) with interest. I would, however, wish to raise a health warning regarding the most appropriate time to consult with the diocesan advisory committee (DAC).

Ms Durran quite rightly states that “the DAC may wish to visit and have a good look at the plans in situ.” My standard advice to parishes is that early consultation is far preferable to presenting the committee with a mature scheme. While straightforward, like-for-like repairs are almost always uncontroversial, internal re-orderings, extensions, and partial demolitions can be most contentious.

It is most unfortunate if parishes expend fairly large amounts of money on professional fees, only to be told that the proposals are unlikely to garner the requisite permissions. This can cause much angst among dedicated parishioners, priests, and PCC members and, on rare occasions, lead to a pastoral breakdown in relationships.

Therefore, for the diocese of Norwich at least, it is standard practice strongly to encourage everyone involved with church-building works to discuss the matters with the archdeacon or DAC secretary at a very early stage, so that any pitfalls can be identified and, it is hoped, neutralised.


Executive Officer (DAC Secretary) for the Care and Development of Church Buildings

Diocesan House

109 Dereham Road, Easton

Norwich NR9 5ES


Parsonages and the invisibility of the clergy


From Dr David Heading

Sir, — I fear that Anthony Jennings’s views (Letters, 8 April) on the mission and private lives of the clergy are sadly mistaken. Clergy whose private lives are neglected and therefore collapse do great damage to the mission of the Church and their own ministry, and can leave a legacy of disaster and decline for many years.

To suppose that dioceses are selling off parsonages to render clergy anonymous also seems naïve. Mr Jennings seems to wish clergy families to live in enormous, cold, and unsuitable housing, located, often, in places where the bulk of residents in a parish no longer dwell. This seems a harsh expectation laid on clergy spouses and children, even assuming that the cleric himself or herself is called to such discomfort.

As a resident of a modern suburban, otherwise anonymous, vicarage, I can assure Mr Jennings that people do know where it is.


3 Holmemead

Great Broughton

Middlesbrough TS9 7HQ

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