The ‘vocations mountain’ and drastic proposals for church reorganisation
From the Revd Peter Sherred
Sir, — In Madeleine Davies’s report on the “vocations mountain to be climbed” (News, 23 September), the quotation from the St Albans diocesan vocations officer is not far from the mark when he is quoted as saying that dioceses (in fact, the Church) need(s) to “think radically, to challenge assumptions, to rethink some long held beliefs”.
For the Renewal and Reform agenda, merely increasing the number of clergy or to lower the age of clergy to meet a Church of England aspiration will not of itself solve some of the fundamental challenges confronting the institution, which require more radical avenues to be considered and followed. These include:
First, the acceptance that many churches are no longer viable on any basis and should be closed and sold off, and parishes merged.
Second, the umbilical cord that ties the future of the C of E to the fortunes of stipendiary clergy needs to be cut. The implication that stipendiary clergy constitute some kind of “professional priesthood” enabled to exercise some form of quasi-episcopal ministry is deeply discouraging to those called by God to the priesthood other than as paid priests.
Third, the ubiquitous team-ministry structures, designed to sustain stipendiary clergy who cannot be afforded otherwise in the 21st century, and which serve only to accelerate decline and cause alienation between remote clergy and laity, should be abandoned. Their true function seems to be that of pretending that the decline of the institution is a fiction.
Fourth, the various levels, or descriptions, of priesthood, which have gained increasing currency, should be discontinued with immediate effect, since all ordained priests are priests without the need for differentiation, which serves only to create a caste-style system of priesthood.
Fifth, deployment of priests who are self-supporting or self-funding into parishes should be emphasised and given greater encouragement and priority. At present, the impression given by the institution is that such priests are deemed simply to be “expedient”, often second-class, unable to undertake parochial responsibilities because of a fear of a lack of control. They are also perceived as not being full-time priests and as being worthy only of propping up others, which is a gross disservice to their calling.
Sixth, greater impetus should be given to the recovery of the pastoral nature of the ordained ministry outside the comfort zones of buildings instead of the present focus on the creation of a superior administrator clergy class.
Copthorne, Dover Road
Kent CT15 5EN
From the Revd Paul Eddy
Sir, — As someone who applied for ordination aged 17 in the 1980s and was told to “go away and get some life experience”, I am delighted that the C of E is now focusing on attracting young ordinands.
Not many of us applied again some 20-plus years later as our call remained; hence the shortage of clergy after the disastrous change of policy in the 1980s not to ordain young people. The 1980s, incidentally, included three missions to England by Dr Billy Graham, which, history shows, have previously been huge recruiters for the C of E.
But, in attracting younger ordinands, many of whom will have or may want to have families, maybe the C of E needs to take a serious look at clergy expectations. Around the world, most good employers believe that their staff need two days off a week to enable them to work from a place of rest, and for good-quality family life. We still, however, expect our clergy to work six days a week.
In my congregation, a lay member has recently been expected to work six days a week for his company. All his Christian friends are seriously worried about the impact on his health, and impact on family life. The lay folk thought six days work, as a constant, was far too much. I reminded them that that is exactly what the clergy are expected to do.
Maybe if society believes humans need two days a week off for health and family life, we should take that best practice into the C of E — especially as it will take time for the new vocations strategy to take effect. Until that happens, the clergy will be asked to oversee more and more churches.
If we do consider this change, maybe clergy will have more energy to focus on Reform and Renewal, fewer will quit early from stress and ill health, and we will attract more young vocations.
Vicar and Diocesan Missioner
The Vicarage, Church Green
Stanford in the Vale SN7 8HU
Not the whole truth
From Mr Matthew Clements
Sir, — I must take issue with the Revd Dr Ian Duffield (Letters, 23 September). He says that “all the inquiries about the Iraq War have established that there was no deliberate deception.”
This is incorrect. The inquiries were actually unable to prove that there was deliberate deception, which is a different matter. The Chilcot report, while specifically not calling Tony Blair a liar, says that the intelligence presented to the public “reflected Blair’s beliefs more than the underlying facts” and that the information made public was “not an accurate description of the intelligence” given to him.
Honestly believing something does not actually make it true; deliberately representing it as true is deceitful. To fail to tell the whole truth, or to fail to correct misunderstandings, or even to fail to admit that “facts” are perhaps not quite as certain as one would hope, are all ways of telling lies.
4 Church Street
Bicester OX26 6AZ
Sexuality, a clergy vow, and interpreting data
From Mr David Hammonds
Sir, — Bishop Peter Selby (Comment, 23 September) makes an extraordinarily obvious and sound point — at least, obvious to me.
When I was 16, and struggling with my own sexuality, the then Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Carey, invited young people from across the Church to London for the “Time Of Our Lives” event. It was the same weekend as the nail-bombing of the Admiral Duncan pub in Soho. I recall Bishop Selby giving a seminar on one of his great passions: social justice and debt relief for the poorest countries in the world.
What has this to do with the treatment of LGBT clergy? Everything. Justice is a broad and all-encompassing thing that cannot be divisive or exclusive. Justice must be for all.
The LGBT clergy that I know are among the most spiritual and committed priests making enormous differences to the world in which they serve. Without them, the Church of England would be a much poorer place.
After the introduction of equal marriage, and the statement of the House of Bishops, some of the episcopate are using the latter as an excuse to exclude completely LGBT people from both lay and ordained ministry — people who would, with the rigorous formation that all ministers should receive, be outstanding pastors for their communities. The Church is greatly weakened by their exclusion.
Even those who are living within the “rules” are reticent about putting themselves through the rightly rigorous selection process, because of the relentless intrusion into their sex lives. The Church of England has suddenly introduced a rule of celibacy in its clergy, even those who are legally married. This has been done without consultation, without consent of Synods or members-in-the-pews.
I serve on a PCC, and deanery and diocesan synods, and my sexuality is never an issue in terms of my ability to represent the people I am elected to serve. The bigger problems of falling attendance and falling-down buildings are much more important to congregations up and down this country than what the clergy get up to in the privacy, and sanctity, of their marriages — of whatever form.
12 Strathern Drive
Coseley WV14 9HE
From Mr G. M. Lyons
Sir, — Could we end both discrimination (against gay clergy unfairly having to declare their “celibacy”) and doubt (about whether the Church’s teaching is at one with Christ’s) by requiring of all clergy a regular public affirmation along the following lines?
“I uphold the teaching of Jesus regarding marriage and sexual relations expounded in scripture. Explicitly, for the honouring of marriage and for freedom from defilement, I encourage and I practise sexual relations only between a man and his wife, or total sexual abstinence. Thus I fulfil my ordination declarations as they apply in this area of life.”
G. M. LYON
13 New Acres, Newburgh
Wigan, Lancs WN8 7TU
Sir, — It is my belief that concentrating on a small section of a document while paying insufficient attention to the rest of the text is a perilous pursuit — in science, just as it is in Bible studies.
Could I suggest that any of your readers who are interested in the scientific study of sexual orientation take time to read the article quoted by the Revd Dr Ian Paul in his letter (23 September) rather than his summary of it? This latter may, I would suggest, be unintentionally misleading.
The article, “Sexual Orientation, Controversy and Science” — Bailey et al., Psychological Science in the Public Interest, 2016, Vol. 17(2) — is readily available on the internet.
Though long and at times technical, it is an excellent attempt at an objective summation of the available scientific data on sexual orientation. Contrary to the impression that may have been given on your letters page, it concludes that scientific evidence most strongly supports the view that “people are homosexual for so-far-unspecified reasons of nature rather than social nurture” (page 87).
Dr Paul’s published letter refers to a small section of the report which examines studies of sexual orientation in monozygotic twins. Bailey et al. conclude that the evidence from these studies suggests that genetic influences on sexual orientation are real but moderate.
This is hardly a scientific surprise: important though our genes may be, they are only one component among many of our biological make-up. Very few scientists would ever suggest that genetics — much less a single gene — could be solely responsible for something as complex as human sexual orientation; and none would make the mistake of suggesting that “genetic” is somehow a synonym for “natural” or “biological”.
To put this theologically: God is more than capable in his good creation of giving us our natural homo-, hetero-, and bisexual orientation by means other than (or in addition to) our genes.
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED
From the Revd Virginia Smith
Sir, — The people of Aleppo are being bombed and starved to death; seemingly unstoppable wars rage in the Yemen and South Sudan; refugees die in overcrowded boats while others eke out a form of existence in the sterility and barrenness of camps. Meanwhile, here in the UK, the numbers seeking essential help from foodbanks grow ever larger; young people struggle to afford housing; and, most worryingly, the ugly spectre of racism and social division seems to be on the increase.
I could go on; but meanwhile, within the Church of England, the debate over sexual mores and morals continues to be batted fruitlessly back and forth.
Am I alone in thinking of the parallel with the burning of Rome while others play the fiddle?
14 The Paddock
Westcott, Dorking RH4 3NT
Wise and wonderful?
From the Revd Claire Wilson
Sir, — As the funeral service came to the end, I realised too late that I had omitted the programmed second hymn, “All things bright and beautiful” (eight verses . . .). Was my subconscious on that occasion doing us all a well-judged favour?
26 Frognal Lane, London NW3 7DT