Ministry to ‘overlooked’ places and people
From the Revd Ted Longman
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s article (Comment, 26 February) highlights the failure of the Church in responding to Faith in the City, and the resultant failure to address the problems in deprived communities.
I spent 19 years in what were known as “urban priority areas”, and had the privilege of being able to plant two churches in the process. What I observed then, which is still true today, was the tendency of middle-class aspiring Christians to commute out of their parish to churches that seemed to fit their aspirations, whether Anglican or otherwise.
I have observed in Chester, where I now live, a growth in independent churches that don’t have to pay a parish share, don’t have to maintain an ancient building, and can appeal to anyone who is attracted by their slant on the Christian faith. They often meet in prestigious venues that appeal to upwardly mobile Christians and their friends.
No wonder the Church of England is in decline numerically. What we need is a complete restructuring of the Church, allowing for much more flexibility and far less hierarchy. The system as it is today may appeal to ten per cent of the population, but it is irrelevant to the other 90 per cent.
This change could make a considerable difference to the Church in deprived areas, enabling us to concentrate more effectively on deprived communities.
21 Canadian Avenue, Hoole, Chester CH2 3HG
From Kate Sainsbury
Sir, — Welcoming the Bishop of Burnley’s comments, I would add that it is not only geographical communities of poverty whom the church overlooks, but also communities of interest, such as people with learning disabilities and their families, prisoners, and alcohol and drug dependency.
I wonder if there is a link between this and the Church’s move towards supporting those with administrative rather than pastoral skills in training and selection?
Inglewood House, Station Road, Comrie, Perthshire PH6 2EA
Palestinian almonds: a confusing narrative
From Mr David Booth
Sir, — As a lover of Bakewell tart and the occasional slug of amaretto, I was left slightly confused by your report on the plight of Palestinian almonds (News, 19 February).
The problems for farmers there caused by Israeli settlers, directing their sewage towards crops seem clear enough, but why graft on the Christian Aid narrative of climate change?
My understanding is that droughts and floods (and pests) are not unknown in the Middle East. In fact, as you pointed out, the Palestinian varieties of almonds “survived because they are more drought-resistant, owing to the hot and dry Mediterranean climate”.
31 Bellmore Street, Liverpool L19 1QR
Closure of Bede’s World lamented
From the Revd Dr Rob Marshall
Sir, — I was extremely saddened to read that funding issues had necessitated the closure of Bede’s World (News, 19 February).
I have taken hundreds of pilgrims on the Anglo-Saxon “Celtic” pilgrimage route to this astonishingly good site over many years, and I fervently hope that alternative support and funding will be put in place to secure some kind of future.
In many parts of Britain today, ignorance continues concerning the immense work of the Venerable (not Saint, as in your headline) Bede, whose final resting place is, of course, in Durham Cathedral.
As we wrestle with issues of evangelism, culture, language, and perspective, this unsung centre of pilgrimage, learning, hospitality, and excellence deserves a resurrection.
I really hope funding will be found, and that support for the adjoining St Paul’s, Jarrow, will continue.
The Rectory, Digswell, Hertfordshire AL8 7NG
Support for Persian Christians in Britain
From Mr John Clark
Sir, — Further to Gerry Lynch’s article “Iranians seek life in Christianity” (Comment, 29 January) and the Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani’s letter (12 February), rightly reminding us to remember those of our Communion in Iran: Iranian Christians, formerly members of our Church in the diocese of Iran, but now in exile in Britain, have played a significant part in the increase in numbers of Iranian Christians in this country.
For example, the Revd Bassi Mirzania, Chaplain for the Anglican Ministry among Persians in Britain (AMPB), has for the past 12 years worked and travelled tirelessly to encourage and advise Church of England clergy when Iranians have come to them as asylum-seekers, enquiring about faith, seeking baptism, or, as Christians in exile, becoming members of their congregations.
She has developed a range of liturgical resources to help Iranians with limited English participate in services. The next phase, which is under way, is the development of a network of advisers, including ordained Iranians and those in training, to assist in this growing ministry.
Chairman, Anglican Ministry among Persians in Britain, 32 Weigall Road, London SE12 8HE
Theology Now: a desire to hear other voices
From Professor Linda Woodhead and 95 others
Sir, — We are delighted that the Church Times is running a series on “Theology Now”, but concerned that the first three instalments offer such a narrow selection. They leave the unfortunate impression that theology remains unaware of the injustices and inequalities it perpetuates.
The bias is evident in Professor John Milbank’s dismissal of theologies that have an “obsession with diverse ‘identities’” (19 February). Presumably he includes such major movements as liberation theology, feminist theology, black theology, and recent developments in practical theology and ethnographic ecclesiology.
What all these have in common is that they take seriously theology’s own conditions of production, and are open to self-critique. They engage theology with social and ecclesiological realities and allow the marginalised to have a say.
At a time when the Church is coming to terms with gendered violence and sexual abuse, this is not a trivial matter. To assume that a theology dominated by Western male academics has nothing to do with “identity politics” is laughable.
ANNA STRAHN, JONATHAN ABBATT, NICHOLAS ADAMS, REBECCA AECHTNER, PETER ALCOCK, KRISTIN AUNE, PAUL BADHAM, ERIKA BAKER, SIMON BARROW, WYN BEYON, MARK BRATTON, LORRAINE CAVANAGH, MANON CERIDWEN JAMES, MARK CHAPMAN, CHRISTOPHER CHEESMAN, JONATHAN CLATWORTHY, HANNAH CLEUGH, HILARY COTTON, COLIN COWARD, PENELOPE COWELL DOE, MAGGI DAWN, ANDREW DOTCHIN, ANDREW DOWNES, DAVID DRISCOLL, ELLEN CLARK-KING, GUY ELSMORE, ROSINA ELSTON, SARAH FARRIMOND, OLIVE FLEMING DRANE, STEPHEN FRANCE, JOHN FRANKE, BEN FULFORD, GLADYS GANIEL, RAY GASTON, JULIE GITTOES, ALICE GOODMAN, GILL GOULD, ELAINE GRAHAM, BRETT GRAYSON, DAN GRAYSON, PAUL HEDGES, CHRIS HOWSON, PAUL HUTCHINSON, DAVID JAMES, DAVID JENKINS, STUART B. JENNINGS, ANDERSON JEREMIAH, PAUL JOYCE, PETER LAW-JONES, HANNAH LEWIS, DAWN LLEWELYN, STEPHEN LOWE, PEARL LUXON, GORDON LYNCH, DIARMAID MACCULLOCH, STUART MASTERS, CHRISTOPHER MCDERMOTT, ALEX MILLS, IAN MOBSBY, RACHEL MUERS, SALLY MUNT, CHRIS NEWLANDS, BERTRAND OLIVIER, STEPHEN PARKER, JEREMY PEMBERTON, CARRIE PEMBERTON FORD, SCOT M. PETERSON, GEORGE PITCHER, TREVOR PITT, MARTIN POOLE, ANDREW RACE, EDWARD RENNARD, RUAIRIDH REYNOLDS, OLE RIIS, LEAH ROBINSON, ANNA ROWLANDS, JOHN RUSSELL, CHRIS SHANNAHAN, BERNARD SILVERMAN, NICOLA SLEE, PAUL SMALLEY, ANDREW SPURR, ANNE STEVENS, KEITH STRAUGHAN, LAURA SYKES, STEVE TAYLOR, ROBIN USHER, STEPHAN VAN ERP, ALANA VINCENT, ANDREW WAKEFIELD, RICHARD WATSON, TONY WHIPP, ALAN WILSON, BEN WOOD, LINDA WOODHEAD
c/o Department of Politics, Philosophy and Religion County South, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YL
The interview with Professor Milbank took up less than one page of what will eventually be a 56-page series. Editor.
From the Revd Professor Morwenna Ludlow
Sir, — I have greatly enjoyed reading your series “Theology Now”, but it is very disappointing that it is not more representative of the excellent work being done in Britain and across the world by women theologians.
On the very page that Professor Ann Loades lamented the fact that books by women are parked on the margins and don’t get on to reading-lists (12 February), your reading-list of nearly 20 titles had only two by women. (Subsequent bibliographies have not been much better.) Furthermore, by my reckoning, of the 35 contributions across the three weeks, six have been by women. Four of the 25 contributors are women.
These figures echo the proportion of women in senior academic posts in Theology and Religious Studies (16 per cent in 2013), but they are far from representative of the numbers of women who teach in departments of Theology and Religion or theological-education institutions, and they are still further from representative of the theological work being done by women in the Church as a whole.
Second, a reader of your series might come away with the impression that no women teach theology in the academy: of the handful of women contributors, none was described as holding a current university or theological-college post.
This is not, of course, to say that theology is not done outside the university: I am frustrated and saddened by any assumptions that the theology of the academy is more properly called “theology” than the theology of the Church — or, indeed, vice versa. Rather, I am disappointed that your publication is perpetuating the impression that academic theology is done by men and that practical, applied theology is done by women.
In sum, your series is implicitly teaching readers that women’s theological reflection is not as worth while as men’s — especially if they stray into systematic or doctrinal theology. (Sarah Lenton’s and Melanie Marshall’s contributions were literally side-lined to the edge or the bottom of a page.)
You are teaching young women theologians that their voices will not be heard. Please take this opportunity within an intelligent and rigorous series to follow Professor Loades’s advice and not “to go on teaching the same old things in the same old way”.
Department of Theology and Religion, University of Exeter, Exeter EX4 4RJ
From Johanna Jones
Sir, — Dr Anthony Towey underlines the importance of understanding about God: “it will affect the whole of the Christian life” (12 February). Yet we have now had three weeks of “Theology Now”, and I feel I am back in the early 1980s, when women theologians had trouble being heard. . .
Then the content: in one short paragraph of three sentences, Dr David Bentley Hart describes God as omnipotent, omniscient, and omnipresent. Within these same three sentences God is “he” (x3); “himself” (x1); “him” (x4).
Professor Ann Loades, yes, a woman theologian included, but within the interview section, comments that “the Church is still misogynistic in places . . . [and] does not seem to have made the connection between that and the fact that the commonest cause of death in women under the age of 45 in [an Australian diocese in which women are regarded as inferior] is domestic violence.”
You fail to recognise the power of the language such as Dr Towey uses for God in your editorial comment next to Dr Bentley Hart’s article saying that you have left contributors to make their own decision which personal pronoun to use for God. This, you say, is “an irritating problem” but “small” in the context of describing God. This belittling does not recognise the immense power of language — language that is even scarier when people using it do not recognise what they are doing.
In the second decade of the 21st century, women and men and the Church deserve better.
I hear you sigh. There are women, meanwhile, who are screaming. (See Elaine Storkey’s book Scars Against Humanity.)
70 Newmarket Road, Burwell, Cambs CB25 0AE
From the Revd Dr Jan Goodair
Sir, — What a delight to see Professor David Clough’s article on “Every living thing that moveth” included in Theology Now on Creation (19 February). Non-human animals so often disappear down a black hole in our theological thinking, hidden from view between “humans” and “the environment”.
Reclaiming the biblical vision of God’s purposes as embracing the whole of creation will, indeed, require that Christian ethics apply itself urgently and energetically to the variety of contexts in which we presently treat non-human animals as mere commodities. The “animals as food” industry is chief among these, with present estimates suggesting 150 billion deaths each year.
This is an area in which the Church could and should be giving a lead. “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.”
47 North Moor, York YO32 9RX