Letters to the Editor

by
04 November 2016

Renewal and Reform: evangelism, bishops, laity, and decision-making

From the Revd Peter Dodson

Sir, — I am regularly critical of those who assert that Christians should make “evangelism the main thing” (News, 28 October). In my long and international experience as a priest and retreats specialist, the “main thing” is to be regularly gathered before our threefold God, particularly in contemplative prayer and eucharistic worship. These, above all else, provide human beings with the essential twofold vision of God and of what it means to be God’s people.

Prayer and worship are the “main thing” behind all personal and collective Christian renewal and reform, besides providing the essential creative wisdom, burning love, and boundless power for all authentic Christian fellowship, witness, and mission. From these essential “main things” springs the motivation for the vital evangelistic work of Christians “going out and doing”.

I recall that, in his final book, Contemplative Prayer, Thomas Merton convincingly argued that “Without contemplation and interior prayer the Church cannot fulfil her mission to transform and save [humankind]. Without contemplation, she will be reduced to being the servant of cynical and worldly powers. . .”

PETER DODSON
Roseville, Studley Road
Ripon HG4 2QH

 

From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian

Sir, — The centralisation of power and control which appears to be at the heart of the Renewal and Reform agenda (News, 28 October) should put parochial clergy on their guard. We are told that the changes require trust in archdeacons and bishops, but parish clergy, evidently, are not to be trusted, which is why they should have security of tenure removed or be put on “interim” (i.e. temporary) contracts.

Nothing creates a quiescent workforce quite like the threat of unemployment, and, in the case of stipendiary clergy, homelessness. It is this possibility of losing one’s home along with one’s job which makes comparisons with any other sphere of employment inappropriate. In any case, why on earth should the C of E wish to emulate the worst employment practices of the private sector? Should we bring in zero-hours contracts as well, on the grounds that other people have to put up with them?

Bishop Broadbent has said before that he sees clergy over 50 in particular as a problem. They should be easily removable, quickly and cheaply. Unfortunately for them, this also happens to be the group most likely to find it difficult to locate alternative employment; and they may well have children still at school.

Then, lest there be any resistance, it seems that clergy are to be treated as employees when it comes to redundancy, but as office-holders when it comes to employment rights, i.e. there aren’t any. Quite how the threat of eviction of a much-loved vicar from his or her vicarage, together with his family, and the removal of his stipend are supposed to serve the purposes of evangelism is beyond me.

I would urge all clergy to join the Church of England Clergy Advocates (CECA) section of Unite: they may need it.

STEPHEN BRIAN
The Rectory, Church Lane
Earl Soham, Woodbridge
Suffolk IP13 7SD

 

From the Revd Martin Jewitt

Sir, — The Bishop of Burnley (News 14 October) calls for a “culture of change” and language in the way laity (ordained or not) are perceived. But there have been generations of reports calling for just such a change of culture.

One obstacle in the way of radical change in thinking is the fundamental structures of the Church of England. Canon Law, Licensing and Institution services and (in my experience up to six years ago), the channels through which dioceses speak to parishes, all perpetuate the Vicar as the parish CEO.

The Apostle Paul writes of “those who labour in preaching and teaching” as part of a team of “elders who rule” (1 Timothy 5.17). Some churches are closer to that partnership than others, but current structures don’t encourage those others to move in that direction.

The Revd Keith Thomasson in a helpful letter (21 October) suggesting charism as one word to help cultural change, then mentions “the distinctive sacramental ministry” of ordination, possibly with “another charism that is not necessarily that of preaching”.

Anglican tradition is firm in the balance of word and sacrament in ordained ministry. This is seen in the charge in the Prayer Book ordination service, which does, however, not specifically mention presidency at the eucharist. Nevertheless, now that preaching is rightly delegated to lay ministries, eucharistic presidency remains as the one function that can be performed only by an ordained presbyter. That is very appropriate as a sign of the overall leadership of the congregation, which is the fact of current Anglican structure.

So we are faced with two related fundamental questions. Does the incumbent as CEO really serve the vision of equality of ministry? And, if not, is it time to revisit seriously the question of lay presidency?

MARTIN JEWITT
12 Abbott Road, Folkestone
Kent CT20 1NG

 

From the Revd Dr Richard Impey

Sir, — There is much sense in the six drastic proposals for church reorganisation put forward by the Revd Peter Sherred (Letters, 30 September); but my worry is about how they might be put into practice.

If we are to avoid “the creation of a superior administrator clergy class”, as he recommends, we will need to find new ways of making those decisions that affect the life and ministry of congregations. This means involving as many people as possible, not just the clergy and leading lay people.

Our present bodies for making these decisions — senior diocesan staff, synods, even many PCCs — are too close to “administrator clergy” and too distant from many thoughtful members of the congregation to be any longer acceptable in many cases.

This is because not enough time and imagination is being invested in the process of making such decisions, and those most affected by the outcome are not involved in the learning and deciding that is a necessary part of good communal decision-making.

Recent developments in methods of discovering people’s views and convictions, such as Open Space Technology and World Café, are valuable resources for keeping leaders in touch with grass-roots opinions, including initiatives, and practical suggestions for meeting the challenges that face us.

Until we learn to give more say to the followership in our churches, leadership will be in constant danger of devising ideal schemes that nevertheless fail to convince the people most affected by them.

RICHARD IMPEY
22 Hala Grove
Lancaster LA1 4PS

 

Relevance of 20th-century liberal theology 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — I was a student at Oxford in the early 1980s, when Canon Anthony Phillips (Letters, 28 October) was our college chaplain. The theology department at the university had a (well-deserved) reputation for undermining Christian faith because of its dogmatic commitment to liberal scepticism.

The era of “Wiles, Hick, Nineham, Robinson, Houlden” and the others which Canon Phillips mentions was not a “high point” at all, but one that, by identifying critical thinking with scepticism, hollowed out the Church’s theological understanding. This is not unconnected to the challenges that we are facing today.

When studying theology, I was grateful to have been introduced to another, parallel, generation of scholarship, including the late Dick France and Howard Marshall, Tom Wright, and Richard Bauckham. This generation was equally critical and equally scholarly, but went beyond embracing agnosticism to offering good, well-established, and critically robust reasons for orthodox belief — not least by being willing to be critical of criticism itself.

It is just such a well-informed confidence that is needed to undergird Renewal and Reform — not more tired, dogmatic liberalism from the 1960s.

IAN PAUL
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

 

From Mr Arthur W. Burgess

Sir, — I have only just caught up with my reading of your generally admirable journal, but must confess that I found Bishop Inge’s review (Books, 7 October) of Sceptical Christianity by Robert Reiss very poor. As he implies in his review, the Bishop is one of those who stand indicted in the book. It shows.

I write as a cradle Anglican: as John Robinson described himself, “a once-born rather than a twice-born type”. I still, in my mid-seventies, attend weekly Church of England services, and was, until relocating last year, a churchwarden. Nevertheless, had Honest to God not been published when I was 22, introducing me to all the writers quoted therein, I doubt that I would have stayed in touch with the Church.

To assert, as the Bishop does, that the questions addressed by Sceptical Christianity are those of half a century ago demonstrates to me that he does not meet with the people I know who ask the questions that Richard Dawkins seems to answer. Dr Inge may indeed have started as a scientist, as did I, but to say that the facile theology that has emanated from the clergy over that time has put the questions to bed is simply to fly in the face of reality.

To conclude with a patronising comment that he is glad that “liberals such as Reiss” (and I) can still find a home in the Church of England fails to appreciate the number of liberals who do not find a home here — people that Jack Spong refers to as “believers in exile”.

The tragedy is that the broad Church that existed in England in 1963, when Robinson wrote and I first came here, has all but died, to be replaced by largely monochrome Evangelicalism. It has died precisely because the thought process of the hierarchy is still stuck in pre-Newtonian times, uncomprehending in their preaching that Darwin, Freud, Planck, Einstein, and Bohr changed for ever the meaning of the language. The powers in the Church seem to think all is well as they preach in medieval terms to those who hear in like manner.

The questions have not been answered: they have been ignored.

ARTHUR W. BURGESS
16 Seven Sisters Way, Cumnor
Oxford OX2 9RX

 

 

The Christmas coin that shows the three Kings

From Mrs Margaret Luetchford

Sir, — I know that many within, as well as outside, the Church send Christmas cards depicting the “three Kings” (actually an unspecified number of wise men). But to read (News, 28 October) of a bishop’s designing a nativity coin that shows the Virgin and Child with three Kings amazed me.

In my teaching career and within my own church, we have been careful to show the epiphany as a later event than the nativity.

We are not showing the coin-collecting public biblical teaching with the Bishop of St Asaph’s design.

M. LUETCHFORD
14 Broomdashers Road
Crawley RH10 1PT

 

Gimmicks and gizmos of ‘comfy-chair’ church

From Mrs Kathleen Robertson

Sir, — May I say how much I agree with the article by the Revd Professor William Whyte (Comment, 21 October) concerning the purpose of a church. As far as the chair issue is concerned, Dr Whyte is also correct in quoting that “churches are welcoming not because of chairs, but because of members.”

It takes a great deal more than comfortable seating in the church, and all the technology that seems to go with it, to enhance the worship of God, which is first and foremost the reason the church was built

I could be regarded as old-fashioned, but there are younger people who also appreciate the asthetics of a church as a place of worship, and have a respect for it. If there is no sense of reverence for the place, then God is not likely to be found.

To me, these days, churches seem to be places of noise, large TV screens on tall poles, microphones to amplify the singing — in my day, a choir did not need such things — and also speakers to hear what is being said or sung, or in some cases, unless properly placed, disturb those sitting beneath them. All this does nothing for the asthetics of the building, which craftsmen spent many years building to the glory of God.

I can no longer find God in my local church and am more in tune with him in my own home, or a small village church near by. It is not a large congregation, but they are there to worship God, and indeed he is to be found in that building in the simple form of worship, without any gimmicks or gizmos of technology to distract. I consider these gimmicks to be the idols of technology.

Maybe the clergy should be trained in how to worship God without resorting to the use of all this technology. Then we may find some way back to using the churches for the purpose for which they were originally built: the true worship of God and his Son, Jesus Christ, who managed to leave a message for the world without any of the gimmicks now seemingly needed to attract people to what led me in the past to be able to say “Surely the Lord is in this place, and this is none other than the Gate of Heaven.”

KATHLEEN ROBERTSON
19 McNish Court, Grenville Way
Eaton Socon, St Neots
Cambridgeshire PE19 8PE

 

Unfinished business of the Reformation: time to consign Luther to history

From the Revd Dr John Bunyan

Sir, — The worst aspects of “Luther’s Reformation” have indeed “left us with a good deal of unfinished business” (Comment, 30 September), relating above all, however, I think, to our relationship to the Jewish people.

Despite his achievements, Luther left a legacy of horrific anti-Judaism, worse than many examples expressed by such great “saints” as Jerome, Augustine, and Ambrose — although St John Chrysostom was as bad, urging the actual killing of Jews.

The later Luther called for the burning of Jewish synagogues and schools, the destruction of Jewish homes, the confiscation of their prayer books and sacred writings, and the seizing of their valuables, and commended the countries that had expelled them. In Germany, he sowed evil seeds that eventually brought forth the monstrous deeds of the Nazis, who happily quoted his writings. Although some Lutheran Churches have repudiated these views of Luther, far too many Christians are unaware of them.

I think that Lutheran Churches could well mark the 500th anniversary of the Wittenberg story by replacing the name “Lutheran”, where that is used in their titles, by “Evangelical” or “Protestant”. But it would be a good year also for all of us who claim to follow Jesus to examine anti-Judaism in our own history (and even in the Newer Testament) with a great deal of repentance, and indeed to learn more of the historic Jewish rabbi about whom such scholars as the late Geza Vermes and Jacob Neusner have so much to teach us.

JOHN BUNYAN
“Colenso Corner”
PO Box N109, Campbelltown
NSW 2560, Australia

 

The gay-marriage letter from 89 Evangelicals

From the Revd. Russ S. Naylor

Sir, — I agree with the 89 Evangelicals’ letter to the Bishops that “provisions that celebrate or bless sexual relationships outside of a marriage between one man and one woman would represent a significant departure from our apostolic inheritance.” I want to ask, however, what they mean by “the authority of the Bible in matters of faith and doctrine” (News, 14 October).

For Anglicans (and perhaps for all Christians?), I thought that true authority came from the honest application of reason both to the Church’s ongoing struggle to define issues of morality in the context of the point of history in which it found itself, and to the text of the Bible as we understood it.

Have they considered the possibility that the Holy Spirit might be leading the Church more deeply into this way of finding “authority” for what we say and do? The Bible and church tradition reveal God continually leading us into “significant departures” as we journey on.

It may also be that “the full acceptance” (if not the existence and growth) “of same-sex partnerships as equivalent to male-female marriage” is the only way the Holy Spirit can get the human race truly to accept women as equal to men. Surely, even full-blown Evangelicals accept that St Paul was speaking God’s truth in writing that “in Christ there is neither male nor female”?

Perhaps we should all apply the wisdom of Gamaliel in this process: if a reformation in sexual relationships is “of God”, it will lead to greater truth and love in all relationships, and in society generally; and if it is not “of God”, public recognition and acceptance of such relationships will gradually fade.

Most reformations that we regard as having been “of God” have caused much fear and other negative feelings, before the “life and mission of the Church” has benefited — from the acceptance of Gentiles as Christians, to free access to the Bible, and the ordaining of women.

RUSS NAYLOR
6 Hillside Avenue, Runcorn
Cheshire WA7 4BW

 

Spotting the similarities in stained glass

From Philip and Jen Bovey

Sir, — We were very interested to read the piece “Survivor” (News, 23 September), on the rediscovered stained-glass window in Exeter. It looks very much like the work of Percy Charles Haydon Bacon (1861-1935), who did a complete set of 30 windows for St Michael and All Angels, Barnes, London SW13. We attach a photograph of the St Raphael window, which is above the high altar.

PHILIP BOVEY
JEN BOVEY
102 Cleveland Gardens
London SW13 0AH

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