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Letters to the Editor

06 May 2016


Responsibility for Hillsborough is widely spread

From the Revd Stephen Cooper

Sir, — It is good to read of the Church’s support of the families affected by the Hillsborough disaster, as it is to be reminded of the part played by Bishop James Jones in chairing the Hillsborough Independent Inquiry, whose work was so important setting the scene for this week’s verdict (News, 29 April).

You report the call from so many, including Bishop Bayes, for justice for the families; and that is as it should be. There must be accountability for the failures that led to the deaths at Hillsborough, and as importantly for the subsequent police cover-up, which was truly reprehensible.

Unfortunately, in following the lead of the mainstream media, your report demands justice only in respect of the easiest and most obvious contributors to the disaster, the police and in particular Ch. Supt. Duckenfield. I do not seek in any way to be an apologist for the police’s errors and cover-up, but, if you are calling for justice in those whose actions and inactions led to the Hillsborough disaster, your list needs to be rather longer.

It should include the Directors of Sheffield Wednesday FC, who had an unsafe stadium, but persisted in holding matches there, despite knowing they had previously had serious crowd-flow problems at the Leppings Lane end, having refused to spend the £135,000 required for the extra turnstiles that would have alleviated some of the problems there on the day.

It should also include Sheffield City Council, which had refused Hillsborough a safety certificate, but which continued to allow football matches to be played at the ground, especially ones with large crowds.

Similarly, it should include the Football Association, which was aware of the problems at Hillsborough, and yet continued to schedule matches such as FA Cup semi-finals at the ground, with the capacity crowds they would draw.

From my reading of the reports about the ground and its management, Hillsborough was a disaster waiting to happen. Put all the right circumstances together, get one decision wrong, and everything starts to unravel, people get hurt, many die, and someone has to be blamed.

That it has taken 27 years to get the truth in the official record is itself a matter of national shame, and the persistence of the families should be applauded, but if there is to be something approximating to real justice, then all those responsible for creating those lethal conditions at Hillsborough have to be held to account, not merely the police. Less than this, and a new injustice is created, as some are pilloried and prosecuted, while others, similarly culpable, continue to sleep comfortably in their beds.

The Vicarage, Goosnargh Lane, Goosnargh, Lancashire PR3 2BN

The Primates, the ACC, and Anglican authority

From Dr A. E. J. Fitchett

Sir, — The Revd Dr Jesse Zink (News, 22 April) “wonders where authority lies in the Anglican Communion”, and notes that the Instruments of Communion were referred to in the Virginia report (which, according to a participant, reflected the views of its drafter rather than of those who conferred at Virginia) as “a complex and still evolving network” of authority.

The problem with the Virginia report was that it hankered for a centralised authority for the Communion: a concept resisted by the Communion at least since the 1878 Lambeth Conference, when the suggestion of an Anglican Patriarchate, located in the archbishopric of Canterbury, was dropped after strong opposition from Dunedin and Lincoln.

The differences within the Communion over same-sex relationships led to a recent attempt, in the guise of the proposed Anglican Covenant, to centralise authority, but that initiative, thankfully, seems to have died the death it deserved.

It seems that many of the Primates still haven’t got the message that authority resides in each individual Church of the Communion, even though they demonstrate, by their words and actions, that communion between those Churches depends (as the Provinces that first ordained women as priests and bishops found) not on centralised decisions, but on individual Provinces.


14 Forrester Avenue, Liberton, Pine Hill, Dunedin 9010 New Zealand


From the Revd Will Newman

Sir, — Your front page (15 April) proclaims “Harmony at the ACC”. This is, indeed, a good and joyful thing — but only made possible, perhaps, by those who absented themselves.

St Stephen’s College
22 Tung Tau Wan Road, Stanley, Hong Kong


Centre’s proposals for a ‘Zero Carbon Britain’

From Mr Peter Willcox

Sir, — We should listen seriously to the Revd Michael Roberts (Letters, 22 April) on a subject on which he has expertise, but also to the Centre for Alternative Technology, who have a well-worked plan, Zero Carbon Britain (www.zerocarbonbritain.org), which shows that a modern, zero-emissions society is possible using technology available today.

Their research project (initial findings are on their website now) is exploring the barriers to achieving the plan, and the means to remove them.

We should also examine, and then join and participate in, Transition initiatives as seen on the Transition Network (www.transitionnetwork.org). Here in Letchworth Garden City, we have Transition Town Letchworth; among many other ventures (see www.ttletchworth.org), we run Transition Streets. A group of neighbouring households get together with a facilitator to examine what lifestyle changes could be made in order to “live more lightly on the earth”.

Mr Roberts’s approach is “realistic” from the point of view of business more or less as usual, but unrealistic if we are to avoid catastrophic climate change. We need to think and act differently. But that’s what we Christians do?

Please, please read CAT’s reports, and join a local Transition initiative. If there isn’t one, start one.

50 Bedford Road,
Letchworth Garden City SG6 4DR


Questions on the ethics of nuclear deterrence

From Patricia A. Pulham

Sir, — I was particularly interested to read Hattie Williams’s report (News, 22 April) on the parliamentary meeting on the ethics of nuclear weapons, which I was fortunate enough to attend.

Christians and all people of good will are concerned about whether a course of action is good or evil; and, in spite of the constant criticism that MPs face, most of them consider the morality of the decisions they take.

Deterrence works only if there is a real determination to carry out the threat promised; so all must consider whether the actual use of such devastating weapons could ever be justified.

It is interesting to note that a recent conference in Rome called for a reassessment of so-called just-war theory.

We hope and pray for a more peaceful world — one that cannot be achieved if we rely on immoral defence policies.

Ivy Farm, Waldron
Heathfield TN21 0RP


Passing on blessings received at school

From Mr Joshua Bell

Sir, — I was very moved by Bob Finch’s retelling of the story of the founding of Christ’s Hospital (Comment, 15 April), the school that was my home away from home for seven years.

As Mr Finch’s quotation from its current headmaster said, Christ’s Hospital still houses and educates those whose background — be it a difficult or even dangerous home life, steep poverty or any number of other causes — means they would benefit from the academic rigour, pastoral care, and rich opportunity provided there.

One of 850 schoolchildren, and the fourth of five children being raised by my mother, I was cared for at Christ’s Hospital, educated, and invested in, with the result that I and the other 120 in my year, having entered in 2002 as shy boys and girls, left in 2009 as confident, well-educated and well-rounded young men and women.

How is this paid for? On the last day of the academic year, every leaver is presented with a Bible and hears the following words: “I charge you never to forget the great benefits that you have received in this place, and in time to come according to your means, to do all that you can to enable others to enjoy the same advantage; and remember that you carry with you, wherever you go, the good name of Christ’s Hospital. May God Almighty bless you in your ways and keep you in the knowledge of his love now and forever.”

Westcott House, Cambridge CB5 8BP


The danger of making the Spirit ‘impersonal’

From the Revd Neil Bryson

Sir, — The Archbishops’ call for a novena of the Holy Spirit beginning on Friday caused me to reflect on the pneumatology articles in the recent series on theology (Theology Now, 11 March).

The Athanasian Creed states that each Person of the Holy Trinity is Lord, God, Almighty, uncreated, incomprehensible, eternal, equal in glory and in majesty co-eternal. “We are compelled by the Christian verity to acknowledge every Person by himself to be God and Lord.”

The Nicene Creed affirms that the Holy Spirit is the Lord, who, with the Father and the Son, is worshipped and glorified. The Holy Spirit is the third Person of the Godhead with whom, by Christ’s new and everlasting covenant sealed by His blood, we are brought into relationship (as we are with the Father and the Son).

To return to the above-mentioned articles, each contributor punctiliously avoids using male or female pronouns when referring to God the Holy Spirit; instead, the subject pronoun hit upon is “it”. Theologically, if this were to become common usage, we should rapidly start to view the Holy Spirit as an impersonal force, in common with certain heretical sects.

The psycholinguistic implications are profound: how can one have a relationship with an “it”?


5 Chatsworth Close, Maidenhead SL6 4RD


Bilingual services

From Mr John Peter Hudson

Sir, — One of my old Gaelic tutors, the late Alasdair Mac Aonghuis, of Glen Coe, translated the Scottish Liturgy into Gaelic, which was published in a bilingual version by the Episcopal Gaelic Church Society.

The relationship between Gaelic and its spelling is regular, though complicated, but that between Welsh and its spelling is as simple as it is with Italian. Might I suggest that, given the increasingly well-known advantages of being bilingual or multilingual, as most of the world is, one way forward for the Welsh Church (Welsh Governing Body, 15 April) might be to encourage the use of bilingual services, for the benefit both of those who are marginally, or not at all, bilingual, and for those who are Welsh speakers, whether fluent or less so?

Foot Lodge, School Lane, Middleton Stoney, Bicester, Oxon OX25 4AW


The cost of funerals, especially according to the rites of the C of E

From the Revd Dr David Primrose

Sir, — Between 2008 and 2014, the number of funerals taken annually by Anglican ministers in the diocese of Lichfield dropped by 25 per cent to under 8000. During that period, the “cost of dying” increased by 25 per cent to £8427.

The C of E’s Taking Funerals Seriously is addressing the first issue, with excellent evidence-based resources, providing pastoral support for the bereaved. We need also to address the second issue, the provision, when required, of financial support for the bereaved.

One of the primary recommendations of the recent Work and Pensions Committee’s report Support for the Bereaved is for the Social Fund funeral payment to reflect the actual cost of a simple funeral. The funeral payment was set up to cover the cost of a basic funeral, but has now been devalued to the point where it leaves people with unmanageable debts.

For this reason, funeral directors are increasingly becoming unwilling to arrange funerals for people applying to the Social Fund. Write to your MP, saying that the £700 fixed in 2003 is grossly inadequate to meet the additional funeral costs beyond basic burial and cremation fees. And, to encourage price transparency, challenge your local funeral directors to take the Fair Funerals Pledge.

Director of Transforming Communities
Diocese of Lichfield. 1A Small Street, Walsall WS1 3PR


From Ms A. McNeill

Sir, — I have just read the article on funeral costs. This sensitive subject is the latest to sorely need publicity and acceptance of a serious, widespread problem. It is not only for the sake of the bereaved. My own case will serve as a random, common example.

Owing to the calamities of life’s events, it has taken all the money I could earn to keep myself afloat. There has never been enough spare to save for end-of-life disposal. Thanks to constructive discussion with a funeral director of integrity, known socially, I have made what small arrangements are possible: any funeral service is out of the question because of cost: clergy/church fees have to be paid. Ironically, these are likely to be highest at a parish church which is [legally] bound to be responsible for everyone!

I am hugely fortunate that my friendly funeral director is a Christian and has offered to say prayers over me. My body will be collected by the undertakers, duly dealt with, and economically delivered for cremation around 8.30/9.00 a.m. Also for economy, the ashes will be scattered in the crematorium grounds.

This comprises a simple funeral, at today’s rate, hard to cover for £1800. Now spare a thought for the undertaker and staff, who have a living to make — and not a lavish one, I do know. Who pays? “The Council” — if it cannot find any family member to shoulder the cost. And yes, events are held up as long as possible while it investigates.

The whole subject of death needs society to face up to it. The “Death Cafés” are doing a good job, but it’s only a start.

21 Melville House, New Street, Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 6EB


From Mr Liam Purcell

Sir, — We read with interest the article “Government should increase grants for funerals, MPs say” (News, 8 April). The MPs’ report on funeral poverty included substantial input from the Fair Funerals campaign, which is run by Quaker Social Action and supported by Church Action on Poverty and some Anglican dioceses.

We welcome the report, which is the first time politicians have got together and tried to understand the reasons why so many people can’t afford a decent send-off for someone they love.

We strongly echo the Committee’s call for the Social Fund funeral payment to be increased in line with the price of a basic funeral. It isn’t right that this fund has been allowed to decrease in value to the point where it now covers on average 37 per cent of the price of a funeral.

Other recommendations made by the committee, such as an eligibility checker, so that people can figure out if they’re likely to get help, and introducing an accreditation scheme for funeral directors, also have the potential to make a big positive impact in the lives of bereaved people on low incomes.

We now urge the Department of Work and Pensions and Baroness Altmann, the Minister responsible for bereavement benefits, to implement these recommendations in full.

In the context of steep funeral inflation, an ageing population, and growing public concern around funeral poverty, we hope to see the UK Government now take meaningful, sustainable action to ensure everyone has access to a dignified funeral.

Church Action on Poverty’s report Preventing Poverty After Death includes ideas for how churches can help to tackle the problem, and is available at www.church-poverty.org.uk/funerals.

Communications and Supporter Relations Manager
Church Action on Poverty
Unit 28 Sandpiper Court, Water’s Edge Business Park, Modwen Road, Salford M5 3EZ


From Miss Primrose Peacock

Sir, — Your report suggests that Mr Frank Field and his committee are unaware of the existence of funeral plans. There are several national organisations that provide the opportunity for anyone over the age of 55 to buy a plan.

It can be purchased either outright or by instalment. The purchaser can choose a funeral director, the venue for the funeral, and all details of how he or she wishes the event to take place, including liturgy, music, tributes, etc. Subsequently, only one phone call by a nominee after death is required to put the Plan into operation.

Most reputable funeral directors participate in plans, which assure them of complete and prompt payment. Relatives, executors, friends, and the clergy or cremation managers are relieved of burdens and excessive paperwork.

Currently, it appears that once again the great British public are crying for a Nanny State to care for them from cradle to grave — in this instance, at least partly at the taxpayer’s expense.

4 Crescent Rise, Truro TR1 3ER


Special training is desirable for interim ministry

From the Revd Roger Stokes

Sir, — The Revd Ron Wiffen makes a plausible argument (Comment, 8 April) for parishes to have a designated pastor during a vacancy. What he proposes, however, is not a “one-size-fits-all” solution.

The same issue contained an advertisement for a team rector designate to have oversight of, among others, parishes where I officiate frequently. Two of them have been vacant since 2007. This is a rural deanery where the stipendiary and other licensed clergy are spread very thinly. I am pulled in from another deanery to help out, and I have been told that I will probably still be needed when the Rector and a new team vicar are both in post, within, it is hoped, the next year.

I am writing this from the United States, where they have an established practice of appointing interim clergy, and I was talking with one a few days ago. They receive special training for their work. Apart from the normal pastoral and sacramental work, this includes helping the parish move on from the departure of their previous rector to discerning what they need in their new one.

This includes asking the right questions to help them draw up an accurate parish profile and a realistic person specification to guide the search process. It can also include addressing issues that have been allowed to slide under the carpet.

While I agree with Mr Wiffen that there is scope for an interim pastoral ministry during a vacancy of limited duration, I am not convinced that this is sufficient. During my stipendiary ministry, I had to help parishes towards a sustainable pattern for their future. In today’s world and Church, it is not possible to continue things as they have been. Supporting parishes through this challenging process is demanding but necessary in many situations.

I am not sure how many retired clergy have the experience or would be willing to undertake this ministry. I know I no longer have the energy to do so. For younger clergy to undertake it, we would need to provide training, and also address the fact that our clergy live in tied housing. Practicalities would need to be addressed.

88 Sovereigns Quay, Bedford MK49 1TF

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