What is the message of the would-be reformers?
From Canon Paul Brett
Sir, — So we need a new reformation (Bishop John Saxbee, Comment, 30 September)? It should “reconnect with a culture that is increasingly in need of prophetic wisdom”. It will “entail the reorientation of the Church towards a fast-moving tech-savvy, digital world”. It could mean “a Church that is prepared to entertain the spirit of the age as potentially the spirit of God”. And more.
What does all this mean in practice, excellent and timely as it is? And how is it to be prevented from disappearing off into unaccountable groups at the mercy of all sorts of weird ideas?
Underlying these incentives, however, is a more fundamental one, and that is the need for a Church committed to exploring how best to understand the nature and activity of God in a 21st-century world. There is little point in having a tech-savvy presentation of a message that is not itself felt to be credible. First things first: who and what is God, and then how best may we respond? This is where a new “re-formation” needs to begin.
Let us hope that the Modern Church conference in Bath later this month may come up with some effective pointers to ways forward.
23 Stothert Avenue
Bath BA2 3FF
Baffled by a mission that disregards boundaries
From the Revd Jeremy Fletcher
Sir, — I share a boundary with the Revd Lee McMunn’s current parish. It would seem from your report (News, 30 September) that this will be of no interest to him. He cites urgency and geography as requiring him to minister across multiple existing parishes. Under the banner of the Anglican Mission in England, he is, therefore, to plant a church in Scarborough. It is baffling.
Scarborough has led the way in the diocese of York in different forms of pioneer ministry. Some years ago, it organised itself to enable a priest to minister across the whole town. Ministry has been enlivened in difficult areas. The deanery continues to develop innovative ways of working together for the sake of the Good News.
It has been doing this for ages. If there was ever an example of Church of England parishes’ taking the gospel call innovatively and urgently, it is the deanery of Scarborough. As a rural dean in the same archdeaconry, I can only give thanks, pray, and learn.
All I can think, then, is that Mr McMunn does not believe this is the right kind of Anglicanism. The publicity for AMiE talks of planting “gospel” churches. The Scarborough video says their church will be “healthy”. It is not difficult to infer from this that our current work in Scarborough is neither gospel nor healthy enough.
Mr McMunn says that he and other AMiE church-planters will “do all they can to get to know local Christian leaders”. Implying that the Church of England’s current ministry in Scarborough is not sound or healthy is not the best place to start.
He says that we should see AMiE as “extra reinforcements”. I’m afraid that, from where I sit, it is very hard indeed to regard this unsought initiative as anything other than a slap in the face for our current ministry in that place. And that is neither gospel nor Anglican.
Minster Vicarage, Highgate
Beverley HU17 0DN
Let the era of autocratic Visitations be past
From the Revd Bernard Coote
Sir, — The Bishop of Exeter calls for a “change of culture” at Exeter Cathedral (News, 23 September). He can lead the way. His Visitation Charge is full of “I” this and “I” that: never a “we”. He gives no sense of being one with his cathedral community: they are an object.
They had to be “visited” and “questioned” by three of the “great and good” whom he chose. He decided to publish his selection of their reports to the press and online, seemingly unaware of the consequences for those referred to adversely.
Were “employees” asked whether this was what they wanted to do to each other, for all the world to know? Reputations are at issue here. Clearly the gentlest of men can cause hurt.
The culture has to change at the top, or the medieval and authoritarian regime that he represents will continue to depress and alienate the population. Another Visitation Charge is awaited in Chichester!
25 Raphael Road, Hove
Sussex BN3 5QP
Social theologies of Conservatives and Labour
From the Revd Paul Nicolson
Sir, — May I suggest a social theology to Canon Angela Tilby which is neither “afloat” nor starts with the two main political parties (Comment, 30 September)?
It is rooted in awareness of the experiences of the poorest UK citizens. It is aware that people whose incomes are stopped by a benefit sanction are sometimes overcome by feelings of humiliation or shame, fear or distrust, insecurity or loneliness; or by a sense of being trapped and powerless under the abuses of power by the State.
It leads to prayer in solidarity with the millions of UK citizens who are suffering under unmanageable debts, owing to high rents, the council tax, and the caps and cuts in social security imposed by Parliament, made worse by sanctions. And prayer, too, for all those in power, and seeking power, that they may find the courage to work for and implement social and economic justice, the will to build a well-being state on the ashes of the welfare state, in which rich and poor and Parliament are in solidarity with each other.
Its policies would ensure that no UK citizen would have to choose between heating or eating, the rent or the streets, life or death, owing to the unjust enforcement of debts against inadequate incomes, or no incomes at all.
Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF
From Mr Samuel Ford
Sir, — I have great regard for Canon Angela Tilby’s sympathetic and practical approach and I often enjoy her column, whether or not I am in agreement. I found her analysis of the Labour-Conservative relationship to be grossly lacking, however.
The Labour raison d’être is not, as she claims, to attack the Conservative Party, but to attack those elements that serve to entrench privilege. Bad will towards the Conservatives is quite clearly on this account (parlous regard for the vulnerable aside), and the column’s concluding definition of sin in Labour terms would seem to support this.
Finally, in what party-political world does she assume floating voters operate: one where parties are part of the structural fabric of the cosmos, and social theology yields eternal certainty? A sound social theology is more likely to convince even the most vaguely informed person of the prudence of a sceptical approach.
SAMUEL J. MacD. FORD
5 Cotham Side
Bristol BS6 5TP
Kenyan Paralympian and positive change
From the Revd Daniel Njuguna
Sir, — I recall when I first arrived in England thinking “I have never seen so many people with disability in my life.” This was in contrast to Kenya and, I suppose, other developing nations, where a good number of disabled people are regrettably kept away from the public.
I still have memories of a pastoral visit to a parishioner back in Kenya. I could hear something like a muttering usually made by a toddler learning to speak coming from the room next to where we sat. I said to the family rather naïvely: “I didn’t know you had a small child. What’s his or her name? How old is she or he?” The room dropped to a dead silence. The only response from the parent was: “It’s our son who has been unwell for some time.”
Anyway, later the parishioners confided that they reckoned the child must be more than five years old, and that he never got out, and no one had ever seen him, even the doctor. They concluded that the child must have been born with some disability.
Anne Wafula Strike’s story (Back Page Interview, 16 September) highlights a great challenge experienced by many like her in poorer countries. I cannot give enough credit to the work of CBM and other voluntary bodies in supporting those affected by disability.
Just as there has been a positive change in attitude through education in respect of FGM among various communities, I believe a similar outcome is achievable by educating and encouraging families and their communities to discard the stigma associated with disability.
68 Wood Green Road
West Midlands WS10 9QT
Mother Julian, her anonymity and her message
From Dr Carole Hill
Sir, — Intriguing though it is to speculate on the possible identity of Julian of Norwich (Features, 30 September), it signifies very little. Indeed, it is a speculation that Julian specifically tried to avoid by active anonymity. Her focus was to convey to her “even Christians” the essence of what was revealed to her, at a time when Lollards were being burned for heresy.
Her name is and will remain uncertain. To deduce a possible and probably spurious identity from the survey of an architect involved with the rebuilding of St Julian’s Church seems an optimistic — not to say, flawed — approach to research.
That said, Julian was not an uncommon name for women in the 14th century. According to the extensive research on medieval wills in the Norwich archive carried out by Professor Norman Tanner SJ, its frequency was as common as Eleanor, Christine, Mabel, Olive, or Clare.
In view of the paucity of documentary evidence for medieval women, it would be good to know what other documents this enterprising architect examined in order to find just one Julian (Julian Erpingham?) disappearing from the record in 1373. But, then, so many women did disappear from the record or were never documented.
The fact is, however, that Julian, whoever she was, appeared in a long-established and recorded tradition of anchorhold in Norwich, and had many contemporaries and successors. She was also heir to the ecstatic and visionary female authors on the Continent more than a century before, not least St Bridget of Sweden, widow and mother, who, significantly, died in 1373. Commerce was a brilliant conduit for cutting-edge religion in Norwich, and Bridget’s works were widely known, as Margery Kempe’s book shows.
Julian of Norwich was a woman very much of her own time and context, with an abundance of eternal truths to share. This was her identity and her vocation. Let us rejoice and be glad in it.
Incidentally, I see that the photographer of the sculpture of Julian of Norwich which stands on the west front of Norwich Cathedral was credited, but no mention made of David Holgate, the sculptor — a sad omission.
29 Friars Quay
Norwich NR3 1ES
From Mrs Ros Rowley
Sir, — As a regular pilgrim to Walsingham, I was interested to read the article by the Bishop of Bangor, the Rt Revd Andy John, about his impressions of the Shrine (Faith, 7 October).
I would, however, take issue with a couple of his points. First, he quotes from the Walsingham Hymn, which tells the story of the Shrine, and of a “King who had greed in his eyes”. We who regularly visit Walsingham as pilgrims do recognise that there is more to Henry VIII than that. It is just that this is the aspect that applies to Walsingham, part of the Dissolution of the Monasteries, when treasures were looted from there, as from other places.
The second point that the Bishop makes is about devotion to the Virgin Mary. Many is the sermon that I have heard in which the Walsingham statue of Our Lady is described, and the main point being emphasised is that the Virgin is pointing to Jesus (away from herself). So, we do not put devotion to Mary before devotion to Jesus. We recognise that Jesus is God, the second Person of the Trinity. The Virgin Mary, albeit very special, is still human, not divine.
Apart from those observations, I felt that he gave a very fair and respectful impression of Walsingham. Perhaps the hecklers who appear at the National Pilgrimage should takes a closer look, as Bishop John has done.
14 Bruce Avenue
Worthing BN11 5JN
Israeli democracy and Anglican opinion
From Mary Goodson
Sir, — In your report (News, 30 September) marking the death of Shimon Peres, former Israeli President, mention was made of the presentation to Israel’s Ambassador to the UK, Mark Regev, of the Shalom Declaration, a public declaration of Christian support for the State of Israel. Mr Regev thanked the signatories for “standing up, standing by [and] standing with the Middle East’s one and only democracy”.
Could the fact that very few of the signatories were members of the C of E be explained by distrust of Israel’s democratic status? Larry Diamond, Senior Fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, and founding co-editor of the Journal of Democracy, says that a democracy should, among other qualities, ensure protection of the human rights of all citizens, and should be a rule of law in which the laws and procedures apply equally to all citizens.
Sadly, the Israeli “democracy” applies only to the country’s Jewish citizens, severely curtailing the rights of its Palestinian residents.
14 Tavistock Road, Fleet
Hampshire GU51 4EH
Science, faith, and an upside-down sundial
From the Revd Christopher Miles
Sir, — My hope and prayer is that the 21st century will be one of continuing rapprochement between science and faith. I was delighted, therefore, to read the report (News, 23 September) of Colsterworth Church’s Isaac Newton commemoration service, and the Church’s cooperation in the plans to create a Newton heritage and learning centre.
Although Newton’s boyhood sundial, one of a number that he made, is mounted inside the church and, therefore, not intended for use, I do wonder why it is mounted upside down. Was, perhaps, the Rt Hon. Sir William Erle, who paid for the placing of the sundial in the church, ignorant of the way a sundial should be mounted, or is there some more subtle reason?
Incidentally, I greatly valued attending in 2014 one of the “Science and Faith” courses run by the Faraday Institute in Cambridge. Also, as a church, we used their DVD course. Let us see science and faith as providing complementary answers to the questions of life.
2 Spa Close, Hadlow
Tonbridge TN11 0JX
Our apologies for misspelling Colsterworth in that report. Editor