Schools as academies: yea or nay?
From the Revd Dr John A. Williams
Sir, — I was taken aback by the abrupt change of gear three-quarters of the way through Colin Hopkins’s article on the Government’s White Paper Educational Excellence Everywhere (Comment, 1 April).
Up to this point, the article offered a concise, cogent, and convincing account of the reasons why the enforced conversion of all schools to academies is deeply problematic, especially for small primary schools, a large number of which are church schools. Suddenly, however, despite most of it saying something different — we were told there is “cause for optimism”.
At this point, I was surprised to learn that “nationally, the Church is the largest sponsor of academies”: this presumably is the reason that the article faces both ways.
I am bound to ask whether this is a particularly blatant example of the tendency of the Church of England on the one hand to offer a prophetic critique of a governmental initiative or a social or economic practice, while, on the other, wholeheartedly buying into it where it is deemed to be to the Church’s advantage (the National Lottery being another such case, or investing in hedge funds).
It would seem that, on the academies policy, as elsewhere, the Church’s right to issue a moral critique has already been fatally compromised.
JOHN A. WILLIAMS
13 Marston Crescent, Acomb
York YO26 5DQ
From Mr John Swanson
Sir, — Colin Hopkins suggests that a reason that few primary schools have converted to academies is the accountability and workload placed on governors. Having been both a chair of governors and a director of a multi-academy trust (MAT), I understand those factors; but I think he does many governors in church schools a disservice. In my current school, we have not converted — not for negative reasons about workload, but from a positive assessment of where our school’s best interests lie.
Like many church schools, we believe in collaborative and service-based models of delivering education, and reject the Government’s individualistic and market-based model.
When forced to convert, we will look for a church MAT that preserves the features that are important to us. In the mean time, our choices have been driven not by fear of the challenges, but by what is best for the children we exist to serve.
9 Randalls Road
Surrey KT22 7TQ
From J. Longstaff
Sir, — The warning from the Bishop of London about the danger of the Government’s promoting its ill-defined “British values”, whether in the context of schools or elsewhere, is to be welcomed. We need a well-informed spiritual input to other aspects of the Government’s wider agenda.
We are regularly reminded by David Cameron and others that the spiritual foundation of this country is a Judaeo-Christian one. Why, then, is the Government looking to further embed this nation into a direction that Europe, with its non-democratic, humanist, and pluralist philosophies, is leading, rather than supporting the Brexit campaign?
1 The Common, Buxted
East Sussex TN22 4LX
The benefits of visibility: by their uniform you shall know them
From the Revd Brian Cranwell
Sir, — I could not agree more with Jonathan Luxmoore’s views on the merits of being on view in a parish wearing clerical garb (Letters, 1 April).
My own practice when in parish work was to always wear this when out and about, and to walk the streets as much as possible rather than drive. I found that this was a great asset in helping strangers to feel that they knew me, and so coming to the vicarage or church in a time of need, whether or not they were churchgoers.
A General Synod consultation paper from the House of Bishops a few months ago suggested that clergy be allowed to depart from normal vesture requirements for occasional offices as long as those involved agreed, and as long as dress was “seemly”. This paper seems to imply that the bishops were not aware that this is already common practice.
I have attended several churches where such alternative dress is already worn regularly — some of it very unseemly.
I was told recently of how an incumbent was the host at the parish church for a combined church service for the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. The Salvationists were there in their usual smart uniforms, with shiny shoes; Free Church clergy in suits; and other members, including Anglicans, in what would variously be thought of as churchgoing clothes, with some in casual dress.
The vicar appeared, to lead the service in a pair of jeans and a woollen top — both of which, according to some present, looked as though they had seen better days and could do with laundering; wearing trainers; and with no clerical collar. What sort of message would this give to those attending?
Whether we like it or not, people draw conclusions about the quality of care they would receive from a professional who acts in this way, whether a lawyer, medical professional, or cleric; and “dressing down” when acting as host is patronising.
9 West View Close
Sheffield S17 3LT
From Mr Hugh Darnley-Smith
Sir, — I agree with Jonathan Luxmoore (Letters, 1 April). Historically, Anglican clergy were at the centre of their communities, with the responsibilities that went with that territory. I can remember when they were visible here very much as Mr Luxmoore describes in Poland.
Of course, it was easier for clergy when most people considered themselves Christians, and would naturally gravitate towards someone in a dog collar as a leader (”Morning, Vicar”). Is there a danger now that clergy see themselves as leaders only of their immediate flocks and those they reach out to? “Just like a lay person,” I hear people say.
I know I’m generalising horribly; please tell me I’m wrong.
15 White Dirt Lane, Waterlooville
Hants PO8 0NB
From Fr Richard Tillbrook SSC OCM
Sir, — I agree with Jonathan Luxmoore, who expresses concern at the lack of clerical dress in public (Letters, 1 April). However, if I may put his mind at rest, there are still plenty of C of E clergy who are seen in public in uniform.
Here in Colchester at least four (maybe more) incumbents are never seen in public without wearing correct clerical garb. One is always to be seen in Homburg and high collar, and three of us in tonsure shirts, and, usually, cassocks.
In my own experience, I rarely get from one end of the street to the other without someone asking for a blessing or prayer, and I cannot count the number who greet me with “Morning, Father,” “Morning, Vicar”, or “All right, Farv?” I suspect that I am not alone in this experience.
Despite occasional bad press, people are reassured by seeing a cleric, as they are reassured by seeing a policeman in uniform. Of course, the clergy of the jeans and T-shirt uniform are known by their church-attending flock, but we, I believe, fulfil our promises as C of E clergy by ministering to all whom we meet.
It is by our “uniform” that we are recognised. It is our uniform which makes us accessible to the non-churchgoer. We do, after all, have the cure of souls for everyone.
13 Abbot’s Road, Old Heath
Colchester CO2 8BE
From Mr Anthony Jennings
Sir, — I fear that the wishes of Jonathan Luxmoore (Letters, 1 April) that clergy should be more visible in town centres are unlikely to be fulfilled. It is now diocesan policy in many diocesan offices to reduce the profile of the clergy still further, on the mistaken grounds that their private lives should take priority over their mission.
That is partly why they are selling off parsonages that actually look like parsonages, and that announce the presence of the Church in the community, in favour of houses on anonymous estates where no one would even know their parish priest lived.
Save Our Parsonages
Flat Z, 12-18 Bloomsbury Street, London WC1B 3QA
From the Revd Marion Pyke
Sir, — I read with interest the Revd Robert Mackley’s comments about the removal of clerical collars when exhausted (Diary, 1 April). A few weeks ago, to my horror, I turned up for a service having left mine at home. A young member of the congregation showed me his tattooed arm after the service, and said: ‘‘Why don’t you have it tattooed on when you’re ordained, then you wouldn’t have to worry about it?”
Now there’s a thought.
St Peter’s, Caversham
Berks RG4 7AQ
One to watch — and still available
From the Revd Andy Rooney
Sir, — A surprising omission from the Revd Stephen Brown’s survey of screen representations of the Passion (Arts, 24 March) was Frank Deasy’s excellent 2008 Passion for the BBC — which is still available on DVD.
Its portrayal of the confusion of the disciples during the last days in Jerusalem, and also of a “same but different” resurrection, are particularly effective, while its four-part structure is well suited to Holy Week viewing. I’m glad it’s still on my hard drive, six years on.
123 Duke Road
London W4 2BX
Teaching that sidesteps the issue
From Mr Robert Ian Williams
Sir, — The article on biblical interpretation by Brian Castle (Comment, 1 April) is very timely, as conservative Evangelicals cannot agree about what the Bible says about heterosexual marriage.
A look at the Reform Covenant, for instance, shows how they sidestep and leave out the issue of divorce and remarriage, as Evangelicals cannot agree whether the New Testament teaching of Jesus is that it is an indissoluble bond, or one that can be ended by adultery. How ironic that the same Covenant declares the perspicuity of scripture.
ROBERT IAN WILLIAMS
Y garreg lwyd, Whitchurch Road
Bangor is y Coed LL13 0BB
Dreaming doesn’t do it
From Canon Andrew Lenox-Conyngham
Sir, – “Men live in dreams and in realities”, Milovan Djilas wrote in Conversations with Stalin (London, 1962). It seems surprising that the Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the United States, the Most Revd Michael Curry, should encourage us to “go forth into this world and help us to change it from the nightmare it often is into the dream that God intends” (News, 1 April).
Dreams achieve nothing; realities do.
9 Hitches Lane, Edgbaston
Birmingham B15 2LS
Leeds Bible conference
From Canon Nigel Rooms
Sir, — Brian Castle calls for scholars to help us with reading the Bible in an intercultural perspective (Comment, 1 April). I fully agree, and since the issue is, at root, one of hermeneutics, I can recommend Joshua Broggi’s recent book Diversity in the Structure of Christian Reasoning (Brill, 2015) alongside a day conference he will be speaking at in Leeds on 12 April: “Whose Reading is Right: Conflicts of interpretation in world Christianity.”
Church Mission Society
Oxford OX4 6BZ