Letters to the editor

by
01 September 2017

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Why an Anglican prison chaplain might say ‘I’m RC’

 

From the Revd Edward Tildesley

Sir, — There are lies, certain types of lies, and statistics. (The Church Times is accused of no sort.)

Throwing further light, I hope, on your report “Where RCs outnumber Anglicans” (i.e., in prison, News, 18 August), in light of having been Anglican for 60 years, an Anglican priest for the past 20, and a multi-establishment Anglican prison chaplain for the past five, I would seriously consider declaring myself as a Roman Catholic — in the event, that is, of being inducted into an establishment to serve a custodial sentence. (Induction is a mutual familiarisation process that a prisoner is given on first entering a prison.)

This is a time in a person’s life which Jenny Agutter (Back Page Interview, same issue) rightly describes as being forgotten “on the extreme fringes of society”; a time that may be required, unexpectedly, of any one of us — as is true for many currently serving.

There are two reasons for my taking this view. The categorising process, by which Christian-inclined prisoners on induction are invited to declare their faith (or none), includes the clear option “Roman Catholic”. There are many other faith-group options, including, ironically, “Christian” and “Anglican”, in which a new prisoner may register. (The data-entry system evidently presupposes a distinction.)

People who are imprisoned may care very deeply about faith, to a level that is an inspiration and an example to many. By opting for “Roman Catholic” as a faith declaration, a prisoner recognises that he or she will be likely to participate in a publicly recognised, accountable, authorised, and stable programme of teaching and worship — vital for a person whose life is overturned by threatening, confusing, and isolating events.

Opting to take the Anglican identification route may also invite this, albeit with less certainty. Diverse worship patterns and theologies of an unforeseen kind, as celebrated in non-prison Anglican church life, may be less than helpful to the wary. Unlike the free, a prisoner cannot move on to the next, more appropriate parish church.

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Although it still remains a legal requirement for every public establishment to employ an Anglican chaplain (many are part-time or voluntary), my second reason for signing up as a Roman Catholic prisoner might be that I would be more hopeful of being caught up in clearly structured and ordered chapel worship; one that routinely and openly celebrates the beauty and accessibility of set liturgy; one that has a healthy sense of its history and social context; one that makes bold the reality of sacrament (including the use of holy oils and water); one that provides Common Lectionary-based teaching with time for silence, reflection, and wonder — all of which are scarce on the wings.

As a frequent purveyor of the Anglican variant of this ministry and leadership over the whole 18-100-year-old prisoner age-group, I am constantly reminded of the powerful thirst of people for this particular faith- and hope-sustaining nurture context — one on which they cannot routinely rely if they have declared themselves “Anglican” in prison.

Thank you for reporting the Ministry of Justice statistics showing 14,961 Roman Catholic inmates and 14,691 Anglicans. The statistics by themselves, however, are far from enlightening.

EDWARD TILDESLEY

Prison Chaplain in dioceses of Salisbury and Gloucester, Dorset

Address supplied

 

Campus Christianity is mainly Black Pentecostal

 

From the Revd Dr Stephen Laird

Sir, — Your article “University challenge” (Features, 25 August) was a timely reminder of the opportunities and issues faced by Christian students at UK universities. But the biggest news of the decade from the Christian scene at many places of higher education was neither discussed nor reflected.

This is the strong growth of neo-Pentecostal groups among the Black and Black British student population. Here at Kent University, we have reached the point where we can say that these groups represent the numerically predominant form of Christianity seen on campus. That means that, today, a “typical” active Christian student will be one of their members (rather than a “White Westerner” attached, say, to the Chaplaincy and/or Christian Union).

This development is being witnessed in many other colleges and universities. As these groups enjoy a distinctive form of worship, culture, and leadership (usually Nigerian-influenced), and tend to proliferate, they pose new challenges to those who seek after the theological and practical ideal of the “oneness in Christ” of all Christian brothers and sisters: an emerging ethnic/cultural segregation, albeit voluntary, is not a gospel value.

In years gone by, people might have spoken of the old divide between chaplaincy or SCM and Christian Union in places of higher education. Whether this was ever a real issue, the Christian scene at universities is changing beyond recognition.

STEPHEN LAIRD

University Chaplain and Honorary Lecturer

Rutherford College

University of Kent

Canterbury CT2 7NX

 

Balfour Declaration and the West Bank occupation

 

From the Revd Stephen Dawson

Sir, — I agree with Christopher Ryecart (Letters, 25 August) that the British and Israeli governments have failed to honour the Balfour Declaration’s commitment to the Palestinians. He pushes his case too far, though, in describing Israel’s invasion and occupation of the West Bank as illegal.

The Six Day War of 1967 began on 5 June, and most sources say that Jordan attacked Israel on 6 June, probably under pressure from Egypt and Syria to open a third front. If Jordan had heeded the pleas of the United Nations to stay neutral, it would have held on to Jerusalem and created a Palestinian statelet or homeland based on Jerusalem.

The Israeli settlements may well be illegal, and, even if they are not, they are an obstacle to peace; but the invasion and occupation of land in a desperate war of survival, initiated by others, cannot be so described.

Mr Ryecart will know from the recent tensions over the Temple Mount that Christians, Muslims, and Jews all worship in the old city, worship that was just not allowed during Jordanian rule. His emotive language of ethnic cleansing will not help bring agreement to share the land, given that 800,000 Jews were expelled from Arab countries with only the clothes they stood up in (the “Arab Jews” of 1948 and 1956).

Their descendants now constitute a majority of Israelis, and Arab governments, too, must share responsibility for the failure of the commitments made in Balfour’s letter.

STEPHEN DAWSON

16 Mount Pleasant

Bentham

Lancaster LA2 7LB

 

Poverty and the Church of England: resources and ministerial training

 

From the Revd Dr Anne Morris

Sir, — The Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North, is more than right about the Church of England and outer estates and other places of poverty (News, 11 August). The problem is structural: despite extra money from the Church Commissioners, here, in one of the poorest parish in the country, the parish share is £38,000 after a deduction for poverty!

Looking at parish-share notices in church porches, I have come across places where all the houses are worth more than £1 million, and where the streets are lined with expensive cars, but where the parish share is around £5000. This, no doubt, reflects the lowered costs of several churches’ sharing one priest, but, nevertheless, it reflects a huge disparity in parish share between the richest and poorest parishes.

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Our parish-share “debt” of about £200,000 is regularly publicised, which is humiliating. Many of my congregation fear debts even of £50. It is very difficult for people who live in poverty to be associated with such huge debts.

Despite this, we work incredibly hard, feeding children in the school holidays and donating to the local foodbank — last Harvest, our donation weighed more than 114kg. Many of my congregation are really doing more than is sensible for mission. The message we get is that our generosity isn’t good enough. The burden of this debt weighs very heavily, even though, unofficially, we are not expected to pay it.

The workload on the outer-estate clergy is also huge, since there are fewer people with the confidence to act as churchwardens, PCC members, administrators, etc., while the pastoral care of people living “on the edge” can be harrowing. The rewards are great, too; but this is ministry against the odds, and sometimes things are very bleak.

Even our language misses the mark: the latest reforms and projects are all couched in the language of business, which is very alien to contexts of poverty. Liturgy is not the only aspect of church life which needs to be careful about the language that it borrows.

In line with the first Christians, who held everything in common, the Church of England needs to share its resources. We also need a change of heart, which is what Bishop North is asking for, I think. My perception is that Jesus was quite hard on those who had plenty, and generous with those who had little. Then he said “Follow me.” How are we going to follow this command in the Church of England?

ANNE MORRIS

St Oswald’s Vicarage, 68 Bank Lane

Knuzden, Blackburn BB1 2AP

 

From Dr Ruth Layzell and others

Sir, — The Revd Dr Mike Lloyd comments, in relation to the training and deployment of clergy to areas of social deprivation (News, 11 August), that we mustn’t make the mistake of providing a training that is theologically light. Agreed.

But such areas also bring into sharp focus the other kinds of resources which are needed to inform and sustain ministry in challenging situations, and which, in our experience of teaching or being trained in theological colleges, have for too long been in short supply.

Theology is important, but so are the insights of the social sciences — psychology and sociology in particular — which enable us to understand the human as well as the divine processes at work (including our own motivations). Inspiring example is important, but so are the practical tools for the job. Having a sense of purpose is important, but so is the humility, as Canon Nigel Rooms (Letters, 11 August) comments, to minister with and be willing to be changed by, as well as bring change to, a community.

And, once ministers are trained, what resources does the Church devote to developing the kind of resilience and discernment which will sustain them for the long haul? Marathon runners not only need good training behind them, but also regular points to rehydrate and renew energy. Our argument is that ministry as a whole, but particularly ministry in more challenging situations, needs the ongoing support of the regular space for facilitated reflection which pastoral supervision provides, if good and able ministers are not to burn out or (inadvertently) damage those in their care.

The pioneering initiatives of the Methodist Church and of the Church of Scotland in making pastoral supervision available for all their ministers are to be commended as fostering reflexive and resilient care for the carers. Let’s hope the Church of England will not be late to the table in such matters.

RUTH LAYZELL, ANNE MORRIS, TRACEY RAISTRICK, ROS LANE, ALISON WOOLLEY, STEPHEN EDWARDS, LINDA ROBINSON, CARLA GROSCH MILLER, MARY TRAVIS (Doctors in Practical Theology), MICHAEL PATERSON, MARGARET BAZELY, TONY NOLAN, DIANE CLUTTERBUCK, LYNETTE HARBOURNE (Institute of Pastoral Supervision and Reflective Practice)

c/o 86 Trowell Grove, Long Eaton

Nottingham NG10 4BB

 

Modern Church happy to work with St Sepulchre’s

 

From the Very Revd Dr Jonathan Draper

Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 25 August) referred to the recent events at St Sepulchre-without-Newgate — the national Musicians’ Church, where apparently bookings are no longer welcome from choirs and orchestras because their music is not religious, after a church-plant from Holy Trinity, Brompton — as a significant act of “disevangelism”.

We in Modern Church would wholly endorse this comment. It is all the more distressing since the action arises from a movement that claims to promote evangelism.

Classical music, secular or even sacred, may not figure largely in some narrower interpretations of the Christian gospel, but has played an enormous part in mainstream Anglicanism. It is a point of contact between the Church and the spirituality of very many people, as well as in our national life, to which our Church aims, of course, to minister.

At this time, in the middle of the Proms season, it seems particularly regrettable that the church where Sir Henry Wood’s ashes are buried should apparently repudiate its important and unique ministry. This cannot be in the service of a generous gospel that claims to speak to the whole of human experience. Music is a gift from God: it is an essential expression of the essentially creative nature of God and an element of the imago Dei, and is not in any way opposed to the gospel — far from it.

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We support the action taken by Dr John Rutter and other musicians in protesting against this development, which is sadly all too repres­entative of the lack of generosity and liberality which has been making inroads into parts of our Church. We hope that the authorities in HTB, who elsewhere have been more sensitive in their plants within churches of traditions different from their own, will reconsider this decision as soon as possible; and we would be happy to work with them to demonstrate how a more generous theological approach would enhance evangelism and church growth.

JONATHAN DRAPER

General Secretary, Modern Church

121 Admiral Way

Exeter EX2 7GT

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