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Letters to the Editor

10 February 2017



Bishops and cathedrals: not a question of power


From the Rt Revd Michael Turnbull
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 3 February) is quite right in her conclusion that cathedrals should retain their independence; but the language that she uses is part of the problem that she addresses. It is not a question of “power”, but of shared responsibility between cathedral, Bishop, and diocese, for the Trinitarian flow of mission into the world.

As a member of a cathedral chapter, I was on the receiving end of a bishop’s visitation. We questioned it, and then discovered its great benefit in opening up new thinking and working patterns.

I was a member of the Howe Commission, which produced Heritage and Renewal. It retained the executive authority of the Dean and Chapter while recommending the added benefits of lay canons and a cathedral council, which represented the various constituencies in which cathedrals exercise their influence. In this way, the collegiality of the Chapter was left undisturbed while strengthening its reference points.

As a diocesan bishop in two dioceses, I discovered that it was in the informal interaction between Bishop and Chapter that misunderstandings were avoided and creative progress was made, to my great benefit. A regular, though not frequent, semi-formal and confidential meeting kept open the communication lines, and business meetings, especially between Dean and Bishop, proved mutually beneficial.

But to write of “power” in a competitive way and “doing the Bishop’s bidding” is precisely why occasionally the relationship has faltered. Canon Tilby does not add substance to her allegations about modern bishops, but I doubt whether they are more power-acquisitive than deans or, indeed, bishops of previous generations. On the contrary, my perception is that they are readier to value monastic-style collaboration, worship, and prayer at the heart of the diocese.


3 Gardners Quay
Sandwich CT13 9DH


Sexuality and choice of language: Polari evening prayer and Living Out


From the Revd Deiniol Heywood
Sir, — The confected scandal over the Polari evening prayer at Westcott House paints the Church of England in a poor light.

Most importantly, it was allowed to overshadow the far more important scandal of abuse at Iwerne Trust. If such a news cycle had come about in the world of politics or education, conspiracy theorists would have been rushing for their keyboards.

Second, it demonstrates a predictable failure of the Bishops’ strategy to call for a “new tone”. The glee of those latching on to this episode as a means to score points and entrench factionalism demonstrates the real way in which the Church of England is in hock to the values of the world.

Third, the Principal of the college has let down his staff and students by his cringing apology. A theological college should not apologise for being a place of exploration and experimentation. A robust response from the Principal, expressing surprise that experimental liturgy was newsworthy in a theological college, might have nipped this in the bud.

This service harmed nobody and, however well-intentioned or ill-advised, has caused no lasting damage. While I was an ordinand at Westcott House, I, too, organised a service using a form of the vernacular familiar to a specific segment of the population in the early 20th century. It was holy communion according to the 1928 Prayer Book. It was an unremarkable service, but it gave rise to some interesting questions about the part played by language and tradition in worship.

This service should have done the same. Instead, the formation of a number of priests and the common life of a Christian community has been damaged by this whole unnecessary affair and the way in which it has been handled. It is the antithesis of our partnership in the gospel, which has been so enthusiastically celebrated elsewhere in the past fortnight, and a depressing moment in the life of our Church.


140 Wycombe Road
Prestwood, Great Missenden
Buckinghamshire HP16 0HJ


From the Revd Keith G. Lowe
Sir, — After attending theological college, hearing that ordinands conducted evensong according to a liturgy framed in the old “queer” slang of Polari wasn’t so surprising, especially when taking account of the college concerned; even rather entertaining. That knowledge of this in the public domain aroused some hackles, no surprise at all. But did those “in authority” have to turn it into collateral damage from friendly fire?

To try to blank the occurrence with statements such as “This was not an authorised liturgy,” seems not only to miss the target, but to fail a theological mission opportunity for the Church. Censured minorities have long devised pictorial or linguistic means to communicate among themselves in the “public domain”. Polari, I would argue, was one such, at a time when homosexuality was illegal in the UK. The “fish” symbol from early, persecuted, Christianity is another obvious example. Couldn’t someone have at least made a nod in the direction of the human cost of living with a doctrine of “It’s OK to be gay, but play it down, and don’t expect any official acknowledgement — much as we love you”?

Gay people keep being born, and they fall in love apparently — with each other, and with God, and claim to want to live accordingly in society. I do hope that the General Synod will decide soon, and clearly, whether these children are on God’s side or not. In a world that doesn’t feel nearly as safe — especially for minorities — as it did, surely we need to have our aims clear on this.


41 Ramsey Avenue
York YO23 2SQ


From Sigrid Rutishauer-James
Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 3 February) claims that, in the House of Bishops’ report, “the repeated use of ‘same-sex attracted’ is a way for the conservatives to pretend that gay people do not really exist.” I think this is very unfair.

I am glad that very many conservative Christians do now accept that not only do “same-sex-attracted” (i.e. homosexual) people exist, but that faithful Christians are among them. In living memory, this was not so.

I applaud Christians in the Living Out network for owning that same-sex attraction (homosexuality) is a fact of life for them. Their courage in being open about themselves continues to help other Christians grow in understanding. I respect the views of those whose interpretation of the Bible and personal conviction lead them to eschew a committed same-sex relationship and instead to embrace a life of celibacy.

My own views differ: by the pledges we made to one another, my civil partner and I “married” one another more than 40 years ago. It distresses me that my way of life distresses other Christian friends whose views are more conservative. Somehow, we have to find a way of living together in love despite our differences. Perhaps that begins with recognising one another’s pain? At the very least, we owe one another respect.


8 Bridge Road, Illogan
Cornwall TR16 4SA


From the Revd David Baker
Sir, — It was interesting to read the range of reactions to the Bishops’ report on the Shared Conversations. None the less, the reaction of one of the groups of Christians most affected, Living Out, was unreported in your columns.

The only mention of this brave and principled organisation was in a highly critical letter. Given that the writer plainly felt that he had suffered for his sexuality, I was saddened that he wanted to lambast other gay people in turn. Moreover, the substance of his criticism, about the term “same-sex attraction”, is surely misplaced, given that we use similar terminology to speak of heretosexual people as being attracted to the opposite gender.


The Rectory, East Dean
East Sussex BN20 0DL


Woolwich BAME elevation shouldn’t be the last


From the Revd Shemil Mathew
Sir, — In the Anglican Minority Ethnic Network (AMEN), we are pleased by the appointment of Prebendary Woyin Karowei Dorgu to be the next Bishop of Woolwich (News, 23/30 December). We congratulate Dr Dorgu and the diocese of Southwark on this decision. We have no doubt that Dr Dorgu, through his skills, experience, and background, will enrich the leadership team of Southwark diocese and add to its effectiveness in God’s mission.

AMEN has been a strong advocate for greater diversity in the senior leadership of the Church of England, primarily because we believe that it makes the Church more effective in its mission. A diverse senior leadership teams pulls experience and skills from a more diverse background, which, experience shows, makes for better teams and stronger leadership. Diversity at the very top also shows people inside and outside the Church that we are a Church for everyone.

Sadly, even with this appointment, the Church of England is still well behind where it should be on this issue. So we hope that this will be one of many. Much more needs to be done to correct the Church’s weakness in the area of ethnic diversity in leadership and redress the 20-year gap before this appointment was made.


Secretary, AMEN
The Vicarage, The Spinney
Launton OX25 6EP


Churches can help to provide WiFi ‘not-spots’


From Mr Michael Bevington
Sir, — Since 27 May 2011, when I last raised this issue in your columns, the health dangers of wireless radiation have become clearer. These include animal studies that confirm its part in promoting tumours. This requires, experts say, that WiFi and mobile-phone radiation should be re-classified upwards, from a 2B possible to a 2A probable human carcinogen.

The current government claim of no “consistent” or “convincing” evidence of harm is based on their AGNIR (Advisory Group on Non-Ionising Radiation) report of 2012. This represents the minority viewpoint that the only established danger is from heating, as proposed by Schwan in 1953, whereas most experts have long accepted harm at low levels. Dr Sarah Starkey’s peer-reviewed analysis of 2016 argued in detail that the conclusions of the AGNIR report (not peer-reviewed) were “inaccurate”.

This critique, like the growing employment of low-level wireless radiation in common medical procedures, further invalidates the outdated heating-only hypothesis.

In 2002, the ICNIRP (International Commission on Non-Ionizing Radiation Protection), which the UK Government says that it follows, warned that some people, such as “certain sensitive individuals”, were more intolerant than others of this type of radiation and needed long-term low-level safety limits, below the current six-minute heating ones. For this reason, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe voted that governments should create wireless “not-spots”.

Some individual churches are aware of this issue and have refused masts on their property. I am sure that people who are especially sensitive to wireless radiation would be grateful if the Church as a whole helped the Government to achieve this aim of wireless “not-spots”. Delivering broadband through fibre-optic cables is the answer.


Chair of Trustees, Electrosensitivity UK
4 Lower Wharf, Stratford Road
Buckingham MK18 7BF

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