Letters to the Editor

by
13 January 2017

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The sectarian spirit and the memorialising of Reformation-era martyrs

 

From Canon Judith Maltby
Sir, — As a historian of the Reformation working in Oxford, I read with interest the article by Jonathan Luxmoore on the commemoration of Reformation martyrs in Oxford (Comment, 6 January). Despite mentioning the modern memorial in the University Church, he maintains that Cranmer, Latimer, and Ridley are “the only Reformation victims officially commemorated in the city”.

In 2008 (not 2009), a memorial, striking in its simplicity, was erected to all the Reformation-era martyrs of Oxford and Oxfordshire in the University Church of St Mary the Virgin. It was unveiled by the Chancellor of the University, Lord Patten, a distinguished Roman Catholic layman. It was the brainchild of the then Lord Lieutenant, advised by Oxford’s most eminent historian of Christianity, Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch, and was inspired by a memorial with similar intentions in Eton College Chapel, erected in 2003. It honours all those, Roman Catholic and Church of England, who suffered death for their understanding of the gospel.

This other “Martyrs’ Memorial” in Oxford offers Christians a deeper reflection on the place of martyrs in our history, theology, and prayer. With respect, it does not attempt, as Mr Luxmoore says, “to declare them equal and reconciled” (that matter, surely, is in God’s hands); nor does it trivialise and relativise their convictions centuries later, as he claims. Rather, the University Church’s memorial not only invites us to identify with those of our own Christian tradition who endured suffering for shared beliefs, but confronts all Christians with our capacity to inflict suffering for our beliefs.

The “other” Martyrs’ Memorial in the University Church, with its sombre reminder of the way in which faith can motivate acts of both endurance and brutality, sets us on the right path for reflecting on this year’s commemorations of the beginning of the European Reformation.

 

JUDITH MALTBY
Corpus Christi College
Oxford OX1 4JF

 

From Revd Professor Martin Henig
Sir, — Jonathan Luxmoore’s excellent and provocative article is a timely reminder of the hatred and concomitant violence once inflicted by Christians against each other, and that not so many centuries ago. That should at least prevent any temptation to be smug when we see the current unhappy conflicts between Shia and Sunni Muslims.

Living in Oxford as I do, and attending morning prayer most days in St Mary Magdalen’s, right next to the Martyrs’ Memorial, I am constantly reminded of what happened in this city in the past. Indeed, this was one of the themes I chose to study during my ordination training.

When the Memorial was erected, St Mary Magdalen’s was an Evangelical church, but it was subsequently strongly affected by the Oxford Movement, and has long been one of the most distinguished Anglo-Catholic churches in Oxford. We pray regularly for all the Catholic martyrs of England, and, like the majority of Anglican churches in Oxford, and certainly those in the Osney Benefice, where I serve as assistant priest, we maintain very warm and friendly relations with Roman Catholics, other Christians, and, indeed, non-Christians.

If Pope Benedict XVI had visited us in Oxford, he would, I am sure, have encountered a far more ecumenical spirit than that which obtained in the early 1840s when Scott built his sectarian memorial to the Protestant martyrs alone.

 

MARTIN HENIG
Wolfson College
Oxford, OX2 6UD

 

From the Revd Dr Tim Weatherstone
Sir, — I read Jonathan Luxmoore’s reflections with interest. In 1970, aged 11, I arrived at the school from which many of the 40 Roman Catholic martyrs had been sent back to England.

Originally situated in Douai, it had in the latter 18th century sought shelter in that obscure corner of Hertfordshire, its first French home having now been overrun by hostile forces. The reflection at evening prayer was, in those early days, a short life of one of the martyrs, each recounted in all its gruesome detail, together often with the appalling acts of the frankly unhinged “priest-catcher” Richard Topcliffe. One can only speculate about the outcome our teachers were hoping for among us boys.

Having been ordained priest in the Church of England more than 35 years later, I have, perhaps, an unusual point of view concerning the Reformation martyrs. The vision of that mutual hatred has stayed very firmly with me, and accompanies me almost daily. We have all done appalling things to each other, and none of it truly in Christ’s Name.

Yet in the UK we are almost uniquely placed to enable a far-reaching marriage (utilising not a hermeneutic of reduction and exclusion, but, rather, one of mutuality and inclusion) of all that is good, wholesome, and right among all of the sacrificial Christian witness in our many denominations.

I, for one, cannot wait till, as a fully convinced Anglican priest, I am permitted to sup at the same table as my RC and other colleagues.

 

TIM WEATHERSTONE
The Rectory, The Street
Reymerston, Norwich NR9 4AG

 

Manormead residents and the home’s closure

 

From the Revd Peter Chapman
Sir, — Many concerned people have written letters since the Church of England Pensions Board announced its decision to close the Manormead Nursing Home. I am writing from within the situation, on behalf of the residents of Manormead Supported Housing (SH), some of whom have lived here for many years.

Like most people, we were bewildered by the decision to close a well-run, highly valued nursing home, with a dedicated staff — a model of progressive care for the elderly in a supportive community. We found it hard to credit that the decision should be taken without regard to the impact on ourselves, who form one community with the residents of the nursing home, sharing a building, worshipping together in the one chapel, some with deep friendships stretching over many years.

We found it especially strange that the sole reason given for the closure was concern about the safety and welfare of residents in the light of expected difficulties in staffing. We questioned why the significant sums to be invested in closure wouldn’t be better spent on solving the expected problems. We came to the conclusion that the clinical way in which the closure was planned and executed suggested that it was not an immediate response to a staffing crisis, but a long-planned response to bigger pressures, and that somewhere down the line Manormead SH was vulnerable, and that possibly the whole supported-housing programme was at risk.

On Thursday 5 January, Dr Jonathan Spencer, who chairs the Pensions Board, came to Manormead, and we were able to express our concerns directly to him. He emphasised again that the reasons for the closure were as stated. He did, however, give us the assurances we asked for, that the Board had no intention, no plans, to close Manormead SH. We were assured that the Board did not intend to mothball the buildings.

Immediately the resettlement of the residents was completed, wide consultation would begin to decide on a new use for the buildings. He assured us that the supported-houses programme was robust, with waiting lists for all seven houses, and there was no question over their future. This should relieve some anxieties for residents and relatives.

We are very grateful to the Pensions Board for the opportunity to live at Manormead. It is a very special kind of community. At the moment, we feel as the monks felt when the king turned on the monasteries. In this case, we know what damage is being done. We do not see what purpose it serves. From our close vantage point, something is being broken that does not need this kind of radical fixing.

Putting the best construction we can on the matter, the decision to close may have been made with the best of intentions, but it was made by an autonomous board that does not have to disclose its business or discuss it with any representative church body; and not even the Archbishop of Canterbury believes that he has the authority to question it, offer an opinion, or tender advice.

Whatever judgement one makes on the resulting decision itself, the hurt and dismay caused, the damage to trust, and the credibility of the Church must go into the account. Lessons must be learnt from this as we move on and work to redeem the situation.

 

PETER CHAPMAN
Flat 10 Manormead Supported Housing
Tilford Road, Hindhead
Surrey GU26 6RA

 

Fleshing out Anglican church-growth statistics

 

From the Revd Peter Varney
Sir, — The picture of global Anglicanism given by the Revd Dr David Goodhew (Features, 6 January) made mention of significant growth in some Anglo-Catholic Provinces. Perhaps an example from Malaysian Borneo, another area of rapid growth, can make the statistics more interesting.

On 3 December last year, the ninth annual Christmas parade was held in Miri, one of Sarawak’s major cities, with the theme “Peace on Earth”. The Anglican Church was one of 15 taking part; the crowd was estimated at 45,000. Christmas processions start with worship in a stadium and then a parade of floats through the town.

During my own engagement with Iban Anglicans, beginning in 1958 and continuing to the present day, as I first read the archives held by USPG, the frustrations of the long history were all too apparent. In 1968, when I was serving as an Anglican priest in Sarawak, it seemed unlikely that any significant turning by Iban to Christianity would be seen.

An explosive growth in the Anglican Church was experienced during the last decades of the 20th century, and is continuing today. Participating in Anglo-Catholic forms of worship provides an experience that resonates with traditional rituals. The censuses taken between 1947 and 2010 indicate that the indigenous population almost quadrupled, but the number identifying themselves as Christian increased by more than 20 times, from 3.7 per cent to 76.3 per cent.

Today, the majority of Sarawak’s indigenous people identify themselves as Christian. The key factors have been the work of local people: first, as catechists and teachers, and then as bishops, together with self-support and self-propagation. Most parishes have home groups. Modern communication also plays its part, and the Facebook pages of Anglican church leaders have became popular places to explore and discuss Christianity.

The identity of the Church can now be reconceptualised. From being an institution related to the colonial Church, and the pre-war Brooke government, it is now related to the wider Anglican Communion, and to other Churches in South-East Asia. This story needs to be heard.

 

PETER VARNEY
280 The Pavilion
Norwich, NR1 3SN

 

Confirmation before communion in the law of the Church in Wales

 

From the Revd Professor Thomas Glyn Watkin
Sir, — The Church in Wales Book of Common Prayer, enacted by various canons, declares that confirmation is a rite, and its rubrics provide that confirmation is generally necessary to receive holy communion. The Church’s constitution provides that alterations to rites and discipline may be made only by canon.

The Welsh Bishops wish to allow those who have been baptised to receive the sacrament without need of confirmation. They are attempting to do this by pastoral letter, without any authorisation by canon. The Archbishop has written in this paper (Letters, 25 November) that the change makes confirmation “a service of response and commitment to God’s grace given at baptism and at the eucharist for those who want to make such a commitment”. Baptism, as both he and the Bishop of Swansea & Brecon (Letters, 6 January) state, is to be the full rite of Christian initiation. Confirmation is to become an optional extra. Is not this an alteration to the rite and to the existing discipline?

When the Church of England relaxed its rules on admission to holy communion, it did so by Measure and canon. The Welsh Bishops state that they have legal advice assuring them that the “step does not require any change in the present Canon Law or Constitution of the Church in Wales”. A polite request to make public that legal advice met with an equally polite refusal. That the alteration is controversial is clear from recent correspondence in these columns (Letters, 14 October and 23/30 December). The procedure for enacting canons exists precisely to ensure that potentially controversial changes are subjected to scrutiny, deliberation, and debate by all orders within the Church. Regardless of one’s views regarding Christian initiation, respect is due to the inclusiveness of such decision-making.

The Bishop of Swansea & Brecon wrote of baptism as “birth into a family wherein all are welcome to be nourished by the sacramental family meal at the family table”. The Bishops’ actions make it plain that, once at the table, unless they are in episcopal orders, God’s children are to be seen but not heard.

 

THOMAS GLYN WATKIN
49 Cyncoed Road
Penylan, Cardiff CF23 5SB

 

Cold comfort in response to plea on behalf of EU nationals in the UK

 

From the Revd John-Francis Friendship
Sir, — Like many people, I am aware of the serious plight of European Union nationals resident in our country at this time. Consequently, I wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister at the beginning of December, urging her, as someone who has publicly affirmed her Christian faith, to “do the right thing and unilaterally declare that, no matter what other countries might fail to do, we, as a nation conscious of its civilised heritage, will grant all members of the EU living in the UK at the time of Brexit equal rights with our own citizens.” In a space of four days, this gained the support of one hundred Anglican religious, deacons, priests, and bishops, whose names were appended to the letter.

Two weeks ago, I received a reply from Mrs May’s Communications Officer saying that our letter was being passed to the Department for Exiting the EU. As it had been a personal appeal to Mrs May, a fellow Anglican, I was deeply saddened by the fact she had not responded to our concerns.

I have now written to her once more, but still await a reply. In view of the uncertain, insecure, and sometimes frightening situation that many resident members of the EU are experiencing, I have been asked to make public the fact that Mrs May has not replied to our request that the Government show compassion to them.

 

JOHN-FRANCIS FRIENDSHIP
22 The Old Fire Station
1 Eaglesfield Road
London SE18 3BT

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