Estate ministry and conditions in tower blocks
From Canon Joe Hasler
Sir, — I was fascinated by Claire Jones’s article (Comment, 7 July) on short-term-ministry teams, especially alongside your cover line: “here today, gone tomorrow, on the estates”. I have recently retired from estate ministry. Seventeen years were as a community development worker, spent in five three-plus-year projects. The other 25 years were as a priest in three housing-estate parishes.
In the community work, as an interventionist, I helped people living there to grow and develop their own projects. As a parish priest, I found that helping people develop their own locality and congregation was very different. I ask myself why this should be the case.
Of course, there are many contributing factors; but I would like to highlight two.
In many dioceses, housing-estate parishes are distributed widely across many deaneries. I think the idea may be to spread the burden of supporting these poorer congregations. The outcome of this is that the voice of substantial numbers of working-class people is diluted as a minority among the several parishes representing professional or managerial suburb inhabitants in each deanery.
Second, what purports to be “leadership development” in the community-development task is mostly learned on the job. Centred on ordained ministry, churches have this myth that so-called leader development requires some theology from the outset. To suggest that it can be learned on the job is almost as tantamount to blasphemy as Jesus’s choosing fishermen, tax-collectors, and the like.
Attempts to change the status quo reveal a weddedness to an academic culture that is unbelievable. It is as if human be(com)ings are unable to learn anything without a book. It doesn’t have to be like this. We could have non-geographical deaneries based on similar mission fields. We could have learning schemes based on our experience, but with respect for scripture and tradition.
All this is possible, but the Church will insist on making life difficult for itself.
12 Lower James Street
Argoed NP12 0HW
From the Revd Larry Wright
Sir, — Most of the first generation of high-rise tower blocks have reached or exceeded their planned lifespan. Despite various attempts at renewal or renovation, the majority are in poor condition in comparison with new social-housing standards and models; hence the tragedy of Grenfell Tower.
I visit older tower blocks with a mixture of pity and outrage at the conditions that tenants have to endure. In our more economically challenged areas, certain blocks are virtually mini-ghettos of squalor, anti-social behaviour, and crime; and yet families with children are now regularly housed in the upper floors of such tower blocks — families who are usually on low incomes, newly arrived, and with little or no choice where they will be housed.
Other blocks have flats managed by private companies with Home Office contracts to house asylum-seekers. They make huge profits from taxpayers’ money while offering only basic living conditions; these companies are unaccountable to local authorities.
Most families would rather be anywhere else than a high-rise flat, but, owing to the policies of central government, over many years, the ability of local authorities to build new, decent social housing has been drastically curtailed.
Is it time to think the unthinkable? Demolish all older tower blocks and replace with new, low-rise social housing as a partnership between local/central government and private builders.
This will require determined political will and substantial public and private funding. Without such a bold programme of renewal, the social cost to residents and the inexorably rising costs of maintaining these older blocks will cast a shadow over us for another generation.
81 The Green, Kings Norton
Birmingham B38 8RU
Synod debates and the Bishop Armes letter
From the Archdeacon of Man
Sir, — I voted for the Church to welcome and affirm transgendered people, and, after reflecting on the difficulties around re-baptism, I voted for the original motion and its call for the development of liturgies of welcome.
I wasn’t, however, called to speak to make an important point that I didn’t hear being made: in my pastoral ministry I am aware of the bewilderment and pain that can be felt by those who are the children and spouses or former spouses, or wider family, of the individuals whose gender dysphoria drives them on their challenging journey to a new gender identity.
In pastoral care and even in new liturgies, how can the Church best be resourced to recognise the part that the children and family play in this new birth into their true selves for their loved ones?
16 Devonshire Road
Douglas IM2 3RB
From Dr Christopher Shell
Sir, — The recent Synod votes give the message that to do something as relatively minor as changing one’s desires (or even desiring to do so) is scandalous and should not be allowed; and yet simultaneously to go the whole hog and change one’s entire gender is positively to be applauded.
This clear failure (or double-failure?) of logic can at least be diagnosed, since the only thing that both decisions have in common is their bang-up-to-date cultural conformity. Not by coincidence, cultural conformity is exactly the culprit these measures’ opponents had already identified.
186 Ellerdine Road
Middlesex TW3 2PX
From Mr Alan Bartley
Sir, — In the first edition of his Retreat to Commitment, Dr William Bartley, disciple of Karl Popper and later professor at the Hoover Institute, Stamford University, disclosed a discussion with his fellow teachers of religion which led them to conclude that, in terms of the Living God of the Bible of previous generations, they were atheists or, at best, deists, for all their philosophical beliefs and ideas about God.
In accepting Jayne Ozanne’s motion against “so-called” “conversion therapy”, those supporting her have similarly disclosed that they, too, rule out any idea of a Living God who as Lord of creation might just intervene during such “conversion therapy”, resulting in the impossible actually happening.
17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD
From Canon J. Michael Thompson
Sir, — It is hardly surprising that Susie Leafe and her co-signatories (Letters, 7 July) are less than overjoyed by the invitation issued to the Bishop of Edinburgh to be the honoured guest of the General Synod. To suggest, however, that their attendance at the Synod is of itself an endorsement of any particular view is surely wide of the mark, and the charge that the Archbishops have placed those of their viewpoint in an invidious position is neither just nor accurate.
In the present climate of opinion, it is understandable that those who signed the letter would take the view that same-sex marriage is a matter of conscience that, for them and a great many more, is not adiaphora. To add to that statement of position the clause “and never can be” is suggestive of a finality of judgement which is not open to further inspiration, human or divine.
The inference that there are General Synod members who have “closed minds”, or perhaps closed hearts, is, at best, disappointing.
2 Woodside Avenue
Northumberland NE45 5EL
From Canon David Banting
Sir, — Am I alone (on my return from the General Synod to my home church) in having to confirm, explain, and justify why there was booing for conservative speakers at the very start of the Synod in York?
I had left on Friday asking the church family here to pray for the Synod over the four days — above all, for grace to prevail. I gather it had been a normal busy Sunday, with two other staff members away helping another church with a youth weekend, while on the Monday it had been business as usual with the first of our mum-and-toddler groups’ end-of-term parties.
Leaders had been following the Synod prayerfully, but were shocked at the ungraciousness of so much of the atmosphere. They noticed what came over as the hostility of the “liberal” majority, the casual asides and slurs on conservatives, the too quick dismissal of more traditional concerns for the scriptures, and the Lordship and uniqueness of Christ, or requests for greater nuance and evidence. And I received similar questions and concerns when I came to open emails from friends in other parts of the country.
Am I alone in seeing a tyranny in this new liberal and cultural majority? If the “fabric is being torn” and the Church divided, triggering inevitable expressions of protest and reaction, who is driving the wedge?
15 Athelstan Road
Romford RM3 0QB
Parish priests: drama and article touch a chord
From the Revd Rob Yeomans
Sir, — I should like to thank the Bishop of Jarrow, the Rt Revd Mark Bryant, for the article about Broken (Comment, 7 July) and you for publishing it. Sean Bean certainly deserves acclaim for superb acting as Fr Kerrigan. Praise is also due to Jimmy McGovern, the writer; Colin McKeown and Donna Molloy, the producers; and Ashley Pearce, the director. Together with the actors, their attention to minute detail was astounding.
My experience in the East End and Waterloo, in London, found me reflecting on my own ministry time and again, as Fr Kerrigan walked the Emmaus road with one troubled person after another. His understanding of the issues raised left me reeling, and his cool-headed responses and times of personal self-doubt and spiritual questioning left me in tears, as much for myself as for the character portrayed. The isolation experienced by many priests, the loneliness and the rejection, was sensitively portrayed.
Bishop Bryant’s article and the programme itself might suggest that such a scenario is found only in the poorer parts of our inner cities. I was taught such skills as I have, however, by my training incumbent, who had spent much of his ministry in Africa. He taught me to practise those skills in rural Shropshire, where, despite the idyllic setting, the underlying issues are similar to those in Broken. Fifty years on, I find in my retirement ministry in a remote part of rural Cornwall that the skills are just as relevant.
It may not put “bums on pews” (although sometimes it does), but the often hidden sacrificial ministry of many priests still, thank God, continues. What makes that unseen and unsung ministry the harder is the changes in the role of the parish priest to “oversight minister” and administrator of multiple communities with only a slender chance, or scant time, to relate in depth.
The training of lay pastoral ministers rooted in local community is much to be commended. “Oversight” and administration can, and maybe should, be done by lay people, however, allowing the priests to be the pastors, engaging intimately in community, seeking the “broken”, and walking with them.
And thank you to Fr Kerrigan for lighting the candle “to remind us that Christ is here”.
The White Barn
Cornwall PL15 8LY
From the Revd Keith Crocker
Sir, — Thank you for the article on Broken, which does indeed demonstrate the value of unspectacular but life-giving ministry. I particularly identified with those priests who talked about just being there for people in a crisis when a listening ear was needed. They talked about how this was time-consuming, because trust had to be developed, but that it rarely led to an increase in church attendance. I certainly found that as a parish priest.
External sources might be looking for numerical church growth, but the incarnational growth into the lives of local people is more difficult to measure.
This drama and your article need to be put alongside the General Synod’s debate on clergy stress.
14 Kent Avenue
Great Yarmouth NR31 7LX
Hear Bishop Bryant discuss Broken and “unspectacular” ministry on the Church Times Podcast here
Lack of support after Bishops’ Advisory Panel
From Dr Terry J. Wright
Sir, — After the article “Call on hold” (Petertide Ordinations, 7 July), I should like to ask what diocesan support structures are in place for anyone who is not recommended for ordination training.
It is almost four years since my own non-recommendation, and I have not been offered, or received, any form of post-BAP support from my diocese, or any guidance on how to proceed. The discernment process is far too intense, and a non-recommendation too disorientating and upsetting, for all diocesan attention suddenly to be removed.
In my case, the unexpected and abrupt withdrawal of diocesan support resulted in an emotional breakdown that even today negatively affects my sense of vocation and purpose. Is my experience common?
TERRY J. WRIGHT
36 Ashurst Close
Anerley, London SE20 8LY
Methodist Conference and the NCCOP letter
From the Revd David Haslam
Sir, — It is quite invidious of the Council of Christians and Jews to state that the recent Methodist Conference “rejected” the letter written by the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) to the World Council of Churches (News, 7 July).
The letter was sent from the very recent June meeting of the NCCOP, which represents some 30 Christian groups, and it was agreed that there was insufficient time for the Conference to study it, and so the question should not be put. It was neither accepted nor rejected.
The letter came in the context of the centenary of the Balfour Declaration, which many feel has led to the painful consequences of today’s Palestine/Israel situation. The British signally failed to protect the rights of the Palestinians, as stated in Balfour, and this has led to today’s shocking inequity.
59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG