Contemporary church conflict is stress-related
From the Revd Dr Sean Cathie
Sir, — Tracey Byrne’s letter (8 December) helpfully draws our attention to the fact that a wide range of church members feel that their understanding of faith and discipleship is under threat. I agree with her that this phenomenon is “telling us all something that we have yet to discern” (my italics).
It eludes our understanding, I suggest, because we usually view it in terms of being for or against a particular expression of discipleship, often expressed in partisan terms. If we focus on the sense of threat instead, as she suggests, and the variety of people and groups who feel this, we could gain a fresh perspective on our situation.
I would suggest that what all these groups have in common, and what we all, in fact, share, is the uncomfortable experience of being people of faith in an unbelieving society. Yvonne Warren, in her research into the state of the clergy, The Cracked Pot, 2002, linked their high levels of stress with the marginalising of the Church within society, the divisions of opinion within the Church, unrealistic expectations, and a felt lack of leadership. (As she noted, the difficulty for leaders is to share a vision with a group who are pulling in different directions.)
One thing that could make a difference to our sense of threat would be to recognise the demoralising effect that society’s indifference to our values has on us all. The threat exists on two levels. Practically, there are the falling numbers and the struggle for most churches to keep the show on the road. Less visible but very costly is the strain and anxiety of seeing what is precious to oneself being treated with indifference.
It is this less visible aspect of discipleship which is mostly unacknowledged when church leaders launch new initiatives to respond to the statistics. This matters, because it aggravates the strain that many feel rather than lessens it. If this source of strain could be acknowledged and discussed, the element of threat would then be lessened, and the real challenge could be faced and explored. This would be hard work, but transformative.
In this situation, it is easier to gain some relief by attacking other groups inside or outside the Church. But since these are not the real source of the threat, such attacks provide only temporary relief, and fuel the indifference of those outside the Church. Meanwhile, the real threat or challenge remains.
Fundamental to meeting this, I suggest, will be our shared acceptance that the days of Christendom, and the use of force to ensure compliance, did not lead to authentic faith. Our challenge is to learn humbly how to live out faith in a diverse culture and support each other in doing so.
Hereford HR2 8RX
Increasing usefulness of church administrators
From Mr Kevin Lawrence
Sir, — It is encouraging to see the vital part played by church administrators being featured in your pages (News, 1 December). On behalf of UCAN (UK Church Administrators Network), may I endorse many of the recommendations of the featured report, 21st Century Stewards?
With an interdenominational and national network of more than 1300 parish administrators, of which more than 200 have managerial roles similar to those that the report describes, UCAN offers specialist training, networking, and resources to encourage excellence in administration in the local church.
Our members, from Anglican and other churches, both large and small, not only take on many of the behind-the-scenes tasks that release the ministry of others, but also themselves play a significant part in allowing churches to fulfil their mission.
From producing orders of service to managing staff; answering the phone to overseeing parish finances; dealing with burial enquiries to taking bookings for the parish hall (to name but a few), UCAN administrators and managers provide a varied and vital service. We would encourage every church to consider seriously encouraging excellence in administration through the appointment of an administrator or operations manager, and would be pleased to work with those doing so.
Your report mentioned the need for a formal qualification in church administration. We are pleased to say that, in partnership with St John’s College, Nottingham, UCAN offers a fully accredited distance-learning course that has been running successfully for years.
For more information about UCAN, please visit www.churchadministrators.net.
27 Old Gloucester Street
London WC1N 3AX
Mission and growth flow from the eucharist
From the Archdeacon of Newark
Sir, — I was encouraged to read of the report on Anglican Catholic church growth (News, 8 December) and the article by Tim Thorlby (Comment, same issue).
A parish in the Catholic tradition will see its primary mission flowing from the eucharist, the centre of Christian life and witness, given to us by Jesus and at the core of the life of the earliest sisters and brothers. As the Church, we are the Eucharistic People, the People of the Thanksgiving, who are sent out to “proclaim the word and works of God”.
Ensuring that the community eucharistic celebration is vibrant and inclusive is a key part of the task of priest and lay leader. Key to that vibrancy is, primarily, understanding well what riches we have. While, inevitably, this means the need for good ordained leadership, nothing should suggest that lay leaders are not vital to this, too. Indeed, much of the growth that we have experienced in places where I have been in ministry has come because of lay initiative and leadership, and I have learned greatly from that.
My experience both personally in ministry and with colleagues in On Fire Mission (www.onfiremission.org) is that the findings sound right. We have riches at our disposal within the tradition of the Church which will speak to people’s lives and, by God’s grace, may lead to their coming to faith. Our task is to be prepared to open those riches in an accessible way that includes developing new worshipping communities and embraces a preferential option for the poor.
What will always be the challenge for the Church is how people might find joy and fulfilment in the sacramental life of the Body of Christ when they have been introduced in other less attractive ways; but that is our opportunity, and need not be a barrier.
I am encouraged by the increasing interchange between people who have come to know Christ through various routes. The love of scripture and the expression of sacrament should come together in the best of all traditions. I am immensely thankful for the devotion and insight I gain from those who would identify themselves as Evangelical, and for the way in which they have shown the potential for church growth. I know from experience that the sacramental tradition can lead into growth, too, and I am thankful for many I know in parish ministry currently who are examples of this.
Of course, those engaged in research will know that they could have found other stories to encourage beyond London and Southwark. I hope we all accept their findings for what they seek to be: the prompting to further reflection and subsequent action.
22 Rufford Road, Edwinstowe
Nottinghamshire NG21 9HY
Hereford screen’s context differs from Norwich’s
From Mr Richard Willmott
Sir, — As someone who was many years ago a lay clerk at Norwich Cathedral and who now worships at Hereford Cathedral, perhaps I may respond to Canon Peter Doll’s view of Hereford from the Close at Norwich (Letters, 1 December).
The first point to make is that the medieval stone screen at Hereford which the Scott screen replaced was under the western arch of the tower, with the choir stalls directly under the tower (which had a lower internal vault). This provided a larger space for services in the choir (albeit by no means as large as that at Benedictine Norwich, where the screen is two bays to the west of the tower).
The Scott screen, however, was under the eastern tower arch, and today would divide the weekday evensong congregation, since there are frequently more people than there is room for in the small choir.
The second point is that our nave is much shorter than Norwich’s (even more so since the end of the 18th century, when the western tower fell down, shortening the nave by a bay). Consequently, the choir would have to sing from beyond the screen to fit everyone in at the Sunday eucharist, given the size of the current congregation.
The corona that has replaced the screen demarcates the sacred space around the central altar beautifully, while enabling choir and congregation to be united around the altar, both visually undivided and fittingly joined in worship. The Dean of Hereford is right (Features, 17 November): the Scott screen looks magnificent at the V&A, and there it should remain!
37 Hafod Road
Hereford HR1 1SQ
Missing the glory that gilds the sacred page
From Mr David Lamming
Sir, — It was depressing, but perhaps only to be expected from the Daily Mail, that its online report of the Scripture Union’s 150th-anniversary service of celebration last week, attended by the Queen, focused on what Her Majesty was wearing (with no fewer than eight photographs), reporting that she “looked vibrant in pink”; also that the singer Katherine Jenkins “looked chic in blue velvet” and “added a touch of glamour with a pair of heeled court shoes”.
The only indication of what the service was celebrating was the sentence: “Scripture Union (SU) is a Christian charity that invites children and young people to explore the religion.” Little wonder, then, that there is increasing ignorance of the central message of the Christian gospel, as shown by statistics revealing that many people now do not know the true meaning of Christmas.
At least the report in the Daily Express quoted the Revd Tim Hastie-Smith (national director of the SU) in saying that it was “a thrill” for the Queen to be at the service “with a whole load of children and people celebrating God’s love”, and this sentence from the address given by the Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler: “Helping children and adults encounter the God who is love in Jesus, has always meant helping people read or listen to, meditate on and respond to, the scriptures.”
Sadly, though, the service was wholly ignored by other newspapers.
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU
How analogies work
From Mr David Willis
Sir, — Your correspondent, Ted Harrison (Faith, 17 November), seeks to remove using sheep as illustrations in Christian teaching because he sees facts relating to the sheep which do not accord with the teaching. Perhaps he would not have these problems if he paid attention to the word he uses: analogies.
No analogy is perfect. If it were, it would be the very thing it illustrates. When using analogies, we take the relevant ideas to assist our understanding. The other items do not detract from this.
24 Old Hall Lane
Walton-on-the-Naze CO14 8LE
LETTERS intended for publication in the Christmas double issue should reach the Church Times office by noon, Monday 18 December.