Letters to the Editor

by
17 March 2017

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The Sheffield affair and the package deal that enabled women to be bishops

 

From Mr Tom Sutcliffe
Sir, — I, with a good many others who supported women’s ordination, accepted when we voted against the women-bishops Measure in 2012 that we would be vilified and misunderstood for our vote. Our concern was the continuing life of a beloved Anglican Church none of whose individual bits can claim a monopoly of wisdom or certainty about order, sacraments, gender, sex, or anything else. Philip North having baulked at taking Whitby in that same year, Sheffield now may be unsurprising.

But it gives an opportunity to think again about the over-used term “focus of unity”. Good and successful leaders, not necessarily the same thing among ordained ranks as among secular, are often hated and even rejected by many of their inescapable following. If they become or can act as a “focus of unity”, it is often circumstantial or accidental. To be a “focus of unity” is a target, and a healthy one, but almost never something with which you start if promoted.

The idea that someone by their nature is already an effective focus of unity is simply ridiculous. Time will tell, and time does many surprising things. The target of becoming a focus of unity is in God’s hands: a consequence of, and not a qualification for, answering a calling. Being that focus is accepting a role (not a job) in whose interpretation the individual exercises only partial control.

Let us value the example of Pope Francis in accepting and understanding opposition to teaching and providing firm leadership on vital issues. If we cannot have appropriate unity in our own Church on promises that we made to each other, what hope is there of ecumenical responsiveness in a world that is fraught more than ever with nonsense and lies?

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No doubt, things will work out, and we must have faith. But I do regret Bishop North’s decision. Action to remedy the damage is called for. The next Bishop of Sheffield must certainly be, come what may, a non-ordainer of women. Otherwise, the Measure and the words about “mutual flourishing” will have been overridden by practice.

 

TOM SUTCLIFFE
67 Stanthorpe Road
London SW16 2EA

 

From Mrs Sue Johns
Sir, — I have never questioned that the three orders of priesthood should be open to all humankind, and always voted for inclusivity while on General Synod. I believe, however, that our Church will retain its credibility and integrity only if it is true to its word.

The process to appoint a new bishop is well rehearsed, and gathers together a group of people who collectively are representative and wise. They prayerfully deliberate, discern, and decide whom God has called. As someone close to me once said about the possibility of being invited to take on a particular episcopal role, “It’s not one I want or wish for, but, if called, I will be obedient.”

I was present and voted on the legislation to allow women to be bishops. I count many of them as close personal friends, and joyfully celebrate their callings and ministries. What convinced me to vote positively was the assurance that there would be mutual flourishing, which was and remains something precious to me.

Today, I feel betrayed, but I also feel complicit in that act of betrayal.

I want to belong to a Church that values and cherishes everyone equally. It doesn’t feel like that at present.

 

SUE JOHNS
8 Dragonfly Lane
Norwich NR4 7JR

 

From the Ven. Norman Russell
Sir, — In the General Synod debate of July 2005 which requested the House of Bishops to work on proposals that would eventually lead to the ordination of women as bishops, many of us who supported this development also spoke of the importance of making it possible for those with principled theological objections to remain in the Church of England with a good conscience and to flourish.

Among many excellent speeches, Canon Jim Wellington, supporting the motion, said: “we must . . . proceed in a spirit of generosity. . . The tyranny of the majority is not an option for those who gather at the altar or communion table.”

In a similar spirit, the Rt Revd Richard Harries said: “I want to make it possible for people like Bishop Andrew of Ebbsfleet . . . , Fr Jonathan Baker . . . , or lay people like John Hanks . . . to remain within the Church of England.” My amendment to facilitate their con­tinued inclusion was carried.

When the enabling legislation was finally passed and accompanied by the House of Bishops’ carefully worded Declaration and Disputes Resolution Procedure, many of us felt that what Synod voted for in 2005 had been honoured. It is very disappointing that, so soon after the first episcopal ordinations of women, pressures have led to the withdrawal of Bishop North from accepting the see of Sheffield.

Sadly, it is now more difficult for traditional and conservative Anglicans, committed to the established teaching of the Church and the Church’s received understanding of scripture, not just to survive in the Church of England, but believe that they can flourish. This is unlikely to be helpful when addressing the challenges ahead.

 

NORMAN RUSSELL
(Prolocutor, Province of Canterbury, 2005-10)
47A Theobalds Way
Frimley
Camberley GU16 9RF

 

From the Dean of York, Dr Paula Gooder, and Margaret Swinson
Sir, — As members of the group that worked on the legislation for women’s consecration to the episcopate, we would like to make a couple of observations in the light of recent events.

The simple legislation was able to be as simple as it was because of the package of other supporting material put forward by the House of Bishops. The Five Guiding Principles are a part of that package, and were a genuine attempt, underpinned by theological reflection on the often paradoxical ecclesiology of the Church of England, to find a way for people of very different views to live well together with love, compassion, and respect.

The problem, however, is that they are, as their name suggests, “principles”. All principles need work to be applied in practice, and the more important a principle, the more vital it is that time and energy are put into thinking through its practical outworking.

If the Five Guiding Principles have a future, and we sincerely hope that they have, we need to commit ourselves to ongoing and careful theological reflection on what they mean in practice, not least in the appointment of a diocesan bishop.

 

VIVIENNE FAULL, PAULA GOODER, MARGARET SWINSON (Lay Canon)
c/o Church House, Ogleforth
York YO1 7JN

 

From Janet Morley
Sir, — The Bishop of Maidstone warns that the Church should take urgent action to demonstrate the effectiveness of the House of Bishops Declaration rather than simply “give in to those who hounded Philip North out of office”. As a lay person in Sheffield, I feel that this is an unfair characterisation of what just happened in our diocese. I wonder whether it is, rather, the Declaration itself that needs urgent attention, since its outworkings on the ground here have proved so unhappy.

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The local public debate has, in fact, been measured. Careful distinctions have been made between the undoubted gifts of the Bishop-designate and the problems caused for many by the theological position he adopts. Interest (and astonishment) about this went much wider than just the Church. Feelings ran high, but a local newspaper, The Star, could not find any opponents of the appointment who wished to speak in any way negatively about Bishop North himself.

Many individuals wrote directly to him, but copied our letters to the Archbishop and the Suffragan. If some people who wrote privately were deliberately wounding in their remarks, this is very much to be condemned.

Of course, there were different responses to the news of the nomination, but there was a huge immediate sense of shock among a great many women clergy and the parishes served by them; we felt completely unprepared. I gather that those who met to consider the needs of the see during the vacancy spent a good deal of time discussing whether the diocese was ready to receive a woman bishop, and concluded, in the interests of diocesan unity, that we were not.

No one apparently envisaged the scenario that a diocesan bishop would be appointed who would not ordain women to the priesthood, and who would be unable to commend, or himself receive, sacraments celebrated in many parishes within his diocese. Had the matter been discussed, it seems more than likely that the diocesan profile would have included a parallel statement that we were not ready for a traditionalist either.

 

JANET MORLEY
77 Meersbrook Park Road
Sheffield S8 9FP

 

From Mr Philip Johanson
Sir, — The six people elected from the Sheffield Vacancy-in-See Committee joined the Crown Nominations Commission to pray and work together in discerning the will of God for a new Bishop of Sheffield. I assume that those who called for Bishop North to withdraw his acceptance will now be calling for that group to resign, in the belief that they were not guided by the Holy Spirit and that they made the wrong nomination.

 

PHILIP JOHANSON
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth
Dorset BH6 3PN

 

From the Revd Neil Patterson and eight others
Sir, — We wish to express our sorrow at the situation surrounding the nomination to the see of Sheffield. Many questions might be asked about the process that led to the nomination, and the range of subsequent responses to it from different perspectives; but we regret greatly that the question of the suitability of Bishop Philip North for the diocese has now been resolved in the worst way possible.

We wish to register our ongoing commitment to the concept of mutual flourishing for different convictions within the C of E— a concept embodied in the Five Guiding Principles endorsed by the Synod in 2014. We will continue to pray for Sheffield diocese, Bishop North, and all affected by this situation.

 

NEIL PATTERSON, ANDREW DOTCHIN, JAYNE OZANNE, GILES GODDARD, JAY GREENE, CHRISTINA BARON, ANDREW FORESHEW-CAIN, ROBERT COTTON, JENNY HUMPHREYS
The Committee of the General Synod Human Sexuality Group
c/o East Wing, Buckland
Docklow, Leominster HR6 0RU

 

From the Archdeacon of London and the Archdeacon for the Two Cities
Sir, — When it is asked whether mutual flourishing is possible, we might look around to see where it is happening. The bitter irony of Bishop Philip North’s withdrawal from Sheffield is that his ministry provides such a wealth of examples. Here in London, the two of us work together in one archdeaconry in a unique arrangement founded on the Five Guiding Principles.

Perhaps members of both our “constituencies” may feel we have compromised, but we have not. We have simply refused to step out of the mainstream and insisted that, while there are some things we can’t do together, they are far fewer than the things we can. Both of us are Archdeacon for everyone, and in all things.

It is not only that we can entirely support each other in non-sacramental things (though we can and do), but that a Catholic can say that grace is indubitably ministered by his sister. It is just that he cannot say that he is sure that it is ministered when she celebrates the sacraments. She regrets that, and thinks him wrong, but recognises his view as one the Church honours as loyally Anglican.

We reject both the idea that some should be pushed out, and any thought of leaving. The essence of Catholicism is to stand with others in a genuine inclusivity that has the temerity to share with those with whom we disagree. The essence of liberalism is to engage with others without demanding the imposition of unanimity. To walk away would be to disown ourselves.

 

LUKE MILLER
ROSEMARY LAIN-PRIESTLEY
The Archdeaconry Office
The Old Deanery, Dean’s Court
London EC4V 5AA

 

From Dr Peter Southwood
Sir, — I had the privilege of working under Fr Philip North in Camden and saw, at first hand, how a succession of women were encouraged to fulfil their vocations by seeking ordination to the priesthood, notwithstanding his own theological position on this matter. It was, therefore, a reassurance to me that female clergy spoke out in his favour when objections were raised to his Sheffield appointment.

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Now that Bishop Philip has withdrawn his initial acceptance of the nomination, I can only hope and pray that those clergy who are mainly responsible for this will one day see the light and convert from religious politics to Christ.

 

PETER SOUTHWOOD
110 Purves Road
London NW10 5TB

 

The C of E Bishops’ approach to safeguarding

 

From the Church of England National Safeguarding Adviser
Sir, — David Greenwood’s article (Comment, 10 March) on how the Church responds to allegations of non-recent sexual assaults by clergy on children and vulnerable adults recognises the importance of listening to survivors, offering support, and acting on their allegations. We totally support this.

His claim, however, that “The House of Bishops shows no sign of being willing to adopt a centralised and more corporate approach” to safeguarding is unjustified, ignoring as it does the many significant steps taken recently to promote good safeguarding practice more consistently throughout the Church.

In particular, the House has been engaged in an extensive revision and extension of its nationally applicable guidance and has supported the imposition (by the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016) of a duty on all bishops, clergy, churchwardens, and PCCs to have “due regard” to that guidance — with the result that those concerned must act in accordance with it, unless they have cogent reasons for not doing so.

More widely, with the support of the House of Bishops, during the past three years the Church of England has undertaken a significant strengthening of the framework surrounding safeguarding.

That has included an increase in its national resourcing (the National Safeguarding Team having gone from half a post to eight posts during this period); the introduction of a national training and development framework to outline expectations across the whole Church in respect of safeguarding training and its content; the commissioning of a national programme of independent safeguarding audits for all dioceses; the making of regulations governing the appointment and functions of Diocesan Safeguarding Advisers; and a range of other legislative changes to strengthen our powers to respond to safeguarding concerns (including the extension of powers of bishops to suspend clergy or require them to undergo an independent risk assessment).

In all this, our commitment to listening to the voices and experiences of survivors, and to engaging openly and well in the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, remain strong as we seek to learn and improve our safeguarding responses both nationally and across all dioceses and parishes.

 

GRAHAM TILBY
Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3NZ

 

Yemen and its ‘internationally recognised leader’

 

From Mr C. J. Ryecart
Sir, — I take issue with Gerald Butt in his use of the term “internationally recognised leader” of Yemen in his report on the Saudi-led war on Yemen (News, 17 February).

The person to whom he is referring is Mr Hadi, who ceased to be the legitimate ruler of Yemen when his term ended on 25 February 2014. As I pointed out (Letters, 2 September 2016), the democratic elections in Yemen that were mandated at the end of his term by the UNSC and by the GCC never took place, and he ruled illegally until February 2015.

Mr Hadi then fled to Saudi Arabia to gain Saudi support to re-instate him. The Saudi response was to launch an illegal war against Yemen which the US and Britain supported, not because Mr Hadi had any further claim to be a legitimate leader of Yemen but because they stood to gain financially from arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

In this way the US and Britain became complicit in “recognising a fraud that has no legal basis in constitutional rights” (Abdulaziz Al-Baghdadi, former legal adviser to the Ministry of the Interior, Yemen) and thereby complicit also in helping to sustain Saudi’s war on Yemen, which has turned the country into a graveyard and left 90 per cent of its population on the brink of starvation.

By supporting the Saudi-led coalition, the US and Britain have become complicit in war crimes in Yemen which have killed thousands of innocent civilians, including masses of children, in destroying the civilian infrastructure of the country, and in turning Yemen into another failed state.

There will be no legitimate internationally recognisable leader of Yemen until the UN’s planned free and fair elections are implemented.

 

CHRISTOPHER JOHN RYECART
Weinberg 4, Kefermarkt 4292
Austria

 

Couples and their banns

 

From Dr Bernard Palmer
Sir, — I read with interest and appreciation your extracts from the General Synod speech of the Team Rector of Witham, Canon Sally Lodge, on the subject of banns of marriage (Synod, 17 February).

Here at St Nicolas’s, Witham, the publishing of banns each Sunday is followed by prayers for the couples by name that their marriages may have a lasting effect on their lives.

The following of the formal declaration by the promise of hope must inspire the couples and is, no doubt, heard with pleasure.

 

BERNARD PALMER
151 Rickstones Road
Witham, Essex CM8 2PQ

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