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Letters to the Editor

by
20 January 2017

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Misunderstandings in Peterborough visitation

 

From the Very Revd Richard Lewis
Sir, — It seems clear that those responsible for the Bishop of Peterborough’s Visitation of his cathedral (News, 13 January) have not read, or, if they have, do not fully comprehend, the recommendations of the Archbishops’ Commission on Cathedrals published as Heritage and Renewal in 1994; nor the provisions of the Cathedrals Measure that followed. I was a member of the Commission.

It is not the first time recently that I have heard the term “chief executive” in the same breath as “cathedral”; the Peterborough Visitation charge recommends the appointment of such a person. The phrase was carefully avoided in Heritage and Renewal, because lay members — and especially those who were chief executives, or chairmen of companies, or worked with CEOs — considered that this would be an abdication by the Chapter of the purpose and mission of the cathedral, which was religious, not secular.

The Cathedrals’ Commission wanted to avoid “a slavish adoption of business techniques which are not suited to the cathedral context” (Heritage and Renewal, Chapter 14, paragraph 6). Today, the centralising tendency in the Church of England grows apace with adoption, hook, line, and sinker, of the secular model of management, despite the recent history of so much malpractice in the City, in banking, or in commerce: think RBS; BHS; or Sports Direct. CEOs do not commend themselves in the public mind; nor do their salaries.

Under the Cathedrals Measure, a finance and investment advisory committee (FIAC) should already be in existence (to mirror for finance what the fabric advisory committee does for the buildings). Nowhere in the visitation charge is the FIAC mentioned. Most cathedrals, if not all, in their FIAC have access to the very best and, indeed, forthright advice and wise counsel from its members.

As the insidious and creeping takeover of the cathedrals by the House of Bishops rolls on, I can well foresee the time coming when the CEO is appointed after “approval by the Bishop”; it is a short step then for the CEO to be appointed by the Bishop. If “accountability” is to be transferred to a diocesan board of finance (DBF), let the DBF also take the risks; but it will surely follow that the DBF will begin to dictate spending priorities: music and its associated costs will be an early target. Then the DBF will begin to cast its eye on the assets of a cathedral, to balance its own precarious books.

Things will go wrong; they nearly always do; for that is the human condition. Next time, in another cathedral, as a price for support, who then will be asked to resign?

The response of the Conference of Deans and the Association of English Cathedrals must be robust.

 

RICHARD LEWIS
Dean Emeritus of Wells
1 Monmouth Court
Union Street
Wells BA5 2PX

 

Faith representatives at the Trump inauguration

 

From the Revd Don Brewin
Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 13 January) quotes from Michael Horton’s piece in the Washington Post, noting that the Revd Paula White will be taking some part in President Trump’s inauguration ceremony.

Although nothing that this President-elect does will surprise me, I was so concerned at this apparent link with the prosperity-gospel heresy that I wrote to a clergy friend who served in Virginia for many years.

He, like me, is very concerned about the future for the United States, and the wider world, under this forthcoming President, but, in a spirit of fairness, directed me to an article by Julia Duin, where she points out that, in addition to Paula White, other faith leaders have been invited to participate: the Archbishop of New York, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan; the Revd Dr Samuel Rodriguez, president of the National Hispanic Christian Leadership Conference; Rabbi Marvin Hier, Dean and founder of the Simon Wiesenthal Center; the Revd Franklin Graham, president of Samaritan’s Purse and of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association; and Bishop Wayne T. Jackson, senior pastor of Great Faith Ministries.

Although Bishop Jackson also has links to the prosperity gospel, the others listed do not, as far as I know.

Please let us pray for the Lord to demonstrate his glory at this inauguration, in a way that leaves all those present, and the rest of us, humbled and amazed.

 

DON BREWIN
Wickham Cottage, Gaddesden Turn
Billington, Leighton Buzzard
Bedfordshire LU7 9BW

 

Muslim reading at Glasgow Epiphany eucharist

 

From Penelope Cowell Doe
Sir, — Amid all the controversy generated by reports that some Muslims were invited to a choral mass at St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, during which one of them — a young woman — read the passage from the Qur’an in which Mary gives birth to Jesus under a date palm (News, 13 January), there are hints of subtexts in the accusations of heterodoxy.

The idea was, I believe, for St Mary’s to show hospitality to Muslim friends and to demonstrate that our traditions share certain narratives, the birth of Jesus and his resurrection among them. Now, this happened in the Scottish Episcopal Church — different roots, different history — and yet most of the censure I’ve seen comes from within the Church of England. Some are even urging the Archbishop of Canterbury to cross borders to chastise the Provost.

The first subtext is seen in the claims that such a reading encourages syncretism — the merging of different religious beliefs and practices — which results in either the watering down of Christian belief or its capitulation to idolatry. This kind of rebuke seems to come mainly from Anglicans who adhere to a righteous-remnant ecclesiology in which the “saved” are to keep themselves separate from the taint of the “secular world”. Such an ecclesiology requires a Church that has “members”, compliance, and “heavy shepherding”; it patrols its borders vigilantly.

Like their Puritan forebears, they argue, not for religious tolerance, but for the right to practise intolerance: to discipline those who don’t conform to a certain soteriological model. The liminality of a generous ecclesiology and the obligation of an Established Church to be there for all people regardless of their faith or lack of it are things to be feared and resisted.

It is ironic that such critics often draw attention to the breaking of canon law in other churches (such as St John’s, Waterloo, hosting an inclusive Jummah), and yet are often perfectly indifferent to breaches in canon law in their own churches, breaches that have included inappropriate vesture in divine worship, and selective baptism, eucharistic, and marriage policies.

The second subtext also plays on a fear of idolatry and syncretism: the apprehension that interfaith activities are somehow linked to a liberal (or revisionist) sexual ethic. Such instances of hospitality to other faiths always draw most opprobrium when they are hosted by cathedrals or churches that are seen as places of openness and liberality, especially when they are led by clergy who are gay and affirming.

It is unclear whether homosexuality and idolatry are inevitably linked in the minds of the critics, or whether perceived breaches in orthopraxy are being used as a pretext to attack the moral probity of the clergy involved. If there are no gay clergy involved, it is enough that the cathedral or church involved also blesses gay-pride marches.

The third subtext is the occasion such outrage gives for “permissible” Islamophobia: the fear and loathing of the other because it is perceived as inimical to Christianity. The other is not a friend or stranger in whom we recognise common traits and something of ourselves, while acknowledging that there are significant differences, but a rival who wishes to subvert us, corrupt us, and conquer us. Because our faith is seen as weak, we will capitulate to Islam.

And this is an inference drawn from a eucharist in which the Nicene Creed was recited by more than 100 people. Such acts will, it is claimed, endanger interfaith relations here and Christian minorities in Muslim countries, though it is not clear how they will achieve this. This is the “respectable” face of xenophobia and religious intolerance, perhaps more deadly not because it comes from Britain First or the EDL, but from the nice Christian friend on social media.

This leads me to a question or, rather, two. Have we had this tension between a Puritan and an inclusive model of the Church of England since Hooker, or has it become more tense in the past 20 to 30 years? And is there a battle for the soul of the Church of England in which sexuality and openness are simply the presenting issues?

 

PENELOPE COWELL DOE
The Firs, Biscombe
Churchstanton TA3 7PZ

 

From Mr David Lamming
Sir, — You report the statement made by the Provost of St Mary’s Cathedral, Glasgow, the Very Revd Kelvin Holdsworth, attempting to justify the chanting of a passage from the Qur’an at an Epiphany eucharist in the cathedral. The passage (Sura 19) denies the divinity of Jesus. It is not surprising that it has caused widespread offence (The Times — 16 and 17 January).

In response, the Primus, the Most Revd David Chillingworth, Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane, has reportedly said that the Scottish Episcopal Church is “deeply distressed at the widespread offence” caused.

This is the kind of mealy-mouthed “apology” that is often issued these days, expressing regret for the distress or offence caused, but not acknowledging and apologising for the underlying wrong decision that caused the distress. It was wholly inappropriate for this passage from the Qur’an to be read in the cathedral, whatever the benign motives of the Provost. It is this that has, understandably, provoked the subsequent row and led to the abuse received by the cathedral.

Promoting theological dialogue between Christians and Muslims is laudable, but giving a platform during a eucharist for Qur’anic repudiation of a central tenet of the Christian faith will not assist, and was wrong. Some would call it blasphemy.

That the cathedral community have been subjected to abuse is to be condemned, but, rather than just announce a review of the cathedral’s work, the Bishop should discipline the Provost over the incident.

 

DAVID LAMMING
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

 

From Mr Hugh Darnley-Smith
Sir, — As a former student of Islamic theology, I have been struck by how many references there are in the Qur’an to events that we, as Christians, regard as part of our own story. After all, Islam is one of the three Abrahamic faiths, of which ours is one.

Together with most of the rest of the world, our issues are with those who use a faith as a convenient shield or badge, and as an excuse to sow discord and horrendous violence, rather than with those who see the same events, such as the Epiphany, perhaps from a different angle.

So I send my sincere congratulations and support to Madinah Javed and the Provost and Chapter of St Mary’s. I hope this will encourage similar demonstrations of solidarity elsewhere.

 

HUGH DARNLEY-SMITH
15 White Dirt Lane
Catherington
Hants PO8 0BE

 

Security resources

 

From the Director of the Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division of the Archbishops’ Council
Sir, — Nick Tolson (Comment, 13 January) is right to highlight the safety and security of people using church buildings, as well as to prioritise keeping church buildings open and welcoming as places of prayer, meeting, and reconciliation for all.

Christina Emerson, of the Cathedrals and Church Buildings Division, is the officer representing the Church of England on the Home Office Places of Worship Security Panel. Christina is able to advise churches on security issues.

The ChurchCare website contains many resources for those involved in the practical management of church buildings.

There is also helpful advice from insurers, including the risk-management section of the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group’s website.

 

BECKY CLARK
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3NZ

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