Letters to the Editor

by
21 July 2017

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Clergy well-being covenant: matters for the working group to consider

 

From the Revd Michele Hampson

Sir, — As a former psychiatrist, and now a deacon with a research interest in supporting clergy facing mental-health challenges, I applaud the General Synod’s decision to develop proposals to improve clergy well-being (Synod, 14 July). The paper proposes taking a broad perspective. The church culture itself merits scrutiny, I would suggest.

I hear repeatedly how clergy find it hard to find a safe place to share personal difficulties with colleagues, once they leave theological college. The culture that they portray appears competitive, and has difficulty acknowledging and responding compassionately to expressions of vulnerability. So, these clergy, too, fell silent and became fearful of the impact that any sign of vulnerability might have on their future ministerial pathway.

The paper (GS 2072) rightly recognises the need to attend to work-related stress factors, and the close link between stress and mental ill-health. The lack of support from colleagues itself, however, increases the risk that stress turns into significant episodes of mental ill-health, and that recovery is hampered. Indeed, it has been shown that, for some, others’ attitudes can be as distressing as the symptoms of mental ill-health. So I trust that the impact of the organisational culture will be explored, that we can all contribute to the solution by being brave enough to share our difficulties.

After all, the picture I have been painted is at odds with St Paul’s description of the Body of Christ, in which “parts [have] equal concern one for another” (1 Corinthians 12.25). The good news is that the Church has a powerful counter-cultural narrative to offer. I am excited that the first step to achieving this has taken place.

MICHELE HAMPSON

26 Thorncliffe Road

Nottingham NG3 5BQ

 

From the Revd Dr Rhona Knight

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Sir, — As a former GP leading on the RCGP Health for Healthcare Professionals Programme, and as a recently ordained priest, I am well aware that clergy health and well-being are complex areas. The General Synod’s support of the motion to establish a Covenant for Clergy Well-being and to appoint a Clergy Well-being Group to bring back proposals to Synod by 2019 is, therefore, welcome. The document prepared for the Synod did highlight the important work published by the Society of Mary and Martha in 2002 and questioned how widely their recommendations were being implemented.

Having recently completed a qualitative research study of flourishing in curacy, I believe that, while clergy health and well-being have been researched and worked on by other UK denominations and internationally, evidence relating to clergy health and well-being in the Church of England is lacking.

The interview study described above identified key factors seen to promote flourishing, including a deep-rooted resilient spirituality; character attributes; wider context; good systems; good support; and clarity of expectations. Recommendations to facilitate flourishing based on a disease-prevention model were developed, and the need for further appropriate research was identified.

The document prepared for the Synod made it clear that the proposals were about issues arising out of the challenges of ordained ministry. I would like to encourage the Clergy Well-being Working Group to consider seriously the work being done to promote well-being in other caring professions. Having previously delivered health care to doctors and clergy, I note that some facts about the compromised well-being of doctors seem to resonate with the experiences of the clergy.

It is widely acknowledged and evidenced that the character attributes of good doctors can often mitigate against health and well-being, and that doctors are at higher risk of mental-health issues, including suicide, depression, and substance and alcohol misuse. Added to this, doctors have more problems gaining access to health care than their own patients, e.g. owing to confidentiality issues. Clergy issues are further compromised by “living on the job”, working a six-day week, and being caught in the “golden cage” of tied housing.

It would seem imperative that the working group consult and gather evidence from a wide range of sources. This could usefully include those who have left ordained ministry or moved from curacy or incumbency because of compromised well-being, besides including other caring professions seeking to promote well-being.

RHONA KNIGHT

56 Clay Hill Road

Sleaford NG34 7TF

 

Support for those ‘not recommended’ by a BAP

 

From the Revd Ian Aveyard

Sir, — Dr Terry Wright (Letters, 14 July) asks what support is available for those who attend a Bishops’ Advisory Panel and are not recommended for training.

For at least the past two decades, it has been understood that support throughout the discernment process is vital for the well-being of the person and the church. For people to become credible candidates at a BAP, they must begin to take on the mantle of an ordained person. Only when they have an embryonic devotional life that will sustain them through ministry, a sense of what it means to be a representative of the whole Church, and sufficient theological language to communicate their sense of calling, can the deliberations of a BAP be meaningful.

When BAP deliberations result in a “non-recommendation”, some candidates feel rejected, and rightly ask why. They need considerable help in both coping with a significant bereavement and also understanding the Church’s response. More importantly, they face the question why God has led them this far only for them to find what feels like a door slammed in their face. Divesting oneself of the “ordination mantle” can be as large a challenge as putting it on.

During my ten-year experience as a director of ordinands (1999-2009), most dioceses considered it best practice to develop a team approach: the sponsoring bishop or director of ordinands was involved in helping the candidate to understand what happened at the panel to leave the panellists unconvinced; the vocations team assisted with the question what this person’s vocation might be, if it was not ordained ministry; and the diocesan pastoral team for the care of clergy responded to the experience of bereavement. It may take longer to divest from the mantle than it took to put it on.

Best practice does not just involve the individual. There is usually a church community behind the candidate which is asking difficult questions. The community leader, often the parish’s vicar, needs assistance in putting aside his or her own feelings and judgements to work with the community in its communal bereavement and loss of hope. If this is ignored, that community can become a no-go area for vocations for many years.

As the Church seeks to raise the number of vocations to ordained ministry, it needs also to bear in mind that there will be inevitably an increase in the number of those “not recommended” for training. Resources of people, time, and money will have to be allocated not only to those training, but also to the care of those whose offer is not accepted. It is unloving and unjust to neglect care of those whom the Church finds unsuitable for ministry when they have sacrificially given of themselves to enable the process of discernment.

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We can only hope that Dr Wright’s plea is heard and finds a suitable response.

IAN AVEYARD

19 The Damsells

Tetbury GL8 8JA

 

From the Revd Dr Anthony Peabody

Sir, — Dr Terry Wright asks whether his experience after non-selection is common. I am afraid it is very common. I distinctly remember not being selected (the first time round, and some years ago), and there being no help or guidance from anybody. My incumbent at the time dropped me like a hot brick and was not able to offer any kind of support.

Had it not been for an understanding congregation, life would have appeared very black. It seems as if the unfortunate candidate has an aura of shame and failure, and is an embarrassment to all who meet him or her: a bereavement without a death, and nobody to mourn except the poor candidate.

ANTHONY PEABODY

Blackberries, 29 Woodlands Avenue

Burghfield Common

Berkshire RG7 3HU

 

Arms and Church House conference lettings

 

From the Revd Charlotte Bannister-Parker and four others

Sir, — We were interested to read the article on Church House (Features, 23 June), explaining how connected the Church and the conference venue are. We are glad that the Church has a way of raising money for its work, including its justice and peace, and reconciliation work.

We are, therefore, very concerned that some of this revenue is raised by hosting events that are sponsored by arms companies, meaning that the Church is profiting from arms sales. The Land Warfare Conference took place at Church House, Westminster, on 27-28 June, and it was sponsored by no fewer than five weapons manufacturers, including Lockheed Martin. Does the ethical investment policy of the Church of England not clearly state that it mustn’t profit from such companies? Would parts of Church House be let for an event sponsored by the tobacco or pornography industries?

Our issue is not with the events themselves, but with the sponsors. We realise that the Church has an uncritical relationship with the military. It has, however, actively decided not to do business with the arms industry, and the hiring of the venue for an event sponsored by weapons companies is a clear departure from this policy — and from the teachings of Jesus Christ.

We would welcome a response from Church House which specifically addressed arms sponsorship.

CHARLOTTE BANNISTER-PARKER, ADAM DICKSON, HELEN HAYES, KEITH HEBDEN, JENNY MORGANS

c/o Fellowship of Reconciliation

Peace House

19 Paradise Street

Oxford OX1 1LD

 

Fate of Palestine letter

 

From the Revd Bruce Thompson

Sir, — The Revd David Haslam isn’t quite correct (Letters, 14 July) when he claims that the reason why the vote on the open letter from the National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine was not put at the Methodist Conference is that there was “insufficient time for Conference to study it”. While it was indeed stated at Conference that representatives had not had sight of the open letter beforehand, there were other serious mitigating factors. I would suggest these played as big a part in the hasty move not to put the vote.

Mr Haslam uses the term “invidious” to describe the press statement from the Council of Christians and Jews on the debate. That is the exact term I used in that debate to describe the open letter. It is absolutely clear that the open letter falls foul of the International Definition of Antisemitism and, indeed, of the Methodist Church’s statement on anti-Semitism in its EDI Toolkit, in that it denies the right of Israel to exist.

Not content with such a denial, the letter also debunks the Old Testament prophets and the Jewish understanding of covenant; it even calls for Christians to withdraw from dialogue with Jews, and for Churches to take legal action against Christian organisations that “discredit” their work.

The recommendation that the vote be not put was after I had set these facts before Conference, not after the earlier speech in which the issue of not having sight of the open letter was mentioned.

BRUCE THOMPSON

Chair of the Lincolnshire Methodist District

21 Bowden Drive

Lincoln LN6 7LG

 

Change for the worse?

 

From the Revd Tony Crowe

Sir, — “Tap-and-go” donations (News, 30 June) will certainly appeal to the young, but not to the old, who sometimes take change from the plate.

At a recent funeral in Canterbury Cathedral, there was a retiring collection for the Alzheimers Society and Christian Aid. A man behind us with a booming voice boasted that he always put a £50 note in the collection and took £45 in change!

TONY CROWE

4 South Lodge Close

Whitstable CT5 2AD

 

Ethnic-minority representation and experience

 

From the Suffragan Bishop in Europe

Sir, — The appointment of Canon Guli Francis-Dehqani as the first Bishop of Loughborough is heartening news, and I congratulate her most warmly on her appointment. One small correction to your report (News, 14 July), however: once consecrated, Bishop Francis-Dehqani will bring the number of ethnic-minority bishops in the Church up from three to four, not from two to three as you cited.

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The Archbishop York, the Bishop of Woolwich, and I are the present three minority-ethnic bishops in the College — unless, of course, without my knowledge, my ethnicity has changed.

DAVID HAMID

Diocese in Europe

14 Tufton Street

London SW1P 3QZ

[Our apologies. Editor]

 

From Canon Ivor Smith-Cameron

Sir, — The cover of the Church Times (14 July) tells a sad story. Some of us struggled for years, while members of the General Synod, to increase its membership of minority-ethnic people. Your cover picture makes our lack of success all too evident.

IVOR SMITH-CAMERON

24 Holmewood Gardens

London SW2 3RS

 

From Canon David Staples

Sir, — Congratulations to Canon Francis-Dehqani on her appointment as Bishop of Loughborough. But I would appreciate precise definition of terms. Your report mentions the Canon’s comment about the hostility of the “Church of England” to foreigners and ethnic minorities. Just to what does the phrase “Church of England” refer?

I am a retired priest, and presumably an ordained member of the Church of England. From my days as a server at Oakham Parish Church, through Oxford days in the Student Christian Movement in the 1950s, to my pre-retirement post as Link Officer for Urban Priority Areas for Peterborough diocese, I worked happily with all. So I feel sad that the use of this blanket term might include me in this judgement.

I feel the same when like use is made with reference to issues of sexuality. Either all members of the Church of England are included within the term, or the use of term is inaccurate and a misleading headline.

I by no means deny the personal experience or agenda of the new bishop, and wish her well. There is, however, both hurt and a logical fallacy involved in arguing from the particular to the general.

Am I and many of my friends being tarred with the wrong brush?

DAVID STAPLES

1 Sycamore Close, Bourne

Lincolnshire PE10 9RS

 

Synod’s good manners crack under provocation

 

From the Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury

Sir, — Canon David Banting and I are “old General Synod hands”, and his contributions to the sexuality debates in and beyond the Synod have always been publicly courteous and privately robust. But he misses the mark (Letters, 14 July) when he claims that the booing of two conservative Evangelicals at York was a mark of “liberal cultural tyranny”.

Many conservative Evangelical Synod members made excellent, constructive, and principled contributions to the most recent group of sessions. They were heard in respectful silence and with strong applause, and among those who applauded were I and others who sometimes disagree with them.

The booing came in response to two speeches: an intervention from the leader of Christian Concern which named a Synod member and made mention of her relationship with her partner and the partner’s child (neither of the last two being Synod members) in an out-of-order speech; and an ad hominem accusation of “false teaching” made against the House of Bishops by a member of the Business Committee (in the debate on the Business Committee report, which the member concerned had not raised when the committee signed off its report).

The latter is discourteous to the Synod and its Business Committee, the former simply bad behaviour.

The Synod may be very diverse theologically, but we often unite in collective disdain when “speaking the truth in love” or “contending for the faith” slips into personal attacks or grandstanding, especially when some of those mentioned are not present to defend themselves.

Those — of any tradition — who conduct themselves in these ways at the Synod will occasionally incur the Synod’s ire. It may be regrettable, but it’s not tyrannical.

SIMON BUTLER

32 Vicarage Crescent

London SW11 3LD

 

From Dr J. C. Appleby

Sir, — Canon David Banting says that “there was booing for conservative speakers at the very start of the Synod in York.” This is very misleading. In a short debate about a code of conduct for members, one speaker criticised another by name, and it was this that was called out by many present. Both this and other speakers, of all traditions, are always heard respectfully, but it is discourteous and almost unknown to make such a direct criticism.

JOHN APPLEBY

Synod member for Newcastle

38 Beech Grove, Whitley Bay

Tyne and Wear NE26 3PL

 

Ethical shopping: give the Co-op its due credit

 

From the Revd Paul Newman

Sir, — As an elected member of the Co-op Group National Members’ Council, I read about the reported reduction of commitment to Fairtrade products by certain supermarkets (News and Comment, 7 July) with particular interest. I looked in vain for any mention of the Co-operative Group and Independent Co-operative Societies, who first pioneered and now continue to champion 100-per-cent fair trade across an increasing range of products, including bananas, chocolate, coffee, flowers, sugar, teas, and wines.

It is part of the “Co-op Way” in “championing a better way of doing business” — in my case, grounded in Christian ethics and a moral vision of co-operation, equality, mutuality, and self-help, not far removed from Acts 2.42 and Archbishop Welby’s book Dethroning Mammon. As our CEO, Steve Murrells, said recently, “We’re more than just a business: we’re a movement for social change.”

Pace Professor Martin (Letters, 2 June), Co-operation does prove a way of fitting Christian radicalism to political and economic realities. I think it was Fr Stewart Headlam, in the 19th century, who preached of a truly eucharistic Church as “God’s co-operative society”. Fair dos!

PAUL A. NEWMAN

5 Cranworth House

Cranworth Road

Winchester SO22 6EJ

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