Letters to the Editor

by
22 September 2017

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Help for the minority of clergy who are struggling

From the Revd Jeremy Moodey

Sir, — It is reassuring to learn from the latest Ministry Division research that most clergy are reporting high levels of well-being, both financially and in terms of their health (News, 15 September).

But many clergy continue to struggle with ill-health, particularly stress and men­tal ill­ness, and also face significant finan­cial challenges.

Some of these struggles were touched on in the Divi­sion’s Living Ministry study, but not covered in your report. Almost seven per cent of respondents (and almost 11 per cent of or­­dinands) said that they were finding life diffi­cult financially. This was es­­pecially true of those solely reliant on their stipends.

Almost one quarter of respond­ents said that their accommodation was a source of stress. This was par­ticularly evident among clergy fam­ilies with children under 16. More than one third of respondents said that they were unable to save for later life, which is worrying, given the need for many clergy to make provision for a home in retire­ment.

Some of the mental-health indic­ators were also troubling. Around 17 per cent of respondents said that they felt regularly, often, or always burned out by their ministerial role, while more than a quarter reported that they felt isolated in their work or training. Only just over a half of those surveyed felt that they had enough time with their families.

It is true that in any profession there will be those who thrive and those who don’t. The problem is that, among the clergy, the culture of vocational sacrifice and self-denial means that those who are struggling are often afraid to admit as much. So they suffer in silence.

Hence the importance of clergy support charities who can provide help in confidence. At Sons and Friends of the Clergy, we see more than 500 serving- and retired-clergy hardship cases a year, often involving debt, financial difficulties, relationship breakdowns, and mental illness. We suspect that this could well be the tip of an iceberg.

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Charities such as ours will con­tinue to do what we can, but the whole issue of clergy well-being needs greater attention within the Church. It is gratifying to see that the General Synod has recently set up a working group to look into the issue, but the two-year timetable suggests that this is not as high a priority as it should be.

Yes, many clergy are living com­fortably, as your headline suggests, but a significant minority are not. If we don’t address the underlying problems, their ministries will con­tinue to suffer.

JEREMY MOODEY

Chief Executive
Sons and Friends of the Clergy
1 Dean Trench Street
London SW1P 3HB

 

Support for those undergoing police inquiries 

From Canon Paul Jenkins

Sir, —The recent tragic and lonely death of a much-respected priest by apparent “self-immolation” while he was currently under suspension “as a consequence of an ongoing police investigation”, unfounded or otherwise (News, 15 September), again raises concerns about other clergy in similar situations, and the pastoral response, when the unique bond between bishop and priest is suddenly severed.

Under the current Clergy Discipline Measure, as I understand it, a diocesan bishop must avoid personal involvement in the giving of care and support where formal disciplinary proceedings have been commenced. Likewise, a suffragan or area bishop, archdeacon, rural or area dean, other experienced clergy, or an appropriate lay person could all be suitable to provide care and support in place of the bishop, provided they are not involved in the proceedings.

This invariably they are and this means that the cleric under suspension is referred to a person outside his or her home diocese for pastoral support, thus enhancing further the sense of isolation, leading in some cases to extreme actions on their part, for example, suicide, or attempted suicide.

In the UK, we have a superb Samaritans network, which can respond to a telephone call for help. Clergy are in a unique and extremely vulnerable situation when faced with suspension, guilty or otherwise. The Church may care to reflect upon an informal diocesan system of what one might call the “Friends of Cleopas”, that is, a network of local clergy who can be contacted by telephone, to “accompany” such clergy in a non-judgemental and confidential way in what can be the darkest part of their lives, whether brought to trial or not.

As a compassionate and pastoral Church, we cannot allow clergy to take their lives, or resort to other extreme measures, in what can be the loneliest of places.

PAUL JENKINS

The Salutation
Bruton BA10 0BT

 

The place of forgiveness in healing after abuse

Sir, — I read with interest the Rt Revd Christopher Cocksworth’s article “Forgiveness after Abuse?” (Comment, 15 September). I note the question mark, and agree that justice, healing, and repair come way before any talk of forgiveness. Indeed, the former are not dependent on forgiveness by the victim, as some Christians preach.

As a survivor myself, I was told that the reason I was still in pain after about four sessions of prayer was that I needed to hear their theories again and that I was not forgiving the abuser. This increased my suffering, shame, and guilt. What I needed was support to voice my outrage, anger, and disgust at what had been done to me, through no fault of my own, as a child, starting at four, and then for three further years, by a churchgoer who should have protected and nurtured me.

Many people do not appreciate the damage done to victims, their powerlessness, and their inability to trust. How, when you have lived with an abuser, with all the emotional, physical, and sexual confusion and pain for years, can a few prayer times cure these far-reaching effects? Thoughts of suicide were often present.

What did help me was being in an empty church with a few friends and having permission to shout and scream without any criticism. After many months, I was finally able to echo our Lord’s words “Father forgive,” so handing over the whole of the abuser’s sin and judgement to God. This meant that I no longer carried thoughts of revenge, and the pain began to ease somewhat.

I still have difficulty with trust, but after a study on the fatherhood of God, and with the support of good friends and my husband, I now enjoy life. Sadly, justice is no longer possible for me, as the abuser is dead.

Because of my own experiences, I trained and worked as a counsellor with others who have been abused. I believe that God can heal even this trauma, though not without some difficulty at times.

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Composition of groups for sexuality document

From the Revd Dr Malcolm Brown

Sir, — The Revd Dr Charles Clapham’s concerns about the groups tasked with producing the episcopal teaching document on sexuality (Letters, 15 September) are based on a misunderstanding.

The composition of the groups was explicitly a work in progress when last reported on. Members are being appointed to the groups so that they incorporate people of precisely the kind of expertise (whether academic or experiential) that Dr Clapham highlights, and to maintain the greatest possible degree of inclusiveness.

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Any manageably sized group will be open to criticism for not including this specialism or that particular personal identity. But all the groups are committed to consult widely beyond themselves to capture areas of knowledge and experience that the members do not embody themselves.

As for the preponderance of bishops, the thematic working groups exploring the social and biological sciences, biblical scholarship, theology and history are chaired by bishops but populated by diverse groups of experts.

The coordinating group has six episcopal members, so far six members who are clergy or lay, and the membership is still being refined. There has never been any equivocation that this is to be an episcopal teaching document, so structuring the coordinating group to ensure wide episcopal ownership is hardly surprising. But even in this group bishops are not a majority.

MALCOLM BROWN

Director of Mission and Public Affairs
Archbishops’ Council
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

 

Gender-fluidity case

From Mr Symon Hill

Sir, — Well done to the diocese of Portsmouth for sticking by its recognition of gender fluidity (News, 15 September). The Christian Legal Centre has sunk to a new low, attacking a school for allowing children to make their own choices about what to wear. This is supposedly because a child was “confused”.

As a child, I too was confused — about why boys and girls wore different clothes, and why I wasn’t allowed to wear the same clothes as girls. Being confused is part of being a child — or an open-minded adult. Jesus did not come to save us from confusion.

The Gospels consistently attack narrow, socially constructed attitudes to families, gender, and sexuality. Jesus’s followers left their families to travel around together. Jesus allowed women to make physical contact with him in a society that found it shocking. He redefined family, saying that whoever did God’s will was his brother, sister, and mother. He opposed the practice that allowed men to divorce their wives on a whim, throwing them into disgrace and poverty.

Liberation from legalism and social expectation are a part of the gospel. To preach legalism, as St Paul told the Galatians, is to preach “another gospel”.

SYMON HILL

66 Bayswater Road
Oxford OX3 9NZ

 

Henry Wood service now in South Kensington

From Mr Laurence J. Cox

Sir, — As a long-standing Promenader, I was very interested to read Andrew Earis’s account (Comment, 1 September) of the attitude of the current Vicar of St Sepulchre’s, Holborn, to classical music.

Back in 1985, I was privileged to be chosen to put the chaplet on the bust of Sir Henry Wood on the Last Night, which also involved my attendance at the service the following morning at St Sepulchre’s, where the chaplet was placed against Sir Henry’s grave. This tradition continued until a few years ago, when the Vicar of St Sepulchre’s decided to end it; but the Vicar of Holy Trinity, Prince Consort Road (the parish church for the Royal Albert Hall), agreed to take it over, and there is now a Service of Thanksgiving and Reflection there at 3 p.m. on the day after the Last Night of the Proms.

This is not usually widely publicised; it can be difficult to get the BBC to include a note about it in the Last Night programme; but it is a multi-faith service, open to all.

LAURENCE J. COX

62 Lamorna Grove
Stanmore HA7 1PG

 

The Lindchester novels

From Mr Francis Spufford

Sir, — I don’t know where Canon Nick Jowett (Letters, 8 September) thinks Catherine Fox should be putting “the powerful themes of theology” in her Lindchester novels, apart from “right into the middle of the delightfully and often trivially messy lives of her characters”. But I have some terrible news for him. The grace that her novels bring powerfully, as well as comically, into view is not just “cheap”. It is absolutely free. Oh, the scandal!

FRANCIS SPUFFORD

Powcher’s Hall
The College
Ely CB7 4DL

 

Guildford funeral fees

From the Revd Dr Malcolm Johnson

Sir, — The Guildford diocese must be very hard up, because the Bishop has told all retired clergy that they must hand over a slice of our funeral fees, which is very mean-minded. I im­­medi­ately returned my Permis­sion to Officiate to him and he thanked me for 55 years’ service. So I shall now tell my undertaker friends that I am a civil celebrant who happens to be a priest. I hope that other re­­tired clergy will do the same.

MALCOLM JOHNSON

1 Foxgrove Drive
Woking GU21 4DJ

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