Letters to the Editor

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26 May 2017

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Contemplative and active faith of Hammarskjöld

Sir, — Canon Michael Bourdeaux’s otherwise excellent review of Susan Williams’s book Who Killed Hammarskjöld? (Books, 19 May) lacks mention of the deep Christian faith that underpinned Dag Hammarskjöld’s life and work.

Inspired by the medieval mystics, Hammarskjöld’s faith combined contemplation and action, and fortified him to face down dictators and stand between rival power blocs during times of great international tension. His relentless determina­tion to imitate Christ motivated him to pursue dialogue at all times and to place himself in great personal danger, ultimately leading to his death.

There is an argument for in­clud­ing Hammarskjöld alongside Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Martin Luther King in the list of 20th-­century martyrs. Perhaps the time is right for a new volume on Hammar­skjöld’s spirituality and its relevance to our current situation.

BOB THOMAS (Reader)

31 Lodge Road, Locks Heath

Southampton SO31 6QY

 

From the Revd Richard Wyber

Sir, — In his otherwise interesting review of the latest book on the death of Dag Hammarskjöld, Canon Michael Bourdeaux shows a very limited appreciation of the world awareness of young people: “Only if you were born before the end of the Second World War will you re­­member . . .”.

At the time, I had just turned 14. I well remember hearing the troub­ling news of this untimely death, and have never forgotten doing so.

RICHARD WYBER

7 Mornington Close

Woodford Green

Essex IG8 0TT

 

Shakespeare’s Richard III at Leicester Cathedral

 

From Professor Nicholas Orme

Sir, — It is quite inaccurate of Mrs Kim Harding (Letters, 19 May) to call Shakespeare’s Richard III “not a depiction of the historical Richard” and a “malicious fiction”.

The play’s assertions that Richard caused the death of his brother and his own wife are indeed improbable. But the portrayal of Richard’s likely involvement in the death of Henry VI, his usurpation of the throne of his nephew the legitimate king, his attempt to impugn the king and his brother as bastards, his responsibil­ity for their deaths (as children) in the Tower, his murder of Hastings, his alliance with and then execution of Buckingham, his splitting of the Yorkist party so as to allow the emergence of Henry VII as a rival, and his final demise at the hands of Henry’s army — these accord with the conclusions of all reputable pro­fessional historians.

Shakespeare’s play is a parable of what happens to a man overwrought by ambition and the country un­­lucky to be ruled by him: a story eminently appropriate as a lesson for our own times.

NICHOLAS ORME

Department of History

University of Exeter

Rennes Drive

Exeter EX4 4RJ

 

C of E investments and fossil-fuel companies

From Mrs Nicky Bull

Sir, — I am writing in response to the letter (12 May) from the chief executive of the Church of England Pensions Board regarding its invest­ment in fossil-fuel companies.

The letter states that the Church of England National Investing Bodies “retain the right to disinvest if companies are unresponsive, and we will do so, as previously evid­enced when announcing the [climate-change] policy in 2015”.

At the ExxonMobil AGM in 2016, 62 per cent of shareholders rejected the resolution on climate change proposed by the Church Commis­sioners, as they were recommended to do by the company’s Board of Directors.

This year, ExxonMobil’s Board of Directors is once again recommend­ing that shareholders vote against the climate resolution being sup­ported by the Church of England and others at the company’s AGM later this month.

Given the unwillingness of ExxonMobil to respond, surely the time has come for the Church of England to disinvest from Exxon?

The Church of England should join other Churches around the world, including the Church of Sweden, the World Council of Churches, and Anglican Church of Southern Africa, in disinvesting from fossil fuels and investing in clean alternatives.

NICKY BULL

Chair, Operation Noah

40 Bermondsey Street

London, SE1 3UD

 

From Mr Phil Kingston

Sir, — A minor misprint in the cap­tion to Christian Climate Action’s protest against the Church of Eng­land’s engagement with the fossil-fuel industry (News, 12 May) states that we think that there is not enough time to prevent runaway climate change, implying that there is nothing that can be done.

What we said in our statement was that there was not enough time for engagement (that is, trying to influence the fossil-fuel industry by holding shares in it) to prevent run­away climate change.

The work of Carbon Brief shows that the world has just four years of current fossil-fuel use before we ex­­ceed the carbon budget required for the Paris target of 1.5°, and uncon­trollable temperature-escalation becomes more likely. There is sim­ply not time for the slow and care­fully managed transition for which engagement aims.

Although there are ample reasons to give up on this particular planet, we pray that God has not, and choose to have a hopeful view of the future, which requires such a rapid transition away from fossil fuels that disinvestment and non-violent resistance must play a part.

Even if there is no chance of averting climate chaos, we do not believe it to be within the mission of the Church to profit from the de­­mise of civilised life on earth. Either way, it seems to us that the only moral position for the Church is an immediate commitment to disinvesting from all fossil fuels, and to investing, instead, in clean energy and other sustainable solutions.

PHIL KINGSTON

Christian Climate Action

53 Littleton Court, Blakeney Road

Patchway BS34 5RT

 

A columnist who turned looking into seeing

 

From the Archdeacon of St Albans

Sir, — I always prefer to save the best wine till last, and Dr Ronald Blythe’s Word from Wormingford was always the final piece I read in the Church Times; an anticipatory joy. Others, I am sure, turned to it first for the sheer pleasure that reading it affords.

Whatever order we read the Church Times in, we owe Dr Blythe a huge debt of gratitude. He has that wonderful gift of enabling his readers to see the Godness of things, sometimes initially hidden, but then discernible when looking turns into seeing. He stands in the great tradi­tion of Herbert, Traherne, and Clare in discerning the glory of God in that which is both ordinary and extraordinary.

I remember a simple sentence that he wrote about Christ’s ascen­sion which has given me a greater understanding of that great mystery than any other numerous books and sermons.

God bless him for giving us this glimpse of “Heaven in ordinarie”.

JONATHAN SMITH

6 Sopwell Lane

St Albans AL1 1RR

 

Rebranded: St Thomas’s, Heigham, in Norwich, now advertised as “STN Earlham Road” during a metamorphosis that is said to have left members of the congregation that existed before in tearsChurch-plant that swept away a congregation and its liturgical life

From Judith and David Paston

Sir, — Church-plants (Features, 21 April) are not always painless or positive for all. St Thomas’s, Heigham, in Norwich, became a plant four years ago. This is how it hap­pened.

It was a middle-of-the-road tra­ditional Victorian church, in a sub­urb of the cathedral city. It had had a robed choir and organist for more than 100 years, and a strong Anglican musical tradition. The electoral roll was about 100. The average attendance at the Common Worship eucharist at 10.30 a.m. was about 50. There were two other ser­vices: BCP communion at 8 a.m., and sung evensong at 6.30 p.m. — sparsely attended but greatly valued by those who did attend.

There was a problem paying the Parish Share in full, as it had much increased over several years, but there was no problem with the en­­thusiasm, dedication, loyalty, and faith of the congregation. Many money-raising events also brought in the wider com­munity: Christmas and spring fairs and jumble sales, coffee mornings, and Christian Aid collections, among others.

After a sudden bereavement in 2012, the Vicar at that time was advised to exercise ministry else­where, and the living was suspended by the Bishop. Enter the next Priest-in-Charge in 2013: a curate from HTB, who stated that he had a mandate from the Bishop to change and improve, and encourage growth, and with it attendant giving.

The initial expression of this was to move the choral eucharist to 9.30 a.m. This was to give time for some supporters from London to get to a new informal service at 11. Many PCC members were against this, but were overruled, and the Priest-in-Charge said that he would accept only unanimous agreement in favour. When it was suggested at the PCC that a “plant” was taking place, it was vehemently denied. This denial was untrue, as has been admitted in your article.

The move to 9.30 was extremely inconvenient for many of the existing congregation, some elderly people, and members living outside the parish. It went ahead, however. Large screens were introduced, and hymn books and service sheets were discouraged. Many elderly people could not see the screens well enough to read them.

As time went on, the parish magazine was discontinued: it was said that the website was where people should go for information, and listen to recordings of recent sermons; but many do not own computers or smartphones.

The robed choir was gradually undermined. Evensong was changed from 6.30 to 4.30 to accommodate a service at 7 p.m. for students and young people. Several choir members and the organist of nearly 20 years left, with much heart-searching and sadness. This organist and choirmaster had been dedicated and faithful, responsible for choir practice and two choral services every week, and organising many concerts; several famous organists had given recitals on the fine organ. There had also been a link with a rural-benefice choir, and an ex­­change of services twice a year. The choir was moved out of its vestry without any discussion or warning: the room was needed as an office.

A new organist and choirmaster was appointed. Not long after this, evensong became a once-a-month service, and the organ was needed at only three 9.30 services a month, a music group taking its place at the fourth. Eventually, the new music director left, after the eight services a month which he had been ap­­pointed to play for were reduced to four. Evensong was abol­ished: it was said to be not “missional” enough, and the con­gregation was too small.

The choir and two volunteer organists were required at only two services a month. More choir mem­bers left. A new music director (not an organist) was appointed with no experience of traditional church music. The choir members were told not to robe, to stand on the new stage that had been built over and extending the chancel steps, and to wear black and white — this at the Common Worship 9.30 a.m. euchar­ist. The pulpit, lectern, clergy stalls, and screen were removed. The pews were sold. There was even talk of removing the font. Most of the ori­ginal choir had left.

The parish hall had been let to various non-church groups: in fact, it had been a stipulation that it should be used by the wider com­munity when grants from secular bodies were given for its refurbish­ment after a disastrous fire in 1997. Very few non-church groups use it now, after charges for non-church groups were significantly increased.

It has been stated that the congre­gation has increased by eight or nine times. This is probably true: some of them are students, but many have come from other churches. Some local clergy have expressed disap­point­­ment that a number of their congre­gation left for St Thomas’s.

Many of the original congrega­tion have left, including two Readers, some to other more tra­ditional churches or the cathedral, but some to no church. Some elderly people in the parish and beyond have become unchurched in their old age, to their great distress.

All this has come at great cost and heartache to the original congrega­tion. Of course, a lot of money is involved: a very expensive sound system, screens, computers, and many paid staff, who have evidently come from other churches.

Obviously, it has not been poss­ible to keep faithfully to different traditions in the same church. Al­­though “Common Worship Euchar­ist” continues at 9.30, it has no pro­cession, no robed choir or clergy, some of the liturgy is missed out, hymns and organ are used at only two services a month, and the com­munion is administered sometimes by lay people who do not have the permission of the Bishop. Appar­ently “anybody” can do it, and take communion to people’s homes.

To plant a church into a building that has become redundant, or has an extremely small congregation, is one thing, but to impose a different tradition of worship, priesthood, and even theology on an existing 50-­plus congregation, many of whom had worshipped and served there for 30 to 40 years, or their whole lives, causes sadness and even heart­break. Many were in tears that their spiritual home was no longer there, and they felt adrift.

Fortunately, some of the original choir have joined the choir in a neighbouring parish, and have found a warm welcome. Others have joined that congregation, too. They are happy that they can celebrate the seasons and festivals of the Church again, such as Advent, Epiphany, Candlemas, and even Ascension, which had not been recognised in the “new” St Thomas’s, and can worship in the tradition to which they have been accustomed.

Owing to lack of transport, how­ever, that choice is not open to all. The ministry specifically to older people at St Thomas’s seems to be limited to a fortnightly lunch club (which has existed for 30 years), with no other afternoon meetings. The many evening meet­ings (Connect groups), scattered over the parish and in satellites far afield, are for those who have trans­port, and are aimed at younger people.

Two more churches in the neigh­bourhood have been or are being “planted” by St Thomas’s. One, St Alban’s, has become a café church, leaving that parish without a real parish church, and no traditional or Common Worship services. The other, St Barnabas’s, has only just been taken over. It has a liturgical Catholic tradition with a small con­gregation; it remains to be seen what will happen there. There are now four stipendiary clergy in the ex­­tended parish of St Thomas’s, Nor­wich (no longer Heigham), now ex­pecting to be known as STN Earl­ham Road and STN Grove Walk (formerly St Alban’s)

The Vicar of St Peter’s, Brighton, the Revd Archie Coates, was quoted (Features, 21 April) as saying that Holy Trinity, Brompton, hadn’t “al­­ways got it right”; and he believed that it was better to have a model of partnership rather than planting, which recognised the need to “keep the identity of the church that we partner with”. Is the story of St Thomas’s, Heigham, an example of not getting it right, and effectively destroying its existing identity, and alienating many of its original former faithful congrega­tion?

Of course, there has been a signi­ficant increase in the congregation, large financial gains, and prizes for the website, all proudly proclaimed by clergy and people. It seems, how­ever, that there is little to be proud of in the insensitive and even cruel way in which this plant was carried out. May it not happen like this again.

JUDITH PASTON

DAVID PASTON

1 Hall Farm Cottages

Gowthorpe Lane

Swardeston

Norfolk NR14 8DS

 

Rattling the tin?

 

From Mr Andrew Collie

Sir, — Mr John Boddy (Letters, 28 April) and subsequent correspond­ents have effectively been ad­voc­ating a “pay for what you get” model of funding diocesan-provided clergy and support; this is fine for those who can afford to pay for what they want, but not for others. In that model, what happens to diocesan-provided support that a parish needs but does not want? Parish Share says what it is on the tin: we share the cost of supporting parishes, and, in different systems and to different degrees, according to our means.

ANDREW COLLIE

Rowan Cottage, Parwich

Ashbourne DE6 1QB

 

Germany’s welcome

 

From Dr David Winston

Sir, — Prebendary Gillean Craig’s television review (Media, 12 May) contrasts “the generous welcome to refugees afforded by Angela Merkel with that of our own government”.

The German birth-rate has been rising in recent years, but until re­­cently has been far below the natural replacement rate. Perhaps there was an element of calculation in Mrs Merkel’s generosity.

DAVID WINSTON

24 Longton Road

Salford M6 7QW

 

Origins of the Church of England in South Africa

 

From the Revd Dr John Bunyan

Sir, — The Church of England in South Africa (CESA) did not split from the Church of the Province soon after the latter was founded ("Jesmond is robust in defence of its new curate-bishop", News, 12 May).

The CESA emerged in the 20th century and has no link with the 19th-century diocese of Natal, except perhaps through an incorpor­ating of some small Zulu congrega­tions.

Bishop Colenso, the winsome 19th-century missionary, fearless defender of the Zulu people, and persistent seeker after the truth, was confirmed as the lawful (Church of England) Bishop of Natal. The Church of the Province appointed a rival “Bishop of Maritzburg”, William Macrorie.

Macrorie’s All Saints’ Cathedral, in Pietermaritzburg, has, however, long since been moved, and the schism ended more than a century ago. Next to the tiny St Peter’s Cathedral in PMB, in which Bishop Colenso preached his “Natal Ser­mons”, and where he lies buried, is the great new Cathedral of the Na­­tivity. Happily, its two large meeting rooms are named after Colenso and Macrorie.

Whatever the grounds for CESA’s position (one with which my own diocese of Sydney has long had sym­pathy), they cannot include a his­torical and tactual association with the original Church of England, or with a Bishop of Natal noted for his liberal biblical scholarship.

JOHN BUNYAN

Colenso Corner

Richard Avenue

Campbelltown, NSW

Australia 2560

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