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.
7 Mornington Close
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.
Department of History
University of Exeter
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.
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.
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”.
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.
1 Hall Farm Cottages
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.
Rowan Cottage, Parwich
Ashbourne DE6 1QB
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.
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.