Hereford diocesan-synod vote and London diocesan Vocations Summit
From the Revd Richard Hill
Sir, — Many of us in the Hereford diocese were saddened that the issue of blessing same-sex marriages was put to a vote in the diocesan synod with the potential of its dividing and upsetting many of our most loyal and generous parishioners, at a time when we have been heading for a £600,000 deficit (now reduced).
The diocese has prided itself on not being dominated by one “party”, and yet this motion is a “Rubicon” for many as is evidenced by many responding to this item on Premier Radio by saying that they will leave the C of E if the General Synod does approve an official service for blessing same-sex marriages.
It was said that this would be voluntary, but it has just become compulsory in Sweden, and Justine Greening has talked about legislation to make officiating at same-sex marriages compulsory here. It is said that no major change in doctrine will occur. If so, why was this headline news on Radio 4? By changing the pastoral practice, doctrine will necessarily be changed, as the doctrine of the C of E is contained in its liturgies (and must be agreeable to scripture).
The proposer of the motion was allowed seven minutes plus a final speech; those of us opposing it were allowed a maximum of three-and-a-half minutes, not time to consider such a significant and weighty matter such as this.
It has been said that this is a “radical welcome”, but, while we seek to welcome all, whatever their lifestyle, the grace of God is received by repentance and faith. I am concerned that a gospel without a cross is being established.
Of course we want to be compassionate, but maybe the Lord, who is our creator, did know on earth what is best for us, and the Church today should exercise a prophetic voice against the culture of the day to strengthen marriage as between a man and a woman and intended to be for life, as the Early Church had the courage to do.
The Rectory, Cardingmill Valley
Shropshire SY6 6JF
From the Revd Steven Young
Sir, — At the diocese of London’s Vocations Summit (10 October) at Church House, Westminster, LGBTQI people were very much “the elephant” in the room. If we were “Calling London”, we had obviously “lost the number” of more than 100,000 LGBTQI people who live in our world city.
Five speakers, including two bishops, listed categories of diversity, including: racial, ethnic, socioeconomic, professional background, heritage, disability, and dyslexia; but LBGTQI people were not publicly mentioned once during the Vocations Summit.
The Ministry Division’s “Growing Vocations Everywhere” Good Practice Guide (July 2017) was also circulated after the conference. No mention of LGBTQI people is made in this document, despite its listing of other categories of diversity.
People are entitled to have a range of views on sexuality within the Church. This is not about getting people to “agree”. It is about having the courage to name our reality.
The Church ordains LGBTQI people. A significant number of clergy in the Church of England identify as LGBTQI. A civil partnership is no bar to ordination. So, why are LGBTQI people so frequently excluded from categories of diversity and difference?
The answer that I have received from church leaders boils down to “Sorry. I forgot.” This is not good enough, nor anything like the full picture of what is going on here.
By omitting mention of LGBTQI people when listing other categories of diversity, or persisting in describing groups of clergy as either “married” or “single”, as if no other reality existed, bishops and other church leaders may well be protecting those who are challenged by the mention of LBGTQI people. They are, however, doing so at the cost of increasing LGBTQI people’s experience of exclusion — a feeling of being “cut off” which comes whenever our reality is deemed “too troublesome to mention”.
Many LGBTQI people have had the unfortunate experience of being their family’s “dirty secret”. LGBTQI people have had their lives and relationships cloaked in secrecy because their parents or other family members are too frightened, or ashamed, to acknowledge their reality publicly.
In our church family, among our brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to have more courage than this. Only then can we move forward together in love, model good disagreement, and truly begin “growing vocations everywhere”.
St Michael and All Angels Church
London NW7 2JA
Safeguarding training in the Church of England
From the Bishop of Horsham
Sir, — We are indebted to those who, like Mr Christopher Mew (Letters, 20 October), have given consistent and longstanding support to the implementation of ever improving safeguarding measures within the Church of England. In questioning the very widespread engagement required by the current National Safeguarding Training Framework, he raises the pertinent issue of proportionality.
The painful failures of the Church of England to safeguard people lie within those of our wider society and illustrate how widespread has been a culture that lacked the awareness and sensitivity necessary to prevent or respond to abuse.
Addressing the shortcomings of that culture does, indeed, require a widespread engagement that takes account of the many thousands of frontline volunteers who enable the Church of England to be a major provider of services to children and vulnerable adults.
The mixture of awareness-raising and training offered through the National Safeguarding Training Framework is intended to be obligatory for some and advisable or recommended for others. The Framework was constructed after pilot tests, consultation, and revision; and its effectiveness will be kept under review.
Training and awareness-raising play a key part in promoting a safer environment and culture, in preventing abuse, and in responding more effectively when it occurs. The training framework is approved by the House of Bishops, reflecting their steadfast commitment to making safer not only the Church, but the society within which it serves.
Safeguarding is not only about policing our own practice, but about mission in a society that is still awakening to the scale and devastating consequences of abuse.
Deputy Lead Bishop for Safeguarding
Bishop’s House, 21 Guildford Road
Horsham, West Sussex RH12 1LU
The Russian Church and the attack on religion
From Mr Gerry Lynch
Sir, — Pace Dr Audrey Wells (Comment, 20 October), it is difficult to see how any course of action taken by the Orthodox Church after the Russian Revolution would have prevented its persecution.
Anti-religious campaigns, periodically savage, were not targeted only at Orthodoxy. In the highly diverse USSR, all denominations of Christianity were attacked, as were Jews, Buddhists, and Muslims. In particular, Roman Catholics, Baptists, and Jews were subject to bouts of severe persecution even during periods when the state relaxed pressure on the Russian Orthodox Church. These continued until the Chernobyl nuclear disaster in 1986 confronted the authorities with social disintegration.
The attack on religion was exported to Soviet-aligned societies as diverse as Cuba, East Germany, and Vietnam — in that case, this was despite the part that the Buddhist faithful played in deposing the anti-Communist régime in Saigon. Only in Africa and the Middle East, where Communist governments ruled briefly and with limited control of society, was it eschewed in the face of the reality of cultures deeply soaked in Christianity and/or Islam.
Hostility to religion was not an aberrant flaw of Marxist-Leninist systems which emerged owing to specific local circumstances in early- 20th-century Russia, but a core design feature.
25 Blackfriars Way
Salisbury SP1 2HE
Erroneous paper underlay Guildford SSM decision
From the Revd Tim Dean
Sir, — Before leaving Norwich diocese and returning to Guildford, I entered into correspondence with the Bishop of Guildford regarding the decision to remove the entitlement to fees for occasional offices from clergy with permission to officiate who were previously self-supporting ministers (SSMs). Like your previous correspondents (Letters, 13 October) I drew attention to the adverse implications of the decision and its discriminatory nature — particularly what it expresses about SSMs’ ministry.
The explanation given by the Diocesan Secretary (Letters, 6 October) echoes that given in the Bishop’s ad clerum: “we are revising the entitlement of self-supporting ministers with PTO who will no longer be entitled to fees (in line with the policy for LLMs).” In doing so, the diocese seeks to rectify one “disparity” by creating a greater one between clerical colleagues. That is the simple explanation given, but provides no moral justification.
The decision taken at Bishop’s Council was made on the basis of a paper that refers to SSMs as “clergy volunteer officiants”, apparently unaware that language such as “ordained volunteers” is deemed offensive by many SSMs. Such denigrating language was highlighted in the C of E’s 2011 report on self-supporting ministry, which observed: ‘To describe unpaid clergy as volunteers or hobbyists is not only condescending but theologically indefensible. All clergy are called to their vocation. No ordained person is a volunteer.”
The same paper also asserted that SSMs “responded to their vocation to provide ministry in a voluntary [sic] capacity and that this should extend to retirement”. This is completely untrue. It is true that many SSMs have a lifelong ministry without receiving a penny, but there is no requirement from the outset that SSMs cannot seek or receive salaried or stipendiary priestly roles. Indeed, many SSMs were recommended and selected for training for “stipendiary or non-stipendiary ministry” (quoting the single tick box on the relevant document) with the understanding that both options were available to them through their ministry.
If the primary concern is address a disparity between former SSMs and Readers who have PTO, then there are simple and elegant solutions available that do not discriminate against former SSMs. Unless of course, it’s about money. According to the Bishop of Guildford’s correspondence, it is: “the distinction that the Bishop’s Council have come to is between formerly stipendiary and non-stipendiary — and the question here is clearly about money (i.e. fees) not ministry.”
10 Henchley Dene
Merrow Common GU4 7BH
Remember, remember . . . the Security Services
From Mr Ian Henderson
Sir, — Sunday 5 November would be an appropriate time to thank God for our Security Services, who work silently on our behalf to counter terrorism and defuse terrorist plots. Historically, a service of thanksgiving for the deliverance from the Gunpowder Plot was authorised for worship every 5 November, which was a national holiday of thanksgiving. Let us again take this moment to reflect gratefully, and pray for the unseen and ongoing work of our Security Services.
14 Monks Park
Malmesbury SN16 9JF
Yemeni crisis: blame must go to UN Security Council members
From Mr C. J. Ryecart
Sir, — Your report “Red Cross: One million could contract cholera in Yemen” (News, 6 October) refers to the humanitarian catastrophe in Yemen and ascribes it to the civil war that broke out in 2015. This war was caused by Saudi Arabia’s illegal military intervention there in a bid to reinstate Mr Hadi, whose legal term of office as President had expired a year previously.
Amnesty International highlighted the multiple Saudi war crimes in Yemen, but Boris Johnson trashed the report soon after becoming Foreign Secretary, and then vowed to support Saudi Arabia’s application to become a member of the UN Human Rights Council, which he did.
The US and Britain had by this time signed multi-billion-pound contracts to provide the Saudis with arms and logistical support that resulted in the destruction of most of the Yemeni infrastructure, the killing of 10,000 Yemenis, including 2000 children, and now mass starvation and the likely prospect of death by cholera for thousands from polluted water.
It is outrageous that a full-scale UN international commission leading potentially to war-crimes prosecution in the International Court has been abandoned after lobbying by Saudi Arabia.
Clearly, the greatest problem with the UN is not its bureaucracy, as the UN Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, remarked, but that its major players are at liberty to abuse their membership of the UN Security Council by supporting illegal wars that boost their arms sales, and to become accomplices in subsequent war crimes with complete impunity.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN RYECART
Kefermarkt 4292, Austria
Club for Evangelicals?
From the Revd John Cossins
Sir, — The advertisement for the post of Archdeacon of Bolton, where the Bishop is stated to be “particularly looking for a priest from the Evangelical tradition” (Classified, 13 and 20 October), seems to me to be particularly inappropriate.
The genius of the Church of England has been to hold together Christians of different traditions in a mutual respect such that we are able to learn from each other. In my retirement years, I sense that the increasing dominance of Evangelicals in the Church is threatening to create a monochrome Church where we will all be losers.
68 Brookwood Farm Drive
Surrey GU21 2FW