Sir Philip Mawer’s report on the Sheffield affair
From Mr Tom Sutcliffe
Sir, — Sir Philip Mawer’s minute examination of the Sheffield débâcle concerning the Rt Revd Philip North (News, 22 September) makes many fascinating observations about the Five Guiding Principles and the House of Bishops’ Declaration, besides revealing in sharp detail what some of the main actors in the drama considered that they were about.
But thinking about a Church that is in two minds is far less of a novelty than the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, seems to imply. In fact, one could maintain, as I do, that it is normative. As Christians we are almost by definition lost, though we have some hope and some help available in the gospel, with all its challenges and contradictions to be weighed both in what is said and in what is not said by Jesus and many others.
Because of the difficulty with which the reform of the gender requirement for ordination was achieved, many of us seem to have forgotten or suppressed the fact that allowing women to be eligible was permissive legislation. What women do in clerical ministries, we are saying, can be the same as what men do, in celebrating the sacraments and preaching and presiding.
Those of us who campaigned for women’s ordination believed, I am sure, that there would be other side-effects from the immense differences between men and women — and it will take many decades, if not centuries, to observe what those side-effects will be. But one thing we can be sure about the past is that it was necessity, not a lust for injustice to women, that left men undertaking many of the roles that they routinely play — and still do.
So-called “rights” and gender equality, for instance, are not relevant to how many women and men are being called to do the necessary work of the ministry. What matters is whether the men and the women called are the right ones. It is far from clear that a Parliament with equal numbers of men and women representatives will do its job better: only that representation is always a challenge, hard to make adequate. It is not as if the Church has failed to acknowledge the sanctity of many women as true and also distinctive.
But the issue over which Dean Percy laboured most was due to his blinkered sense of what ecumenism now has to be. I said often during my time on the General Synod that “ecumenism begins at home.” The most telling lesson of those years for me, as a lay member, was the recognition that there were so many different ways of being an Anglican Christian; and I am sure that the same is true of Christians of other denominations.
What is shown outwardly by worldly things, such as consistency, is less important than faith, which is personal and inside us. Learning to live and thrive alongside others who are different is, in our era, absolutely fundamental.
Bishops need not do everything — and that includes matters such as whom exactly they ordain, and what exactly they think, just as the differences between men and women are not only gender-based, thank God.
67 Stanthorpe Road
London SW16 2EA
From the Revd Adrian Alker
Sir, — While Sir Philip Mawer’s scrupulously balanced report on the débâcle after the nomination of Bishop North to Sheffield will be pored over by those of us in Sheffield and beyond, we might also care to reflect upon your report two weeks ago of the latest British Social Attitudes survey (News, 8 September).
Overall, 85 per cent of all respondents declared that they held no association with the Church of England. These people will not be reading 74 pages of civil-service-speak. They will not care a jot about Five Guiding Principles, which might speak of “mutual flourishing”, but which enshrine gender discrimination in the institutional Church.
No, the vast majority of our fellow citizens will see only a Church out of touch with the society it seeks to serve. If the Church really cared more about showing the transforming love of God, and less about trying to paper over the cracks of sexual and gender discrimination, then we might begin at least to have some relevance to the lives of people who have simply switched off institutional religion.
Chair of the Progressive Christianity Network; and former Assistant Director of Training for Sheffield diocese
Sheffield S8 7UA
From the Revd Paul Williamson
Sir, — Sir Philip Mawer’s report makes for very sad reading, as it speaks of the failure of Christians to love one another, and to abide by a very clear Code of Conduct. The campaign waged against the Bishop of Burnley was a disgrace to the name of Jesus Christ, and a lasting stain on the Church. Individuals have not been named, but they are well known, and they should be ashamed of their conduct.
Sadly, there is to be no accountability or punishment, and it seems that not even an apology will be requested.
A clear policy concerning those who cannot accept the ministry of women because it does not have a biblical basis has been publicly voided, to the detriment of all concerned. Will the Bishops now make a clear and unequivocal statement that they will uphold fairness and equality for the minority?
The Rectory, 7 Blakewood Close
Hanworth TW13 7NL
From the Revd Simon Walsh
Sir, — The analysis by Sir Philip Mawer of the Sheffield shambles that led to Bishop Philip North’s withdrawing from the nomination indicates two things.
The first is that, even with the well-established system of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC), and diocesan representatives who have always been trusted to represent their colleagues, we see interference from outside the diocese as having a disproportionate sway.
Second is the elephantine question “Where next?” — because if the central CNC members cannot be trusted to assess the quality of the candidate, and the diocesan contingent his or her suitability, then we shall end up with some form of pseudo-democratic X Factor- or Britain’s Got Talent-style contest.
Even then, will people accept the “winning” candidate? The apparent end of mutual flourishing implies the end of collegiality in the Church of England, sadly.
17 Bagshot House
London NW1 4BY
Multi-parish benefice is no boon to the parish
From Revd Robert Nichols
Sir, — “Has the parish had its day?” Sadly, in England’s countryside, the multiple-parish benefice (MPB) was supposed to save the parish system, but instead undermined two of its basic principles (Features, 15 September).
The first principle was that a parish’s church is a body of people whose central activity is to celebrate the eucharist each Sunday. The second was that a Church’s parish is an area within which a eucharist-centred church is self-sustainable. Accordingly, if parish churches ceased to be self-sustaining, then their congregations and areas ought to merge with neighbouring churches and parishes until a sustainable situation was attained.
The MPB system took a different approach. Parish borders, being mostly the same as village borders, were left intact. Sustainability was attempted by having congregations share a priest or ministry team. This made worship (eucharistic or otherwise) in each parish every Sunday nearly always impossible. Today, sustainability is an even greater problem, and a typical solution is still to reorganise parishes into larger and larger MPBs.
Ironically, today’s most thriving rural “communities” are no longer confined within village borders. From schools to village halls, from garden clubs to weekly coffee mornings, they are inter-village institutions. This present reality is “good soil” for reforming our rural parish churches according to their founding principles.
At October’s Moral Maze-style debate “The parish: has is had its day?”, I hope to hear strong support for re-establishing the above-stated parish-system principles.
The Old Rectory, Station Road
Hillington, Norfolk PE31 6DE
Convene the Synod in November for Bible study
From Canon David Banting
Sir, — The inauguration of each General Synod is held in November in the presence of the Queen. In each subsequent November of its quinquennium, all members are asked to hold at least 48 hours for urgent or contingency business (in 2016, 21-23 November; this year, 20-22 November).
I am duly holding these dates, but not holding my breath. It would seem that neither the Business Committee nor the House of Bishops sees or deems any necessity for, or value in, another meeting. May I publicly beg to differ, and use your pages to urge our Bishops to serious reconsideration, even at this late stage?
The events of the past three meetings of the General Synod have surely suggested and called for further time to be given to the sustained study of the Bible to help us in our debates and dilemmas. In July 2016, more than three-quarters of the groups reporting back publicly from the Shared Conversations among members made that request.
In February, the House of Clergy’s arch refusal to “take note” of the Bishops’ Report on Marriage and Same-Sex Relationships, and, in July, two tense decisions to enter untested pastoral and ethical waters, were both flawed occasions. Most agreed, for the reason that too little time and space were given to professional science, that is, medical and ethical science, and the “queen of sciences”, theology, and uniquely, in the Christian Church, the Bible.
Our formularies make it clear that, in matters of salvation, or of faith and conduct, our arbiter under God is “God’s Word written” (Articles VI, XX, and XXI). There is our authority and sufficiency, especially in “Controversies of Faith”. Any change or development is of necessity required to be seen to “be taken out of holy Scripture”. We are warned of the possibility that “Councils be not governed with the Spirit and Word of God”. We need the space and discipline to sit together under God’s Word.
I would say to the House of Bishops: “Please be episcopal. Teach and guard the faith and call the General Synod to ‘draw all its cares and studies this way . . . to the reading and weighing of the Scriptures’ together. We have all kept 21-23 November free, and so, presumably, have you.”
In this “Reformation 500” year, let us rediscover the Bible’s power to renew and reform the Church in “the spirit of truth, unity and concord”. That prayer to God across the centuries continues: “that all who confess thy holy name may agree in the truth of thy holy Word, and live in unity and godly love”.
Proctor for Chelmsford diocese
The Vicarage, 15 Athelstan Road
Harold Wood, Romford RM3 0QB
New Welsh Primate concerned but not anxious
From the Archbishop of Wales
Sir, — I was grateful for the time taken by Gavin Drake to interview me after the recent meeting of the Governing Body of the Church in Wales, and for the coverage of the meeting itself. Might I, however, clarify one matter, namely the reference (Welsh Governing Body, 22 September): “the Archbishop said that he was ‘not concerned about the future of the Church in Wales’.”
In this context, “concerned”, of course, means “anxious” rather than “not bothered”. I am not anxious; I am both extremely hopeful and clear that, with the rich reservoir of faith, talent, and assets which we have, we can plan confidently for the future.
I should, therefore, make it clear that every member of the Church in Wales, led by the Bishops, has to have a proper concern to see that the Church’s assets and the talents of its clergy and laity are best used for the flourishing of the Church and the growth of the Kingdom.
Ely Tower, Castle Square
Brecon, Powys LD3 9DJ
Incisive lay apologetics didn’t end with C. S. Lewis
From Dr Simon Pulleyn
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 15 September) asks where to find thoughtful and culturally literate lay people who could challenge the prevailing anti-God narrative.
Francis Spufford is one such person. His Unapologetic is a lively riposte to the often lazy and insidious rhetoric of much modern atheist discourse. The book sparkles with pointed observations, not least his withering attack on the idea that life is somehow a product to be enjoyed, and that this enjoyment can begin only once God has been ditched.
Spufford says that his book is primarily about the emotional sense that Christianity still makes. Readers who want a more overtly philosophical defence of Christianity from a lay person may look to Rupert Shortt’s God is No Thing. We are reminded that seriously clever and learned people have been grappling with these questions for millennia, and that homespun discourses about God will soon be released as pretty threadbare if they do not take proper account of this.
I am sure that Canon Tilby has read the books that I mention. But they ought not to be left out of the discussion. Instead of “What have we to set beside C. S. Lewis?”, the question might be, rather, “Who will join Shortt and Spufford?”
7 Louisa Street
London E1 4NF
Nothing in my hand I bring: the lot of the aged
From Mrs Monica Ditmas
Sir, — I am 93 and in a care home, but I am sure that I am not alone among your readers in having to spend Sunday morning alone, with no corporate worship. Of course, we can join with others in our hearts, and if we are Anglicans we can follow the readings appointed for that day for the parish eucharist, and make our intercessions.
The more serious deprivation for us, however, is, of course, not receiving the sacrament. But there was a man who found a wornderful way to put this right.
Gonville ffrench-Beytagh was Dean of the cathedral in Johannesburg, in South Africa, in the days of apartheid, before the release of Nelson Mandela, and was kept in solitary confinement in a small prison cell for several years.
He wrote: “I took nothing into my hands and offered it and said ‘This is my body which is given for you.’ Then I took nothing into my hands and said ‘This is my blood which is shed for you.’ And I can tell you that it was as real and wonderful as any communion I have ever celebrated in my own Cathedral.”
Perhaps this story will help others. I do follow his example every Sunday, and I feel that God does accept it.
Milkwood House Care Home
Hill Brow, Liss GU33 7PB
Forty years on. . .
From Mr Hugh Christian-Carter
Sir, — Canon Winter (Diary, 8 September), on Sir Bruce Forsyth, obviously has forgotten “Series 4½” (Church Times, 9 November 1979), which had an opening salutation:
Nice to see you, to see you nice.
The same to you.
I seem to remember that it had a dismissal that went: “See you next week, same time, same place.”
5 Sarum Court, Park House Lane
Reading RG30 2AJ
From Dr N. P. Hudd
Sir, — I was delighted to see Dave Walker’s “Tradition” cartoon (15 September). For years I have maintained that “Tradition is what we did when I was young.”
N. P. HUDD
13 Elmfield, Tenterden
Kent TN30 6RE
Different side to ministry at Durham Cathedral
From the Warden of Cranmer Hall, Durham
Sir, — While I understand the disappointment felt by the Revd Bob Wallace after his recent visit to Durham Cathedral (Letters, 15 September), I do not think that his letter tells the whole story.
Clearly I cannot comment on the specifics of the visit in question, but I can speak as someone who has over the summer regularly joined the Dean and Chapter, together with a sometimes sizeable number of visitors, for Morning Prayer.
I have found the officiating clergy going out of their way to welcome visitors and lead them through the Daily Office with sensitivity and care. On one memorable occasion, this included more than 30 ten-year-olds on a day’s trip to the cathedral — and they loved it.
Every morning, visitors are prayed for before the crowds arrive; and there is little doubt in my mind that in Durham there is a cathedral that well understands its mission of welcome, worship, and prayer.
St John’s College
Durham DH1 3RJ
Talking about Jesus
From Mr David Leonard
Sir, — Andrew Brown commends the Revd Richard Coles and the Revd Kate Bottley for not “banging on about Jesus” (Press, 22 September).
What he didn’t mention was that, unlike the rest of the world, those two have had the advantage of privileged access to the newly discovered manuscript of Matthew 28.19, which reveals that Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations . . . but don’t mention me.”
Stars Cottage, 4 Mews Street
London E1W 1UG
From Canon Cecil Heatley
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby makes some valid points in her critique of the Lectionary (Comment, 8 September), but any changes would have to be approached with great care. The Lectionary is not only ecumenical: it is global. It gives me joy to think that my son, attending the Lutheran church in Pasadena, is hearing exactly the same lessons as I have heard eight hours previously.
Flat 37 Sheppards College
London Road, Bromley BR1 1PF
Choice lies between fossils fuels and extinction
From Dr Richard Nicholson
Sir, — The letter from the Revd Michael Roberts (“Christian Aid takes a wrong turn on green issues”, 25 October) was muddled and unhelpful. The only issue on which he is surely correct is that church leaders continue to show the same apathy towards the environment as he found 35 years ago.
Just as concerning, however, is Mr Roberts’s view — which may as well have come straight from the fossil-fuel industry’s PR companies — that fossil fuels will be used for at least another 50 years. Were that to happen, it would ensure the extinction of the human race and the destruction of much of God’s creation.
Climate disruption is now an existential crisis for humanity, because unprecedented high temperatures in the Arctic last winter have ensured increasing melting of the permafrost. Permafrost stores massive amounts of carbon (estimated at 1.5 gigatonnes): as it melts, carbon decomposes and is released to the atmosphere. Methane is also stored in permafrost under the shallow rims of the Arctic Ocean; as ice disappears in summer, the water warms enough to release some of that methane.
Methane is a more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide. If just 0.5 per cent of what is stored undersea were released in a year, it would have a greater heating effect than all the greenhouse gases now released annually. It would start a natural release of greenhouse gases which we could not control; global temperature would rise for at least the next century, destroying the many ecosystems on which we depend; and human extinction would be inevitable.
The effects of climate disruption continually accelerate. If very lucky, we may have ten years to stabilise the earth’s temperature, and limit carbon release from permafrost. That will require a complete stop to burning fossil fuels, and some form of geoengineering. Inevitably, the “developed” world will have to cope with massive disruption, and the collapse of the neoliberal free-market economy that has done nothing to help, and a great deal to hinder, our response to global heating.
Disinvestment from fossil-fuel companies — a “shibboleth” to Mr Roberts — is a means to limit the funds available to develop new sources, since it is now essential that we leave all fossil fuels in the ground.
It is also a morally required response to oil companies’ behaviour. Its own scientists warned the ExxonMobil board nearly 40 years ago that continued burning of fossil fuels would lead to millions of deaths worldwide. The board chose to go for maximum profits, regardless of how many that killed. It is extraordinary that the Church of England still invests in ExxonMobil.
6 Gallia Road
London N5 1LA
After Lammy report, time to put C of E in order
From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss
Sir, — The online version of your coverage of the David Lammy report (News, 15 September) includes insightful remarks by the Revd Anne Bennett. After listing a number of contributions the Church could make, she adds that “we must address the fact that the Church itself does not model equality and our own senior ranks are disproportionately white and male.”
Meanwhile, the Revd Martin Kettle, the Church of England’s policy adviser on home affairs, has identified “delivering fairness, building trust, and sharing responsibility” as the underlying principles of the changes that Mr Lammy advocates.
Well done, Anne Bennett, for calling on us to respond by putting our own house in order with regard to these principles.
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER
Administrator’s dismay over welfare reforms
From Mr Stephen Davies
Sir, — I was pleased to hear that the Archbishop of Canterbury is concerned about the UK’s broken economic system (News, 8 September).
I work for a benefits section in local government, and am dismayed at the latest reforms to the welfare system. They seem to me to be persecuting the poor and needy unnecessarily to reduce the unemployment figures by a few thousand.
The social-sector size criteria (aka “bedroom tax”) was supposed to encourage claimants to move to smaller properties. There were, however, not the properties to move into; so they had a drop in benefit by 14 per cent if they had one bedroom too many.
The benefit cap was initially set at £26,000 and then lowered to £20,000 for those outside London. This has caused a great deal of grief and given us more work, as many claimants have had to resort to claiming discretional housing payments (DHPs).
We have also seen the introduction of Universal Credit (UC), which, in theory, seemed a good idea, but means that claimants are now having to wait double the time before receiving UC. This has meant that many landlords are unhappy and refuse to take tenants who are on UC. Also, it is not universal, as half the benefits are still being awarded separately.
The latest idea is restricting the child allowance to two children. This seems to be just penalising families with more than two children. If the Government wants to raise more income, it would be easier to tax interest from capital at source, as it used to do.
It seems to be unfair to force the parents of young children out to work, as someone (grandparents, friends, or older childen, for example) will have to look after the children, as those who are getting working tax credit do not get benefit-capped.
I do think that members of the Conservative Party need to have a bit of compassion and try to put themselves in the shoes of those in need. Otherwise, the numbers of homeless will continue to rise, and the misery and cost will exceed any short-term gain from a drop in unemployment figures.
22 Hamble Walk
Surrey GU21 3PR