Letters to the Editor

by
06 October 2017

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Multi-parish benefices and their communities

 

From Dr Richard Austen-Baker

Sir, — I have a different perspective on multi-parish benefices (MPBs) from that of the Revd Robert Nichols (Letters, 29 September). For him, the purpose of the parish is to provide the context for the weekly celebration of the eucharist. For me, the country parish, at least, is primarily there as a witness of Christ and a structure to enable ministry to his people in the district.

In most rural churches, the “fringe” membership is far larger and more significant than the “core” of dedicated weekly churchgoers. Not only that, but the wider membership of the parish, which is to say everyone who lives there, Anglican or not, Christian or not, is more important than the “core” of communicants.

By sharing a vicar with two other thinly populated rural parishes (our parish has 348 people in its 27 square miles), we are able to keep a living, working church in a community with which the inhabitants identify. It is where most of them will marry, most will take their child to be christened, and where most of them will have their funeral rites, and most be buried.

The ten or 15 who attend weekly are swelled a dozen times a year to about 25, 50, or 100, for Christmas, Easter, Mothering Sunday, Harvest Festival, our Pet Service and Lambing thanksgiving service, our Tractor Service, and the rest. At these, a wider group hear the word of God and experience his presence in the heart of communities that they recognise and belong to.

Through the close connection of the regular, core members, information flows to our priest and pastoral assistant which helps to ensure that the mission of healing and succour reaches those who need it.

In an artificial parish made up to serve the desire of core members (or apparent desires: our core members seem happy enough with two eucharists, an evensong and one non-eucharistic family service each month) for a weekly communion, most of the fifty or a hundred we see in church at special times we would never see and they would never hear the gospel preached, because they would not recognise it as where they live, since the parish was no longer coterminous with the community. The close links with the community would be lost so pastoral work would suffer too.

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Focusing on “self-sustaining eucharistic communities” is a sort of indulgence: all about serving ourselves as communicant Christians.

RICHARD AUSTEN-BAKER

Gallows Clough, Abbeystead

Lancaster LA2 9BE

 

State education: value the Benn critique

 

From Dr Robin C. Richmond

Sir, — In his review of educational books (Education, 29 September), Dennis Richards states that the foreword to Who Cares about Education? Going in the wrong direction “is written by Melissa Benn, the daughter of Tony Benn, which tells you all you need to know about the message”.

Really? I can conclude only that he is taking a leaf out of the Daily Mail school of journalism by implying that, because she is a member of the Benn family, any rational, sensible person would agree that it is full of a load of Leftish claptrap. Ideas from the Left on state education, or anything else, are not to be ridiculed and rejected because they come from the Left.

Melissa Benn is an advocate of state schools that are once again rooted in their community, where parents are consulted, that have a diverse comprehensive intake, and that are democratically accountable, offering opportunities to learn and thrive equally to all the nation’s children.

Ms Benn is an informed and serious writer on education, well aware that state schools are now largely private assets in the ownership of a series of unaccountable chains, often sponsored by business tycoons, where the order of the day is six-figure salaries funded by taxpayers for the new breed of chief executives and executive head teachers.

After a series of financial and other scandals in school chains, very recently the failing Wakefield City Academies Trust has walked away with no accountability, leaving children and their families in 21 state schools with uncertainty about the future of their education.

Professor Gerald Pillay, of Liverpool Hope University (quoted in Pat Ashworth’s article, Education, same issue), has it right when he says that “the problem . . . is with the notion of this Government that you can reduce [university education] to a market where the students are customers. . . It’s a travesty.”

Ms Benn’s so-called “message” on the provision of state education is going in the right direction, and preferable to the secretive semi-privatised monster that has been created and is now entering the higher-education sector.

ROBIN C. RICHMOND

Providence Cottage

The Downs, Bromyard

Herefordshire HR7 4NY

 

There are two sides to the safeguarding task

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks on BBC Radio 4’s Today exemplify a common confusion in the understanding of safeguarding. I have worked for both the BBC and the Church of England, and recently I have also been closely involved in supporting those who have been abused in church contexts.

Both the BBC and the C of E have worked hard to put measures in place to prevent abuse. This is more difficult for the Church than for the BBC, because the Church is dealing with large numbers of volunteers as well as staff. But both have done what they can.

The other side of safeguarding is how we treat those brave individuals who tell us that they have been victims of abuse. Here, the differences are stark. The BBC has learnt to listen to allegations and respond to victims immediately. The Church is still slow and evasive, and protects itself rather than prioritise victims. That’s where the criticism lies, and that is the issue the Church must urgently address.

ANDREW GRAYSTONE

17 Rushford Avenue

Levenshulme

Manchester M19 2HG

 

The payment of fees to the retired clergy in the diocese of Guildford

 

From the Diocesan Secretary of Guildford

Sir, — In response to the Revd Dr Malcolm Johnson (Letters, 22 September), I am happy to clarify the diocese of Guildford’s approach to the payment of fees to retired clergy.

The 1986 fees Measure provides for each diocese to set a policy for payment of fees for occasional offices (or the portion normally owed to the diocesan board of finance). After a review of the diocese of Guildford’s fees policy in 2016, it was decided that clergy with permission to officiate (PTO) from the Bishop of Guildford who were formerly stipendiary (i.e. in receipt of a Church of England pension) should continue to retain the whole of the DBF portion of the fee in most instances. The full policy can be found on our website, and has been explained to clergy in the diocese.

The only change has been to address a disparity between lay and ordained non-stipendiary ministry (NSM or SSM), where, until now, ordained volunteers would receive the fee, but lay volunteers would not. On the basis that their ministry is non-stipendiary, the policy has been standardised so that only formerly stipendiary clergy with PTO receive the fee.

Funerals and end-of-life ministry are a hugely important part of the Church of England’s work, and we know that many carry out this work without any thought to remuneration. It is right that their hard work is recognised, applauded, and supported, as well as that we be consistent in fee apportionment.

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To this end, we are currently exploring new ways to equip parishes and ministers to carry out this vital work, and want to reiterate our thanks to all who care for bereaved families at their time of need.

I hope this clears up any misunderstanding.

PETER COLES

Diocesan House

Quarry Street

Guildford GU1 3XG

 

Sharia at work in the UK

 

From Mr David Harte

Sir, — You report (News, 29 September) that the Archbishop of Canterbury does not share the view of his predecessor Lord Williams over sharia law: “I don’t think we should have elements of sharia law in the English jurisprudence system.”

Given his commercial experience and expertise, the Archbishop seems implicitly to condemn Islamic banking, which has been enthusiastically embraced within UK law. It is difficult to justify not accommodating this and other elements of sharia law, provided they are consistent with our law and are subject to the jurisdiction of the English and Scottish courts.

DAVID HARTE

8 Westminster Gate

Winchester SO22 4LN

 

Preaching with visuals is an imitation of our Lord

 

From the Revd Rupert Martin

Sir, What a rich feast of experience and insight was enjoyed at the Festival of Preaching (Features, 22 September). It is strange, however, that no one seemed to address the use of visual imagery. There were references to poetic imagery and metaphor, which are vital, but when Jesus said: “Look at the birds of the air, or consider the lilies of the field,” he could have been pointing to real birds and flowers. His parables also are rich in local and visual detail.

The Revd Dr Malcolm Guite mentioned the importance of seeking images alongside stories to give us glimpses of heaven in the familiar world. In our visually literate age, it is important to engage people with visual images.

Many possibilities have been opened up by technology to engage our congregations with images and video footage that can be beautiful, challenging, informative, and, dare I say it, relevant. We shouldn’t relegate such things to children’s talks.

The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Revd Paul Bayes, spoke at the recent Leeds diocesan clergy conference with great accomplishment. His skilful use of slides incorporated a range of imagery that culminated in the paintings of Marc Chagall.

It is, however, very time-consuming to do this well. Choosing visual imagery and typography may take as long as writing the text. The discipline of crafting a sequence of appropriate images, maps, or Bible quotations can help to hone a sermon, keeping it succinct and coherent.

RUPERT MARTIN

333 Barnsley Road, Sandal

Wakefield WF2 6EJ

 

Not a Merkel fan, then

 

From Herr Christof Jung

Sir, — Only a person who does not have to bear the consequences of a wrong policy, or has to pay only €1 towards the bill that this terrible woman has left Germany with for generations, can write such an article as “Angela Merkel, a prophetic politician” (Paul Vallely, Comment, 29 September), which confuses charity with preservation of power. May God protect us from such Gutmenschen and their naïve fans.

CHRISTOF JUNG

Türnicher Straße 3

Wohnung 9.05

50969 Köln, Germany

 

Sulphur all around

 

From Mr Derek Wellman

Sir, — I found Canon Angela Tilby’s article (Comment, 29 September) profoundly depressing. The definition of “psychopath” has been extended time and again, and I am convinced that this will continue until all of us are lying on psychiatrists’ couches.

DEREK WELLMAN

52 Nettleham Road

Lincoln LN2 1RH

 

Development and the Environment: a rain check

 

From the Revd Andrew McLuskey

Sir, — During my ordination training at Oxford in the late 1980s, I and my colleagues had the privilege of being taught ethics by the late but much lamented URC minister the Revd Yvonne Workman. One of the many topical issues that she brought to our attention was the Brundtland report on sustainable development. This formed the basis for much of our work on the integrity of creation — something still of great interest to many Christian denominations.

Now, in 2017, 30 years after the publication of the report, it is worth taking a rain check on the progress that has been achieved. On the basis of information in the public domain, we can say that:

• With regard to China, the “One belt, one road” project has committed this huge country to connecting more with Eurasia, Africa, and Europe, helping to support and finance infrastructure. (Admittedly the enterprise is not purely charitable, but the end results seem laudable.)

• In India, information technologies are becoming more widespread.

• In Ghana, we have the promise of free upper-secondary education — which is key to sustainable development everywhere.

• Community health workers with smartphones are fighting malaria, helping with maternity issues, and continuing the struggle against AIDS.

A challenge that still remains is that government aid needs to be given on a consistent basis. Overall, however, Mrs Brundtland, the progenitor of the original report, and those of us who have taken inspiration from it will surely be pleased with the progress that has been made since the document was issued.

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ANDREW McLUSKEY

17 Diamedes Avenue

Stanwell, Staines TW19 7JE

 

Mawer report on the Sheffield affair: few women named; no right to a see

 

From Canon Joanna Collicutt

Sir, — An approximate frequency count of words referring to key people in the Mawer report (News, 22 September; Letters, 29 September) yields interesting findings. Bishop Philip North is mentioned 211 times. Professor Martyn Percy is mentioned 83 times. The word “women” occurs 144 times, but only 43 of these occurrences refer to actual women.

The majority use of the word “women” is conceptual, as in “women’s ordination”, “women’s ministry”, or “women bishops”. In these instances, the concept is frequently referred to as an “issue”, a “matter”, or a “subject” on which people might take a view or position, either recognising and receiving it, or not. Here the word “women” forms part of an object that is to be considered and does not signify a voice that is to be heard.

The report is written by a man. There are 24 appendices. Of these, 13 are written by men, eight by committees, two are administrative, and one is written by a woman.

As the Americans say, “You do the math,” or as St Matthew wrote, “Let the reader understand.”

JOANNA COLLICUTT

Karl Jaspers Lecturer in Psychology of Religion and Spirituality

Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Oxford OX44 9EX

 

From Mr Michael Reed

Sir, — The Bishop of Burnley’s decision to decline the proffered appointment to the see of Sheffield has clearly caused agitation. But does it merit so much attention? The Five Guiding Principles do not, I think, say very much about the appointment of bishops: the manner of this appointment was, I am sure, compliant with their intent.

In respect of the opposition to it, I do not think that anyone said that Bishop North should not be able to practise as a priest, nor that he should be deprived of pastoral care or alternative oversight, should he choose it. In respect of his declining to take the post, outside the Church of England bubble this is a well-trodden path for anyone involved in secular recruitment.

The touchstone of the principles is the phrase “flourishing together”, and this is, indeed, a worthy aspiration. But must a suffragan bishop (or, indeed, anyone else) have to be promoted to have this experience? The proper response to this event is to continue to appoint as before: some potential appointments of “traditional” bishops will fail; some may succeed.

MICHAEL REED

1 Douglas Close, Hartford

Northwich, Cheshire CW8 1SH

 

From Mr Adrian F. Sunman

Sir, — There are two things to learn from this unhappy episode.

First, however gifted, experienced, or well-connected a cleric might happen to be be, there is no right to a diocesan bishopric as such. The offer of such a position is a matter of grace, not of right.

Second, the appointment of men to diocesan bishoprics who are unable for theological reasons to recognise the sacramental ministry of all their clergy will always involve difficulties. We need to be honest about this and face it straightforwardly. Few fair-minded people would wish to see a complete embargo on such appointments, and there are bound to be occasions when they are well justified. They should, however, be exceptional, in view of the potential difficulties, be subject to a more transparent and thoroughgoing process than would otherwise be the case.

There will always be a demand for suffragan bishops and Provincial Episcopal Visitors to provide pastoral oversight for those parishes that need their care. Those who find the sacramental ministry of women, or those ordained by them, problematic are surely better fitted to such appointments than to diocesan bishoprics where they will have oversight of large numbers of people who think differently.

ADRIAN F. SUNMAN

1 Lunn Lane, South Collingham

Newark, Notts NG23 7LP

 

The lot of the aged: online initiative in Camberley

 

From Mr Andrew Mitchell

Sir, — If Monica Ditmas (Letters, 29 September) has internet access, she can join us at St Michael’s, Camberley, as we “live-stream” our 10.30 a.m. service. We introduced this facility to enable parishioners who were unable to attend physically to join us in worship. We realise that it is not as good being there in person, but is an attempt to maintain links with those unable to travel or who are away from home. Originally available only by permission, it is now openly available on the internet: just go to our website and click on the links.

Our intention is to have this facility available for selected other services — for instance, weddings or funerals, when guests or mourners are unable to travel. Indeed, the idea was first mooted when someone in Holland was prevented from attending a funeral and wondered whether we could set up a camera link.

We provide communion to parishioners who are within a few minutes of the church. We have a slight delay on broadcast as a safety precaution, but it enables suitably authorised pastoral assistants to deliver bread and wine that has just been blessed, and administer it while the service is in progress and the recipients are still viewing the service. This is not communion by extension, but considered an integral part of the service.

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We are in discussion with local care homes to see whether we can extend this service more widely.

We have debated about this, there are many pros and cons, and it is still in a development phase; but it is proving to be a workable solution to reaching out to those who, for whatever reason, cannot attend church in person.

Finally, I would add that the budget for this is limited: it is not a Hollywood production, but our normal service, warts and all.

ANDREW MITCHELL

13 Verran Road, Camberley

Surrey GU15 2ND

 

Progress on clergy well-being

 

From Mr Edward Martineau

Sir, — Cler­ical well-being problems are as ex­­tensive as the Revd Jeremy Moodey (Letters, 22 September) suggests. Happily, dioceses are taking action. From a standing start in late 2013, St Luke’s is now en­­gaging with more than 20, with our preventat­ive initiatives of resilience training and reflective-practice groups; and others show continuing interest. These resources are under­pinned by expert psychother­ap­ists and psychiatric prac­titioners.

There are other beacons of good practice initiated by dioceses; and organisations that offer well-being awareness, training, and rep­ar­ative work. A rising number of clergy and their families seek help with mental well-being, year on year.

If the working group leads to Church-wide agree­ment on address­ing key aspects, St Luke’s believes the wait will be worth while. In the mean time, St Luke’s will continue developing preventative strategies.
EDWARD MARTINEAU
Chairman, St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy

Room 201, Church House

Great Smith Street

London SW1P 3AZ

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