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Letters to the Editor

08 December 2017


Tasks for Church and State in the housing crisis

From the Revd Paul Nicolson and seven others

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canter­bury’s commitment to using church land for affordable housing (News, 1 December) is very welcome. It is to be hoped that the Church of Eng­land will also start making a sub­stan­tial contribution to the reform of national housing policy from the ground of our faith.

Every time, this Christmas, gener­­ous UK individuals or organisations give food to a foodbank, they com­pensate for the failures of govern­ments to legislate for the common good and to ensure the provision of minimum incomes for healthy living and truly affordable housing for all. They are also making it easier for the government to turn a blind eye to both the flow of trillions of pounds tax-free to tax havens, and the un­­earned and untaxed increases in the value of land.

Nevertheless, the impoverished hungry, housed or homeless, have to be fed in ever increasing numbers, in more and more foodbanks, while public health declines, as measured by the Office for National Statistics. There was an unprecedented shortening in expectation of life and an increasing number of infant deaths of the babies of poor mothers in 2015. There will be many families and individuals without income, while debts pile up, for weeks or months over this Christmas, owing to a benefit sanction, a zero-hours con­tract, or the rolling out of the uni­versal credit.

For a Christian, this wonderful globe we live on is the free gift of a generous and loving God, and is intended to provide shelter, food, water, fuel, and clothes for all; to many humanists, land is simply a free gift of nature for such purposes. Two parables illustrate the point. In the parable of the workers in the vineyard (Matthew 20.1-16), the landowner repeatedly goes out to offer work to men standing idle outside his vine­yard.They are all offered one denarius, however late in the day they start. At the end of the day, they are all paid one denarius. They all get a share of the produce of the land.

Quite the opposite happens in the parable of the wicked tenants (Matthew 21.33-46). The landowner goes away to another country and leaves his tenants to farm his land. Later, he sends servants many times to collect a share of the produce in rent, and finally his son. They are beaten, stoned, or killed. We are asked to compare the landowner, who gave a share of the produce of the land to all who worked in the vineyard, with his tenants, who violently held all the produce of the land for their own exclusive use.

The Established Church has a unique responsibility to encourage the State to fulfil the challenge of Winston Churchill. In government in 1909, he said that “the civilisation of modern States is largely based upon respect for the rights of private prop­erty [but] . . . that respect cannot be secured unless property is associated in the minds of the great mass of the people with ideas of justice and of reason.”

The Archbishop of Canterbury’s commitment is challenging the Church of England to consider how its land and buildings can be used to house “the great mass of the people” in truly affordable homes, and so give a lead to all UK landowners.

The Rt Revd Lord Williams, preach­ing in Westminster Abbey at the memorial service commemor­ating the centenary of the birth of Archbishop Óscar Romero, used these words: “Property, Romero said, in Jewish and Christian scripture, was something that was lent to the user. Never absolutely given. Always to be used, rented from God. And so, he says, the truth is that the rich pay to the poor the rent for the land whose use they are given for a time.

“In a just world, that is how we should conceive property. We are given something through which we are set free to discharge our debt to the poor. Because if our God is with the poor, then when we serve the poor, we serve God. . . What is given is given to be given.”

PAUL NICOLSON, Founder, Taxpayers Against Poverty; FRANCES BALLIN; FRED HARRISON, Director, Land Research Trust; STEPHEN HILL, Churchill Fellow; ALISON GELDER, Chief Executive, Housing Justice 2007-17; PAUL REGAN, Chair, London Community Land Trust; JOE RYAN, Co-ordinator, Westminster Diocese Justice and Peace Commission; NICHOLAS SAGOVSKY, Whitelands Professorial Fellow, Roehampton University.

c/o Taxpayers against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


Staying or leaving when all feel under threat

From Tracey Byrne

Sir, — Like Erica Wilkie (Letters,1 December), I, too, am an ordinand on the Oxford Ministry Course; and I was especially struck by her writing that she has been “forced . . . to consider where I will fit in as a minister in a Church in which my views are perhaps increasingly at odds with the direction in which others are travelling”. I suspect that it is a question that many more of us will be pondering if, as expected, AMiE ordain their ministers later this week.

I am old enough to remember those who threatened to leave — and some even did — over women’s ordination as priests. I also know only too many who have left because they can no longer bear to be part of a Church that causes them and the people they love harm and unhappiness, although those quiet and despairing departures seldom attract attention. For many, those leavings have been a liberation and the beginning of a deeper journey into God, and into different forms of fellowship. Good news for them; bad news for the Church.

Partings are always sad, but we are none of us called to static certainty in this Christian life. As Jim Cotter wrote, when a civilisation turns, God may not be found at the old landmarks. So, inevitably, some will feel compelled to move on, and some to stay. Sometimes we leave because we have achieved all we can in a place and we’re called on; sometimes we leave to make a statement, or because we will be more comfortable elsewhere. Sometimes, we are tired out; and sometimes we recognise that we are losing our privilege and influence, and don’t want to play on the new terms. Only Mrs Ashworth and those members who are striking out as AMiE will know their truth in this respect.

Erica is not alone in wondering whether there will be a place for her; in my “day job”, I hear the same sentiment expressed by people right across the range of traditions. Notably, all to whom I speak seem, alike, to believe that it is their part of the Church which is especially under threat, and at odds with the general drift of the moment. I suspect that’s telling us all something that we have yet to discern.

I would say to those who feel this way: Stay or leave, as you feel called by God, and you will, I have absolutely no doubt, find God already there waiting for you. We women and LGBT people, in particular, have a rich heritage of pioneers and pilgrims who have walked this hard road before us, and who witness to God’s faithful love and presence inside and beyond the edges of the Church. Talk about your hurts, be honest, and take risks about the things that you fear or on which we differ, and about the unanswered questions — but don’t use them to threaten or blackmail others. But stay, if you can. Stay, because, as Jo Cox told us, we have more in common than divides us. Stay — and serve.

Chief Executive
One Body One Faith
South Church House, 25 Market Place
Newark, Nottinghamshire NG24 1EA


Evangelism grows out of silence, not talking

From the Revd Peter Dodson

Sir, — Last Friday’s post included a new booklet, Evangelism for the Local Church, with a covering letter from the Archbishops of Canterbury and York. The letter contained the words “pray”, “prayer”, “prayers”, or “prayed” nine times. Their use seemed to imply, however, that Christian prayer consisted mainly of our address to God: e.g. “Thy Kingdom come,” or “Come, Holy Spirit.”

I am privileged to be an experienced leader of day and residential contemplative-prayer retreats. My rule of life includes a daily commitment to silent contemplation of first-person divine language. I am convinced that the discipline of listening silently and attentively to what our threefold God says to Christians, through holy scripture, is of primary and absolute importance. This imperative is expressed in divine sayings such as “Be still and know . . ., “Be silent before me. . .”, “Listen to my words and let them sink deep within you. . .”

This type of incarnational prayer enables discerning Christians to feed on, absorb, and live by “every word that comes from the mouth of God”. The “spirit and life” of such divine vocabulary is illuminated by the parable of the sower: the rich soil of stillness and silence enables the “seed” of the divine Word and words to germinate, root, grow, burst into flower, and bear abundant fruit.

Authentic contemplative prayer impels its practitioners to share God’s creative wisdom, burning love, and powerful desire for the well-being of the world’s people, as well as of all creation. I submit that this larger understanding of prayer provides the best motivation for local, national, and international evangelism.

The divine word “Come” is best heard as speaking from the lips of Jesus or from the heart of the Cross: e.g. “Come to me, all whose work is hard, whose load is heavy, and I will give you rest,” “Come with me to a quiet place and get some rest,” “Come back to me”. Such divine language, supplemented, for example, by the boundless riches of the great Hebrew/Christian “I am”, “I will”, “This is . . .”, “You are . . .”, “Do this . . .” sayings, represents vital building-blocks for effective evangelism, as well as for all other aspects of committed Christian living.

The holy eucharist, “the root and fruit of contemplation”, may also be presented in a gloriously contemplative manner, with plenty of relaxed and silent attention, which inevitably leads to silent or vocal intercessory prayer, sometimes described as “compassion meditation”, regarding the world’s intensely joyful or appallingly sorrowful mysteries.

I commend the following resourceful website to all your readers: www.contemplative-prayer.org.uk.

Roseville, Studley Road
Ripon HG4 2QH


C of E view of sacraments oversimplified

From the Revd Neil Bryson

Sir, — On the Radio 4 Sunday programme on 3 December, the Revd Dr Ian Paul (a member of the General Synod), commenting on the forthcoming marriage of Prince Harry to Meghan Markle, stated twice that the Church of England did not believe that marriage was a sacrament.

He was, no doubt, referring to Article XXV; but what does it actually say? “Those five commonly called Sacraments, that is to say . . . Matrimony . . . are not to be counted for Sacraments of the Gospel.” A careful reading and analysis does not permit the interpretation that the five listed are not sacraments. “Commonly called” is not a denial, but an acknowledgment that this is what people (at the time of writing) believed. Another BCP example of this language usage is the liturgical material for “The Nativity of Our Lord, or the Birth-day of Christ, commonly called Christmas Day”. There are similar instances for Ash Wednesday, the Presentation, the Churching of Women, and in Article VIII: none of these are refutations, but, rather, acknowledgment of common usage.

What the Article does is list seven sacraments, making a distinction between baptism and holy communion, and the other five sacraments. The distinction is twofold. First, baptism and holy communion are “Sacraments ordained of Christ our Lord in the Gospel”. Second, the other five (so the Article states) do not have outward and visible signs “ordained by God”. However, all seven fulfil the criteria set out in the opening paragraph of the Article: “badges or tokens of Christian men’s profession . . . certain sure witnesses, and effectual signs of grace, and God’s good will towards us, by the which he doth work invisibly in us, and doth not only quicken, but also strengthen and confirm our faith in him”.

I have been unable to discover any official statement of the Church of England which would unequivocally support Dr Paul’s pronouncement that there are only two sacraments, and that matrimony is not one of them. All that can be said is that that is his personal interpretation of the Article; it is regrettable that he did not make this clear in his broadcast.

416 Tonbridge Road
Maidstone ME16 9LW


Statistics are not always helpful to mission

From the Revd Simon Woodley

Sir, — I have been fortunate to receive a “dashboard” for the statistics in my parish, based on returns that I have sent over the past few years. These are collected, I think, so that the dioceses and the central Church (?) can bid for money, show their worth, and argue for the relevance of the C of E. I beg to be corrected.

A downside of this is that what is not measured does not exist, and many groups who need funding are missed. We have the privilege of a Deaf curate in our parish, who runs a Deaf church. Interpreters cost £45 an hour, and Deaf chaplains are only available in six of the 43 dioceses. Is this because there is no measure or recognition statistically that deaf people come to church?

What other groups are we missing? And, if I have missed the point and we are all one in Christ, then why are we counting children and schools and over-70s separately? Am I alone in thinking that all this counting is not helping church growth?

Rector of Bemerton
96 St Michael’s Road
Bemerton Heath
Salisbury SP2 9LE


Generous farewell from most deprived parish

From the Rt Revd Geoff Pearson

Sir, — The article about St Peter’s, South Shore (Features, 1 December), reminded me of a wonderful visit there on St Peter’s Day in June. It was my last visit before I retired. The generosity of the most deprived parish in the C of E. was overwhelming. They gave me a cheque for more than £200, some B&Q vouchers, and a bottle of wine. What really finished me off was looking up and seeing that the wonderful Jimmy Armfield had dragged himself up to play the organ. He was not well, and just about to have another operation, but he wanted to be there.

God is at work in Blackpool through some brilliantly dedicated clergy and some special lay disciples.

Former Bishop of Lancaster
10 Elderswood, Rainhill
Prescot, Merseyside L35 4QY


Trained in Oxford Street

From the Revd Claire Wilson

Sir, — Glyn Paflin’s reference to the old Bourne & Hollingsworth department store (Diary, 24 November) reminded me of my brief spell as a seller of ladies’ stockings there in the 1960s.

I was rebuked one morning for keeping a novel under the counter to read when business was slack. “Our staff must be visibly alert and available at all times.”

This advice was to prove relevant on my ordination to the priesthood thirty years later.

26 Frognal Lane
London NW3 7DT


Guided by the stars

From Canon Rachel Phillips

Sir, — Canon David Winter (Diary, 1 December) points out the pitfalls of omitting the starred verses in hymns. I often think that during Epiphany we should sing only the starred verses — for sound theological reasons, obviously.

The Chapter Office
Garth House, The Precinct
Rochester ME1 1SX

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