‘Father and toddler’ is not universally accepted
From Mr Gordon Tough
Sir, — Claire Kay (Comment, 1 September) is right to highlight the need for toddler groups, and the positive effect that they can have. I am concerned, however, about an implicit belief that these groups are, or should be, for mothers only.
I gave up work in 2013 to take on the primary care of my infant daughter, when my wife’s maternity leave ended. My experience, including that of toddler groups, was not always a positive or affirming one. From the health visitor who could barely conceal her disgust at the thought of a voluntary stay-at-home dad to the church-based toddler group where both I and my daughter were actively ignored for three weeks, while new mothers were drawn into the group, and their babies were doted on; or the group who seemed welcoming and involving, but who invited the mums to extra events, but not the solitary dad.
Groups may now call themselves “Parent and Toddler”, but the expectation, and attitudes, seem to be still lodged with their being “Mother and Toddler” groups.
I recognise that in a society where the norms are that either the mother stays at home, or both parents go to work and the child attends a nursery, that I am a statistical outlier. Nevertheless, if we believe in a Church that “transforms our communities for the benefit of us all” (as the diocese of Durham puts it), the exclusion of fathers needs to be addressed.
28 Bartlett Street
Darlington DL3 6NQ
BSL interpreters were kept busy at Greenbelt
From Janice Silo, Nick Palfreyman, and Tashi Bradford
Sir, — As deaf participants at Greenbelt, we appreciated your comprehensive reporting (1 September) of the brilliant access provided by Greenbelt. We want to point out, however, that in addition to the “Liveability signers” who were signing Makaton at the Festival Communion, there were also ten British Sign Language (BSL) interpreters working throughout the venue, providing access to those of us who use BSL and encouraging others to join in signing the hymns and liturgy.
The BSL interpreting team was provided by Signs of God (an organisation providing excellent interpreters to many of our national Christian events, www.signsofgod.org.uk) and ensured that we had full access to the whole Greenbelt programme including worship, talks, discussions, theatrical performance, craft workshops, and many conversations with exhibitors and contributors. We kept them busy all weekend: they interpreted more than 40 separate events during the Festival.
Greenbelt has become well-known for its commitment to access, and rightly so. It is one of the most accessible events in the Christian calendar. We want to assure deaf people who use BSL that they can be confident that anything they choose to attend during the festival will be interpreted by high-quality, skilled, and committed sign-language interpreters.
c/o Flat 1, Thorne House
Manchester M14 6DW
Ethics of nuclear powers’ policy on North Korea
From the Revd Andrew McLuskey
Sir, — In relation to current concerns about North Korea, one issue seems to be being ignored. That is: is it morally right for members of the existing nuclear “club” to be pressurising a small, poverty-stricken country that is just trying to achieve the level of military capability which we have had for decades?
No one disputes that the way the North Korean Government treats its people is obnoxious. Also, it is clear Kim Jong-un has taken sabre-rattling to a new level of intensity. The ethical issue remains, however, and needs wider discussion. Many of us (multi- and unilateralists) have done our best to press the case for nuclear disarmament over the years. The steam, however, seems to have gone out of that campaign. It needs reviving — whatever is or has to be done to curb North Korea’s bellicose actions.
17 Diamedes Avenue
Stanwell, Staines TW19 7JE
Critical verdicts on Lindchester and Barchester
From Canon Nicholas P. A. Jowett
Sir, — I take issue with Canon Angela Tilby on the Lindchester novels of Catherine Fox (Comment, 1 September). Fox has an insider’s view of the Church of England and writes with considerable verve and humour, but there are for me some disturbing effects of her “affectionate satire”.
There is, first of all, a cloying, in-crowd self-satisfaction in the tone of the writing: in spite of all our little peccadilloes, aren’t we Anglicans wonderful and — a favourite word — “lovely”? Second, the Church pictured seems to have little to do with non-elite persons — there’s are an awful lot of posh boozing and fast cars and amusing cathedral life.
And, worst of all, Fox blends all the powerful themes of theology and liturgy, of judgement and grace, of creation and eschatology, right into the middle of the delightfully and often trivially messy lives of her characters. The effect of this is of cheap grace: “All shall be well,” she says: we’re not so bad after all; let’s open a nice bottle of reassuringly expensive wine and everything will be hunky dory.
If this a true image of the Church of England, shouldn’t we be just a little worried? And, if it’s not, shouldn’t we be just a little worried about what’s being projected here?
217 Nursery Road, Dinnington
Sheffield S25 2QU
From the Revd Andrea Jones
Sir, — I am puzzled by Canon Tilby’s description of Anthony Trollope as an author who was “incensed by clerical greed and set out to expose it as ruthlessly as he could”.
I see no evidence of his being ruthless. His characters are sympathetic, complex, and nuanced: for example, that of Archdeacon Grantly, who is undoubtedly bombastic and ambitious, and who wants to uphold the old order, but whom Trollope portrays kneeling at the bed of his dying father, wanting him to die so that he might succeed him as bishop, but feeling great grief and guilt because of those feelings. It is a very moving scene.
Few authors can chronicle our human weaknesses and foibles quite as well as Trollope, while never condemning us for having them.
The Rectory, 2 Birch Rise
Hawarden CH5 3DD
Discernment process for ordination training
From Dr Sheila Fisher
Sir, — Canon Tilby’s thoughtful reflection (Comment, 28 July) and Henry Ratter’s research (Comment, 28 July) both challenge the criteria for selection for ordination in the context of society’s need for wider ministry; a fundamentally pastoral and caring model, as Canon Tilby says, “to serve people’s needs, whether or not they go to church”.
In parallel, people have had the courage and confidence to speak about their experience of not being selected for ordination (Features, 7 July). I believe these narratives provide wisdom and insight from which our church leadership can learn. My experience relates to a vocation around these matters of wider ministry.
After 35 years as a cancer surgeon and medical researcher, at my time of retirement, I undertook a pilgrimage to give thanks to God. Throughout my career, he had always been there. What I did not expect was, in that Holy Place, to hear what I can only term the anguish of the spiritually lost, the lonely, the bereft. This came with the absolute conviction that God required me to do something about this, using the skills honed through so many talks with people whose lives had become limited in the quality of their daily living and ultimately, for many, in helping them continue to live as fully as possible through preparation for their death.
The next question was “How?” Enquiries about whether there was some kind of community chaplaincy ministry, working with the parish but with a focus on the spiritual well-being of those in need within but also beyond the worshipping community, led to a negative. There was also a view that ministry to people at these critical times required ability to offer formal offices, especially the eucharist, anointing, and absolution, and was, in effect, a priestly ministry.
My church, our DDO, and the chaplain at our local hospital were understanding and supportive. Informal formation through active involvement in preaching, planning services, and leading evensong was buttressed by an attachment to chaplaincy. Formal preparation included completion of a Postgraduate Certificate in Theology and Mission.
Time, then, for the Bishops’ Advisory Panel, with the prescient words of our diocesan bishop that there might well be difficulties in reconciling this ministry with the criteria for selection. If I could convince the panel, however, he would break with tradition and offer me a curacy in chaplaincy.
The process was powerful, prayerful, and deeply moving, but also characterised by a dual monologue rather than a dialogue, as I defended my belief that God wanted this ministry against the agenda for, as Canon Tilby phrases it, “numerical growth” and a firm church focus. I did so with conviction and a smile, feeling for the only time in my life that God approved, that I was saying what he wished, even though I knew that, by every word and phrase, I was making the outcome ever more predictable.
I learned from the experience that I could never conform to the Church’s concept of a parish priest, and perhaps it was a mercy to be spared the attempt. Nevertheless, I am left with the belief, to the absolute core of my being and my faith, that God still requires this kind of ministry, and that there should be ways to achieve it.
The recent correspondence gives me hope that I am not alone in this view. I hope and pray that the Church will look again at ministry in accord with need; at a ministry of service to the people.
2 Primley Park Mount
Alwoodley, Leeds LS17 7JJ
From the Revd Barry D. Collins
Sir, — When, more than 40 years ago, I was approved by my DDO to attend a selection conference (CACTM in those days), I was conscious, throughout the entire process — beginning with my first consultation with my parish priest — that I would not be attending a job interview that I might fail, but a selection-for-training process that might well result in my non-selection.
I was not certain of my “calling”; indeed, such certainty was not and is not to be had. The selection procedure was part of the validation, or not, of my intimation of being called. I did not believe that the selectors were infallible, or that they were assumed to be, but that they were the Church’s chosen method of discernment, whose decision, either way, would be made in good faith and for the perceived benefit of the Church. If this today sounds naïve then I can only regret the loss of naïvety.
To have been told why I was selected would, I suspect, have been as unhelpful and disconcerting as being told why I was not. Things are now different, and those differences entail responsibilities to the unselected candidates, responsibilities that, I assume, are set out to the selectors. But I cannot help the nagging feeling that this is a retrograde step in a process that does not lend itself to latest business practice.
To offer oneself for the ordained ministry is to volunteer for the Church’s process of discernment; and, in the end, that must imply the preparedness to accept the consequences, barring any blatant breaches, of that process. Parish clergy and all involved must take very seriously indeed this too easily avoided responsibility. Or is that also naïve?
BARRY D. COLLINS
9 Holbrook Avenue
Rugby CV21 2QG
The disaster in Yemen
From Mr C. J. Ryecart
Sir, — When questioned by Jeremy Corbyn about the morality of selling arms to Saudi Arabia after it had embarked on its illegal war against Yemen, the Prime Minister defended it on the grounds that it enhanced the security of UK citizens at home. Terrorist attacks in London and Manchester soon after have shown the opposite to be true, and yet, even after these IS-related attacks, the Prime Minister and the Home Secretary denied that there was a connection between British foreign policy and terrorism at home.
Sadly, as long as this Brexit government puts arms sales in the Middle East before human rights, the tragedy of Yemen could be repeated. Arms sales by the United States and Britain to Saudi Arabia should be frozen as part of a program by the United Nations to end this bloody war without delay.
As significant accomplices of Saudi’s war crimes in Yemen, both the US and Britain should be major contributors towards the reconstruction of the country that they have helped to destroy. The other significant contributors should be Saudi Arabia and its Arab coalition partners.
Terror begets terror. Could it be that the killing of 2000 innocent children in Yemen by the US-British-supported Saudi coalition gave rise to the IS terrorist attack in Manchester, which killed more than 20 children? We just don’t know, but John Pilger has not ruled it out.
CHRISTOPHER JOHN RYECART
Upper Austria, Austria
Budget cuts and safety issues
From Mr J. H. Stanning
Sir, — Referring to the Grenfell Tower fire, the Revd Andrew McLuskey asks “whether there are other ‘Kensington-type’ boroughs (i.e. councils in predominantly affluent areas which are nevertheless neglectful of their social-housing tenants)” (Letters, 11 August).
There are plenty of neglectful councils — or there were, until the Grenfell fire woke them up — but affluence doesn’t correlate with neglect. Earlier this year, Southwark council was convicted for safety failures in the years leading up to the fatal fire at the Lakanal House tower. Since that fire occurred in 2009, “the cuts” cannot be an excuse. After the Grenfell Tower fire, many councils checked the safety of their tower blocks: in the London borough of Camden, a check of the Chalcots Estate tower revealed such neglect that the council panicked and ordered immediate evacuation that same evening.
Of course, “government cuts” are every local council’s favourite excuse. But budget cuts cannot be an excuse for safety breaches. Safety is not optional. Safety, in all its forms, must come first in the spending list. The custodian of every building has an absolute duty to keep it safe; if it’s unsafe, and there’s really no money to make it safe, then it should be evacuated and shut down — and that goes for any building, churches and church halls included. And, mutatis mutandis, that goes, too, for other forms of safety. Child protection is one obvious example.
43 Cornes Close
Winchester SO22 5DS