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Letters to the Editor

01 June 2018

Safeguarding at the next Synod, Reader ministry, and the legalisation of abortion


Safeguarding discussion at the York Synod sessions

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — You kindly published my letter (5 January) arguing for time to be found at the February sessions of the General Synod for a debate when the issues arising from the Carlile review (of the Church of England’s handling of the claim by “Carol” that she had been sexually abused as a child by the late Bishop George Bell) could be properly discussed.

In the event, there was no such debate, and discussion of the Carlile report was effectively inhibited by the announcement by the National Safeguarding Team (NST) on 31 January (just a week before the Synod met) that “fresh information” had been received concerning Bishop Bell and that a Core Group was “now in the process of commissioning an independent investigation in respect of these latest developments”.

The NST statement also said that Sussex police had been informed and that “we will work collaboratively with them.”

It was then reported (News, 27 April) that Sussex Police had closed the case, having assessed the information and carried out a “proportionate investigation”, and that this had been reported to the NST some time in March — i.e. within two months of the NST referral on 30 January.

Although there was no debate on the Carlile report in February, it was the subject of questions. In one supplementary question, Martin Sewell asked Bishop Peter Hancock (the lead bishop on safeguarding): “After Carlile, shall we see better transparency of process from start to finish in respect of the new Bell allegations than we did with the first?”

Bishop Hancock’s answer was an unqualified “yes”. Five months after the 31 January statement, however, nothing has been published about the “Bell 2” investigation, who is conducting it, and the timescale set for it to be concluded. An email I sent to the National Safeguarding Adviser, Graham Tilby, on 8 March (by way of follow-up to an email from him on 5 March, in response to questions I put to Bishop Hancock at the Synod) remains unanswered, despite two reminders.

The timetable for the forthcoming Synod meeting in York was published last week. As in February, there is to be a presentation on safeguarding (with questions), on the Saturday morning, 7 July, but this time to be followed by a “Debate on a motion on Safeguarding from the House of Bishops”. The terms of that motion have not yet been disclosed.

Unless the “Bell 2” investigation is completed and a report published by 7 July, however, debate at York on the Carlile report and the episcopal statements that accompanied its publication (including the controversial “significant cloud” comment by the Archbishop of Canterbury) will again be inhibited. Perhaps more importantly, Bell’s surviving niece, 94-year-old Barbara Whitley, deserves to know the outcome as soon as possible.

If the Church is to be as transparent as Bishop Hancock indicated, details of the “Bell 2” investigation process should be published now, with a clear indication of when this will be completed. If not, or perhaps in any event, there are likely to be more difficult questions for the NST at York.

(Synod member for St Edmundsbury & Ipswich)
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU


From Mr Martin Sewell 

Sir, — The Grenfell Tower Inquiry has begun with tributes to 72 of the victims, which are being heard by those who will eventually reach decisions about what needs to be done to ensure that such a disaster never happens again.

In contrast, most members of the General Synod will never have personally met or heard the testimony of survivors of abuse within the Church. We have read quotations in the Stones Not Bread booklet, and February’s presentation contained some recorded testimony from two years previous, though much has changed in the mean time.

In my experience, such presentations do not do justice to the ordinary/extraordinary, brave, funny, intelligent, and compassionate individuals whom I have come to meet and know during my engagement with the issue. I would like all members of the Synod to have the opportunity to meet and engage with those who have broken through our institutional indifference, through commitment and pure strength of character.

This should not be at their expense. We should be inviting them to attend, not as passive observers, but as honoured guests, with the purpose of getting to know better those who are helping us to put right the historic wrongs that we inflicted on them. I am sure that funding some to join us on the campus at the University of York in July would be money well spent.

(Synod member for Rochester)
8 Appleshaw Close
Kent DA11 7PB


Parishes’ experience of the faculty process

Sir, — Difficult actual experiences of the functioning of diocesan advisory committees (DACs) (Letters, 11 May) and its impact on parishes are surely worth reflecting on, notwithstanding the succinct corrective points and explanation made by the Dean of the Arches (Letters, 18 May) concerning the formal position.

Where the power to influence decisions or recommendations is divorced from bearing any consequences, there is always a potential danger. Amenity societies and DACs influence what parishes have to do to progress a petition, but it is the parishes that bear the impact of further work, cost, and delay. No repercussions fall on these other bodies.

Good intent is not scarce at all levels, but there is a fundamental systemic problem, which is how to manage the multiple inputs of expertise and experience which can as easily swamp and derail petitions as lead to their improvement. The “testing” of advice for depth, quality, and relevance is nothing like as demanding as the testing of a petition. No matter how professional all these bodies seek to be, the absence of consequences and accountability is a fundamental weakness and requires a compensatory solution. But the problem first needs to be acknowledged.

As an example, a few years ago, a small parish of 250 residents which I served in as Reader was thoroughly demoralised, having pursued a petition for a lavatory and kitchen over about nine years, backwards and forwards to the DAC, taking on board “advice”, at a cost of around £10,000, and with nothing to show for it, as the last attempt was also “not recommended”.

A new parish priest revived the vision and their spirits, and determinedly pursued the original proposal to a successful conclusion, which then won an award. On visiting to see the result, the DAC expressed no concern or acknowledgment of the flawed process, wasted costs — financial and human — and lost opportunities of the time that had elapsed. They were no longer able to see the pain that the parish had endured, and had themselves become inured to their own unproductive, institutionalised behavioural patterns.

The end result has been a huge benefit to both the local and wider community, and has made the Church more part of the local community. This positive outcome was nearly lost, owing to the process.



Christianity viewed in purely human terms

From the Revd David Paterson

Sir, — Thank you for the conversation between Nick Spencer and John Gray (Features, 25 May). It seems that the importance of bridging the gap between theism and non-theism is increasingly being acknowledged, and I shall be buying both of their books.

Two phrases from Professor Gray which stood out for me were “Humans are meaning-making animals,” and “History has no redemptive meaning; it’s a succession of events.” The evolution of consciousness has given rise to the need for meaning. We have to make that meaning ourselves.

Mr Spencer suggests that “the idea that redemption arises within history on account of human energy is not a Christian view,” but I don’t see why not. Might it not be claimed that the Church, as the Spirit-filled Body of Christ, working to bring in the Kingdom of God, is just that? Liberation theology has something very similar. And isn’t that exactly what Christianity has to offer for humankind’s future development? Should we not, now more than ever, take responsibility for a global ethic the values the richness of our divers cultures, religions, and philosophies?

If the answer is yes, the question whether there is a God seems less divisive (even perhaps irrelevant): we can live by our ideals and be inspired by our mythologies without needing to claim exclusive rights for our own. I hope to find some new insights in these authors’ books.

(Trustee of the Sea of Faith Network)
Flat 8, Tatmarsh House
2 Gladstone Avenue
Loughborough LE11 1NP


How the ministry of a Reader may develop

Sir, — The Bishop of Leicester is correct about not undermining Readers who are absolutely clear about their vocation into lay ministry (News, 4 May). One of the consequences of having been a Reader in the same place for nearly 25 years, however, is that I am frequently asked to baptise and marry people, and they are disappointed when I say that I can only (when appropriate) bury them.

It is not easy to explain the reasons that someone visibly associated with the church’s liturgy and teaching, Sunday by Sunday, for so long cannot respond personally to their requests without in some way undermining the ministry of Readers. While taking baptisms and weddings is only part of the distinction between one person licensed as a Reader and another ordained deacon, in this case it is a significant one — and one that has only arisen as a consequence of a long and otherwise fulfilling ministry in one place — which also means that I am too old to explore ordination through the usual route.

My incumbent and I would both welcome it if all dioceses — and not some but not others — were proactive and invited Readers to explore ordination to the diaconate, especially when it would be seen a natural development rather than a setting aside of an existing ministry.



Feast follows wedding

From the Revd John-Francis Friendship

Sir, — After the US Presiding Bishop’s powerful sermon at the royal wedding (News, 1 June), it is worth recalling that the Church celebrates the Incarnation of Love this month with the sadly neglected Feast of the Sacred Heart.

To address that oversight, the online Spiritual Association of the Compassionate Hearts of Jesus and Mary was founded in 2017 (Diary, 9 June 2017). This coming year, we will be focusing on the need for that conversion of the heart which St Benedict made part of his Rule.

We now number 17 Companions and 18 Associates, and all information can be found online at: cchjm.org.

22 The Old Fire Station
1 Eaglesfield Road
London SE18 3BT


Women’s ministries remembered

From the Revd Freda Beveridge

Sir, — In response to the Revd Janet Fife (Letters, 25 May), the ministry of lay deaconesses was the same as that of male ordained deacons, but there was a significant difference: our dress. We wore blue cassocks and a deaconess cross that was silver, two inches wide, and an attractive teething ring for babies being christened. Parish workers wore red cassocks.

There was some debate in the run-up to our ordination as deacons about whether we should, or wanted to, wear the same dress as men. A young mother in my parish said, “We need you to look the same.” The moment I donned a clerical shirt, I knew what she meant.

One thing that we were allowed to do as deacons which we had not been able to as deaconesses was conduct weddings. I think I am right in saying that those who only serve a year as deacons don’t. Apart from the privilege that entailed, there was a bonus. It made us visible to non-churchgoers. When people said, as they so often did, “That was a lovely service,” I was tempted to reply, “And you didn’t think a woman could do it.”

I was made deaconess in 1985, and so waited only 20 months before ordination as a deacon. Nevertheless, the years between then and 1994 weren’t easy to handle. How hard it must have been for the women who had been deaconesses for many years. What able and spiritual people they were.

I think particularly of the Revd Jane Durell, who died in January (Gazette, 26 January). She was a parish worker in Banbury when I was exploring my call to ministry. She invited me to “supper and a chat”. There could have been no better preparation for the selection conference. She left no stone unturned, but conducted the conversation in such a way that I came away confident that God had a part for me to play. I just didn’t yet know what.

All who knew her were delighted when Jane recognised that she was called to ordination, though, like her, baffled about why the Church required her to be made a deaconess before she could be ordained deacon. She had retired before the first priestings and moved to Norwich. The Bishop, the Rt Revd Peter Nott, had served his curacy in the parish where she was parish worker, and decided that it was right to ordain her priest. I would have found it difficult to be a priest myself if she had not been.

Anyone reading this who knew Jane will realise that I have not mentioned a significant feature of her life. She was born with cerebral palsy. Not only did she do much to pave the way for women priests: she also paved the way for the acceptance of disabilities.

But Jane is only one of many women who prepared the way. A New Strength, A New Song: Journey to women’s priesthood by Margaret Webster tells the story of more. Sadly, it is out of print. Given that next year will be the 25th anniversary of the first ordinations of women to the priesthood, perhaps a reprint would be appropriate.

27 New Road, Chiseldon
Swindon SN4 0LX


The late Colin Morris on laughing at the Church

From Mr John Appleby

Sir, — About 40 years ago, in a Guardian “Face to Faith” column, Colin Morris said: “I am often told that the Church should condemn Dave Allen for his blasphemous humour. Well, I do not generally believe in condemning people, and in any case, I think Dave Allen is very funny.”

He went on to say: “In the end, either the Church has something worth while to say, in which case it can afford to be laughed at, or it doesn’t, in which case it deserves to be laughed at.”

38 Beech Grove
Whitley Bay NE26 3PL



Ireland’s abortion vote

From Mr G. M. Lyon

Sir, — Two questions arising from the Irish abortion referendum.

First, do the majority not believe in equal human rights, or do they hold that the unborn are not humans, but subhuman Untermenschen?

Second, is the beam in our own eye since 1967 the only reason that we have we had no expression of outrage from the Church of England at this tragic referendum result?

13, New Acres, Newburgh
Wigan, Lancs WN8 7TU


Confusion of Chavasses

From Mr Paul Sandham

Sir, — The Revd Dr John Pridmore’s excellent reflection on National Service (Features, 25 May) refers to Noel Chavasse as a Great War chaplain. Noel was a medic; his identical twin brother, Christopher, later Bishop of Rochester, was the chaplain. Incidentally, I have in my possession a letter from him, dated 13 March 1915, informing my grandmother of my grandfather’s death in a French military hospital.

52a Salterns Lane, Hayling Island
Hampshire PO11 9PJ

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