Class barriers in ministerial selection processes
From Vanessa Hadley-Spencer
Sir, — Your report “Selection procedures ‘favour middle class’” (News, 27 April) resonated with some of my experience as a young person from a working-class background who has been through the selection process. But I felt that it struggled to get at the more foundational issues.
First, confidence is a significant barrier. The process makes no allowance for the fact that in a working-class person’s experience no one is modelling confidence. It is counter-cultural, almost perceived as a kind of selfishness. A lack of confidence at a first appointment with a DDO led to a significant delaying of my discernment process. Confidence can be developed; so it seems unfortunate that the Church should miss out on the gifts of many who at this initial stage have not learnt to articulate them.
The lengthiness of the discernment process could have ended the journey. The uncertainty involved is significantly more difficult for those who have little or no resources, especially when the timescale is unclear. Every time I raised this as a potential issue I was met with the response “Trust God,” which is not helpful when there are real practical concerns and no safety net. Practical concern is not a measure of one’s faithfulness.
I was a participant of a CEMES scheme for two years before selection. This has been fundamental to enabling me to complete the selection process, but it involved real financial risk. It would be interesting to measure how many participants are from a less affluent background, because the schemes pay only a nominal living allowance. These are not long-term positions, either; so if the process cannot be completed within a year, there is the added factor of giving up secure work and potentially being jobless and homeless at the end of the scheme: in many working-class families, the parental home is not a stable solution or even an option.
These schemes are available only to young people; so how are we equipping and enabling a wider group of people to gain the necessary experience?
I am conscious that the social ladders that I climbed up fell down behind me. I was in the last cohort to benefit from the Educational Maintenance Allowance, and in the last year to pay the lower fees for university — something that would have changed my decision and reduced my ability to meet the academic criteria.
Academic attainment is not the same between social classes for a reason. Opportunity is a crucial factor in academic achievement. It seems unfair that we are not enabling those who lack formal qualifications for reasons over which they have no control. School results, for instance, are heavily influenced by the quality of school attended, and this affects working-class people disproportionately. The opportunity to attend further education is limited for those who cannot afford it, or whose working patterns preclude their doing so.
I am excited that the Church is identifying the issue of class in the priesthood, as it certainly needs to be addressed. I hope that these conversations will enable wider participation.
Cambridge CB5 8BP
From Mr Hugo Deadman
Sir, — I applaud the efforts to encourage vocations from right across society. As a second-year ordinand from a professional background, I found Bishop Philip North’s comments in your report especially striking.
Things are not as clear-cut as they may seem. I went to public school — but on a scholarship at an institution for able children from ordinary to not very stable backgrounds. I also submit that those who attended such institutions in the 1980s and before get to know a great deal about violence, alienation, and abuse — and might be fired to do what they can to ameliorate it.
I went to Oxford; but there I was taught by Marxists. My vocation was lit when I was a child at an estate church on the edge of Portsmouth and rekindled when I was an adult living in a tough inner-city parish in London.
The Bishops’ Advisory Panel that I attended was not an Oxbridge social. There was a fantastic range of people, and the advisers went out of their way to see that they could show their potential. Regional courses honour the vocations of the sort of people who, it is suggested, are alienated by current selection procedures. In Portsmouth, we train on the edge of some of the most deprived estates in Europe, and our group includes people with doctorates and others who left school at 14.
I have made many wonderful friends among inspiring people on the Oxford Ministry Course, among those training as pioneers, and at Cuddesdon, where difference is treasured. My cohort represents all sorts and conditions of men — and women, who are in the majority.
To describe “lots of clergy” as a “liability” (as an unattributed quotation from the National Estates Church Network Conference would have it) is not the way to effect change professionally. I wonder, too, about the wisdom, let alone the kindness, of condemning people wholesale and out of hand.
14 Sussex Road
Petersfield GU31 4JX
Amenity societies’ power over reorderings
From the Ven. David S. Lee
Sir, — The Archdeacon of Hastings, the Ven. Dr Edward Dowler (Comment, 27 April), is, surely, right to conclude that Sir Simon Jenkins’s idea that the State should assume the ownership of churches and run them for community purposes is a non-starter. The example of the neglected and dilapitated condition of so many church buildings in France is proof enough that any system depending on public funds can never thrive — certainly not in austerity Britain.
Dr Dowler offers good examples of how churches can be adapted to community purposes. There is plenty of evidence that parishes are keen to do this. I am surprised, however, that he makes no mention of the diocesan advisory committee (DAC) in this context.
The DAC has a duty to provide guidance to PCCs and to approve or refuse the granting of a faculty for the proposed changes. As a former member, and chairman, of a DAC, I can recall cases where a practical scheme from a PCC to enhance the community work of the parish was fiercely opposed by the representatives of the amenity societies on the commitee. There have been times when the DAC has refused to approve a scheme because of the possible threat to our “ecclesiastical exemption”, regardless of the value of the scheme for community purposes.
If the time has come to increase the use of churches in this way, may I suggest that we look again at the presumed power of the amenity societies to have a veto on such projects.
DAVID S. LEE
2 Old Vicarage Close
Llanishen, Cardiff CF14 5UZ
‘Evangelical takeover’ of the Church of England
From Mr Anthony Woollard
Sir, — The critical responses (Letters, 4 May) to Canon Angela Tilby’s column of 27 April seem largely to miss the point.
Perhaps Canon Tilby oversimplifies in pointing the finger at “Evangelicalism” as the primary culprit behind the apparent cult of novelty and abandonment of the best of tradition in much of today’s Church. Perhaps she does not sufficiently recognise the sheer variety of tendencies and traditions, Evangelical and other, which make up the Church of England — or that we are all on a multi-dimensional spectrum of theology, worship, and spirituality, and many of us on a journey along that spectrum.
But the Old Testament prophets were not always very balanced in their pronouncements either. Surely Canon Tilby can be respected as trying to “speak truth to power” about tendencies that concern many of us — including, on your own pages in that issue alone, Canon Mark Oakley and the Revd Peter McGeary.
Surely, too, she can be respected as conveying a cry from the heart, a cry of pain, which is felt by many of us in the more liberal or Catholic quadrant of the spectrum, as we see so much that is good in the Church that nurtured us being apparently ignored or even, at times, rubbished.
I, for one, do not want to stand in the way of the Spirit, and I try to approach new initiatives in a Gamaliel-like way. But we are called to “test the spirits”, and sometimes, in all our traditions (including mine and Canon Tilby’s) they need to be robustly challenged. In the present hegemony within our Church, I see all too little of the sentiment of that robust Protestant Oliver Cromwell — “I beseech you, by the bowels of Christ, bethink you that you may be mistaken” — and all too little willingness to suggest that wisdom might lie elsewhere.
Moreover, I see a rather un-Christlike lack of compassion for the pain of those who do not fit the preferred stereotypes of these new movements. I know some individual church leaders who are not guilty of these faults, but the institutional culture as a whole falls increasingly within Canon Tilby’s strictures, and she is right to express them.
1 Chestnut Walk
From the Revd Vanessa Lawrence
Sir, — I am intrigued by the juxtaposition of the letters reacting to Canon Angela Tilby’s comments about the “Evangelical takeover” with a news item, “Choral tradition to be set aside”, which relates to an HTB church-plant in Southampton.
Canon Tilby has helpfully launched us into a necessary debate about the nature and purpose of church, particularly in the context of the existential distress to which she refers.
As we approach Mental Health Awareness Week, it leaves me reflecting on the consumerist success culture prevalent in society. The glossy corporate ethos bought into by so many public organisations — from churches to healthcare — contributes to this existential distress and our national mental-health crisis.
How might we instead promote a different way of being — one that relishes simply “walking humbly with your God”?
Mental Health Chaplain
Southern Health Foundation Trust
Winchester SO22 5DG
From Canon John Toy
Sir, — May I draw readers’ attention to two wise sentences in Professor Diarmaid MacCulloch’s History of Christianity (page 2): “Within the cluster of Christian faith is an instability which comes from a twofold ancestry. Far from being the pristine innovative teachings of Jesus Christ, it draws on two much more ancient cultural wellsprings, Greece and Israel.”
Two much focusing on “Jesuology” can result in a faith that, though genuine, is imperfect and often lacks the power to survive.
15 Dulverton Hall, Esplanade
Scarborough YO11 2AR
From Mr John Duffy
Sir, — I am a member of the congregation at what is to become a “resource” church. I gather that we shall have three full-time clergy, who will get a considerable amount of funding.
I wonder how many priests in both urban and rural parishes, Evangelical or otherwise, might be able to better spread the gospel, given such resources.
4 Pearman Drive
Andover SP10 2SB
Canon Giles Fraser’s recent visit to Syria
From Canon Giles Fraser
Sir, — Being on the receiving end of a sermon about “journalistic principles” from Andrew Brown is quite something, especially when he fails to meet those basic principles himself: namely, a desire to establish some simple facts. “The great Fraser Freebie to Syria”, he called it (Press, 4 May). But, had he asked me, I would have been able to let him know that I paid for the trip myself: the flight, the hotels. So, no, not a freebie. I thank the Church Times for the retraction printed today, and I accept your apology.
We went to Syria to speak to the Christian community and at the invitation of the Syrian Orthodox Church. I do not for one moment regret going. It was absolutely right for us to listen to the experience of Christians living in such unimaginably difficult circumstances. As a priest — and as a journalist — I want to go and listen first hand. And no, I don’t always believe what I am being told. But it is better to try to understand what is going on in Syria, amid the complexities of Syria, rather than make assumptions from behind the safety of a computer screen in England.
Perhaps I shouldn’t have been so free with my tweets. But I did not post on Twitter that “love is stronger than missiles” with “a picture of the apparently undisturbed cityscape of Damascus”. That line was attached to an altogether different image.
Andrew Brown speaks piously of the need for “basic reporting skills”. Yet he demonstrates none of them himself. That is something of a problem in a column all about the Press.
57 Kennington Park Road
London SE11 4JQ
From the Rt Revd Michael Turnbull
Sir, — Your full and entertaining obituary of Provost David Edwards (Gazette, 4 May) was worthy of the great man. It did, however, contain one small inaccuracy. He was, indeed, a valued member of the “key commission that was appointed in 1994 to reorganise the Church of England’s central administration”, but he was not the only clerical member. Stephen Lowe, then Archdeacon of Sheffield, and I were both members, and Stephen Sykes, then Bishop of Ely, regularly attended as our theological consultant.
3 Gardners Quay
Upper Strand Street
Sandwich CT13 9DH