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Andrew Brown: Rock of ages, cleft for the C of E

12 January 2018


Fracking, which will probably not be happening on land where the Church Commissioners hold historic mineral rights

Fracking, which will probably not be happening on land where the Church Commissioners hold historic mineral rights

IT IS not often that a story about the Church and the Land Registry crashes the front page on the day of a government reshuffle, but Kaya Burgess managed the feat in Tuesday’s Times.

Along with a colleague from the “data team”, he had discovered that the Church Commis­­sioners had been registering their ownership of mineral rights in “an area the size of the Lake District”. No one disputes that they own these rights; it is simply that the law changed in 2013 and required them to register this ownership, which persists in most cases even after they sold the land and buildings above.

This would be a much better story if it were all about oil wealth, but, despite getting “frack­­ing” into the first sentence, it turns out that the Commissioners would not own the shale gas even if it was there. That already belongs to the Crown.

Still, it is a story at the intersection of Chris­­tian­­ity and house prices; so it produced some gloriously deranged comments, and will have interested most people far more than politics. An excellent piece of data mining.


RATHER sadder were the widespread follow-ups to the Church Times online piece on the case of the Revd Timothy Davis, convicted of spirit­ual exploitation in Abingdon. The idea that Mr Davis ran a “successful church” contrasts rather with the story of a man who was invited by a family into their home after some kind of breakdown, and there spent hours at a time in a teenage boy’s bedroom, “using intense prayer and Bible study” to stop him seeing his girl­friend. Nothing directly sexual is alleged, but it was not needed for this to be abuse.

One feels instinctively that this kind of thing must sometimes happen when preachers are believed to have prophetic gifts; it was still a shock that both The Guardian and The Times linked to research from Bournemouth Uni­­vers­ity which claimed that two-thirds of an online sample of 1600 Christians claimed to have suffered spiritual abuse. Online surveys are notoriously self-selecting, and so unreli­­able, but this is still a remarkably high figure.

Perhaps it is skewed by the fact that most who leave a tightly controlled reli­­gious group­ing will consider themselves to have been mani­­pulated to the point of abuse before they left.


ONE answer would be to have very old pro­phets, who no longer had the energy to minister in this way. The Mormons have insti­­tu­­tionalised the principle: in them the work­­ings of the Divine are bound by Buggins’s turn quite as tightly as by the law of gravity.

When the “Prophet and head of the Church” dies, his successor is always the longest-serving member of the central committee, known as the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles. The New York Times had a piece about the anointed successor to the prophet Thomas Monson, who died recently at the age of 90. He is Russell Nelson, a former heart surgeon, who is 93. Apparently he went skiing last winter.

But then, of course, one thing that no candidate has to worry about is anyone putting poison in his coffee. The Times pointed out that there are four more men in the line of succession before you get to one who was born after the Second World War.


THERE was a story in the Daily Mail, not ostensibly about religion at all, which made me wonder a little about humanity. It was the ac­­count of a Nigerian woman, pregnant with quads, who flew to the United States to be with family members three months before she was due to give birth. The immigration authorities there turned her back, and she reached Heathrow and went into labour there. She gave birth in London; two of the babies died almost immediately, and the other two are still being treated on the neonatal ward.

This kind of high-tech medicine is, of course, extremely expensive: an unnamed source estimated the cost at nearly £500,000. The Mail described her as the holder of “the pre­vious highest bill for an NHS health tourist”. So, for that matter, did the Daily Mirror.

Would the readers, would the editors, really want such mothers and babies to die because they cannot pay their bills? I suppose the answer must be yes, provided that they did not have to watch the process, but could in­­stead study the other stories that the Mirror site recommends, such as “Randy couple have sex in public in broad daylight — and no one bats an eyelid”. This is a video.


BUT I suppose the story that everyone will remember from this week is that of Canon John Corbyn, who has two churches in Kent. The Kent Messenger first spotted that he had a policy of “fining” couples £100 if they were late for their weddings; three days later, the story had hit the Hindustan Times via almost every paper in Britain.

Curiously enough, only the Church Times and The Sun reported that Mr Corbyn had not had to impose the charge at all in 2017. And only this paper noted that the charge had been in place for nine years.

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