Christmas campaign dodges issue
From Canon Adrian Alker
Sir, — The Church Times reported on the launch of the Church of England’s Christmas campaign, “Follow the Star” (News, 5 October), and, sure enough, a few days later the book of reflections came through my letter box. While imaginative resources that help people to reflect on the Christmas story are to be welcomed, why do the national Church and its leaders continue to encourage people to regard the stories in the Gospels of St Luke and St Matthew as factual truth?
There is no serious scholar in this country who takes the birth narratives as literal fact rather than as imaginative theological stories to be read as a prelude to the Evangelists’ overall portrayal of Jesus, the Christ of God.
Nowhere in the 12 short reflections — a worthy format, of course — is there anything other than a literal presentation of the angels, shepherds, and kings who fill out the story. The full magisterium of the Archbishops is there to endorse the booklet as they claim that there is “one nativity story” (not true of course).
We know that Christmas is the one festival that brings in the crowds. We also know that the Church is in steep decline in terms of younger adult attendance. While parents and children might choose to suspend reasonable belief and treat the Christmas stories much as families treat Father Christmas, would the Church and its bishops please treat us, for the rest of the year, as though we have some brains and can distinguish story from fact?
Please encourage people to do some theological thinking and reflection rather than this embarrassingly infantile presentation. Even my three-year-old grandson understands that stories have meanings but aren’t to be taken literally. I overheard one six-year-old, on leaving a church nativity service, ask his mother: “Is the Christmas story true?” Well, Archbishops, how would you answer?
Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain
Sheffield S8 7UA
Clergy-care covenant: supervision and vocation
From the Revd Keith Thomasson
Sir, — Thank you for the page devoted to the draft Covenant for Clergy Care and Well-being (News, 5 October). I particularly appreciated the attention that your reporter, Madeleine Davies, gave to the paper’s call for, and explanation of, pastoral supervision.
Pastoral supervision attends to feelings, as indicated. It is also psychologically informed and theologically rich. It provides windows through which the supervisee can look at the issue being explored. It is a place of deep learning for supervisee and supervisor. It is best practised outside a line-management relationship, and yet complements and informs such learning.
While the interest in pastoral supervision is increasing and extends across the ecumenical spectrum, few people will have either understanding or experience of it. Beyond the excellent bodies such as APSE (the Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education) and the Institute of Pastoral Supervision and a small but growing number of key texts and courses, there is a need for presenting this vital work in publications such as the Church Times.
I would say that having access to pastoral supervision and using it in my supervision of lay and ordained chaplains and ministers has been one of the most important factors, if not the most important, in sustaining a challenging ministry.
Senior Chaplain and Spirituality Adviser
Alabare Christian Care and Support
2 Watt Road, Salisbury SP2 7UD
From the Revd John Thackray
Sir, — In your report on the draft Covenant for Clergy Care and Well-being, the words “prayer”, “Sacrament”, and “vocation” do not appear. Were the Church to understand clergy not as functionaries, but as deacons and priests, perhaps there would be less “clergy burnout”.
JOHN A. THACKRAY
68 Black Horse Lane
Suffolk IP1 2EF
Brexit debate and the Thirty-Nine Articles
From Mr Greg Warren
Sir, — Reflecting on your Brexit special (21 September) and subsequent correspondence, particularly regarding the pros and cons of a “people’s vote”, I feel very uneasy when I hear about having to obey “the will of the people”. Current trade-union legislation requires a vote of more than 50 per cent of the membership to approve strike action. To me this seems very reasonable, as otherwise a militant minority could drag the rest of the union into action that the majority of the members did not support. Why didn’t someone think of applying this logic to the Brexit vote?
We are frequently told that the majority of the British people want to leave the EU, but this is not the case. A majority of those who voted in the referendum voted to leave, but they were 37 per cent of the electorate, which means that 63 per cent of the electorate did not vote to leave the EU. I know that the referendum followed the same rules as a General Election, which requires a simple majority of those who vote, regardless of the turnout, but with a General Election you get to change your mind five years later, whereas we are told that this decision to leave the EU is irrevocable and that we will have to live with the consequences, with no opportunity to reconsider.
The process of untangling ourselves from the EU is so complex and will take so long that it is a once-in-a-lifetime event. If we do not allow ourselves a final vote on leaving, in the light of the possible consequences (are the Leavers afraid people will have changed their minds?), then a future government may have to face the prospect of negotiating our re-entry.
Yew Tree Lane
Harrogate HG2 9JS
From the Revd Dave Wood
Sir, — I wonder whether Mr Alan Bartley (Letters, 5 October) would also expect that bishops, priests, and deacons who have all subscribed to the Thirty-Nine Articles should also resign if they feel unable to support the death penalty in this realm of England. From the same Article XXXVII that he quotes in support of the pro-Brexit vote: “The Laws of the Realm may punish Christian men with death, for heinous and grievous offences.” If so, I suspect there would be very few serving ordained ministers left in the Church of England.
12 Wilding Place
Northumberland NE65 8LB
Criticism of USPG prayer booklet
From the Revd David L. Gosling
Sir, — In the USPG prayer booklet that was distributed with the Church Times, there were some unfortunate errors in the Reflection from Pakistan. In 2012, the Peshawar bomb attack that killed more than 100 worshippers took place at All Saints’, not St Paul’s, Church: well do I know, because four of my own former students at Edwardes College, where I was Principal, were among the victims.
I am not convinced that this attack “was handled carefully by the church leadership”. Roman Catholics, the Salvation Army, and local Muslims were first on the scene. When a Pakistani nurse based in the UK flew to Peshawar to set up an ambulance link with a hospital in Taxila, she was obstructed by the Peshawar diocesan office. How do you “carefully” handle the carnage after two bombs have killed a hundred worshippers?
There are other inconsistencies in this extract, but I feel that the USPG must do better in the quality of its reporting before it solicits prayer and donations.
DAVID L. GOSLING
2 St Lukes Mews
Cambridge CB4 3 DF
Time to get au fait with self-supporting ministry
From the Revd David Ager
Sir, — In his excellent review of the Revd John Lees’s recently published book Self-Supporting Ministry: A practical guide (Books, 7 September), the Revd Peter King suggested that the book “should be compulsory reading for incumbents . . . who have an SSM within the parish”. I entirely agree, but why the qualification?
To my mind, the book is essential reading for all incumbents, full stop; and, while we are about it, archbishops, bishops, and everyone else concerned with the future health and well-being of the Church.
Unless all the current debates and discussions about re-imagining ministry in the 21st century catch the vision of what self-supporting ministry could be, we will end up with a partial view of the landscape only. Lees’s book presents a compelling and exciting depiction of how things might be if proper account is taken of this key feature. No one who picks it up and reads it will be the poorer for it. It will be time well invested — especially if it is followed by action to implement some of its imaginative and potentially rich options for ordained priestly ministry.
14 Morgans Rise, Bishops Hull,
Taunton TA1 5HW
Influence of self-interest on the history of doctrine
From Mr Peter Bell
Sir, — Congratulations to Dr Ali Bonner for her excellent article (Features, 31 August) demanding that Pelagius be rehabilitated and taken seriously. Many people believe that the Church would now be in a much better place had not Pelagian thinking, which, notwithstanding his condemnation as a heretic, was a cornerstone of Celtic religion, been smothered at the Synod of Whitby.
The key question, which Dr Bonner raises in her first paragraph, is “Does it matter if, in academic circles, doctrine is coming to be seen as the product of individual and group self-interest?”
She doesn’t answer it directly, but my answer is “Yes, it jolly well does.” As someone who is involved in trying to increase the dwindling congregation at our village church, I think it is abundantly clear that we will never make significant progress until we have a narrative with some sort of rational basis, which takes account of the world today and our greater understanding of the way Christianity has developed over the centuries.
I may be wrong, but my impression is that the current leadership of the Church attaches little importance to any of this, and that many of the clergy training courses ignore the issue, for the most part. It is dispiriting, to put it mildly. At a recent benefice away day, we were asked to identify five things that we felt the Church was good at, and some wag pinned up on the Post-it board: “Burying its head in the sand.” It raised a laugh, but, I fear, there is more than a grain of truth in it.
Inkpen, Nr Hungerfore
Berkshire RG17 9DJ
Commemorating Bishop Bell’s work for the Jews
From Mr Richard W. Symonds
Sir, — Either just before or just after the start of the Second World War in 1939, a group of Jewish refugee children were taken into the homes of Quaker and Labour Party families in the Crawley area.
The wartime Bishop of Chichester George Bell — whose 60th anniversary was being celebrated last week — helped to organise the Kindertransport rescue of Jewish children from Nazi Germany.
A Crawley school was named after this great bishop after the war, in Tilgate, but has since been re-named. We need Bishop Bell well-remembered — not forgotten.
RICHARD W. SYMONDS
The Bell Society
2 Lychgate Cottages
Ifield Street, Ifield Village
Crawley, West Sussex