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Letters to the Editor

13 July 2018

Rural affairs, psychology of younger clerics, and the Old Deanery in Wells


Rural sermons and other issues

From Peter Bolton

Sir, — As a regular preacher in a rural benefice, I was puzzled by the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh’s article “A rural church needs a special kind of preacher”, (Comment, 6 July). While I agree with her that “Preachers in rural areas must know their people”, this is equally true for urban churches; similarly, “intellectual humility” is surely required of all preachers.

It is not clear why preachers would think that “rural congregations” — as opposed to any other congregation — “are not looking to be challenged intellectually”, and anyone who occupies a pulpit anywhere needs to be sensitive to the needs of visitors of various types and ages. So I am left unclear about what, if anything, is supposed to be distinctive about preaching in rural areas.

Perhaps it would help to clarify this if we look at a key question that this article does not address: what is preaching actually for? This brings me to the “small group of elderly diehards” that, the article says, are not the only people in country churches. We might prefer to be called “the regular congregation”, and we are very happy to see people younger than ourselves take a full part in church life and thereby make it more likely that the congregation will continue into the future.

We do, however, face the problem of declining numbers and finance, ageing buildings that are expensive to maintain, and diminishing numbers of parish priests.

If preaching is primarily about building up the body of Christ as its members meet Sunday by Sunday to worship through word and sacrament, as I believe it is, then preaching to rural congregations must help them to address these problems. We preachers would welcome help in this critical task — unfortunately, Dr Cavanagh’s article does not provide it.

3 Stakesby Manor, Manor Close
Whitby YO21 1HG

From Geoff Dodgson

Sir, — May I correct your report (“Bishop speaks for rural needs”, News, 6 July), in which the acronym for the Government department DEFRA is spelled out as Department for Food, Agriculture and Rural Affairs. To the dismay of many in the agricultural sector, our industry is not named in the correct title: Department for Food and Rural Affairs.

The Bishop of St Albans, Dr Alan Smith, rightly states that rural needs are not taken into account in setting policy. I would also suggest that recent DEFRA consultations have not taken sufficient account of the importance of domestic food-production or recognised UK farming as a “public good”.

Hon. Chaplain, British Guild of Agricultural Journalists
Lavenders, Cootes Lane
Fen Drayton
Cambridge CB24 4SL

Research into the psychology of younger clerics

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — On Sunday morning, after a sermon on priesthood by a colleague, the parish priest said to me ruefully — with a hint of opposition, and a tinge of resignation — “We’re all expected to be managers now.”

If true, this is of particular concern, given the latest research on clergy temperament by Leslie J. Francis (the foremost authority on this in the country) and Greg Smith — “Changing patterns in recruitment to stipendiary ministry”, in Theology, July/August 2018 (News, 29 June). Apparently, young curates in the Church of England are less likely now to have temperaments that have an eye for future possibilities or favour pastoral care, and are more likely to be conventional servants of the organisation.

This conserving, dutiful temperament is essential to any organisation, but this shift in clergy temperament type sits oddly alongside current ideas of innovation or experimentation which are flagged by the language of “revival” or “pioneers”. So, perhaps we are seeing a mismatch between current church rhetoric and the actual appointment profiles of clergy, which will have big implications in the next generation as a Church run by managers becomes more conventional and less inspirational and innovative; less room, then, among future clergy for eccentrics, mavericks, entrepreneurs, searchers, pastors, and the independent-minded.

Director of Research
The Urban Theology Union
Victoria Methodist Hall, Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB

Diocese’s decision to sell Old Deanery in Wells 

From Mr John Winstone

Sir, — When an institution has held a property for 800 years, received public funds for its repair, then consulted on its disposal, one might expect those consultations to receive comment, if not be heeded. Not so in Bath & Wells; so let me expand on my reasons for requesting a sale by leasehold rather than the freehold (News, 29 June).

Only a lease will preserve the advantages of the historic precinct with a chance that better minds may be brought to bear in the future for a reinstatement when the wheel turns. For now, we may ask why it is that the construction of canonical houses in the very grounds of the Old Deanery are not understood as eminently environmentally sustainable by a body that should comprehend what constitutes a working cathedral precinct and what makes a viable socio-environment.

If the Bishop might be ousted from his Palace (now on the back burner), might not one modern canonical house be sacrificed for more convenient, adjacent meeting rooms? Procurement of new buildings is now exacted through skilled professionals. Ask property agents for their views, and they will only produce a developer!

Ask, as the Chapter did some 15 years ago, how visitors should experience the cathedral church, and they handed us a Cathedral Green denuded of its populace — to all intents and purposes, one of the great west fronts with doors closed to the world. The Chapter ignored those who predicted a dead hand at work then; but now I predict not only damage to the working of one of the best of English precincts, but further damage to the setting of the cathedral.

This is a matter not only for the Bishop’s Council, but the wider Church, the Fabric Commission, the parishes, the Church Commissioners, and the City Council. Fifteen years on, and the governance of Wells remains poor. Of the above, who may be relied upon to stand up and be counted against the all-so-predictable out-of-town office building? Is not sustaining the precinct and cathedral just as meaningful as the Bishop’s belief in more efficient delivery for parishes and schools?

Retired church architect and former DAC nominee
6 Preywater Road, Wookey
Wells BA5 1LE

While the new kids are playing, we’re still here

From the Revd Deborah Scott-Bromley

Sir, — It was good to see your report on my colleague, the Revd Dominic Clarke, and his games day at the newly planted Beacon Church in Bordon (News, 6 July). Dominic and his team have many innovative ideas for reaching out to the housing developments that are growing up in the space left by the departure of the Royal Electrical and Mechanical Engineers from this historic military town.

As Vicar of Bordon, however, I would like to speak on behalf of congregations everywhere which are continuing their ministries alongside new developments. The bells and whistles of a lively church-plant are exciting, they reach out in new ways to the unchurched among new residents and provide an incomparable basis for a new community. They deserve and need the blessing and support of the area’s existing churches.

But those very churches must not forget their own calling; neither must the church-plants disregard or patronise them. Nor must it be forgotten that the current congregations have often been called upon to be sacrificial in giving up some of their own beloved people to join the new church-plants. The long-established churches may not have the benefit of money or manpower such as that enjoyed by the new kids on the block, but for many years, in some cases centuries, they have kept the rumour of God alive in their villages, slums, suburbs, and cities.

They quietly have been a loving, kindly, and prayerful presence and, as in the case of St Mark’s, Bordon, will continue to serve and be a voice for the often struggling and forgotten areas which are left on the fringes of the new towns.

As the Revd Peter Olsen has said in his Open Letter to Rev. Franklin Graham from a Small Church Pastor: “We just preach the good news of Jesus Christ; love one another the best we can; feed the hungry that come to our door; nurture the children; care for the sick; comfort the dying; and bury the dead.”

St Mark’s Vicarage
58 Forest Road, Bordon
Hants GU35 0BP

Plans for commemorating Malines Conversations  

From the Revd Dr Jamie Hawkey, the Revd Professor Keith Pecklers SJ, and the Revd Dr Thomas Pott OSB

Sir, — We were pleased to see Kevin McKenna’s letter (22 June) regarding the centenary of the Malines Conversations.

In 2013, the Malines Conversations Group was founded, under the patronage of (then) Archbishop Rowan Williams and Cardinal Gottfried Danneels, as an informal group of Anglican and Roman Catholic theologians inspired by the spirit of the first Conversations and committed to a serious, robust theological dialogue grounded in friendship. The group currently has members from nine different countries and includes several members of ARCIC and IARCCUM.

The relevant authorities in both the Anglican Communion and the Catholic Church are very supportive of our work and are regularly kept informed of our proceedings. The first of two volumes of the Group’s work is due to be published next year.

In preparation for the centenary, the Group will meet next year in York, and in 2021 will gather in Malines itself, where we hope there will be a major celebration.

JAMIE HAWKEY, Dean and Director of Studies in Theology, Clare College, Cambridge CB2 1TL; KEITH PECKLERS SJ, The Pontifical Gregorian University, Rome; THOMAS POTT OSB, Monastery of Chevetogne, Belgium

For the Steering Committee of the Malines Conversations Group

GAFCON and its support in the Church of Ireland  

From Mr Johnny Beare

Sir, — I am bemused by “Irish GAFCON participants are ‘out of touch with laity’” (News, 29 June). In fact, the focus of GAFCON Ireland on Bible teaching and gospel proclamation has captured the imagination of many lay people in the Church of Ireland.

This is illustrated by the attendance of some 320-plus people at the April launch of GAFCON Ireland. The majority of these were laity, and many signed GAFCON’s Jerusalem Declaration, signalling that they stood firmly with the movement. To write, “GAFCON does not have a large following in Irish Anglicanism” is somewhat misleading. This is a young movement, but a growing movement, which has brought together both clergy and laity, uniting them in the task of faithfully and lovingly proclaiming the gospel across the whole island of Ireland.

Furthermore, it is notable that GAFCON is also a global movement, connecting faithful Anglicans around the world, as the recent conference in Jerusalem demonstrates, attended by nearly 2000 lay and clergy.

13 Ballyregan Park
Dundonald BT16 1JR

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — Like Julie Lucas (Letter, 29 June), I am grateful to those who stood up for the truth of God’s Word — in particular his word to Peter to call nothing unclean that he has made.

So Peter in Jerusalem convinced the Early Church to welcome Gentiles. So the Bishop of Hong Kong admitted the first woman to the priesthood in the Anglican Communion, forbearing to rename her “Cornelia”. And you reported that the same Word was an epiphany for Vicky Beeching that her sexual orientation is “part of his grand design” (Features, 22 June).

The pages of scripture bear witness to our God who never changes; he is always going ahead of his people, leading us into deeper and wider understanding of his truth.

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

Mobile-phone providers and their glass houses

From the Revd Mark Bishop

Sir, — The reported complaint of Vodafone’s head of networks that PCCs are demanding too much money for hosting mobile-phone masts (News in brief, 22 June) is at least not completely true. Several years ago, before I retired, a mobile-phone provider approached me with regard to installing a mast in one of our rural parish churches. I greeted the request with enthusiasm, and spent quite a lot of time trying to assist — with a view of doing a service to our local community.

I explained that, to deal with the necessary faculty application, I would need a drawing of what they wished to install and where. This was repeatedly promised, but not provided. Then their tack changed. “We can’t do a drawing, but we will install it, and then you can take photos, and if you don’t like it or get approval, we could remove it.”

The suggestion of installing the “mast” to demonstrate what it would look like filled my PCC with the fear that, if it was unsuitable, we would have considerable problems in getting it removed, given the attitude of the company.

On a further point, I asked about what recompense the company would offer. The response was an offer of a one-off payment of £100, and no offer of even contributing to the cost of electricity supply from the church in the long term. I tried very hard to move things forward, but failed. Eventually, when I was still trying to help, the situation changed with the installation of fibre broadband in the village by another provider. We abandoned the “negotiation” as a lost cause.

17 Beech Avenue
Nottingham NG12 5DE

Read, mark, learn

From Mr John Puxty

Sir, — Is it simply a coincidence or could it be providential that the Sunday Gospel reading on the weekend of President Donald Trump’s visit is the story of Herod and the beheading of John the Baptist? Sensitivity to criticism, showing off, rash promises — food for thought. . .

32 Summerfields Way
Ilkeston DE7 9HF

Killer question 

From Mr Fred Sedgwick

Sir, — Pace the excellent Paul Vallely (Comment, 6 July), it wasn’t F. R. Leavis who asked “How many children had Lady Macbeth?” but L. C. Knights.

32 Dalton Road
Ipswich IP1 2HT

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