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Letters to the Editor

17 August 2018

Roofing judgment, Israel, pilgrim route, and Permission to officiate and the retired clergy


Roofing judgment should not be the last word

From Julie Bell, Charles Campbell, Keith Ebsworth, and others

Sir, — We write as lay members serving on the PCC of All Saints’, Pickwell, and Leesthorpe, in Leicester diocese, in 2017 and 2018. As such, we are the individuals who are in unanimous support of the actions taken by our churchwarden, Martin Watts, in protecting our 13th- or 14th-century Grade I listed rural church in the Decorated style, as well as our 130-year-old organ.

Your report (News, 3 August) quotes the judgment from the Chancellor of the diocese of Leicester. We are offended by Chancellor Blackett-Ord’s outrageous implication that Martin “may not have been correct that he was supported thoroughly by the PCC”. This allegation is completely unfounded.

Frustrated by the church bureaucracy, ten months of indecision, and continual ingress of rain, the PCC, at its meeting held on 24 July 2017, with all members present, supported unanimously, after careful consideration, Martin’s proposal to proceed with a repair to the north-aisle roof using Sarnafil, to replace the plastic sheeting that had been in place since the lead-theft in September 2016.

This decision was duly and correctly minuted, and the copy minute was forwarded to the Chancellor in our supporting documentation; apparently, this was completely overlooked or ignored by him. This repair was to ensure that our church and organ were immediately protected as we approached the first anniversary of the lead-theft and the winter of 2017-18.

We also expressed the hope (which we continue to hold) that the debates between the Church of England and Historic England will eventually result in a change in policy, to remove the burden of costly metal roof-replacements and recurrent insurance claims, as these replacements are repeatedly stolen.

Martin has been ordered to pay the costs of the Consistory Court proceedings personally. In our opinion, this is purely vindictive, and some of the comments expressed in the judgment could be considered defamatory. These costs amount to £1800. The Chancellor decreed that Martin was not to take a “contribution or indemnity from the PCC or any other church funds”, and stated that, if he was right in his contention that he was supported thoroughly by the PCC, then the individual members of the PCC were at liberty to make their own voluntary contributions towards the debt.

As individuals, we are making voluntary contributions as our personal circumstances allow, and, furthermore, have been encouraged by the support that has been shown to Martin by many individuals, not only locally, but around the country.

Throughout this whole saga, we have been wondering why the Church of England and Historic England are reluctant to consider proven modern materials that look like lead, are cheaper to install, have the same sound-insulating qualities as lead, and are completely unattractive to thieves. Do the Church of England and Historic England want to see more parish churches close because they cannot afford the luxury of lead, or do not want the noisy stainless steel? Perhaps the diocese of Leicester has seen the light, as we have been informed by the Bishop of Leicester that another faculty for Sarnafil has recently been approved.

The unpaid volunteers of PCCs work very hard to keep our wonderful parish churches open and available for services. A village that loses its church is a sad place. Service to the local church should be a rewarding and uplifting experience, but, in reality, it has become a frustrating and draining one, dealing with a Church of England bureaucracy that works at a snail’s pace and too often does not seem to care.

Clearly, the national debate about appropriate roofing materials is something that must continue, and we will remain keen to inform the debate as we are able. The church community within our small village hope, however, that we can now move forward and focus on the church’s mission, to grow and enable others to grow in their discipleship, and to serve our community, enabling others to love and serve those around them.

c/o 2 Saxons Lea, Pickwell
Leicestershire LE14 2PL


Israel held to a different standard from other states

From the Revd Alexander Faludy

Sir, — Paul Vallely strives honestly for balance in his recent piece on Labour anti-Semitism and the Israel-Palestine dispute (Comment, 27 July), but fails to achieve it. The piece, perhaps unwittingly, holds Israel to a different standard from other states, and does so highly problematically.

Israel’s newly explicit self-definition as a Jewish “nation-state”, together with its privileging of Hebrew as the sole “official language”, is certainly contentious. It is perhaps even chauvinistic. Equally problematic, however, is the self-definition of nearly all Israel’s Middle Eastern neighbour states as “Arab” (e.g. Syria, Egypt) or “Islamic” (Iraq, Iran) republics or kingdoms.

The definitions that these countries employ explicitly privilege one ethnicity or faith community over other ancient cultural and religious groupings within the relevant state’s borders. It is a matter that Berbers, Yazidis, and Armenians in those countries often feel as an injustice (together, of course, with the widespread discrimination against them). They also often feel like second-class citizens in the countries of their birth.

This longstanding legislation in Arab or Islamic states is no less “overtly racist” (Mr Vallely’s term) than Israel’s new law. Even so, criticism continues to be directed at Israel in a one-sided manner. If Israel must be a “state for all its citizens” (an idea that I support), then why not its neighbours, too?

The issue of a double standard comes into sharper relief when we draw some comparisons nearer to home. There are EU members (including the Czech Republic and Slovakia) that employ chauvinistic ethno-centric constitutional definitions as “nation-states” and discriminatory language laws. UK journalists usually overlook them, however.

Slovakia’s 1993 constitution defines the country as the “Nation-State” of the “Slovak people”. This is despite its being home to substantial populations of Hungarians (ten per cent) and Roma (c.7.5 per cent), whose presence predates the state.

Slovakia’s state-language law of 2009 punishes the use of Hungarian or Romani in official discourse (outside designated “minority zones”) with a fine of €5000. That applies even in confidential doctor-patient conversations if overheard and reported by a third party.

Slovakia is much closer to the UK than Israel is. In fact, it forms part of the same federated EU structure. Its minority policies, including ethnically discriminatory land laws (the “Beneš Decrees”), are, however, almost unknown to UK commentators.

Such disparity of focus is, at least arguably, a sign of unwitting anti-Semitism.

St John’s Vicarage, Station Road
Wallsend NE28 8DT


‘Rediscovered’ pilgrim route is simply a fantasy

From Professor Nicholas Orme

Sir, — The suggestion that the Gough Map shows a pilgrimage route from Southampton to Canterbury (News, 10 August) has no value. The Map is a complex creation, which includes only a selection of English routes and distances, the reason for which is unknown. There is no evidence that its makers thought of that or any other route in relation to pilgrimage. If they had done, they would have shown the road to Walsingham, which they did not.

Nor could they have had any such thought, because there were no such things as “pilgrim ways”. Pilgrims travelled along the ordinary roads, for the good reason that these offered places to eat, stay, and feed horses. They went to Canterbury (or any other shrine) by every possible road, and they were only one element in the traffic on these roads, since most pilgrimages were made to very local places, and most traffic was not that of pilgrims.

The idea that any monastic houses along the route were established “primarily to provide shelter for pilgrims” is equally wrong. They may have sometimes provided such shelter, but that was not their primary task or the primary reason that they were founded. There is, in fact, no reason at all to consider the Southampton route as a pilgrim route compared with any other medieval road.

Department of History
University of Exeter EX4 4RJ


Don’t be down on Leeds

From Canon Robin Gamble

Sir, — In response to a letter regarding the diocese of Leeds from the Revd Ian Gaskell (10 August): I am in a different church every week, from the green valleys of the Dales to the post-industrial cities, towns, and villages of West Yorkshire — churches that are Catholic and Evangelical, big and small. Something very special is happening in this diocese.

We are praying and working hard to fulfil our vision of “Confident Christians, Growing Churches, Transforming Communities”m and now growth is popping up all over the place. “Purposeful Resourcing” is also right at the heart of our strategy for success.

I know that there are problems, but the vast majority of us have fallen in love with this great young diocese, and are excited by all that lies ahead.

The Vicarage, 470 Leeds Road
Idle, Bradford BD10 9AA


Permission to officiate and the retired clergy

From the Revd Dexter Bracey

Sir, — I have been following with interest recent correspondence (3 and 10 August) regarding the issuing and management of retired clergy with permission to officiate (PTO). It seems to me that the time has come to ask whether it is appropriate for anyone to have such a permission at all.

The granting of a PTO rather than a licence presumes that an individual has retired from active ministry, but might, very occasionally, assist in some way. The reality, however, is that many priests with PTO remain very active, and so we have the situation in which a priest as active as he or she was before retirement can function without a clear role or responsibility and without any clear line of accountability.

Given the concerns about lack of accountability which are emerging through the IICSA hearings, it seems unrealistic to expect that a structure that fails to hold people properly accountable can long survive. The recently issued Policy on Granting Permission to Officiate seeks to deal with some of the issues regarding lack of accountability and review, but also goes on to state that “PTO should not be granted where a licence is more appropriate.” It is my contention that, in a great many cases, a licence would be more appropriate.

The Church of England now has a large cohort of clergy functioning outside any clear structure, but on whom many parishes depend for the continuation of public ministry. It is a nonsense to have clergy who are responsible for day-to-day parochial ministry not being part of the structure that comes from having a licence and a share in the cure of souls of the place where they minister.

Furthermore, it would be a great help to any incumbent who has a retired priest land in his or her parish to have a structure for managing that priest rather than, as can happen, have that priest cause havoc as he or she seeks to carve out a ministry for themselves.

There will, perhaps, be some for whom PTO remains appropriate, but for many, if not most, clergy who remain active beyond normal retirement age, a licence to a particular ministry, with the rights and responsibilities that go with that, is likely to be far more appropriate and helpful.

St John’s Rectory
9 Davenport Road
Coventry CV5 6QA


From the Revd George Day

Sir, — The Revd Janet Robbins, writing about the situation of retired clergy, says: “I wonder what information is sent to their new diocese when clergy move” (Letters, 27 July). The answer is none — unless the person concerned gives specific approval for his or her personal information to be passed on.

Until a few years ago, the Pensions Board would regularly send out lists of stipendiary clergy retiring and moving to new dioceses, and these lists were very useful to those of us who serve as Bishop’s Retired Clergy Officers (BRCOs). Data-protection regulations now make that impossible, however, unless specific permission is given. I would, therefore, urge retiring clergy to give such permission, or, once moved, to make contact with the new diocese.

The Exeter diocesan website has recently been updated and now contains information for retired clergy, including details for contacting the BRCOs. Other dioceses, I believe, are similarly working on making provision for arriving retired clergy. Making such contact does not, of course, mean that you will be pounced on to take services — indeed, people are quite often encouraged not to undertake any ministry as clergy for the first six months of retirement — but it does give the BRCO opportunity to get in touch and offer whatever welcome and help may seem appropriate.

5 Abbey Grange Close
Buckfast, Devon TQ11 0EU


Throw off the fig-leaf

From Mr David Redrobe

Sir, — What a shame that the nude paintings had to be removed from the art exhibition in Portsmouth Cathedral, and what an insult to the artist (News, 10 August)! St Paul tells us that the body is the temple of the Holy Spirit.

Perhaps the people concerned should have read The Revelatory Body by Luke Timothy Johnson before they made this decision. Have they removed the Song of Songs from their Bibles? My ancient priest-friend said to me: “I have no problem with lust. It all depends what you do with it.”

Poor Eve and Adam! I am sure they looked better without their makeshift clothing.

St Andrew’s Vicarage
28 South Cliff Road
Kirton in Lindsey

Gainsborough DN21 4NR


Churchwardens’ duties 

From Mr Ron Jeffries

Sir, — I showed Dave Walker’s cartoon “Churchwardens — how to recognise them in a domestic set­ting” (10 August) to one of our churchwardens at St Peter’s, Aldborough Hatch. His comment was that your cartoonist had forgotten rodding out the drains and climbing into dustbins to stamp it all down.

37 Spearpoint Gardens
Aldborough Hatch
Ilford, Essex IG2 7SX

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