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Letters to the Editor

18 May 2018

Amenity societies, the House of Bishops and abuse survivors, Quakers and AA, and officiating funerals


Amenity societies’ say regarding schemes for community purposes

From the Dean of the Arches and Auditor

Sir, — The Ven. David. S. Lee (Letters, 11 May) is seriously mistaken about the faculty jurisdiction on two counts.

First, he wrongly asserts that “The DAC has a duty . . . to approve or refuse the granting of a faculty for the proposed changes.” A DAC is an “advisory” committee. The only person with power to approve or refuse the granting of a faculty is the diocesan chancellor. Unfortunately, parishes often share his mistake.

The DAC has to consider each proposal before the petition is formally submitted. In the case of a listed church, applicants must supply to the DAC a statement of significance and a statement of needs. Having considered the application, the DAC has three options: (a) to recommend the proposals; (b) not to recommend; and (c) simply not to object to the proposals’ being approved.

Second, there is no “presumed power of the amenity societies to have a veto on [valuable community] projects”. It is entirely right that DACs and, in due course, chancellors should take into account the views of the statutory amenity societies, but both are in no way bound by those views.

In the case of a listed church, the proper approach (essential if the ecclesiastical exemption is to be maintained) is to start with a strong presumption against changes that will detrimentally affect the special architectural character or historic interest of the listed building; then, if there will be a detrimental effect, to assess how serious that detriment will be, bearing in mind that serious detriment to Grade I or II* churches should be allowed only exceptionally; and, finally, to assess the strength of the justification for the proposals and whether this is sufficient to outweigh the detriment to the listed building.

Therefore, if DACs “refuse to [recommend] a scheme because of the possible threat to our ‘ecclesiastical exemption’, regardless of the value of the scheme for community purposes”, this should occur only where that value is outweighed by the detriment to the listed building.

In my experience, chancellors, like DACs, are generally keen to encourage schemes “for community purposes”, even in listed churches. Proposals are frequently improved as a result of the input of the amenity societies, but often, as in the recent case of the pews in Bath Abbey, even where an amenity society becomes a party opponent, the petition is allowed, applying the approach that I have set out above.

Francis Taylor Building
Inner Temple
London EC4Y 7BY

The House of Bishops and abuse survivors 

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — At the General Synod in February, the House of Bishops once again promised a “new culture” in the way that the Church relates to victims of its abuse (News, 16 February). Since then, there has been no indication of what that new culture might look like, or how or when it will be realised. Indeed, since February there has been minimal contact between the bishops and victims.

The suggestion in a private letter that the National Safeguarding Team is “in the process of developing the terms of reference for a Working Group on Cultural Change” caused hearty laughter among weary victims.

When pressed, individual bishops have dropped hints that “something is being worked out” and will be revealed in due course. This is inadequate for at least two reasons.

The first is that it fails to recognise that the climate of nods and winks, secrecy, and fixing things up in private, is precisely the environment in which abuse thrives. Bishops working things out behind closed doors is the problem; it cannot also be the solution.

The second is that the bishops have yet to face the fact that they are neither qualified nor equipped to fix the Church’s problems in this area. By definition, many have risen to the top through abusive cultures. They are unable to recognise their own privilege and are unwilling to admit their own victimhood. They are horses trying to muck out their own stable.

Until the Bishops admit their inadequacy in this area and call on victims and independent experts to advise, all they will succeed in doing is spreading the muck around.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG

Comparisons between the Quakers and AA 

Sir, — Andrew Brown scolds Sir Simon Jenkins for “confusing Quakers with a 12-step meeting” (Press, 11 May). He says: “In both of them members of the congregation [sic] speak without moderation. But they talk in very different registers.” Jenkins, however, was comparing the two societies, not their meetings. And I have also found, as he pointed out, that “Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) has much in common with Quakerism.”

Of course there are differences. Quaker meetings are held mainly in silence, while in AA meetings members “share their experience, strength and hope with each other that they may solve their common problem”. But there are also striking similarities

Robert C., an early member, wrote to the AA co-founder Bill W.: “I’ve been interested in the Society of Friends (Quakers) and seem to see a great kinship between the two movements. . . I’ve been interested in knowing how much Quakerism effected the foundation of AA, but also what part, if any, it has played to date.”

Bill W. replied: “The really amazing fact about AA is that all religions see in our program (sic) a resemblance to themselves . . . now, looking through Quaker eyes, you too see us favorably. What happy circumstances these! I must confess that we do bear a strong resemblance to Quakers. We have no paid preachers . . . and the authority seems to flow up through the mass instead of down through the top.” (Letters in the archives at AA’s New York office).

The AA group that I joined in 1984 met at a Quaker meeting-house, and I was intrigued by leaflets and posters that I saw there. After a few weeks, I went to a Quaker meeting for worship. I am an agnostic, but there are no credal requirements for membership of AA or the Quakers.

Paul Parker, Recording Clerk for Quakers in Britain, told Justin Webb on the BBC Today programme: “Quakers use a variety of terms to describe their spiritual experience” — as we do in AA.


The Church of England clergy and the funerals at which they officiate 

From the Revd Ian Falconer

Sir, — As someone who has probably “canonised” thousands of people in the past half-century, I am surprised at Andrew Brown’s attitude to criminals’ funerals (Press, 11 May), which seems to derive from the Gospel according to the Daily Mail.

When we conduct funerals, even those of people we have known, we don’t really know that much about them. We are never in a position to judge. Thankfully, that’s God’s job, not ours. If I didn’t think that, I couldn’t visit the bereaved or take the service. I hope that something of the Good News of Christ, crucified and risen, may rub off on at least some of those present.

Floral tributes have for many years expressed people’s interests and lifestyles: snooker tables, pianos, football, and regimental badges, as well as pearly gates and empty chairs. Showmen and travellers are among those who traditionally have amazing displays atop vehicles — how does the helter-skelter not fall off?

What might be naff to some people will be meaningful to others. It is not for us to sneer. The same applies to the music that families choose. I did find myself getting a bit restless by the eighth minute of “Bat Out of Hell”, which was chosen as the “reflective” bit in the middle of the service. But I try to listen on YouTube to songs that I don’t know and check the words. There is usually something that I can link to Christian faith and hope: even that Meatloaf number has “like a sinner before the gates of heaven”!

It is a privilege for clergy, Readers, and others to be invited into the homes of families and friends at the time of their bereavement. We should cherish this. The trend towards secular funerals, exacerbated by the shortsighted hike in C of E fees in the past few years, erects yet another barrier between the Church and the people of our parishes.

We may blush at hearing “Lovely service, Vicar” for the nth time. But, every now and then, a word or even the atmosphere at a funeral may strike a chord and bring someone to, or back to, the Christian faith. And that’s a bonus, beyond the prayer and pastoral care that are part and parcel of our death and bereavement ministry.

70 Lowgates, Staveley
Chesterfield S43 3TU

A ‘hostile environment’ for asylum-seekers 

Sir, — The policy of creating a “hostile environment” for the Windrush generation has at last been effectively challenged. But these hostile-environment tactics are also aimed at other blameless people.

I listened in amazement last month as a Home Office barrister blandly acknowledged before a judge that a female asylum-seeker had been tortured, but then went on to claim that it might not have been by state officials as she had always maintained, and so the Home Office deemed that it was probably safe to send her home. My wife and I know the asylum-seeker and her history well. She is a devout and well-respected member of a local church, and this was a ridiculous notion.

Yet huge amounts of public funds are being wasted in the courts by hounding people with rock-solid reasons for claiming asylum, and many injustices and emotional cruelties are being perpetrated. As part of the hostile environment, the Home Office has put politically motivated targets in place of justice.

More public resources should be spent on helping such people to substantiate their evidence, to have therapy for trauma, and be enabled to learn English, so that they can live and work in the community and start their lives again.


Community’s part in the Winnie Mandela story

From the Revd Paul Newman

Sir, — In re-reading Madeleine Davies’s article on Winnie Mandela (News, 6 April), I noted that her reference to Fr Leo Rakale omitted his status as one of several black South African CR members. I recall Leo’s sojourn at the Leeds University Priory of St Wilfred in 1973 during a period at the Mother House.

Another such was, of course, Fr Simeon Nkoane CR, who became Suffragan Bishop for Soweto, and whose early death is much lamented.

Cranworth House
Winchester SO22 6EJ

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