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Letters to the Editor

19 October 2018


Parkrun and churchgoing compared


From Mr Godfrey Rust

Sir, — David Munchin’s perceptive article on Parkrun (Comment, 12 October) reflects much of what I have thought as a member of both a congregation and a rapidly growing local social running club, which also embraces Parkrun. Saying that it is “belonging without belief”, Mr Munchin misses, I think, vital aspects of Parkrun’s success: the personal quests and goals, and the sharing and celebration of these.

Many Parkrunners are strongly motivated to get new personal bests, earn T-shirts for 50, 100, or more Parkruns, clock up different courses as “Parkrun tourists”, and all manner of trivially competitive achievement (friends of mine had a quest to visit a Parkrun beginning with each letter of the alphabet). These goals often provide sufficient (and achievable) levels of motivation, akin to the calls to spiritual disciplines in the Church; and the search for a better personal best (automatically adjusted to allow for age) can be never-ending in a way that satisfies the most relentless of pilgrims.

Parkrun is a benign, self-driven cult. I have seen only one significant difference that favours the church in comparison (in all other ways, my local experience is that the running community does it better): if people turned up to Parkrun and moaned and criticised everything and were a general pain in the bottom, they would just be ignored; and, if they don’t turn up at all, that’s no one else’s business. A church has to try and take care of the awkward and those who’ve given up trying.


14 Gloucester Road

London W5 4JB


From the Rt Revd Geoff Pearson

Sir, — It is a well-known fact that regular exercise has a wide range of positive implications for our physical, emotional, and mental health. Parkruns have helped in all these areas in a wonderful way. They have emphasised fitness as a social activity, and it is a joy to see all ages participating. They even have notices and offer tea and coffee afterwards.

Perhaps, however, the text for this growing band of runners is 1 Timothy 4.8: “for while physical training is of some value, godliness is valuable in every way, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” Our challenge is to help Parkrunners to include spiritual training in their fitness regime.


10 Elderswood


Merseyside L35 4QY


Disappointment with the Hockney stained glass


From the Dean of Wakefield and Lisa McIntyre

Sir, — We believe that David Hockney’s new Queen’s Window in Westminster Abbey (News, 28 September) is a lost opportunity to introduce some contemporary stained glass that worthily contributes to the long history of architecture and art at the Abbey. Hockney is a great artist. The window suggests, however, that he is not necessarily a great stained-glass-window artist.

His statement that the backlighting of an iPad is “like a window” is particularly revealing. An experienced stained-glass artist would be aware of the way in which natural light is ever-changing, and that the manner in which it bounces against surfaces to enter a building is nothing like the solid and consistent light of an electronic device.

Stained-glass artists recognise and work with these natural phenomena to enhance the experience both of the artwork itself and the surrounding space. However good the quality of a design or sketch on paper (or iPad), it is not enough simply to translate that design into coloured glass without apparent regard for context. Sadly, the Queen’s Window represents neither the best of Hockney nor the best of modern stained glass.


Former chairman of Leeds Diocesan Advisory Committee


Secretary of Leeds DAC

c/o The Deanery, 1 Cathedral Close

Wakefield WF1 2DP


Pastoral supervision in the clergy-care covenant


From Jan Korris

Sir, — In his letter (12 October), the Revd Keith Thomasson describes pastoral supervision accurately as a psychologically informed and theologically rich process. As a chaplain, he probably works alongside colleagues from other professional disciplines who celebrate the practice of supervision, acknowledging it as supportive of best practice and essential to the well-being and safety of themselves and those in their care.

The Draft Covenant proposes to the Church of England “that we take the first steps towards establishing a culture where some form of pastoral supervision is the norm across the board, and not the exception”.

The Church needs to offer its clergy resources that are supportive of their calling and commensurate with the demands of 21st-century ministry.

St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy believes that taking time out to reflect on ministry is one such resource, and a key to sustaining healthy relationships and relieving clergy stress. Engaging in this discipline is, as your correspondent describes, a theologically rich experience, and it can mitigate the effects of isolation which many clergy describe.

As one of St Luke’s funded preventative services, we promote the setting up of reflective practice groups, a form of professionally facilitated pastoral supervision, and are currently active in more than half of all dioceses. We are not alone, some dioceses have been committed to working in this way with their clergy over a number of years and all of us engaged in the work will celebrate this supportive recommendation in the Draft Covenant.


Reflective Practice Adviser, St Luke’s Healthcare for the Clergy; Member of the Clergy Well-being Working Party

Room 201, Church House

Great Smith Street

London SW1P 3AZ


Two associations that abbreviate their names to APSE were confused in the editing of the letter from the Revd Keith Thomasson. He was referring to the Association for Pastoral Supervision and Education, not the Association for Public Service Excellence. We apologise for the error. Editor

Problem of pain from a consultant’s point of view

From Dr George Harrison

Sir, — Although I found the article by Roy McCloughry on pain of interest (Health, 5 October), I found it very difficult to agree with his perspective. Yes, pain is necessary as an indication of something wrong, but, when the pain persists, it is no longer of any benefit to the person, as explained in the excellent article by Professor Tony Dickenson .

I cannot, therefore, agree that being with somebody in pain is a great gift. I have spent many years in my career dealing with people suffering with chronic pain, not only at work, but socially, and the sentiment that I feel is great anguish and frustration, because I know that there is nothing I can do to alter their life significantly. I cannot cure their pain. At best, I can help them to live with it in a positive manner; and so often that is not enough.

Pain does not kill you, but it can destroy you. So often, it comes as a result of disease processes such as MS, but more often as a result of getting older. It brings an inability to work, causing people to lose their jobs, their homes, their relationships.

The biggest problem is that, in most cases, there is nothing to show for it: there is no external demonstrator of internal pain, and, indeed, most people with chronic pain appear normal. But, to quote Naomi Wolf in her book The Beauty Myth, “pain is real when you get other people to believe in it. If no one believes in it but you, your pain is madness or hysteria.”

Chronic pain, therefore, is not the same as a disability. It does not stop you from doing something in the way that losing a limb can, but the way it takes over the person, giving rise to depression, fatigue, and cognitive dysfunction, is equally destructive, with no external validation of the condition.

It is true that the response to this is variable, and that, throughout all, those of us who have a Christian faith know that God is there, loving these people who are suffering, and that he grieves with us and them. But I still do not know how to translate that into a positive way to communicate with a pain sufferer without appearing platitudinous.


Consultant in Pain Medicine

11 Hollister Drive


Birmingham B32 3XG


Romero and Runcie


From Mr David Skidmore

Sir, — We were delighted to see the Archbishop of Canterbury’s letter on 9 October to Pope Francis. St Oscar Romero is, indeed, held in great esteem by Anglicans.

What is less well known is the part played by St Albans in the Romero story. Robert Runcie, as Bishop of St Albans, gave public support to Romero, and news of the assassination came through just as Bishop Robert was preparing to be enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury — the television commentator noted the parallel with the murder of Becket.

More recently, Rory Young’s superb statue of Romero has taken its place on our nave screen, along with St Alban and other martyrs for the faith; and, on Saturday, our cathedral holds a study day on pilgrimage and martyrdom as seen in Romero’s teaching.



Friends of St Albans Abbey

Sumpter Yard

St Albans AL1 1BY


USPG prayer booklet


From the Revd Duncan Dormor

Sir, — USPG is grateful for the attention drawn by the Revd Dr David L. Gosling (Letters, 12 October) to the error in the Prayer Diary article, which confused the attack on St Paul’s, Mardan, in 2012, with that on All Saints’, Peshawar, in 2013, the latter resulting in such a tragic loss of life.

USPG is, none the less, disappointed that Dr Gosling has used this opportunity to air his critical views of the Church of Pakistan.


General Secretary (CEO)


1st Floor, Mary Sumner House

24 Tufton Street

London SW1P 3RB


Other kinds of change


From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, — “Climate change is second only to the NHS among the most important issues facing the UK in the next 20 years, respondents to a Church Times survey have said” (News, 12 October).

I know concern for the common good is one of the General Synod’s priorities, but did no one reply with “church growth”, “knowing God”, or “repentance for sins”?


The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue

Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY


C of E’s ‘Follow the Star’ fails to shine in higher criticism

From the Revd Ian F. R. Jarvis

Sir, — Canon Alker (Letters, 12 October) criticises the Archbishops’ Christmas leaflet because it assumes the literal truth of the Christmas story. He asserts that no serious scholar in this country takes the birth narratives as literal fact rather than as imaginative theological stories. This statement is incorrect.

Currently available publications by Dick France, Michael Green, Donald Guthrie, Leon Morris, John Stott, and Tom Wright all firmly accept the literal fact of the birth narratives. These are the scholars I have read on the subject. I am sure that there are many more. To imply that these scholars, including the Archbishops, were not “serious scholars” is deplorably arrogant as well as culpably ignorant. Many of us agree with them.

Two further comments. The real elephant in Canon Alker’s room is his refusal to accept the miraculous, God’s supernatural activity in the birth of Jesus. Once that elephant is seen and rejected, progress can be made. Also, if a six-year-old asked me whether the Christmas narrative was true, I would unhesitatingly say that it was.


29 Springfield Road


Derbyshire DE11 0BZ


From Mr Adrian Roberts

Sir, — I think Canon Alker is being a bit harsh in his criticism of what he calls the “infantile” presentation of the nativity in the “Follow the Star” campaign. Though I am not a scholar at all, let alone a serious one, I would have thought that it was perfectly theologically respectable to regard the infancy narratives as neither pure “factual truth”, nor as “imaginative theological stories”, but as interpretations of events of which some, at least, really happened.

For example, I find it quite credible that Mary’s pregnancy really was an embarrassment that almost led to her disgrace, since this would not have been a sensible story to have invented, and Jesus’s illegitimacy was later used in at least one popular attack on Christianity. The Evangelists interpreted Jesus’s conception as a direct act of God: many modern Christians continue to accept this traditional interpretation, while others suggest that Mary had in fact been exploited by a predatory male, and therefore see the event as a sign of God’s solidarity with the vulnerable and despised.

There is also a variety of sensible views about what events, if any, may lay behind the story of the Magi and the star, but, again, it has generated a number of interpretations. With regard to angelic visitations or, indeed, religious experiences of any kind, I would be very reluctant to assume that all must be fanciful inventions, whatever conclusions one comes to about the stories of Joseph in Matthew and of Mary and the shepherds in Luke.

Finally, I don’t see how either the contentious claim that it was all made up, or the interweaving of event and interpretation for which I am arguing, could be reflected in a Church of England Christmas campaign aiming to present the power of the story in an undifferentiated form; nor, for that matter, do I think that denying any factual basis to the narratives would somehow bring young adults back to church.


West Farmhouse

Kexmoor Farm

Kirkby Malzeard, Ripon

North Yorkshire HG4 3QQ


From Mr Jonathan Goll

Sir, — Canon Alker finds taking the Christmas stories as literally true to be “infantile”. I’m not so sure. As a former trade-union representative, having come across cover-ups, I wonder whether we instead take too literally the “official version”, in this case produced by the Roman imperial dictatorship.

Luke is known for his accuracy in the Acts of the Apostles, notably in getting the right titles for the local magistrates in the various cities Paul visits. Surely, it’s a bit surprising that he should so deviate from reality in his Gospel? He is accused of believing the census was ten years earlier than it was, but modern editions of Luke’s Greek text refer to the “first census”. Was the known census after AD 6 a “second census”?

Quirinius is only recorded as Governor of Syria after Archelaus’s deposition, but much earlier he is known to have been in what is now modern Turkey, subduing a tribe. If he had been made Governor of Syria earlier — he was already of the right rank — and tried to enforce a census, Herod the Great, notoriously careful about upsetting Jewish religious opinion, and with enormous pull at Rome, might well have ensured the Governor’s removal.

Quirinius was perhaps face-savingly sent back to the tribe, only to re-emerge when the Herod dynasty was weaker. Herod, having narrowly escaped many plots — often at the instance of the horrible Cleopatra — became paranoid, executing a wife and two of his sons because he feared their descent from the Maccabees. A Davidic heir would indeed be a nightmare, and the Massacre of the Innocents is thus all too plausible.

In AD 119-121, there may have been a major rebellion in Britain. Coins and inscriptions, and a late history, refer to it, and possibly a Roman legion disappeared. Certainly something important happened, or why would the Emperor Hadrian order the building of the most impressive fortification of his reign the following year? The official histories of the time don’t, however, refer to it.

Geza Vermes accused those defending the historicity of the nativity accounts of “exegetical acrobatics”. Yet administrative history is so convoluted, with so many cock-ups and false starts, and intent to not to tell the full story, that we should not be too quick to dismiss the Gospel accounts as garbled fantasy.


16 Beechcroft Estate

Halesowen B63 2BP


From Dr Brendan Devitt

Sir, — As a “progressive” Christian, Canon Adrian Alker has his work cut out. He may succeed in convincing bright folk (who, apparently, are leaving the Church in droves) that the nativity stories are “mythological”. It will, however, be tougher explaining to them why he should still believe in a ‘literal’ afterlife, or in a historical person who was also ‘literally’ divine — unless, of course, he doesn’t.


2 Maytrees, Hitchin

Herts SG4 9LR


From the Revd Nigel Warner

Sir, — Canon Adrian Alker is surely right to ask that we be treated as adults with brains. As he discerns, it is not only an issue at Christmas. In this part of the world, Matthew 28.16-20 is routinely dragged into services of licensing and institution without any hint that it is almost certainly pious fable, nor that after nearly 2000 years its relevance to parish ministry is not self-evident.

I wonder why we seem so reluctant to tell people the truth about the biblical documents. In my experience, congregations are often intrigued and encouraged when these questions are aired.


47 Wydon Park, Hexham

Northumberland NE46 2DA


From the Revd Dr John Bunyan

Sir, — It is sad and amazing that letters such as Peter Bell’s on the importance of reason in religion and Canon Adrian Alker’s on the nature of the two different nativity stories are still needed.

The late Canon Arthur Peacocke, priest and scientist, is just one who has shown us, in the context of the latter, the relevance of our knowledge of genes and DNA. As for the Thirty-Nine Articles to which the Revd Dave Wood refers (Letters, same issue), “subscription” to everything in the Articles was abolished as long ago as 1865! Stanley, Dean of Westminster, wrote of the long campaign to achieve that abolition. It was replaced by a general “assent”, never legally defined, still used in the Anglican Church of Australia, but further modified now in the Church of England.

We should not be scoring own goals.


PO Box N109, Colenso Corner,

Campbelltown, NSW, Australia

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