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Letters to the Editor

02 March 2018

Ordination and readers, charity expectations, Billy Graham, love, and cremations


Ordination and Readers’ lay calling

From the Bishop of Leicester

Sir, — As Chair of the Central Readers’ Council for the Church of England and Church in Wales, I read with interest “York pilots new scheme for Readers” (News, 23 February). I was aware of this initiative in York, and I know of similar approaches being considered in other dioceses.

This is part of the reason that the Central Readers’ Council is conducting a series of consultations on the future of Reader ministry. Three meetings have so far taken place in different regions of the country, and a further three are to happen in March and April. Every diocese is sending representatives.

What is absolutely clear from these consultations is that the Church of England and the Church in Wales are blessed with an extraordinary movement of lay ministers who are proud that they are lay, absolutely clear in their calling to be lay, and offer a unique gift to the wider Church because of their distinctive experience.

While it may be that some will go on to discern a calling to ordained ministry (and should be offered this opportunity), and while I absolutely agree that we should be seeking a renewal of the permanent diaconate, I am also deeply concerned by any approach that implicitly undermines the calling of the vast majority of Readers (or LLMs) to lay ministry.

Our current consultations are likely to lead to new proposals for the training of Readers which, in turn, may lead to a reshaping of the vocational process so that a younger and more diverse cohort of Readers help to lead the Church in its teaching and mission in years to come. But this will be achieved only by a confident reaffirmation of their identity as lay ministers.

Bishop’s Lodge
10 Springfield Road
Leicester LE2 3BD


Naïve expectations concerning charity

From Mr Greg Warren

Sir, — I am saddened that members of the public have responded to the Oxfam scandal by withdrawing their regular direct-debit donations. If asked why they had taken this action, what would be their response? I assume it would be something along the lines of not wishing to support an organisation that allows its representatives to commit sexual misdemeanours.

Have these outraged donors considered for a moment that they are punishing the innocent for the crimes of the guilty? I wonder how many members of political parties have resigned their membership because an MP was found to have had an extra-marital affair, or how many football supporters have abandoned their club because a player was guilty of similar behaviour. It seems that charitable sympathy is more fragile than political or sporting allegiance.

We live in an age in which the shadowy deeds that have always been a part of human life are more and more exposed to the glare of publicity. To adherents to the Christian faith, they come as no surprise, because we’ve been proclaiming a message about sin for centuries. The general public, however, apparently expect the charities that serve as guardians of their public conscience to be staffed by angels, whereas we know that, like every other human organisation, including the Church, they are in the hands of flawed human beings.

Norfolk House, Yew Tree Lane
Harrogate HG2 9JS


For and against the Billy Graham approach to faith

From the Revd Paul Eddy

Sir, — The legacy of the life and ministry of Billy Graham (News and Gazette, 23 March) will be felt for generations to come. In addition to his preaching face to face to more than 220 million people in 185 countries, his impact on the Church — especially in this country — was remarkable.

Every time Mr Graham came for a mission in England, candidates for ordination in the Church of England went up markedly in the years following. He was probably our best recruiter. His ministry also brought together churches from all denominations. Focused on evangelism and preaching Christ, Christians were able to forget their minute differences, and focus on what unites us — for the sake of those who need to hear of God’s love in Christ.

But his main gift to the Church, in my personal view, was his living example of a man of God who had a deep confidence and conviction in the uniqueness of Christ, and in the Bible as the Word of God. For those of us who had the privilege of spending time with him and working for him through his missions, what you saw in public was what he was like in private. His deep conviction that men and women can experience a relationship with God, through his son Jesus, drove him to sacrifice much that as many people as possible should have an opportunity to hear the gospel.

It is my prayer that, as we reflect on his life, Mr Graham’s lasting legacy will be to help to re-focus the Church of England, and other churches, as we take on the baton of evangelism — with confidence and conviction in the life and work of Christ.

The Vicarage, Church Green
Stanford in the Vale
Oxfordshire SN7 8HU


From the Archdeacon of Hume

Sir, — The passing of the American evangelist Billy Graham will cause many to reflect on his remarkable opportunity, magnetic personality, but tragically out-of-date message. Using the Bible as a “Maker’s manual” is like following the direction of a satnav that hasn’t been updated in 2000 years — arriving at a series of wheelie bins instead of restaurants, or leading people towards discrimination and hatred instead of love and acceptance.

His legacy includes the commitment of good people to ideals that compromise mental health, divide communities, and generate fear. His influence on American politics and the religious Right’s imposing a black-and-white template on a Technicolor world continues to fuel opposition to marriage equality, and faith-based prejudice against diversity, gender equality, and other faith traditions.

The Ruddock review of protections for “religious freedom” owes much to the world-view supported by Graham, for which the bus has left long ago, and been replaced by a new model driven by Magda Szubanski, Rodney Croome, and Michael Kirby, leading to a more inclusive, compassionate, humane, and “heavenly” destination.

St Matthew’s Church Office
PO Box 682
Australia NSW 2640


The people it’s hard to love — including, sometimes, oneself

From Elizabeth Belben

Sir, — Mark Vernon (Features, 23 February) sums up Robert I. Sutton’s advice on dealing with people with narcissistic personality disorders as “ask yourself . . . whether you like the individual you are dealing with. . . If you don’t, then don’t have anything to do with him or her.”

Given that most of the people whom we dislike tend to be not so much dangerous psychopaths as normally flawed, irritating people like ourselves, this looks worryingly like advice not to make any effort to love our neighbours, let alone our enemies. Dr Vernon admits that following this advice is “not always practicable, especially in a church”. Considering that church is supposed to be a place where everyone (presumably including people with personality disorders) can experience unconditional love from God and each other, I should hope so.

To a qualified psychotherapist such as Dr Vernon, I am sure, terms such as “NPD” have precise clinical meanings. To the average lay person reading an article on psychology, however, they can seem like an encouragement to write off anyone who is damaged and insecure and tries to compensate for this (for example, by trying to be liked by others) as a dangerous lunatic who should be banned from churches and avoided by everyone except trained psychiatrists.

Possibly Dr Vernon feels that being ostracised is the kind of tough love which narcissists need to make them realise they need help. But this assumes, first, that everyone in need of psychotherapy has access to it, and, second, that all can then develop into confident, well-adjusted people while having no social interaction apart from a weekly session with a therapist.

I would thoroughly agree, however, with Dr Vernon’s comments on healthy self-love and self-acceptance. This is what makes Christian self-help books aimed at vulnerable people, which first promise them that Jesus will help them overcome their problems and then announce that the reader has to “die to self” or “take up your cross”, with no explanation of what this means and how it differs from self-neglect or self-harm, potentially extremely dangerous.

One book that I read recently even claimed that Jesus meant it literally when he commanded us to hate our lives, and that we could not truly repent of our sins unless we hated literally everything about ourselves: not just everything about before we were Christians, but everything about the way we live now.

As a Christian who has struggled with depression and self-harm from childhood onwards, I would say that this is has been a much worse area of spiritual abuse for me than prayer healers who get a bit over-twitchy about my having had a Freemason grandfather.

The Chapel, Maitlands Close
Nettlebridge, Radstock
Somerset BA3 5AA


Pastoral challenge of cremation without a funeral

From Canon Jill Bentall

Sir, — I was interested to read Canon Tilby on funerals (Comment, 23 February). I have been concerned to discover that a crematorium is to be built in Andover by PureCremations, a company that for £1200 will collect and cremate a body and return the ashes if requested.

This service will undoubtedly help many families who struggle to fund a more conventional funeral, whether with the help of the clergy or increasingly of a funeral conductor.

Without any formal occasion to say goodbye (“God be with you”), and to pay respects, to lay memories and thoughts to rest alongside the deceased, there will be many who subsequently struggle with their grief and, possibly, guilt.

I wonder whether others have encountered this service, and what their response has been. I hope to call together clergy and funeral directors and conductors together very soon to share our thoughts on what we can offer to those who still will need a formal farewell, and how to make that known to the public.

2 Lodge Close, Andover SP10 3EY

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