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Letters to the Editor

22 June 2018

‘Throwaway liturgy’, Business Committee decisions concerning sex, and Fairtrade’s challenges


‘Throwaway liturgy’ and interiorising core texts

From the Revd Wealands Bell

Sir, — The Revd Philip Welsh (Comment, 15 June) is right to draw this multi-channel generation away from unfettered choice, but I fear that the textual horse has bolted from the liturgical stable: we cannot now unwrite all that has been (even officially) written since the Millennium, or return to the Prayer Book-style limitations of the time before it.

So, let me try to calm his anxieties instead, observing positively that the weekly booklet facilitates great musical variety; allows people to annotate the lections for study in church and at home; brings together texts and notices, worship and life, in an instructive conjunction. It can also be made beautiful and educational through the addition of appropriate images.

And people can still be encouraged to learn a core set of prayers by heart, being involved in the selection of one confession, acclamation, and thanksgiving for every week of the month; these do get into the bloodstream surprisingly quickly, giving us rather richer fare than the Alternative Service Book 1980, though significantly less than Google’s entire liturgical cornucopia.

If we let the disposable booklets do their work, they will teach us that liturgy is precisely not the cherishing of even a beautiful book, but the raising of hearts and voices as earth joins in the worship of heaven.

We could raise our hands as well, but I suspect that most will still be clutching a pamphlet or prayer book. It just seems to be our way.

Magdalen College School
Cowley Place
Oxford OX4 1DZ

From the Revd Chris Strain

Sir, — I concur fully with the Revd Philip Welsh’s article, “Time to retreat from throwaway liturgy”. He focuses on paper, but his comments could be extended to electronic forms. The plethora of creative options available in print and online does indeed challenge the concept of “common worship”.

Whilst the thoughtful use of these additional resources is valuable, is there not place for something of a return to a more familiar and simple pattern, particularly for Services of the Word as in the two decades of the ASB? Personally, I rather liked the small dark-green book, if older readers can remember that gem.

Memorable liturgy is important, as your contributor points out. I would value a well-produced and -priced soft paperback book, Morning and Evening Prayer, running to, say, 70 to 80 pages. It could include much of the material in the light-green Sunday book that came out in 2000, but have a few more of the excellent thanksgivings, confessions, forms of intercessions, prayers, etc., in Daily Prayer. It could omit all the commentary and confusing numbering. A basic baptism service could be included.

And before you think, “Well, what about that softback purple book of 2016?” — well, it is rather thin in content once you omit the few Bible readings, which can be found elsewhere, and consider the many printings of the Benedictus and Magnificat, etc. It is also rather dear.

So, please would our publishers give thought to a new non-eucharistic common prayer book, using Common Worship material, to be placed in people’s hands each Sunday and midweek? It could be most valuable.

St Luke’s Vicarage
2 Birchwood Road, Parkstone
Poole BH14 9NP

From the Revd Allan Sheath

Sir, — The Revd Philip Welsh identifies how the over-use of Common Worship’s many options is making us lower our eyes to the page instead of lifting up our hearts to God. A local church uses five confessions, five absolutions, four eucharistic prayers, three fraction texts, four invitations to communion, and four dismissals. If the faithful don’t engage with the drama, maybe it is because the tyranny of “what next” is keeping them wedded to their books.

Nor are clergy immune. Liturgical presidency demands eye contact. Priests who’ve learnt the greeting, the absolution, the invitation to communion — and deacons the dismissal can put down their books to make people know they are welcomed, absolved, invited to the feast, sent out into the world.

Mr Welsh calls for “simplicity of use, stability of text, and reticence in variation”. Staying with one set of texts throughout a season — revisiting it the following year — is how liturgical memory is built. Oh, and for those of us up front, setting an example by letting go of our comforters and engaging with the holy people of God.

11 Fairfield, Sampford Peverell
Tiverton EX16 7DE

From Mr John Duffy

Sir, — The Revd Philip Welsh leads me to wonder what has happened to what, I feel, was the excellent work of ARCIC. I thought that in England both Anglican and Roman Catholic orders of service were more or less identical; in Germany, last year, an RC and a Lutheran service were practically the same as here in my parish church.

4 Pearman Drive
Andover SP10 2SB

Business Committee decisions concerning sex

From the Revd Dr Charles Clapham

Sir, — It was with some concern that I read of the decision of the Business Committee of the General Synod to refuse to allow debate at the Synod on motions connected with sexuality and gender for a period of two years. If this decision is indeed as reported, there is a danger that it will be seen as an attempt to silence LGBTQI voices on the Synod, and use the production of a “teaching document” as an excuse for inaction.

It may be that the Business Committee is unaware of how pressing some of these concerns are. May I offer just one example? The 2012 UK Trans Mental Health Study funded by the Scottish Government (the largest survey of its kind in Europe) found that the number of trans people who report suicidal ideations is a horrifying 84 per cent. (This report is available on the scottishtrans.org website, and I encourage your readers to read it themselves.)

These statistics suggest that many trans people can be undestood at points in their lives to be “vulnerable adults” under current safeguarding legislation. In my own pastoral work as a priest, I have experience of supporting trans people in precisely this situation.

In light of this, it would be perfectly proper for a diocesan synod or an individual member of the General Synod to bring forward a motion for debate at the General Synod which seeks to address the physical and psychological well-being of trans people — or even for the House of Bishops or those responsible for safeguarding to propose one themselves.

Instead, it seems that the Business Committee are declaring that they would refuse a priori even to allow debate on this matter for at least two years, even though it concerns the immediate psychological and physical welfare of a group who are often highly vulnerable, and may at times be at risk of self-harm or suicide.

I realise that some members of the Synod may find debates regarding transgender (or LGBTQI issues more generally) marginal or divisive, but for many trans people, these are literally matters of life and death. In the light of current safeguarding concerns, to prevent such issues’ being debated at the Synod is irresponsible, to say the very least.

May I strongly urge the Business Committee to rethink their decision?

Parish Office, St Peter’s Church
Black Lion Lane
London W6 9BE


Fairtrade’s challenges 

From Mr Tim Aldred

Sir, — Your report “‘Forced labour persists’ in tea and cocoa trade” (News, 8 June) puts a welcome focus on the profound problems facing tea growers in India and cocoa farmers in Ghana.

While Fairtrade’s work around the world is often transformative, our most important work is not where workers’ rights and poverty issues are resolved, but where they remain highly challenging. Poor working conditions and low wages continue to make an impact, not only on the workers and farmers in the regions highlighted, but thousands of others across the developing world.

But we face a huge challenge. For example, only ten out of Assam’s eight hundred plantations are Fairtrade-certified, and of those, only a fraction of the tea finds a Fairtrade buyer. As the University of Sheffield team suggest in their report, ending poverty and human-rights abuses needs proper prices at the farm gate to be paid across the board. The part that Fairtrade churches and campaigners up and down the country continue to play in putting pressure on business to raise standards and prices remains essential.

More immediately, we are concerned that some of the matters raised in your piece are potentially breaches of Fairtrade’s standards, and affect the farmers and producers who make the things we love to eat, drink, and wear. We will be investigating these, and will take further action as appropriate, as well as look closely at the research team’s wider recommendations.

Head of Policy and Research
Fairtrade Foundation
3rd Floor, Ibex House
42-47 Minories
London EC3N 1DY

The clergy’s gardens — are they now a burden?

From Canon Rodney Nicholson

Sir, — As a retired priest but also Interim Area Dean, I have been asking my fellow clergy — serving and retired — whether they found their vicarage garden a burden. I speak as one who for decades has spent an hour or two a week mowing large lawns and conveying the clippings to the recycling centre, but now enjoys mowing two small lawns, from which the clippings easily fit into the wheely bin.

Most clergy regarded their lawn as an encumbrance. Two single priests found the £70 or £80 paid to a gardener a financial burden. Another had felt embarrassed by the contrast between her unkempt vicarage waste and the manicured gardens of near neighbours. Bedding-plants are expensive if bought in the quantity needed for most parsonage properties. On the positive side, vicarage lawns can make a good football pitch, but there is still the effort and cost involved in tending the rest of the garden.

The problem has no easy solution. The Church might increase clergy stipends, but require them to buy their own homes. This, however, would cause other difficulties. There could perhaps be a more vigorously applied policy of exchanging large vicarages for smaller ones with correspondingly more manageable gardens.

At least the Church should admit that this problem exists. Besides receiving, necessarily, good theological and pastoral training, future clergy should be warned of the many hours that they will spend pushing a lawnmower. Alternatively, they could be trained in the skills of persuasion and salesmanship which might enable them to get their PCCs to invest in a sit-on machine. Then, like Huckleberry Finn’s friends, everyone will want a go!

96 Shipman Road
Market Weighton YO43 3RB

Ideas for the Malines Conversations’ centenary 

From Mr Kevin McKenna

Sir, — In 2021, it will be the centenary of the Malines Conversations, the series of five informal ecumenical conversations exploring the possibilities of ultimate corporate reunion between the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England.

The impetus for these conversations emerged largely out of the friendship between the Anglo-Catholic 2nd Viscount of Halifax, and a French Roman Catholic priest, the Abbé Fernand Portal.

Although the Ultramontane attitudes of the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Britain made direct talks with Anglicans infeasible, Cardinal Mercier, then Archbishop of Malines, agreed to host the private ecumenical discussions desired by Halifax and Portal. The conversations were held in the Belgian city of Malines (now normally referred to as Mechelen) from 1921 to 1927 and with tacit support from Rome and Canterbury.

A consensus emerged during the five conversations, of which only the first four proved substantial, that the Anglican Church should be “reunited” with — not simply “subsumed” by — the Roman Church. Cardinal Mercier died, and his successor was personally less favourable to the idea of unity than his predecessor. Cardinal Bourne successfully urged the Vatican to withdraw its encouragement.

Despite their ultimate breakdown, the Malines Conversations were of momentous significance for the communions. They heralded changing times, for Rome a cautious step from Ultramonantism and anti-Modernism towards the aggiornamento of Pope John XXIII, and for the Church of England a partial triumph of the newfound desire for church union over older attitudes of “no popery”.

But their real importance can be set in wider perspective: the guarded measure of mutual recognition which they introduced marked, in one respect at least, the end to four centuries of schism.

My reason for putting this thought around now is that, in 2018-20, plans would be considered for the celebrations starting in 2021.

My suggestions are:

(a) A walk for young Roman Catholics and Anglicans could be organised from Canterbury to Malines.

(b) Celebrations at both Westminster and Canterbury Cathedrals.

(c) A walk around the cathedrals in England and Wales, in which people could walk the whole route or part of it, or only within their locality.

No doubt there could be many more ideas put forward to celebrate the work of Halifax, Portal, and Mercier — but those celebrations are also a challenge to progress ultimate reconciliation.

If people wish to contact me about this idea, please call me on 07504 130749.

11 The Mews, Gatley
Cheshire SK8 4PS

Black and White centre

From Canon Dan O’Connor

Sir, — As the Church of England stirs itself again to engage with England’s Black-led Church, there should be room for a reminder of the pioneering work done in the Selly Oak Federation by the Centre for Black and White Christian Partnership.

When I went to Selly Oak in 1982, the Centre was flourishing, as it was still when I left eight years later, building bridges of understanding and mutual support and encouraging academic research through the University of Birmingham.

Memorably, the Centre was led by the gifted Malawian Roman Catholic bishop Patrick Kalilombe. The Centre was one element among a rich array of creative ventures into which the Church of England periodically dipped a toe.

15 School Road, Balmullo
St Andrews KY16 0BA

Canon Bursell and confession 

From the Revd David Hadfield

Sir, — It is with considerable diffidence that one disagrees with Canon Bursell QC (Letters, 8 June; see also 15 June), but I feel that his analysis may be flawed.

First, one of the problems that bedevilled 19th-century court cases over such things as Ritualism was the tendency to construe the rubrics of the Book of Common Prayer as if they were statutes, which plainly they are not. Moreover, I do not think that the rubrics really take matters much further in this case, and the Proviso to Canon 113 does not actually refer to absolution, but speaks of the “unburdening of conscience” and “the receipt of spiritual comfort”.

Second, and more important, it seems to me to put the cart before the horse in the sense that ultimately, if Canon Bursell is right, the seal of the confessional ultimately depends on whether the priest hearing the “confession” will grant absolution. Equally, it depends on the penitent’s accepting whatever penance the priest may impose, however difficult or even unreasonable that might be.

Essentially, this approach means that no one going to confession can ever know until absolution has been pronounced whether what they have said will be subject to the seal. That simply cannot be right.

Highgate House
Tomtits Lane
Forest Row RH18 5AT

Growth in poorer areas still requires investment 

From the Revd Adam Maynard and the Revd Tim Wall

Sir, — The responses to the article by the Bishop of Burnley, the Rt Revd Philip North (Comment, 1 June; Letters, 8 and 15 June), concerning inequities in historic wealth have highlighted some under-acknowledged truths about investment and growth across the Church nationally. Setting aside the moral case of wealth inequity, Bishop North highlighted a clear correlation with diocesan wealth and evangelistic “success”. This is surely the central issue: sustainable growth requires investment.

We are assistant curates in two of the areas mentioned by Bishop North: Norris Green in Liverpool and Peterlee in the “former coalfields of County Durham”. Both our communities are poor, and neither church congregation is large. Yet it is not our experience that these “small congregations” do not “have a mind to grow”, as one response put it.

In Norris Green, the church is energetic, sacrificial, and evangelistic, and yet its potential for growth and effectiveness of ministry are hindered by the lack of building resources. It has demonstrated the need, potential, and trustworthiness that should prompt strategic investment and, frankly, would have done in wealthier areas. And yet this is simply not available in Liverpool.

In Peterlee, the church is outward-looking and innovative. Yet ministry in a parish of more than 20,000 people is demanding. Administration is a burden for clergy and laity alike, and what resources we do have, for the past three years, have been directed towards fixing a leaking roof. Employing administrative or ministerial support simply isn’t possible.

We love our communities, and it is a privilege to minster within our respective churches. But the point is that it is not their size or attitude that has hindered their growth and ministry. It is a lack of resources which has real and detrimental effects on the congregations’ ability to grow and to minister effectively, further compounding the economic and social disadvantages that these communities already face.

If investment is simply focused on “growing churches” without recognising existing disadvantages, this will only widen the disparities that are already falling along geographical and socio-economic lines. Churches are not businesses in a marketplace, which represent sounder or riskier investments: they are people — people who, in many deprived communities, have lost confidence and been stripped of their potential by an aggressively marketised economy. The Church of England does not need to collude with this pattern.

It is God, of course, who makes things grow. We do not suggest that growth can be bought. In many of our communities, however, we haven’t got the cash to buy the seeds or the people to weed the plot. The Church can do something about this — together.

Assistant Curate, Christ Church, Norris Green

Assistant Curate, St Cuthbert’s, Peterlee
c/o 9 Kingsland Crescent
Liverpool L11 7AN

Don’t underestimate the support humanists enjoy 

From Mr Andrew Copson

Sir, — The Revd Professor David Martin makes the unwarranted assertion that “British humanists represent next to nobody. The average secular British person has reasons for avoiding Christianity which have nothing in common with vociferous elites closeted in universities” (Books, 15 June).

As an emeritus professor at the LSE, he will know more than I about university-closeted elites, but I would deny that this is an accurate description of British humanists.

Humanists UK and its predecessor bodies for the past 120 years have been socially involved in diverse ways and in touch with the British people and their concerns — from the provision of housing associations and adoption services and pioneering non-directive counselling to the provision of funerals attended by millions today, and catering disproportionately in many areas to the white working class.

There is also not a single political campaign of Humanists UK — from ending religious discrimination in state schools to assisted dying for the terminally ill — the aim of which is not supported by at least two-thirds of the British population. Many of them command significantly greater support than that.

Chief Executive
Humanists UK
39 Moreland Street
London EC1V 8BB

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