Letters to the Editor

by
25 May 2018

The royal wedding and Bishop Curry, Thy Kingdom Come, and the rural experience

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Responses to the royal wedding and the address

From Prebendary Adrian Benjamin

Sir, — Hearing the fire-without-brimstone sermon delivered in St George’s Chapel, Windsor, last Saturday, many may have thought that the Day of Pentecost had arrived early. If not “Parthians, Medes and Elamites”, Canadians, Ghanaians, visitors from Los Angeles, and dwellers in parts of Berkshire which still consider themselves as belonging to the UK heard proclaimed the mighty works of God.

Representatives of the media subsequently proclaimed the whole event as a mighty seismic shift. They were startled; but to be startled goes with their job. News has to be news.

In fact, there is little occasion for surprise. The “modern” order of service has been used in our parishes for decades; in St Paul’s Cathedral and many London churches, new bishops and new incumbents can hardly be said to have been properly welcomed without the accompaniment of gospel songs and steel drums; far more revolutionary sermons have been heard from prelates of the Anglican Communion in a succession of Lambeth Conferences; members of our widely travelled royal family have been greeted by (and taken part in) far more exotic ceremonies in various parts of our Commonwealth of Nations; and, leaving to one side the fact that Queen Victoria’s favourite Prime Minister and two of her most favoured servants came from what might be described as ethnic minorities — a Jew, an Indian, and a Scot (?!) — our own monarch has, since 2008, had as one of her chaplains the native of Jamaica who contributed so movingly to last Saturday’s wedding ceremony.

A useful observation often made on Trinity Sunday is that the Holy Spirit, far from arriving on the Day of Pentecost, was happily working behind the scenes since first helping to hatch creation while patiently brooding on the waters of chaos.

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We should, therefore, not join in the media’s surprise at the nature of last Saturday’s ceremony, but be delighted that the many-splendoured diversity of our Church and our State should be recognised, and then, more importantly, be heartened in our on-going task, knowing that it and we are part of this strong but silent Spirit’s work.

ADRIAN BENJAMIN
Carlton Cottage, 75 Church Lan
Sutton-on-Sea
Mablethorpe LN12 2JA

From Canon Hugh Wright

Sir, — I was conducting a wedding at one of my own churches during the royal wedding, and so had to wait for the highlights to see it.

What struck me, among all the other accolades showered on the ceremony, were two things: first, how similar it was to my fairly humble service, and what a wonderful advert it made for the C of E marriage ceremony, one of the best parts of the Common Worship services.

Second, Bishop Michael Curry showed that preaching is not a dead art, nor one restricted to the faithful, but an art that can, with a bit of imagination and courage, connect a wide range of people to the love of God.

Thank you to Harry and Meghan, the Archbishop, and any others involved for showing us this.

HUGH WRIGHT
The Vicarage, Ventnor
Isle of wight Po38 1NR
 

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — What a stroke of genius it was to invite Bishop Michael Curry to preach at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding! The very next day, I was involved as mayor’s chaplain in Stratford with a civic service and reception for many local dignitaries. Everyone, but everyone, was talking about the American’s sermon.

Bishop Curry really has put preaching (and, therefore, God) on the map — and, as someone said, “If every clergy person in our nation preached each Sunday with that kind of passion, albeit a little bit shorter, our churches would soon begin to fill up again.” Someone else commented that the whole service, with its focus on black culture, had gone some way to “atone” for the recent Windrush scandal.

So, thank you to the Duke and Duchess, the Archbishop of Canterbury, and any others involved in planning such a memorable wedding service. They have done our nation a good turn, and opened some doors for all those of us trying to bear faithful witness to the great truths of the gospel.

ANDREW DOW
17 Brownlow Drive
Stratford-upon-Avon CV37 9QS
 

From the Archdeacon of Albury and the Hume

Sir, — Bishop Michael Curry’s sermon was full of surprises, but reviews by those in Sydney church circles expose the ugly underbelly of a war against inclusive values.

The Anglican diocese of Sydney, the Anglican Church League, Australian Christian lobby, and Freedom for Faith represent the flipside of Bishop Curry’s internationally broadcast message of breaking down barriers and promoting acceptance.

The most shocking aspect of his address is that it could not be heard from a pulpit in Sydney. In much of Australia, and in many parts of the world, the celebrated American preacher is on the banned list for his positive position on Marriage equality.

Most would be surprised that, while Australian Anglican clergy can bless pets, boats, and toilets, we cannot bless same-sex couples without incurring the wrath of our employers. Church leaders such as Bishop Curry regularly connect the abolition of slavery with the Christian message, but when his diocese and a very few others moved to end discrimination and injustice against LGBTIQ people they were cut off from much of the Anglican Church, notably the diocese of Sydney

Australians cannot pretend that we are singing from the hymn sheet that was used in Windsor. The gift that the royal couple gave to the world didn’t arrive in a gold carriage, but through a microphone, like leaflets dropped into occupied territory.

PETER MACLEOD-MILLER
PO Box 682, Albury NSW 2640
 

‘Series 3’ TKC for next year?

From Claire Disbrey

Sir, — The “Thy Kingdom Come” prayer project has been a great inspiration to many people as we approached Pentecost this year, and I hope that it will continue and grow.

May I suggest, however, that next year we call it “Your Kingdom Come” to signal that we expect some people under 60, who are not familiar with 17th-century language, and have never used the word “thy” in their lives, might be joining in our prayers?

CLAIRE DISBREY
63 Holdenhurst Avenue
London N12 0HY
 

Rural experience 

From Mrs J. Matthews

Sir, — The Revd Dr Robert Barlow is to be congratulated on four years’ recording of service attendance of amalgamated parishes (News, 11 May). Three village churches can work well together, but more is disastrous; congregations are likely to disappear, the cleric cannot properly do the work entailed, and the church loses out. No cleric should be restricted to working behind a desk daily.

J. MATTHEWS
Greys, Ongar Road
Margaret Roding
Essex CM6 1QR
 

Brexit and the rift with Continental Protestants 

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From the Revd Alexander Faludy

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 11 May) makes an bewildering assertion about the relationship between Brexit and “Protestant Identity”. The correlation seems thoroughly illogical when one considers that countries at the heart of today’s European project include such culturally Protestant nations as the Netherlands, Denmark, Sweden, and Finland.

Though it is less religiously monocultural, the same might also arguably be said of Germany under its present, emphatically Lutheran President and Chancellor.

In Canon Tilby’s defence, she is not alone. There is a fashionable if somewhat pseudish tendency to draw parallels between Brexit and the English Reformation as cultural events that equally “cut us off from the Continent”.

Of course, church historians of all stripes have argued for at least the past 30 years that the English Reformation(s) did no such thing. Rather, it or they replaced the English’s experience of one form of international faith-based solidarity (Roman Catholicism) with another (the Reformed International).

The effects were first seen in the influence of Italian and German Reformed theologians (especially Peter-Martyr Vermigli and Martin Bucer) who were brought to England to advise Archbishop Cranmer on the Prayer Book revisions of the 1540s and early 1550s.

The experience of Swiss exile under Mary Tudor was no less formative for moderate Elizabethan bishops such as Richard Cox, Bishop of Ely, than it was for more emphatically Puritan ones,such as John Hooper, Bishop of, successively, Gloucester and Worcester.

In 1618, the Church of England sent delegates as fully participative voting representatives, not ecumenical observers, to the authoritative international convention of the Reformed Churches at Dordrecht (known to history as the Synod of Dort). It established the shared norms on the doctrine of predestination and other controversial matters.

Only with regard to 1662 could it be said that Church of England embraced international isolation. The decision to do so was the result of the victory of the emphatically High Church, not Reformed, party in the Restoration settlement. It was proto-Anglo-Catholics (to use a slightly anachronistic term), not Puritans, who severed ties with Europe by unilaterally ending intercommunion with the Continental Reformed Churches — much to the bewilderment and distress of the latter.

ALEXANDER FALUDY
33 Solent Road, Portsmouth
Hants PO6 1HH
 

Dean Faull and the path to her ordination

From the Revd Janet Fife

Sir, — The nomination of the Very Revd Vivienne Faull as Bishop of Bristol is good news for Bristol and for the Church as a whole. Your report (News, 18 May) was incorrect in saying that she was ordained deacon in 1982; women were first admitted to Holy Orders in the Church of England in 1987.

Dean Faull was made deaconess in 1982, and ordained deacon in 1987 and priest in 1994, as a glance at Crockford will confirm.

It is puzzling, therefore, that St John’s College, Nottingham, was unsure whether to house Ms Faull, as she then was, with the men training for ordination or the women training for other lay ministries (presumably parish worker or children’s worker?) unless it was because the ministry of (lay) deaconesses was similar to that of (ordained) male deacons.

Perhaps it is time that a history of women’s ordination was written, while the earliest campaigners and pioneers are here to tell the story.

JANET FIFE
12 Waterstead Crescent
Whitby YO21 1PY
 

Infant baptism and the lack of eligible godparents 

From the Revd Ian Robins

Sir, — If the Revd Dr Robert Beaken (Comment, 4 May) will go on the web and search for “Baptismal Integrity”, he will see that a number of clergy and laity have been praying, writing, and speaking for the reform of the current practice of infant baptism for 30 years.

Our concern is not for godparents, but for the parents, and for the whole manner in which the solemn administration of the sacrament of baptism is sold to families.

We fear that in many parishes the parents are allowed to promise that they will “turn to” a Person of whom they have no experience or knowledge, and to bring up their infant as a member of a Fellowship that is often quite alien to their lifestyle.

For years, we have offered cheap grace to well-intentioned parents, and we are surprised that, without loving gospel teaching before the date for the baptism is chosen, there is no life-changing experience for the participating adults and, therefore, little likelihood that the child will grow into the promised faith.

Throughout my ministry, I have challenged my bishops to encourage their clergy to insist on a sufficient period of preparation (as canon law now permits) before the date is fixed.

IAN ROBINS
33 Manorfields, Whalley
Clitheroe, Lancashire BB7 9UD

From the Revd Ian Enticott

Sir, — I agree with the Revd Dr Robert Beaken’s article. If we are to continue to offer baptism to any who request it in the parish, then we need to rethink the part played by godparents.

I already accept extra sponsors who cannot be godparents because of not being baptised themselves. Only rarely is there a godparent who is also confirmed. The worrying thing is the number of people coming now who are not baptised but don’t understand why I am not accepting them when they have already been godparents to other children.

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We have a great opportunity to reach out to these families with the gospel, and some start to attend our Messy Church regularly. Let’s find a way forward that is honest to our faith and workable in our cultural context.

IAN ENTICOTT
St Paul’s Vicarage
Barnfield Street
Accrington BB5 2AQ
 

From the Revd John Bunyan

Sir, — Regarding baptism and godparents:

First, we are not sure what Jesus came to think about baptism. Few scholars think that St Matthew 28.19 comes from him.

Second, early Christian Jewish practice varied. Some were baptised in the way that Jesus had been (“John’s baptism”), some “in the name of Jesus”, only later some with the Matthaean words.
Third, St Paul’s rich interpretation, now dominant, is only one possible interpretation of baptism.

Fourth, the Book of Common Prayer associates infant baptism with our Lord’s blessing children, seeing “the Kingdom” as belonging to them.

Fifth, hence no child should be refused, and no alienating obstacles placed in the way of baptism (e.g. baptism in an unfamiliar communion service, or too early for all of a family and friends to get there, and certainly with no obligatory “preparation”).

Fifth, the BCP does add promises by godparents before the baptism, but in their present form, even for parents, these are unrealistic. Jesus asked no such commitment by those whom he blessed.

Sixth, parents should simply be encouraged then, and thereafter where possible, to bring their children up in the Christian faith — but not, I hope, in the narrow version that is becoming more common.

Seventh, godparents, if some are chosen, can support parents mainly in the early days. Any close friends, baptised or not, should be able to be godparents in that way.

Eighth, baptism makes one formally a member of the Christian Church and (to me) acknowledges anyone brought to it as a child of God, a very valuable sacramental blessing and anchor but not essential. A sensible Christian upbringing and example, of course, matter much more.

Ninth, the BCP pattern of christening, confirmation by the Bishop, and first communion is the simple one to which we should return.

Tenth, with regard not only to baptism but generally, we need to be in all kinds of ways a welcoming Church.

JOHN BUNYAN
Colenso Corner, PO Box N109
Campbelltown North, NSW, 2560
Australia
 

York diocesan policy is undermining lay ministry 

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — The Bishop of Leicester, the Rt Revd Martyn Snow, says that he is keen to ensure that Readers are not seen as second-class citizens who ought to be ordained (News, 4 May). That is good to hear and should be supported. Nevertheless, the Archbishop of York, Dr Sentamu, does not appear to be supporting this, in that he has invited Readers in his diocese to consider ordination to the diaconate. According to your report, at least two other dioceses are also pursuing this path.

May I suggest that Bishop Snow begins by educating the House of Bishops regarding the taking seriously of a variety of forms of ministry? Bishops need to take a lead by affirming a variety of ministries, valid in their own right, without an underlying hope that ordination is the ultimate goal.

During my time as Chief Secretary of the Church Army, I lost count of the occasions on which bishops encouraged me to seek ordination, as if this were the ultimate and only goal to be achieved. Incidentally, that was not only true for me, but other colleagues also.

The mainstream Church of England has paid, and continues to pay, lip service to other forms of ministry apart from ordination. I would suggest that is why people and churches go out on a limb, so to speak, as far as their ministry is concerned.

PHILIP JOHANSON
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth BH6 3PN

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