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Letters to the editor

27 July 2018


Dioceses should do more to recognise and train retired priests

From the Revd Tony Edmonds

Sir, — Rebecca Paveley’s most welcome article on retired priests (Features, 22 June; Letters, 20 July) seems to have caught the zeitgeist among us “Retireds”. Locally, we, too, have been thinking about our ministry. Our discussions have focused on five key areas: recognition; authorisation; shaping; resourcing; accountability.

Recognition: Retired priests bring with them a wealth of experience in parish or sector ministry, and also an array of other talents and abilities. How might these talents be recognised or recorded and be put to use in the parish, benefice, deanery, or diocesan?

Authorisation: Retired priests more or less turn up in a parish, undertake effective safeguarding training, get their PTO, and then they just get on with it. And yet they are ministers with authority to preach and celebrate the sacraments. An incumbent would be welcomed and licensed at a significant service. Is there an equivalent liturgical response to the arrival of a new retired priest?

Shaping: There is great divergence in the shape of the ministry of retired priests. Some have no wish to engage in active ministry, some are content with picking up services now and then, others seek a more structured involvement. How do these shapes arise? How does the retired priest become active in this shaping? How may his or her new ministry be discerned?

Resourcing: How are retired priests welcomed into the diocese? Are they provided with suitable information, contact lists, details of courses, etc.? How are they encouraged to keep active their theological learning and spiritual development and growth? The diocesan and deanery retired priests’ officers are clearly a good starting point. But could there be more?

Accountability: This is not about a draconian disciplinary structure. Rather, does it make sense to have some form of working agreement to help manage both ministerial resource and expectations? Would some form of ministerial review be appropriate?

In view of the substantial number of retired priests and their increasing role in ministry, it is probably a good time for the dioceses to address these issues discussed above. Whatever this diocesan input might look like, it needs to be nuanced. Retired priests would probably not want to feel that they were a cog in a management plan.

Varhn, Agglestone Road
Studland, Dorset BH19 3BZ

From the Revd Janet Robbins

Sir, — The world around us has become so much less rigid about the age of retirement. Yet, at 70, we can feel set aside. My contacts with other retired clergy often reveal unhappiness, and record negative experiences.

So I was very glad to read that the Ven. Julian Hubbard, soon to retire as director of the Ministry Division, believes that “the Church is waking up to the huge potential of retired clergy to continue to contribute and serve.”

Twenty years ago, I was ordained NSM. Seven years ago, I reached 70, and was granted PTO, first in the diocese of my ordination, latterly in a different diocese and province. I am very grateful to my present bishop for holding an annual eucharist and reception for the retired; and to my present vicar for accepting me as a colleague and including me in her clergy team. But I have found my retired status not so much frustrating as quite often puzzling, and sometimes distressing.

I have heard that dioceses do provide training for retirement, but I have never been offered this. I suspect that it is primarily directed at stipendiary clergy. Is there any kind of Church of England handbook setting out suggestions, even rules? Any such documents would need to recognise that the retired have not travelled identical journeys: some have followed the stipendiary path, others have been self-supporting, with different gifts, different physical fitness, different domestic commitments, and so on.

Perhaps most puzzling to me is that no one has ever asked me to tell them about my past years of ministry, or about what kind of help I would like to offer. Could such questions become an automatic part of the application for a PTO? And, in these data-protection-dominated days, I wonder what information is sent to their new diocese when clergy move?

The Church Times of 29 June reports a proposal for a new register to track clergy. I have been amazed to find that rural/area deans and others do not always seem to be provided with a full list of the retired clergy who are available to help.

On two occasions, the tiny flock in my home parish were told that the churchwardens must lead morning prayer, as no priest was available to celebrate the scheduled eucharist. And there I was, their former curate, living half a mile away, in the congregation!

Gothic House, 48, Bridge Street
Pershore, Worcs WR10 1AT

Cathedrals’ direction of travel 

From the Very Revd Richard Lewis

Sir, — Whoever reshaped the inadequate consultation document of the Cathedrals Working Group into the final report presented to the General Synod in July is deserving of congratulation.

Concerns about the “direction of travel” are not allayed, however. Two of these have been highlighted in your correspondence columns: one by the former Dean of Ely, highlighting the move away from any idea of “first among equals” in the position of the Dean (Letters, 6 July); and another, by Richard Ashby, reminding us of the scant regard paid to the “cathedral community” (Letters, 20 July).

More concerning still is the diminishment of the place of the residentiary canons who will still, in effect, come to be regarded as curates rather than colleagues.

More than half a century ago, the formidable Mervyn Stockwood, Bishop of Southwark, told me that, when he was seeking a new suffragan bishop, he always tried to choose someone “who was better than I am, and who can do things I am not capable of doing” (and this from a man whose ego was as big as his diocese). Who can doubt his choices: John Robinson, David Sheppard, Hugh Montefiori, Keith Sutton?

I well understood that discussions at bishops’ staff meetings were lively; but things happened.

In my ministry both in parish and in cathedral I have tried to follow Stockwood’s example. I have not regretted it, although it has not always been comfortable; nor should it be.

If cathedrals in our own day are reckoned to be beacons of spiritual life and depositories of spiritual capital, it is not because they have succumbed to outdated and flawed models of hierarchical management. It is because they attract the very best in experience, ideas, and skills; they dare to take risks for the gospel; and they succeed through the common mind rather than at the behest of one.

(Dean of Wells 1990-2003)
1 Monmouth Court
Union Street, Wells
Somerset BA5 2PX

Marriage compromise in US Episcopal Church 

From the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano

Sir, — In “US marriage compromise” (News, 20 July), you report that “gender-neutral rites have not been authorised” in only nine of 101 dioceses. A similar claim was made the week before (News, 13 July). This is not true. They had not been authorised in 17.

In eight dioceses, this was due to the theological position of the diocesan bishop (and usually a majority of the clergy in the diocese). Your reporter listed eight correctly: Albany, Central Florida, Dallas, Florida, North Dakota, Springfield, Tennessee, and the Virgin Islands. The reporter erred, however, in saying that the diocese of New York had not authorised such rites.

In nine others, same-sex marriage is not legal: Colombia, the Dominican Republic, Ecuador Central, Ecuador Litoral, Haiti, Honduras, Navajoland, Taiwan, and Venezuela. Among diocesan bishops in the latter nine, seven have actively signalled that they would not approve the rites if laws were to change in their country, again due to theological opposition to same-sex marriage (all but the Bishops of Taiwan and Navajoland).

Six of those also made a declaration to the General Convention, stating that their dioceses may need to leave the Episcopal Church if it were to change the 1979 Book of Common Prayer’s marriage service.

Also, while I recognise the need for journalistic shorthand in headlines, the Episcopal Church is not simply in the “US”, as the list of dioceses above shows. At the Convention, Bishop Lloyd Allen, of Honduras, noted that the dioceses outside the United States are often either forgotten or ignored within the Episcopal Church and outside it, a fact that makes them frequently feel unwelcome.

Finally, the marriage compromise resolution (B012) does not grant couples immediate access to the two trial marriage rites “in their home churches”. An earlier version of the resolution would have made such access immediate, but it was rejected by the Convention. Access is subject to the ordinary canonical authority of the rector or priest-in-charge, who may refuse for any reason (the so-called “conscience clause”).

And in dioceses where the bishop “holds a theological position that does not embrace marriage for same-sex couples”, the resolution states that “reasonable and local access” should be provided, in consultation with a bishop from another diocese; the couple; the member of the clergy involved; and the congregation or worshipping community.

In other words, the practical arrangements are left to discretion, and could mean access somewhere convenient within the diocese rather than in the couple’s “home church”.

Associate Editor, The Living Church
17 Romsey Terrace
Cambridge CB1 3NH

Leave our gardens alone 

From Mr David Redrobe

Sir, — As someone who is married to the Rector, may I strongly discourage your correspondents from the suggestion that the vicarage garden be designed and developed as a lovely venue for outdoor parish activities (Letters, 20 July)?

It is bad enough — for me — having to disregard the idea that the vicarage is my home, with all the accompanying privacy freely granted to people who do not live in a vicarage. I hate the fact that often the vicarage is regarded as an extension of church premises, and that I, the husband, have to adopt the role of responding to telephone and front-door bells. (I have just left this email to answer the doorbell. It was the gardener!)

Please leave our gardens alone, create appropriate space for church meetings and their catering facilities on church premises, deliberately making them as comfortable and as inviting as the vicarage.

Please keep on encouraging the idea that the vicarage is, first and foremost, the home of all who live in it — and that includes the Vicar’s spouse and his or her family.

The Vicarage, 28 South Cliff Road
Kirton in Lindsey
Gainsborough DN21 4NR

Brexit balance, please

From Mr John Horsfield

Sir, — Is there any chance of the Church Times giving us a more balanced and sympathetic view of Brexit than Paul Vallely provides for us (Comment, 13 July)?

Mr Vallely is obviously too young to know of the lies that helped to get us in the EEC, then the EU. The result of the Referendum was the best event to occur in this country for decades. An army of ordinary people, to quote the popular hymn, voted to leave the EU.

Mr Vallely obviously cannot stomach this, and, like the rest of the Remainers, uses every ploy to disparage the result.

67 Cringle Road, Levenshulme
Manchester M19 2RQ

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