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Letters to the Editor

29 March 2018

Reflecting on Russia, cathedral funding, church responses to abuse, and Christian-Muslim relations in Tanzania


Friendships with Russia will persist

From Canon Michael Bourdeaux

Sir, — Reflecting on your report (“‘Sad’ expulsions force Anglicans out of Russia”, News, 23 March), I think of the darkest days of the Cold — almost Hot — War, the 1950s. During those years, a whole segment of National Servicemen, some 5000 of us, studied at the Joint Services School for Linguists in Coulsdon, Cambridge, and London. We were taught to love Russian culture and the language, even the people, while, of course, hoping that eventually the Soviet Union would adopt a better political system. What we learned then is entirely relevant now.

My subsequent career path led me also to love the Russian Orthodox tradition, and I always hoped that I would be able to contribute, through the work of Keston College, to greater Anglican-Orthodox understanding. We were called to “be the voice” of those who suffered for their faith, which, of course, led to criticism from the Soviet authorities, who denied that there was any persecution; but that did not dim our pursuit of the truth.

Opportunities improved. From 1999 and for several subsequent years, the BBC producer Canon Stephen Shipley and I made seven trips to Russia together, which led to the broadcast of seven radio programmes on Radios 3 and 4, highlighting the worship of the Russia Orthodox Church. With one possible exception, we received the warmest co-operation, and enjoyed working with priests, monks, choirs, and their trainers.

For nearly 20 years, Keston’s Moscow team, together with your contributor Xenia Dennen, have been compiling an encyclopaedia on religion in Russia today — sadly, published in Russian only — now being revised. There has been no impediment to this ground-breaking work.

Those of us who have met Russian people in any context of friendship or collaboration firmly believe that such links will continue, despite the present difficulties.

Keston Institute
Oxford OX4 4EG


Funding issues are not confined to cathedrals

From the Revd Jeremy Fletcher

Sir, — The Dean of Exeter, the Very Revd Jonathan Greener, appeals for cathedrals to be “properly financed” (Comment 23 March). This must be put in context before any funds are committed.

As a former member of a Chapter, I am more than aware of the immense contribution that cathedrals make to the mission of the Church and to our national life. Of course such a contribution needs resourcing, and needs robust structures to enable that mission to continue.

As much as I want cathedrals to thrive, however, I would also point out that they already have structural advantages that many other churches do not. Three clergy are centrally funded. Each cathedral has its own fabric advisory committee. Cathedrals have dedicated departments at Church House and with the Church Commissioners. The Association of English Cathedrals lobbies and organises. No wonder the cathedral “brand” has been able to secure ring-fenced national funding when the Chancellor has had a surplus.

Consider, then, the situation of churches of cathedral size and influence which remain parish churches. To name a few, Bath Abbey, Tewkesbury Abbey, Romsey Abbey, and Hull Minster have stunning buildings and civic influence to match many a cathedral.

I was Vicar of Beverley Minster for as long as I was a cathedral precentor. We had tens of thousands of visitors; a building larger and of greater significance than many cathedrals; and a “reach” of which many cathedrals would be envious. But we were staffed as a parish church, took the hit when diocesan clergy numbers needed to be reduced, stood in line with hundreds of other churches with the diocesan advisory committee, and had no lobby at Church House or with central government.

There are as many churches like this as there are cathedrals. The Greater Churches Network (which I chaired) does what it can. Nationally, there is now a recognition of the needs of “major” parish churches. But there is much catching up to do.

Dean Greener asks that the “financial burden” should be removed from cathedrals. Perhaps so. But plenty of other churches have similar ministries and need to be included, too.

14 Church Row
London NW3 6UU


Good and bad in church response to abuse

From the Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari

Sir, — It is apparent that the Church has hit the news headlines for the past few weeks in the light of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sex Abuse (IICSA). I think that the Church took a bold step in opening itself to be examined by the experts of the Inquiry setting a model for the society at large.

Even though it was the right thing to do, it must have been hard for the Archbishops, bishops, and others who had to be present at the hearing. On this Good Friday, we can take comfort that Jesus would have done the same thing: making himself not only available, but also vulnerable for others’ sake.

I know that this has come as a mark of encouragement and solidarity for at least some of the survivors whom I know: a sign that there are kind-hearted people who want to listen to them, support them, love them, and befriend them.

It must have been immensely hard for the victims to open up. There is the possibility of being misunderstood or even blamed. Perhaps it is time to give thanks to God for the courage that he has given to the victims to come forward with their petitions, wounds, and tears. I know a few survivors (not all are victims of child abuse within the Church, though), and, whether it’s within the Church or outside it, it is a struggle and a hard thing to live with. None the less, it is heartening to see the Church do all that it can to support the survivors as well as prevent any abuse within the Church both through prayers and through action.

Archbishop Welby might be appalled and ashamed of the Church. I do know what he means. But I am proud to be part of the Church, which is going in the right direction, under his leadership, and under the leadership within the Chichester diocese.

The Vicarage, Church Lane,
Southwater RH13 9BT


From Judith Meredith

Sir, — When looking at the two Archbishops’ letter to the Church relating to the issue of sexual abuse, I cannot believe the incredibly inappropriate use of John 13.4: “Jesus got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was tied around him.”

It may have been intended this Holy Week to imply priests serving laity, but, in the context of the IICSA, images of removing clothing, and of being shut in an upper room full of men, show completely insensitive and flat-footed thinking, and a lack of empathy with those who continue to suffer the trauma of sexual abuse.

I know rationally that this passage is describing my Lord serving his disciples by washing their feet; the other side of this image makes me quake with fear. The Church also needs to be sensitive to the way in which we use our Lord’s name; it is so easy to discredit him unwittingly.

Those of your readers who know the pain, or try to understand the pain, that these victims suffer will know how destructive those abusive paedophile priests have been to their victims’ wellbeing — emotionally, mentally, and spiritually. The wilfully conditioning away of a young person’s childhood for uncontrolled sexual self-gratification destroys a child’s developing personal boundaries — boundaries that have been carefully and lovingly nurtured by their parents.

Sexual abuse often results in the fragmentation of the psyche in the abused. It is a form of defence to protect the Self and the Soul against the painful memories of past or ongoing abuse. For the sake of those victims who are struggling to bring themselves back together, ideally with the support of a skilled therapist, it is important that the C of E awakens to and owns its lack of understanding of the deep psychological damage done to these children. It is so important to think through the use of quotes or language, and to consider their appropriateness. These abused souls are sensitive.

Retired psychotherapist
7 De Moleyns Close
East Sussex TN40 1UT


Single Liverpool canon’s ‘beLoved’ ceremony

From Miss Primrose Peacock

Sir, — No doubt Canon Kate Wharton is sincere (Features, 16 March), and is not alone in wanting and, perhaps, needing attention to confirm her lifestyle; but, if or when she reaches old age, she may find life rather different. Members of religious orders have each other as “family”; many other single people have no one — a subject to which the churches could pay greater attention.

4 Crescent Rise, Truro
Cornwall TR1 3ER


From Terri Bond

Sir, — Until I read your article about Canon Kate Wharton’s “beLoved” ceremony, I was not aware that the C of E had an authorised service to bless singleness. I really hope it made her happy.

But this is the same C of E as recently decided that it was “not necessary” to devise a church service to mark the life-changing transition to a different gender for transgender people, and has still not properly addressed the need for an acceptable ceremony to bless loving and committed same-sex relationships.

If we are to be a truly inclusive Church, then perhaps it should be “Rites for all”.

St Brelade’s Rectory
St Brelade, Jersey JE3 8EP


Christian-Muslim relations in Tanzania

From Mr Alan Cram

Sir, — I was interested to read the article by the Revd Dr Johnson Mbillah on Christian-Muslim harmony in Africa (Features, 16 March). I have just returned from Tanzania, a country that I have come to know and love over the past eight years. While there are some tensions between adherents of the two faiths, especially in the coastal region, my own experience of Christian-Muslim relations generally matches that of Dr Mbillah.

On my recent visit, I experienced (as usual) the hospitality of local people: in particular, I was invited to meet and share food with the extended family members of a friend, half of whom are Muslim and half Christian. At the end of my visit, it was suggested that we all stand, form a circle, and hold hands, while a young Christian member of the family prayed in the name of Jesus for my safe return to the UK.

At the end of the prayer we all, Christian and Muslim together, responded in unison with “Amen.”

86 Pontardawe Road
Swansea SA6 5PA

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