Letters to the Editor

by
05 January 2018

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Responses to Bernard Taylor’s review of churches and state funding

From Mr Matthew Clements

Sir, — So, the Taylor review has reported (News, 22 December), and, as one of the many individuals who responded, I have to say that I am disappointed; I have three fundamental issues.

First, the consultation asked questions relating to community involvement in the local church, and, of course, most respondents said that this is pretty important. I fail to see how the review can then conclude that the funding required to make churches better fitted for that community involvement should come from that same local community. This is categorically not the question that was asked in the consultation.

Second, the report proposes the introduction of two new appointments of advisers, Community Support Advisers (CSA) and Fabric Support Officers (FSO). I tremble to think how this will work, as they will have some authority but no actual responsibility; hence they would be in a very difficult position in advising churches, especially when the draft person specification for both does not even mention any knowledge or experience of how the Church of England operates.

The terms of reference for the FSO, in particular, seem to duplicate the existing responsibility of the church architect to carry out a quinquennial inspection, and the responsibility of the PCC to act on the subsequent report. Unless they are coming with bags of money, which they clearly are not, I cannot see them being welcome or useful except in a few specific instances.

Moreover, third, the CSA and FSO will have to be funded from somewhere. The inference is that the Listed Places of Worship Scheme will disappear to provide that funding. Where, however, was the corresponding question in the consultation about the value of the Scheme? Had the questions been better worded and less slanted, I have no doubt that all individuals who have done significant projects at a church would have agreed that the Scheme is of great value to every church major-improvement project. Without it, all fund-raising is effectively taxed by the Government, as one sixth of all such income goes straight to HMRC as VAT on expenditure. This is precisely the unfairness that the Scheme was set up to counter.

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This report has all the characteristics of being written simply to support a government proposal rather than help those of us who have the problem of finding huge sums of money so that we can reach out and involve our community in using our wonderful Grade I listed buildings. We know what we need to do: the perennial issue is getting the money to do it; the work needs to be done before we can improve our involvement with the community, and you cannot expect the community to pay in advance for it. If anything, such an expectation will reduce the likelihood of improving community involvement.

I do trust that the higher levels in the Church of England are aware of the failings of this report, notwithstanding the stature of some of the authors, and can persuade the Government that spending the available cash on a new level of bureaucracy is most definitely not the way ahead.

MATTTHEW CLEMENTS
4 Church Street
Bicester
Oxfordshire OX26 6AZ

 

From the Revd Christopher Robinson

Sir, — I read the Taylor review on the sustainability of church buildings with interest, and found it a realistic and helpful account of the current situation and possible options for the future (albeit in the backdrop of reduced government support). I noticed that it recognised that some of the suggestions being made by the Church Buildings Review Group are just shifting the problem around, with regard to “festival churches”, etc.

The media angle has been that we all have to use our churches as communal spaces to survive. It’s with this that I take issue — not because I have a problem with church buildings as communal spaces: they are, after all, owned by the community, and many will have been used in the past as village halls, markets, and even courts of justice, alongside being places of worship.

Where a church building can be used in this way, then, of course, the faculty system should be amenable to this; but the majority of communities needing communal space already have it. Even in the smallest rural villages I know, a village hall would be preferable for most village activities and amenities over a medieval stone building, often without a lavatory or running water. And where a community has lost its post office or shop, this is usually due to lack of demand rather than lack of available premises.

Remote rural churches account for a majority of listed places of worship in the Church of England; so any proposed solution that won’t work in most places is less than helpful: it can lay an unrealistic expectation on churches and clergy to use their buildings in ways that there is simply no demand for. Where there is, the complexities and costs involved in negotiating the faculty system will put off many PCCs and outside organisations.

I welcome the recommendation in the report of government-funded Fabric Support officers and Community Support Advisers, but I wonder how long after financial assistance for the upkeep of listed places of worship has been dramatically reduced these positions will also be considered too costly to continue with.

We will have to hope that our communities decide how much value they place on their church buildings, and continue to assist us in their upkeep accordingly; and, if you’ll forgive me for being naïve, we will have to trust in God to grow our churches in town and country, so that we can maintain our own places of worship more easily.

TIFFER ROBINSON
The Rectory, High Street
Rattlesden IP30 0RA

 

Crown Nominations Commission and London

From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, “The world is chiefly ruled by the sacred authority of bishops and the power of kings . . . but the episcopal dignity is greater than the royal, for bishops consecrate kings, but kings do not consecrate bishops.” I cite Hincmar, ninth-century Archbishop of Rheims, and a crucial figure for early-medieval history by his intervention in a range of political and doctrinal disputes. But this early-medieval formula left open the question who appoints the bishops.

Fast forward to 2007, when Prime Minister Gordon Brown’s initiative and the General Synod’s response effectively started the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) in a new era for working on “the nature of establishment and the continuing relationship between Church and State”. A decade later would be a memorable year of low and high points for the CNC, with 9 March 2017, when their principles underlying their nomination of the Bishop of Sheffield were called into serious question over the acceptability of their choice of bishop in this diocese, leading to the withdrawal of the acceptance of Philip North, Bishop of Burnley.

Next, the work of the CNC for the appointment of the 133rd Bishop of London culminated in a drawn-out modern church-state drama after a period of intense media interest, and informed speculation over the name of the appointee needed for London — generally referenced along the lines: “But as inscrutable as the process is, one thing seems certain: the next number three in the Church of England is highly unlikely to be a woman.”

This was followed in 18 December 2017, when the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally, Bishop of Crediton, was nominated by the CNC (News, 22 December). An avalanche of favourable TV, press, and media comment in the week before Christmas showed appreciation for this fascinating appointment, and the delivery of the surprise.

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So, where does this leave the CNC, as it faces in 2018 the results of the 2016 review, structured as a commissioned theological review of the work of the CNC? Even at this late stage, it ought to be possible to learn lessons for the review from recent appointments, which might include how effectively the diocesan vacancy-in-see committee passed its statement of needs and desired profile to the CNC; and how, or when, a wider remit than the received statement of needs or profile was actually taken by the CNC, after the public consultations conducted by the Archbishops’ and PM’s appointment secretaries in making the nomination.

PHILLIP RICE
Member of London diocesan synod
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU

 

From the Revd Mark K. Madeley

Sir, — I am shocked at the nomination of the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally as Bishop of London. She was ordained only 16 years ago, the first three while still working for the Government. She has no experience as a diocesan bishop of a smaller diocese. She has very little parish experience.

The incredible rise to one of the most senior bishoprics is a clear example of filling a female quota. Long service and quality ministerial experience no longer matter. It is like watching Yes, Prime Minister all over again, political appointments being key. This time, it is not funny.

MARK K. MADELEY
The New Rectory
3 Old Church Road
Uphill, Weston-super-Mare
Somerset BS23 4UH

 

From Jane Thomas

Sir, — Amid all the warm words of welcome that have greeted the announcement of the Rt Revd Sarah Mullally as the next Bishop of London, I am wondering how much theological rigour surrounded her nomination — not least as a focus of unity in a diocese that comprises polar opposites and has, hitherto, been held together by a high degree of theological nuance.

In particular, I refer to the comment by the Bishop of Fulham that the annual ordination of deacons would need “to be looked at afresh”. That is clearly a euphemism for a significant erosion of the symbolism of the Bishop of London as a focus for unity. Lord Chartres and his predecessor, Lord Hope, ordained all deacons. All those beginning a new ministry in the diocese, regardless of theological conviction, were ordained by the Ordinary and carried not only his canonical authority, but his spiritual authority, too. The impact on the collective psyche of the diocese was considerable.

Now, this is to be fractured. I cannot help but speculate how many candidates will opt for “alternative” ordination — and not simply those who currently belong to the Fulham jurisdiction. Questions of sacramental integrity are also bound to be accentuated.

Who were the theologians who were in the room at the deliberations of the CNC and were able to lead a discussion about the theological and ecclesial consequences of Bishp Mullally’s nomination? Or was this another case where theology was kicked into the long grass because other criteria were deemed to be of higher value?

JANE THOMAS
London E9
(Address supplied)

 

What ought to happen after the Carlile report

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — Lord Carlile’s report of his review of the handling by the Church of England of the claim by “Carol” that she was sexually abused by the late Bishop George Bell (News, 15 December) is devastating in its criticisms of the Core Group that agreed the settlement with the claimant (involving the payment of £16,800 damages plus £15,000 costs). Utterly demolishing the claim (made in the statement announcing the settlement on 22 October 2015) that “the settlement followed a thorough pre-litigation process,” he shows that it was anything but “thorough”. Moreover, the statement disingenuously claimed that this included the commissioning of expert independent reports “none of [which] found any reason to doubt the veracity of the claim”.

Although, as he is careful to point out, Lord Carlile’s terms of reference did not include making a finding as to the truth or otherwise of Carol’s claim, the extracts that he publishes from the report of Professor Maden (commissioned by the Core Group), far from showing no reason to doubt Carol’s claim, give every reason to doubt it.

The obvious conclusion (or it should have been obvious to the bishops who commented publicly on the Carlile report) ought to be that if the investigative process was so fundamentally flawed, any finding, explicit or implicit, that Bell committed the alleged abuse cannot stand, with the consequence that the important presumption of innocence (for some reason, pejoratively described as “emotive” by the Bishop of Chichester in his public statement) applies, in the same way as it would apply to a defendant whose criminal conviction was quashed by the Court of Appeal on the basis of a finding that he had not had a fair trial.

According to the General Synod timetable issued on 14 December (the day before publication of the Carlile report), “Safeguarding” is to be the subject of a “Presentation under SO 107 — with Q&A” on the morning of Saturday 10 February. In the light of Lord Carlile’s report, that is not good enough. Time must be found for a proper debate when the issues arising from the report, and its implications for the Church and the National Safeguarding Team, can be properly discussed.

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DAVID LAMMING
(Lay member of General Synod)
20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU

 

From the Revd Alan F. Jesson

Sir, — Shakespeare had Mark Antony say of Caesar, “The evil that men do lives after them, The good is oft interrèd with their bones.” Comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the current Bishop of Chichester ensure that this is also shamefully applied to Bishop Bell.

It also raises another important point, which seems to have been overlooked.

I have read Lord Carlile’s report, and the Annexes thereto, and, in the light of the botched inquiries of the Core Group (I cannot call them incomplete), it seems that, if Bishop Bell is innocent, as circumstances suggest, and if “Carol” is truthful, as the Core Group assume them to be, then clearly there must be somebody who has escaped any consequence of his actions.

The comments from the Archbishop of Canterbury and the current Bishop of Chichester render it imperative that a full independent investigation is urgently but thoroughly undertaken.

That tired cliché “Lessons learned” is too often an excuse for little further action. In justice to Bishop Bell, this must not happen.

ALAN F. JESSON
9 Lawn Lane, Sutton-in-the-Isle
Ely, Cambridgeshire CB6 2RE

 

Oh . . . IT of little faith

From Canon Michael Hodge

Sir, ­— After Christmas, I sent an email to two Norwegian Christian friends. It was intended to be both a thank-you for a calendar and best wishes for the New Year. The sub­ject was “God’s blessings on you in 2018”. One email was returned by the System Administrator, because “None of your email accounts could send to this recipient.” Printed on the automatic reply was: “Subject: Undeliverable: God’s blessings on you in 2018”. The System Adminis­trator just does not know our God!

MICHAEL HODGE
Braxton Cottage, Halletts Shute
Yarmouth, Isle of Wight PO41 0RH

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