‘A Church that seemingly turns its back on theology’
From Jane Thomas
Sir, — Many of us, whether at school or in higher education, have brushed up against people who devalue the academic enterprise and, in their determination to subvert it, diminish and disrupt the flourishing of others — not least their capacity to communicate new and (potentially) life-changing insights more widely.
Something of this pathology has become all too apparent among some elements of the Church of England’s senior leadership. This is why the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn, should be warmly applauded for his perceptive analysis of the Church of England’s present-day anti-intellectual climate (News, 30 November). It is chiefly why our voice has become bland, formulaic, and routinely unengaging.
Current institutional insecurities, which have not only channelled talent and energy inwards, but also furnished a pretext for greater executive control, mean that the theologically imaginative voices are no longer heard as part of cultural discourse and social engagement. This can only continue to undercut our claim to be the national Church.
It is scandalous that (with the notable exception of the Bishop of Leeds) no bishop has been able — or willing — to speak from a distinctively theological perspective to the national dysfunction arising from Brexit, with all its feeding of division and potential to compound the suffering of the disadvantaged.
How far we have come since the political turbulence of the 1980s! Then, bishops of the intellectual calibre of David Jenkins, John Habgood, and David Sheppard not only enabled theology to be part of public discourse, but, from the rich resources of Christian tradition, provided a critique of divisive and inequitable political ideologies.
As we face immediate political and cultural crises far more severe than the challenges of the 1980s, the insights of Bonhoeffer, Barth, and Balthasar have been relegated in favour of management theory, with all its emphasis on competitive advantage and raising capital. Little wonder most of our senior leaders can offer nothing more than well-meaning, thin gruel.
Their resourcing to be engaging, exciting, and challenging teachers of the faith has been undercut; and their capacity to be prophetic has been trounced by the need to generate profit. I fear that history will judge this to have been both foolishly short-sighted and recklessly irresponsible.
University of Manchester
Manchester M13 9PL
From the Revd Kenneth Cross
Sir, — I was much encouraged by the Dean of Southwark’s comments at the memorial service for the Very Revd Dr David Edwards.
I sometimes despair at the consistent diet of managerial and leadership-focused training in our beloved Church, and at meetings and conferences topped and tailed with a prayer, and with oblique taken-as-read references to “mission” throughout, but little depth of theological reflection or scrutiny regarding what we truly mean by “mission”, let alone the “gospel” (there are, thankfully, notable exceptions).
These and other oft-used words and phrases, I fear, have been routinely emptied of meaning or hijacked. They urgently once again need to be contemplated deeply on in the light of scripture, tradition, and reason, as well as an open engagement with our world and those of depth in other faith traditions.
Like most parish priests, I have an expected struggle to set aside quality study and prayer time as a priority. This is made more difficult by the prevailing unspoken assumption that strategy, mission plans, leadership, and finances are of the greatest import.
It is my naïve belief that, if we set ourselves to be those who go deep in our theological reflection, research, and prayer, as we give our whole selves in love to Christ and to our neighbour, all else follows. “All else”, of course, requires careful wisdom, but it must be second and subject to the One Thing that we are actually about.
So, thank you to the Dean, who has called us back to this One Thing that enables us to be truly prophetic and ahead of, not subsumed by, the testing times in which we find ourselves.
The Vicarage, 34 Manor Road
Minehead TA24 6EJ
The Bishop of Manchester’s view of intinction
From the Revd John Overton
Sir, — I read the Bishop of Manchester’s warning against intinction of wafers by communicants (News, 30 November) with some dismay. My dismay was magnified by the reaction of one of our communicants at the eight-o’clock service this morning, when she read this advice, reproduced in our December parish magazine.
I cannot remember anyone at that particular service ever asking for a gluten-free wafer, and this particular regular communicant always receives by intinction. She was dismayed at the prospect of not being able to receive in this way, and my sympathies were entirely with her.
While I applaud the Bishop of Manchester’s concern, I believe that his “solution” is wrong in relation to those who need gluten-free wafers. If applied, it will give a false sense of security. It will not render the chalice safe for those who have a severe reaction to gluten.
In my experience, when all have received the chalice, there is not infrequently visible evidence of wafer remnants in the wine that the priest has to consume in the ablutions. This has come predominantly from those receiving the chalice, not from those intincting. Remnants of wafer from dry mouths find their way into the chalice. This is the main danger to those whose intake must be gluten-free.
The only solution to this is either to provide an additional chalice for the sole use of those who receive gluten-free wafers (whether they receive directly from the chalice or by intinction), or for those who receive a gluten-free wafer to be the ones who abstain from the wine.
The Bishop of Manchester has quite rightly highlighted a danger, but one would hope that the Church would give this rigorous consideration rather than a knee-jerk adoption of a policy that may do far more harm than good.
JOHN M. OVERTON
6 Brown Edge Close, Buxton
Derbyshire SK17 7AS
Oil and gas companies’ climate targets
From Mr James Buchanan
Sir, — There was a small though significant error in your report “Five oil and gas giants are ‘failing emissions targets’” (News, 16 November). It states that “of the ten biggest oil and gas companies, only two — Shell and Total — have targets that bring them into line with the 2015 Paris Climate Accord.”
Unfortunately, this is not true. Currently, Shell and Total have only plans to align with the emissions pledges made by governments in 2015 ahead of the UN Paris Agreement on climate change.
A significant gap remains between these emissions pledges (often referred to as the “nationally determined contributions” or NDCs) and the targets in the Paris Climate Accord of keeping average global temperature rises “well below 2°C” and aiming to limit warming to 1.5°C. The emissions pledges would still lead to irreversible warming, with unthinkable consequences for God’s creation and human civilisation; the latter could avert catastrophe.
Shell’s recently announced plans for carbon emissions reductions, while a step forward, still fall well short of the Paris Agreement targets.
It is, therefore, correct to say, as stated towards the end of your report, that none of the major oil and gas companies currently has a target that is aligned with the UN Paris Agreement.
Bright Now Campaign Manager
40 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UD
Don’t be tempted to do lead-thieves’ work
From Mrs Diana Evans
Sir, — The damage done by those who steal metal from historic church buildings is, as Stephen York rightly says, very saddening, because of the impact both on the building and on the PCC that looks after it (Letter, 30 November).
Lead on church roofs is a traditional use of materials and skills which contributes to the unique quality of our national heritage. Historic England supports the use of stainless steel as the most appropriate long-term replacement for stolen lead, but does not advocate its proactive removal as a means of preventing theft.
We strongly encourage congregations and communities to join forces to prevent theft, report suspicious activity, and help the police to prosecute criminals. We do not want congregations to do the thieves’ work for them by stripping off the historic lead that is part of their local historic inheritance.
Communities make huge efforts to keep their church buildings in use: we must all work together to combat crime, not be bullied into drastic pre-emptive action that produces the same outcome as the thieves themselves.
Head of Places of Worship and Owners Advice
4th Floor, Cannon Bridge House
25 Dowgate Hill
London EC4R 2YA
The Prayer Book and the Cornish language
From Mr Robert Nowell
Sir, — In his informative review of Brian Cummings’s The Book of Common Prayer: A very short introduction (Books, 16 November), Bishop Stephen Platten mentions the 1549 Prayer Book revolt, in which some 4000 people from the West Country died. But he does not mention what must have been a significant factor: the people of Cornwall were having imposed on them worship in a foreign language.
The rather cynical official reaction was to point out that they had for centuries been happily worshipping in a foreign language — Latin — so what was the problem?
The other side of the Channel, France did not experience the Reformation, and in Brittany Cornish happily survived in the form of Breton (which, I understand, is simply Cornish taken across the Channel).
I read somewhere that the last native speaker of Cornish (before the modern revival, which began in the early 20th century) was a clergyman, who round about 1850, found that the only creature with whom he could communicate in his mother tongue was his cat.
2 Tudor Road, New Barnet
Hertfordshire EN5 5PA