Letters to the Editor

by
09 February 2018

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The Anglican-Methodist proposals on Holy Orders

From the Bishop of Fulham

Sir, — Canon Andrew Davison’s critique of the report Mission and Ministry in Covenant (Comment, 2 February) fails to take into account that it is the work of a joint working party, composed equally of Anglicans and Methodists. His impassioned and theologically coherent account of the historic relationship in Anglicanism between episcopal ordination and presidency at the eucharist gives a flavour of what the report might have looked like, had it been written by Anglicans alone. But in joint working the work must cohere with what each Church has previously said to the other, and heard from the other in good faith.

It was not the Faith and Order Commission (FAOC) that invented the idea of the interchangeability of priests/presbyters between our two Churches, for a time-limited period, in the context of the convergence of episcopal ministries. Rather, the FAOC was given a mandate, via an uncontested vote in the General Synod in 2014, to work on the basis of the Final Report, The Challenge of the Covenant, of the Anglican-Methodist Covenant Joint Implementation Committee (JIC).

That Final Report, which addresses in some depth issues around episcopal ordination, was itself received by the General Synod without demur. It set the direction of travel further explored by the joint working party of which I was Anglican co-chair, and which produced Mission and Ministry in Covenant.

Eyes can glaze over and heads nod as ecumenical work unfolds slowly over many years. But, as we engage with these deep issues of ecclesiology, ministry, and sacraments as they touch on the reconciliation of Churches, please let us not imply (or lead others to infer) that these questions have never been thought of or discussed before, or that they can be abstracted from the living relationship between our two Churches, including those things that we have already said to one another.

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JONATHAN FULHAM
The Vicarage, 5 St Andrew Street
London EC4A 3AF

 

From Canon Peter Sedgwick

Sir, — Canon Andrew Davison’s article on the proposed Anglican-Methodist reconciliation of ministries argues that episcopal ordination is necessary for those not episcopally ordained, namely Methodist presbyters. “Not to insist on episcopal ordination would be to abandon our ecclesiology,” he writes.

Archbishop Michael Ramsey was as committed to Catholic faith and order as Canon Davison is, but he was much less sure that schemes to reconcile ministries were intolerable. Writing to one of the most vociferous opponents of the proposed Anglican-Methodist scheme in 1968, Ramsey said: “Future ordinations under the plan being invariably episcopal, the tricky problem is about the existing Methodist ministers. Frankly with entirely regular orders ensured for the future it would not shock me to have something anomalous in the case of this one generation of ministers, and I believe God could and would overrule such anomalies.”

Ramsey was clear that Anglican Orders were regular and valid from a Catholic standpoint. He was unsure about the status of Methodist ministry, but he felt strongly that it was impossible to say that Methodist ministry was “just nothing”, in Ramsey’s words. The prize was, to quote Ramsey again, “the added significance to my ministry which will come to it through the divided Churches being made one” (quoted in Peter Webster, Archbishop Ramsey: The shape of the Church, pages 201-204).

Ramsey never felt that accepting anomalies for one generation denied the relevance of orders, episcopacy, or sacramental ministry. Canon Davison presses his argument too hard by saying that if the current proposals are accepted, then that is what will follow. We are in danger of repeating the failure of the 1969 proposals, for much the same reasons.

PETER SEDGWICK
Church House, Grand Avenue
Cardiff CF5 4HX

 

From the Revd John Ray

Sir, — Reading the contributions of the Bishop of Oxford and Canon Andrew Davison is for me a re-running of history.

I was ordained deacon in the Anglican Church in India (CIPBC) in 1970 and presbyter in the Church of North India, which had just been constituted, in 1971, later serving in the UK, in the diocese of Birmingham.

For the enlightening if painful details of the negotiations leading to the formation of the Church of South India in 1947, the best commentary may be that recorded in Paul Weston’s Lesslie Newbigin, Missionary Theologian. By 1970, the Church of England had moved forward enough to recognise the Church of North India.

One of the things that had happened between 1947 and 1970 was that large numbers of Indian Christians had moved into the growing metropolitan cities. Arriving in Delhi or Bombay, they went to church without question as to denomination. They found that, if they had come from Amritsar, they were “CMS”, whereas if they had come from Kanpur, they were “SPG”. From Madras, they were probably “Church of Scotland”, and from Batala in Punjab, “Salvation Army”.

They were the fruit of missions that had practised “comity”: i.e. if one mission went to one area, others would go elsewhere. They did not share our Western history of division, and knew that the Church of Jesus Christ, by its very nature, is to be a unity. Especially in such a setting as India, being otherwise invited, and received, ridicule.

Today, in Britain’s missionary situation, Christians, especially new Christians, are in a similar situation, as a small minority in an overwhelmingly pagan or secularist society.

Lesslie Newbigin said: “The disunity of the Church is a contradiction of its proper nature and a public abdication of its right to preach the gospel to all nations.”

I was privileged to serve under two remarkable bishops in the Amritsar diocese of CNI. The present one, who is also serving as Moderator, is a Baptist from Orissa.

The time for discussion should be long past. Especially with Methodists, full reciprocal acceptance of ministry should be so easy and immediate. The problems may in reality be more cultural than theological, however they are presented. It is already behind time for action to be taken.

JOHN RAY
Former Diocesan Secretary of Amritsar
2 Birchfield, Hook
Goole DN14 5NJ

 

Getting to know people with Down’s syndrome

From Wendy Bryant

Sir, — The General Synod is debating the new non-invasive prenatal test (NIPT), and it is said that the Church of England wants to make sure that women’s choices are “genuinely free and genuinely informed” (News and Comment, 26 January).

Central to the debate is a call for those women who have been given an indication that their baby may have Down’s syndrome to be given “comprehensive, unbiased information” about the syndrome, so that they can make an informed choice whether to proceed to amniocentesis, and then, if the indication is that the baby will be Down’s, potentially to have a termination. But how can a woman make an informed choice if she has never met a person with Down’s, and if there is general ignorance in our society about Down’s-syndrome children?

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A survey by Scope in 2014 found that 43 per cent of British people did not know anyone who was disabled, and 21 per cent of people aged 18 to 34 said that they had avoided talking to a disabled person because they did not know how to communicate with them.

Leaving aside the question whether people with Down’s consider themselves disabled (and many don’t), this indicates that there may be insufficient knowledge and understanding of Down’s, and that many people simply do not know people with Down’s. How, then, are women to make an informed choice?

For 12 years, I lived in intentional community with a theatre company, most of whose members are young people with Down’s syndrome. Besides working alongside these highly professional young actors, we met some 250 or so children and young people with Down’s syndrome, who came from across the country to take part in theatre workshops and to audition for the company.

Having lived with young people with Down’s syndrome, I am not sentimental about them. They are not always “loving” and “affectionate”, as people would so often say, but they do have some features in common: a natural inclination to treat all people equally, and a complete disregard for hierarchy and social status. They are not angels, but they do tend to have a sense of fun, a love of music and dance, and a way of being contented with their lot in life.

People with Down’s syndrome tend to love and accept us as we are, and to trust without question. This can, of course, make them vulnerable, but can also teach us something of the gospel.

With the roll-out of the NIPT, and the taking of decisions without full knowledge, there is a real danger that we will lose this radical approach to life and this glimpse of the Kingdom of heaven.

WENDY BRYANT
52 The Close
Norwich NR1 4EG

 

Romsey Abbey dispute over painting of saint

From Prebendary Alan Green

Sir, — I am saddened to read of the dispute at Romsey Abbey regarding the purchase of Chris Gollon’s painting of the Abbey’s co-patron, St Ethelflaeda (News, 26 January). I was responsible in 2000 for engaging Chris in his first religious commission: the painting of 14 Stations of the Cross for St John on Bethnal Green, Sir John Soane’s Grade I listed church in the East End of London.

Previously, his subjects were distinctly secular and often focused on those on the fringes of our society, but, to my eye, contained a strange and unexpected hint of the numinous. In working through the themes of Christ’s trial, execution, and death, Chris brought an astonishing originality in presenting a thoroughly human Jesus who nevertheless radiates something more in the midst of his indignity and suffering — something that may suggest the incarnate Son of God.

These paintings and those that have followed, exploring both the human condition and our engagement with the divine, are not always comfortable, and challenge us to examine our assumptions and our beliefs; but I do not believe that any of them, including St Ethelflaeda, are lacking in artistic merit, as suggested by the complainants at Romsey Abbey.

Chris died, unexpectedly and tragically, last year at much the same time as this dispute was breaking out. I would have hoped for a more balanced assessment of his work than is given in this account. I believe that he has made a very distinctive and a very positive contribution to modern religious art in this country, and his ability, his sensitivity, and his humour are already greatly missed by his friends and his patrons.

ALAN GREEN
St John’s Rectory,
30 Victoria Park Square
London E2 9PB

 

Hell and spiritual abuse

From Dr Brendan Devitt

Sir, — As most references to hell in the New Testament are attributed to Jesus, might he, too, be accused of spiritual abuse (Letters, 19 January)?

BRENDAN DEVITT
2 Maytrees, Hitchin
Herts SG4 9LR

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