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Letters to the Editor

09 March 2018

Data Protection, the Archbishop of Cantebury’s visit to Turkey, and ministry outside the parish


Data Protection Bill is a disaster

From Mr Mark Stimpson

Sir, — In my capacity as a churchwarden, I recently attended a GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) Workshop organised by the diocese of London. The aim of the session was to educate individuals from parishes around the diocese about what they need to do to comply with the new data-protection legislation that comes into force in May.

The workshop was delivered professionally, providing clear guidance, pitched at an appropriate level of detail, supported by impressive visual aids. Those who attended it were left in no doubt about the considerable amount of effort that will be required on an ongoing basis to meet the demands of this new law and to avoid incurring hefty fines and legal fees.

What was also very clear is that this legislation is aimed, quite rightly, at tackling the serious abuses of personal information perpetrated almost exclusively by large corporations. Of course, these organisations and their extensive rosters of paid personnel and consultants will be able to absorb the extra work involved in compliance with GDPR relatively easily.

By extending the scope of GDPR to cover organisations of all sizes, including those run largely by volunteers, the Government is, however, casually imposing an unwarranted and substantial burden on thousands of people who give up their time freely to a wide variety of good causes up and down the country, including churches. Instead, it should have specified a much reduced set of regulations for bodies storing data on relatively small numbers of people.

What I fail to understand is why the Church of England is putting so much time and effort into encouraging parishes to comply with this law, instead of rallying support for amendments that will, at the very least, reduce the burden imposed by GDPR on small organisations to a sensible level.

The GDPR Bill has already had three readings in the House of Lords, but, as far as I am aware, not a single bishop has raised serious concerns about the impact that it will have on the voluntary sector. According to Hansard, of 247 references to the Bill in the House of Lords, only one was made by a bishop: on 17 October 2017, the Bishop of Chelmsford made a point about the age limit for children to consent to use of their personal data.

The bishops in the House of Lords should have been unflinching in their opposition to this Bill. The fact that they have not is worrying, to say the least. Either they do not realise the impact that it will have on volunteers in their parishes, or they do not care. Let us hope that it is the former.

38 Chichester Avenue
Ruislip HA4 7EH


Opportunities missed in Primatial visit to Turkey

From the Revd Dr Colin Butler

Sir, — As the Anglican Chaplain in Ankara between 2016 and 2017, I feel able to comment on the report (News, 2 March) of the visit of the Archbishop of Canterbury to President Erdogan in Turkey.

While foreign Christians in Turkey are able to live freely, with the exception of the American Pastor Andrew Brunson, whose detention seems inextricably bound up with the residency of Fethullah Gulen in the United States, there is, none the less, a general if non-specific awareness among foreigners that very many Turks are fearful at the direction of political and social developments, and this does have an impact. Turkish Christians live quietly, and foreign Christians are conscious of the need to follow suit.

It does, therefore, seem a pity that, not for the first time, the Archbishop has made a visit to the country without taking the opportunity to encourage the Church of England clergy and congregations there. While I hope that the visit was made after contact with the Bishop in Europe, his location in Brussels hardly means that he has an intimate knowledge of the experience of Christians in Turkey.

Significantly, the Archbishop lost the opportunity to meet the many Iranian Christians, and other nationalities, who are members of the Church in Turkey. Their stories are often deeply inspiring, but they stand in need of much encouragement, which the Archbishop could have given.

Turkey has a wonderful Christian heritage, as your recent extended article about Cappadocia (Features, 26 January) showed, which is largely hidden. It deserves much, if responsible, attention.

33 Cotton Lane
Birmingham B13 9SB


Safeguarding audits’ methodology was deficient

From Patricia Lyon

Sir, — After your report “IICSA probes C of E failures” (News, 2 March) and the statement by the National Safeguarding Team spokesperson that independent audits had been carried out across all dioceses as a commitment to “openness and transparency”, I would like to offer another point of view.

The organisation that the Church commissioned to carry out the audits has within its annual statement to the Charity Commission described, at length, how its core value is one of co-production and collaboration with service-users to produce its work. At no point within the audits was there any collaboration with survivors, which has meant that the fundamental social-care maxim of “nothing about me without me” has been ignored, and in earlier audits where the methodology was such that people could recognise themselves, or be recognised by others, the Data Protection Act has been breached.

Though each audit contains a section to describe its limitations, not one recognises that there was no survivor involvement to indicate that the work produced was sub-optimal and biased. The organisation has stated that working collaboratively was not possible within the time limit of the three-day audits, which begs the question why it accepted the commission in the first place if its core values could not be upheld.

Any supplementary involvement of survivors will not underpin the core value of collaboration, as the Church has already published action plans based on the findings of the audits. If the Church wants to demonstrate commitment to “openness and transparency”, then the very least it can do is commission an organisation that is robustly independent and consistent with its own core values.

12 Trentham Road
Redhill, Surrey RH1 6JB


Perils of ministry outside the parish ‘boundary’

From Canon Roger Knight

Sir, — The Revd Dr Jenny Gage raises some important issues in her article (Comment, 2 March) about self-supporting clergy. The accompanying cartoon showing the harassed ordained paramedic loading his ambulance while his rural dean is reminding him of the imminent chapter meeting nicely sums it up: despite the increasing number of “fresh expressions” and “pioneer” ministries, much of the church remains focused on clergy who are full-time and work in parishes within geographical boundaries.

I write as a priest who nearly 50 years ago arrived in a new diocese to take up a non-stipendary post for mainly financial reasons. I was an NSM, a non-stipendary priest, before the name was invented or, at least, used. But I was a teacher in a maintained school who was given a licence to that school by the Bishop; and the Rural Dean, to his credit, even arranged some chapter meetings to suit those who couldn’t make daytime meetings!

I suspect that Dr Gage’s complaint about the undervaluing of priests who serve outside the normal parochial structures is not because the hierarchy don’t value what they are doing, or that they don’t want to encourage new types of ministry. Rather, it is more likely to be due to the lack of control that they have over how, when, and where that ministry is carried out. I recall hearing a bishop comment that his problem with NSMs was that they had other commitments such as their paid work, and holidays to take at inconvenient times.

The same is true of chaplains, not least in sport, where appointments are usually made not by bishops, but by those who run the clubs; they often include ecumenical partners.

This also applies to clergy who have retired and chosen to remain active. Although they are usually valued, as I have always felt myself, there is not always a strategy for their use beyond acting as essential cover for holidays or during interregnums.

9 Hollow Wood Road
Burton Latimer
Northamptonshire NN15 5RB


Don’t quash initiatives to free frustrated Readers

From Mr Nigel Holmes

Sir, — I was sad to see the Bishop of Leicester’s response (Letters, 2 March) to the Archbishop of York’s imaginative initiative to encourage, by making the transition simpler, Readers to consider ordination (News, 23 February).

Bishop Snow, as the new chairman of the Central Readers’ Council (CRC), is to be praised for initiating debate on the future of lay ministry, but therein lies the problem. I sense that he wishes to maintain the historic gulf between lay and ordained at the very time when Dr Sentamu has discerned that the needs of the Church of the future would better be met by viewing ministry as dynamic rather than static.

Twelve years ago, the Reader Review Group was established in the wake of my private member’s motion on Reader ministry in the General Synod. My aim was to enable those with developing talent and accumulated experience more easily to move from one category to another. I was not alone.

The magazine The Reader published a questionnaire to which there were 1059 responses. Seventy per cent favoured a significant number of Readers’ being ordained, and 78 per cent thought that fellow Readers would welcome this. Perhaps one reason for such large majorities was that one third of Readers said that they felt under-used.

I was a member of the Reader Review Group, but the views of most members were more akin to those expressed in the Bishop of Leicester’s letter. Sadly, the consequence has been no discernible change to Reader ministry during the past decade other than a fall in numbers.

These were typical of the views submitted to that survey 12 years ago: “It doesn’t take a brilliant mind to see the solution when clergy numbers are falling.” “The hierarchy needs to think ‘outside the box’ to make the passage between lay and ordained more seamless.” “The change of perception must come from above.” Could the Archbishop’s action be the crucial catalyst, at this key moment, to effect just such a shift ?

The CRC Executive Committee must not appear to be defensive but be open in its thinking, as it was 35 years ago. Then it backed the recommendation of the Tiller report, A Strategy for the Church’s Ministry (Church Information Office, 1983), that Readers be encouraged to move seamlessly to ordained ministry unless they wished to stay lay and join an “eldership” of pastors and preachers.

I am grateful for CRC’s consultation, but, to make this meaningful, would urge Readers and others to respond to crcsec@btinternet.com or editor@cofereadermag.co.uk.

Having received a negative response to my submission last week from The Reader, I urge its editor to publish a range of views to balance those of the Bishop of Leicester carried in the spring issue.

Woodside, Great Corby
Carlisle CA4 8LL


Narcissism and clergy marriage breakdown

From Margaret Wilkinson and Dilys Stone

Sir, — We read the article by Mark Vernon (Features, 23 February) with great interest. At Broken Rites (the support group for separated or divorced clergy spouses/partners), we have been concerned that many of our members and enquirers report having experienced domestic abuse.

This is sometimes physical, but more often emotional or in the newer category of coercive-controlling behaviour. It was, therefore, helpful to read such a professional description of the narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) and how people with this can seek out positions in the Church.

The consequences of the behaviour of people with NPD needs to be recognised. It causes problems within the congregation, but wreaks havoc within the family unit, damaging the spouse and children alike: damage further compounded by the loss of home, church, friends, and school when they are unable to remain in a cleric’s tied housing. Sadly, as Dr Vernon points out, this behaviour is rarely recognised by the church hierarchy, or, if it is, then every attempt is made to conceal it.

We hope that his analysis will be taken seriously in the Church, in the contexts of selection and training, and in the pastoral care of the clergy, so that some of these problems can be addressed at a more fundamental level than simply managing the symptoms.

Co-chairs, Broken Rites
27 River Grove Park
Beckenham BR3 1HX


Dangerous to strangers

From Canon Brian O’Rourke

Sir, — The letters from Helen De Cruze and Canon Janice Scott (23 February) left me feeling very despondent. “You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God” (Leviticus 19.34).

It would appear that this no longer applies in England’s green and pleasant land!

St James’s Rectory, Stradbally
Co. Waterford, Ireland X42 Y402

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