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Letters to the Editor

09 November 2018

Consultation and pastoral care, Baptism certificates, clergy discipline, BBC’s scheduling of Songs of Praise, and being called Father


Consultation and pastoral care

From the Revd Andrew Foreshew-Cain

Sir, — The process of consultation on the Bishops’ Living in Love and Faith (LLF) process has recently been made clear. The intention has been stated as “that the resources make connections with the questions, faith stories, views and experiences of people who span a range of ages, ethnicities, theological convictions, sexualities and genders”. A list of organisations consulted has been published, and a list of the “range” of people who have been chosen to be consulted has been given.

It is noteworthy that the list excludes all mention of married gay and lesbian couples, bisexuality, and those who identify as non-binary. “Partnered” gays and lesbians are referenced alongside both married and single straights and other groups.

Given that so much of the dispute surrounding this whole process is about marriage equality and the way in which the Church officially distinguishes between civil partnerships and marriage, this decision is inexplicable and wrong. It is an insult to married gay and lesbian couples to refuse to acknowledge our marriages, and the erasure of bisexuality and the insistence on simple binaries shows just how deeply out of touch the LLF project is with the reality of the wider debate in society and the Church.

A genuine consultation consults everyone and opens itself to as wide a range of views as possible. What LFF is inevitably being revealed to be is a PR exercise that has no integrity and deserves no trust in its ability to listen, learn, and reflect the actual beliefs of the wider church membership, the lives that we lead, and our aspirations and hopes for the future.

The Old Vicarage, High Street
Chapel, Derbyshire SK23 0HD


From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — As a priest in the Oxford diocese, and the proud father of a gay daughter, I was greatly encouraged by the recent ad clerum from our bishops (News, 2 November).

I believe that they are correct in their suggestion that the continued sound of silence from the majority of bishops on matters relating to LGBTIQ+ inclusion in the life of the Church “is not serving the Church well”. I hope that more bishops will now respond to the encouragement to speak their minds. The letter, which carefully articulates the importance of the lived experience of LGBTIQ+ people alongside their families, is a model for “serious intellectual engagement” and theological inquiry.

The Bishops also go some way to articulating the requirements that must underpin and animate a “radical new Christian inclusion in the Church”. A mature ecclesiology must always go beyond slogans and straplines. The Lutheran bishop-theologian Anders Nygren suggested that a theological motif must comprise both internal content and external manifestations. The content is the belief that all are made in the image of God, while the external manifestation must comprise the pastoral, the sacramental, and the liturgical if it is to have any real currency.

The Oxford letter goes a long way towards progressing an understanding of what a “radical new Christian inclusion in the Church” may come to mean. What is now required is for more bishops to break the sound of their self-imposed silence.

The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Winslow, Bucks MK18 3BJ


Baptism certificates may need to be more explicit 

From the Revd Robert Tickle

Sir, — The common sacrament among all Christian denominations has been baptism, so that baptism in one Church is recognised by most other Christian communities.

It is possible that the Church of England has broken this consensus, as some clergy now have abandoned baptising “in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”. Theological opinion is divided on the validity of this. Some say that alternative formulae still represent what the Church of England intends by baptism; others opine that the words radically depart from longstanding Christian practice, so that the baptism may be invalid.

Perhaps those who do employ the traditional Trinitarian formula should issue baptism certificates that state this quite clearly, to reassure candidates and clergy in the future.

In the absence of these remedies, we will soon need to baptise some candidates conditionally in preparation for confirmation. It would be better if any clergy in the Church of England who have deviated from the historic formula were to return to it in the interests of ecumenism and and sacramental unity.

5 Bramley Court, Orchard Lane,
Harrold, Bedfordshire MK43 7BG


Congregations suffer when clergy discipline is lax 

Sir, — The ample discussion about the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) (Feature, 19 October; Comment, 26 October; Letters, 2 November) has given the impression that almost all complaints cause unfair suffering to clergy. If, however, a diocesan bishop concentrates on his pastoral duty to clergy, and fails to exercise his judicial function properly, the result may be great damage to a congregation. This happened some years ago in my former parish.

The inner-city parish had thrived during a long interregnum, with a growth in electoral roll from 135 to 150. The first attempt to appoint a new priest failed; so one was imposed on us, having come via one of the great Evangelical churches.

Within weeks of arrival, the new priest started unnecessary building work. There was no discussion with the PCC and no application to the DAC. When I asked about a faculty, I was told that the archdeacon had given an “emergency faculty”. Enquiry to the archdeacon revealed that he had no knowledge of the building work. This was an early example of the priest’s distant relationship with the truth.

From the start, the priest bullied the two female parish workers and interfered in their work: they left. It was made clear to the congregation that they were responsible for all pastoral care in the parish. The main social-outreach project had been started by the congregation and used the church building. Within a few months, the priest insisted that a top-end commercial rent be paid.

The worst damage was to the congregation. In the priest’s first year, 90 per cent of the congregation left.

The archdeacon dismissed all this as the teething problems. We wrongly assumed that making a formal complaint via the CDM would ensure that the hierarchy took the problem more seriously.

The diocesan rejected it for lack of evidence. We felt this was not only unhelpful, but also unfair, and appealed. A few weeks later, the appeal “judgment” again rejected our complaint. The appeal should have been conducted by a very senior Appeal Court judge, but clearly never went near him. The “judgment” was poorly written in unjudicial language, failed to address the grounds of the appeal, and was not signed.

At no point did anyone contact any of the complainants to find out more about the background, or to offer support. From the day the complaint was received, however, the priest was regularly supported by the hierarchy.

After the appeal judgment, the area bishop made it very clear that either we accept the priest’s authority in everything or we had to leave the church. Many of us joined the exodus. The priest remains in post, with about 20 on the electoral roll.

The Clergy Discipline Commission would be well advised to consider the difficulties facing complainants, since they may end up just as bruised and battered as clergy complained against. There needs to be much clearer guidance for lay people and bishops about what evidence is acceptable. And the system needs to do much more to protect whistleblowers.



BBC’s scheduling of Songs of Praise 

From Mr Nigel Holmes

Sir, — While the loss of new editions of Radio 4’s Something Understood (News, 2 November) is disturbing, have you noticed how Songs of Praise on BBC 1 has been moved to the early afternoon? The past three have been broadcast at 1.45 p.m., 2.35 p.m., and 2.55 p.m. What used to be a rare shift earlier to accommodate sport appears to have become the norm.

The edition on 5 November was a centenary special featuring Wilfred Owen and the First World War. The previous week included the Archbishop of Canterbury, whose book Reimaging Britain is disappointingly thin on the power, influence, and importance of the mass media.

The Director-General of the BBC, Lord Hall, recently maintained that “fake news” had “given street cred to mass disbelief”. Perhaps the BBC ought to give rather more street cred to belief, which is precisely what OFCOM, the broadcasting regulator, told the Corporation last year.

Woodside, Great Corby
Carlisle CA4 8LL


Not waving but frowning 

From the Revd Kevin Wright

Sir, — Oh, how I agree with Ines Hands (“No action songs, please. There are adults present” (Comment, 2 November)!

I would add that there are many children of a more reserved nature who cringe at the very thought of having to wave their hands about. They can be put off church for life.

I, on occasions, will lead action songs, and they have a place in worship designed to encourage all ages. There are times, however, when my wife and I will determinedly keep our hands in our pockets to allow others to opt out, too. We have experienced the horrifying “We will sing this again until everyone joins in!”

Even in a situation when they are appropriate, I plead, please do not ever make them obligatory.

The Rectory, Vicarage Road
Bridgwater TA7 8DX


From Mr Laurence Young

Sir, — Placing Canon Angela Tilby’s column about the popularity of cathedral evensong alongside the piece by your anonymous correspondent describing his or her dissatisfaction with toddler-level church services was a discerning work of page layout. It neatly drew out consequences of what seems to be a current race to the liturgical bottom as part of a search for “relevance”.

When the sacral and numinous is replaced by the banal and infantile, it is hardly surprising that potential worshippers discern attendance at church to be just one more prosaic item on the menu of day-to-day activities on offer to them, and choose a trip to the beach, going shopping, or whatever, over it.

3 Dark Hill, Davington
Kent ME13 7SP


Church should be preparing now for 29 March 2019 

From the Very Revd Michael Sadgrove

Sir, — Following your recent feature on Brexit (21 September), I am wondering how the Church of England is planning to mark 29 March 2019, the day this country leaves the European Union.

Whatever our views about Brexit, people of faith will surely agree that, at this momentous threshold, we need to offer our future as a nation to God. The national Church in England is skilled at ritualising the big events that affect us all. That is its duty; for an Established Church exists to promote public faith. But it is also its privilege to try to discern through liturgy and preaching the presence of God at times of crisis and change in our national life, and what it means to negotiate them wisely.

Yes, it will be difficult. But services in cathedrals and churches could help to bring people of good will together at a time of great division. Among the commitments that we should publicly affirm should be those to fostering peace and reconciliation on our continent and beyond; to promoting the welfare of the poor and voiceless; to playing our part in conserving the environment; and to being good neighbours in the future to our European friends and allies.

Clearly, services of celebration or lament will not be what is needed. But maybe vigils of prayer during the days before 29 March could help in seeking the best for all our peoples in the UK, the European Union, and around the world. It would be an affirmation that God cares about our history and politics. It will be Lent, a good time to reflect in a serious way about our journey as a nation.

But time is short, and the uncertainties about Brexit are still very great. I hope that bishops, cathedrals, and parishes will be preparing now for whatever outcomes the present negotiations may bring. For better or worse, they will profoundly affect us all. Please, let us not evade the challenge as the Established Church of the English people by filing it in the “Too difficult” tray.

Dean Emeritus of Durham
Burswell House
27 Church Street
Haydon Bridge
Northumberland NE47 6JG


From the Revd Patrick Irwin

Sir, — I recently attended choral eucharist and choral evensong in St Peter’s Cathedral, Adelaide, south Australia. The services were sung beautifully, and the Dean was in a very good mood. He thanked God for Mrs May and Brexit.

The cathedral organ is currently being restored by Harrison & Harrison of Durham, and the Dean had learned that the original budget had been cut from $A2.1 million to £A1.7 million. This reduction was caused mainly by advantageous exchange rates as as a result of Brexit.

Your readers may be interested to know that Brexit has been a great help to our fellow Anglicans in Adelaide.

104 Lichfield Court, Sheen Road
Richmond, Surrey TW9 1AY


Being called Father: a challenge, not a compliment 

From the Revd Michael Page

Sir, — The Revd John Wall’s comments concerning being addressed when a 20-something as “Father” (Diary, 26 October) chimed with me. As a non-clerical-collar-wearing Baptist chaplain working in prisons for the past 14 years, and now approaching retirement, I have often been surprised at the range of titles ascribed to me.

The first challenge, shortly after I started, was being asked by a young woman as she pulled a rosary out of her pocket: “Father, do you do blessings?” That was not a question my training had prepared me for. Since then, I have answered to vicar, padre (always a sign of ex-service personnel), boss, pastor, sir, chaplain, oy you, and others that the columns of the Church Times might not expect.

Sometimes I have even been asked what people should call me. My answer has always been: “You can call me what you feel comfortable with, as long as it isn’t rude, but my name is Michael.” Lots of people opt for Father, and, perhaps because of the high incidence of family dysfunction in the prison population, maybe that does something to satisfy a yearning that exists in many hearts.

8 Cypress Close, Longthorpe
Peterborough PE3 9QX


From the Revd Ken Dunstan

Sir, — Like the Revd John Wall, I have hesitated at receiving the title “Father”. Three decades ago, my organist insisted on using it, despite my admonishing him with Jesus’s words in St Matthew’s Gospel.

He still does. I questioned my views when I set about writing a pamphlet about Southminster, where the Revd William Lowder remodelled the church in the 1890s to enable more “Catholic” worship.

William’s older brother, Charles, is now celebrated in the Anglican calendar (9 September) as the founder of St Peter’s in Docklands London, the priest who ministered in the fight against cholera in July and August 1866. From then on, the man formerly opposed by many for his Anglo-Catholicism (he studied under Pusey and Newman) was spoken of as “Father Lowder” by many of his parishioners, including those who never darkened the door of the church.

A memoir written shortly after his death in 1880 suggests that Lowder was the first Anglican priest to be called “Father”.

True or not, that story affects me in two ways. Like your diarist, I understand (better now!) the fatherly role that even young priests must inhabit. And also, reading the hagiography that I found online, I see the gap between my own ministry and Lowder’s. I don’t stop people calling me “Father” now, but to be so called is a challenge rather than a compliment.

35 Ely Close, Southminster
Essex CM0 7AQ


Take one goose quill. . . 

From Barbara Hickman

Sir, — I must take issue with the claim by the Children’s Society (News, 26 October) to have brought the Christingle to the UK 50 years ago.

At Ockbrook Moravian School, near Derby, where I was a pupil in the 1950s, we held a Christingle service every Christmas. What is more, we did not use cocktail sticks, but goose quills, suitably trimmed and split, to insert into the orange to hold small jellies, raisins, and nuts.

The latter were particularly troublesome. When it fell to one’s lot as a prefect to help to produce them, it often resulted in drawn blood, as you tried to make the necessary incision with a sharp knife. I am not quite sure what Health and Safety would feel about it today.

31 Hallamgate Road
Sheffield S10 5BS

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