Letters to the Editor

by
01 March 2019

Evangelism, witchcraft, Sunday services, and churches on housing estates

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Evangelism and Evangelicals

From Dr Che R. Seabourne

Sir, — In his Confessions, St Augustine’s personal relationship with Christ seems both clear and of huge significance. He wrote that he could not enjoy God’s presence until he embraced Christ personally as “Mediator between God and man” (1 Timothy 2.5). It is certainly not my place to define a “Christian”, but there is a strong tradition across history and churchmanship of drawing close to the person of Jesus, and many different believers across the Church of England know the joy of that personal relationship, and naturally would love others to know it, too.

Evangelicalism, in my experience, is not about the “purification” of differing theological opinions, and the comparison to Momentum seems unnecessary and flagrantly provocative (Comment, 1 March).

Notably, as part of the Synod’s debate on the evangelism report on Friday 22 February, Canon Rachel Mann did flag up concerns regarding some of the language used, but, overall, she welcomed the report’s emphasis on the priesthood of all believers in evangelism and mission, and (I am paraphrasing her speech somewhat) she heard the song that the report was trying to sing. Surely, it is in this spirit that we will prosper together as a broad Church of England?

CHE R. SEABOURNE
Leeds Rectory, 1 Vicarage View
Kirkstall, Leeds LS5 3HF
 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — I sat in the main session of the General Synod last week and heard the Archbishop of Canterbury exhort us: “I urge you to consider especially as members of General Synod giving up cynicism and renewing love for those with whom you and I differ. . . There is an eternal struggle in each of us and among all of us to speak love fluently, and our tongues stumble over its expression and find law and rules and exclusion and a certain tribalism and club mentality comes so much more easily to each of us.”

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The following day, I opened my copy of the Church Times and read the cynical and bitter diatribe from Canon Angela Tilby. She dismisses some key theological terms as “Evo-speak”; she appears unaware of Anglican understandings of baptism which involve both living out and speaking of faith (not merely “turning up to church”); and she offers a bizarre reading of the Fathers in which they have no knowledge of the transformation that comes from relationship with Jesus.

Does painting one’s fellow Anglicans as narrow, ignorant, and self-interested really have a place in contemporary Anglican debate? And should it really command column-inches in the Church Times which could surely be put to better use?

IAN PAUL
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB
 

From the Revd R. W. Crook

Sir, — As we read the discussions on evangelism by the General Synod and read such correspondence as that of the Chair of Progressive Christianity (Letters, 22 February), it distresses me that we seem to have lost the call to discipleship which I heard long ago in my teens, partly through confirmation class, and partly through my school Christian movement.

Sometimes I wonder whether learning from the New Testament is no longer considered relevant to today’s “progressive society”. Do we believe, for instance, that John the Baptist called two of his disciples to “come and see”, i.e. Jesus; that Jesus called Andrew, and Andrew found his brother Simon Peter and brought him to Jesus; that Jesus said to Philip “Follow me,” and Philip introduced Nathaniel to Jesus, etc.? Matthew ends his gospel with the Dominical command “Go and make disciples of all nations.”

Are these just the text-quoting antics of a fussy fundamentalist, or do they give encouragement — indeed, a template — for expressing one’s faith in a contemporary way and making the way open for an acquaintance to respond ?

It does seem to me, when we witness churches closing, Bibles untaught, and confirmation preparation neglected, that we have lost hold on the very basic challenge of our faith and have chickened out of attempting to make worshipping, loving, and devoted disciples of the One whose Name we bear.

R. W. CROOK
14 Bollington Avenue
Northwich CW9 8SB
 

From the Revd Cuthbert Jackson

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s comment and points on “evangelism” contain much wise advice on a subject about which discerning questions are not asked often enough, and towards which an accepted position has been adopted without critical audit of it as a theology or a methodology. Success is assumed, and all failure attributed to other expressions of faith and church (which are often presented as inadequate expressions not “true discipleship”). Yet complete inequality is allowed in what little auditing process is applied.

I can only hope that Canon Tilby’s comments lead to greater equality being applied to all ways of “being church” (those who shout about Jesus, and those whose lives whisper his presence in their hearts), and more attention be given to the processes through which all might be examined equally.

CUTHBERT JACKSON
36 High Street, Skelmersdale
Lancashire WN8 8AP

 

Witchcraft, Paganism, and Christianity’s record 

From Clare Slaney

Sir, — Witches and Paganism hold a fascination for Christians. After decades of examining us, one of the most central facts about Paganism seems not to have sunk in: Pagans are not the opposite of Christians (Features, 22 February).

It is true that some people come to Paganism because they need to resist Christianity. Often, their expression of resistance is intentionally insulting; rarely, it is anti-social. Having been listened to and given space to express deep pain, they will begin to heal and come to new understandings of both Christianity and Paganism. Those who repeat their conflict rather than engage with it seldom find a home in Paganism; they, too, mistake Paganism for the opposite of Christianity.

Another article in the same edition, “Blood of the martyrs, seed of the Church” (Faith), refers to a domestic goat who “poked its devilish-looking head through the doorway”. Poor goat! The devil is part of Christian iconography and belief, but the link between witchcraft and devil worship continues to the extent that Abigail Frymann Rouch can write: “In Britain, the term ‘witchcraft’ is also linked to concepts such as ritual child killings. Several interviewees defended pagans, distinguishing them from Satanists. But Mr MacGeoch suggested that the picture was more nuanced.”

I’m sure the Rural Dean of Glastonbury is being quoted out of context. If he is aware that abuse or murder is being committed, then he must report it to the police.

The link between witchcraft, child abuse, and murder is an incredible slur, and one that will not go away, not least because lazy journalists and rather unhinged people continue to make it. But it points to one purpose of Christianity’s enduring captivation with witchcraft.

Christians have killed vast numbers of babies and children, ritually and casually. Christians have physically, sexually, and psychologically tortured monumental numbers of people in highly ritualised ways on every continent, from the Inquisition to the workhouse; Magdalene laundries, ecclesiastical and secular prisons and hospitals; industrial, faith, and private schools; children’s homes, and in ordinary churches and homes worldwide.

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Ritual child abuse and killings are known to be practised by British Christians to the extent that Project Violet, a Metropolitan Police initiative, was created just five years ago to tackle it. This week, gay conversion “therapy”, which includes physical and psychological abuse, is in back in the news, and some Christians are defending it.

The Central Safeguarding Liaison Group acknowledges that the C of E refused to manage sexual abuse that many Christians were well aware of. The C of E is currently under investigation by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, and at the time of writing the General Synod has not mentioned it once.

The incredible shame of this legacy and on-going catastrophe can only be overwhelming. “They were medieval or Puritans or Catholics or Protestants or Africans or Spanish or exceptions” is one way of separating baddies and goodies, but you are all Christians. It has not been acceptable to accuse Jewish people of the blood libel for some years, but it serves the same purpose as witchcraft in the Christian mind: to locate the very long, deep shadow cast by a religion obsessed with light in a radical Other.

Culturally, the witch has served as a scapegoat to deflect community tensions in much the same way as “immigrants” and “benefit scroungers” do now, but with the exciting bonus of being able to discuss and sometimes act on sexual, often viciously sadistic, misogynistic fantasies.

Paganism honours the potential and power of women and celebrates every aspect of girl- and womanhood. This might be one reason that witchcraft, with its particular focus on the sacred feminine, is so popular with young women. We recognise that a potent desire for something greater than oneself can emerge in adolescent girls, and offer tools, rules, and culture to focus and boundary it, just as the Church once did, but without shame, disgust, salaciousness, or servitude.

Paganism celebrates all varieties of the human body and has largely viewed gender and sexual fluidity simply as a human experience for many decades. At a time when unprecedented numbers of young women — young people — are experiencing mental ill-health, Paganism’s lack of angst around gender roles, identity, or authentically consensual sex can feel like homecoming. Without the weapons of shame and fear, predators are less able to control children and other vulnerable people.

Rather than create an image of the pelvic area of a faceless young person with a squeegee mop — how amusingly modern! — between their legs and give space to a confused article that communicates very little, please consider one of witchcraft’s central teachings: “You who seek to know Me, know that the seeking and yearning will avail you not, unless you know the Mystery: for if that which you seek, you find not within yourself, you will never find it without.”

CLARE SLANEY
Address supplied

 

Review should encompass Home Office culture 

From Prebendary David Newsome

Sir, — The news that the Government was to initiate a commission to review its response to the persecution of Christians was extremely welcome. Now that we learn it is to be limited to the work of the Foreign Office and will not consider the Home Office (News, 15 February), it is deeply disappointing.

Such a commission would have shone a light on the culture of the Home Office, whose much vaunted “hostile environment” extends far beyond the Windrush Generation who have been so shamefully treated, and means that Christians facing threats to their lives receive little sympathy.

I recently sat through the case of a Somali Christian asylum-seeker in the High Court. There, the Home Office barrister argued, in all seriousness, that because there had only been one recent reported beheading of a Christian by al-Shabaab, it was safe to deport Christians to this particular region of Somalia. This in a country placed third by Open Doors in its 2019 Watch List of the most dangerous places on earth to be a Christian, after North Korea and Afghanistan.

As in the days of the Prophet Isaiah, justice seems far from us, and now no light is to be shed on such shameful governmental indifference.

DAVID NEWSOME
36 Highbridge Road
Birmingham B73 5QB

 

Sunday services in every parish church 

From Anne Jones

Sir, — The decision to repeal the law to make it mandatory to hold a service in a church every Sunday confirms what I have come to feel about the Church of England in my latter years. I believe the exact opposite: that there should be a service at the same time every week in every church.

Jesus said: “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there I am in the midst of them.” He did not say they had to be priests.

I attend morning service in our church on some weekdays. Most of us who meet together have no formal training. I have come to believe that the laity are not equal partners with our priests, and the lack of will to ask the laity to lead services if there is no priest available confirms what I have begun to believe.

ANNE JONES
Flat 37, Old School House
201 Billing Road
Northampton NN1 5RX
 

From the Revd Christopher Mitchell

Sir, — Yet again the secular media have an opportunity to present the Church of England in a negative way. A minor “tidying-up” measure by General the Synod to dispense with the requirement of a service every Sunday at every parish church has been widely reported as further evidence of the Church’s decline. It is merely a recognition of the reality in countless rural parishes, a reality that has existed for many decades.

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Though prompted by a shortage of clergy, however, a monthly pattern of services spread across a group has positive aspects also. By travelling to churches near by, worshippers experience a wider fellowship and support, and the challenge of joining with those of slightly different traditions. It can be possible to worship in a warm church, with better musical resources. Of course, those of us who worked for many years in rural groups know that a balance must be maintained between parish and group. Villagers need to be reassured that their local church is not closing, but that not all aspects of church life will always take place in that building.

A huge amount of positive things are happening in our rural groups, but sadly these were not mentioned.

CHRISTOPHER MITCHELL
42 Melton Avenue
York YO30 5QG
 

From Mr Paul Brazier

Sir, — For the Church of England to have so many churches that are hardly ever used, while there is such a need for shelters for the homeless, community space for the lonely, and much, much more, is dog-in-the-manger.

Three in four churches could be handed over to local authorities, and still there would be room to spare for worshippers. It’s easy to talk the talk about social justice, but maybe it is time for the Church to walk the walk.

PAUL BRAZIER
20 High Street, Kingswood
Wotton-under-Edge GL12 8RS

 

When the C of E had new and thriving churches on housing estates

From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — The General Synod’s discussion of estate ministry brought to mind the story of a little boy whose mother, sadly, died in 1932 when he was just three. His dad was quickly married again, to an 18-year-old who was soon pregnant. A little boy missing his mum proved too much for her to cope with on top of everything else, and she started beating him up, culminating in the breaking of the child’s arm. The NSPCC took the case to court, and the boy’s stepmother faced a long custodial sentence.

At a pre-hearing, the boy’s grandmother surprisingly intervened, and made a plea bargain with the judge, that, instead of prison, the boy’s stepmother and his father would move out of town, and the grandmother would adopt her grandson and bring him up as her own. The judge agreed to the adoption, and the grandmother proved more than true to her word, soothing his nightmares and making him whole.

She took him to the newly built church in the heart of their council estate, which became a second home to him. The church made a fuss of this blond-haired, blue-eyed cherub, who joined the choir and became a server. It was a church with a strong devotion to the Virgin Mary. In the boy’s mind and life, the gentle and kind mother of our Lord proved a wonderful substitute for the mother he had lost.

He left school at 14 and worked in an office, but his heart’s desire was to be a priest — unthinkable really for a beaten-up little lad from a council estate. But the lad believed in Jesus, who said, “What is impossible for man is possible for God,” and was eventually ordained at the ripe old age of 33. At his ordination, the parish of his boyhood presented him with a Passion-red stole. In Holy Week and Pentecost, I wear that stole with immense pride — my father’s stole, because this is my father’s story.

Flashback to 1926, and a Church Council Meeting at Chesterfield’s Crooked Spire, discussing building a new church in the council estate out of town. “We can’t possibly afford to do that,” someone objects. “Britain’s all but bankrupt after the Great War. We’ve been paralysed by the General Strike. Building a new church is madness.” In 1929, no St Augustine’s Church is opened in the council estate where my father was born. No grandmother is encouraged by that church to play the Syrophoenician woman of Gospel fame and challenge the inevitable. No church is there to nourish my dad from terror to trust. No vocation, no ordination, no stole, no ministry.

Such a plausible parallel universe, dominated by the Anglican’t church rather than the Anglican; to which do we belong?

DAVID WILBOURNE
8 Bielby Close, Newby
Scarborough YO12 6UU
 

From Canon John Hodgkinson

Sir, — I am now 91, but it was good to see the heady days of 1963 recalled (“Faith, bricks, mortar, and reinforced concrete”, Features, 8 February).

We thought that we were truly C of E, identifying the church with the whole of the community. Almost everything that happened emanated from the church: parish communion; football and cricket matches with the Lincoln Imp; visits from the local MP and Mayor of Lincoln; mission with the Cowley Fathers; baptisms 13 at a time; socials; parish sports; amateur dramatics; all-night vigil on Maundy Thursday; and going outside the walls at Ascensiontide with choir and congregation to a village church near by to share in their evensong.

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Sam Scorer designed the new church to our specification, a tent of meeting for the people of God as they created community in the breaking of bread. The church in the round with a central altar taught us how to worship; The Ermine News was produced by the church and was delivered free of charge to every dwelling. Happy, happy days!

JOHN HODGKINSON
53 Wainwright Court Webb View
Kendal LA9 4TE

 

Clergy and bishops in the discussion about Brexit 

From the Revd Graeme Richardson

Sir, — Canon R. H. W. Arguile (Letters, 22 February) says that “from the lips of Wolfgang Schauble [sic], the German Finance Minister, came the words that democracy could not be allowed to overrule economics.”

Really? The only source for anything like that quote is Yanis Varoufakis, the former Greek Finance Minister, in his book And the Weak Suffer What They Must?. He claims that, in a Eurogroup Meeting, Schäuble said: “Elections cannot be allowed to change an economic programme of a member state!”

First, this is uncorroborated sensationalism from a self-promoting friend of Julian Assange. Second, there was always room for distortion, because either the statement was simultaneously translated or spoken in English, of which Mr Schäuble has admitted he has a poor grasp.

Third, its origin may be in the uncontroversial idea that a country can’t simply elect its way out of international debts and obligations.

Fourth, Schäuble was the West German Minister of the Interior at the time of Germany’s reunification, overseeing a huge transfer of money and power from Bonn to Berlin: not the actions of someone who truly believes economics should overrule democracy.

This misrepresentation may seem a small matter, but the whole Brexit debate is full of such toxic distortions. And Christians should be those who seek the truth.

GRAEME RICHARDSON
13 Old Church Road, Harborne
Birmingham B17 0BB
 

From Mr Robert A. Lewis

Sir, — How heartening to read the sensible words of Canon R. H. W. Arguile. Senior churchmen, including the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Bishop of Salisbury (News, same issue), have been very unwise to ally themselves so closely with the cause of remaining in the EU. If these gentlemen wish to engage in politics, then they would do well to stand for election. An inability to distinguish between matters spiritual and temporal is a worrying tendency in the leadership of our Church.

ROBERT A. LEWIS
Flat 2, Hamilton House
64 Canon Street
Winchester SO23 9JW

 

It would be better to have no spouses at Lambeth  

From the Revd Alan Chidwick

Sir, — Can it really be that there is not enough love of the brethren in the whole Anglican Communion to allow just two bishops with same-gender partners to bring them to the Lambeth Conference? Would it not have been better, then, for none of the bishops to bring their partners (News and Letters, 22 February)?

Yet again, the Church shows herself to be better at shackling and abusing than freeing and loving. In my view, the Spirit of Jesus is much more likely to be at home with the rejected partners than at the Conference. The Gospels provide more than enough examples of his view of the hypocrisy of the Pharisees.

Woe to you, Bishops of the Communion: your judge awaits you.

ALAN CHIDWICK
85 Claremont House
London NW9 5NW

 

This annual Day of Prayer should be women-only 

From Alison Beardwood

Sir, — The Women’s World Day of Prayer was a special day when women the world over could unite, knowing that, whatever their culture, they were joining their sisters around the world in prayers to the God they share. So, what streak of political correctness decided that the day must include men?

As one who has twice spoken at a women’s service, I valued the sense that I was part of something very special: a sisterhood, of differing customs and history, held together by the power of Christ. Who felt that this special day had to change?

ALISON BEARDWOOD
1 Woodside Way, Aldridge
Walsall WS9 0HY

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