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Letters to the Editor

01 November 2019


Lambeth mental-health workshops

From the Revd Tracey Byrne

Sir, — The report (News, 25 October) that the Archbishop of Canterbury has hosted a series of workshops on mental health, at which he spoke about his own experiences in an effort to address some of the stigma attached to treatment, is to be warmly applauded. That sessions addressed, among other aspects of the issue, the mental-health experiences of LGBTQ+ people is particularly encouraging. Members of our community face all kinds of challenges — not least among faith communities — which contribute to mental-health outcomes that are consistently poorer than in the general population. This should concern all of us.

I had expected, during my relatively brief period as an activist of sorts with One Body One Faith, to engage with people whose mental health had been damaged, spirits broken, and humanity diminished, as a consequence of the words, actions, and beliefs of some kinds of Christians — as indeed I did. What I had not expected was that, in a few months, in very ordinary parish ministry, I would continue to encounter people bearing the same kinds of scars — open wounds, on occasion.

I am in no doubt now that whenever we fail to make crystal clear our unconditional acceptance and affirmation of LGBTQ+ people, whenever we sign a petition or a letter circulating on social media and forget that we are dealing, not with “issues” but with real people, when we are silent or presume that people know where we stand, we are contributing to an environment in which people’s mental health is being compromised and damaged. There is no way of skirting round that reality.

The Archbishop’s courage in addressing the stigma and impact of mental illness is a welcome first step, but I hope that we are all able to make and respond to the unpalatable connections between faith, sexuality, and mental health, as the Church continues to discern how God is calling us to listen to the voices of LGBTQ+ people over the coming months.

As Desmond Tutu said, it’s no good pulling people out of the raging river if we’re not willing to go upstream and find out who’s throwing them in.

5A Lilac Grove, Beeston
Nottingham NG9 1PA


The Bloom debate and the reading of scripture

From the Revd Andy Myers

Sir, — I was astonished by Canon Angela Tilby’s dismissal of “political” readings of the Bible as killing the Bible as a literary text (Comment, 25 October). I’m mindful of Archbishop Desmond Tutu’s comment when confronted by a statement that the Bible and politics don’t mix that he wondered which Bible they were reading.

For the past 200 years at least, biblical criticism has adopted the critical approach to the Bible as a literary text, but this in no sense excludes an approach to the Bible which sees it as in many respects as being a work of literature which has essential political implications. Perhaps she should re-visit the Sermon on the Mount as it has been read by great Christian activists such as Martin Luther King and Archbishop Tutu, and see how this led them to profound criticism of the Establishment, and political engagement with the unjust structures of this world.

It was such political readings of the Bible — and notably of the teachings of Jesus, which led to his crucifixion: the death reserved for political subversives — which led great Christian Socialists such as Keir Hardie to find inspiration in the Bible to fight politically against the massive injustices in our society. It led to great political advances in our country such as the NHS.

There are hundreds of books about all this. Perhaps Canon Tilby should start with Jesus and Politics by Alan Storkey as a corrective to her reactionary views, which risk emasculating the Bible and turning it into the revelation of harmless fairy tales.

St Cross Vicarage
Middleton Park Avenue
Leeds LS10 4HT

From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — I read Canon Angela Tilby’s article on the Bloom debate with interest, but find it difficult to agree with her conclusion that “I am less and less concerned that we should take the Bible as an agenda for the social changes we regard as desirable.”

Leaving aside the thorny issues of desire and desirability, I am increasingly concerned that we should indeed regard the Bible as an agenda for social change and the breaking in of the Kingdom here on earth as in heaven.

In his most recent book, To Heal a Fractured World, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks writes that he remains “in awe at the challenge God has given us: to be different, iconoclasts of the politically correct, to be God’s question mark against the conventional wisdom of the age, to build, to change, to mend the world until it becomes a place worthy of the divine presence because we have learned to honour the image of God that is humankind”.

Jesus claimed to be the fulfilment of the prophets, and the prophets sought and argued for social change. So should we, his people.

The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Winslow, Bucks MK18 3BJ


Chapter and verse on the Flinders exhumation

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — You report (News, 25 October) that the diocese of Lincoln has given “planning consent” for the re-interment of the remains of the 19th-century explorer Captain Matthew Flinders, after his coffin was unearthed during archaeological work at St James’s burial ground, Euston, before construction of the new HS2 terminus station.

It was news to me and, I suspect, to most of your readers to learn that the diocese was a planning authority. Perhaps more surprising was that this statement was included in a news story on the diocesan website, albeit in the same terms as a press release by High Speed Two (HS2) Ltd on 17 October on the government website. (The diocesan website story has since been changed to state that “the diocese of Lincoln has recommended that planning consent be given to the reburial.”)

I have done some research, and the true position is this. Normally, a faculty would be required for an exhumation from consecrated ground. In this case, the exhumation was authorised by provisions in the High Speed Rail (London-West Midlands) Act 2017, which, as with legislation authorising other significant infrastructure projects, such as Crossrail, disapply normal ecclesiastical law. Instead, pursuant to the Act’s provisions and those of a subsequent Order, HS2 Ltd were appointed as “nominated undertaker” to remove the remains.

Under Schedule 20 to the Act, it would be the Secretary of State who makes the decision where remains should be re-interred. The Secretary of State, however, has entered into a memorandum of understanding with the Archbishops’ Council regarding the exhumation of mortal remains from consecrated burial grounds.

Under the Memorandum, the Secretary of State will abide by the wishes of the diocesan bishop (i.e. in this case, London) as to what is to be done with such remains. The bishop is advised by the Archbishops’ Council, and I understand that their advice is that remains exhumed in connection with the HS2 project should be buried in the nearest consecrated burial ground.

Lincoln diocese supported a successful application by family descendants to show special circumstances to rebut that presumption and to allow the re-interment to be in Donington church. Presumably that is what is meant by “recommend[ing] that planning consent be given to the reburial”.

There will now be a petition by the PCC for a faculty to authorise interment in the church, and it will be interesting to see the Chancellor’s judgment on the petition in due course.

20 Holbrook Barn Road, Boxford
Suffolk CO10 5HU


The current remit of the Prayer Book Society

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — In reporting that Prudence Dailey is to relinquish Prayer Book Society chair next September (News, 25 October) you take the society as promoting the 1662 Book of Common Prayer.

While this is the general impression, the Society was careful not to specify which version of the Book of Common Prayer its members champion, so that the members can champion the edition of their choice. In England, that is normally that of 1662; some, however, would insist that the Society’s remit includes that of 1549, the more Catholic First Prayer Book of Edward VI, while others champion that of 1928. Those outside England might augment this list with those of their own church, which may include revised services in modern English.

At incorporation, the society carried forward the objects of the unincorporated society, among others to “Encourage the use of the Book of Common Prayer as the norm for all principal services throughout the Church of England and Churches of the Anglican tradition.”

Since 2012, under Prudence Dailey, the whole object has more flexibly been: “The Charity is established for the advancement of the Christian religion as set forth in the Book of Common Prayer, and in furtherance of this Object, the promotion of the worship and doctrine enshrined in the Book of Common Prayer and its use for services, teaching and training throughout the Church of England and other Churches of the Anglican tradition.”

17 Francis Road
Greenford UB6 7AD


A thousand ages like an evening gone?

From the Diocesan Chancellor of Chichester, Leeds, and Europe

Sir, — I endorse the Revd Godfrey Kesari’s plea (Letters, 25 October) for an updated version of the Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion (2008), having made good use of the document, particularly in the work of the Christian Law Panel of Experts that I convene.

In my modest way, I have been agitating for some years for the Principles of Canon Law to be revisited as a living instrument serving the mission and witness of today’s Church. But I have been a lone voice crying in the wilderness. I suspect that there are some who feel the Church of England moved with indecent haste when the Canons Ecclesiastical of 1603 were revised as early as the 1960s. I won’t be holding my breath.

Francis Taylor Building
London EC4Y 7BY

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