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Letters to the Editor

13 December 2019

St John’s College, abortion law, clergy’s blue files, homelessness, and Franklin Graham


Causes of closure of St John’s College, Nottingham

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — For a college like St John’s, Nottingham, which was, for many years, not only the largest but the most dynamic and innovative in the Church of England, to close (News, 6 December) could happen only because of a series of catastrophic failures. Loss of vision, inadequate financial management, failed fund-raising, incoherent governance, lack of strategic planning, and under-resourcing of the central activity of faculty research and teaching were all evident when I left the college in 2013. All these things were clear to faculty, and to some of the student body; what the chair and members of the college council have been doing, goodness only knows.

But this kind of failure was always much more likely in the chaotic environment that has been ordination training in the Church for many years. What was happening with the Church’s inspection process during this slow-motion car crash? Probably the same as happened some years earlier, when the East Midlands Ministerial Training Course was given a glowing report, only to close one year later.

The Hind report of 2003 turned theological education into a market, mostly to avoid the painful process of planned closures a few years earlier. But that has meant that the devil would take the hindmost, something the St John’s council were reminded of explicitly at least ten years ago, when staff warned of the possibility of closure.

Since then, Common Awards has failed to deliver promised efficiencies in admissions and academic administration, even though the process of change added enormously to the workload of an already pressured system. More than that, it has delivered nothing “common” at all; training in different theological-education institutions (TEIs) is as varied as it has ever been, and (because of the “shell” module approach) two TEIs can deliver the same Durham module, but teach zero content in common. Different training pathways do not even demand the same learning hours for the same modules and awards.

The RME process has added to the problems. The piecemeal distribution of decisions and finance has disadvantaged women entering training later, created dioceses where residential training is no longer an option, and shifted the balance away from residential training to part-time and context-based training without a proper national strategy. Residential training has reduced from 45 per cent of ordination training to 33 per cent in three years. These might be described as “unintended consequences” were it not that I and others highlighted these consequences numerous times during the discussion — but our concerns were airily dismissed.

The divisions in training match very well the current divisions in the Church, thus reinforcing them; and declining biblical literacy in the Church and its ministry is not being addressed. The current draft vision for theological training doesn’t even mention “Scripture” once!

For the sake of the Church and the world, we need a new and coherent approach to ministerial training based on a common syllabus, with full learning hours on all pathways, and which offers consistent depth formation for mission and ministry in our post-Christendom world.

Former Academic Dean, St John’s College
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB


From the Revd Rich Cresswell

Sir, — A few years back, when I was in the middle of discerning a call to ordination, I was deeply grateful to my then diocesan director of ordinands, Prebendary David Newsome, for helping me to see that residential training at a theological college was a possibility for me. I remember the moment vividly, as it suddenly gave me a deep sense of peace about the whole process.

I went on to study at St John’s, Nottingham. The training there gave me opportunities and experiences that would not have been available to me if I had stayed where I was. I was given the time and space that I needed to learn, explore, question, and be formed. Without that significant gift, I doubt I would be even half the minister I am now. Residential study may not be for everyone, but it is definitely needed for some.

The closure of St John’s has been on the cards for years. I fear that it is symptomatic of a willingness of the Church of England to cut costs at the expense of providing ordinands with sufficient opportunity to prepare adequately for a life of ministry. I would urge all those who have similar concerns to join me in writing to their bishops, inviting them to consider ways in which they might appropriately support and resource residential ordination training in the future.

The Rectory, 36 Millbrook Drive
Shrewsbury SY4 4PQ


Abortion law-change would harm most vulnerable 

From Mr Harry Marchant

Sir, — Your anonymous correspondent favouring abortion decriminalisation (Letters, 6 December) ignores the humanity of the unborn child, who is not part of a woman’s body, but is a human being. Your correspondent rightly states that it is our calling as Christians to protect, love, and support the most vulnerable in society. Surely, the most vulnerable of all in society is the unborn child, and so we should actively oppose abortion.

What is needed is more help for women with problem pregnancies, adoption of their babies being given as an option — certainly not from the likes of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service, which is part of the abortion industry. Also needed is help for women suffering the after-effects of abortion, such as the deep regret very many have. Abortion itself can have dire adverse psychological effects.

Legal abortion does not liberate women, as they can be coerced into it by husbands, boyfriends, and parents. It encourages men to cop out of their responsibilities. It can also be used by sex abusers to cover up their crime.

The 383 who signed the letter on the manifesto pledges about the decriminalisation of abortion (News, 29 November) were right to do so, and the C of E should do much more actively to oppose abortion.

4 Avian Gardens
Pagham, Bognor Regis
West Sussex PO21 3UR


Clergy’s blue files are the stuff of unmerited legend 

From the Revd Lindsay Llewellyn-MacDuff

Sir, — I wish I were surprised to read the letter from the Revd Alec Mitchell (6 December) which assumes that employment law is regularly bent, ignored or flouted in bishops’ offices. There is a tradition around the blue files which has, in the tales of clergy chapters across the Church of England, become thick with mystery and menace. This legend, prevalent as it is, makes surprise impossible.

Managing the personal files of clergy is part of my job, and they are the most boring selection of documents on the planet. The bulk of them is taken up with evidencing safer recruitment (application forms, references, etc.) and documents required under Common Tenure (a copy of each cleric’s licence, Declaration and Oaths, Statement of Particulars, etc.).

Even were employment law to be regularly bent, ignored, or flouted in bishops’ offices, GDPR protects any personal information held on us. All information held must be factually correct and relevant to the purpose for which its being kept.

I have no idea how bishops feel about Subject Data Access requests, because it is not their job to implement them, but, yes, Fr Mitchell is right, they are not joyfully received, because they involve finding every scrap of data that we hold on the data subject in every office and form. But it is the subject’s right to ask.

A request to see the file, however, is a much simpler matter — or even asking us what is held on a particular subject. If any clerics are worried about their file, they need only ask. We will help them as quickly as we can.

Chaplain to the Bishop of Rochester
Bishopscourt, St Margaret’s Street
Rochester ME1 1TS


Bill against homelessness should be a priority 

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — On Monday, we will launch the Social Housing, Affordable Rents and Elimination of Homelessness Bill, in the Church House Conference Centre. It has been drafted by Ian Wise QC from a brief by Professor Richard Murphy, of Taxresearch UK, after discussions initiated by Taxpayers Against Poverty. It is based on our experience of working with and for families and individuals who have been evicted into homelessness.

Our Bill requires local councils to count all the homeless in their borough and the empty properties and land;; and then to submit that information to the Secretary of State, who is required to finance the placing of homeless families and individuals permanently in the unused land and property as a priority.

If we can save the banks with quantitative easing, we can save the homeless.

The Bill also defines affordable housing. It is unaffordable for the tenant if, after paying rent, income, and council tax, the tenant’s income falls below a reasonable minimum, having regard to the health and well-being of all the tenant’s household. The good health and well-being of all UK citizens in or out of work must now become a national priority.

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


Freedom for Graham 

From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — After the important lecture this month by Lord Williams on the importance of religious liberty to the very nature of human society (News, 15 November; Features, 29 November), is the Church immediately being offered a test case with the tour of Franklin Graham to the UK next summer (News, 6 December)?

Director of Research
Urban Theology Union
Victoria Methodist Hall
Norfolk Street
Sheffield S1 2JB


Architectural notes 

From Mr Stuart Welch

Sir, — A minor point against the backdrop of the unfortunate situ­a­tion at Lincoln, but your photo (News, 29 Novem­ber) was not the West Front entrance to the cathedral (which is Early Norman Roman­esque, built by Remigius, the first Norman Bishop of Lincoln, c.1080), but the Galilee Porch on the south side (Early English Gothic, built c.1250). Much more such illumina­tion is available on the regular daily guided tours around our cathedral. All are most welcome.

Head Guide
Lincoln Cathedral
Minster Yard, Lincoln LN2 1PX

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