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Letters to the Editor

15 February 2019


LLF’s success depends on attitude

From the Revd G. E. C. Fenton

Sir, — Falling in love is generally seen by society as a good thing and the normal prelude to marriage. But I find no reference to “falling in love” in the dry and dusty GS Misc 1200 “Living in Love and Faith”. There is no mention at all of loving relationships between two people, or of the delight of being in love. Maybe the assumption is that only heterosexual people “fall in love”? Rather, the report focuses its gaze on a higher plane — on a sort of spiritual “love”.

This heartless document is further lowered in my estimation by appearing to be a reflection by “us” on a different species, “them”. How else is this sentence in the first Principle to be explained: “We believe that all of us need to reflect deeply on our attitudes and behaviour in order to extend a Christ-like welcome to LGBTQI+ people in our midst.”

“Principle 1” then goes on to talk patronisingly of “welcoming people as they are” — welcoming “them” to “our” world? To be treated as “them” is the problem — “they” can’t be allowed to marry, oh no. The later principles about all Christians’ being equally part of the body of Christ thus ring hollow: such people are clearly not fully part of the body according to “Principle 1”.

I seek in vain for any theology from this project expounding my understanding that Jesus established a principle: that faith is about love in its broadest sense. Jesus had no hesitation in applying this principle to the “Law”, himself breaking the “Law” and remoulding it as necessary, to the outrage of the Establishment. But, sadly, I think there are so many donkeys in the ditch of sexual-identity mistrust that it will take more than a month of sabbaths to help them all out.

The Vicarage
Widecombe in the Moor
Newton Abbot
Devon TQ13 7TF

From the Revd Michael Bigg

Sir, — Am I alone in remaining optimistic about the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project?

It is now clear that the outcome of the project will be neither a simple restatement of existing teaching on sexuality and gender, nor will it call for a significant change in teaching. It is also clear that a project that delivers neither of the above will leave both “sides” unhappy.

It seems to me, however, that the process and methodology behind LLF could offer something genuinely new. It might even be possible that, for a change, the Church of England will articulate something about human sexuality, identity, and gender which is of value to the wider public. Am I naïve to hope that we, as a Church, can present a compelling Christian vision of what it looks like to live together in love and faith, even when we don’t agree?

The LLF Enabling Officer, Dr Eeva John, is one of the most impressive people I have had the privilege to meet. She is compassionate, humane, thoughtful, witty, and theologically robust, and has an uncanny ability to bring conversation back to the gospel: she is a gift to the Church. Yet the work of the whole LLF team risks falling at the first fence if the Church does not receive it well.

So, a plea from a curate. Can we accept the resources that will come out of LLF with a spirit of humility which acknowledges that we all have things to learn to grow in holiness, wisdom, and grace as we live out the gospel (perhaps especially from those with whom we disagree)? And to our LGBTI+ sisters and brothers: we know that you are sick of being treated as a problem to be solved instead of as people to be loved; please bear with this flawed Church and find it within yourselves to show more grace than you have probably received.

2 Bell Field, Brampton
Huntingdon PE28 4PT

Comment in advance of the evangelism debates

From the Revd Paul Eddy

Sir, — The General Synod, meeting this month, will focus on two vital reports on evangelism (News, 8 February). It is exactly ten years to the month since the Synod spent a whole afternoon debating my own private member’s motion on the uniqueness of Christ, and so I rejoice that the e-word is back, high up the agenda.

May I make three, constructive comments. First, there is a general assumption that the “one million” who attend our churches have a personal faith, and a theological conviction and understanding of the need to share faith. Might we take a step back and encourage every parish to use the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association’s excellent Christian Life and Witness Course: just four sessions, but four incredibly strategic ones?

Second, nowhere in the Synod papers is there any mention of the elephant in the room: a disproportionate ratio of women to men in our churches (just look around and, for the future, at confirmation pictures). Evangelism and discipleship of men has to be intentional if there is to be any change in the position. Might this also be a priority, in addition to children and young people?

Third, in our estate ministry, might we consider a more active partnership with the Black-led churches, and the excellent work that they are doing with the “fatherless generation” of children on many of these estates, and encouraging fathers to be more responsible and engaged in family life?

The Vicarage, Church Green
Stanford in the Vale
Oxfordshire SN7 8HU

From Professor Sir Mark Hedley

Sir, — You report that “Evangelism will dominate the Synod agenda”, referring to new reports, besides highlighting an apt quotation from Archbishop William Temple. I hope, however, that the Synod will not overlook the last words of the quotation: “. . . opportunities for evangelism daily afforded by their various professions, crafts and occupations”. We call that Setting God’s People Free — don’t we?

55 Everton Road
Liverpool L6 2EH

Considerations in the discussion of assisted dying 

From Canon Robert Reiss

Sir, — Assisted dying is one of the most difficult individual moral dilemmas Parliament and the law has to face. Sadly, Canon Angela Tilby’s article (Comment, 8 February) failed to do justice to it, for three reasons.

First, the Royal College of Physicians had a policy of opposing any legal change, but has now agreed to test the opinion of its members. It has said that if the vote is 60 per cent or more in favour of change, or of no change, it will accept that as its policy, but if it is a lesser majority, it will officially remain neutral. Given the difficulties that a very small majority regarding Brexit has pushed on the country, that seems a wholly reasonable way for a professional body to act, and to describe that as “The Council has already made up its mind” is a travesty.

Second, she says that, if the law is changed, “doctors will have to implement it.” In the case of abortion, doctors who have conscientious objections are allowed to decline to carry one out, although they have to find someone else to give unbiased medical advice to the patient. It is inconceivable that any change to the law in this country regarding assisted dying would be made without a similar conscience clause.

Third, she reports the advice of a doctor that patients should be told that they should go into the garden on a cold evening with a bottle of whisky. That is precisely what some of those who have applied to the Supreme Court for a change in the law are physically incapable of doing. To give such advice to those who are in such a dire situation that they request assisted dying is pastorally insensitive in the extreme.

35 Addington Square
London SE5 7LB

BP’s strategy announcement viewed sceptically

From Mr James Buchanan

Sir, — Operation Noah welcomes the announcement that BP intends to pursue a business and investment strategy “consistent with the well below two-degrees goal of the Paris Agreement” (News, 8 February). It is notable, however, that BP’s commitment so far includes only targets to reduce carbon emissions associated with its operations, and not those resulting from burning its products, which account for 80-90 per cent of total emissions.

Given that the vast majority of fossil-fuel reserves must be kept in the ground if the Paris Agreement goals are to be met, we look forward to hearing the strategies that BP will pursue to avoid exploiting the full potential of its existing reserves. We also expect to hear that it has cancelled plans to drill for new oil in areas of huge ecological significance, such as the mouth of the Amazon.

It also goes without saying that it makes no sense for BP to continue exploring for any new reserves. While BP continues to lobby against stronger climate action and use scenarios for business planning which assume that the Paris Agreement targets will not be met, we will continue to view the company’s claims with the scepticism that they deserve.

Bright Now Campaign Manager
Operation Noah
40 Bermondsey Street
London SE1 3UD

Suggested forms of words for resolution parishes

From April Alexander

Sir, — The view of the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, on transparency (News, 1 February) is somewhat strange. He concedes that complaints about lack of transparency “must be heard”, but does not go on to say that parishes under his episcopal care should be transparent.

Instead, although he makes it clear that “There is no point in putting things down that do not mean anything,” he goes on to suggest a form of words which is likely to mean very little indeed to congregations and parishioners. This is: “[The PCC] has sent in a letter of request for arrangements to be made under the House of Bishops Declaration on the ministry of Bishops and Priests.”

Maybe Bishop Thomas has the advantage over the rest of us and has seen research suggesting that congregations and parishioners have read the House of Bishops Declaration and, more than that, understood it (studiedly vague as it is on these points).

The Bishop, I am sure, will know that the Guidance on the Declaration says: “It is good practice . . . for the PCC to enable members of the wider church community to submit views before any meeting at which a resolution is to be considered.” May I suggest that the wording of such a communication to “the wider church community” might read: “The leaders of this church currently subscribe to the doctrine of male headship. The PCC is considering sending a Letter of Request to the Diocese for the oversight exclusively of male bishops and the ministry exclusively of male priests and seeks the views of the congregation and the wider parish on such a move” (suitably amended to reflect the actual position in the parish in question).

Thereafter, the declaration on the parish website might be: “The leaders of this church currently subscribe to the doctrine of male headship. At the request of the PCC, our Diocesan Bishop has granted the parish oversight exclusively of male bishops and has acceded to the appointment exclusively of male ordained priests and male church leaders” (again, suitably adapted).

General Synod member
59 High Street, Bletchingley
Redhill RH1 4PB

Legal costs of London consistory-court cases

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — It is true that immense legal costs were incurred (on all sides) in the protracted Spitalfields litigation (News, 1 February). The Deputy Chancellor, June Rogers, said that the costs were estimated to be “over half a million pounds on the side of the objectors and about a quarter of a million pounds on the side of the other parties”; costs, she added, “that many, many churches struggling to fund repairs or necessary extensions, as I said at the opening of this hearing, can only read of and weep”.

It ill behoves the Revd Paul Williamson, however, to complain (Letters, 8 February) that the Spitalfields costs “look to have cost every parish in the diocese of London (400) several thousands of pounds each”.

In 2015, as Priest-in-Charge of St George’s, Hanworth, he was instrumental in his PCC in bringing proceedings for an injunction against the London Borough of Hounslow, proceedings that were robustly dismissed by the Diocesan Chancellor, Nigel Seed QC (News, 18 March 2016).

In a subsequent costs judgment (News, 29 April 2016), the Deputy Chancellor, David Turner QC, in awarding costs of £10,734 to the Borough against the PCC, described the application for the injunction as “ill-judged, ill-conceived, ill-advised and ill-prepared. In short, it was properly characterised as unreasonable.”

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

Epiphany season’s errors and discrepancies 

From the National Liturgy and Worship Adviser

Sir, — Canon Malcolm France does not identify which “Lectionary book” was missing the first four words of John 2.1 in the Gospel for Epiphany 3 (Letters, 1 February), but this omission is certainly present in the still ubiquitous Mowbray Revised Common Lectionary in NRSV (1997, page 778).

Some years ago, a series of amendments were made to the Common Worship Lectionary which apply specifically if the Epiphany (6 January) falls on a Sunday, as it did this year. The result is that the provision for Sundays shifts forward by a week.

As correspondents to our office have pointed out, there is consequently a divergence between the RCL (and the CW main-volume tables) and the current provision. All who use the CW Lectionary are invited to consult the inexpensive and accurate Lectionary tables published annually by Church House Publishing and shared with commercial publishers.

National Liturgy and Worship Adviser
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ


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