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Letters to the Editor

15 March 2019


Climate strategy for parsonages

From the Revd Bill White

Sir, — As a clergyman and an active member of an environmental group, I read with interest the General Synod report about climate change (Synod, 1 March 2019). It seems we are to be given a plan to help our churches to measure their carbon-dioxide emissions. The motion mentioned cathedrals, churches, and church halls.

I care for four rural churches, of varying sizes and historical significance, one dating back to the 13th century and of cathedral-like proportions. You can imagine the complexity of trying to reduce our heating costs. You can also be quite sure that it has been looked into time and time again. We even hold our winter services in a marquee pitched inside the church (News, 10 December 2010). Even so, the annual heating cost of these four buildings is about £4000.

These four churches share one Rector. The Rectory’s heating cost is about £2000 a year. Our Rectory has an energy-performance certificate. It is Band E, i.e. very poor. So we already know the carbon-dioxide emissions of the Rectory, and we know that it could be reduced by nearly 50 per cent for a one-off cost that would probably be recouped in the length of one incumbency. The old issues of separate finances of landlord and tenant rise to the surface, however, and nothing happens.

If simple and cost-effective work were to be done on the clergy homes, the carbon-dioxide emissions of the Church of England would be immediately and dramatically reduced, the standard of living of the clergy would be enhanced, and the housing stock in this northern diocese would be even more attractive (we already have a wonderful view of mountains). What is not to like?

But, while the Church of England speaks the words of a climate-change prophet, it appears only to tell others what to do, without tackling the one thing that it could do, right now, to make a huge difference.

Greystoke Rectory
Penrith CA11 0TJ

Combine chaplaincy and collaborative ministry 

From Canon Roger Knight

Sir, — Two of your features (8 March) on the changes in chaplaincy and collaborative ministry resonate well together. The first is about far more than a named ordained person who appears from time to time to conduct a carol service or funeral, and the other explores the challenges of flexible forms of ministry and the need for its training and monitoring.

The pioneers of industrial mission of the 1960s and 1970s developed a model that reached beyond the each-parson-in-his-parish concepts that remain the norm — although every human activity takes place in a geographical parish that, in essence, should be the concern of its priest.

The growth of chaplaincy not only has to extend beyond the traditional places in hospitals, prisons, and the armed services, where there are specific tasks in a job description and a paid post, but also to areas, such as sports chaplaincy, which are voluntary, and where appointments are made not by bishops or faith leaders, but by those who run a particular sports club and who may have limited and vague ideas about the purpose of what they have requested — or have agreed to.

Training is increasingly available from organisations such as Sports Chaplaincy UK, and academic qualifications can be acquired at some universities. Usually, candidates have to be self-funded for the whole of their training.

Inevitably, all priests with parochial responsibilities, in the few parishes where they are not entirely engaged with providing worship and the occasional offices, will prioritise how they spend their other available time. Some, often through their interest in a particular sport, social need, or industry (shopping too!?), may undertake an extraparochial role; but there can be tensions over the use of time as well as travel expenses, the price of tickets, and other costs that also need to be self-funded.

The growth of lay chaplaincy — ideal if the chaplains are present already because they work there — has been an asset driven both by acceptance of teachings about “every-member ministry” and also by the reduction in the numbers of clergy. With the increase in multi-parish benefices and administration, parish clergy, even if they are willing, usually have little time to offer ministry beyond the usual demands. Added to this, there is an equal time pressure for those called to be lay chaplains, who have jobs and families, as well as training needs.

There are also people coming forward from other faiths or who see the chaplains’ ministry entirely as a pastoral one. The Christian sports chaplains’ mantra of being “pastorally proactive but spiritually reactive” can face challenges, from, among others, the welfare and sports-therapy staff in sports clubs with little experience of chaplains.

Because flexible and inclusive chaplaincy provision is an essential part of mission, there is a need for it to be viewed not as an add-on to what the Church provides, but as becoming an essential function across the dioceses. Different forms of chaplaincy currently exercised — paid, voluntary, ordained, lay, and in all areas of human life — can learn from each other. Theological colleges should take it more seriously, resources need to be found for training, and it is also essential that it be done ecumenically.

Lead Chaplain, AFC Rushden and Diamonds
9 Hollow Wood Road
Burton Latimer
Northamptonshire NN15 5RB

Religious broadcasting in the era of catch-up 

From Mr David Ensor

Sir, — Many will sympathise with Philip Johanson over Songs of Praise (Letters, 8 March). Lunchtime on a Sunday is an unusual slot for a widely popular religious programme that has provided spiritual nourishment over generations.

As I am also restricted to a care home, I record the programme and play it back as and when I wish on Sunday or any other day, on a TV or computer. Moreover, by searching on BBC Sounds, I can choose the Daily Service (15 minutes daily) and Sunday Worship (45 minutes on Sunday) to listen to two other valued religious programmes. They both feature on Radio 4.

When those programmes were first broadcast, they were likely to have been pre-recorded, and not live broadcasts. Nevertheless, when listened to alone or in company, they draw worshippers into the realm of Christian worship worldwide. Songs of Praise may yet be increasing its audience far and wide and strengthening support for religious broadcasting.

Sunrise Senior Living
6 Upper Kings Drive
East Sussex BN20 9AN

The phrase ‘a personal relationship with Jesus’  

From the Revd Andrew Hunt

Sir, — If I remember rightly, the only people about whom it can be reliably said that they had “a personal relationship with Jesus” (Comment, 22 February) are his mother and father, Mary and Joseph, his brothers (and sisters?), his cousins, the disciples, and a few other people. And I can’t recall Jesus exhorting people to be his close confidantes: quite the opposite, as in “Do not cling to me” (John 20.17).

The notion of having “a personal relationship with Jesus” has very little, if anything, to do with Christianity. Jesus taught that “the kingdom of God is within/amongst you,” which is what St Paul discovered in himself when he realised that “It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me” (Galatians 2.20).

Citing “a personal relationship with Jesus” is, in my experience, usually used to claim a sort of spiritual superiority over others and to browbeat them into agreeing with a certain viewpoint — quite different from what we find, for instance, in the Magnificat and the Beatitudes and the passages above. It is thoroughly unbiblical.

58a Cowl Street
Shepton Mallet
Somerset BA4 5EP

From David Paterson

Sir, — I deeply regret three aspects of the present dominance of Evan­gelicalism. First, we are failing to appreciate the importance of the religious traditions in human his­tory, just when uncommitted thinkers are observing it ever more clearly.

The emphasis on getting people to come to church is weakening the much deeper leaven-in-the-lump approach of influencing the whole of society, local, national, and global. Surely this has always been the Established Church’s strength whenever it has been at its best, and is, I think, the only legitimate justi­fication for establishment.

Second, those who rejoice in a deep personal relationship with Jesus are being urged not primarily to live it and make it visible, but to talk about it. These are not mutually exclusive, of course, but which is the more authentic? Worshipping congregations of dedicated Chris­tians, valuing their diversity and deepening their spirituality together, can be a strong influence in their local community, and a vital incarnation of the Prince of Peace.

Third, it seems as if divisiveness is being glorified. To be Christian, it is implied, separates us from those of other religions or of no religion; and many people from those other traditions are only too happy to reciprocate. The human race is not divided into those who know the Truth and those who do not, and it’s no more our task to tell others to believe what we believe than for them to tell us to believe what they believe. Sharing truths and insights is another matter entirely. That takes listening and living, respecting and learning. Where is the ideal of build­ing on earth a Kingdom of love and peace, one that can constantly mend divisions, heal memories, enable forgiveness? How much better that together we should value the di­vers­ity of religious in­­sights and inspire compassion.

The Christian Church seems often to succumb to temptations like those of Jesus in the wilderness, and fails in its task just when the world most needs it. It has indeed lost much of its worldly power over the past 200 years, but do we not understand that “all power corrupts”? Should we not be humbly grateful for the oppor­tunity to become disciples of the one who was “despised and rejected”?

When we put our own survival before our service to the world, we do indeed become an irrelevance.

(Co-founder of the Sea of Faith Network)
Flat 8 Tatmarsh House
2 Gladstone Avenue
Loughborough LE11 1NP

USPG’s challenge also applies on refugees 

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — The USPG has challenged the “dominant and inattentive” mindset that characterises Christians overseas as generally poor and in need of help (News and Leader comment, 15 February).

In the same way, the background paper to the Southwark diocesan-synod motion on Refugee Professionals, which is awaiting debate by the General Synod, challenges a generalised view of refugees as very needy people who require help.

The paper affirms the parallel truth that refugees are people with much to offer, and that sensible investment in refugee professionals will bring cost-effective benefits to society as a whole.

242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

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