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Letters to the Editor

21 June 2019

Christians and politics, limits to ecclesiological untidiness, and not forgetting the Midlands


Christian contributions on politics

From the Revd Paul Skirrow

Sir, — As the UK fumbles its way into social and economic disintegration, and austerity and the consequent loss of our national and social structures are made worse by the ever more likely no-deal Brexit, does the Church care?

The mess of no-deal will create the chaotic atmosphere so beloved by capitalism and so damaging to the poor. (See Naomi Klein, The Shock Doctrine, 2007, and Philip Mirowski, Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste, 2013). Already, the Tory leadership contenders are vying for who can cut taxes most, and how the services that underpin society can be cut back even further.

As our schools and nurseries run out of funding, as local government services are dropped because they have been starved of funds, as the NHS drops deeper into underfunding and a shortage of staff, as poverty increases (report after report has listed this, including poverty wages), as foodbanks become the fastest-growing business in the UK, and as the gap between the wealthy and the poor expands with unbelievable speed, we have President Trump drooling over the easy pickings of our economic base, including the NHS, and relishing the profits to be made by undercutting standards of food hygiene, reducing employment rights, making money out of sick people, and the like.
What is the Church doing — or even saying? Endless self-examination, anxiety about numbers and growth, diocesan mission plans, banal straplines, and not-so-fresh expressions.
Yes, there are churches that are wonderfully and sometimes prophetically engaged with the victims of this developing horror. Yes, a bishop does make an occasional statement about things’ not being quite right. But where is the coordinated effort and campaigning zeal to ask the critical questions and risk the wrath of the dominant groups in society? Where is the lead from those who have the possibility to speak out?

One problem is that the Church is theologically barren. Theology is about understanding God in relation to the world (Bible interpreting newspaper, as Barth is reputed to have said). It is time that the Church made a priority of a proper theological critique of all that is hurting people in the economically oppressive system that is being allowed its neo-liberal ways by a demoralised democracy.

For God’s sake, and the needs of suffering and anxious people, we must raise our heads above the parapet of self-obsessed complacency and risk showing God’s love for the world.

2 The Cross Keys, Church Street
Pateley Bridge
North Yorkshire HG3 5LB

From Mr Mike Dixon

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s right-wing Establishment slip is on show in her column (Comment, 31 May). We have “Nicola Sturgeon and Arlene Foster” but “cynical politicking determined the Corbyn response”. This is a lie peddled by the Establishment right-wing press.

As a Christian Socialist, I find Canon Tilby’s comment offensive about a principled politician who, with the Labour front bench, seeks a solution to bring together two sides of Brexit and Remainers. It was a nuanced position — obviously too much so for Canon Tilby’s intellect.

2 Crowley Place
Newton Aycliff DL5 4JH

, please

From the Revd Brother Kevin Crinks CFC

Sir, — While it is recognised that, for further steps to be taken along the path towards visible unity, there may be a period of ecclesiological untidiness regarding non-episcopally ordained presbyters, it will be far less appealing for many Anglicans to consider the continuation of the Methodist practice of diaconal or lay presidency. I hope that this concern will not be brushed aside in the process of bringing the two Churches together.

34 Vicarage Square
Leigh WN7 1YD

Power up the north, but don’t forget the Midlands

From the Bishop of Lichfield

Sir, — I well understand, and applaud, the support of the Bishop of Lancaster, the Rt Revd Jill Duff, for the “Power up the North” campaign (News, 14 June), and I particularly treasure her reference to the flourishing of northern missions in the seventh century. In this diocese, we celebrate every day the memory of our first bishop, Chad, who brought the light and grace of the gospel with him from Northumbria to Mercia.

But Bishop Duff’s claim that “North and south together would be much better, and create flourishing for everybody” is in need of expansion. Despite its Church’s division into two ecclesiastical provinces, we must not see England in binary terms: between the north and the south lie the Midlands, which are equally called to flourishing. Neither north nor south, ours is the region that holds the country together, and its unique character, resources, and potential should not be overlooked or forgotten.

22 The Close, Lichfield
Staffs WS13 7LG

Concern over suspensions in diocese of Lincoln 

From the Ven. J. H. C. Laurence

Sir, — You report the efforts being taken to ensure that parishes fulfil their responsibilities for safeguarding. Here in Lincoln, we have considerable experience of the procedure (News, 26 April, 16 May). I wonder whether any of your readers with similar experience share my unhappiness about its effect upon those subject to investigation.

They are suddenly and summarily deprived of their freedom to practise their profession. They are held in limbo without knowing if and what charges may be laid against them. They do not know how long their suspension may continue. I know of one subject of a false accusation whose ordeal lasted for two years.

The damage done, professional, mental, and domestic, is incalculable. It feels like the procedure in a police state. In this country, where there are normally public charges and the accused is deemed innocent until or unless proved guilty, is there not a better way?

5 Haffenden Road
Lincoln LN2 1RP

Reflections on the oneness of God: a response

From the Revd F. G. Downing

Sir, — In around 1200 words, Canon Andrew Davison (Faith, 14 June) encapsulates many centuries of Christian credal affirmation and abstract speculation. To the likely disappointment of some, however, he fails to show how this confident clarity may happily — if at all — tie in with, for instance, the agnosticism and “eschatological reserve” of St Paul in “now we see puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then, face to face. Now I see in part; then I shall know fully, just as I have been known” (1 Corinthians 13.12, with other similar assurances elsewhere).

Also, and intriguingly, Canon Davison’s analysis of divine oneness entered Christian reflection by way of the Platonising writings of the first-century Jewish philosophical theologian Philo of Alexandria, as Canon Davison is probably aware. But Philo argued that unique oneness precludes any understanding; for understanding necessarily depends on similarities to, and differences from, what is already known, and with divine unique oneness there is, by this definition, only unknowable difference. The conclusion is that God is “incomprehensible”: beyond our present understanding.

The latter, of course, provides a clause elsewhere in the Athanasian Creed referred to by Canon Davison in his article.

Canon Davison, however, asserts that God is revealed; for Paul, anything worth taking as divine self-revelation waits for an unspecified “then”. “Revelation” as an already given divine gift enters English-language theology in the 17th century, it seems, with the “Deist” Herbert of Cherbury. It was avoided by his brother, George, and, I think, also by Richard Hooker (cf. Laws I xi 3, and Professor John Barton, same issue), and other sources of critical Anglican theology.

33 Westhoughton Road, Adlington
Chorley, Lancs PR7 4EU

Disability in heaven and on the C of E website 

From Dr George Harrison

Sir, — I read the article by Tanya Marlow (Comment, 31 May) with interest. Disability theology deals with important aspects of disability, but, as with most branches of theology, it does not deal with the practical problems of people with disabilities attending church.

The cartoon clearly demonstrated the practical difficulties in many churches with wheelchair access. There are, however, other disabilities that need to be considered: for example, how many churches possess a copy of the Bible in Braille to enable a blind person to take part in the service by reading one of the lessons?

The Church of England does not provide a policy document on its website for Equality and Diversity, which, since the Equality Act of 2010, would cover issues relating to disability, and I wonder why. Considering whether disability is retained in heaven should not allow us to be distracted from the real problems that disabled people face, in the congregation, but also particularly in the ministry.

11 Hollister Drive
Birmingham B32 3XG

Sacred (parking) space 

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire

Sir, — A couple were holidaying in central London for eight days, but wondered where they could park their car.

A priest whose vicarage was near the Central Line said that they could park in his driveway while they were on holiday. That they did, and at £10 per day it raised £60 for church funds, and with a car in the drive it added to security, as any would-be thieves would think that there was someone at home.

What a good idea for clergy and, indeed, anyone who lives in a big city or holiday resort, or near a port or airport. The only problem may be linking one with the other.

Others raise money for church funds by charging for every commercial wheelie bin left in their churchyard. The going rate is about £10 per bin per week.

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR

Odour of matrimony in the vicarage 

From the Revd Jane Banister

Sir, — As a vicarage child myself, and now bringing up three more, I smiled when I saw Dave Walker’s cartoon (“Growing up in a Vicarage”, Comment, 14 June).

May I add some more? Smelling perfume in the house, and knowing a wedding couple has come for a meeting; a parent nudging you as they process up the aisle, meaning “You’re reading”; and being greeted on the street by someone none of you recognise, but your parent whispers “Smile and wave.”

Being a vicarage child is a very particular experience and also a blessing.

The Rectory, 2 The Limes
Station Road
Tring HP23 5NW

Lead-theft from churches, replacement materials, and Historic England 

From the Revd Toddy Hoare

Sir, — When I was recently taking a service at Cuddesdon, the church had suffered the theft of its lead (News, 7 June; Letters, 14 June), and the temporary sheeting was not over-reliable. So I offer some suggestions from experience.

When I was curate-in-charge of Leake, isolated beside the A19 in North Yorkshire, the lead was removed one foggy night. What wasn’t taken, being too heavy for the van, was cut and rolled up; so the whole cladding was removed. In fact, they had to unload some. The churchwarden and team re-covered the roof in felt. Neat and watertight, cheap, and with a life-span of ten years, it could always be relaid once a decade.

With a great deal of argument, English Heritage allowed us to re-cover the roof in stainless steel, as we said that to replace lead would invite further theft and hassle. It can be repainted to look like lead. It will shred like razor blades the hands of thieves trying to filch it. The only downside is the noise in a downpour.

We also had an argument with Ecclesiastical Insurance, who wanted to raise the premium, arguing that the scrap value of stainless steel was greater than lead, until we pointed out the unlikelihood of theft in view of the danger to fingers.

From experience, I would suggest stainless steel or low-cost felt, if a team can manage regular ten-yearly replacement. For those who still boast lead in situ, however, would it not pay Ecclesiastical to grant-aid solar panels for church roofs? This would make theft more difficult.

Pond Farm House,
Holton, Oxford OX33 1PY

From Diana Evans

Sir, — We would like to correct Mr Greg Warren’s assertion in his letter last week that Historic England says that lead “must be used” to cover church roofs, as this is not always the case.

Where lead roofing has been stolen from historic church buildings, and like-for-like replacement would be impractical because of the risk of further theft, we support the use of long-lasting alternative materials. We usually advise that terne-coated stainless steel be used, as it is unattractive to thieves and, if fitted correctly by skilled craftspeople, will allow the building to be used and enjoyed for decades.

We understand the trauma congregations can face with repeated metal theft, and our local teams are ready to offer help and advice to those in need of it. We also publish guidance on our website to support those congregations who are having to make difficult decisions about lead replacement to secure a future for their precious church buildings: HistoricEngland.org.uk/publications.

Head of Places of Worship
Historic England
4th floor, Cannon Bridge House
25 Dowgate Hill
London EC4R 2YA

Climate ‘bandwagon’  

From Mr Robert Leach

Sir, — The Bishop of Salisbury wants to join with people of other religions in calling for zero emissions of greenhouse gases (News, 14 June). Am I alone in thinking the Church of England would be better served by bishops seeking to promote the Christian faith rather than jumping on this week’s trendy bandwagon?

19 Chestnut Avenue, Ewell
Epsom, Surrey KT19 0SY

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