Letters to the Editor

by
25 October 2019

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Faith schools and their funding 

From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, — By coincidence, in the past week, there have been two pronouncements on funding for school faith communities. The Tower Hamlets deanery synod met to have a single evening session on education and the litany of problems facing inner-city C of E schools, in the context of an imminent secondary C of E school closure. At the same time, the outgoing Dean of Westminster (News, 18 October) calls for more Muslim state schools.

Funding pressures are all around us, for sure; but there was precious little agreement between the Dean and this deanery’s analysis over support of faith community schools.

The Tower Hamlets deanery panel, consisting of clergy and lay chairs of governors, school chaplains, plus, in attendance, governors, the representative for the diocesan board of schools, the London borough education-committee representative, and the Area Bishop, heard just how dire the situation was: funding cuts, falling school rolls as birth rates are falling, and parents with children are priced out of the borough; and yet unbridled expansion of academies is permitted.

The growth of special needs is outstripping past trends, and parents are making choices from available secondary schools within the wider area. One primary head illustrated this by pointing out that where, perhaps, 20 years ago a C of E primary school might effectively send all its pupils to one secondary, in the past year it had sent pupils to 17 different schools. This is in a borough with approximately 70 per cent of school rolls from Muslim families.

The synod heard that there was no escaping the realisation that a perfect storm of funding pressures on local school-budgets is coming, where any school is not operating at capacity, where the local authority is keen to wield the axe on under-subscribed schools, and where special educational needs are driving up requirements for learning-support assistants that cannot be funded.

In addition, there is the unpredictable growth in free schools or academies in catchment areas; and a perception that wider trends in society thinking about the place of faith schools are unfavourably hitting C of E primary — but also, especially, secondary — schools.

PHILLIP RICE
Tower Hamlets deanery education representative
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU

 

From the Revd Rowland Crook

Sir, — The Dean of Westminster’s call for more Muslim state schools leaves me puzzled and disconcerted. Islam is a great faith, growing and well funded by Muslim people, especially with their lands rich in oil wealth. But it is a faith that explicitly denies the central tenets of our Christian faith.

This is not a secondary issue to be set aside in multifaith dialogue or in well-meaning charitable endeavours, as in calling for more money to be provided for Muslim schooling. Muslims can stand on their own feet. Surely, the duty of Christian people, especially the clergy and, even more so, privileged clergy such as Dean Hall, is to do all that we can to make known the meaning of the death and resurrection of Christ as the means of the greatest good for mankind.

I would warm to the Dean’s exhortation if he spent some of his impending retirement in such countries as Pakistan or Nigeria and worked to uphold the place of Christian schools there.

ROWLAND CROOK
14 Bollington Avenue
Northwich
Cheshire CW9 8SB

 

The value of articulating principles of canon law 

From the Revd Godfrey Kesari

Sir, — In 2001, the Primates talked about how canon law enabled mission in Churches, and voted to enable a process that could articulate principles of canon law common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion. This would mean that church leaders would have a resource to help them to understand not only the structures of the Churches in the Communion, but also how different Churches seek to live out Christian discipleship in their cultural milieux.

The following year, the Legal Advisers Consultation, with lawyers from across the Communion meeting in Canterbury, agreed that it was possible to articulate such common principles. This led the Primates’ Meeting, a month later — in the light of God’s desire for Church Unity — to conclude: “The Primates recognized that the unwritten law common to the Churches of the Communion and expressed as shared principles of canon law may be understood to constitute a fifth ‘instrument of unity’.”

This led to the establishment of the Anglican Communion Legal Advisers Network, under the auspices of the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), to work on a statement of common canonical principles. After meetings in 2005 and 2006, the statement was finalised by the network — on the basis of the profound similarities between the laws of Anglican Churches — and was launched at the Lambeth Conference in 2008. The Statement is available online or in hard copy today. In 2009, the ACC commended it to the Provinces of the Communion.

Obviously, we are now approaching the next Lambeth Conference. Is there a case for having a revised statement of these principles? Four reasons suggest that there is.

First, the document has proved very useful for Anglicans worldwide, particularly when used by Churches engaged in reform of their laws. There have, however, since 2008, been significant changes in laws across the Communion in key areas, such as the safeguarding of children, marriage discipline, and admission of the unconfirmed to holy communion. Would it be possible to reconcile and articulate such changes in the form of shared canonical principles?

Second, the document is being used by the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission; its Walking Together on the Way: Learning to be the Church — local, regional and universal (2018) says: “Anglicans throughout the Communion could formally receive The Principles of Canon Law Common to the Churches of the Anglican Communion” (para. 145). For this to be considered, then clearly an updated statement of the principles is necessary.

Third, it is favourably being used in ecumenism as a model for the Statement of Principles of Christian Law (Rome, 2016), which is currently being fed into the work of the Faith and Order Commission of the World Council of Churches as part of responses to its paper The Church: Towards a Common Vision (2013).

It is heartening that this Statement has also been endorsed by the Ecumenical Patriarch, His All Holiness Bartholomew, who said that it was “designed to fill the historical juridical deficit in the ecumenical enterprise” (16 September 2019). Further, Pope Francis stated, three days later, that church law “is not only an aid to ecumenical dialogue, but also an essential dimension”, and “Canon Law is essential for ecumenical dialogue.”

A restatement of the 2008 Anglican document could provide lessons for the ecumenical statement as to how to accommodate changes in law across the traditions.

Above all, the 2008 Anglican document, and the ecumenical statement of 2016, might teach valuable lessons for wider interfaith dialogue. I would argue that a revised edition should include a section on Anglican norms developed in recent years on interfaith relations, and it could stimulate a similar interreligious initiative.

The recent book Comparative Religious Law: Judaism, Christianity, Islam (Cambridge, 2018), by Professor Norman Doe, proposes that it is also possible to articulate common principles of religious law from study of the laws of the three Abrahamic religions. A revision of the Anglican document would help me, a diocesan interfaith adviser, and others in a similar position to know how different Churches in the Anglican Communion promote interfaith mission, and peace and unity between religions. This of itself could also stimulate debate about comparative religious law and so enhance mutual understanding in interfaith dialogue.

On a related note, we as Anglican Christians might also want to produce a liturgy to welcome those from other faiths or no faith (who are not ready for baptism yet) who voluntarily wish to explore and embrace following God in Christ.

GODFREY KESARI
The Vicarage, Church Lane
Southwater
West Sussex RH13 9BT

 

Pollution on the agenda for ethical investors 

From Mr Martin Wright

Sir, — Some good news for once is welcome. The requirement for trust-based pension schemes to take account of ethical factors (“Don’t retire on dirty money”, Features, 27 September) follows other initiatives such as the recent statement of the Business Roundtable in the United States that businesses should work for employees, customers, and communities, as well as shareholders.

This includes a commitment to “protect[ing] the environment by embracing sustainable practices”. Dumping of toxic wastes should be added to climate change and plastic pollution among the damage that humans are causing to the planet. So far, so good, and investors such as pension funds can watch to see that they live up to it in future.

There is, however, a considerable backlog. In 2012, the Blacksmith Institute, now called Pure Earth, investigated 2600 sites putting close to 80 million people at risk of cancer and other health impacts from lead-battery recycling, mining, chemical manufacturing, and other industries. The victims are often in less developed countries, although some companies foul their own nests.

The worst example is the leak of poison gas at the pesticide factory of the Union Carbide Corporation in Bhopal, India, in 1984, where up to 20,000 people have died and 500,000 suffered serious health damage. This is compounded by toxic chemicals abandoned on the derelict site, which are leaking into the water supply, causing further health problems and birth defects: a human-rights issue as well as an environmental one.

After a takeover and other restructuring, the successor company, Dow Inc., denies responsibility, although it has signed up to the Roundtable statement. The pressure group Action for Bhopal (actionforbhopal.org) has evidence that Dow has lost commercial opportunities as a result of the reputational damage.

As the 35th anniversary approaches (on 3 December), investors and their advisers and asset managers have, therefore, economic as well as ethical reasons to press the company to take a lead in adopting 21st-century standards of business.

MARTIN WRIGHT
Action for Bhopal
19 Hillside Road
London SW2 3HL

 

Outdated expectations of women in church 

From Mr John Puxty

Sir, — The thoughtful article by Dr Rachel White (Comment, 11 October) brought to mind an occasion when my wife and I attended a service at one of the Anglican chaplaincies in Spain. The priest approached me after the service, convinced I was a vicar on holiday (I am actually a Reader). He then turned to my wife and said: “I’m thinking you must have made a lot of jam in your time”!

JOHN PUXTY
32 Summerfields Way
Ilkeston DE7 9HF

 

Unintended consequences for the Channel Islands 

From Mr Leigh Hatts

Sir, — Bishop David Wilbourne (Letters, 18 October) recalls the part played by the Bishop of Winchester in the Channel Islands and House of Lords during the Second World War. If the Channel Islands are to leave the Winchester diocese for Salisbury (News, 11 October), consideration should be given to allowing Bishops of Salisbury a permanent seat in the upper chamber, as enjoyed by Bishops of Winchester, instead of having to wait for a vacancy.

The value of the Channel Islands’ indirect representation in the Westminster Parliament was confirmed by the late Bishop Michael Scott-Joynt while Bishop of Winchester as recently as 1998. Failure to address this matter could result in constitutional change by default which one day may be regretted. The present Bishop of Gloucester was immediately advanced to the Lords without having to wait for a vacancy.

LEIGH HATTS
39 Dunsterville Way
London SE1 3RQ

 

Mrs Alexander v. Python 

From Mr Godfrey Rust

Sir, — Gillian Warson (“Words wise and wonderful”, Features, 18 October) makes a spirited defence of the contemporary relevance of the poetry of Mrs Alexander’s out-of-fashion hymn “All things bright and beautiful”, but omits to mention what is, I suspect, the main reason for it’s lack of popularity: that it entirely avoids holding God responsible for any of the unpleasantnesses and horrors of the natural order. Monty Python corrected this bias with the parody that begins: 

All things dull and ugly,
All creatures short and squat,
All things rude and nasty,
The Lord God made the lot. 

To be fair, Mrs Alexander didn’t rule that out, but, while the hymn as written may be the truth, it’s clearly not the whole truth. Matt Redman’s more even-handed (or shoulder-shrugging) “Blessed be your Name” resonates more with a more scientific, less deferential age.

GODFREY RUST
14 Gloucester Road
London W5 4JB

 

From Mr P. C. Thompson

Sir, — I was interested to read what Gillian Warson wrote about “All things bright and beautiful” and that the verse about the rich man and the poor man has long been “excised” from hymn-books. I have never understood the hostility that this verse provoked. God did indeed make them, high and lowly, and he did order their estate. What’s wrong with that?

P. C. THOMPSON
16 Edgar Street
Worcester WR1 2LR

 

C of E slavery to electronics — by an abstainer 

From Mr Rodney Wolfe Coe

Sir, — I beg to suggest that there is another side to the story implied in your article “Loneliness challenged” (News, 11 October).

I am 73 years of age, and a traditional lifelong Anglican. I have not owned a television receiver for more than 30 years, and have no knowledge of, or interest in, any modern means of communication, regarding them all as tools of Satan, responsible for much of the terrorism, financial scams, and pornography that pervade our society. Yet I live a full and interesting life. There is absolutely no need to be a slave beholden to the electronics industry.

There is, however, a big “But”. The Diocesan Secretary found my “attitude to modern technology to be offensive”. I was not able to participate in a diocesan discussion group some four years ago, because I could not “bring up the Bible on my mobile telephone or portable computer”. Thankfully, the Archbishop’s correspondence secretary sympathised with me.

Worse was to come. Eighteen months or so ago, my then parish church embarked on a project that involved members of the Church from the Archbishop down to the children from the local (church) primary school. I was excluded once again because of the lack of electronic gadgetry and the knowledge to operate contraptions of which I had never heard. In the end, I felt totally excluded from the whole project and, with much reluctance, left the church that I had loved for a long time.

Yes, I could (and do) “spend 24 hours alone with no contact with the outside world through TV or social media”. I suggest that those behind the Loneliness Lock-In should get rid of TVs and social media, instead of being enslaved by them; and that, perhaps, goes for the Church of England itself.

RODNEY WOLFE COE
25 Cecil Court
Upper Queen’s Road
Ashford, Kent TN24 8HG

 

Challenge misuse of sacred language in marketing 

From Dr Amanda Vance

Sir, — When I wonder why companies get away with marketing products with names that all Christians should find offensive, I realise that it is because we tacitly allow them to do so. We predictably turn the other cheek, not in response to personal affronts, but to a habitual chipping away at Christianity itself. As a result, things have reached a point at which picking up on dimly recalled Christian references is considered a clever marketing ploy in a secular world.

A case in point is a spiced-up tomato juice — a vegan, non-alcoholic version of the old cocktail Bloody Mary. This would-be posh new drink from a company called Longbottom & Co. was recently promoted by Ocado. The brilliantly witty name for this otherwise harmless product is Virgin Mary. This I find grossly offensive. I complained to Ocado: they will continue to sell Virgin Mary. I have abandoned Ocado: they will hardly notice. They can manage without me: I am, after all, but one among hundreds of mostly docile customers.

Calling out, in the American sense of criticising what someone has said and challenging them to justify it, is fashionable these days, and it is time for Christians to take courage and join in. Calling out the undermining of the Christian faith is a duty that falls on every one of us. We cannot leave everything to the clergy. In this country, Islam is not subjected to mockery and scorn: people recognise that such an attitude is unacceptable and even dangerous. Christianity, on the other hand, is expected to tolerate almost anything.

This will not do. If Christianity is to survive, then it is up to Christians to stop being so feebly tolerant and to stand up for their faith in an increasingly hostile world.

AMANDA VANCE
40B Sea Avenue, Rustington
West Sussex BN16 2DG

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