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Letters to the Editor

26 July 2019


Support candidates not recommended after BAPs

From Canon John Poarch

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby, as so often, hit several nails firmly on the head (“When a BAP ends with a No”, Comment, 5 July).

When I was involved in the selection of ordinands, I grew to have huge respect for those who offered themselves for ordination in the full knowledge that the outcome could be a painful one. The Church, no doubt, said all the right things about a non-recommendation not being a rejection, but, to the candidate, rejection could be exactly what it felt like.

How well a candidate deals with a “no”, either at diocesan or at selection-conference level, depends a great deal on his or her spiritual maturity; but that does not relieve the DDO or sponsoring parish of their responsibility to provide ongoing support. It is, in some ways, like a bereavement, and not a time for hasty decisions least of all, or being “shuffled” off into Reader ministry. That, as Canon Tilby points out, can be fair neither to the candidate nor to Readers.

The selection process is not helped where there is an unhealthy emphasis on my ministry rather than the ministry of the Church and my tiny, tiny part in it. Nor is it helped when candidates believe that they have experienced divine guidance in a direct and unambiguous manner. I have thought for a long time that the way in which we select our deacons and priests should be more like the way we select our bishops.

There are, no doubt, a number of men and women who believe themselves to be called to be bishops, and some of them may even be right about that. But the Church takes little notice. A candidate’s ambition and the strength of their conviction are largely irrelevant. What matters far more is track record. Has this person shown, in the ministry that they have already been entrusted with, the potential to take on even greater responsibility?

If that is so, it suggests that the quest for deacons and priests should be less about inspiring vocations (although that also has a place) and rather more about involving congregations in the search. They usually have a shrewd idea what their fellow members are capable of, especially when they have St Barnabas for a role model.

16 Norley Road, Horfield
Bristol BS7 0HP


From Canon Kate Goulder

Sir, — Concerning Angela Tilby’s column (5 July), I am glad to reassure her and your readers that, here in York diocese, we do things differently. Over the past nine years, inspired by the example of the Revd Helen Thorp, and the encouragement of our adviser on vocations, the Revd David Mann, we have built up a team of five Care of Candidates ministers.

Before candidates go to their BAP, they have an individual meeting where we explore their sense of vocation, their experiences of loss, what a non-recommendation might feel like, and how they could prepare for such an outcome.

This means that, if the candidate is not recommended, we have already begun to develop a supportive relationship. We contact them as soon as possible, usually by email or text, and invite them to a meeting to discuss their thoughts and feelings.

We also invite partners. It is, of course, completely up to the candidate whether this invitation is taken up, but we are persistent, with weekly then monthly offers of contact, supportive texts and emails, and, above all, prayer. Some candidates prefer contact through phone calls.

At our recent team meeting, we reviewed our practice and pooled our experiences. Over the past nine years, 135 candidates have been recommended from York diocese; 19 have been not recommended; and, of these 19, the decision has been set aside for nine, and they have proceeded to training.

In some cases, the relationship has developed into spiritual companionship which lasts over the years; in others, there has been an initial couple of meetings; for some, there has been no response, and we agreed that it was good to keep friendly contact at intervals which decrease over the months and years.

It is a privilege meeting with those who have been brave enough to follow where they feel God is calling, to thank them in the name of the diocese for being courageous enough to submit themselves to the gruelling experience of a panel, and to offer help so that they may be able to flourish once more in God’s love.

We find that those who return for another panel may need much encouragement and support, and it is good to hear from others that God has led them into different paths.

Assistant to York Diocesan Adviser on Vocations
5 Bishops Croft, Beverley
East Yorkshire HU17 8JY


The Synod navel-gazes while the nation burns

From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, — Reading your General Synod report (12 July) leaves me close to despair. While England is in a state of social, political, and moral disintegration, crying out for healing and reconciliation, our still would-be National Church seems very largely occupied with its own affairs and its own guilt. Oblivious to the mortal dangers, we are busy doing repairs on our leaky vessel, as Britain runs on to the rocks, come Hallowe’en.

Allow me an interpolation from the year of my birth, in a small middle-class German town, in 1931. I know history never quite repeats itself, but the analogies are frightening. The mainly middle-class citizenry felt insecure, disillusioned with self-seeking party politicians at war with each other, and drawn towards a charismatic power-hungry unconventional leader, promising them whatever they wanted to hear.

In my region, his Brown Shirts were easily elected (think the Brexit Party) by those on right and left and by most churchgoers (the promised new order, a godsend), just as I was born. Two years later, Hitler took absolute power. Dissenters were traitors, (think Daily Mail). Who was to blame for all that was wrong? The Jews, of course, and bankers or Communists (think immigrants or Islam or Brussels).

Brexit is not, as — with some exceptions — our hierarchy leaves us free to think, a matter of personal opinion but a national tragedy. Brazen lies have traduced a small majority of citizens into seeking a divorce from the admittedly imperfect peace project that is the European Union.

To leave should, from the start, have been recognised as an economic, social, political, and not least spiritual disaster. See the rise in hate crimes. “Great Britain First” is a surrender of the values we have claimed to cherish, an open and welcoming society, tolerant of difference, committed to human rights, protecting minorities and cherishing the natural environment that sustains us.

To turn our back on Europe’s soul is to abandon a great part of our own heritage; for everything that is good and bad about Europe is good and bad about us. The self-centred cliques that are in the process of wrecking both of the political parties that have been the mainstay of British tradition is a calamity for which others cannot be blamed.

Last weekend, concerned citizens, alas without a recognisable church component, demonstrated against the imposition of an untrustworthy Prime Minister. The German churches failed to warn in time. Could not the small minority that the Church of England now is, still help to turn the tide?

97 Furze Croft, Furze Hill
Brighton BN3 1PE


Why do PCC chairmen have to be ordained?

From Mr Tony Schur

Sir, — Is it not possible that the Church’s mission is being held back by the rule that the chairman of the PCC has to be an ordained member of the Church?

This requirement means that every incumbent or priest-in-charge has to take on the leadership of the PCC, irrespective of whether they have the skills and desire to do so. One consequence of this is that the individual has less time and energy to pursue other aspects of ministry, for which she or he may be particularly well equipped. The problem is exacerbated when the priest is involved with more than one parish.

At the same time, members of the laity, who may have spent years leading teams and developing organisations, find it difficult to use their experience to help the Church evolve and grow.

It may be that the time has come for this rule to be changed, so that the chairman is elected each year by the PCC or the annual parish meeting. The priest appointed to the parish would continue to be a member of the PCC, and could stand for election as chairman, if so inclined. In all other respects, he or she would continue to be answerable to the Bishop, as at present.

57 Cumberland Street
Woodbridge IP12 4AQ


Retirement is not simply about ‘letting go’

From the Revd John Owen

Sir, — Ted Harrison’s article “Positive about ageing” (Features, 21 June) was appreciated. Two of the contributors quoted, however, spoke about the importance of “letting go”, as in letting go of responsibilities, and letting go of unnecessary clutter, both material and spiritual.

This advice sounds worthy and is endlessly repeated, but it is old-school thinking that came to prominence 30 years ago, when “disengagement theory” was influential among gerontologists. The argument then was that old age was a time to prepare for the final act of relinquishment: that of letting go of life itself.

It also happened to fit conveniently the capitalist narrative that economic life is the only one that matters, and it has caused many retired people to shorten their active lives, in the belief that “letting go” is the main purpose of their existence.

What about those who, by reason of health, vigour, temperament, and faith, have no wish to “let go”? Whether we are retired or employed, lay or ordained, engagement with people and events — and, indeed, life itself — is what matters.

The Vicarage, 77 Church Road
Steep, Hampshire GU32 2DF


York is in need of a theologian

From Canon Anthony Phillips

Sir, — There is another minority within the Church of England (Letters, 5 July) which deserves consideration in the choice of the next Archbishop of York: namely, theologians.

How many of the present bench of bishops have taught in a university? At this critical time in our nation’s life, and in the face of near silence by the Church, never has clear theological thinking and its expression been more needed.

47 Warwick Street
Oxford OX4 1SZ

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