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Letters to the Editor

04 January 2019

Transgender guidance, Anglo-Catholics, Freedom of movement, and Heresy-hunting


Transgender guidance and the provision envisaged

From the Bishop of Chester

Sir, — The fuss over the pastoral guidance in relation to transgendered people is being overdone (Letters, 21/28 December).

Nearly 20 years ago, the House of Bishops received the recommendation from a working party chaired by the then Bishop of Winchester, Michael Scott-Joynt, that being transgendered should not in principle be an impediment to being considered for ordination. There was a full debate in the House. Individual bishops might decline to sponsor candidates, but the overall mind of the House was clear.

Many important questions arise over the attitudes in modern society towards serious questions of human and sexual identity, but the principle of the welcome to transgendered people in the life of the Church was settled some time ago.

Bishop’s House, Abbey Square
Chester CH1 2JD


From Ms Savitri Hensman

Sir, — I was saddened and, in the case of Dr Gatiss’s letter, offended to read the criticisms of the “Pastoral Guidance for use in conjunction with the Affirmation of Baptismal Faith in the context of gender transition”. He misses the point that, it seems to me, is clear in the Guidance and liturgy: this is not about celebrating gender transition (which may anyway have happened quite a while ago), but, rather, “allowing someone who has undergone a serious and lasting change to re-dedicate their life and identity to Christ”, in the context of God’s unfailing faithfulness.

The service makes it plain that the demands of discipleship are no less rigorous than for anyone else, and, indeed, is a reminder to all baptised people present of the costliness as well as joy of following Christ.

Certainly many who, like me, are lesbian or gay, as well as transgender people of my generation or older, have hurt others by denying who we were, even to ourselves. Penitence is required, on the part not only of individuals, but also of a Church that sometimes gave pastoral advice that harmed whole families. This guidance is a welcome attempt to set things right and affirm unity in Christ amidst diversity.

I also agree that what is unique in the experience of women who were registered as girls at birth should be recognised. The guidance does not contradict this, but, rather, meets a pastoral need and helps in sharing the good news for all.

31 Millington House
Stoke Newington Church Street
London N16 9JA


From Ashley Williams

Sir, — It has been saddening to read some of the sharp opinions you have published concerning the new guidance on services the Church of England are now able to offer transgender people to help mark such a major life step within a liturgical setting.

I see no evidence that they are suggesting alternatives, but hear many echoes of the recent secular backlash as gender transition, especially from male to female, has become a hot topic. As a male to female transgender person whose spiritual reawakening seems to have been catalysed by my transition, I can only hope that prayerful reflection will soften some of the hard hearts that have had their say.

Ironically, it has been a non-issue for me, because, having put myself forward and been accepted for Reader formation, the inability to track down my baptism and confirmation documents meant that, before I began training, I had to be conditionally baptised and confirmed.

Of course there was no question that I should be addressed by my former name in these rites — it no longer legally applies — and, although they were carried out for pragmatic reasons, the importance and significance was an unexpected bonus.

I hope that through my ministry, continued, I hope, in a church setting where I have sought to be transparent about my situation and how it has contributed to my spiritual growth, I will help to inform and reassure some of those sounding the alarm. God’s call is not exclusive to those who follow conventional paths, and we all have our part to play in proclaiming the gospel afresh and with confidence.

If that confidence is found after decades of psychological stagnation amid the pain of gender dysphoria, it certainly won’t be dented by the protests or actions of those whose priorities seem to be at odds with the loving welcome and invitation to affirm faith with more of one’s faculties available which these liturgies seek to facilitate.

Celebration of a faith-filled life as a transgender person doesn’t, of course, take away any of the pain and disruption that coming out and transitioning often entails, but divorce and separation for other reasons can cause as much suffering. Nowhere do I see it suggested that a divorcee marrying in Church should formally name the pain that past mistakes gave rise to, but that doesn’t mean that it isn’t acknowledged.

Reader in training, Sprowston parish
11 Woodland Place, Pinetrees Road
Sprowston, Norwich NR7 9BF


Anglo-Catholics and evidence of occult interests

From the Revd Steven Hawkins

Sir, — Richard Yoder, in his article “On the wings of the dawn” (Features, 14 December) states that “in truth the Anglo-Catholic involvement in the occult is much broader and deeper than one would suspect.”

I am not impressed by the author’s argument (that Anglo-Catholicism has been affected by priests and lay people who were “occultists”), which is based on flimsy evidence.

He conflates occultism (which he doesn’t define in any meaningful way), mysticism, psychical research, Freemasonry, and Satanism, and implies that they are widespread in the Anglo-Catholic wing of the Church. Apart from the sheer silliness of his assumption, he offers very little verifiable evidence and makes numerous biographical, literary, and historical errors.

The Golden Dawn was established in 1888, not 1887; it did not “recruit heavily from the clergy” (over the entire period that the original Golden Dawn, and its constituent Temples, survived, there were a maximum of 16 clerical members, a further dozen or so joining Felkin’s Stella Matutina Order over the next two decades — and this from a very large Anglo-Catholic clergy base); and the initiatic rituals of the Golden Dawn were not magical: they aimed at imparting to candidates an understanding of the Western Esoteric Tradition. The “magical” practices among the senior members, of the Second Order, were designed to enhance that understanding.

What evidence is there for the author’s supposition of a “tendency towards occultism” among Anglo-Catholic clergy? As for Archbishop Lang and his curses, it must be noted that his biographer, J. G. Lockhart, said of the hotel stories that they “doubtless gained something during years of much telling and certainly should not be taken at all seriously”. It is absurd to imply that he, and fellow Anglicans, were “dabbling in the occult” in any way.

Then there are the writer’s Anglican “lay luminaries”. Both Evelyn Underhill and Arthur Machen were briefly members of the Golden Dawn, but they were primarily mystics by inclination. Their ideas on mysticism (highly influential ideas in the case of Underhill), and those of Charles Williams, did draw to some extent on the work of A. E. Waite, but it must be emphasised that Waite was a mystic and never a magician (he condemned magic, both black and white, unequivocally in his writing).

It is a travesty of the truth to describe Waite as “not personally faithful” to Christianity; he had left the Church of Rome in practice, but could not accept other denominations; he yet accepted the fundamental doctrines of the faith. Mr Yoder would do well to read what Waite wrote.

As for Theosophy, Mr Yoder does not seem to be aware that Leadbeater and Wedgwood were clerics in the theosophical Liberal Catholic Church. Leadbeater had left the Anglican Church in the late 1880s, and Wedgwood was never an ordained priest until he joined the Old Catholic Church, and later turned his faction of it into the Liberal Catholic Church. As bishops in the latter, they were episcopi vagantes (not “vaganti”). “Tractarian principles” didn’t include the “advanced” Ritualism of the later 19th century.

The story of Abbot Whyting’s bones is not as simple as Mr Yoder makes out, and there is no evidence known to me that Brother Ignatius (“Father” only late in life, courtesy of an episcopus vagans) had any connection with spiritualists.

When it comes to exorcism, Mr Yoder seems not to appreciate that our concern should be with the afflicted and their beliefs. Whether specific psychic phenomena have an objective reality does not affect their significance for the oppressed (or, in extreme cases, the possessed). It is unjust and unkind to cast slurs on the integrity, intellectual rigour and spirituality of men such as Gilbert Shaw and Robert Petitpierre. Their work was valuable, as is their influence, and it is degrading to suggest that they gave “tips on how to cast out demons” as a part of their work in deliverance ministry.

The dismissive conclusion that the “occultism” that the author castigates — and for him it is all-inclusive of the psychic, the supernatural in any form (is not the Christian faith predicated on the supernatural?), mysticism, and Freemasonry — can be summed up as “far more than the pastime of a few satanic . . . seminarians”.

Are Anglo-Catholic clergy now to be tarred with the brush of Satanism? This seems to be the thrust of his polemic, the illogical pleading of which does not bode well for the academic future of Mr Yoder.

One of your picture captions credits the American publishing pirate, L. W. de Laurence (who was not a Rosicrucian), with being the author of Waite’s Pictorial (not “Illustrated”) Key to the Tarot — of 1911, not 1918 — and reproduces examples of the cards in colours that they never had. Further, the Tarot cards were not made for the Golden Dawn (or any other esoteric Order), nor were they used within any such Order; they were a commercial production.

Parish Office, Holy Nativity Church
Wells Road, Knowle
Bristol BS4 2AG


Freedom of movement 

From Dr Christopher Currie

Sir, — Professor Bauckham (Letters, 21/28 December) objects to a further referendum on Brexit. He might reflect that if the Scottish people had had a wholly democratic vote 40 years after the union of 1707, he might now be unable to sit in a chair in Cambridge. The Bible has texts for people who profit from one union while denying others the chance to benefit from another (e.g. Matthew 23.13).

14 Keston Road
London N17 6PN



From Maggie Butcher

Sir, — Apropos the question of “heresies” in traditional Christmas carols (News, 21/28 December), I well recall Jimmy Clayton sitting next to me in primary school in the 1950s singing under his breath, “O little town of Woburn Sands, how still we see thee lie.” Out of the mouths of babes?

5b Compton Avenue
London N1 2XD


Austin Farrer: memories of an Anglican ‘genius’

From the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Sir, — I was delighted to see the letter from Canon William Price (21/28 December) about Austin Farrer and would endorse every word of it, especially that he be commemorated in Common Worship on 29 December.

He has been well described as the one genius produced by the Church of England in the 20th century. Canon Price says that he remembers Farrer daily in his prayers. I am confident that Farrer, firmly among the blessed, remembers me in his prayers.

I am glad to say that, with Stephen Platten, I am editing a new book, Austin Farrer for Today, which will be published by SCM in 2020 with chapters by a range of distinguished contributors, including Rowan Williams. It will be designed to introduce Farrer to a new generation of readers, not only scholars, but all those who appreciate acute clarity of theological thought, deep spirituality, and remarkable literary qualities.

As C. S. Lewis said, there is in some of the sermons of Farrer “matter out of which some theologians would have made a whole book”.

House of Lords, London SW1 0PW


From Professor John Barton

Sir, — I should like to add my support to Canon William Price’s proposal that Austin Farrer should be included in the Common Worship calendar.

I was one of Farrer’s last students and was still at Keble College when he died on 29 December 1968. I remember him not only as an outstanding tutor who made the New Testament come alive for me, but also as a man of prayer and of great kindness and generosity. His sermons remain a model of how to communicate the gospel profoundly, and for me are in the same league as those of John Donne or Lancelot Andrewes.

Farrer was also a great Christian philosopher and apologist, and his Bampton Lectures The Glass of Vision remain a classic study of biblical inspiration. Including him in the calendar would recall someone for whom theology, prayer, and life formed a seamless whole.

Oriel College,
Oxford OX1 4EW


From Prebendary David Morris

Sir, — It would indeed, as Canon Price suggests, be appropriate to have Austin Farrer in our official Calendar. He is already remembered unofficially by many of us who feel immensely grateful to him.

Before Keble, Austin was for 25 years our Chaplain at Trinity College, Oxford, where I was in the mid-1950s. Christian Union members, as well as the more “spiky”, were servers at his daily mass. On Sundays, we duly stood for those wonderful two-minute sermons.

For some of us, knowing Austin was life-transforming. God was real for him, not only in the eucharist. “My God and my all”, indeed! And he could also be, in the most useful sense, down-to-earth, and once gave me quite detailed guidance on how to treat members of the opposite sex.

Watling House, All Stretton
Shropshire SY6 6HH


Will it be ancient, modern, or mechanised? 

From Mr John Griffiths

Sir, — Diverting as the knockabout culture wars of ancient versus modern church music may be (Features, 7 December), there is a third strand that needs to be taken seriously, because of the failure of either tradition to replicate themselves with a new generation of musicians and singers.

There is a growing number of churches dependent on CD players, MIDI boxes, and PCs relaying YouTube videos (complete with advertising), because there simply aren’t enough live musicians to play whatever variant of church music the congregation may be expecting. Organs and drum kits gather dust with no one to play them.

The point of church music should be to give voice to congregations — and it is that which we need to find ways to sustain without reliance on mechanised music.

58 Middlefield Road
Hoddesdon, Herts EN11 9ER


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