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Letters to the Editor

05 April 2019

New burden on deaneries and laity, St Teilo’s takeover, and Chapters’ collegiality 


New burden on deaneries and laity

From Mr Mike Dockery, Dr Peter Foot, and eight others

Sir, — The General Synod has determined, as part of an otherwise constructive composite resolution, to limit deanery-synod representation to two periods (Synod, 1 March), which, apart from a lack of clarity over whether this is historical, or cumulative in the event of representation on different deaneries, is a decision that undermines lay engagement in church governance.

No doubt, many General Synod lay members voted for the composite motion because they did not want to hold up the positive improvements contained in it. In addition, the measure will not come into effect immediately; the chair of the Business Committee, Canon Sue Booys, promised to review the matter separately; and it was acknowledged that, as with churchwardens, individual APCMs can override the limitation of serving for no more than two successive or historic triennia.

In the general context of the difficulty of filling necessary functions, however, limiting deanery representation is likely to be damaging at all levels. Small- and medium-sized parishes already have difficulties in filling all the posts, and at deanery, diocesan, and national level, fewer positions will be filled as deaneries struggle to attract representatives and retain competent chairs, treasurers, and secretaries.

Consequently, they will function less well, while simultaneously trying to nurture experience and confidence in preparation for subsequent election to diocesan synods. Those bodies, in turn, will lose continuity in membership as, for the most part, people will serve there for only a single term (usually their second triennium).

At the General Synod, the lay membership would probably also struggle to find numbers (as incomers in their first term would probably not opt for diocesan representation) while the “single-issue” candidates would see the benefit of activism at national level.

It is, of course, sensible to consider anything that encourages new talent — presumably the original idea behind this last-minute addition to the composite Measure — but the argument here is that such new talent will not have a proper chance to acquire the experience that leads to expression and effectiveness.

What might have seemed a bright idea at the time, in effect, undermines the current shared, three-House nature of church governance and will have a seriously bad effect on rural and smaller parishes in particular. If the Business Committee cannot find a way to negate the Measure, a much broader inquiry into church-government structures should be undertaken. We very much hope that the latter option is not necessary.

MIKE DOCKERY (Bicester and Islip), PETER FOOT (Vale of White Horse), GORDON GILL (Wallingford), CATHERINE HITCHENS (Chipping Norton), HEATHER LLEWELLYN (Henley), SHIRLEY NORTHOVER (Abingdon), LYNNE PHILPOT Deddington), HUGH REES (Wantage), SIMON RICHARDS (Aston and Cuddesdon), LIZ WHITTLE (Woodstock)

Lay chairs, Dorchester Area, Oxford diocese
Vale of White Horse Deanery Synod
64 Coxwell Road
Faringdon SN7 7JX

St Teilo’s takeover a reductionist mistake 

From the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh

Sir, — The decision to designate St Teilo’s, Cardiff, as a resource church, whatever the reasons given, is a managerial one (News, 22 March; Letters, 29 March). It is about the takeover, without consultation, of what was deemed to be a failing church.

A “failing” church is one that does not attract enough people on a Sunday for it to be considered worth supporting, irrespective of the reverence of its worship or of its care for the community it serves, despite the fact that reverent worship and care for the community are two aspects of biblical holiness. St Teilo’s also happens to be solvent.

The defining characteristics of a resource church, as given by the Centre for Church Planting and Growth, (CCPG), seem to have little to do with holiness. Neither do they appear to appreciate the intrinsic value of the sacred space afforded by an Anglican church. According to CCPG, a resource church is part of a “strategy”, “intentionally resourced to plant and revitalise churches” with a view to “developing a pipeline of leaders for further planting”. This reductionist language has to do with numbers and growth, broadly translated as mission and evangelism. But St Teilo’s is a missional resource in its own right, and one that has for too long gone unnoticed.

During my time as a university Chaplain, when St Teilo’s was thought of as the university church, it drew students who did not feel they fitted in with the Evangelical churches in the area. There are at least five of these churches in easy reach of the main university campus. One of them, St Mark’s, Gabalfa, is Anglican. St Teilo’s is a different kind of resource. It is not just a refuge for misfits. Its unpretentious traditional worship, with its small choir and a faithful and pastorally centred priest, create an unpressured environment for seeking God.

Churches with a sacramental focus and a deep spirit of eucharistic hospitality create trust, first as it is felt in the heart of the individual, and then as it is manifested in the life of the worshipping community. Loud and innovative worship can either occlude, or make it impossible for a person to discern, the immanent presence of God and so learn to trust and to pray more deeply. The gift of trust which comes with prayer is a resource of profound importance for the wider Church. It may or may not lead to the numerical growth of any one parish church, but it will be felt by all who live and work in the area.

The 18-to-35-year-old age group that resource churches are aiming to attract are looking for the kind of church where they will know the gifts of forgiveness, love, and acceptance which lead to trust in God. This is the meaning and purpose of the Christian faith. If they are a young adult, or a student at Cardiff University, there is no better place for them to begin this journey of faith than St Teilo’s Anglican Church in its present form.

Cae Hedd, Llantilio Crosseny
Monmouthshire NP7 8TL

Chapters’ collegiality and a top-down culture

From the Very Revd Richard Lewis

Sir, — Dean Michael Higgins (Comment, 29 March) must be given high praise for setting out so clearly the issues facing the Church regarding the cathedrals.

During my time as chairman of the Dean’s Conference of English Cathedrals through most of the 1990s, I had a privileged insight into many cathedrals and many conversations with deans. We recognised that deans did not have the authority to commit their cathedrals to any policy or initiative without consultation with Chapters; this could be a slow and sometimes divisive process.

Following the principle of “first among equals”, eloquently defended by Dean Higgins and inspired by the far-sightedness of Dean Raymond Furnell, first of Bury St Edmunds and then of York, the Association of English Cathedrals (AEC) was formed so that cathedrals could speak to the House of Bishops, the Synod, the Church Commissioners, and to government with one voice. It has been a considerable success.

It will be a betrayal of centuries of history if the nuanced evolution of governance of cathedrals is now snatched away, allied to passing secular trends, and given into the hands of non-executive members, who must be in the majority. While the dean may nominally be a managing director, he or she will be overseen by a bishop-appointed vice-chairman. Residentiary canons, greatly demoralised, will be the third or even fourth tier in a top-down organisation. The Church must realise, before it is too late, that this is not the road to travel.

Any proposed changes will surely be fully costed before implementation; I have seen no such projections. There is already strong anecdotal evidence that the number of administrative staff in cathedrals is increasing; there is evidence, too, that the application of secular modes of management, more suitable to industry and commerce, is causing distress to staff and to cathedral communities.

Christians were once known because they had a way of belonging which was also different from society around them. I am minded, too, that the apostle Paul said: “I will show you better way. . .”

Dean Emeritus of Wells
1 Monmouth Court
Union Street
Wells BA5 2PX

From Mr Michael Benson

Sir, — Excellent though the Very Revd Michael Higgins’s article may be, it merely confirms the Church’s obsession with its sovereignty.

Having worked, in a secular capacity, in one of the premier cathedrals in the land, for ten years, I would suggest that to retain a “centuries-old tried-and-proven monastic system of collegiate government” is wrong, in terms of the commercial activities of a cathedral.

In my experience, the centuries-old system, relying on collegiality, is absolutely not proven, and is certainly not fit for purpose, in today’s world. Also, I think that the Charity Commissioners will find such a modus operandi difficult to accept. That is not to say that it will not work for God’s business.

Grange Farm, Westow
York YO60 7NJ

From Mr Christopher Laurence

Sir, — The Cathedrals Working Party recommends a strengthening of accountability upwards, but what about downwards? Parish churches have to promote co-responsibility, and congregants are encouraged to enrol as electors for their PCCs, whereas for a cathedral congregant the electoral roll is of so little consequence that, to join, one must apply to the vergers’ office.

But, anyway, lay members of the management team are appointed, not elected. This results in a culture of religious consumerism. If we don’t like what is handed down to us, we can push off back to our parishes and never learn the lessons of shared responsibility.

Cathedrals may improve their structures of accountability, but, as they are, they will remain what Harvey Cox called heretical structures.

5 Haffenden Road
Lincoln LN2 1RP

Lambeth 2020 numbers argument unscriptural

From Mr Gwilym Stone

Sir, — The Bishop of Dallas, the Rt Revd George R. Sumner (Letters, 29 March), seems to criticise Bishop Kevin Robertson (News, 15 March) for a lack of charity and respect for those who view his life and love as an abomination. It is a comparison that will probably send us all rushing for analogies about the planks in each other’s eyes.

Bishop Sumner seems to suggest that LGBT+ Christians should, charitably, accept their exclusion in the interests of some wider inclusion: that it is OK for the Archbishop to exclude a handful of same-sex spouses and gain in return the presence of many more bishops. Yet I struggle to see where in scripture such Benthamite calculus is sanctioned. It is one thing to give up your place at the table to make room for others; it is quite another to be told that you no longer have a place at the table.

What makes so many LGBT+ Christians so weary is this constant message that we are the problem, that we need to be patient, that we need to show greater understanding, and on it goes. . . It is a drip, drip, drip that eats away at self-esteem, and, as a result, many wisely leave the Church in the interests of their mental health and well-being.

Tomsk Villa
11 Rollesbrook Gardens
Southampton, SO15 5WA

Nuancing an account of Maltese religious history 

From Mr Christopher Rigg

Sir, — The article on Malta (Features, 22 March) brought back happy memories of the friendliness and beauty of the island. There were two over-simplifications: first, that “the Islamic era did not last long”, 870-1127, 257 years; second, the origins of the Maltese language, which was heavily influenced by Arabic.

The islands seem always to have been multilingual, being near to north-west Africa with its Berber languages, and to Europe bringing various Indo-European languages since the dawn of history.

The first recorded event of influence was the drought and famine in the eastern Mediterranean lasting from 1190 BC till about 1150. Egyptian sources speak of the “Sikil people”, who gave their name to Sicily. Probably large numbers of these refugees from the famine settled on the islands and mainland coasts of the western Mediterranean. They spoke Western Semitic, best known as Phoenician and Hebrew. The Phoenician traders had considerable influence on Malta in later centuries. The simplified “Phoenician” of Carthage, Punic, would have influenced the Maltese language over many centuries. After the Roman domination came the Arabs, the Crusaders, and, lastly, the British; apart from loan words from the various languages, only Arabic would have affected the language more deeply.

Let us not forget St Paul’s arrival on Malta after being shipwrecked (Acts 28.2): the barbaroi showed unusual kindness . . . and welcomed us all. The Maltese still welcome strangers warmly. The text leaves the open question whether these “barbarians” spoke an unintelligible language; St Luke could just mean “native”. They were probably speaking the ancestor language of Maltese.

Langhoven 57
6721 SL Bennekom
The Netherlands

Mrs May’s party spirit

From Mr Roger Seal

Sir, — I am no Tory, and remain a Remainer, but I suggest that Paul Vallely is somewhat hard on Mrs May (Comment, 29 March). Although I believe that she is mistaken, she might be forgiven in these turbulent times for seeking to maintain the cohesion of her party as the best way to stabilise the nation, much as devout Anglicans might protect and promote the Church of England as the best way to realise the Kingdom of heaven on earth; else, why belong?

5 Church Street, Holbeach
Spalding, Lincolnshire PE12 7LL

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