Special days and inclusivity issues
From Jayne Drinkwater
Sir, — Further to Alison Beardwood’s letter (1 March), the World Day of Prayer is still based around women. At the service last year, leaders were asked to take a vote with the congregation present about dropping the “Women’s”. It was felt that men (or anyone else) should not feel excluded, but that the services would continue to be produced by women with women’s issues in mind.
Results of the vote were fed back to the WDP office and, as result of that, the name has been changed. To quote from the Chairperson’s letter in the latest Together in Prayer magazine: “We are returning to the name by which we were originally known and the one used by the rest of the world.” The service this year was a reminder that “all are welcome at God’s table.”
What is more relevant in my mind is that we celebrate a day of prayer with women all over the world on the first Friday in March. Then, on the second Friday in March, is International Women’s Day. It would make more sense to me if these two were celebrated on the same day.
59 Spring Lane, Bassingbourn
Cambridgeshire SG8 5HT
From Dr Katherine Jane Briggs
Sir, — In our group of churches, today’s service was led by women; but a number of men had the grace to attend, to join in prayer with their wives and fellow Christians. I do not see this as “political correctness”, but inclusivity. Men and women are not enemies, and I should be reluctant to attend a service that tried to exclude any of them.
KATHERINE JANE BRIGGS
Chestnut House, Milbourne
Malmesbury SN16 9JA
From G. M. Lyon
Sir, — It is lamentable, but sadly unsurprising, that the broadcast service from Lambeth Palace marking the 25th anniversary of the ordination of women as priests offered neither a thought nor a prayer for all those, mostly women, for whom the innovation was and remains painful.
G. M. LYON
13 New Acres, Newburgh
Wigan, Lancashire WN8 7TU
From Elizabeth Squires
Sir, — Over the past few years, there has been a severe purge of non-inclusive language in our hymns (often infelicitously); but the job has more or less been done, and I have got used to the lack of poetry that the alternatives usually display.
Listening to “Now praise we all our God” at the recent celebration of women’s ministry, however, I realise that a further purge is necessary. How can we sing such verses as “Who from our mother’s arms” when some children have two fathers and no mothers? Should we now look at using an inclusive word such as “parents” instead of mothers or fathers?
1a Penrhyn Park
Penrhyn Bay LL30 3HW
Interfaith movement is not about ‘sameness’
From the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke
Sir, — “Religions meet”, Evelyn Underhill wrote in her book Mysticism, “where religions take their source: in God.”
For many of the pioneers of the interfaith movement, it was an overwhelming sense of God’s universal love which motivated them. They recognised that no language or creed could fully describe the Holy One: these were at best like fingers pointing at the moon. They discovered, too, that a sharing “in the cave of their heart” of each other’s different faith and practice was mutually enriching. It also inspired them to work together for a world society committed to non-violence, in which no one was homeless or hungry, and the natural world was treasured.
Such an approach is not, as the Revd Dr Yazid Said (Comment, 1 March) suggests, an imposition of “sameness”, but a growing discovery of the unbounded love of God for every person and for all life.
Joint President of the World Congress of Faiths
17 Courtiers Green
Abingdon OX14 3EN
Military discipline for Christians and convicts
From the Revd Stephen Collier
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s call for military self-discipline during Lent (Comment, 1 March) is to be welcomed. She is surely right in saying that it is the outer disciplines that produce inner changes of attitude.
This profound teaching is useful not only for those of us thinking about our Lenten observance, but also those determining public policy.
The Government recently announced a plan to abolish all short-term prison sentences, but if the aim is to rehabilitate and change the attitude of offenders, then surely the opposite policy should be adopted.
The majority of sentences should be short, disciplined, and rigorous, cigarettes, drugs, mobile phones, and inactivity replaced by days full of physical exercise, education and training, work experience, therapy sessions, and healthy food.
What is wasteful, self-defeating, and expensive are the long and indeterminate sentences during which unstimulated prisoners languish in their cells for 23 hours a day, eating poor food, smoking themselves to death, and declining rapidly both physically and mentally.
Perhaps the SAS should be put in charge of our prisons, and Canon Tilby be promoted to Chaplain-General.
9 Drew Gardens
Greenford UB6 7QF
Songs of Praise in peril
From Mr Philip Johanson
Sir, — The BBC has been broadcasting Song of Praise for almost 60 years. It has become a British institution valued by many, not least the housebound and those living in residential homes. I wonder whether the recent decision to move the broadcast to the regular time of 1.15 p.m. on a Sunday will spell the beginning of the end for the programme. Is that the long-term plan of the BBC, so bringing about a further reduction in religious broadcasting?
Many of those who watch Songs of Praise, especially those who are unable to get out to church value the programme, and Sunday at 1.15 p.m. is not a good time if they live in residential care, as it is lunchtime, and others might be with family for lunch.
The BBC spokesperson said: “Songs of Praise has moved to a new time on Sundays to ensure consistency in scheduling, making it easier to find for viewers, and to avoid programmes being displaced by sporting events, which can often overrun” (News, 22 February). The BBC often moves programmes from one channel to another to cope with overrunning sports events; so why not Songs of Praise?
The new time is almost certain to reduce viewing figures and in due course the BBC will probably say that is going to end the programme, owing to reduced numbers of viewers.
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Dorset BH6 3PN
False distinction between spiritual and temporal
From Mr Richard Willmott
Sir, — I was sorry to see in the Church Times, of all places, that hoary chestnut about how senior churchmen should “distinguish between matters spiritual and temporal” — and, by implication, stop meddling with the latter (Letters, 1 March).
If you believe that those most likely to suffer from Brexit are the poor, not the co-founders of hedge funds, it is surely a Christian duty to speak out. The Old Testament reading for Ash Wednesday is relevant, drawing a sharp distinction between a “holy” fast in “sackcloth and ashes” and the fast that the Lord chooses: “to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke” (Isaiah 58.6). This sounds pretty political to me.
To set up a barrier between the spiritual and the temporal is to neuter the former.
37 Hafod Road
Hereford HR1 1SQ
A service in each parish requires willing laity
From Canon John Corbyn
Sir, — In her letter (1 March) about the changes to the rules about holding services every Sunday in every parish church, Anne Jones regards the clergy as the villains of the peace. She refers to the “lack of will” of clergy to invite laity to lead services. In blaming the clergy for the ills of the Church, she is not alone. She must, however, remember that all clergy were once laity.
I write as a priest who has encouraged laity to lead worship, but, sadly, not always with success. In smaller and older congregations, the number of those willing and able to do this can be small to the point of vanishing.
In a congregation for which I had pastoral charge for several years, the churchwardens led Prayer Book matins, I or another priest arriving from elsewhere to preach. When they stepped down from this, no one else was prepared to take the service, and so services went to fortnightly.
The Vicarage, Church Lane
Bearsted, Kent ME14 4EF
Evangelism, the Church, and different traditions
From the Revd Michael Allen
Sir, — Reading the General Synod papers on “Growing Faith” and evangelism (News, 8 February) leads to a response that there are elephants in the Church-and-society room.
The Church is a distrusted brand. Many see it as into self-defensive cover-ups, degrading of victims of abuse and of some minorities who are different, and unable to reconcile its own, let alone show that to society. The Church is broken as society is broken, and God reveals the Kingdom wherever the Trinity wills.
Without seeing mission as “one beggar helping another beggar find bread [mercy]”, then evangelism will come across as “We know and you don’t,” arrogant and hypocritical. Maybe Christian adults have a greater lack of confidence in the Church than in themselves, and that holds them back from talking about their faith.
Many who grow up in the Church still leave as young adults. A clinical psychologist whom I am reading writes: “I had outgrown the shallow Christianity of my youth by the time I could understand the fundamentals of Darwinian theory. After that I could not distinguish the basic elements of Christian belief from wishful thinking.”
Where are the attempts to explore God as creator and redeemer in evolution? And where is the gospel for young people’s future, which they see us squandering by causing climate change?
In parish ministry, we realise that people have different pathways for Christian experience and discipleship. Some have confidence in their beliefs, others in living as a disciple. The Synod reports seem to allude to one expression of following Christ or, more often, Jesus. What does it mean to have the Trinity as arbiter of our faith?
8 Grenville Rise, Arnold
Nottingham NG5 8EW
From Dr David Bunch
Sir, — “Does painting one’s fellow [sic] Anglicans as narrow, ignorant, and self-interested really have a place in contemporary Anglican debate?” asked the Revd Dr Ian Paul (Letters, 1 March).
Sadly, he spoilt the positive appeal of this rhetoric in his previous paragraph when, referring to Canon Angela Tilby’s article (Comment, 22 February) about a then forthcoming General Synod debate on evangelism, he dismissed it as a “cynical and bitter diatribe”.
Such personalised comments do not advance evangelism or provide an enticing model of Christian discipleship in action. They are even more unfortunate when, as in his letter, they detract from some otherwise valid points.
53 Rye Croft, Conisbrough
Doncaster DN12 2BD
From Hilda Walter
Sir, — Margaret Duggan’s letter (22 February) gave me hope. I rejoiced in what Canon Angela Tilby wrote.
Down here in the far west, we are being encouraged to become worship leaders in an effort to get people “going to church”: never a word about prayer or discipline.
A small group of us are rereading Pastoral Theology by Martin Thornton. Page 112 gives us: “Bishop Gore told a bewildered diocese that he did not want any more Christians but a few better ones.” I thought it was worth mentioning.
St Hilary, Madeira Drive
Bude EX23 0AJ
From Mr Graeme Watt
Sir, — The Evangelical approach came in for criticism from Canon Tilby and Canon Adrian Alker (Letters, 22 February).
Canon Alker quite properly says that the Kingdom of God is, for example, alive and well where the poor are lifted up. But, while this is necessary for the advancement of the Kingdom, a moment’s reflection shows that it, along with the other instances that Canon Alker gives, cannot be sufficient. Moving out of poverty may bring someone nearer the Kingdom, but, equally, it may not: plenty of people who are not poor are far from it.
The advancement of the Kingdom depends on the person whose circumstances have changed being convicted of a responsibility to do the same for others. That requires a level of personal commitment about which Canon Tilby appears to be sceptical. I suspect, however, that this personal commitment to a life lived in harmony with God is accepted as essential in all shades of churchmanship.
All that Evangelicals, for their part, need to concede is that it need not be the result of attending the Alpha course. As so often in Christ’s Church, we (in this instance Evangelicals and liberals) seem determined to define ourselves by our modest differences rather than by that which unites us.
The Bar Library
91 Chichester Street
Belfast BT1 3JQ