Spiritual impact of the suspension of public worship
From the Revd Laura Garnham
Sir, — Ted Harrison is a very good friend and a gifted artist and writer. Nevertheless, I think that he has missed the point of Sunday worship (Faith, 4 September) if he thinks that it can be replaced by a lovely lone walk in the country, important though such events are in prayer and worship.
Coming together as the Body of Christ, worshipping with others in communion, is what Jesus commanded us, his people, to do. Currently, this worship may be very different, with Zoom images of fingers, and the new liturgical invitation “Please could you unmute?”
Or it may involve masks, sanitiser, distancing, all of which seem alien to the worship that we knew just nine months ago. But it is the Body of Christ gathered, with all the imperfections and constraints that are involved. And to see dear familiar faces, even with masks on, gathered within ancient walls, is a joy and a blessing. The Lord’s Prayer may sound a bit muffled by the masks, but it is so moving to hear it being prayed together.
1 Church Road
Essex CO11 2TG
From the Revd Christine Worsley
Sir, — Ted Harrison’s description of the changes and development in his faith during the pandemic are both moving and challenging. Finding online worship an inadequate source of nurturing, he describes a new awareness of the presence of God and of the deepening of his own trust in God through walking and reflection. He talks also of the freedom of not being constrained by the church calendar in relation to thinking around the major festivals of the Church’s year and through this, developing a “more complete and holistic image of Christ”.
In the light of this, his question whether he should return to church is intriguing. I understand that returning to church is not easy. I find that the need to wear a mask distracts my prayer and attentiveness; and, although others are present, there is no space afterwards to talk together. But not returning because faith has changed and grown doesn’t make sense to me. Why? Because churches are called together in worship, not just because we like that sort of thing, but in response to the love of God. We come together, to praise and to give thanks and to offer to God in all worship, and particularly in the eucharist, the world, our nation, our communities. We come also to own our sins, our frailty, to be forgiven, to be sent out to our neighbourhoods, our workplaces, our families.
Some years ago, in his book The Go-Between God, John V. Taylor highlighted the importance and frequency of the use of the phrase “one another”, which he described as “ringing like a peal of bells through the New Testament”. Not one of us gets things right all the time: we need other people to reflect God to us. We are often weak and need the strength of others, the faith of others, the presence of God in others — within and beyond the Church
Mr Harrison’s reflections on his experiences during the pandemic are, above all, a gift that needs to be shared. Perhaps it may encourage others who worship with him to offer their experiences, painful and challenging as some of them will be. Bear each other’s burdens. Love one another!
11 Oberon Way
Bingley BD16 1WH
From Canon R. H. W. Arguile
Sir, — Ted Harrison persuades me to break my vow of silence on church matters. He must make his own decisions, of course. For myself, having witnessed the Church deny its solemn obligations, even denying clergy their altars, nowhere claiming that they were key workers, I grew in admiration for my parish priest, who did everything within the regulations to keep worship going, supplying us with all the materials that he could for Holy Week and Easter, and, as soon as the law allowed, opened the church.
Why did I instantly go back? Mr Harrison perhaps did not miss the face-to-face fellowship of his now longer-haired fellow worshippers; perhaps he is more dutiful than I am in setting aside time to attend to holy scripture; maybe the fellowship of the sacrament is not as important to him as it is to me. I found return to the communion a vital and sustaining link with my Saviour. Alas, though a keen birdwatcher, I am no nature-worshipper. Nature is beautiful, but its profligacy is also cruel; its revelation of the divine is mottled and muted.
What has put me off the church are the number of churches visited on my recent sailing holiday in which there was no Sunday service and, what grieves me most, the lack of any gospel in the instructions of the hierarchy or, at least, not one that I recognised. “Stay safe,” says nothing of the need for personal, not vicarious, risk- taking.
I am heartily glad to be back in church, concelebrating the holy mysteries, together with fellow priests and people. I am sure, meanwhile, that there will be a drop in attendance; no wonder, if services are scarce and we are discouraged from attending them.
R. H. W. ARGUILE
10 Marsh Lane
Norfolk NR23 1EG
From Barbara Priest
Sir, — May I thank Ted Harrison and applaud his honesty in the article; for the effects of the Covid 19 lockdown have provoked similar discoveries for me. Like Mr Harrison, I have gained from the rhythm of my daily walks along the local Dorset lanes immense spiritual encouragement and growth as the natural world put on the performance of a lifetime, and just when we needed it most.
In response, these summer months have supplied an opportune time to reflect deeply on how my future ministry will evolve. As I enter my final year of training for Licensed Lay (or Reader) Ministry, I find myself pondering on the need to step more boldly into the world outside the church walls; for we are all pilgrims, and that is where we meet most who are seeking that elusive “something”.
As far back as the 1800s, Walt Whitman was already writing of “letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign’d by God’s name”. While I, too, treasure the handful of gems in our liturgies, I believe beyond doubt that we are surrounded daily by such “letters from God”, and that our most meaningful spiritual journey is to be found “out there” in the blessed ordinariness of these precious lives we live.
(LLM in training, Salisbury diocese)
The Vicarage, Kington Magna
Gillingham SP8 5EW
Sir, — I’d like to compliment you on publishing the excellent and forthright article by Ted Harrison.
Mr Harrison really got to the core of how I’m feeling. Lockdown has been a wonderful release from the ritual of worship, and it’s driven home to me what Pink Floyd sang about in their 1970s song “Time”, namely: “Tolling of the iron bell Calls the faithful to their knees To hear the softly spoken magic spell.” Services without full involvement of the congregation are, in my opinion, nothing more than a ritualistic reciting of “magic spells”.
I think that the Church forgot long ago that it is called to be about community, not grand buildings or mumbo-jumbo and pomp. As a Reader in training, I have frequently said that God doesn’t fit in a box. Perhaps God might also not fit in a church.
NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED
Eucharistic practices and underlying theology
From Canon Bruce Ruddock
Sir, — David Lamming’s letter (4 September) raises issues that are both alarming and depressing. He mentions that, among the widely varied eucharistic practice in Suffolk, there is a church noticeboard that reminds worshippers to “bring your own bread and wine when it is a Communion service”. May I ask, where on earth were the clergy trained who have promoted this nonsense? Was it in an Anglican context? What Church of England bishop could possibly sanction such a ridiculous practice within their diocese? Is it surprising that we have ecumenical partners who regard us as unreliable, and that what we once celebrated as the comprehensiveness of Anglicanism has become incoherence?
6 Priory Road
West Sussex PO19 1NS
From the Revd Christopher Miles
Sir, — Further to David Lamming’s letter, I write to support the practice of “remote consecration”. When my wife and I join our church’s online services, I use my portable communion set to put out bread and wine for the two of us.
Although I am a priest, I consider that there is no need for me, in some form of concelebration, to say the Eucharistic Prayer at the same time as our parish priest. Remembering that Jesus healed the centurion’s servant remotely and strongly commended the faith of the centurion for inviting him so to do (Luke 7), I believe that the bread and wine in our home has been consecrated by the words of the presiding priest elsewhere.
Even when together in church, many of us hear the words of consecration remotely after they have been picked up by a microphone and transmitted through the Church’s sound system. There need to be some safeguards in the practice of remote consecration. I have already written to one of our Rochester diocesan members of the General Synod, and he has passed this on the relevant Synod commission.
Post Covid-19, many churches will continue live digital transmission of their services. We need a wide debate on both the theological and the practical aspects of remote consecration and communion.
2 Spa Close, Hadlow
Tonbridge TN11 0JX
Granted asylum, but still left in destitution
From Prebendary David Newsome
Sir, — I am very grateful to the Bishop of Durham (Comment, 4 September) for raising the issue of changing the law to enable asylum-seekers to work.
The experience of a friend of ours is instructive. After many years of his seeking to have the validity of his asylum case recognised, in February an Immigration Tribunal granted him refugee status and “right to remain”. Since the tribunal’s decision seven months ago, he is still awaiting the issue of a National Insurance number, without which he cannot work. During this time, he has continued with “no recourse to public funds”. Our friend has been careful to follow the law and has not undertaken any paid work. He desperately wants to be able work legitimately and has no desire at all to claim benefits.
His MP has written three times to the Home Office on his behalf to try to expedite the process, and his solicitor has made two formal complaints about the delays. Of course, Covid-19 is cited as one of the reasons for its taking so long and (most unusually, in my experience) Home Office officials even apologised for the delay. At no point, however, has anyone asked him what he is living on.
He was recently instructed to go to Home Office premises (a journey taking more than an hour and requiring two trains) to have his biometrics recorded. No one thought to enquire how he was supposed to get there. If I were given to cynicism, his treatment would lead me to the conclusion that the system is designed to set him, and others like him, up to fail.
Our friend is fortunate that the many friends that he has made are glad to be able to support him financially. Lack of this kind of support had terrible consequences recently for the asylum-seeker Mercy Baguma, who starved to death next to her one-year-old child in Glasgow, a victim of institutional indifference that should be a source of national shame.
36 Highbridge Road, Boldmere
Birmingham B73 5QB
Paying attention to the words that are sung
From Mr Garry Humphreys
Sir, — Further to Paul Vallely’s sensible comments on the Last Night of the Proms (Comment, 28 August), I have written to several Proms Directors at the BBC over a period of about 40 years (including David Pickard, the current incumbent) and even had letters in The Times, suggesting that in “Land of Hope and Glory” the lines “Wider still and wider . . .” should be replaced by the equivalent words for the same tune in Elgar’s Coronation Ode (1902), namely: “Truth and Right and Freedom, Each a holy gem, Stars of solemn brightness, Weave thy diadem.” I received polite replies (or none at all), but nothing was done. Perhaps now is the time to do it?
69 Park Avenue, London N13 5PH
From Dr Carolyn Sanderson
Sir, — When you are singing a great hymn in church, do you enjoy it more because of the words or the tune, asks Dr John Kitchen (Letters, 4 September), implying that the tune is more important. Those of us who write words for hymns hope that what we write will encourage reflection and enable worship; and what about the foundation of Methodist theology, learnt through the words of hymns?
Of course, ideally, words and tune should be a perfect match, but I am saddened by the idea that the care that we take in crafting meaningful language to address important aspects of our faith is somehow secondary to having a good old sing-song.
85 Linceslade Grove
Milton Keynes MK5 8AD
Donation, not entrance charge, at Bath Abbey
From Canon Guy Bridgewater
Sir, — You kindly report the significant National Heritage Lottery Fund emergency grant (News, 4 September) awarded to help Bath Abbey to recover from our Covid-19 loss of visitor donations. May I please correct your statement that an entrance charge is made for visiting the Abbey?
Our wonderful team of staff and volunteers are very keen to welcome visitors without charging, and to suggest a voluntary donation instead, for as long as we can possibly afford to do so. As one of the most visited parish churches in the country, with around half a million coming annually from all around the world before the pandemic, we are most grateful to all who help sustain unfettered access to the beauty, stillness, and mission of Bath Abbey.
Bath Abbey Office
11a York Street
Bath BA1 1NG