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Letters to the Editor

13 March 2020

Coronavirus, spiritual direction, the 1975 referendum, and net zero carbon 2030


Anglican coronavirus precautions at the eucharist

From Dr Patrick Little

Sir, — In the expectation of a serious Covid-19 epidemic across the UK (News, 6 March), the Church of England is preparing to withhold the chalice from the laity (the Scottish Episcopal Church has already done so), leaving the priest alone to receive communion in both kinds. There may be good medical reasons for doing so, but such changes raise theological concerns, and the official guidance does not address these at all.

Communion in both kinds has been an important part of Anglican eucharistic practice from the very beginning. Home-grown Reformers followed Luther, who argued that Christ’s words at the Last Supper indicated “very clearly that the blood is given to all those for whose sins it was shed”. The foundational statement of Anglican orthodoxy, the Thirty-Nine Articles, is also explicit: “The Cup of the Lord is not to be denied to the Lay-people” (Article XXX).

The big issue at the time was the medieval Church’s insistence that the priest stood between God and the people, and that the laity were deemed unworthy to participate fully in the holy mysteries. The notion that lay people are second-class citizens was (and is) rightly rejected by the Anglican Church.

Such concerns are not uppermost in the minds of the church hierarchy today, and there is no question that, faced with a likely epidemic, every reasonable precaution must be taken. But issuing bald statements without acknowledging the theological difficulties that they might cause is unfortunate. Indeed, the lack of any explanation or justification for the radical step of withholding the chalice suggests that, 500 years on, the Church’s attitude towards the laity remains stubbornly medieval.

Liberton, Burnbrae,
Dumfries and Galloway


From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC

Sir, — Since the comments of many if not all diocesan bishops that, although the administration of holy communion in both kinds is the norm, the chalice should be withheld from the people during the coronavirus problem, parish after parish has repeated this in magazines and notices, but few seem to have issued a parallel statement on the Church’s teaching on concomitance: that, as Christ is indivisible, he is received in all his fullness in the bread become the Precious Body or the wine become the Precious Blood.

Without that added comment, there is a danger that some of the faithful may be of the view that what they are receiving at the altar may be something inferior to receiving in both kinds.

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Goodleigh, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 7NR


From Brenda Wolfe

Sir, — Is it too much to hope that the advent of the coronavirus may put an end to what is curiously called “the exchange of the Peace”. This is the least peaceful time in the whole service, disrupting the concentration, forcing those of us who would appreciate a bit of quiet contemplation at what is supposed the holiest time of the service to shake hands, at best, or endure an onslaught of people bearing down upon us with the kind of greeting which is more suitable for a children’s party than an act of worship?

Why this idea ever caught on is beyond my comprehension. The time for friendliness and social intercourse is after the service, when ironically, it is not always shown.

Listening to Mahler’s Second Symphony in the Philharmonic Hall in Liverpool very recently, in total and sustained silence for more than an hour, was an experience of transcendence the like of which I have not experienced in a church of any denomination for decades.

23 Hunters Lane
Liverpool L15 8HL


Practice in spiritual direction and a national forum 

From Julie Dunstan

Sir, — I appreciate the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh’s concern for good spiritual direction, after the shocking news of Jean Vanier’s abuse of power (Comment, 28 February; Letters, 6 March). But there is much to question in her article, with its sweeping generalisations.

I have been involved in the formation of spiritual directors for many years, and the need for psychological awareness has long been understood. There is, indeed, an overlap between sexuality and spirituality, and there are many aspects of “darkness” which might present themselves in the spiritual-direction relationship, including complex dynamics of an unconscious nature.

For this and many other reasons, there is now a growing expectation that those who exercise this ministry adhere to a code of practice which includes safeguarding training, ongoing supervision, and being in spiritual direction oneself. It is vital that we go on ensuring good practice, as best we can.

Relevant to this is a new and important initiative to create a National Forum for Spiritual Directors in which to discuss all aspects of spiritual direction, including the need to be both appropriately professional while staying true to its essential charism.

Spiritual direction is very far from being outdated or out of touch. Instead, it emerges increasingly as a unique and crucial ministry within a Church urgently in need of honest, humble, and searching spiritual conversation and prayer.

The tragic irony is that if Vanier’s own spiritual accompaniment had come from someone other than that fatal mentor who both practised and encouraged the abuse, spiritual direction might have been the very place for him to name his own desperately destructive impulses. Likewise, had he put himself under the now standard practice of supervision, he might well have been forced to confront his own “mystical” delusion.

79 Chestnut Road
London SE27 9LD


A story of mission, murder, and translation 

From Mr Ralph E. Ireland

Sir, — It was good to read the Revd Duncan Dormor’s review of God in the Rainforest (Books, 28 February). Not only did Rachel Saint with Quemo and Come visit Berlin in 1966: they also came to the UK. I met them in Birmingham, a meeting that was a great stimulus to my interest in the Summer Institute of Linguistics (SIL).

Later, with my wife, I joined SIL and we served with them for more than 30 years in several countries. Neither Elizabeth Elliot nor Saint was “employed” by SIL. All members of SIL were volunteers whose income came from free-will offerings provided by supporting friends and churches. The mention of the “substantial funds raised for their employers” by the United States tour, therefore, has a much darker implication than is warranted by the facts.

I came to know Saint personally (warts and all), but living essentially alone in an isolated, remote location calls for a certain temperament, which can make life difficult for others.

It is a serious overstatement to suggest that “the translation work really begins only in 1979.” When you start with an unwritten language — which means no alphabet, no concept of what a written sentence looks like, and so on —you initially make small inroads into translation work. It is, nevertheless, “real translation work”.

I look forward to reading the book.

1 Pilgrim Gardens
Leicester LE5 6AL


The 1975 referendum on the Common Market 

From Mr Roland Smith

Sir, — I do not know whether your correspondent Mr J. Alan Smith (Letter, 6 March) was alive at the time of the 1975 referendum, but he is completely mistaken in describing it as “a referendum on making minor changes to the terms of our membership”.

The question put to the voters was whether or not the UK should stay in what was described on the ballot paper as “the European Community (Common Market)”.

I was at the time a member of the Foreign Office Planning Staff. We all understood that if the answer of the voters had been “No”, then we should have had to plan for life after the UK’s withdrawal from the European Community.

Ramsay Hall
9-13 Byron Road
Worthing BN11 3HN


Listing setback for Oxford housing-estate parish 

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — Ellis Woodman writes: “Those that are keen to pursue such a solution — redeveloping a church site — may still struggle to make the numbers stack up” (Feature, 21 February). That is not the main problem facing the Holy Family congregation in Blackbird Leys, Oxford.

The 1950s estate was created mainly to provide a workforce for the developing automotive industries in Cowley. Holy Family Church opened in 1960 with a hyperbolic-paraboloid roof. In 2018, less than two weeks before Christmas, the building was condemned. A structural engineer declared the church roof an unsafe structure — proved by its subsequent collapse. Plans and planning permission to redevelop the site, with the support of an entrepreneur investor, had been applied for. This would provide space for worship and community use with 21 housing units and a new vicarage. The proposals can be seen at www.givemyview.com/blackbirdleys.

Historic England then stepped in, making the original church Grade II listed, requiring restoration to its original design — costing in the £2-3-million bracket for the roof alone, and still leaving cracked walls, inadequate heating, failing double glazing, no insulation . . . basically a not-fit-for-purpose building, which would still require re-roofing every 15-20 years owing to the design.

The diocese of Oxford has given their strong support to the proposed redevelopment plan with some in-kind funding to help towards the overall costs.

Now that the General Synod has accepted the 2030 net-zero carbon challenge for the Church of England, who is to have the final decision to enable the Holy Family community to meet the ecological as well as liturgical and pastoral needs of its parish ?

The Knowle
Banbury OX15 0TB


Net zero carbon 2030: more on Synod goal 

From Dr David Knight

Sir, — Solar panels are one option that a church can pursue as part of its move to net zero (Letters, 28 February).

When permission is sought for works to a church, the contribution of the proposals to the mission of the church and the public good will be taken into account. Care of creation is the Fifth Mark of Mission. We must respond to the climate emergency, and, as Christians, we do so mindful that the world we are caring for is God’s creation.

Proposals to improve the environmental performance of a church building support the Fifth Mark of Mission and are a public benefit. These reasons will both be in their favour when a faculty is sought.

Solar panels will often need planning permission from the local authority. This is outside the control of the Church. In this case, the imperative of climate emergency potentially meets the imperative of heritage preservation head-on, but this can be mitigated by the informed and considerate design of solar arrays.

All options need to be considered in reducing carbon — including smart control of heating systems, LED lighting, Eco Church, and fully green tariffs on electricity and gas.

Senior Church Buildings Officer
Cathedral and Church Buildings Division
Church House
27 Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ


From Dr John Twidell

Sir, — I refer to recent articles concerning carbon-footprint ambitions, including the account of the General Synod’s debate for a 2030 zero-carbon target (Synod, 21 February). This is all good news, requiring urgent action and clear heads. The next step is to draw boundaries around the system being assessed so that we know what we are assessing. Is it just church-owned buildings, or all that church expenditure facilitates? Does it include the congregation as the true meaning of “church”? What about the incumbent’s car?

Clarifying the key aspects:

1. The pre-Industrial Revolution concentration of atmospheric carbon dioxide (2.8 per cent by volume) was just right to provide warming for most of the earth’s water to be liquid (and not ice) and for temperatures supporting efficient photosynthesis, giving food and oxygen. This was indeed “good”.

2. But now, with anthropogenic injection, the carbon-dioxide concentration may nearly double and the natural temperature control be lost. The injected carbon that we need to stop burning is fossil-carbon in coal, oil, and natural gas (fossil-methane). When combusted, the extra carbon dioxide is the dominant cause of excessive absorption of infrared heat in the atmosphere; hence increased global temperature and climate change.

3. All life on earth needs energy, and today’s human lifestyles and economies have become used to a great deal, with dominant fossil fuels. Christians in the C of E are presently little different from anyone else in this respect, but now Synod has rightly decided for change. How is this to be done?

4. The good news is that the energy already flowing naturally in our environment, the renewable energy of sun, wind, biomass, etc., is more than sufficient for our needs. Appropriate technologies are needed, of course, as already proved and in the market place. So we need to transform our necessary energy needs from fossil-fuels to renewables.

5. The easiest change is electricity supply. Change supplier by phone call to one of the certified renewables-only companies, of which there are several. These generate principally from wind, sunshine, and hydro. Beware, however, suppliers that continue to generate with substantial fossil fuel, but buy paper certificates from the renewables generation of others.

4. Then the incumbent’s travel should be changed to an all-electric car, setting an example for all the congregation. Rooftop solar panels will provide some self-generation.

5. Heating buildings is likely to be the most challenging task, especially if it now depends on oil or gas supply to boilers for radiators. Start with draught prevention, then thermal insulation of the building fabric. For the heating itself, no solution is cheap. Choices now include: (i) change to a biomass pellet or wood-chip boiler, but this needs fuel-storage space, (ii) use electricity-driven heat pumps that extract most of the used heat from the ground or external air, (iii) join with a district heating scheme shared, say, with neighbouring offices and work places, (iv) pay for “fossil-free gas” that some renewables suppliers may supply into the main gas grid from biogas, sewage gas, or waste-disposal gas (but check that this is rally non-fossil fuel and not merely tree-planting offsets).

6. But where to draw the boundaries? Careful measurement and monitoring will be needed within these boundaries, with regular assessment and discussion about the reductions in fossil-fuel use. Start with the energy bills paid directly from church accounts. Then widen to payments that include energy supplies indirectly, e.g. travel expenses, housing, conferences.

7. From the beginning, ask for congregational volunteers to include their own lifestyles and to meet to share experiences. Hence, the boundaries will gradually extend and joyfully include the true church.

Bridgford House
Leicestershire LE16 8DH


From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — Professor Martin Gainsborough in his support for the General Synod’s decision to reduce carbon emissions to net zero by 2030 (Comment, 21 February) quotes Christian Aid as declaring that this is “truly good news for the poor”.

This needs some qualification. If the whole of the UK were to achieve carbon neutrality by 2030, that would reduce the world’s temperature, on current assumptions, by a few thousandths of one degree. The contribution of the Church of England to this would be infinitesimal. The reduction would be vastly expensive with huge opportunity and social costs.

The pursuit of carbon neutrality to protect against future environmental damage inflicts serious harm on the poor and disadvantaged in the present. For example, in this country, deaths caused by fuel poverty will rise as energy prices increase as a direct consequence of climate policies, while, in the developing world, the proscribing of fossil fuels would limit sources of relatively cheap energy which are essential to industrialisation and a growth in trade, which are the key to prosperity and personal well-being.

Unlike many in the non-industrialised world, Synod members do not cook over open fires that damage health through the inhalation of smoke and particulate matter.

At the moment, China is building or planning more than 300 coal-fired power stations in places as widely spread as Turkey, Vietnam, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Egypt, and the Philippines. We may deplore that, but the energy provided is more likely to be welcomed by the poor of those countries than the infinitesimal reduction in the Church of England’s carbon footprint which is of no practical value, and has to be regarded as nothing more than virtue-signalling by the relatively well off.

The challenge of balancing action to relieve poverty in the present with the steps necessary to reduce the risk of unacceptable global warming in the future is an issue that the Synod not only failed to address, but of which it seemed blissfully unaware.

The Manor House
Thurloxton, Taunton TA2 8RH


WATCH campaign is harmful

From the Revd R. W. Crook

Sir, — In regard to your item on the new report from WATCH relating to gender balance in the ministry (News, 6 March), I believe that this needs challenging. The pressure for gender equality in the ministry of the Church is actually damaging the Church.

Surely, the call of God to the ministry must be to those who are gifted, whatever their gender. Indeed, the New Testament clearly states that. Actually, the constant drive for more women in the ministry is feminising the Church, and is acting as a deterrent to men offering themselves.The report quotation “the Church is seen as an institution which undervalues women” is complete tommy rot. The Church has valued and continues to value women very highly. The valuable work of the Mothers‘ Union is one example. Where is the equivalent for men? It is many years since the Church of England Men’s Society folded.

As I look back over my copies of the Church Times, I am conscious of the prominence of features and photographs publicising women and girls in the Church. I believe that this emphasis is actually doing Christian women a great disservice. Where are the Christian young men to partner with them in their faith?

Just as the vigorous WATCH organisation spreads its message, so we desperately need an equivalent MATCH (Men and the Church) to represent the manliness of Christianity. Helen Fraser says: “It is vital that more young women consider the possibility of ordained ministry.” I would say: “It is vital that more young men consider the possibility of ordained ministry.” Will the Bishops please take note.

14, Bollington Ave, Northwich
Cheshire CW9 8SB

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