PLENTY of excitement at the Telegraph this week: first, a brisk exchange between Canon Giles Fraser and Canon Simon Butler about the decline of the parish church. Canon Fraser had warmed up for the Telegraph a longer and more thoughtful piece from the news website Unherd about the threat to parish structure in the Church of England: “The parish, for centuries the bedrock of the Church of England’s engagement with communities throughout the land, is being sacrificed to a growing and inward-looking centralised Church structure that is steadily sucking resources away from it.
“What were first intended to be support staff for the parish, little by little ended up being the actual purpose of the Church, with increasing numbers of people doing jobs with titles like diocesan missioner and assistant archdeacon. These clergy worked in offices, spent much of their time in meetings and managed a burgeoning administration. And yet these are the sort of jobs you have to do if you want to be a bishop. There used to be 26 dioceses in the Church of England. There are now 42 dioceses — all with their own administrative staff, all with an increasing number of bishops looking after a decreasing number of parish clergy. It is a perfect recipe for institutional collapse.”
To which Canon Butler replied in a letter: “Giles Fraser claims that officials are trying to centralise the Church of England in the face of Covid-19. As a member of the Archbishops’ Council, I know his claim amounts to nothing.
“Since March I have spent hours in meetings — never Giles’s strong point — working with officials to ensure that parish churches like mine and his have the resources to serve God and neighbour.
“I note that, since 2015, the published membership of Canon Fraser’s parish has declined by over 15 per cent. Instead of the endless clergy morale-sapping negativity that is his current stock-in-trade, I gently suggest a pause from this Aunt Sally journalism to focus on doing something to arrest this worrying slump.”
THEN, Charles Moore used his column on Tuesday to defend George Carey: “Lord Carey has not been accused of anything (indeed, it is specifically stated that he has not been accused of any child abuse). When he was head of Trinity theological college in Bristol in the Eighties, John Smyth was a mature student for a single term. He may — he is not sure — have met Smyth then. It is alleged that he is mentioned in a couple of contemporary letters as having been informed about the Smyth case, but the evidence of that has not been made known to him.”
That these letters have not been made known to him is not the story I get from other observers, including one very sympathetic to Lord Carey’s case, but never mind. Moore continues: “The doctrines of ‘safeguarding’ seem not to safeguard the principles of natural justice.
“The present Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, has himself been accused of covering up information against Smyth at the time. As I have written before, these allegations seem weak — he was barely out of university then — but at least it is true that he did know Smyth, which Lord Carey did not. Yet no one has attempted to remove Justin Welby’s PTO. What an unholy mess.”
Again, you can quibble with the detail: the only formal complaint against Archbishop Welby which I know of refers to his conduct when he first learned of Smyth’s behaviour, 30 years after the event. But the general effect will be thoroughly damaging to the Church’s reputation.
OF COURSE, none of this compares to the reputational damage sustained by Islam in the north of England. One of the sadder and more worrying side effects of the pandemic was highlighted in a Guardian piece on Friday. Zulfi Karim, a Deputy Lieutenant of West Yorkshire, and chairman of the Bradford Council of Mosques, warned the paper that “White communities are starting to see Covid as a ‘brown problem’” after the emergency lockdown in many cities before the Eid-el-Adha celebrations.
In Bolton, a Conservative councillor was suspended, hours after the new restrictions were announced, for posting on Facebook: “Don’t penalise me over the increase in Covid cases in Greater Manchester. I’ve stuck to the rules for four long months. Blame the 48,000 illegal immigrants, the BAME community and the morons that never obey the rules.”
Perhaps this kind of thing is inevitable. The Guardian has run numerous stories about how the virus has disproportionately affected Muslim communities, and plagues bring out the tendency to blame victims for their own misfortune. But it is still a worrying glimpse of a more identitarian future.
MEANWHILE, from the department of cheering trivia, the Daily Mail brings the news that “Meghan Markle’s faith plays a central role in her life while prayer and conversations with God have got her through the ‘darkest moments’.” The “darkest moment” turns out to have been a friend making a catty remark about her to a journalist.