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Letters to the Editor

by
17 July 2020

Church Times letters: letters@churchtimes.co.uk We regret that we cannot guarantee consideration of letters submitted by post under present working conditions

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Kwong and Hong Kong freedoms

From Mr David Allardice

Sir, — I’m shocked to read that the Archbishop of Hong Kong, Dr Paul Kwong, announced his full and unequivocal support for the grim Security Law that China’s Communist Party has imposed on a terrified Hong Kong (News online, 10 July). It beggars belief that the official church position can have anything in common with his staggeringly unchristian views.

Dr Kwong’s comment that those who oppose the recently enacted Security Act hold anti-China political views is oversimplified to such a ridiculous extent as to be laughable. Had Dr Kwong not been so massively conflicted and had, instead, relied on his religious, spiritual, social, and intellectual capacities, his viewpoint would have surely been very different, and probably in line with that of the substantially more enlightened Catholic Church. Being a member of China’s Parliament, Dr Kwong has shown himself guilty of allowing an appalling conflict of interest to dictate the Church’s position in Hong Kong with regard to an entirely political matter.

The basic rights and freedoms that Christians the world over relish and regularly give thanks for have been taken from the people of Hong Kong, who have instead been left in a state of abject fear now that Communist China has reneged on its lawful Undertakings in the Joint Declaration signed between the UK and the People’s Republic of China.

In the past year, Hong Kong has suffered from not only incompetent governance, but mind-numbing acts of horrific police brutality. Now that the Hong Kong people have been delivered on a platter to the demonstrated cruelty of China’s Communists, the genuine and widespread fear that prevails in this city is like nothing I could ever have foreseen happening to a sophisticated and cosmopolitan territory. That Chinese secret police now operate with impunity ensures that the threatening environment will prevail and has sadly brought the hopes, aspirations, and dreams of much of Hong Kong’s youth to an abrupt end.

I am shocked that in the 21st century the integrity of an Anglican archbishop can be so easily compromised. Dr Kwong has allowed his own politics, along with a personal conflict, to tie him to China’s Communist leadership, which, not to be forgotten, bans most official religions, bulldozes Christian churches, and is stained by the blood of so many Tibetan Buddhists and Muslims in Xinjiang. Dr Kwong, in giving his full and unequivocal support to the Hong Kong Security Act, is giving his full support to a law that even provides for Hongkongers’ facing trial under mainland Chinese law, where a death sentence is a possible punishment.

Amid the gloom of the Covid-19 pandemic, the Church‘s senior members should surely be displaying leadership in tending to their congregations rather than demonstrating such a serious lapse in moral judgement and playing dirty politics.

DAVID ALLARDICE
Grosvenor House
120 MacDonnell Road
Hong Kong

 

From Mr Lee Faulkner

Sir, — Like many others, I take deep offence at Archbishop Paul Kwong’s letter to the Church Times.

He says that he cannot support “anti-China” political views. That clearly indicates that he does not distinguish “China”, a beautiful country with a rich culture and long history, from the “Chinese Communist Party (CCP)”, a brutal, repressive one-party dictatorship. I have yet to meet anyone who is “anti-China” or “anti” any other country, but large swaths of Hong Kong society, and mainland Chinese society if they were allowed to, detest the CCP and everything that it stands for. Dr Kwong’s conflating of the two is very telling.

He also blames “opposition politicians” for “sabotaging” attempts by the Legislative Council to enact a security law since 2003. That is a preposterous statement to make, given that the government, and its supporters, have always had the necessary majority in the Legislative Council to enact the law if they wanted. If there was any “sabotage” involved, it was the government’s sabotaging itself to prevent the widespread backlash that it knew it would get. Hence the situation now, where a law is “imposed by promulgation of a dictatorship” rather than by democratic decision.

The new law prohibits campaigning against the CCP on the grounds that it is “subversive”; we are, therefore, required to remain mute about the many human-rights abuses committed by the CCP. These abuses are too numerous to list; so I will focus on one that does at last appear to be getting attention in the free world: the incarceration of more than a million Uighur Muslims in concentration camps in Xinjiang Province. These camps separate people from their communities, children from their parents, and husbands from their wives; there are reports of forced abortions and the forced sterilisation of women to “keep the numbers down”.

These grotesque crimes against humanity are a stain on all of us, but have never been challenged by Dr Kwong. And now, the national security law that he so fulsomely supports makes it illegal for us to challenge them, too.

Dr Kwong claims that religious organisations in Hong Kong will not be affected by this law; and yet this horrific abuse, that some have classed as genocide, is perpetrated by exactly the same CCP as will, apparently, protect our rights. If you appease brutality by hoping that it won’t happen to you, then you cannot expect to be rescued when it eventually does.

There is nothing wrong with being a Chinese patriot or for wanting law and order restored in Hong Kong. What is wrong is remaining mute about these appalling crimes and supporting a law that means that others must remain mute, too. Although unelected, if you are given the chance to speak up but fail to do so then you betray your community. You also betray your God.

LEE FAULKNER
22A, 2/F, Sha Po New Village
Lamma Island
NT, Hong Kong

 

From the Revd Justin McCreedy OSB

Sir, — I do not doubt the observation of Archbishop Paul Kwong of Hong Kong that the Chinese Security Law does not threaten religious liberty. I wonder, however, if people have a legitimate practical concern that this law and its applications do threaten civil liberty.

JUSTIN McCREEDY
St Martin’s Abbey
5000 Abbey Way SE
Lacey, Washington
WA 98503-3200, USA

 

Future of C of E parishes, dioceses, and their staffing

From the Revd J. B. Gilder

Sir, — The Revd Stephen Trott writes: “The church buildings are needed, the clergy are needed: what else do we need?” (Comment, 10 July). The only sensible answer to this is: probably quite a lot. I’m no apologist for a top-heavy diocesan system, but, equally, we have to be realistic. Parishes and clergy cannot simply exist in a vacuum.

Diocesan staff recruit and train clergy, keep parsonages in good order, administer finance, ensure our schools are effective, and perform vital safeguarding tasks. It might be the case that some of this work could be done more efficiently. If so, good. I find little evidence, however, to suggest that there are many needlessly employed in central posts.

Undeniably, there are more bishops and archdeacons than in previous ages, but the nature of the accountability that they exercise has changed and grown, as in many other sectors. In these most litigious of times, pushing key responsibilities down from the diocese to individual parishes to administer could be a huge burden on them, and is potentially a recipe for disaster.

Parishes in many dioceses are indeed expected to contribute more than the direct costs of their own ministry. Almost half such contributions in this diocese go towards funding stipendiary curacies, which would still need to be paid for even if one could eliminate all other diocesan spending. Therefore, while efficiency savings at the top should be a constant priority, it is equally important not to overstate the positive effect that such savings would have on parishes’ financial positions.

Mr Trott suggests that, once diocesan oversight is drastically pruned, each parish should once again be tasked with funding its own ministry, presumably with its assets restored. Such a move away from collective diocesan funding, however, would leave poorer areas drastically worse off, and provision patchy at best. Moreover, it would do away with a laudable commitment to collective financial responsibility for mission and ministry. In response to such problems, I was surprised to see the article suggest that parishes encourage vocations to self-supporting ministry, as though this had not already been the solution employed by most dioceses for the past 25 years.

Plainly, the Church does not have enough funds to provide the level of stipendiary ministry which many of us would love to see in every parish in this nation. Claiming this to be the result of central diocesan control is a side track that, perhaps, plays to a popular view, but actually avoids responding adequately to the uncomfortable truth.

J. B. GILDER
44 Hurst Avenue
Chingford E4 8DW

 

From Mr Matthew Clements

Sir, — The Revd Stephen Trott does not help his own argument by comparing the Church of England with, of all places, Norway. He tries to strengthen the comparison by including the detail that England is one third the size of Norway, but he omits any mention of population.

A quick internet search reveals that the population of Norway is a mere 5,422,000, compared with England’s 55,977,000, a factor of ten. The population per bishop is actually very similar: 478,000 for England and 493,000 for Norway, while the figures for population per diocese are significantly greater in England: 1,333,000 for England and 493,000 for Norway. Perhaps that might explain why the diocesan staffs tend to be so large?

His argument might carry more weight if he actually identified precisely the “activities that we now see are not required”.

MATTHEW CLEMENTS
4 Church Street
Bicester OX26 6AZ

 

From Mr Andy Ferguson

Sir, — I could not fail to see the irony in last week’s Church Times. The Revd Stephen Trott’s excellent article coincided with the announcement of the appointment of the first full-time Associate Archdeacon of Berkshire in the Gazette.

ANDY FERGUSON
Leafy Lane House, High Street
Wargrave, Berkshire RG10 8DG

 

From the Revd John Rice

Sir, — The Revd Stephen Trott argues for a redistribution in the resources used to maintain a top-heavy C of E organisation to enable those at the front line to be better equipped to fulfil the Church’s purpose. Now is, perhaps, the time to act, as over the past few months we have had the opportunity to think deeply about our purpose and how it might be fulfilled more effectively. Business is doing this, and so should we.

One word of caution, however. It has been said that “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” So perhaps the Archbishops’ Council should first pause to consider how best to dismantle the current hierarchical C of E organisation and switch the focus away from the clergy and on to the lay membership. I believe that they are our greatest resource by far in fulfilling our purpose.

JOHN RICE
14 Gisborne Crescent
Allestree, Derby DE22 2FL

 

From Mr Philip Carnelley

Sir, — It was rather apposite that the insightful and thought-provoking article by the Revd Stephen Trott on the centralising of the Church of England bookended, as it were, your letters page, as this included the comments by the Bishop of Barking, the Rt Revd Peter Hill, on Chelmsford diocese’s intentions to reduce stipendiary clergy; for Chelmsford is a rather egregious example of the factors that Mr Trott highlighted.

Carved out of St Albans diocese in 1914, this added one diocesan and two suffragan bishops to the national roster. Then, just seven years ago, Chelmsford added three new archdeacons (plus support staff) to the four that it already had. Worthy folk all, but I am still puzzled about why these extra middle managers were felt necessary to further the mission of the Church. In view of the current financial situation, I question the wisdom of that decision.

PHILIP CARNELLEY
Chelmsford diocesan-synod member
28 Warwick Road
London E11 2DZ

 

From the Ven. John Barton

Sir, — The Bishop of Barking castigates the Revd Dr Ian Paul’s interpretation (Letters, 3 July) of his presidential address to the Chelmsford diocesan synod and their proposals to reduce stipendiary incumbency posts. Dr Paul was right. The Bishop’s address didn’t mention clergy numbers. An unequivocal diocesan-synod paper dated 6 June said that posts would need to be reduced from “275 to 215 in the next eighteen months”.

Many dioceses are facing the same problem as Chelmsford, and we shouldn’t try to conceal it. A positive solution is within easy reach. During the lockdown, every household has reduced its spending by an average of £180 per week. That suggests accumulated savings of more than £3000. If churchgoing households were to send just one third of that sum to their diocesan board of finance (not their PCC), corporate deficits would be wiped out.

The immense pleasure that would give the donors would also inspire them to make a substantial increase in their weekly giving and so transform the income of their parish church. Most churchgoers are, like me, over 65. That’s the age group which has the greatest disposable income.

Apart from those who are entirely dependent on the state pension and shouldn’t be asked to increase their giving, we risk being like the self-satisfied farmer in Christ’s parable, who left it too late to be separated from his assets. Thanks be to God, he offers us a far more fulfilling future — on a plate, so to speak.

JOHN BARTON
7 The Spires
Canterbury CT2 8SD

 

From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian

Sir, — The Revd Stephen Trott’s article about the damaging effect of the centralisation of power and control in the Church of England was a refreshing reality check, and in stark contrast with the letter in the same edition from the Bishop of Barking. The latter speaks of cutting up to a fifth of stipendiary posts in his diocese while at the same time claiming to be “investing for growth”.

Parishioners cannot understand why there is money available for “Strategic Development Funding” and “the creation of new worshipping communities” but not for them to have a vicar. Until it is recognised that mission occurs through front-line ministry and not through “projects” the Church of England will continue to hasten its own demise.

STEPHEN BRIAN
The Rectory, Church Lane
Earl Soham, Woodbridge
Suffolk IP13 7SD

 

From the Revd Toddy Hoare

Sir, — Well said by the Revd Stephen Trott. I would add three suggestions.

All clergy should have a parish. All stipendiary clergy should be paid the same, whatever their status in the three orders, since deacons are often in need of better funding, and do bishops really need a bigger stipend when much could be covered by expenses (in turn, reduced by reducing their number)? And a diocesan maintenance team should be set up to clear gutters of churches and vicarages. Failure in this department causes expense and damage.

TODDY HOARE
Pond Farm House, Holton
Oxford OX33 1PY

 

Anonymity and representation in safeguarding

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — The inauguration of the ministry of the new Archbishop of York, the Most Revd Stephen Cottrell, was a great joy to many in the Church who know his writings and enthusiasm for spreading the gospel. It is a shame that, for reasons outside his control, it occurred under the shadow of the suspicion that he enjoyed the privilege of anonymity while a safeguarding complaint was considered against him, whereas Lord Carey found the fact of his investigation in the hands of the press within three hours of his being notified.

This was wholly unnecessary. Had the recommendations of the C­­­arlile report been accepted and implemented in full, everyone under inquiry would have enjoyed anonymity pending investigation and there would have been a level playing field for both men.

Furthermore, Lord Carlile recommended that the respondent be given representation at the core group table: a recommendation that, had it been implemented, would have avoided the current débâcle over Dean Percy. In his report on Bishop Bell, Lord Carlile wrote: “There was no discussion whatsoever of the need to ensure the justice of the case by examining the facts from Bishop Bell’s standpoint. This issue seems to have been totally abandoned.”

One suspects that this is equally true in the Percy case, but we cannot know, as the Dean is refused access to the minutes.

Finally, the House Bishops Guidelines have not been updated over two years after they accepted the Carlile recommendations — except the one about anonymity —though they have applied that one in favour of someone they wish to advance.

I hope and believe that Archbishop Cottrell has the commitment to justice to drive forward the necessary change, by implementing all review recommendations, from the office to which he has now been called.

MARTIN SEWELL
General Synod member
8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend
Kent DA11 7PB

 

Abused parents not covered by government Bill

From Mr Andrew Todd

Sir, — There is another class of victims which has been failed by the Government’s Domestic Abuse Bill (News, 10 July).

The existing domestic-abuse offence introduced in 2015 — that of Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in an Intimate or Family Relationship — applies whether or not intimate partners are living together. It is the relationship and not place of residence which defines domestic abuse, as in the current Bill.

Nevertheless, abuse by a family member living separately was excluded from the offence. This anomaly was based on the fiction that stalking and harassment legislation would be adequate to deal with such cases.

Financial abuse by relatives of elderly or disabled people (for example) does not, of course, somehow become stalking or harassment just because the abuser lives elsewhere. Elderly people living alone are particularly vulnerable to this type of abuse, half of which is carried out by adult sons or daughters.

Shaping Our Lives, the national user-led network of service users and disabled people, discuss Controlling or Coercive Behaviour in a recent article on the Safelives policy blog. The survivor’s story featured illustrates the way in which such abuse, of a kind scarcely credible in 21st-century Britain, can arise from relationships of dependency, which have nothing whatever to do with stalking or harassment, but in which victims are trapped and unable to speak out.

But, being voiceless, they can safely be ignored.

ANDREW TODD
22 Pegasus Court, Shelley Road
Worthing BN11 4TH

 

All may need guidance when praying is hard

From Miss Glynne Williams

Sir, — I find Pam Hall’s letter (10 July) rather arrogant, and challenge her assertion that Christians have “always prayed at home”. I can tell her that quite often I don’t pray at home; indeed, my prayer life is rather erratic, I find prayer difficult, and I suspect I am not alone in this. It is entirely appropriate, and not patronising, that bishops and clergy who have probably studied this matter in more depth than I have as a lay person should give their guidance and advice to me. No doubt they also feel the need for guidance and advice when the going gets tough.

The disciples themselves asked Jesus to teach them how to pray; why does today’s laity not require guidance? I hasten to add that I am not ordained, but was brought up in the habit of going to church (and subsequently became an organist when I was a student, continuing on that path ever since).

GLYNNE WILLIAMS
16 Third Avenue
London E17 9QJ

 

Excess of memorials

From Jane Bental

Sir, — I remember visiting Westminster Abbey some years ago and being saddened that so much of its beautiful architecture was obscured by the tombs and statues of people who clearly had a very high opinion of themselves in life.

I would be happy to see many of them removed and replaced by a discreet plaque: much more in keeping with Christian humility.

­­­JANE BENTAL
54 Rosefield Road
Staines TW18 4NB

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