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Letters to the Editor

20 March 2020

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


Covid-19 pandemic: how life, and church life, go on

From the Revd John Ray

Sir, — I am a fit 92-year-old with a spell in the Royal Marines and with MI6 nearly 70 years ago, and a life of activity and interest, and, I hope, also of service, ever since. My wife (87), also quite fit, and I now live in the country. This week, our children tell us to keep isolated; so I don’t really need Government to do so. I can walk from my door in the coun­try­­­side, and so may not stay indoors.

It is very reminiscent of 1940, when as a 12-year-old I excitedly watched the Battle of Britain from our home rather close to the runway into RAF Kenley. Boris Johnson is not a Churchill, but he may do the job. I hope that he finds someone like a Beaverbrook to get the essen­tials, the equivalent of lots of Spitfires and Hurricanes, in quick time. Only this is more complex.

And as someone who along the way has found Christian faith, I hope the Queen and the Archbishop of Canterbury, leading the spiritual side of our not entirely secular nation, can lead us in a National Day of Prayer.

2 Birchfield, Hook
Goole DN14 5NJ


From Mr S. P. McKie

Sir, — In Monday’s Daily Telegraph, Simon Heffer laments the “insipid leadership” of the Church of Eng­land in general, and of the Arch­bishop of Canterbury in particular, at a time when, as we are threatened by worldwide pestilence, the cer­tainties of liberal materialism are being revealed as the illusions they are.

One might have thought that in such a time the Church of England would lead the nation in prayer. The diocese of Bath & Wells, where I live, has indeed provided a coronavirus “prayer card”. It contains a prayer of such breathtaking banality that one suspects that it was written by an undercover agent of the Humanist Society.

In contrast, the Book of Common Prayer gives appropriate and digni­fied expression to the fundamental truth of our dependence on God’s mercy in its prayer “In the time of any common Plague or Sickness”.

Rudge Hill House, Rudge
Somersetshire BA11 2QG


From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, — The section on “Prayers and Thanksgivings” includes a prayer “In the time of any common Plague or Sickness”. It recalls punishment for sin under Moses and David and ends, “so may it now please thee to withdraw from us this plague and grievous sickness” (Book of Com­mon Prayer). How good to have a petition ready to use!

The Rectory, 11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill, East Sussex TN39 4TY


From Canon Peter Lippiett

Sir, — Clearly the main preventer of Covid-19 spread is adequate hand­washing. Twenty seconds minimum is recommended, and the suggestion is that singing “Happy Birthday” twice will time this.

Has anyone noticed that the Lord’s Prayer takes 20 seconds to say? Perhaps if all Christians (nationally or worldwide) timed their handwashing by praying it, there could be double benefit in con­fronting the coronavirus.

Pax Lodge, Twyford SO21 1PQ


From Canon Alan Mustoe

Sir, — I wonder, in this situation of church closures, if we might all commit ourselves to a short time of prayer and some bread and wine at 10.30 every Sunday morning — wherever we might be — and leave the Holy Spirit to do the rest.

8 School Lane, Amersham, HP7 0EL


From Mr Paul Brazier

Sir, — The Israelites spent forty years in self-isolation in the wilder­ness before they came into the promised land, John the Baptist lived in self-isolation before he started his ministry, Jesus spent forty days in self-isolation before he started his ministry. Self-isolation is a golden opportunity to begin again, find our true selves, and escape our old ways.

20 High Street
Kingswood GL12 8RS


From the Revd Jane Chaffey

Sir, — Walking through a virtually empty town centre in the past few days, I was reminded of the Sundays of my childhood with their time out from consumerist activities and their opportunities for family interaction and for physical and spiritual re­­freshment. This in turn had a bene­ficial effect on the environment.

Notwithstanding the very great privation that this coronavirus outbreak is causing, and without pressing the correlation too far, I wonder whether the unrelenting activity, traffic, and demands of the life to which we had all become accustomed with its lack of “sabbath rest” has weakened us all as a society.

Once we are through this current crisis, it would be opportune to con­sider how we can build a day of true rest back into our individual and economic lives.

Stone Cottage, Main Road
Naphill, HP14 4SA


From Mrs Penny Keens

Sir, — Who could have foreseen a Lent when the fasting is from public worship and the Sacrament — and with no hope of a joyful reunion at Easter?

377 Japonica Lane
Milton Keynes MK15 9EG


From the Revd Richard Smail

Sir, — Reading about the restrictions to exchanging the Peace recom­mended during the coronavirus pandemic, and recognising the anxi­eties often expressed (Letters, 13 March) about over-enthusiastic en­­gagement in this custom, I am re­­minded of the very helpful rubric I saw in an order of service for a Roman Catholic mass in Italy: “The Peace may be exchanged in many ways: an embrace, a hand­shake, or simply a smile (solo un sorriso).”

Adopting such a rubric in our own liturgies might perhaps remove the reluctance of many Anglicans to join in exchanging the Peace by suggesting a satisfactory means of acknowledging others without feeling compelled to touch them.

256 Abingdon Road
Oxford OX1 4SP


From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — When it comes to sharing the Peace, perhaps instead of shaking hands, those who have mobile phones could use them to text a message of peace to someone who’s not there.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG


From Mr Jonathan Goll

Sir, — Your correspondent Brenda Wolfe asks for the end of the ex­­change of the Peace.

I disagree with her. She is right about the great value of silence; yet we are a community, a Communion, and we should talk to one other. Now, the glory of our Lord is that he has called to himself a most diverse group of people, with the result that my definition of Church can be — in irritated moments — “a meeting of people many of whom I wouldn’t otherwise be seen dead with”! But in these days of online echo chambers it is good for us to meet those outside our personal network.

Rightly, the church authorities are advising us, at present, to avoid physical contact; but the individ­ualistic hoarding of goods in our crisis reminds us that a church service should usually be a place where we should instead think of — and greet — our neighbour, however peculiar they seem to us.

16 Beechcroft Estate
Halesowen B63 2BP


From the Revd Nigel Warner

Sir, — If the eucharist is by defini­tion the sharing of bread and wine in anamnesis of Jesus, we are entitled to ask what sort of eucharist is now be­­ing offered in the Church of England. I recognise the public-health issue, but it is not the only issue. For these reasons, perhaps I am not the only priest who has de­­clined to preside again until I can share the cup of blessing with my sisters and brothers.

47 Wydon Park, Hexham
Northumberland NE46 2DA


From Jessica Pacey

Sir, — We are reading that the Government is going to ban mass gatherings. We in rural ministry can only dream of attracting the num­bers that would be defined as a mass gathering.

3 Dickinson Way, North Muskham
Newark NG3 6FF


WATCH and ‘gender balance’ in ministry

From Mr Jonathan Williamson

Sir, — With regard to the recent report on gender justice in the Church by WATCH (News, 6 March), I was surprised to read the response by the Revd R. W. Crook (Letters, 13 March) suggesting that the move towards gender equality was actually damaging the Church.

He is quite right in asserting that the call to ministry should be regard­less of gender. When, however, there are intentional or unwitting barriers that make it more difficult for people to heed the call, because of gender, then that needs to be addressed — and is being addressed — by the Church, owing to the efforts of WATCH and others.

To then assert that this is dam­-aging the Church and is doing Christian women a great disservice is a step of logic which I find impos­sible to take. Having just trained with both men and women in the Sheffield diocese for licensing as a Reader, I can unequivocally state that none of my male or female contemporaries saw the move towards gender equality as anything other than strengthening the Church.

The “valuable work of the Mothers’ Union” is not in doubt. But there is all the difference in the world between “valuing women very highly” and valuing them as equal.

Change always discomfits a majority, and we men are the major­ity in the Church in terms of positions of authority. We need to acknowledge that moves to reduce gender imbalance need not be seen as a threat to young men considering the possibility of ministry. I choose to see it as an encouragement to all.

118 Bannerdale Road
Sheffield S7 2DR


From the Revd Geoffrey Squire

Sir, — I read with interest your feature on the gender imbalance between male and female clergy (Vocations, 6 March). This appears to be a straightforward issue, but it is, in fact, much more complicated.

There are a number of parishes that cannot accept the ordination of women on theological grounds, and that must be taken into considera­tion.

Then there are many other voca­tions and professions where there is a far greater gender imbal­ance. Take, for example, nursing, midwifery, primary-school teaching, and child­care, where females very consider­ably outnumber males; and civil engineering, construction, and build­ing, where males very consid­erably outnumber females.

Little Cross, Northleigh Hill
Devon EX32 7NR


From the Revd Caroline Ralph

Sir, — The Revd R. W. Crook has no need to fear. While he and others are of similar mind, there is no risk what­­soever that the Church of England is, or will be, feminised.

The Rectory
Church Lane
Somerset TA24 6NT


From Mr Richard Willmott

Sir, — I read the article by Lallie Godfrey and Canon Andy Griffiths (”Don’t hush children”, Comment, 13 March) with broad agreement; but I wonder whether I might be per­­­mitted to add a footnote. The authors quote the 17th-century theologian Thomas Traherne to sup­port the argument that “a lack of playfulness will lead to a lack of learning.”

It is true that Traherne argues in Centuries of Meditations that God is “not an object of Terror, but De­­light” and goes on to say: “’Till you can sing and rejoice and delight in God as misers do in gold, and kings in sceptres, you never enjoy the world.” Nevertheless, despite this emphasis on enjoyment, I am not sure that he would have regarded worship as a “sacred game”, as the authors imply. Traherne distinguishes between being childlike in our approach to God and being childish:

”Our Saviour’s meaning when he said, He must be born again and become a little child that will enter into the Kingdom of Heaven is deeper far than is generally believed. It is not only in a careless reliance upon Divine Providence that we are to become little children, or in the feebleness and shortness of our anger and simplicity of our passions, but in the peace and purity of all our soul; which purity also is a deeper thing than is commonly appre­hended, for we must disrobe our­selves of all false colours [pretences], and unclothe our souls of evil habits. All our thoughts must be infant-like and clear, the powers of our soul free from the leaven of this world and disentangled from men’s conceits and customs” (Centuries III, 5).

This is both relevant to ministerial formation and a guide to how we treat children. The late Denise Inge’s commentary on this passage put it admirably when she said: “This is about letting our minds be renewed and our desire be educated so that we see the world not so much as a child but as an adult who has been challenged by a child’s simplicity. The clear call to unlearn — to become, as it were, a child again — may not be a call to abandon the responsibility of the adult at all, but to regain the ability that the child has to see through the phoney and peripheral to the heart of things.”

In our dealings with children we must never forget their ability to “see through the phoney and peripheral”.

Chair, Traherne Association
37 Hafod Road
Hereford HR1 1SQ


General Synod’s carbon target is unrealistic

From the Revd Dr Andrew Craig

Sir, — The Church of England is at last showing signs of taking effective action to mitigate climate change. The Transition Pathway Initiative (led jointly by the Church Commis­sioners and the Environment Agency) has started genuinely concentrating the minds of corpora­tions on how they must respond to the climate crisis. In the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Lent Book, Saying Yes to Life (by Ruth Valerio), there is a refreshing and accessible introduc­tion to theology underlying our pressing need to be better stewards of the earth.

I am, however, dismayed by the General Synod’s decision to investi­g­ate “net zero carbon” by 2030. Why? Partly because it is not clear what is included in this (as articu­lated by Dr John Twidell, Letters, 13 March), but mainly because it is unrealistic. “Zero net” by 2030 is ludicrous. This is hu­­bris: the General Synod talking shop, uncontaminated by reality.

”Zero net carbon” means that the same amount of carbon is se­­ques­tered from (taken out of) the atmo­sphere as emitted. In practice, sequestration means growing trees (and leaving them to grow, not farming them, as in most managed forestry) or incorporating carbon into soils (e.g. via compost). On average, a hectare of mature trees will absorb around six tonnes of carbon dioxide a year, which is about the carbon footprint of a typical urban parish (not including clergy transport). So it should be possible to estimate how many hectares need to be planted just to offset parochial activity. It takes, however, ten years from planting a stand of trees to their achieving this level of absorption.

A number of energy suppliers offer electricity described as “100 per cent renewable”, and these are worth considering. Contrary to what Joe Ware (Faith, 13 March) and Dr Twidell assert, the carbon dioxide emitted from burning “biogas” or wood pellets contributes just as much to global warming as emis­sions from burning oil or natural gas. Indeed, as these biomaterials might otherwise have been incorpo­rated in soil or trees, burning them could be said to be unsequestering carbon. As most church buildings are heated using gas, this gives us a problem that it will take some time to address.

I appreciate the commitment that the Church is making to addressing this urgent and important issue. Let’s get on with the business of defining what emissions are to be in­­cluded, measuring them, establishing a baseline, and then making a plan and setting challenging targets to reduce emissions — and offset in­­creas­­ingly more of them. I don’t know whether “zero net carbon” is truly attainable by by 2040 or 2045, but let’s plan to achieve a challenging but realistic target for 2025, and see what progress we can make after that.

(former Chartered Environment­alist)
25 Egerton Road
Hartlepool TS26 0BW


Heritage and lead

From Mr John J. Duffy

Sir, — In response to Canon Chris­topher Hall’s letter (13 March): surely it is time for the powers of Historic England and similar organ­isations over our churches to be much reduced. The parish church in Andover has been allocated a large sum of money to be a resource church, but redevel­opment has been halted because of objections by a national organisation over, seem­ingly, some Victorian floor tiles.

Incidentally, speaking as a former magistrate, I urge that we press for a specific charge of theft of lead from a church roof to be introduced.

4 Pearman Drive, Andover SP10 2SB


Coming out and staying faithful to marriage vows

From Mr G. M. Lyon

Sir, — One wonders why a spouse such as Phillip Schofield should an­­nounce that he is gay (Comment, 13 March), and hopes that it is not an attempt to justify a subsequent dis­honouring of his mar­riage vows.

The announcement reminds us that God-given, Christ-affirmed, complementary marriage has always been “equal”. Who knows how many same-sex-attracted Christians and others down the centuries have qui­etly made a go of marriage and still do? Changes of mind about religion, politics, sexuality, or whatever, may happen, for better or for worse, but should not end a marriage. The best pastoral care is surely that which succeeds in supporting both spouses in living out their solemn vows.

13 New Acres, Newburgh
Wigan, Lancashire WN8 7TU


Givers, don’t rely on this cartoon: no form needed

From Mr Michael Williamson

Sir, — I was very disappointed that Dave Walker’s cartoon (Letters, 6 March) implied that a donor via a card machine would have to fill in a Gift Aid form.

Provided that the donation is no more than £30 and is made by the contactless method, it can be in­­cluded in the GASDS (Gift Aid Small Donations Scheme), and no declara­tion is needed.

The Willows, Long Drove
Cambridge CB25 9LW


Pro mock cream

From Diane Collins

Sir, — Oh, the nostalgia of the Diary (13 March) ! That lumpy mock cream at school — I loved it. At the same time, and at least until 1966, when I left Ealing and All Saints’, Ealing Common, the litany was sung in procession each Sunday in Lent. I do not know how long it lasted; the incumbent changed a couple of years later.

41 Juniper, Bracknell RG12 7ZG

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