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Letters to the Editor

by
20 November 2020

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Living in Love and Faith and the task that lies ahead

From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — I write as someone whose “encounter” is documented in Living in Love and Faith (News and Comment, 13 November).

Your leader comment argues that the LLF authors have “provided not a road map, but a vehicle, and it is an accommodating one”. This is a partial truth. LLF does open the possibility for wide-ranging ongoing conversations and mutual learning. It is to be hoped that such conversations will be entered into in a spirit of friendship and commitment to mutual learning. If they are, then maybe something good and beautiful will emerge. While grass-roots conversations are to be encouraged, however, it remains the case that it is the Bishops who are the real vehicle for change. How could it otherwise be in an episcopal Church?

The bishops have given themselves a timeline of two years to discern the way ahead, and to get to grips with what the much quoted “radical new inclusion in the life of the Church” means and how it can best be articulated. Articulation of both ethos and belief in the Church of England is a matter of our common language: liturgy, in other words. Indeed, LLF makes this point: “perhaps one of the most significant teaching roles that bishops play is in relation to the liturgy that is so crucial in shaping the hearts and minds of worshippers.”

The only real test of a commitment to “radical new inclusivity in the life of the Church” can only ever be the willingness to authorise new forms of liturgy. Without this, the Church of England by definition, in relation to both ethos and belief, hearts and minds, will remain exclusive.

The Bishops, as is right in an episcopal Church, are both the lead vehicle and the cartographers of the ultimate destination. Heavy is the charge laid on them. They deserve our support and prayers.

ANDREW LIGHTBOWN
The Vicarage
Vicarage Road
Winslow MK18 3BJ

 

From the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane

Sir, — I’m not sure that any of us who were asked to be members of the Pastoral Advisory Group as part of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) project relished that prospect. And yet, without exception, we found the conversations enriching and humbling. We learned how to listen carefully to one another, to disagree well, and to have the strength to admit that we might have more to learn.

So the Bishop of Blackburn’s brash statement that the members of the Church of England Evangelical Council will “look closely” at the material but refuse to be influenced by it felt like a slap in the face. The LLF panel have put hours and hours of dedicated work into the project. If we are ever going to be able to find a way forward as a Church, the very least we can do is to engage with the materials with grace, humility, and a willingness to learn.

JAN MCFARLANE
Chapter Office
19A The Close, Lichfield
Staffordshire WS13 7LD

 

From Mr Roger Payne

Sir, — It is encouraging to read that in the publication of the Living in Love and Faith materials the panel appear to have gone out of their way to “dig deep” into the issues and to encourage an open debate. It is discouraging to read the reported comments of the Bishop of Blackburn, which seem to pre-empt any debate about the scriptural aspects of the discussion and to close down the debate. We cannot afford for anyone to be drawing “red lines” at this stage.

ROGER PAYNE (Reader)
40 Folly Fields
Wheathampstead AL4 8HL

 

From Mr Peter French

Sir, — I am sure the document Living in Love and Faith has much to commend it. Nevertheless, I can’t help feeling that we are embarking on yet another listening exercise and, after thirty years of listening to anti-women and anti-gay prejudice, I am getting a little tired of it.

I think the time has come for the House of Bishops to “put on their big-boy and -girl pants” and say loudly and clearly that the Church supports people’s God-given sexuality and welcomes the opportunity to conduct same-sex marriages. It is beyond parody that we can bless nuclear submarines but not two people who love each other.

This is urgent now, because once again, it seems, the Church is on the wrong side of the moral argument and is in danger of falling further into irrelevance. My children say to me “How can you support an organisation that is homophobic?” Increasingly, I have no answer to offer them.

PETER FRENCH
5 Keepers Close
Northampton NN4 5AU

 

From the Revd Huw Thomas

Sir, — I wonder whether, as we enter the process started by Living in Love and Faith, we can either dispense with the term “same-sex”, as in “same-sex marriage”, or start using the term “different-sex” for the alternative.

“Same-sex” is used 196 times in the report. “Different-sex” is used only once, even though practices such as “different-sex marriage” are rife in the Church of England.

If the latter phrases prove awkward or unusual, maybe that is telling us something.

HUW THOMAS
140 Abbeyfield Road
Pitsmoor
Sheffield S4 7AY

 

Time to centralise diocesan administrative costs

From Mr Gavin Oldham

Sir, — It is time to plan for reconstructing the arrangement of the Church of England’s finances and, in particular, financial responsibility for Diocesan Church House activities across the country.

Such rearrangement would transfer accountability to the Archbishops’ Council, while, in future, parishes and deaneries would be responsible only for their own local costs, including, of course, their cost of ministry (with appropriate mutual-support arrangements in place for wealthier parishes to underpin the costs of poorer parishes).

From the expenditure perspective, this will motivate the Church to reduce significantly the duplication of administration across our 42 dioceses, as was requested by the General Synod in 2018. From the revenue perspective, the gradual shift to a greater digital presence is leading to the opportunity to grow non-parochial general income, and this will supplement the significant support already provided by Church Commissioners for poorer dioceses.

The change will also free diocesan bishops from an overbearing focus on diocesan central administration, and I am confident that diocesan secretaries will co-operate actively with centrally and regionally based facilities to ensure that key aspects such as property oversight, educational governance, and care for the vulnerable are appropriately supported.

If we persist with the status quo, it will result in many more impoverished parishes and continuing retraction, within our over-weighted and over-distributed control structure, inevitably requiring the painful process of diocesan rationalisation to be revisited. This past year has shown us clearly that it is time to rearrange the way in which the Church organises its finances.

GAVIN OLDHAM
General Synod member; member of Dioceses Commission (but writing in a personal capacity); former Church Commissioner and former member of the Archbishops’ Council’s Finance Committee
Ashfield House, St Leonards
Tring, Hertfordshire HP23 6NP

 

General Synod’s debate on the IICSA findings

From the Rt Revd Dr David Atkinson

Sir, — I welcome the six recommendations of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse report on the Church of England, to be debated at the General Synod this month. I refer in particular to Recommendation 7: “Support for Victims and Survivors”.

These recommendations are important; and the Safe Spaces scheme, getting under way, and the proposed Redress Scheme are both good. I would, however, urge the Synod and whatever implementation groups are formed never to lose sight of our core values as a Church. As we have painfully discovered, bureaucracy can too easily crowd out the pastoral responses that speak of grace, compassion, attention, healing, justice, and restoration.

Bishop Alan Wilson and Rosie Harper have it right in their book title: To Heal and Not To Hurt. Vitally important though an independent structure for safeguarding is, we must not as a Church thereby ignore Christ’s teaching about compassion, and abdicate our pastoral responsibility to support people who are hurting, and who seek our help to listen, to walk with them, and to assist in finding some peace and healing.

DAVID ATKINSON
6 Bynes Road
South Croydon CR2 0PR

 

Grandiose delusion?

From Canon John Poarch

Sir, — Don Manley is right to be uneasy that the diocese of Oxford is advertising for a New Congregations Enabler with a budget of £4.5 million and the aim of creating 750 congregations over the next ten years (Letters, 13 November). Furthermore, it is worrying that he had not heard about this “huge decision” at parish level. I suspect that it is also a huge delusion, brought about because the Church has seen the statistics and is consequently in a panic.

One of the best things ever to happen in the Bristol diocese was started by a canon at the cathedral, Alastair Redfern. It was a training course, Taste and See, for lay people and led by lay people. It began with one group, and then there were two, and so it went on. The great Franciscan movement in 13th-century Europe began not with a grandiose plan and a budget, but with a young man saying his prayers. After two years, gradually others joined him.

I cannot argue that this is the only pattern for Christian renewal, but I do believe it to be a way that God has abundantly blessed. We should paying more attention to St Vincent de Paul. “He who is in a hurry,” he said, “delays the things of God.”

JOHN POARCH
16 Norley Road, Bristol BS7 0HP

 

Repentance comes first

From the Revd Professor Anthony Bash

Sir, — Canon Anthony Phillips repeats an oft-quoted interpretation of Jesus’s prayer on the cross that Jesus forgave those who crucified him (Faith, 13 November).

Not so, surely: Jesus’s words are a prayer to the Father to forgive those who were crucifying him. His prayer reflects the Jewish view that there is forgiveness for those who sin in ignorance but not for those who sin deliberately. By his prayer, Jesus loved his enemies and prayed for them — but he did not forgive them.

Of course Jesus did not forgive those who were crucifying him, as they had not repented. Despite what Canon Phillips says, the usual pattern is that repentance precedes forgiveness. It is God’s pattern for sinners who turn to God in faith, as our liturgy rightly reflects.

We should show grace and love to those who wrong us, but forgiveness is the gift we give to those who repent.

ANTHONY BASH
Department of Theology and Religion, Durham University
Abbey House, Palace Green
Durham DH1 3RS

 

Hopeful about Brexit

From the Revd Dr Simon Steer
Sir, — What a depressing article by the Revd Graeme Richardson (6 November)! He claims that we “know that there will be . . . lorry parks all over Kent”. How can he possibly “know” this?

I voted to re­­main, but recognise that it is a deci­sion involving a variety of political, economic, and cultural judgements about which people can reasonably disagree.

Reading Fr Richardson’s article, you would be forgiven for concluding that citizens of EU nations had been escorted to airports and ports and forcibly repatriated. I work in a community that includes people from a variety of European nations, all of whom make a great contribution and enjoy living in the UK.

Fr Richardson suggests that reuniting the UK looks more difficult than ever. That will become a self-fulfilling prophecy unless we can balance legitimate critique with a Christian sense of hope.

SIMON STEER
29 Park Road,
Abingdon
OX14 1DA

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