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Letters to the Editor

22 May 2020

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The Church in Wales a century on

From Mrs Julie Olden

Sir, — Does Bishop David Wilbourne (Features, 15 May) think that we in Wales do not read the Church Times? Maybe he thinks that those who reside in the valleys where “every mile you went north of the M4 took you back ten years” can’t read. Oh! And we don’t travel outside of our locality, either. . .

I accept that overall he is trying to convey that the Church in Wales still has spirituality and a search for justice and equality at its heart, but the whole tone of his article is spoiled by his snide asides.

Perhaps Bishop Wilbourne thought it amusing to include the tale of Mr Evans and his corned-beef pie, but how much nicer simply to have been grateful for the kind gestures of local people? A member of a valley’s Mothers’ Union branch since the 1980s, I have yet to encounter a gathering where anachronistic sherry is served or velvet hats are worn: this cannot be the same Mothers’ Union I belong to, whose members support a local women’s refuge, as well as a project for young people who have been homeless or are leaving foster care, alongside many other worthy works relevant in today’s society and undertaken by groups throughout Llandaff diocese.

Idiosyncratic the Church in Wales may be, but we have embraced women priests and bishops and will probably be ahead of the Church of England in accepting same-sex marriage. Ministry areas have been created very successfully. Live-streaming, as the Bishop acknowledges, in both English and Welsh, is alive in the valleys at the moment, despite our being about 200 years behind the times. And, by the way, Welsh is considered the language of heaven by many.

Attempting to make Aberfan about himself is a crass ploy to appear to identify with the Welsh psyche. Unless you lived in that valley, or were one of the many volunteers who toiled that terrible week to help the suffering survivors, you cannot claim to have any real part of it.

Bishop Glyn Simon was the first church person to challenge the Government to take action in the aftermath of the tragedy, and may well have visited every bereaved family; but it was the Nonconformist chapels in the area which held sway at the time, 83 per cent of the children who died attending chapel Sunday schools and only 12 of the 116 attending Church in Wales.

31 Laurel Close
Cwmdare, Aberdare


From the Rt Revd Robert Paterson

Sir, ­— Bishop David Wilbourne’s reflections on the centenary of the Church in Wales are interesting and insightful, though the juggernaut-lawnmower quip goes back to Archbishop Alwyn Rice-Jones in 1994. David and I have both worked in Wales, been chaplains to Archbishops of York, and neither of us became bishops by a way of a Welsh electoral college.

I am Welsh and returned to Wales for my second curacy with a wise incumbent who had entered the Church in Wales as a 12-year-old when the Province was only four years old, and his formation had been in the post-disestablishment phase. Even among politically liberal clergy, the wounds inflicted by the Liberal-Nonconformist alliance and being abandoned by the C of E were still painful. The very title was intended as a put-down (the English/foreign Church in Wales), but became a badge of pride (the Church in Wales).

The Catholic reaction was quite natural (similar to the Protestant reaction in Ireland) and the advent of more diversity in the 1960s to 1980s took some by surprise. Wales taught me that churchmanship is dangerous when it’s a self-adhesive label. Shouting slogans makes little impact in a small nation, because you may meet your opponents in the street. So the wise learn to double-think: what do my words mean to other people in different contexts, and can I defend them on their terms? When, after 33 years in Wales, I spent 21 months in England, it was party spirit that most shocked me.

The corollary is that the Welsh Church risks being bland. It has been said that clergy elected to episcopal office were those who would not rock the boat and there was some truth in that, though there have been great exceptions.

At last, the Church in Wales is moving forwards, though numbers are critical. In the early years of this century, a new strategy was evolving that partly bore fruit more than a decade later as ministry areas, despite initial resentment of provincial interference in each diocesan fiefdom. Liturgically and in the ordination of women, the Church in Wales got off well before England, but both stalled, though the 2004 eucharist is ahead of Common Worship. A school report might have read, “Lots of promise and a late developer.”

David’s description of the spirit of disestablishment today is superb. In international terms, the Welsh Church has always been more aware of its place within the Anglican Communion than across the border. And in the nation, the Church in Wales, by declining more slowly than the rest, became the common ground, a bridge for Christians to cross, enabling better communion and collaboration, and its ecumenical canons enacted in the early years of this century are a token of this spirit.

The Welsh have a genuine sadness of spirit which David aptly focused on the unbearable tragedy of the Aberfan disaster of 1966 — and one might add the impoverishment of many rural communities while others wanted Wales only as a playground. That’s not to say that wry Welsh humour couldn’t raise the spirits: see Gavin and Stacey or Max Boyce.

I still have a soft spot for the Church in Wales and pray for her, but I haven’t gone back.

Cedar House
63 Greenhill, Evesham
Worcestershire WR11 4LX


From Canon Adrian Copping

Sir, — As an English cleric who served 12 years in Wales, I simply do not recognise much of the Rt Revd David Wilbourne’s portrayal of the Church in Wales.

Bishop Wilbourne is right to admire the emphasis on incarnational ministry and the willingness of bishops to be hands-on, but comments about Easter Offerings, the meetings structure, and the new ministry areas are either inaccurate or just wrong.

It is a common trait of the coloniser to misunderstand or denigrate the colonised. The Church in Wales is no longer a colony of the Church of England, and, for that, praise be.

7 Briar Hill, Woolpit
Suffolk IP30 9SD


How our Christian Aid Week went online

From Mr Brian Ridsdale

Sir, — Whether your readers loved them, hated them, or never noticed them, they will appreciate that the annual door-to door-collections, Big Brekkies, and other face-to-face fund-raising events in Christian Aid Week (News, 1 May) were killed by Covid-19. While the need to support the most disadvantaged people in the world has become greater, the ability to fund-raise for the work has been equally challenged.

The reaction from Christian Aid’s head office has been stunning, with a complete range of practical activities, including web-based church services run from people’s homes, virtual fund-raising activities, proactive phone-based support for local committees, and encouragement to set up local virtual fund-raisers. Over the past few years, the focus in Christian Aid Week has been on the three aspects of: Pray, Act, and Give. Each has required a totally different approach this year.

For a local Christian Aid supporter in a civil parish in the south of England, the chance to join in something different while confined to home under self-isolation has been a welcome distraction, working for such a very good cause.

Our seven churches gladly came together to organise a first-ever joint virtual service to celebrate and pray for Christian Aid Week. We took up the suggestion to organise a local picture quiz, with the photos hastily gathered by a couple of our team in the few days leading up to lockdown. We set up a JustGiving page, hoping to encourage people to “give locally“, but with all the money channelled directly to Christian Aid. And we have set to work using Christian Aid’s virtual envelope, making it available to friends, family, and anybody else who might be persuaded to donate to the cause. In my case, we included a video with a cast of our locked-down household, aged from seven weeks to 77 years.

The results remain to be seen, and we shall never fully know how much we have raised in our community, given that some of the donations will have been made directly to the central Christian Aid website; but we do have evidence of £2500 collected through our JustGiving page and e-envelopes. On a sobering note, last year’s activities, including a Big Brekkie and house-to-house collections, raised £7000. We hope that we have made the best of a difficult situation. We are grateful to every person who contributed. And we know that the money will be put to good use.

Chair, Chandlers Ford Christian Aid Committee
99 Hocombe Road
Chandlers Ford
Hants SO53 5QB


West Bank annexation

From Jane Henson

Sir, — Your report (News, 15 May) on the letter from the church leaders in Jerusalem, in which you also added that the UK Government says that it will not support any annexation of the West Bank by Israel, does not have any word from the Church of England on the matter. When will the C of E speak up about this inhuman act, which will make the lives of the Palestinians, of whom thousands are Christians, more unbearable and the injustice increased?

6 Ganton Close
Nottingham NG3 3ET


Do BAPs differently

From Mr Andrew Collie

Sir, — The Revd Mark Tanner, Chair of the Selection Oversight Group, tells us (“Online vocations process under way”, News, 8 May) that “This temporary provision enables us to continue discerning ordained vocation with confidence and clarity.”

Surely this must raise the questions whether we really need the residential — and, therefore, considerably more expensive — Bishops’ Advisory Panels that are currently in abeyance.

Rowan Cottage, Parwich
Ashbourne, Derbyshire DE6 1QB


Watchman waketh

From Dr Colin Podmore

Sir, — The statement in your review of Bishop Stephen Cottrell’s new book that “sentinel” (one of the words in its subtitle) is “used in the Common Worship Ordinal to describe the office and work of a priest” (Books, 15 May) is not correct. The phrase in the 2005 Ordinal, as in every Church of England Ordinal since 1550, is “messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord”.

The Liturgical Commission’s draft had omitted “watchmen”, but, in response to requests, the revision committee restored it, noting its scriptural resonance and rejecting possible substitutes, including “sentinel”, as “problematic”. The Synod accepted this decision without challenge.

Perhaps your reviewer’s final remark, about “a prayerful sentinel occupying his watchman’s perch at Bishopthorpe”, hints that he really knew this all along.

16 Isla Road, Plumstead
London SE18 3AA

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