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Letters to the Editor

23 October 2020

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Deanery cannot replace the parish

From Prebendary Ian Cardinal

Sir, — I write respectfully to disagree with the Archdeacon of Salop, the Ven. Paul Thomas (Comment, 2 October), on the part to be played by the deanery. I have served in different deaneries in my time, some successful and happy, others whose disagreements have been so severe that they have resembled guerrilla warfare. I would agree that the deanery can be a useful tool and even inspiring. But will it take the place of parishes? No, I don’t think it can

The problem is the essential one of where people belong. In my first incumbency, there were six small village churches that were brought together in one parish. None of them was willing to give up its independence in any meaningful way, and, although we achieved a lot together, it was marked that nobody really owned “the parish”. The parishioners all thought of themselves as belonging to their village church — and sometimes it was extremely hard to get them to attend any other church, even within that larger group

In a deanery situation, it is worse. The deanery synod can often be sparsely attended, its members elected as a sort of sinecure, or as a way of being voted on to the PCC! Nobody ever talks about going to church in the deanery of X — and I think that the taking of significant decisions at that level will be resented.

In my time as Warden of Readers, there were occasional attempts to have Readers licensed to the deanery. It was almost always disastrous. The Readers had no home, inadequate supervision by the rural dean, and were often not being used as a deanery resource. Unlike a PCC, which may value and assist its lay ministers, the deanery simply does not function like that

In short, if the deanery is to become a significant player in the equation, I believe that it first must undergo wholesale reform. If not, the idea is doomed to resemble the worst aspects of a Methodist circuit, where no long-lasting relationships are made between clergy and people. In an age when we know that new faith is often born out of a relationship where people belong, that could simply be a disaster in the making.

Rural Dean of Stone
11 Farrier Close
Stone ST15 8XP


The five Primates on the Internal Market Bill 

From Dr Ralph Norman

Sir, — In a letter published in the press, five Anglican Primates in these islands ask the question: “If . . . laws can be ‘legally’ broken, on what foundations does our democracy stand?”

This question was familiar to Victorians witnessing the slow emergence and evolution of British democracy. A compelling analysis may be found in Thomas Hill Green’s 1880 Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation — arguably the fons et origo of the British tradition of common good politics. Eager to point out the limits of Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan, Green explored the conditions under which persons could legitimately consider it a moral duty to break a law. His own conclusion was that the common good took precedence.

The point evidently impressed itself on the minds of Green’s students, Henry Scott Holland and Charles Gore. W. J. H. Campion’s essay in Lux Mundi (1889) made the point that democracy was suited to societies in which people were “willing to make sacrifices for the common good” (p. 441). Democracy, correctly conceived, was seen as an extension of the common good, not an extension of law.

No doubt this raises many further technical questions of common-good political theory. But it does indicate at least one difficulty with the Primates’ reference to broken laws and democracy. When sovereignty is contested between competing legislatures, someone’s law is going to be broken.

Canterbury Christ Church University
Canterbury, Kent CT1 1QU


Women’s deans: time to give men help, too 

From the Revd Sister Judith Blackburn SSM

Sir, — I am writing regarding the post of Dean for Women’s Ministry.

In the years leading up to and following the ordination of women, I understood how such a position was necessary to support and advocate on behalf of women who were ministering in an often hostile environment within their churches or dioceses. I am beginning, however, to question whether such a job title is still pertinent in a Church which is becoming more inclusive where gender is concerned.

I live and minister in an area where both the diocesan and area bishops are women, as is the archdeacon; so, on the face of it the position of Dean for Women’s Ministry would appear redundant. I am aware, of course, that not all women’s ministry refers to ordained ministry, but other areas of ministry with which women are engaged already have a network of support to call upon, such as the Warden of Readers. Assuming, however, that the role of the Dean for Women’s Ministry is to offer support and pastoral care to their female colleagues, who is there to offer such support to the male clergy in an area such as I reside or minister?

I think this question becomes ever more pertinent now with the appointment of bishops — who have long been seen as modelling a pastoral oversight of their clergy — to work with a more managerial model: a line-management model that includes archdeacons and area or rural deans. This is not forgetting that they also have a portfolio of responsibilities at national-church level which take up a lot of their time and energy. Where do clergy of either gender look for pastoral care and oversight?

Some may point to spiritual direction or supervision, but these consider different issues; who is there to ask the priest “How are things?” and listen to their anxieties, disappointments, and triumphs? Also, as so many clergy work on their own, there are issues of isolation which need addressing.

To cut to the chase, has the time not come to appoint Chaplains to the Clergy, whose sole job is to connect, listen, and maybe offer advice and counsel? The position of Chaplain to the Clergy should not be seen as a good job for the retired, but be represented at senior staff level to feed back to the “management” what is really happening on the factory floor, so to speak.

There may still be a need for women’s deans in areas where representation of women at senior-staff level is lacking; but I think we need to recognise that many clergy, of all genders, need a dedicated person to turn to for support and advocacy at difficult times.

St Saviour’s Priory
18 Queensbridge Road
London E2 8NX


South African Church and alleged rape of priest 

From Rosalie Manning

Sir, — The Safe and Inclusive Commission of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa are deeply saddened by the pain and experience formally reported by the Revd June Major to Safe and Inclusive Church (News, 16 October). Gender-based violence of any form is abhorrent to us and Safe Church was set up to assist members in finding support and compassion in the journey to seeking redress for all forms of alleged abuse by the ministers of our church.

The Church has sought to encourage Ms Major to report the matter formally under the Canons, which she did on 8 July. (She did report the matter to the police in 2016, but they have so far declined to prosecute. We have urged that they reopen the case.)

The leadership of the Church has always sought to seek justice and truth and not hide anything, nor would it seek to do so now. It has full confidence in the processes that we have set in place.

The Revd June Major has chosen the canonical process to support her in her case. She met two members of the Commission on 5 October 2020 to prepare a charge sheet (Articles of Presentment), which will enable the matter to be brought before a tribunal of the Church, which any member of the public is free to attend. The Church will shortly publish the date of the first meeting of the tribunal.

The Anglican Church of Southern Africa has an established reputation for speaking truth; fighting for justice and caring for the vulnerable and marginalised. We assure all of those involved on both sides of this case of our prayers, pastoral support, and longstanding commitment, as we seek guidance and truth in this matter.

Safe and Inclusive Church Commission
Anglican Church of Southern Africa
20 Bishopscourt Drive
Bishopscourt, Cape Town 7708, SA


Responses to IICSA and Safe Spaces

From the Revd Douglas Dales

Sir, — I am surprised that the words of our Lord in the Gospels about child abuse are not cited much more frequently and forcefully by the Bishops and others. It was clearly a problem in his day, as it has been throughout Christian history. St Mark 9.42 and St Matthew 18.6 record his harshest condemnation of those who abuse children. There can be no uncertainty, therefore, about the central importance of this teaching in Christian ethics, and on our Lord’s authority the sternest action should be swiftly taken when things go wrong.

Christian ethics is profoundly child-centred, which is why the sacrament of marriage between a man and a woman is so important.

The Glebe House, 3 Drakes Farm
Peasemore, Newbury
Berkshire RG20 7DF


From the Revd Geoffrey F. Squire SSC

Sir, — I note with interest the report on the problems relating to the new Safe Spaces for survivors of church-related sex abuse (News, 16 October).

Some years ago, in the context of a Youthlink event, a boy of 15 disclosed to me that he had been sexually assaulted over several years by a woman in his church. Asked if he had reported it, he replied, “Yes, she was given a caution.” I checked it out and discovered that to be exactly what had happened.

Some years later, he married, but his marriage broke down very quickly for reasons connected with the abuse that he had experienced. Now middle-aged, and after more failed marriages, he is still traumatised by that abuse, but remains a faithful church member.

When I heard of Safe Spaces, I suggested he make contact. It was difficult to find the organisation. When he did get through, he was faced with an answering machine. Later, when he spoke to a human being, he said that it appeared to be a feminist organisation run totally by females who seemed to think that with all sexual abuse the victim was female and the abuser was male. He considered that they had been no use whatever and had made him feel worse.

So, Safe Spaces is an excellent idea, but it needs more work done on it.

Youthlink (England & Wales)
Litchdon House
20 Litchdon Street
Devon EX32 8ND

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