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Letters to the Editor

24 July 2020

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Conduct of bishops’ consecrations

From Mr Malcolm Dixon

Sir, — The statement issued by the Archbishops on Wednesday of last week (News, 17 July) about episcopal consecrations appears to have ridden roughshod over the due process normally expected.

The matters of location, minimising attendance, wearing of masks etc. are all related to the current pandemic and warrant an urgent response. But the matters of who lays hands on whom and separate consecrations are entirely orthogonal to the pandemic and should not have been conflated with the urgent issues. They are important issues for those of us who still have regard for Catholic order in our Church, which still claims to be both Catholic and reformed, and should not have been dealt with so peremptorily.

A Faith and Order Commission was established in 2010, and this matter appears to be one very much within its remit. Why was it not asked to give guidance and/or make a ruling?

26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington, Kent BR6 9PA


Impact of centralising tendencies on the C of E

From the Revd Simon Grigg

Sir, — I was delighted to read the Revd Stephen Trott’s excellent article about the centralising and nationalisation of the Church of England (Comment, 10 July). I was about to write to express my support, when a wise parishioner warned me to wait for the following week’s letters. I am glad that I did.

Let’s begin with the Revd J. B. Gilder. To suggest that pushing responsibility “down” from dioceses to parishes could be a recipe for disaster is offensive. It wasn’t clergy who were responsible for the scandal of child-abuse cover-up: it was bishops. So much for leadership. It wasn’t clergy who operate the Clergy Discipline Measure, which, it is reported, drives clergy to suicidal thoughts (News, 17 July). It is bishops. So much for accountability. It wasn’t clergy who issued orders — oops, advice — about closing the churches. It was bishops. So much for integrity. I, just the once, foolishly, asked to have a pastoral conversation with my bishop. I was told that I could have a “15-minute conversation on the phone, next Wednesday’.” So much for pastoral care.

I’m afraid that the Revd Toddy Hoare’s excellent letter underestimates the scale of the problem. Of course bishops should be paid the same as the rest of us, since it undermines the principle of stipend that they are not. In the diocese of London, at an early stage of the pandemic, we received an email informing us that our stipend was to be frozen, which seemed to me to be entirely reasonable. When I asked whether it applied to bishops, after a lot of waffle, I was told that bishops were to receive a two-per-cent pay increase — this at a time when parishes are on their knees all over the country. Oh, and in the very same issue of your paper, we read this illiterate twaddle: “Associate Archdeacon . . mission and transition enabler . . seeking and praying for two [two?] people to help us transition to our new model of oversight ministry. Initially these transformational roles will lead and support the formation of our first newly formed Mission areas across an archdeaconry to grow into the oversight model of ministry.” We also received an email from our diocese which stated that no cuts were planned at the centre.

A few years ago, the diocese of London commissioned a new logo, at a cost of £10,000. I said that it was a pity they hadn’t consulted with parishes, since I have could have got it done pro bono. The then Archdeacon of Middlesex looked witheringly at me and said: “Why on earth would we consult with parishes?” It is that attitude, that parishes are just an annoying afterthought to the grand schemes of the hierarchy (Renewed. Released. Rejuvenated; or Confident. Compassionate. Creative; or Loving. Living. Learning. Oh, why bother . . . ? ), there simply to be milked for as much money as possible, which is destroying the Church of England.

We can’t compete with Chelmsford diocese with its seven archdeacons. We have only five. But we do have seven bishops.

Parish Office
St Paul’s Church
Bedford Street
London WC2E 9ED


Diversity in choirs and how it is achieved

From Mr Norman Harper

Sir, — It was stimulating to read Edward Picton-Turbervill’s article about diversity in choirs, with illustrations from the activities of the youth choirs of St John the Divine, Kennington, in Southwark diocese (Comment, 17 July). The suggested link between early onset of puberty and skin-colour is news to me. Modern diet is surely a more likely factor here. If Ernest Lough had been brought up on burgers and Coke, I doubt he’d have been singing “O for the wings of a dove” at the age of 16. The opening sentence, however, suggesting that cathedral choirs still present “almost exclusively white, middle-class faces”, seems to invite a more considered comment.

May I suggest that the racial mix in church choirs is already changing, and notably in Southwark itself. Not only are there many churches in the Southwark dioceses (Anglican and Roman Catholic)/RSCM area with fine choral traditions and BAME choristers, both boys and girls, but the two cathedrals have also reflected this for some time. If you look at the rows of choristers in Southwark Cathedral and St George’s Metropolitan Cathedral, you will see diversity. When I retired from St George’s Cathedral at the end of 2018, both boys’ and girls’ choirs had at least 90 per cent BAME choristers.

This is not socially engineered; it is the result of recruitment from local schools and from families within the congregations. Like many cathedrals in the UK, Southwark’s cathedrals do not have their own dedicated choir schools within the precincts. They do, on the other hand, have the advantage of busy public-transport links at London Bridge and the Elephant and Castle, bringing choristers from all over London for after-school rehearsals and services.

Recruitment at St George’s, for example, has in recent years been carried out by advertising in the community and by contacting schools in the diocese, followed by friendly, positive auditioning, involving the ability to discern and encourage potential and a love of singing, not necessarily requiring formal evidence of existing acquired musical skills.

It is now understood by many that this is the direction that more cathedrals, collegiate foundations, and royal peculiars may need to take, especially since coronavirus has increased the challenges of keeping choir schools viable. Yes, fee-paying choir schools with tough entry requirements may indeed be the means of keeping cathedral choirs largely white and middle-class. Local schools and communities, not only in London, can produce a different result, which may at least approximate to the diversity of their environment, while achieving musical excellence.

A win-win situation indeed.

50 Elmwood Road
London SE24 9NR


Reference to BAME Synod member’s contribution

From Dr Paula Gooder, Dr Ben Fulford, the Revd Dr Julie Gittoes, and Professor Mike Higton

Sir, — We were very concerned to read in your report of the General Synod (News, 17 July) a description of our friend and eminent theologian the Revd Dr Anderson Jeremiah simply as a “young, black member”. Not only is this description inaccurate — Dr Jeremiah is from Tamil Nadu, South India: it follows a familiar pattern in which colleagues who are from minority-ethnic backgrounds tend to be described in public discourse, in the Church and elsewhere, in ways that quietly undermine their expertise, authority, and standing.

By omitting his titles, and choosing to describe him as young, the report perpetuates a culture that undervalues and overlooks the genuine contribution that so many people from minority-ethnic backgrounds make to the life of the Church of England.

This misdescription of Dr Jeremiah is made all the worse by the fact that he wrote an article for your website on the problem of racism within the Church just one month ago (9 June). We urge you to ensure that, in future, contributors to the life of the Church from minority-ethnic backgrounds are described in ways that do them greater justice.

c/o the Canon Chancellor
The Chapter House
St Paul’s Churchyard
London EC4M 8AD


Prayer in Hagia Sophia

From Mr Paul Reynolds

Sir, — I was rather surprised at the hostile reaction to the proposal to convert Hagia Sophia into a mosque (News, 17 July). Ideally, of course, it should revert to being the Patriarch’s cathedral, the purpose for which it was built, but that is clearly an unrealistic option

Failing that, surely it is better that it should be home of a living, worshipping community rather than a soulless museum. After all, the God whom Muslims worship is the same God as we worship. The message that Hagia Sophia puts out as a museum is that God and religion and faith are no more than historical curiosities that can safely be consigned to the past. It deserves better than that.

87 Gabalfa Road
Swansea SA2 8ND


Westminster ‘regulars’

From Mr Nigel Boreham

Sir, — I should like to take issue with the statement (News, 17 July) that Westminster Abbey lacks a regular congregation. I am one of at least 20 “regulars” who, pre-lockdown, would begin to queue, on Sundays, at 2 p.m. outside the gates in front of the west door, in rain or shine, to attend 3 p.m. choral evensong. In fact, several of us attend other Abbey services.

Yes, we are outnumbered by tourists, but we chat to them, and, we hope, give them an idea why we love coming. The Abbey services are indeed quite formal, but that’s what many of us want. A cathedral dean once told me that choral evensong was a place for contemplation, and leaving someone alone with their thoughts is not always denying them hospitality or welcome.

3 Jubilee Crescent
London N9 7NU


Hands across the sea

From Mr Alan Burkitt-Gray

Sir, — I tremble to question such an authority as Canon Nicholas Cranfield, but I must take issue with his comment (Arts, 17 July) that the relationship between the National Gallery in London and the National Galleries of Scotland will be challenged in the event of a Scottish declaration of independence.

I need only point Canon Cranfield to Dublin, where the Hugh Lane gallery in Parnell Square has had a cordial relationship over their shared artworks with the London institution for decades, rotating pictures regularly between the two.

7 Foxes Dale
London SE3 9BD


Views on nationalism

From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, — So churches across Europe are taking a stand against nationalism (News, 17 July). I wonder how that will play in Scotland.

13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ

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