Church life in fast-changing context
From the Revd David Ackerman
Sir, — Your report on differing approaches to service suspension in the dioceses (News, 20 March) makes the informed assumption that the clergy actually received the various letters addressed to them by the Archbishops. The second —Thursday — letter, clarifying the first, addressed to the clergy of the Church of England, was not sent to clergy in London. I spotted it on Twitter, the place to know what heroic meetings bishops are attending at this time.
It is not only the Church that has shown itself confused: on Mothering Sunday, while the NHS was stating “you can also go for a walk or exercise outdoors if you stay more than 2 metres from others,” my church remained open for prayer. Sadly, the advice of the Mayor of London conflicted, asking that people stay indoors. In my opinion, if you can go for a walk, you can walk into a very large church and, far from others, say a prayer; but I am not positioning myself for re-election.
On Friday, I addressed pupils at their last assembly and told them of Fr Tipper, who, in 1940, looked at a bombed St John’s and said: “We will build this up again.” He, like us, did not know what he would be called and tested to do until he was. There will be much to build up again after this, and some churches that were, perhaps, too quick to publish pictures of clergy saying their prayers behind locked doors might find that task the harder. When you lock doors, many may never return when they are open again.
There is, however, a notable change between the Tuesday and Thursday letters. By Thursday, there is no more talk of a “radically different Church”, but an awareness of the desire for people to be together, and supported and welcomed (most especially sacramentally). People didn’t want a different Church: they wanted it to be what it has always been for them.
In one sense, however, a radically different — or perhaps more authentic Church — is possible, if clergy learn the lessons of these weeks and months and insist, indeed get tough in insisting, on the many changes that will be needed to build this Church up again.
St John’s Vicarage
London W10 4AA
Sir, — As a clergyman, unsurprisingly I have been working flat out to minister to the dear people in my care during this fast-changing situation. I am sure that this is the case for virtually all of us. We have been receiving directives and information that we are doing our best to engage with.
During this time I have not heard of, or received, an iota of expressed love, regard, care, or concern to the clergy from our authorities regarding our well-being.
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED
From the Revd Paul Plumley
Sir, — I am so glad that lighting a candle and prayer were instigated on Sunday (News, 20 March), but I am left with a question for onward transmission to those concerned. Why isn`t this being done each night at seven until this virus stops?
“Pray without ceasing,” scripture says. This is precisely what all Christian people should be doing: not just once.
4 Cedar Ridge
Kent TN2 3NX
When someone comes out, only fools rush in
From R. K. Joy
Sir, — I was deeply saddened to see the letter from G. M. Lyon (20 March) publicly engaging in the sin of gossip and speculation about the very sensitive future plans of Phillip Schofield. All who saw Mr Schofield’s clear anxiety during his GMTV interview with a representative from Christian Concern, not so long ago, will understand that this will not draw him and others to our faith. I would suggest that “hoping” what people will, or will not, do with their future lives is a matter for them and their families alone. If Mr Schofield needs pastoral advice, he is well able to seek it out for himself.
Your correspondent’s advice to others in the same position is simply unrealistic. We know that many people grew up in an era when it was not safe to seek to understand their sexuality at an early stage in life. Such access was denied them by Clause 28. Often this caused grave spiritual and emotional torment suffered alone.
Having tried to “pray the gay away”, they then entered into heterosexual marriage at an early age as a further attempt to “cure” what they later found is God-given and immutable. Far from making things better, they often get worse. Such a person has to choose either the self-destructive path of living a lie about who they really are, pretending for appearance’s sake to be straight when they are not at all, or going through the difficult process of disclosing who they really are with attendant positive and negative social, emotional, and community consequences.
I look forward to the day when preserving the sanctity of God-ordained marriage is not based on a lie of having to pretend to be someone you are not. I have faith that there will be a time when our pastoral concern becomes one of full inclusion and participation in the life and work of the Church, regardless of gender or whom you are married to; a time when those charged with pastoral care are free to encourage people to develop and deepen the quality of the covenanted, God-given relationships that they commit themselves to, regardless of the gender of their partner; a day when it becomes unthinkable to speculate about such a personal matter in public.
North London (address supplied)
From Mr Christopher Whitmey
Sir, — Mr Lyon understandably asks: “One wonders why a spouse such as Phillip Schofield should announce that he is gay.” If he Googles “Schofield Byline”, he will find an answer. It appears that Mr Schofield was forced to by a section of the press which seems to rely on sensation rather than respectful reputation.
Oldstone Furlong, Capler Lane
Fownhope, Hereford HR1 4PJ
Scroll forgeries and the St Mary le Strand row
From Mr David Roberts
Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 20 March) and Maddy Fry (News, same issue) report on art-fraud experts’ conclusion that each and every purported Dead Sea scroll fragment in the Museum of the Bible in Washington, DC, is a forgery. This is the Museum of the Bible which, in 2017 and 2018, the diocese of London and senior staff of King’s College, London, encouraged to establish initially an exhibition in, and then take over, St Mary le Strand, neither of which came to pass.
Your readers may recall lay members of St Mary’s PCC’s efforts to resist these changes (News, 9 March 2018). The laity were impeded by the diocese’s licensing no fewer than eight additional “assistant” priests to outnumber them on the PCC. The General Synod thought so little of this manoeuvre that it changed the law (Synod, 13 July 2018).
The laity’s objections included concerns, already in circulation, about the provenance of some of the Museum’s artefacts. The Chancellor of the diocese, in a lofty determination of a matter affecting the governance of the PCC, commended the introduction of the additional priests’ “wider range of pastorally and theologically experienced views”.
It is curious that none of the ten priests on the PCC appeared then to share the laity’s concerns that any artefact might be tainted. But perhaps theological experience can blind one to the possibility of fraud, or even desensitise one to it. There is also the view of some clergy that they can roughly disregard lay people’s common sense.
The Bishop of London declined to hold an independent inquiry into events at St Mary le Strand. The catalogue of complaints to her included bullying and intimidation, but now it would include the merits of the proposed museum which her hierarchy had sought to impose. In declining to hold an inquiry, the Bishop apparently paid insufficient attention to her conflicts of interest (or of any deputy), including as Ordinary, and as a member of the Council of King’s College, St Mary’s neighbour.
7 Nunnery Stables, St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 2AS
Calling to religious life
From the Revd John-Francis Friendship
Sir, — I was interested to read your vocations special (6 March) and to note that nowhere was the religious life mentioned, while ordination, ethical careers, teaching, and other avenues were. Does this omission reflect a wider lack of focus on the religious life?
Recently, I met a millennial who had asked a diocesan director of ordinands for information about the life, and had been told to think about ordination. Thankfully, Google helped her when someone responsible for discerning vocations failed.
Please, remember the tremendous contribution to the Church made by our religious (especially contemplatives), without whom the Church might easily lose its way.
22 The Old Fire Station
London SE18 3BT
Those choral festivals and the hope of a revival
From Jane Woolrich
Sir, — I was greatly interested to read the Revd Robin Isherwood’s article (Gazette, 20 March). I too enjoy reading the Gazette for the delightful place names and, incidentally, to see occasionally the familiar name of a former curate in our parish (St Mary’s) in some unlikely part of the country.
I was even more intrigued by his tales of choir visits to Wells for the diocesan choral festivals. This brought back happy memories of picnic teas in the cathedral garden, sitting on lumps of old stone carving, watching choristers playing ball games, and the long queues for the ladies’ loos, sometimes in the rain.
The festival services were marvellously enjoyable and inspiring, but we went home exhausted, rather unwilling to get up for the 9.30 a.m. service the next day. The rehearsals could be exacting to cope with, as the cathedral Master of the Choristers was obviously more used to dealing with competent professional men and boys than with the hundreds of assorted men and women of all ages who enjoyed singing but who might not (like me) be good at reading intricate music and following his directions. Then there was the problem of the basses’ being half a beat or so behind the rest of us, as they were far away, jammed up against the west door.
As with so many other choirs over the past 20 years, the number of children singing dropped because of such things as family problems and Sunday shopping. Sadly, a couple of years ago, our choir was discontinued, as we were down to six adults; so, if our one each of bass and tenor were absent, we could not cope. Our huge collection of music (including tatty copies of Stainer’s Crucifixion at a few old pence each) and a large assortment of cassocks and surplices are packed away, and hopefully waiting for one day in future, when “What goes around comes around,” interest in inspiring church music rises again.
Canal Side, Huntworth
Bridgwater TA7 0AJ