Public worship during December
From the Revd Colin Alsbury
Sir, — As the Government prepares to publish new guidance at the end of the November lockdown, I write to express serious concerns about what may be expected or required by way of provision of public worship through December.
Having consulted with PCC members and with deanery colleagues in the past week, I know that many colleagues are working on the basis of maintaining online worship as their priority, and that a significant number are not looking to provide public worship in church at any stage in December, whatever the Government regulations may be. I would be deeply concerned if the Government lifted its current ban on public worship and the Church then failed to suspend the obligation to provide public worship.
In such a context, I firmly believe that the Church should suspend the obligation, as seasonal congregations, unfamiliar with the protocols that regular worshippers have become used to represent a real challenge in our risk assessments. This would be even more so if any seasonal music is played or chorally sung, as constraining the congregational desire to sing along might prove challenging.
I believe that unlike Easter, Pentecost, Eid, Diwali, and other important occasions Christmas has been singled out for special treatment: not, I believe, for the right reasons. It represents a triumph of the secular and commercial spirit of Christmas over the science of where we are in responding to the Covid pandemic.
At St John the Baptist, Frome, we have been fortunate enough to have the space and volunteer stewards to maintain twice-weekly sessions for private prayer, and we will be looking to resource expenditure on additional cleaning, so that those sessions can be increased in the week around Christmas.
We will not, however, be rushing to provide extra services in church as we normally would. If any are allowed, and we deem it safe to do so, attendance at the few if any that may be held is almost certainly going to have to be pre-booked and protocols established to turn away any who just turn up.
I would far rather that the Church emphasise the beauty of the simplicity of the birth of the Christ-Child when there was no room at the inn, when the wise ones (the Magi) weren’t there on the day.
I will be taking time on Holy Innocents’ Day to pray for all those who suffer because of any relaxation of regulations before significant downturn in Covid cases towards the pre-November lockdown level has occurred.
St John’s Vicarage, Vicarage Close
Frome, Somerset BA11 1QL
Living in Love and Faith and the CEEC video
From Canon Phil Groves
Sir, — In welcoming the publication of Living in Love and Faith (Leader comment, 13 November), you recognised the significance of the process and suggested that the “encounters” are an “important corrective to the theoretical, issues-based discussions”, and that you “should like to see this approach adopted for other divisive issues, such as politics and social justice”.
Anglicans around the world have been using this approach on divisive issues for a number of years under the banner of Continuing Indaba, because — as the Archbishop of Cape Town pointed out — they are the way of conflict transformation in the Bible.
Continuing Indaba has brought about significant change in contexts including Kenya, ending a fifty-year-old ethnic dispute; DR Congo, enabling victims and survivors of rape as an act of war find a voice; and the Episcopal Church of Brazil, enabling LGBTI+ people to be heard.
The Dean of Lusaka, the Very Revd Charley Thomas (Zambia), and Janet Marshall (Canada) set out the processes in the book Anglican Communion and Homosexuality (2008). In 2015, Dean Thomas went on to use the processes in an Indaba, including the President, which ended pre-election violence in Zambia.
Relational encounters such as these are practised by the President of the International Federation of Human Rights, Alice Mogwe (Botswana), who is an Anglican. Bishop Mark MacDonald (National Indigenous Bishop of the Anglican Church of Canada) uses them as he walks alongside settler peoples, engaging them in story so they can confront the evils of their ancestors past so the future can be reshaped. Archbishop Samuel Peni of South Sudan is participating in such a process this week in South Sudan in the hope that peace can be built.
This is not a case of the Church of England’s having something to teach the rest of the world, the Church of England’s being able to benefit by learning from conflict-transformation processes commonly used in Africa, Asia, and among indigenous groups. Your readers can discover more from the Anglican Communion book Living Reconciliation — one of the Church Times books of the year in 2014 — and the website of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network.
Chair of the Anglican Peace and Justice Network; former facilitator for the Listening Process in the Anglican Communion and former Director of Continuing Indaba.
7 Badgers Rise
Stone HP17 8RR
From the Revd Mark Bennet
Sir, — I am surprised that no one has yet mentioned the irony of publishing Living in Love and Faith when couples are unable to get married. In fact, I think this Covid-19 season has been the first time that I’ve been living in a society in which marriage has been impossible for couples who want to marry. So, in a season in which the Church has an open goal to speak of marriage as a public and social good, and engage in missional contact with wider society, we seem collectively to be looking in the wrong direction.
I should also add that this is also the time in my life when marriage has been most equal: if no one can do it, everyone is equal.
I am sure that your readers will ask themselves some of the obvious questions that arise from these observations.
The Rectory, 2 Rectory Gardens
Thatcham, Berks RG19 3PR
From the Revd Andrew Hammond
Sir, — Happily, most of the students whom I serve won’t have seen the video The Beautiful Story (News, 20 November), as they take no interest in churchy social media. A few will, though, and yet again a young person will come to see me with tears of bitterness: a young person who loves Jesus but is being told that their capacity for loving other human beings is fatally flawed. At least they come, and I can tell them the better story of how to understand the love of God in Jesus and how to read scripture. It’s the ones who don’t come for whom I fear.
Meanwhile, what on earth is “living with same-sex attraction”? They make it sound like diabetes.
St John’s College
Cambridge CB2 1TP
Out-of-order questions about consecrations
From Canon Judith Maltby
Sir, — As a General Synod member, I submitted this question for inclusion in Questions in November: “May the paper which underpinned and informed the decision announced in July 2020, that the Archbishops are to refrain from the laying on of hands in episcopal consecrations in the Church of England, as well as to limit episcopal consecrators to three bishops, be shared with Synod and the wider Church to aid our theological engagement with this significant change of practice?”
Questions are rightly vetted, and I was informed: “The Legal Adviser has now considered your questions. . . [The first question] is not [in order] as it concerns a decision made by the Archbishops in their role as Metropolitans, and not as Chair and Vice-Chair of the House of Bishops.”
I sent in a revised question simply to ask whether the Archbishops would give us, the wider Church, a paper that might help clergy and laity (bishops, too?) engage with the theology behind this significant change of practice, and was advised “that this is also not in order, as Consecrations are not the business of the House of Bishops but of the Archbishops as Metropolitans”.
So, without needing to involve the Legal Team, I write to ask publicly whether the Archbishops would consider giving us (that is, all of us who are not Metropolitans) a theological paper, engaging with the important ecclesiological and ecumenical implications of this very significant new practice. It would form an important part of their teaching office to the whole Church.
Corpus Christi College
Oxford OX1 4JF
‘Realism’ meets reality
From the Revd David Billin
Sir, — The article “Synod target realistic, says its mover” (News, 6 November) touches a raw nerve. My church is heated using a pre-war boiler converted to burn natural gas. The building, like many, is in an urban smokeless zone, with little land and awkward road access. Our electricity intake is insufficient to heat the building using “green” electricity.
The only realistic alternative to gas appears to be a ground-source heat pump, but, it seems, nobody on the British mainland makes or maintains them. The article acknowledges that there matters not under our direct control, “but still within our mission to influence”. So, I suggest that encouragement of a domestic heat-pump industry is a necessary precursor to achievement of the Synod’s target.
33 Beeches Avenue
The Dean and the dons
From Canon Nick Orman
Sir, — Whatever the outcome of the latest complaint against Dean Percy, I suggest that he should be the last Dean of Christ Church, Oxford. I suggest the procedures should be put in place to designate another church as the cathedral for the Oxford diocese, and that the links to the college should be severed.
The reputational damage to the Church and the college from this continual infighting between the college and the Dean is unacceptable.
27 Manor Close
Sabbatical and morale
From Mr Michael Winterbottom
Sir, — That the Archbishop of Canterbury is entitled to take a three-month sabbatical next year, there is no doubt. There is, indeed, precedent for it. But the question is whether this sets a good example to the nation. For most people, next year will be spent trying to restore the nation’s finances, welfare, and, indeed, morale. For whatever reason, to take a three-month holiday in France does not look good.
Lancashire OL6 6LR
From the Revd Richard Hay
Sir, — As Canon Angus Ritchie’s cycle of “Sundays’ Readings” closes, may I be one, I am sure, of many to thank him warmly. I have often found his comments and wide reading to be full of insight and challenge.
15 Fox Close
Woking GU22 8LP