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Letters to the Editor

03 January 2020


Church should mobilise to bring poverty to the fore

From Peter and Catherine Stott

Sir, — It is now nearly 40 years since Archbishop Runcie established the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Commission on the Urban Priority Areas, which led to the Faith in the City report. That report had a galvanising effect on many city parishes, and sowed seeds which have led, particularly in the last ten years, to many churches taking action locally in support of people in great need, whether through foodbanks, night shelters, debt advice work, or in many other ways.

In the intervening period, inequalities in both wealth and income in our country have become more pronounced. The numbers of children growing up in poverty have grown and are widely predicted to reach 40 per cent of all children in the UK in the near future. Insecure and low-paid, often part-time, work has not proved to be an effective way out of poverty. In November 2018, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Extreme Poverty and Human Rights, Professor Philip Alston, concluded that, in Britain today, “14 million people, a fifth of the population, live in poverty. Four million of these are more than 50% below the poverty line and 1.5 million are destitute, unable to afford basic essentials.”

His report was largely ignored amid the political obsession with Brexit. Following the General Election, which appears to have resolved the Brexit question, we believe that it is now time to bring the continuing and deepening crisis of poverty affecting so many families in our country to the centre of policy and action.

The Church, drawing on the wealth of experience now available from Christian action in our cities, towns, and rural areas, should now launch, with those of other denominations and faiths, its own inquiry into the reality of poverty in Britain today, bringing to that inquiry the qualities of justice and compassion that lie at the heart of the Christian message.

Weston House
6 Luke Street, Bampton
Devon EX16 9NF


The start of life: wonder and rights in the womb

From Jenny de Robeck

Sir, — How often have I pondered on the very subject extolled by Eve Poole about Mary’s pregnancy (Comment, 20/27 December). At one brief but immeasurably significant moment of his incarnation, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, was but a single cell.

Evelyn Underhill writes:

I come in the little things,
Saith the Lord
Not borne on morning’s wing
Of Majesty, but I have set My Feet
Amidst the delicate and bladed wheat. . .

He does, indeed, come in the little things. This is where he is to be found today: not in the stony hearts of so many clerics, but in the warm handshake of compassion, the bread and wine of the ordinarie.

Sebergham Hall
Carlisle CA5 7DQ


From Mr Andrew Todd

Sir, — Recent correspondents have disagreed over whether an unborn child is “part of a woman’s body”, one contributor suggesting that the Roman Catholic Church would not reject such a statement (Letters, 6, 13, and 20/27 December).

The encyclical Evangelium Vitae reflects that Jesus shared in the “lowliest and most vulnerable conditions of human life”, including that human life when not yet born, and that “the value of the person from the moment of conception is celebrated in the meeting between the Virgin Mary and Elizabeth, and between the two children whom they are carrying in the womb”.

From this same moment, the document Donum Vitae says, “the fruit of human generation . . . demands the unconditional respect that is morally due to the human being in his bodily and spiritual totality”.

Surely the vital point is that, for both the Church of England and the RC Church, an unborn child cannot be reduced to just “part of a woman’s body”.

22 Pegasus Court, Shelley Road
Worthing BN11 4TH


From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — The letter on abortion from June Williams (Letters, 20/27 December) is selective in which angles it highlights. First, whether a child is biologically inseparable from her/his mother pre-birth has never been a contentious matter.

But, second, the idea that this means that we are talking about only one body leads to multiple unscientific conclusions. Can one body have two genetic profiles? Two entire physiognomies? Is the baby not an individual till the umbilical cord is cut? It is unlikely in the extreme that any of those conclusions will ever become widely shared, even before we come to the central topics of the intricacy, uniqueness, and value of each little human; nor, therefore, can Mrs Williams’s perspective be shared.

186 Ellerdine Road
Middlesex TW3 2PX


What is causing such delays in the Lincoln cases?

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — Your report “Dean of Lincoln is ‘desperate to return’” (News, 29 November) brings to the fore the seriousness of the safeguarding issues currently affecting Lincoln diocese, which now has both an acting dean and an acting bishop.

As your report states, the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson, has been suspended since May over a separate safeguarding issue. According to the statement issued at the time by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the suspension followed “information provided by the police”, with the comment: “If these matters are found to be proven I consider that the bishop would present a significant risk of harm by not adequately safeguarding children and vulnerable people.

“I would like to make it absolutely clear that there has been no allegation that Bishop Christopher has committed abuse of a child or vulnerable adult.”

Although the President of Tribunals has reportedly dismissed an appeal against the suspension (News, 12 July), the legal basis for the suspension is questionable. For a lawful exercise of the power to suspend (under section 37(1)(e) of the Clergy Discipline Measure 2003, as inserted by section 1(5) of the Safeguarding and Clergy Discipline Measure 2016), the Archbishop must be “satisfied, on the basis of information provided by a local authority or the police, that the bishop or archbishop presents a significant risk of harm” (emphasis added). This surely requires being satisfied of an existing risk.

It is difficult, therefore, to square the Archbishop’s words, that the suspension is “is a neutral act”, with the terms of section 37(1)(e).

Suspension under section 37(1)(e) is for three months, but this is renewable, and, presumably, Bishop Christopher’s suspension has now been renewed twice. When he was suspended, the Bishop said that he was “bewildered by the suspension”, remarking: “For the sake of the diocese and the wider Church I would like this to be investigated as quickly as possible to bring the matter to a swift conclusion.”

That was seven months ago, and there is no apparent sign of a quick investigation or swift conclusion. Instead, we now learn that the CDM (clergy discipline measure) complaint against the Dean has been botched, and that the National Safeguarding Team (NST) will be issuing another complaint.

In the circumstances, it is difficult to accept the reported statement by “a spokeswoman” for the NST that “The Church is taking this issue very seriously.”

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU


Closure of St John’s, Nottingham, will deprive its neighbours

From Mr Peter Lewis

Sir, — Ian Paul’s detailed analysis of the closure of St John’s College, Nottingham(Letters, 13 December), should perhaps be supplemented by questions about the impact of this loss on another aspect of ministry development: the support for lay ministry and “biblical literacy” across the whole East Midlands.

Writing as a Reader with 34 years’ experience in both the Southwell and Derby dioceses, I would point to the way St John’s used to offer access to its own modules and other short courses, which proved an important part of continuing ministerial development for Readers, pastoral ministers, and family and children’s lay ministers. If we are serious about the frequency and quality of CPD for Readers, then this gap needs addressing. Over many decades, the varied counselling courses at St John’s have had great influence beyond those in formal licensed ministry, and benefited from the interdisciplinary context within which they were delivered.

In addition, I know that many parishes in the East Midlands have been grateful to senior staff at St John’s for regularly leading parish weekends and parish study days which took lay parishioners’ understanding of scripture to greater depths and helped parishes grapple with new patterns of worship and a better understanding of mission.

Sadly, those functions had already declined in the last decade; but, as St John’s closes, serious thinking is needed about where the input for all this disciple development is to come from. A place like St John’s at least had the potential to provide expertise in not just content but also effective adult learning methods. I personally, and the Nottingham parish I worked in, had many reasons to be grateful for that in the past. But what now?

Reader in the Wirksworth Ministry Team
4 Yokecliffe Hill
Wirksworth DE4 4PE


Radical evil demands radical action

From Mr David Cragg-James

Sir, — The weak outcome of COP25 which you report (News, 20/27 December) is indeed disappointing, if not alarming.

David Wallace-Wells points out in The Uninhabitable Earth that nothing is stopping us from reaching four degrees warming other than our own will to change course. In 2016, he points out, we crossed the red line: 400 parts per million concentration of carbon in the atmosphere. Nevertheless, we kept going, “achieving” 411 two years later.

We are speeding blithely towards more than four degrees Centigrade of warming by 2100, when whole regions of the planet will be uninhabitable. Brought to the brink of catastrophe in a single generation, this generation must avoid it, Wallace-Wells urges.

The Christian hierarchies must now, una voce, press this government to demonstrate a will and determination urgently to confront this “radical evil”, not in gestures but in action. The Government may be in the throes of getting Brexit done: we pray not at the expense of the planet.

A radical rethink of priorities and direction is now called for, at a time when party factionalism and perceived national advantage must be jettisoned in pursuit of the common good.

Rose Cottage, Stonegrave
York YO62 4LJ


War did not always bring out the best in people

From Mr Robert Ashdown

Sir, — I usually find David Winter’s Diary full of wisdom (Diary, 20/27 December), but I think he may have been led astray by the propaganda myth around the spirit of the Blitz.

I remember my grandfather telling me about a parachute mine in Fulham that exploded not that far away. Council staff told him that he needed to evacuate for 48 hours while blast damage was assessed. When he returned, the house had been looted bare. Not much neighbourly love there.

His evacuation to grandparents in rural Wales seems to have been a success, but others were not so lucky. There was not much child protection in those days, and, although my mother was never specific about what happened to her when she was evacuated from Hastings, it was obvious that whatever happened left her traumatised for years after. Six weeks after, she was evacuated from Hastings; two children were evacuated from London to fill the bedroom in Hastings she had just left. For some, it was inhumane chaos.

75 Brookville Road
London SW6 7BH


Housing crisis is affected by geography

From the Revd Paul Nicolson

Sir, — Before Christmas, the Archbishop of Canterbury told the Big Issue: “We are not in a crisis.” That is perfectly true for a majority of British citizens who live in a home they own, whose value has increased unearned and untaxed, or if you live with an adequate income in a tied house, rent- and council-tax free.

The poorest renters in London are suffering at least three crises: hunger, too few homes to rent, and the affordability of those that are available.

David Lammy, an ardent Remain supporter, held on to Tottenham for Labour with 76 per cent of the vote. In Tottenham, council rents are £90, and private rents are more than £300 a week for two bedrooms.

Dehenna Davison, an ardent Leaver, won Bishop Auckland, part of the “red wall”, for the Conservatives with 53 per cent of the vote. In Bishop Auckland, the rent for a spacious and modern family home with three bedrooms is £81 a week, no deposit required, and DSS welcome.

There are crises everywhere in England, depending where and how you live. They range across the loss of political honesty, dire poverty, a failing NHS, hunger, homelessness, and youth crime.

Taxpayers Against Poverty
93 Campbell Road
London N17 0BF


Eternal torment

From Dr David Bentley Hart

Sir, — I want to thank the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth for his generous review of my recent book That All Shall Be Saved (Books, 13 December).

I do want to correct one impression. I do not in the book blame Augustine for the ultimate triumph of the “infernalist” view of things, i.e. a hell of eternal torment.

I do credit him with the most comprehensive and brilliant exposition of a certain view of Paul’s theology that I regard as disastrously wrong; and I contrast that understanding with Gregory of Nyssa’s, very much to the latter’s advantage. But I also state that the teaching of eternal torment is common to almost all Christian traditions, and that all Christians are to blame to the degree that they have meekly accepted it.

Address supplied

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