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Letters to the Editor

by
03 July 2020

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The National Safeguarding Team and suspensions

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — Looking on from the outside, one could be forgiven for concluding that the National Safeguarding Team does not operate on a level playing field.

We are told by the National Safeguarding Team that a safeguarding matter in the Reading Episcopal Area, which occurred ten years ago, came to light earlier this year. It was not handled fully in the way that it should have been by the then Area Bishop, Stephen Cottrell. While the matter came to light earlier in the year, Bishop Cottrell chooses to make a statement regarding the matter on the eve of becoming Archbishop of York. He continues to have the support of the Archbishop of Canterbury, in a carefully crafted statement.

The Bishop of Lincoln was suspended from ministry more than a year ago. At the time, the Bishop said: “I am bewildered by the suspension and will fully cooperate in this matter. 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.”

More than a year later, it was announced that the Bishop is “to be investigated under the Clergy Discipline Measure” (News, 3 June). So much for an investigation as quickly as possible. Clearly at the time of his suspension the bishop had little or no idea what it was all about and now he faces a disciplinary hearing. How fair is it to an individual letting this matter run on for over a year? Has the Archbishop of Canterbury produced a statement in support of this bishop?

Lord Carey’s permission to officiate was removed over a matter that also occurred many years ago. Lord Carey apologised for any shortcomings on his part. Last year, that permission to officiate was partially restored, only for it to be removed again last week over “new evidence that had been turned up during an independent review of abuse allegations against John Smyth” (News, 26 June). Lord Carey said: “‘I am bewildered and dismayed to receive the news. I have been given no information on the nature of these concerns and have no memory of meeting Mr Smyth.”

Is this the way in which the Church cares for people? In this instance, a former Archbishop of Canterbury’s permission to officiate is removed without his being given the full facts.

It would appear that Lord Carey has been left in the same position as the Bishop of Lincoln in that they have not been given the full information and facts relating to suspensions. On the other hand, the Archbishop-elect of York can continue in ministry, and an inquiry has decided against disciplinary action.

PHILIP JOHANSON
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth
Dorset BH6 3PN

 

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The former Bishop at Lambeth, the Rt Revd Richard Llewellin, is surely right to aver (Letters, 26 June) that it is “safeguarding gone mad” to suspend a bishop or priest from active ministry “whose only possible fault is that he or she has failed in some way to act decisively regarding an alleged abuser”.

In some cases, such suspension may be justified, but when, as in the case of the Bishop of Lincoln, the Rt Revd Christopher Lowson (now suspended for more than 13 months), the Bishop was suspended despite the fact that two months before his suspension by the Archbishop of Canterbury he had delegated his safeguarding responsibilities to one of his two suffragans by legal instrument, the suspension looks suspiciously like one to preserve the reputation of the Church rather than to secure the interests of actual or potential victims of abuse.

Similarly, the recent revocation by the Bishop of Oxford (as directed by the National Safeguarding Team) of the retired 84-year-old former Archbishop Lord Carey’s “permission to officiate” (PTO) in the diocese, thus enabling him to minister in the parish church where he now worships, cannot conceivably be justified on any safeguarding basis.

Whether the “new information” received by the Makin investigation into John Smyth concerns Lord Carey’s time as Principal of Trinity College, Bristol (1981-87) or his years as Archbishop of Canterbury (1991-2002), it is plainly now irrelevant to his ministerial role in retirement. Frankly, the Church’s action is both irrational and cruel, and the PTO should be restored forthwith.

DAVID LAMMING
Member of General Synod
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

 

From Mr John Tasker

Sir, — The Rt Revd Richard Llewellin asks why a bishop should be suspended who has failed to act decisively regarding an alleged abuser

Unfortunately, many victims of abuse by an ordained minister have experienced further abuse by bishops and senior clergy in their failing to listen and act. As evidence to the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse demonstrated, victims have felt re-abused by inaction.

Inaction may also put existing victims and/or others at risk of experiencing further abusive behaviour by the alleged abuser. If a bishop or priest will not stop abuse, then suspending them in these circumstances demonstrates that the Church values the well-being of the victims and considers that it is really important to remove the risk of others’ being harmed.

I wonder whether Bishop Llewellin’s safeguarding training is up to date at the senior leadership level required for a bishop.

JOHN TASKER
3 Hope Close
London N1 2YS

 

Post-pandemic: the community and the C of E

From Dr Phillip Rice

Sir, — Surely employment creation is the underlying way forward as the response to rebuilding post-Covid, whether we are speaking for church settings or for the State creating conditions for jobs.

There can be a number of forms of basic income which are termed universal basic income (UBI) as following Dr Eve Poole’s prioritising case for UBI (Post-Pandemic, 26 June). The main objection is that basic income is paid on top of existing benefits. This way is hugely expensive, probably more than the existing annual bill for UK benefits.

This policy was conceived in the name of fairness, but other specific objections to modern UBI are that implementation time is long, and the work incentives are poor.

Bishop Philip North (Post-Pandemic) is essentially arguing for local community initiatives in dioceses by giving parishes the financial viability and tapping into localism to see what works.

This is an entrepreneurial spirit that is good for creating work for the target group of future lay leaders who will be in the work-hungry age band 18 to 24. These are the people most worthy of job creation to support them in making the transition into work as their school and university training has ended so abruptly because of the pandemic shut down. But how to pay is the issue.

The analogy is: if you want to do something fast, think of releasing reserves and careful borrowing. Would parishes, dioceses, or the Church Commissioners choose to give income for a time limit of one year to each situation to support real work experience by incentivising parishes, church-plants, and new digital successes?

PHILLIP RICE
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU

 

From Mr John Cooper

Sir, — The Revd Dr Sharon Prentis’s challenging article “A Shift to the Margins is Needed” (Post-Pandemic, 26 June) highlights many of the painful home truths that the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to light.

The violent undercurrents of racism, economic inequality, and a collapse in local community are fracturing and breaking our society. The stories that she told of listening and acting in Birmingham should challenge churches around the nation to consider what their calling is in this transient time.

The recent Fellowship of Reconciliation Annual Council were challenged by the Revd Azariah France-Williams, a pioneer based in Manchester, to “give up their peace”. It may have seemed a strange message to offer a peace fellowship, but he drew our shared attention to the fact that many people were not living in peace before Covid-19.

Instead, it is up to all of us to rebuild the newly emerging society so that more may live in peace. I urge all your readers to take to their PCC, deanery synod, and other committees — within an agenda, no doubt, full of risk assessments to commence worshipping — to consider what peace you will give up so you can build a lasting and just peace in your community.

JOHN COOPER
Director
The Fellowship of Reconciliation
Peace House
19 Paradise Street
Oxford OX1 1LD

 

From Andrew Collie

Sir, — Alex Smith suggests that the coronavirus should change the development of megachurches and that members of them should disperse to their local churches (Letters, 12 June).

I agree that social distancing provides challenges for megachurches, indeed any church making good use of its meeting spaces. Megachurches are megachurches because of what they do, and that is often what parish churches do not do. Megachurches offer worship using contemporary styles and technology; they offer community to groups not represented in many parish churches, e.g. young adults; they communicate in contemporary ways. If they did not exist, many of those in them would not be in church at all.

Central funding is being provided to launch such churches because it is necessary for their launch; they work and are seed-corn to help other churches to grow — hence the title “resource churches”. Dioceses are committed to helping every church grow. We just have to look around where we have been planted and see where God is watering.

I write from personal experience of both megachurches and village churches, and from two bishop’s councils.

ANDREW COLLIE
Rowan Cottage, Parwich
Ashbourne DE6 1QB

 

From Mr Paul Bennett

Sir, — The news (12 June) that the diocese of Chelmsford is to bring forward its plans for the reduction of the number of stipendiary clergy for financial reasons underlines the general misunderstanding that diocesan authorities have about the relative importance of parochial and diocesan ministries.

When lockdown began and churches had to be closed, parochial clergy and churchwardens might reasonably have supposed that there would be support in difficult times from the diocese. Imagine my surprise, therefore, when the first email that I received from the diocese was a demand (reminder?) that we should not fail to pay our quota.

My parish has received virtually no income for the past three months. The parish priest has sent out regular prayer and meditation guides. He has contacted parishioners by phone on a regular basis. We have run a weekly service on Zoom. Now we are preparing to open the church in a limited way for private prayer. We have not asked parishioners for money, and yet we have tried to provide support and prayerful help to all.

Over the years, we have seen a much reduced parish ministry. Over the same period, we have not seen a similar reduction in diocesan personnel. Surely it is now time to consider how resources can be fed back into parishes where they are really needed. One way to do this would be for pairs of dioceses to share administrative staff, so that costs would be much reduced and priests and lay people released for parochial work.

There may be other ways to solve the growing problem; if so, let’s hear them so that we can ensure the future of the Church for those who will follow us.

PAUL BENNETT
90 Stortford Hall Park
Bishop’s Stortford
CM23 5AN

 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The report that Chelmsford diocese was planning to cut 22 per cent of its stipendiary posts before the end of next year was apparently no surprise to those within the diocese. But it does raise some very significant questions both within the diocese and for the national Church.

What is happening to the understanding of faith as costly discipleship, when (according to Bishop Peter Hill in his presidential address to the synod), increasing giving by the cost of one cup of coffee a week per head would solve all the financial problems in the diocese?

Given the well-researched correlation between investment in stipendiary ministry and church growth, what will prevent these cuts’ leading to shrinking attendance, further declines in giving, and the need for further cuts in future? If the diocese is committed to seeing growth in all its forms, will the cuts to stipendiary posts be made in the light of where growth is currently happening?

How does this strategy of cutting stipendiary ministry correlate with the investment in church-planting through SDF funding?

What will be the impact of cuts on the national vision to see continued growth in vocations to ordained ministry — and where will new ordinands be deployed when there are likely to be fewer posts?

Given the current episcopal succession, can those of us in the Northern Province now expect this strategy of reducing stipendiary ministry extended more widely? If so, where does that leave all the national initiatives to invest in growth?

There are, no doubt, other dioceses that are planning similar moves — and for each one, these questions will be raised with greater and greater urgency.

IAN PAUL
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

 

Racism, Coventry litany, and church memorials

From Oberkirchenrat the Revd Dr Oliver Schuegraf and the Dean of Coventry

Sir, — We were pleased to see your coverage of the argument over the removal of the word “race” from the German constitution (News, 19 June), and a reference to the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation with its plea for God to forgive “the hatred which divides nation from nation, race from race, class from class”.

The Coventry Litany has been prayed since 1958 across the world, and especially by the Community of the Cross of Nails (CCN), a network of churches and other organisations inspired by the Coventry story, as a way of admitting our own complicity in the deep fractures, including the many forms of racism, present in our world, and pleading for God’s healing and forgiveness.

We would like to assure your readers that the German CCN, with more than 75 member organisations, has been earnestly debating whether to remove the word “race” for ten years: as an international network, we have become more and more aware that the word has different connotations in different languages. The word itself has become especially emotive in Germany, and many feel the concept of race is itself divisive and racist.

Others feel that the text is so well known and used throughout the world that it should be left untouched, and allowed to do its work of bringing the issues to the surface to address them. In this, it is refusing to deny the real diversity in humanity as a whole, and the divisions that confront us: refusing the more comfortable and superficially reconciling “All lives matter” rhetoric in favour of recognising and embracing the need to speak of particular lives that have not received justice.

However, the discussion in both Germany and the UK CCN to find the right translation and form of words for the Litany for each context will continue with our other international partners as we pursue our three priorities of healing the wounds of history; learning to live with difference and celebrate diversity; and building a culture of peace.

OLIVER SCHUEGRAF
Chair of CCN Germany
JOHN WITCOMBE
Coventry Cathedral Office
1 Hill Top, Coventry CV1 5AB

 

From Mr David Hails

Sir, — Rather than follow the madness of crowds, might it not be preferable to engage a suitably qualified academic to examine the history of all those remembered by statue or similar in our churches (News, 19 June)? Any shortcomings could then be made clear in an explanatory placard beneath the statue. It should also explain the positive reasons for there being a commemoration.

DAVID HAILS
74 Whistler Road
Tonbridge
Kent TN10 4RQ

 

Transparency about male-headship theology

From the Revd Charles Read

Sir, — Most churches where the incumbent holds to a male-headship view of leadership are still not making this clear on their church websites, according to Lizzie Taylor’s survey (News, 26 June). In response, the Bishop of Maidstone, the Rt Revd Rod Thomas, says: “No Evangelical church would want to put an issue of church order at front and centre of [their website].“

The Bishop cannot have it both ways. We created the current version of the post of Bishop of Maidstone so that there would be at least one bishop who espoused a male-headship view of church leadership. This was deemed to be important as part of the provisions made for those opposed to the ordination of women as bishops and priests. If it is an important issue, then these churches should have it in a prominent place on their website so that visitors and potential new members can know what the church believes about this issue.

If, however, this is truly a matter of second-order significance, then there is no need for a separate bishop for this constituency.

Lizzie Taylor has uncovered a deep problem with lack of transparency over these matters. It does not confine itself to churches that are aligned to the Bishop of Maidstone. I am aware of churches that are not officially opposed to the ordination of women, but where young women exploring a vocation to ordination find that they have a much harder time than their young male colleagues.

As one ordinand said to me recently, “I have had to fight every inch of the way in my church to get to this stage.” This is a church that has an ordained woman on the staff in an assistant capacity. Transparency is needed over these issues in many of our churches.

CHARLES READ
42 Heigham Road
Norwich NR2 3AU

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