How places of worship are valued
From Mr Zaki Cooper
Sir, — Churches and other places of worship are not solely houses of prayer, but also beacons of social support. This is demonstrated by the National Churches Trust report (News, 23 October), which estimates that they contribute £12.4 billion p.a.
This should not come as a surprise. Churches, along with mosques, synagogues, gurdwaras, and temples, are often the first line of defence against social problems, such as alcoholism, youth crime, mental illness, and homelessness. They are linked closely to the 49,000 faith-based charities in Great Britain, 27 per cent of the whole charity sector.
Social research consistently shows a link between faith and volunteering. Research carried out recently by Savanta ComRes showed that religious people volunteered more before lockdown in March than the population at large, and are more likely to volunteer in the future. For instance, before March, 72 per cent of religious people were helping the vulnerable with shopping, compared with 46 per cent of the general population. One of the interesting things that the research showed is that volunteering rates increased among the non-religious between March and June as people of all faiths and none stepped up to help at the height of the emergency.
All things considered, faith communities play a pivotal part in building social capital, and we forget this at our peril.
Council of Christians and Jews
24 Tufton Street
London SW1P 3RB
From Mr Phil Hemsley
Sir, — I was disturbed by the National Churches Trust’s infographic, which you reproduced from its report The House of Good, implying that when you invest £10 in a church building you get a return of £37.40. It is simply not true. Assuming that the benefit calculations are correct, it is not the building the brings the benefit, but the people who work within it.
It is the Body of Christ which is delivering the benefit, not the building. The message given is that churches are all about maintaining buildings, nothing about spiritual growth and freedom. Ask anyone what the local church does, and you are likely to get the reply that it holds coffee mornings to raise funds for the church roof, or other material “stuff” focused on the buildings again. And, from a helicopter view, you will see that the church has assets of more than £20 billion, but is asking for people to pay for its buildings — which is hardly going to attract anyone to Christ.
What was the goal of the Archbishops’ statement? To bring more money into the Church? To get someone else to maintain the buildings?
A sound goal would be to redirect Christian effort away from building maintenance towards living out the gospel — and it is the living out of the gospel which generated the financial benefit. To address that goal, one would want to consider things like giving the buildings to the nation, e.g. giving our cathedrals to the National Trust; or, perhaps, establishing an independent charity that was responsible for maintaining and operating the buildings.
Something is certainly needed to free the Church from the burden of our wealth, so that we can fully focus on our Christ-given purpose.
179 Bilton Road
Rugby CV22 7DS
Remembrance events are religious services
From Canon Glyn Holland
Sir, — I am surprised by the recent statements of Public Health England in relation to Remembrance Sunday. The bureaucrats have decided that this important part of our national life does not constitute a religious service, but instead regarded as an event. This means that the rule of six must be strictly applied and enforced.
After 36 years of ordained ministry, I feel disorientated that the offering of prayer, intercession for the departed, the public reading of scripture, and the invocation of God’s blessing should now be officially viewed only as theatre or empty ritual.
Is this further evidence that the Christian voice in the public realm has been marginalised to the point of irrelevance?
All Saints’ Vicarage
14 The Crescent
Middlesbrough TS5 6SQ
Laity report and ‘a leaning towards clericalism’
From Gillian Newton
Sir, — As a lay minister for whom collaborative ministry with incumbents and other members of God’s Church has been my lived experience of being part of the body of Christ for these past 40 years and more, I read last week’s Church Times with a certain sense of irony.
“Laity report seeks to expunge old habits: Authors ask why there is still a leaning towards clericalism” a story on page 3 is headed, while, on page 7, we read of the Living Ministry project concerned with the well-being and flourishing of only the clergy. The article by the two Archbishops on page 12 focuses on how clergy thrive and cope in a pandemic; and page 14 has a letter suggesting the creation of posts of “chaplain to the clergy” to provide the mutual love, care, and support that we all need to give and receive from one another — whether hands, feet, eyes, or ears, in this Body to which we have all been called.
GILLIAN NEWTON (LLM)
2 Woodside Road
Salisbury SP2 9ED
Is this episcopal ministry now a task for others?
From the Revd Dave Thompson
Sir, — How sad that the Revd Sister Judith Blackburn SSM should feel the understandable need to call for a post of Chaplain to the Clergy (Letters, 23 October). This was once seen as the role of bishops and their leadership teams, but it would appear that times have changed.
In the Diary (same issue), Bishop Graham James mentions Bishop Douglas Feaver who “could be a fine pastor to many clergy”.
Despite his many eccentricities — wonderfully detailed in the 1985 publication Purple Feaver — such an example of pastoral care to his clergy ought be followed today by his episcopal successors.
270 Walmersley Road,
Bury BL9 6NH
From the Revd Nicholas Fincham
Sir, — How sensitive the Revd Sister Judith Blackburn SSM appeared in her letter asking where clergy of either gender seek pastoral care. I am a retired priest in Chichester diocese. We have more than 50 retired clergy in our deanery of Eastbourne.
Although, before Covid, we had an active Retired Clergy Support Group, this has now ceased, and many of us feel like non-entities. I am aware that the present stipendiary clergy also struggle with the absence of a pastor for themselves.
Who will actively take on board Sister Judith’s suggestion and implement this? The result can only be positive and of benefit to all congregations if their clergy are valued and cared for.
NICHOLAS C. FINCHAM
7 Harding Avenue
Eastbourne BN22 8PH
All PCCs need to learn from this murder case
From Mr Leslie King
Sir, — I am a member of the PCC at my church. I read the report (News, 23 October) about the murder of Peter Farquhar, and the safeguarding lessons, especially in relation to LGBT folk. The PCC have an important function and responsibility with regard to safeguarding, and particularly their duty of care to ensure the protection of the vulnerable in their church community. But how many will know about, or be told about, the safeguarding aspects of this case?
I also viewed eye-opening and vital information about LGBT safeguarding at a recent conference (www.oasisuk.org; News, same issue), which, I believe, should be mandatory viewing for PCC members, even if only for their own protection. But how many will know, or be told about, this vital resource?
Because many churches maintain a conspiracy of silence around the issue of “the LGBT and the Church”, PCC members are left extremely vulnerable to failing in their duty of safeguarding LGBT folk in their congregations. In consequence, many will not know about the safeguarding review of the Farquhar case, or about the conference, or about the reverberations following the Lizzie Lowe suicide.
This safeguarding challenge involves, in these two cases, murder and suicide. It doesn’t get more serious or dangerous than that. Church leaders are failing in their duty of care to their own PCC members by not raising awareness of these cases and sharing these resources, and preferring to remain silent rather than risk rocking the LGBT boat.
129 Holmwood Road
Cheam, Surrey SM2 7JS
Parish v. rural deanery
From Mr Andrew Collie
Sir, — Prebendary Ian Cardinal’s letter (23 October) is headed “Deanery cannot replace the parish”. I think it can — if it is an appropriate-size unit for mission in the area and there are legal reforms to give it more authority.
In those circumstances, not only can it replace the parish, it will. Prebendary Cardinal is referring to situations that increasingly represent the past Church of England. Our faithful congregants and volunteers are elderly and passing on. The parish is increasingly becoming an unsustainable unit of governance. Congregations in rural areas are increasingly too small to be viable when drawn from a single parish. In urban and suburban areas, parish boundaries are invisible, as their congregations live across a wider area.
It is time to create structures that have the authority to prioritise mission and efficiency. We cannot afford anything else.
Derbyshire DE6 1QB
DAC delay after lead-thefts in south-west
From Kate Cameron
Sir, — The system of diocesan advisory committees (DACs) appears to be broken. Just over seven months ago (News, 13 March), you reported the theft of lead from a number of churches in this part of Somerset. These churches still do not have a weatherproof roof.
There are tarpaulins, buckets, and sodden walls and rainwater pouring in over fabric and affecting the organ. Churchwardens and volunteers work tirelessly, but feel disheartened. The formalities for applying for an emergency faculty were completed by 20 March.
The course of this delay and consequential damage appears to rest with the DAC. In all charity, why?