Centralisation in the C of E and diocesan finances
From the Very Revd Richard Lewis
Sir, — Without surprise, but with increasing alarm, I note the proposal by Mr Gavin Oldham (Letters, 20 November) to “centralise diocesan administrative costs”. If accepted, the deadly demon twins Command and Control will continue their inexorable advance in the Church.
Thoughtful reflection on the failure of various government centralisation mechanisms seems not to be thought worth while. Parishes already seem unwilling to act without permission from Lambeth or an archdeacon. How long will it be, I wonder, before Monday morning brings an email detailing the hymns, and only those, that may be sung the following Sunday — that is, if we are graciously allowed ever to sing hymns again? Consider the time thus saved for clergy to zoom here, zoom there, zoom simply everywhere.
Praise be to the vicar and churchwardens of the parish far, far away and in another diocese from this who, when locked churches were demanded, discovered that they had mislaid the key to the church door.
1 Monmouth Court
Wells BA5 2PX
From the Revd James Rodley
Sir, — On 21 November, the Chelmsford diocesan synod — of which I am a member — approved a proposal to cut 61 stipendiary clergy posts by the end of 2021, with a possible “second wave” of 49 more posts to be cut thereafter “if giving does not improve”.
The synod was not furnished with the likely costs of depriving incumbent clergy; only that it would be “very expensive” and that the diocese was hoping to keep such redundancies to a minimum. They are applying for “transition funding” from the Church Commissioners to meet the legal and HR costs of any such redundancies. But this funding cannot be used to sustain existing ministry.
Can someone please explain to me how on earth it can be right and just to use the Church’s inherited assets to pay lawyers and HR managers, to make vicars redundant?
Vicar, St Mary Magdalene’s, Harlow Common
3 Oaklands Drive, Harlow
Essex CM17 9BE
December worship provision and communicants
From the Revd Neville Manning
Sir, — During lockdown periods, many clergy and others have worked very hard to provide online worship and resources while church buildings have been closed to public worship. All credit to them for that. I am, however, rather disturbed by the tone of the letter from the Revd Colin Alsbury (27 November), which seems to say that his church is planning to put on few if any public services during December, even though we are now permitted to do so.
The Archbishop of Canterbury has said that churches are probably among the safest places to be. Certainly, churches that I have contact with have been very diligent about social distancing and other precautions, and rightly so.
The problem with doing everything online is that there are always some people who will miss out, particularly elderly people who have little or no chance of doing things online and who are yet often the stalwart members of churches. Even I and other elderly retired clergy, even if we can cope with e-mails and the like, groan a little when the words “Zoom” and “online” are mentioned.
Whatever the logistics of arranging carol services this year may be, let us remember that the Church is a eucharistic community. It was rightly made clear to me in my days at theological college that celebrating and sharing the eucharist is a matter of obedience. By no feat of the imagination can we share holy communion remotely.
7 Spinnaker Court, Salvador Close
Eastbourne BN23 5TB
National priorities and government spending
From Canon Christopher Hall
Sir, — The Archbishops pour shame on the Government for breaking its proud year-old manifesto promise as well as repealing the 2015 cross-party Act committing 70p in each £100 of national income to overseas aid; that still leaves £99.30 for the nation’s other needs.
With 29 other serving bishops, the Archbishops have urged the Government to ratify the United Nations treaty prohibiting nuclear weapons. To do so would save the nation £150 billion, conservatively estimated to be the total cost of the programme to replace Trident.
Straining at the gnat of saving £4 billion a year desperately needed to combat the global pandemic (or, rather, spending that extra sum instead on arms), the Government requires the nation as well to swallow the cost of four new submarine monsters, which by the time they are operational will be deeply vulnerable to anti-submarine technology.
The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB
Forgiveness and repentance in Christ’s teaching
From Dorothy Young
Sir, — In the letter from the Revd Professor Anthony Bash (20 November) are the words “Jesus forgave those who crucified him.”
These are not the words in the piece by Canon Anthony Phillips (Faith, 13 November), where it states that Jesus uttered “words of forgiveness”. As this phrase is used twice, I infer that the author was being careful not to use the definitive word “forgave”, still leaving room for the repentance that could lead to forgiveness from God.
I was so grateful to the writer of the letter, because I was inspired to a close re-reading of Canon Phillips’s actual words and a deeper understanding of the unconditional forgiveness that we commit ourselves to each time we say the Lord’s Prayer.
7 Margesson Drive
Birmingham B45 8LR
From the Revd Allan Sheath
Sir, — Professor Bash writes: “the usual pattern is that repentance precedes forgiveness . . ., as our liturgy rightly reflects.” But is this so?
In The Sign of Love: Reflections on the eucharist, Timothy Gorringe uses the story in Luke 19 to show Jesus first extending hospitality (communion) to Zacchaeus, who then responds by changing heart and life. The sinner first knows forgiveness, then repentance and change. This is neither cheap grace nor connivance with sin; it hurts to be transparent to holiness.
The operating principle is that forgiveness is always prior (although we should engage in practices of repentance, to own it more fully). To insist on repentance before forgiveness is not only theologically questionable: it has also been the cause of many a damaged soul — as borne out my experience as a penitent and a confessor.
Tiverton EX16 7DE
From Barbara Walklate
Sir, — Professor Bash says in his last paragraph: “We should show grace and love to those who wrong us, but forgiveness is the gift we give to those who repent.”
It is very easy to be magnanimous and to forgive whose who repent and ask our forgiveness, but we are enjoined in the Lord’s Prayer “Forgive us our sins as we forgive those who sin against us.”
Doesn’t our forgiveness from our heavenly Father depend on our forgiving others who sin against us, regardless of whether they have asked for our forgiveness or not? Surely forgiveness is primarily a gift that we give to ourselves rather than bestow on others.
17 Old Glebe, Tadmarton
Banbury OX15 5TH
From the Revd Rutton Viccajee
Sir, — I hesitate to contradict Professor Bash, but his argument presents, I fear, a slippery slope of un-grace.
First, how do we measure repentance? Its depth, length, and quality are all highly personal and subjective. How does that square with Jesus’s teaching on “Judge not”?
Second, even if repentance were objectively measurable, where does that leave the command to love unconditionally the (usually unrepentant) enemy? Or to offer forgiveness to the morally questionable only by demanding signs of their improved morality first, before they are to “Go away, and sin no more?” This Christ does not do.
The argument denies the obvious psychology of the passage, which is, that at such a huge moment of physical and spiritual crisis, Christ offers an unconditional prayer of forgiveness to the — very clearly — unrepentant.
2 Willow Fields
Aldershot GU12 6HF
From Canon Anthony Phillips
Sir, — With respect, I cannot accept Professor Bash’s assertion that those crucifying Jesus were ignorant of their offence. Pilate had very publicly twice acquitted Jesus, but through weakness handed him over to the mob.
Everyone in Jerusalem would have known that an innocent man was being put to death. What they did not comprehend was the true identity of the victim — the enormity of their crime. It is this that the Son pleads his Father to forgive.
I reiterate: repentance and forgiveness are two separate and independent acts. In unilaterally forgiving the living as well as the dead (who cannot repent), one acquires a freedom of which hitherto one has never dared to dream.
47 Warwick Street,
Oxford OX4 1SZ
The clergy’s reputation for truthfulness
From Christina Rees
Sir, — I was taken aback by the findings of the recent Ipsos MORI Veracity Index 2020, a gauge of the perceived trustworthiness of those working in 30 professions.
To discover that the ordinary man or woman in the street is seen as more trustworthy than a member of the clergy does not reflect well on those whose office includes preaching and proclaiming the reality of a God who was known in Christ as being the Truth.
Perhaps these findings might prompt some remedial course of action, or, at the very least, some soul-searching about why this is the case.
30 Weybourne Road
Sheringham NR26 8HF