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Letters to the Editor

06 March 2020


Spiritual direction after Vanier

From the Revd Charles Ruxton

Sir, — We’ve done it again: constructed a saint (Jean Vanier) to tear apart (News and Comment, 28 February). It’s as if, knowing our own goodness is compromised, we project it on to another, hoping against hope that they will be perfect.

Vanier — naval officer, philosopher, and founder of L’Arche — seems to have accepted this projection and taken it on himself to offer spiritual direction. I don’t know whether he was trained in this ministry, and he seems to have adopted a model that, as the Revd Dr Lorraine Cavanagh points out in her article, encouraged dependency — an imbalance of power which made sexual abuse possible. This model was at least in part derived from the distorted views of his own mentor, Fr Thomas Philippe.

We who offer spiritual direction need to learn from this story, in particular the way in which power for good can be so subtly distorted to something truly evil. The only guard against this (apart from removing the power entirely and doing nothing good) is an even balance of power between the one offering direction and the one receiving it.

Where I would dispute Dr Cavanagh’s analysis, though, is her suggestion that spiritual direction may have had its day and certainly needs radical reformation, or that it would be better just to go to a psychotherapist. Thank God for psychotherapy, but it’s different: it focuses on problems and their roots; spiritual direction focuses on the emerging adventure of life and God in it all.

And any of the mainstream training courses in spiritual direction in the UK today would spend significant time looking at the issue of power balance, putting into practice Ignatius’s maxim “Let the Creator deal with the creature” (i.e. keep out of the way of what God is doing). Psychosexual dynamics form a part of this consideration, as does the need for noticing what is going on in us and giving an account of that in supervision. In the diocese of Lichfield, all listed spiritual companions (as we call them) are required to follow a code of practice, which includes a requirement for supervision.

Anything good can be abused and needs safeguarding, but let’s not give up on spiritual direction. For many, it is a place of being genuinely heard and, as Dr Cavanagh acknowledges, “helped to mature in and through a living relationship with Christ”. What a wonderful thing!

Lichfield Diocesan Spirituality Adviser
New Place, Rowley
Shropshire SY5 9RY


State should measure children’s well-being 

From the Bishops of Derby, Durham, Portsmouth, Dover, Gloucester, and Manchester

Sir, — At the Church of England’s General Synod last month, we spent some time with the Children’s Society thinking about the well-being of children and young people.

The charity’s research has found that children’s well-being has been in decline since 2009. The latest Good Childhood Report revealed that both girls and now boys are increasingly unhappy with their appearance. Many are struggling with their friendships and unhappy with school. There is much to be concerned about; these long-term trends are often the result of huge societal pressures causing worry, tension, and stress.

For children, well-being is not just about being “happy”: it’s about the ways they can be satisfied with their lives, feel listened too, and be optimistic about the future and able to cope with the ups and downs of life. Well-being is about stronger relationships between parents or carers and children; it’s about better local neighbourhoods; it’s about good physical and mental health.

Nationally, action is needed. This country has made great strides in understanding and responding to the well-being of adults — with a national well-being measure that is studied quarterly. Yet we do not measure children’s well-being, even though our children bear the brunt of increasing imbalances in society, of the growing pressure of our obsession with school attainment results, and of rising mental ill-health and poverty.

We believe it is time to do something about this. Jesus placed children at the heart of the Kingdom of God. In a time when children were seen as of less worth than adults, Jesus saw and valued children as of intrinsic worth. It is vital that we support today’s children through the increasingly complex issues that their generation face, with compassion and understanding, disrupting the scourge of disadvantage to ensure every child can thrive.

We’re, therefore, calling on the Government to measure children’s well-being on a national level. To that end, we would ask your readers to add their names to the Children’s Society’s petition (www.childrenssociety.org.uk/measure).

c/o The Children’s Society
Whitecross Studios
50 Banner Street
London EC1Y 8ST


Canon Wells and his post-Brexit manifesto

From Canon Paul Oestreicher

Sir, — Canon Sam Wells’s vision of the kind of Britain which he would like to see (Comment, 28 February) is refreshingly honest, enlightened, and as realistically hopeful as a dire situation allows. There is one serious flaw to be found in one phrase, “What the terror of nuclear weapons once was . . .”. Canon Wells now hands this terror over to the Thunberg generation. The nuclear threat gives way to the environmental threat.

The truth is that these are not alternatives. They must be tackled together. Looking at today’s global politics, the danger of genocidal nuclear war has greatly increased. The carefully constructed security mechanisms of the Cold War are no longer in place. They only just saved us more than once. In the Cuban crisis, Kennedy and Khrushchev were cool, rational politicians. Today’s leaders are far less reliable, to put it mildly. The Britain of which Canon Wells writes is part of the problem; Trident and its advocates are part of the threat.

The younger generation, who marched to Aldermaston in the 1960s and again in the 1980s, are now where they should be, back in the streets. They must address both issues. A nuclear holocaust would do in hours or days what an environmental disaster would do in decades, so drastic are both threats. They fuel each other. If the vast resources spent on weapons technology were put into environmental protection, the world would be doubly safer.

It is not as a Christian pacifist that I write, though I am one, but as the student of politics, my only academic competence. On both issues, I want my ten grandchildren and all other children everywhere to benefit from Canon Wells’s vision.

Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament
97 Furze Croft, Furze Hill
Brighton BN3 1PE


From Mr J. Alan Smith

Sir, — Canon Sam Wells writes: “After the Empire, it [the UK] chose to become part of the European project.” No, it didn’t. Neither by a referendum nor by a General Election at which joining the EEC was the main topic did the UK choose to join the EEC. In Harold Wilson’s second administration, there was a referendum on making minor changes to the terms of our membership, but that did nor represent a decision to join.

He writes further: “And the Second World War was won because Hitler overreached himself in Russia, and American forces eventually overwhelmed Germany and Japan.”

A third contribution was that the UK survived in the British Isles, North Africa, and the Middle East long enough for the Americans to join the War. Had the UK not survived, with the support of the Empire and Dominions and units from the occupied countries of Europe, the Germans would probably have swept through North Africa and the Middle East, threatening Russia from another direction and leaving the Americans with no base from which to attack Germany even if they so wanted.

In addition, the Japanese might not have bothered to attack Pearl Harbor, with India open to conquest, linking up with the Germans in the Middle East.

40 Albany Court, Epping
Essex CM16 5ED


What Lincoln churchgoers are paying for 

From the Ven. Christopher Laurence

Sir, — I am sure that the generosity of Lincolnshire churchgoers (News, 28 February) would appear quite differently if their support for their parish churches and local mission were factored into the equation.

There are historic reasons for their apparent lack of enthusiasm for paying the parish share in full. Within living memory, archdeacons and suffragans were all embedded either in parishes or cathedral residentiary canonries, which paid their stipends. The diocesan office consisted of a diocesan secretary and two assistants. Now, with a centralised administration, there is a free-standing hierarchy and a big team of officers with unusual titles, such as “strategic implementation officer”, which must be paid for.

Also within living memory, it was unnecessary to support clergy by anything other than the annual parish Easter Offering. Beyond that, they had to live on the value of their glebe, be it large or small. If they could retire, they were entitled to continue to draw one third of the stipend. I remember a colleague who had a large family and who explained how difficult he found it to pray rightly for his predecessor who was enjoying a long retirement.

Now we have synodical government, proper stipends for the clergy, and pensions on retirement. It is a huge extra cost, which, though entirely necessary, may not excite the most generous instincts of a parishioner who knows of the old days and had no part in the decisions that have laid a heavy burden on his or her parish.

It is not parishioners’ generosity that is in question: it is their understanding of the nature and history of our Church.

5 Haffenden Road
Lincoln LN2 1RP


Mapping of churchyards 

From Else Churchill

Sir. — The Society of Genealogists is very interested to read (News, 21 February) about the pilot for the Burial Ground Management System that plans to map churchyards digitally and scan burial registers. Genealogists and local historians would indeed be very interested in such a project. We would, however, encourage the Church Buildings Council and any PCC embarking on such a scheme to talk to and liaise with their local Family History Society. Many local societies have already recorded the monumental inscriptions in churchyards and would provide knowledge and assistance in recording the memorials.

Society of Genealogists
14 Charterhouse Buildings
Goswell Road
London EC1M 7BA


Parish share and staffing in Chelmsford diocese 

From the Revd Frank Wright

Sir, — I was appalled to read the report (News, 28 February) about the calculation of the parish share in the diocese of Chelmsford, “if they want a priest, they will have to pay the going rate.”

I well understand financial restraints, but this is terrible. This type of call blows over the Church from time to time. Some years ago, in Oxford diocese, a similar idea grew. The calculation of the share was to begin with the value of the stipend. Parishes that had no hope of raising the money were to be termed “mission parishes”. I leapt to my feet at the archdeaconry meeting, introducing myself as serving one of these parishes, and saying that I was insulted. All parishes come into that category, well-heeled or penniless. We had no hope of ever getting there. On my stipend as the incumbent, I was, bar one, the highest earner in my parish.

The diocese needs to raise income to fit the budget. The diocese raises the cash and then decides how to use it in accordance with mission and ministry policy. There may not be enough. Hard decisions will have to be made about where the clergy (stipendiary particularly) are to be deployed and how, but that should never be decided on the basis of ability to pay.

It is never about wanting a priest, it is about the ministry of the Church, which lives and breathes aided by the sacramental and pastoral ministry of the ordained. The sacraments are for sale? It may be right or expedient to offer house-for-duty or self-supporting clergy, but it must be well judged.

I have worked in both affluent and very deprived circumstances. The giving in deprived areas is often exemplary.

Blackberry Cottage
55 London Road
Milborne Port
Sherborne DT9 5DW


From Mr John Radford

Sir, — The news that Chelmsford diocese is debating the proposal that only wealthy parishes that can afford to pay will be allowed to appoint a full-time stipendiary priest is a matter of deep concern, not only for parishes in Essex, but across the Church as a whole.

The news must be even more galling to people in Chelmsford diocese, which now boasts no fewer than seven archdeacons.

There are now more bishops in the Church of England than there were in 1900, with fewer parish priests, and smaller congregations. The new diocese of Leeds (as it became) was sold to the Church on the premise that there would be no additional bishoprics created, and what happened? The see of Richmond was revived (now renamed Kirkstall)!

The whole hierarchy of the Church is top-heavy. Perhaps it is time to start making cuts at the top rather than in the parishes.

Church Lodge
Wimborne St Giles
Dorset BH21 5LZ


From the Revd Stephen Cooper

Sir, — The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Rt Revd Stephen Cottrell, may be destined for high things, but he seems to have a very skewed idea about the cost of his parish clergy. Yes, stipend, pension, housing, and training are all reasonable costs to charge parishes for having stipendiary clergy.

Central diocesan and C of E costs are costs to the parish, whether or not they have stipendiary clergy, and need to be acknowledged as such. To try to deem the presence of stipendiary parish clergy as being responsible for central diocesan and C of E costs is an exercise in responsibility avoidance by those who determine those central costs.

Mind you, it’s a way of describing costs which isn’t unique to Chelmsford diocese. It was tried on, and rejected by the diocesan synod, here in Blackburn diocese. Where else?

The Vicarage
Goosnargh Lane
Lancashire PR3 2BN

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