Church of England help for refugees jeopardised
From the Revd Gareth Jones
Sir, — Reading “A quiet act of welcome” (Features, 24 July), I was grateful that the story of the Church of England’s central part in the development of Community Refugee Sponsorship has finally been told. As the chair of the elected National Community Sponsorship Council and refugee coordinator for the diocese of Chelmsford, I would, however, like to raise a couple of points.
In the article, it is stated that the C of E is involved in 36 of the 80 schemes. In fact, the C of E is involved through parish and deanery volunteers in most of the 80 schemes. It would be more accurate to say that in 36 schemes the C of E is the lead sponsoring charity. Wherever possible, the C of E’s National Refugee Welcome Coordinator has worked through local Churches Together and civic-society groups to engage with a whole community. Such schemes are to be found across the UK, with C of E involvement from Newcastle and Settle to Southend and Truro. This is something that we must continue to encourage.
I would, however, like to raise the very real concern that those of us working with refugees and asylum-seekers have about present and future support for this work from the national Church. In paragraph four of Pat Ashworth’s excellent article, she mentions in passing that the post of National Refugee Welcome Coordinator has ended owing to a lack of funding.
Quite apart from her work with parishes and dioceses across England in setting up the framework for community sponsorship, Nadine Daniel has in fact been involved in developing the C of E’s response to many issues regarding the effects of the hostile environment on refugees and asylum-seekers. While too many to list here, they included most notably, working to bring an end to indefinite immigration detention, work on lifting the ban on asylum-seekers’ right to obtain work, and developing policy and projects to support language skills and refuge employment through the national Refugee Employment Network.
The loss of this post in the middle of the Covid-19 crisis means that not only is there no longer any C of E presence on Home Office steering committees for resettlement and refugee employment, but that there is no one working nationally to support both existing community-sponsorship schemes and encouraging and supporting new ones. In addition, lockdown has resulted in the closure or substantial reduction of many parish-based refugee and asylum-support initiatives. Most closed in a matter of days.
Restarting such support and developing new post-Covid methodologies, requires the many and diverse skills that the national post enabled. I am all too aware that very few dioceses now have a refugee officer to provide this support. Without this support and advice, it is doubtful that many vital support groups will reopen. As Brexit looms, she also represented the C of E on the Council for European Refugee Resettlement (EU START Network), and worked with CCME to enable the teaching taken from the UK’s successful resettlement scheme to be shared with Churches across Europe.
That the C of E is now the only one of the main denominations to have no national officer dedicated to working to support all those displaced by forced migration gives me and my colleagues great concern — all the more so since, as this article points out, the C of E has until now very much led the way in its provision of love and support.
In 1590, Canterbury Cathedral offered a chapel for French Protestant refugees to worship in. It is in use to this day. Welcome from the Church has continued to be offered to every successive wave of refugees. It is clear that the continued coherent support and defence of such vulnerable peoples will be needed more than ever in the current political environment, in which those seeking refuge are so often treated as semi-criminals and a problem to be solved. A national officer is now needed more than ever.
The Diocesan Office
53 New Street
Chelmsford CM1 1AT
Violence in scripture and its interpretation today
From the Revd Patrick Morrow
Sir, — The Revd Huw Thomas (Comment, 31 July) is right that there is violence aplenty in our scriptures, and it is best faced. It is, though, problematic to imply that biblical Israel was colonialist, a superior military might, subduing others (and worse), as an imperial power. For all its — real — problems, this is not the story that the Hebrew Bible tells. Biblical Israel is “the least of all peoples” (Deuteronomy 7.7), ex-slaves with no natural resources, nor natural means of compelling loyalty. It is not just the legend of Goliath; over the centuries, biblical Israel remains a small people between others, which are the empires.
The earlier framing becomes more problematic when applied to modern Israel, as in the claim that “this land is still occupied” by “Davidic” forces. All of it? Criticism of the proposed annexation of the West Bank (and much more) can justly be shouted from the rooftops. But biblical analogies queer the pitch. If we must look for one for the founding of the State of Israel, a better one is a return to the homeland at the end of the exile. More Ezra than David. What the Persian empire was to the biblical exiles, the UN was to the modern exiles. Both were international ventures, more pragmatic than miraculous; both required the returnees to exercise compromise more than religious fervour (an ongoing task).
Mr Thomas notes how readily violence is masked. Indeed. There is a Christian tradition of valorising Jewish powerlessness, which led to discrimination, oppression, pogroms, and worse. That, too, deserves attention. The Bible does invite us to see the land as gift, inspiring gratitude, as Mr Thomas movingly says. But the force is diminished if we retroject and then reapply the language of “colonialism” to one side only in Israel-Palestine.
1 Toronto Avenue
London E12 5JF
From the Revd Dr Philip Goggin
Sir, — It was surprising to read “How to handle tales of Conquest” not so much because of its actual content, but because of the implication that we were learning something new. Surely, few right-minded persons today would think of these passages as offering justification for violent conquest, land seizure, colonialism, or racial superiority. Don’t we all agree that they are to be interpreted spiritually?
In passing, one could also say that, unless you depersonalise some violent passages in the psalms so as to use them to pray against ideological or institutional enemies of Christ’s Kingdom, you will have mental contortions in reading them.
The spiritual interpretation of passages of conquest goes back to the Patristic period. For example, Origen (c.184-c.253) sees Joshua, instructed by Moses to attack the Amalekites (Exodus 17.8), as a type of Jesus. Jesus fights the Amalekites — the spiritual enemy. But now the victory is to be won by perseverance in prayer — modelled on the persistence of Moses who, with some assistance, held out his arms during the battle (Exodus Homily 11).
But, while we must abhor the perversion of biblical interpretation which justified racist colonial attitudes and practice, it is difficult to see why Mr Thomas has a problem with the use of terms such as “taking”, “claiming”, “winning”, and “victory”. These may well have military origins with Old Testament echoes, but there is a spiritual war going on and a spiritual victory to be won.
This military language is common in Paul’s letters (and our hymnody). For example, Timothy was exhorted to “Fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6.12). And “He (Jesus) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15.25). Christians fight for hearts and minds using the weapons of love and compassion.
St Peter’s Vicarage
Crewe CW1 4RD
Archbishop of Canterbury safeguarding inquiry
From Mr Philip Johanson
Sir, — The Church of England appears to be a Church in a certain amount of chaos as far as safeguarding issues are concerned. The Sheldon Centre report states that there are 291 respondents to their survey who have faced a total of 351 clergy disciplinary case (News, 24 July). There could, of course, be more, if there are others who did not respond to the survey. One cannot help but feel for clergy and their families who do not know what the future holds, and how long they might have to wait.
We now hear that the National Safeguarding Team is “investigating how the Archbishop of Canterbury dealt with allegations against John Smyth” (News, 31 July).
One assumes that the Archbishop of York has suspended the Archbishop of Canterbury pending the outcome of the investigation in the same way as permission to officiate was withdrawn from Lord Carey “as a result of new evidence relating to the review against John Smyth” (News, 26 June). Perhaps that is a difficult thing for the Archbishop of York to do, bearing in mind what came to light regarding his past when Bishop of Reading, which only became public shortly before he was confirmed as Archbishop of York (News, 3 July).
Your report states that the Bishop of Ely wrote to the Bishop of Cape Town in 2013, although the report suggests that it was the Bishop of Table Bay he wrote to; so presumably the National Safeguarding Team will be investigating his involvement. Will that investigation result in the Archbishop of Canterbury, if he has not already suspended himself, suspending the Bishop of Ely as he has done with the Bishop of Lincoln over a different matter? The Bishop of Lincoln has now been suspended for well over a year. How long can these things go on, putting the lives of many individuals and families on hold?
It would appear that the leadership in the Church cannot handle administrative and safeguarding matters in a timely manner, and by all accounts that they are not providing adequate pastoral care to the clergy.
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8 Stourwood Avenue
Dorset BH6 3PN
Art and ownership
From Canon Nicholas Cranfield
Sir, — It was precisely the vexed, and at times litigious, century-long relationship between the Hugh Lane Dublin Gallery (Letters, 24 July) and the National Gallery that lay behind my express concern for the shared ownership of pictures (Arts, 17 July).
Since the state visit to Ireland, it is true that a more cordial relationship has developed, but that follows much debate over the contested bequest and years of discussion.
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London SE3 0TY