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Letters to the Editor

08 May 2020

Church Times letters: letters@churchtimes.co.uk We regret that we cannot guarantee consideration of letters submitted by post under present working conditions


Clock has turned back on ageism

From Dr Andrew Purkis

Sir, — Paul Vallely expresses unease about the constant references to “underlying health conditions”, as if these might justify a more relaxed attitude to deaths from Covid-19 among those people who have such conditions (“No virus victim was ‘asking for it’”, Comment, 1 May).

There is another side to this argument. Yes, as your columnist emphasises, all lives are equal in dignity and value in the eyes of God. Yet it became routine from the moment we became aware of the new virus to lump “the elderly” over the magic age of 70 together and refer to them as “a vulnerable, at-risk group”, regardless of their health status.

In normal times, we had learnt not to stereotype whole heterogeneous categories of people in this way, whether on grounds of gender, race, disability, or age. Forty years of progress in combating ageism, and realising that older people are incredibly diverse and have a huge contribution to make to society, seem to have been effortlessly reversed. “The over-70s” are now experiencing the same degrading assumption as disabled people, brilliantly highlighted by Naomi Lawson Jacobs (Features, same issue): society sees you as vulnerable and in need of protection, simply by virtue of your being disabled or over 70, instead of seeing you as an individual human being with much to give.

It is highly relevant if the vast majority of those dying from Covid-19 had existing known health weaknesses. For that tends to undermine the idea that age in itself makes people specially vulnerable. There are millions of fit and healthy people over 70. If people accumulate more health weaknesses as they grow older, the salient point is that they have a different health status, not that they have reached a particular age.

To base social attitudes and policies towards fit older people on the fact they have passed an arbitrary age is discriminatory. As the Church has reason to know better than any, the part that they play as parents and grandparents, and as volunteers, active neighbours, and good citizens, is immense; so it is not only their dignity and sense of being valued which suffer in this recrudescence of ageism. Society, and its capacity to recover from the pandemic without undue damage, is the poorer, too.

44 Bellamy Street
London SW12 8BU


Impact of Covid-19 on prisons, and how to help 

From the Revd Lyn Kenny

Sir, ­— As a former prison chaplain, I read with interest the excellent article by the Revd David Kirk Beedon (Comment, 1 May), in which he, rightly, pointed out that the current lockdown is in no way comparable to the incarceration of prisoners. I would like to address two points.

First, there is indeed in prison a high incidence of mental illness and stories of “adverse childhood experiences” beyond the comprehension of most of us. It is common to see parents, children, and siblings all incarcerated in the same jail.

Prison visitors are desperately needed, as are pen pals, for those who may be at the other side of the country from those able to visit. Prisons rely on volunteers in many capacities. Your readers should contact the chaplaincy department of their nearest prison to be welcomed with open arms. There are rehabilitation courses, such as Sycamore, that rely on Christians facilitators.

In your readers’ everyday life, I would encourage them to look out for instances where hospitality might make a big difference. Our youngest daughter regularly brought home children from school, as friends, who were from homes where a parent was in prison. One young lad used to come to church with us and to Sunday lunch, and played Joseph in the Christmas Nativity, to which his mother came. Another young girl whose father was in jail was sleeping on the floor, covered with coats, alongside her three siblings. She had a number of sleepovers at our house. Both these young people are still in touch with us, and remember their times with us as happy.

Second, I am in daily phone contact with a prisoner whom we hope to assist on his release. The prison estate in England has been fully locked down since 23 March. In practical terms, this means being in solitude for up to 23.5 hours per day. Social distancing means that the men have only one shower, lasting ten minutes, every other day, and one exercise period, lasting 20 minutes, per day. Meals are usually delivered to the cell door by staff and eaten in solitude. I once got trapped in a small cell of this kind for ten minutes and had a panic attack.

The Prison Service is trying its best to care for the men, and is providing a weekly sum of £5 to use on the phones, which are in cells in this prison. Since each call costs £1.10 for 15 minutes, it soon runs out. As all visits are suspended until further notice, and it could be months, this is the only lifeline that the prisoners have to the outside.

A positive outcome is the time that the officers have to speak to prisoners through the cell door and their willingness to provide activities for the men, such as bingo, sudoku, and crossword puzzles. This has led to a better working relationship between both parties. Although “my man on the inside” says that prisoners all understand what is happening, if this continued for several months, there would be “problems”.

Address supplied


New rule on PCCs is drafted too widely 

From Mrs Rachael Linstead

Sir, — While I fully understand the desire to remove bureaucracy, I do think that the new rule, M29, that provides for decisions of the parochial church council to be taken by correspondence — on which PCCs may well be rely for the conduct of business at present — has been drafted too widely, and undermines essential safeguards for the laity.

It permits the incumbent, without endorsement from the churchwardens or anyone else, to prescribe that a matter shall be decided by correspondence without any meeting, of either the PCC or the Standing Committee. It does not define what business may be transacted in this manner, it leaves it entirely to the incumbent what deadline is to be set for a decision on the proposals and how many people are required to object for the proposal not to be deemed approved. It also fails to require that a matter concerning policy decisions such as significant expenditure or legal contracts should be circulated to recipients in the form of a draft formal resolution.

If this is taken literally, an incumbent could rule that a significant decision should be approved under M29 with a very short deadline for comments, without any formal resolution, and with the stipulation that it would be deemed approved unless upwards of two-thirds of the PCC objected. Was this what the General Synod intended?

The fact that it is a legal possibility must give cause for concern.

20 Silhill Hall Road
Solihull B91 1JU


Episcopal guidance on the closure of churches 

From Mrs Margery Roberts

Sir, — The Church Times has helpfully published varying opinions and comments on the Archbishops’ and Bishops’ advice on whether clergy should stream services from inside their churches, but little has been said from the perspective of parish officers and other lay volunteers.

As a former churchwarden, I know the sense of duty that impels a churchwarden to clamber on to a church roof to clear leaves from the gutter, or to get up before dawn on winter mornings to coax a reluctant church boiler to produce a little heat. The Church of England has published some sensible guidance on caring for a church in lockdown.

If, however, I try to follow the logic behind the Archbishops’ advice, I wonder whether any of this is worth while. Under the lockdown legislation, people are allowed to go to work if it is essential for them to do. The splendid checkout assistants at my local Tesco come into this category, but apparently the clergy do not. On the contrary, they are supposed to set an example to others by not going to their churches to stream services for the congregation, despite the requirements of canon law. In other words, the church buildings are not essential.

This view may, in fact, be prescient. Church buildings take up a lot of money and effort and, in the future, maintaining them could become an unjustifiable burden. They could be demolished, or offloaded on to the State or English Heritage, and we faithful — or what remains of us — could cosy up in the parish priest’s kitchen or, better still, down the pub. There would be no need for churchwardens and all those irksome duties, and parishioners would need to raise only the sum needed to pay our priest’s stipend and housing. It is a rosy prospect.

A few years ago, my parish held a brainstorming session on what really mattered to the parishioners and to the local community. The beautiful and historic church building came out top. There is an agonising dilemma here that the Church is going to have to face some time. To what extent are our church buildings, and all their contents, really essential to the life and future health of the Church? The Archbishops seem to have solved the matter already.

7 Nunnery Stables
St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 2AS


From the Revd David Hadfield

Sir, — I think, with respect, that, although much of what the Revd Dr Simon Steer wrote is true (Letters, 1 May) — we all know the Church is the people of God, not the building, that God is not confined to buildings, and that you do not need to be in a church to pray — he misses the point.

Churches, unlike our homes and any other space, are set aside as sacred spaces dedicated for worship and prayer, and that dedicated use often leaves its mark in and on a building, as I know from personal experience. It is not consequently surprising that many, to borrow a phrase from T. S. Eliot, wish to be able to “kneel where prayer has been valid”.

Highgate House, Tomtits Lane
Forest Row, East Sussex RH18 5AT


Early service not unrelated to willing service 

From Mr Richard Gunning

Sir, — When I first read the Very Revd Dr Martyn Percy’s piece on “Early birds” (Diary, 24 April), I assumed it was tongue-in-cheek. Having read it a second time I see that he really was having a pop at “eight-o’clockers” with their alleged minimal eye contact with others, “designated pews” at the back of the church, and unwillingness to be “corralled into a rota for making the coffee or mowing the churchyard”.

I have to say that, at my church (St Mark’s, Purley, in Surrey), mowing the church grounds is exactly what some of the eight-o’clockers do. In addition, they mend the roof, fix the flooring, maintain the lighting, and perform a myriad of other DIY jobs, saving the church a large sum of money every year.

The Thursday Group, as we call them, are a formidable, and feisty, bunch of eight-o’clockers, and I suggest that Dean Percy be very careful about whom he tangles with.

38 Sprucedale Gardens
Wallington, Surrey SM6 9LB


Divergent memories of St James’s, Muswell Hill 

From Jacqueline Metcalfe

Sir, — I was interested to compare my earliest memories of St James’s Muswell Hill, with those of Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 1 May). We are of a similar age and not only worshipped at the church at the same time, but also attended youth-fellowship meetings together. It was a long time ago and details can become blurred.

For me, the blue hassocks were not faded, matins was called Morning Prayer (it followed children’s church at 10 a.m.), there was always congregational psalm- singing, and Evening Prayer was definitely at 6.30 p.m. These are little points and perhaps I am being petty in raising them.

One error I cannot let slip, however. The organist and choirmaster, father of Jennifer Bate, whose obituary was featured last week, was Horace A. Bate. He was referred to over the years as H A. There was no other name for him. Just ask any of the former choirboys!.

The Rowans, Milton
Cambridge CB24 6YU


From Mr John Hutchinson

Sir, — It is with some diffidence that I — as a regular follower of Canon Angela Tilby, most of whose wise sayings I can accept, if not always go along with — dare to question some of the details of her early childhood church experience. I very much doubt whether at St James’s in those days the minister at the holy communion would have worn a stole with his surplice; much more likely an academic hood and black preaching scarf. A stole smacked of eucharistic vestments. And as for The English Hymnal, that is highly improbable; for it contained Romish hymns to and in praise of the Virgin. Much more likely that old stalwart, Hymns Ancient and Modern. But I can still remember the smell of those hassocks!

3 Park Lane
Budleigh Salterton
Devon EX9 6QT


Resource-church rethink 

Sir, — Via Skype, an old friend and I were discussing the reaction of the Church to this country’s woes. He mentioned the financial problems of his diocese. At the same time, albeit from different financial sources, the national Church can continue to allocate apparently millions of pounds to setting up “resource churches”.

We both agreed that, for the time being, we would prefer, for example, to retain existing wooden pews rather than refit such churches with chairs each costing several hundreds of pounds.


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