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Letters to the Editor

01 April 2021

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Christian protest and law-breaking

From the Revd Sue Parfitt

Sir, — What on earth are the Oxford and Bath & Wells dioceses talking about when they say that they cannot condone breaking the law (Online news, 22 March)? In their otherwise very supportive comments on the Revd Tim Hewes’s and Dr Ben Buse’s week in prison for climate-change protest, they both make this extraordinary statement. No doubt it would be the generally accepted response of much of the Church. So let me rephrase my remark.

What on earth is the Church talking about? Would it not want to condone St Paul’s frequent periods of imprisonment? Would it not condone the flagrant lawbreaking of Peter and Silas and vast numbers of those earliest Christians we read about in Acts? Would it not condone the law-breaking of Polycarp or Ignatius of Antioch or Irenaeus or Perpetua and Felicity or those in the Hebrew Scriptures such as Daniel or Shadrach, Mesech, and Abednego? They were all disobedient to the law of the State in order to be obedient to the law of God. And so was Jesus.

And what about all those protesters of more recent times who broke the law? Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, many of the suffragettes, Gandhi, Dorothy Day — the list is endless.

As a Church, we have to do better than that. The planet, as it faces an existential crisis of unparalleled magnitude, needs a prophetic Church as never before. It needs the Church to step up to the plate and take the lead, alongside those of other faiths and all people of good will, to confront the powers and principalities of this world, manifested in the intransigence of governments, the greed of corporate bodies, the blindness of our leaders, and the self-indulgent complicity of us all.

The Church understands about sacrifice: it follows a Leader who cared only for his obedient following of the will of God, whatever the cost. The Church may, therefore, be the only body who can lead us through this terrible crisis into a new and completely different way of living.

But to do so will certainly require some — perhaps many — of its members to break the law and thus to refuse complicity with the business-as-usual ambitions of the State. I pray that the leaders of our Church will have the courage and wisdom to support them.

Garden Cottage
Rectory Garden
Bristol BS10 7AQ


Value of parish ministry

From the Revd Dr Sue Clarke

Sir, — It was encouraging to read the Revd David Ford’s article exploring the “ministry needs” of a parish and the importance of “ministry offered” by the lay members of the congregation and the “ministry received” from stipended clergy (Comment, 26 March). The danger of not adequately defining “ministry needs” by not consulting with the wider community such as the deanery was discussed, as well as the failure to assess the numerical financial value of lay ministry.

It was disappointing, however, that the contribution to parish-based ministry of non-stipended/self-supporting clergy was not mentioned in the article. According to the 2020 Ministry Statistics published by the Church of England (1), 37 per cent of ordained clergy are non-stipendiary; and yet the “value” of these clergy to parish ministry is rarely considered.

In any strategic consideration of resource allocation, the significant contribution made by non-stipendiary clergy must be recognised and given appropriate value.

26 Abbotsleigh Road
London SW16 1SP


Clergy and laity during coronavirus restrictions

From the Revd John Davies

Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 26 March) wonders whether the Times correspondent Morwenna Ford is a real person or a hamlet in Wessex. I can assure him that Mrs Ford is very real indeed. She is a person with a heart as big as the community that she voluntarily serves so well in numerous ways, including as a churchwarden, a role in which she began during my time as Rector of Queen Camel, and in which perhaps she continues.

I take her criticism of the Church’s “impotence” during lockdown as being the frustration of a community activist with an instinct to maximise our outreach in a time of crisis, a committed churchgoer who longs to see us at our most engaged. This is a laudable standpoint, although it is diminished when it serves only to reinforce a specious opposition between “active laity” and “inactive clergy” so enthusiastically promoted by elements of the media.

In reality, all laity and clergy together traverse the spectrum of activism and contemplation; we are a complex mixture of extroverts and introverts. Each day of this gradual emergence from lockdown, we may find ourselves swinging between being impatient to get back out into the world to re-engage fully, and feeling anxious about the lifting of restrictions and the pressures of socialising again.

The Times may enjoy being an arena to fuel false oppositions, but the Church could be a place of dialogue where we accept each other’s truth and explore together how we might “re-emerge” from lockdown with difference, depth, and integrity.

The Vicarage, Clapham Road
Austwick, Lancaster LA2 8BE


Emmanuel, Wimbledon, and its governance

From Mr David Roberts

Sir, — I venture to question your description (Leader comment, 26 March) of Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon (ECW) as “a not-quite-parish church”. It appears to me that ECW is not at all a parish church, despite some skilful borrowing by those involved in it of Anglican parochial nomenclature. ECW’s perceived success, which the reviewers challenge, lies in making the unusual appear normal.

The minister of ECW sometimes describes himself as the Vicar. This may have led the independent reviewers of safeguarding problems at ECW repeatedly to refer to a “parish” and to the minister as “the Vicar”. As ECW’s website goes to some trouble to explain, however, ECW is an independent proprietary chapel. Consequently, there is no ECW parish and there can be no Vicar of it. ECW is geographically within the parish of Wimbledon, whose incumbent is the Team Rector. She is assisted by a number of Team Vicars. The minister of ECW is not one of these.

There is also a “church council”, but, unlike a parochial church council, its members are not the trustees of ECW. There are separate trustees, who appear to be the directors of the company that owns ECW’s site and buildings. There are some women trustees, but they seem to be a fairly recent phenomenon. Behind the trustees is a group of male “patrons”, who are said to be responsible for appointing the clergy. These are not patrons in the parochial sense, because ECW is not a benefice. The reviewers encouragingly report that one of the “church wardens” is a woman. But these are not churchwardens within the meaning of the Churchwardens Measure 2001. They are ambassadors for ECW rather than officers with internal custodial and disciplinary functions.

ECW’s governance appears ineffective, labyrinthine, and discriminatory against women. The Church of England has benefited from the varied skills of women who have served as real churchwardens in parishes over the past century or so. Female patronage is described in Jane Austen’s works, but ECW appears at least 200 years out of date on this. These are administrative issues, and not theological ones, but ECW seems less than open about these and other matters of equality.

A further grave issue at ECW has been clergy discipline, and here it is salutary to note links to Dorset, central London, Liverpool, and Newcastle. A number of personalities recur, as do concerns over authoritarianism, overlong ministries, isolation, and a reluctance to co-operate. These factors militate against any willingness to change.

7 Nunnery Stables
St Albans, Herts AL1 2AS


Patronage and the best traditions of the CPAS

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — As a former member of the CPAS Patronage Board for 25 years, and its sometime chairperson, I was glad to see the Revd Simon Douglas Lane’s sympathetic and warm-hearted letter (26 March), in contrast with the three rather hostile and negative letters the previous week.

Well-managed (and, thanks to a consistent succession of high-quality patronage secretaries and assistant secretaries, CPAS patronage work has long maintained an excellent reputation with the House of Bishops), the patronage system remains on the whole, apart from a few anachronistic quirks, a considerable asset to the Church of England.

First, it establishes a healthy triangle of forces involving the usual three interested parties in the appointment of a new incumbent: the bishop, obviously representing the diocese, the parish representatives standing for local interest, and the patron, who represents the wider Church. The resulting creative tension keeps too much power from falling into the bishop’s hands, and helps to protect the parish from a too narrow and isolationist approach.

Second, the system, when handled sensitively, serves to maintain for the parish in question a spiritually beneficial continuity of ecclesiastical tradition and practice, be it Catholic, liberal, or Evangelical. Thus it reduces the possibility of a congregation falling into the “clutches” — to use a word from one of the hostile letters — of a maverick eccentric or heretic who could speedily undo years of faithful teaching and pastoral ministry, with the inevitable resultant stress and unhappiness.

Undoubtedly, some aspects of the system need reform and modernising, but as Simon Douglas Lane said in his letter, “Let’s not throw the baby out with the bath water.”

7 Bluebell Close
Gloucestershire GL56 9PW


St Thomas’s, Dublin

From the Very Revd Robert MacCarthy

Sir, — Your report (News, 19 March) that St Thomas’s, in Dublin city-centre, has been taken over by rough-sleepers and drug-dealers makes sad reading. The financial viability of the parish should not be a sufficient explanation. Until recently, the church was used by the many African Anglicans now in Dublin who were ministered to by a Nigerian priest.

The notoriously inward-looking Church of Ireland should be able to do better than this. Immigrants should be welcomed, not cold-shouldered.

22 Vernon Street, Dublin 8, Ireland

Price of a critical friend

From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — “You will be the Archbishop’s chief companion, support and critical friend . . .” runs the advert for Bishopthorpe Chief of Staff (26 March). My wonderful wife has now filed a claim against me for £90K per annum, backdated forty years.

8 Bielby Close, Scarborough
North Yorkshire YO12 6UU

[Bishop Wilbourne was Domestic Chaplain to the Archbishop of York, John Habgood, 1991-97. Editor]

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