Attendance figures are not enough
From Mr Tim Mitchell
Sir, — Your report on the Evangelical Alliance’s research into the decline in church attendance since the pandemic (News, 3 December) contained few surprises. The 32-per-cent reduction is likely to be mirrored, if not surpassed, by the Church of England in the coming months.
The pain of such heavy losses and the sense of anxiety about the future of the Church, held by both clergy and laity, is palpable. Many church members report that children and young people, who counter-intuitively found the online provision of worship and activities dissatisfying, have not returned to “in-person” church, a point borne out by the Alliance’s research.
Bafflingly, to add insult to injury, senior staff in the Church of England are — unintentionally, I am sure — damaging the fragile morale of the committed core of our churches (the 20 per cent) who care about the Church’s interface with the world. The announcement of the aspiration to plant 10,000 new worshipping communities (NWCs) (or was it 20,000?) could not have been more poorly timed (News, 2 July, 9 July); nor could the launch of numerous diocesan “growth” strategies during the recent lockdowns.
At a time when churches crave support and precious resources to focus their rebuilding programmes to reach the missing generations, some dioceses are clearly dancing to the Strategic Development Fund’s (SDF’s) tune and championing NWCs as if they were a panacea for all post-Covid-19 ills.
Rarely has the rhetoric of the centre of the Church of England been more dissonant from those exercising the cure of souls in our parishes. Trust can be rebuilt, though, if the lip-service about the importance of parishes is backed up with tangible support. A simple step would be to encourage the SDF to adopt a humbler attitude and release mission funds to dioceses that were prepared to set aside monies to rebuild congregations.
Every parish would then be free to bid for monies to support credible plans to restore congregational health, which, of course, is a precursor for multiplication.
35 Shilton Lane, Bulkington
Warwickshire CV12 9JL
From the Revd Annabel King
Sir, — I was surprised to read (News, 3 December) that the Church of England’s annual campaign is to encourage churchgoing over the festive season. While we are happy to welcome everyone into our churches, we know that attending church at Christmas time does not make disciples. If that were the case, our churches would be full all year round, and, for the most part, they are not.
Of course, we are called to care for the faithful already in our churches, but that alone is not enough. We also need to get out of the building and serve others in whatever way is appropriate in our community. It is only by building relationships with those outside the church that we can share the good news of a living faith in Jesus Christ.
Pete Cunningham, the founder of Christian charity Green Pastures, is quoted in last month’s Christianity magazine as saying: “I am fearful for the Church that sings well and preaches well, but doesn’t do what God has asked it to do, which is look after the poor.” He added: “most wonderful of all is the number of people who have come to Christ, not through our preaching of the gospel, but by our doing the gospel.”
So, let us get out and share the good news by living the gospel.
Address supplied (Cornwall)
Domestic violence, the Mothers’ Union, and men
From the Revd Mary Richards
Sir, — It was good to read of the Mothers’ Union (MU) action to highlight the problem of domestic violence (News, 3 December). Readers may be interested to know that many years ago a small number of MU members in Truro, initiated the first refuge for what were then called “battered wives” for Cornwall. It had, perhaps, an unusual beginning.
Back from church, standing at my kitchen sink, with a concern for a young married woman with a child whose husband seemed to be increasingly aggressive, I had a sudden overwhelming feeling that a house was needed where abused women could seek refuge.
I shared my thoughts with the local MU Branch Leader, who thought it a good idea; but where would we get a house? And we would need someone to live there, etc. Two or three years later, this lovely lady, Nell Scott, became the diocesan MU President, and then came back to me with “What about your idea of a women’s refuge?” By this time, the first refuge for women had opened in London, and the public knew of the need.
With the help and encouragement of many people, I was launched into exploring whether there was a need in Cornwall. Many people were horrified and denying that there should be any domestic violence in Cornwall. Cornwall was different, or so they thought. It certainly wasn’t and isn’t.
Sad to say, the MU was not allowed to set up a refuge, perhaps at that time, but we ploughed on, and, at an inaugural meeting in 1977, I was elected the chairman of the Cornwall Women’s Refuge Trust. Two years later, the local council having provided a house, the refuge was blessed and officially opened by the Bishop of Truro, Graham Leonard, on 21 May 1979, even in the presence of television cameras.
In 1985, I handed over as chairman, as I then began ordination training. The refuge continues to be much in demand, is now much more professionally run, and, some years ago, a refuge for men was set up in Truro.
The MU certainly played a part in the creation of the first refuge in Cornwall and to this day receives support from various branches with gifts especially at Christmas.
Truro TR3 6BH
From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC
Sir, — The report on domestic abuse makes excellent reading, and it is a matter that should certainly receive attention. Nevertheless, it is flawed, in that it reads as though the abuser were always male and the victim always female or might be a child. Yet official figures state that, in maybe as many as 20 per cent of cases, the abuser is a woman, and the victim is a man, and may be a child.
Male victims of domestic abuse find this very difficult to deal with. Such cases are rarely handled properly. In one instance that I know of, though police and social services accepted that it was the woman who was abusing her male partner and their children, it was the male who was asked to leave the family home, while the children were taken into care, as there was no safe haven for them while the woman was left in the family home.
This is punishing the victims while taking no action against the offender, and it is totally unacceptable. Action on these things must be on a totally gender-neutral basis.
Litchdon House, Litchdon Street
Barnstaple, Devon EX32 8ND
Disquiet about renewal of Covid regulations
From Canon R. H. W. Arguile
Sir, — I read of the support of church leaders (News, 3 December) for the new wave of restrictions on the behaviour of healthy citizens with concern.
Even if my rusty legal background is too out of focus, that of Jonathan Sumption, former judge of the Supreme Court, is not. The Public Health Act 1984, under which many of the series of legal restrictions on conduct were made law, does not give the wide powers exercised under it. The Civil Contingencies Act 2004, which does give such powers, envisages a national emergency. We are not living under such an emergency.
Neither governments nor individuals are ever completely in control of events, but the present state of affairs is one of risk with which we are dealing rather well, not of catastrophe. You (Leader comment, 3 December) and the leaders of the Church are apparently sanguine about the imposition, often before Parliament has even seen the new rules, of regulations creating criminal offences hither and thither.
The Austrians may have proposed rules requiring vaccination under pain of legal penalty: their past record is not good; more extraordinarily, a common-law country such as Australia has abandoned those freedoms that the English common law gave them. But, in the name of God’s creating of people in his image, we should be saying that it is none of the Prime Minister’s business how I live my life within the common law. It has nothing to do with him.
When, without accountability and arguably outside the law, nice people interfere with the lives of healthy people and criminalise them in the process, we shall have no defence if nasty people do the same.
R. H. W. ARGUILE
10 Marsh Lane
Norfolk NR23 1EG
‘What is truth?’
From Dr Henk Carpentier Alting
Sir, — In his article (Comment, 3 December), Dr Ian Todd considers our changing culture by contrasting the question “Is it true?” with the now more likely “Does it work?” He then counters the philosophy of “scientific materialism”. Dr Todd outlines scientific evidence pointing to the truth of a spiritual dimension and the God hypothesis.
Only recently, we read John 18.33-37 (Sunday 21 November). Jesus stands in front of Pilate and the reading closes with Jesus’ words: “Everyone who is of the truth listens to me.” Jesus here addresses the question that Dr Todd starts with.
But the Lectionary leaves out Pilate’s response: “What is truth?” These three words haunt all the metanarratives of human significance and ultimate reality. They also dominate much Western society and academia. That question is even present in the Church. Yet in current debates among ourselves, have we not heard something like “Your interpretation is just one among others”?
So, what determines the outcome of the ensuing debates? The prevalent answer derived from academic Critical Theory is power: dominant groups attribute the language of virtue to themselves and re-write the story of truth to serve their interests.
What a pity the Lectionary stops where it does. The exchange with Pilate raises a profound question that we must address to ourselves and our cultural context.
HENK CARPENTIER ALTING
30 Buckingham Road West
Heaton Moor SK4 4BA
Local reparation for Bell
From Mr Richard R. Symonds
Sir, — According to the Dean of Chichester, the Very Revd Stephen Waine, the cathedral Chapter “is not scheduled to meet until late January” regarding the Archbishop of Canterbury’s statement (News, 17 November) “I was wrong about Bishop Bell.”
This is beyond regrettable, and only perpetuates the injustice done to the wartime Bishop of Chichester for the past six years. Wounds need to start healing before Christmas. A meeting should be scheduled now — not just for God’s sake.
RICHARD W. SYMONDS
The Bell Society
2 Lychgate Cottages
Ifield Street, Ifield Village
Crawley, West Sussex RH11 0NN