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Letters to the Editor

by
11 June 2021

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Content of C of E communications

From Mr Richard Daniels

Sir, — The Revd Christopher Irvine (Letters, 4 June) helpfully highlights something of the defensive culture in the Communications Unit at Church House, Westminster, which I (and others I have spoken to) have experienced more recently. The frequently repeated assurances of “your comments have been duly noted” along with a complete disinclination to engage with the issues raised, especially where theological literacy is at issue, is a poor reflection of what most people would recognise as “communication”.

In the not too distant past, Church House (and indeed many dioceses) had a priest at the communications helm, usually with media and broadcasting experience, who was able to hold in creative tension the need to speak the “language of the street” with journalists for whom religious matters were completely alien territory; but who also had a good grasp of theological issues and was able to explain them clearly.

Now, because “theology” seems like a profanity in the Church of England, we have a team of people who are doubtless proficient at the technical wizardry required in the brave new world of hybrid worship and live-streaming, but who also give every impression of not understanding why the content of that worship is vital in communicating what the Church does (and does not) believe. The flurry of comment on social media concerning the inadequate and misleading description of the Trinity is just the latest example.

Presumably, there are still theologians in the Church of England. Are they not consulted about acts of worship being commissioned from the centre? How involved are members of the Liturgical Commission? And who is the sign-off?

The last thing that I want to do is point fingers at individuals or undermine the range of skills that exist in the Communications Unit. But it would be reassuring to know that they are aware of the gaps and are willing to allow others with wider experience to help in addressing this.

RICHARD DANIELS
106 Herbert Road
Birmingham B31 5GA

 

Theological gap concerning work and ministry

From the Revd Roger Leake

Sir, — The article on self-supporting ministers (News, 4 June) exposed one of the fundamental misunderstandings in the Church of England about work and ministry. For far too long, employment has been classified as either secular or sacred. This artificial, non-biblical, distinction was unknown to St Paul as he made tents and spread the gospel at the same time.

To a Christian, there is no such thing as secular employment (all legitimate employment is vocational), as God calls each of us to use our talents in building Kingdom values wherever we are called to work. The vocation of those who are not in paid ministry should not be doubted. Many Christians in leadership or service positions have far more influence on the way society develops and forms than the clergy in the parishes.

The model of self-supporting ministry has much to offer the Church in the current funding crises, and it may be that parish ministry would be improved if more priests, archdeacons, and bishops were self-supporting and relating to the world of “real work”. As the Revd David Ford wrote (Letters, last week): “we cannot continue with the model of stipendiary ministry as the norm for parish life.” Thus, self-supporting ministry should become the norm for many parishes, and the Church should welcome SSMs; experience and expertise, aiming to acknowledge and support them as much as possible. Above all, the Church must avoid damaging distinctions and divisions between so-called secular or sacred employment.

ROGER LEAKE
The Killick, Wylye Road
Hanging Langford SP3 4NW

 

From the Revd Professor David R. Law

Sir, — To describe self-supporting ministers (SSMs) as “volunteers”, “vicar’s little helpers”, or, as I once experienced, “hobby priests” fails to recognise the distinctive vocation of the SSM. It is precisely here that the Church needs to think more deeply, firstly, about the theology of vocation and, secondly, about the sacramental potential of working in a secular environment.

The SSM faces two ways: towards the Church and towards the world of secular work. This is where the distinctive contribution of the SSM lies: how to bring Christ to workplaces that “don’t do God”, how to integrate faith into secular work, and how to enable work itself to become a medium for communicating grace — in other words, a sacrament.

The questions of status and practical support that dominated discussion at the recent national meeting on self-supporting ministry will be resolved only when we think more deeply and prayerfully about the distinctive contribution of self-supporting ministry and the sacramental potential of secular work.

DAVID R. LAW
Assistant Priest (SSM), St George’s, Altrincham
Professor of Christian Thought and Philosophical Theology
School of Arts, Languages and Cultures
Samuel Alexander Building
University of Manchester
Oxford Road, Manchester M13 9PL

 

Language of prophets in today’s Anglicanism

From the Revd Paul Burr

Sir, — “Good disagreement” may seem unobjectionable — until it dawns that it’s not about process, but destination. Its purpose is not just to facilitate respectful discourse on vexing subjects (hardly an innovation), but to normalise heterodoxy in the Church. To call it “loving disagreement” (Comment, 28 May) makes no difference.

Nor is it disinterested. “Good disagreement” in the mouth of an archbishop with an agenda is a tool for muting opposition — and why it needs debunking.

The substantive issue isn’t trifling: not just the embrace of secular ethics, but the importation into the Church of an ideology — a radical political belief system determined to transform the world and which brooks no opposition. Ideology is by nature hostile to the gospel; for the Church has its own vision for global renewal, what Jesus called the Kingdom of God.

No one can pretend that ideas now commended for consideration represent the faith as the Church has received it, let alone as passed on by the apostles.

The great prophets had no time for “good disagreement”. “Ye rulers of Sodom” — Isaiah. “Woe to the pastors who destroy the sheep of my pasture!” — Jeremiah. “Offspring of vipers!” — St John the Baptist. “Hypocrites!”, “Whited sepulchres!” — Jesus. “If anyone preach a gospel contrary to the one you received, let him be accursed” — St Paul. “You adulterous people!” — St James.

Today, this is hate speech. But a Church so “inclusive” that it cannot hear the condemnation of the prophets and apostles is an absurdity. A Church that silences the testimony of Jesus is, by definition, apostate.

PAUL BURR
The Vicarage, The Common
Swardeston, Norwich NR14 8EB

 

Chief pastors and their chief administrators

From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — The Rt Revd Jan McFarlane’s call for diocesan bishops to be more like shepherds (Letters, 4 June) took me back to my time as a parish priest on the North York Moors.

Visiting my flock had to be curtailed when a fierce snow storm blew in off the North Sea, and I headed for home by the shortest route, criss-crossing meadows, hurling my bike over dry stone walls. Beneath one, I surprised a crouching shepherd, sheltering from the blizzard, keenly watching his sheep. “John, wonderful to see such a good shepherd out in this terrible weather,” I prattled.

He gave me a withering look. “‘Good’ be damned. I were just deciding which ewe to send to abattoir!”

Seeing my bishop as merely “a CEO of a secular organisation” suddenly had substantial attractions.

DAVID WILBOURNE
8 Bielby Close, Newby
Scarborough YO12 6UU

 

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — I am aware that some, perhaps many, bishops have written to their clergy expressing appreciation of the many ways in which, despite the challenges and pressures, parishes have adapted and responded during the pandemic. Clergy have been praised for their exemplary care for congregations and communities.

I suggest that this empathy has been possible only because the bishops themselves have had experience of looking after parishes. This highlights a requirement for solid parish experience when Crown Nominations Commissions assess candidates for episcopal office.

VASANTHA GNANADOSS
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

 

From Ann Adeney

Sir, — In the 1990s, when I handed in my resignation, owing to a move on my husband’s new appointment as a diocesan secretary (Letters, 4 June), the senior partner at the practice, a churchwarden, said: “But everyone hates diocesan secretaries!”

On telling her father’s news to a friend, a clergy wife, my daughter was asked: “Isn’t he too Christian?”

ANN ADENEY
7 Herne Road
Oundle PE8 4BS

 

Contextualisation of history that is tarnished

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — So, to be inclusive, we need to review our monuments connected with slavery and similar oppression (News, 14 May). Are not some of our churches and cathedrals themselves such monuments to their flawed funders?

In Bond Men Made Free, quoting the Domesday Book, Rodney Hilton reminded an earlier generation that domestic slavery was alive and well after the Norman Conquest: nine per cent of the population slaves, and many others not much better off under the feudal and later regimes. Without this bounty of oppression, would many of our churches and cathedrals have been built, or built to the standard that they were?

Then we have those built with the proceeds of African slaves, not to mention the compensation received by slave-owners on its abolition in 1833. One such beneficiary was Miss Catherine Elizabeth Hyndman, whose “Bounty to the Church of England” built, extended, or renovated many churches. This was half funded from compensation for her 628 slaves, the rest, no doubt, coming from her family’s profits from exploiting other slaves.

If we dig deep into our history of oppression, we see the defeated of our Civil War sent as slaves to America. Persistent Nonconformists were banished there, and, if they could not pay their passage, they were sold into slavery.

In Emigrants in Chains, Peter Wilson Coldham documents that the main supply of labour to our tobacco colonies, etc., before the War of Independence was not African slaves, but forced migrants from prisons, workhouses, and the like.

Is not the Christian contextualisation of all this that God overrules all such things so they work together for good for the elect’s sake (Romans 8.28), the chosen race (1 Peter 2.9); for are we not all of one blood (Acts 17.26)? Could not the appropriate way of providing the Christian context be to display Romans 8.28?

ALAN BARTLEY
17 Francis Road,
Greenford, UB6 7AD

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