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Letters to the Editor

12 March 2021

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


The oversight of the safeguarders

From the Revd Dr Philip Goggin

Sir, — It was encouraging to read that there has been a proposal to establish an Independent Safeguarding Board, which would have oversight of the National Safeguarding Team (News, 5 March). Checks and balances are needed in safeguarding as anywhere else. Its working in relation to CDM cases may merit attention.

It is all too easy for a process to be weaponised for purposes of control and discipline. In the academic world, for example, it is claimed that university research ethics committees can be hijacked to protect the reputation of the host institution and control academics. So much for their supposed purpose: protection of academic freedom and research subjects (Hedgecoe in Sociology, June 2016).

Everyone, I think, accepts that diocesan safeguarding officers need to be independent of the church, but that should not mean that they are unaccountable for their actions or decisions; nor should they expect to influence all CDM processes. The Sheldon report (July 2020) observed that, while CDM cases tended “to be viewed primarily through a Safeguarding lens . . . Safeguarding is only one starting point for crafting a replacement [to CDM].”

Safeguarding should be monitored for the extent to which it safeguards the welfare of those caught up in the CDM process. There is plenty of evidence to show the adverse effects on those who find themselves in the firing line. For example, a retired bishop giving evidence to Sheldon submitted: “The bishop concerned seemed to wish the accused guilty. His treatment of the priest should have been the subject of a CDM for bullying and harassment.”

The Sheldon data suggested that, of the 52 people who acknowledged the behaviour complained of, 36 of them said that it had happened at a time when they were themselves vulnerable. Were their interests safeguarded? One third of clergy stated that they had previously asked for help from senior staff over the matter that later became the subject of the CDM. Had they received help?

In many cases, though by no means in all, the pain to someone who is targeted in a complaint may well exceed the pain suffered by the complainant. It may also be long-term. Sheldon declared: “It is reasonable to conclude that mental health detriments are long lasting.”

Safeguarding is about protecting the well-being of people — all God’s people. Anything else, like discipline or reputation management, is secondary. Could the proposed Independent Safeguarding Board hold it to that brief?

4 Valley Road, Wistaston
Crewe CW2 8JU


Aggrandisement of the area or rural deanery

From the Revd David Ford

Sir, — The Revd Dr Thomas Carpenter (Comment, 5 March) expresses anxiety at the rise of the deanery in the missional thinking of some dioceses. Yes, priests still act vicariously on behalf of the bishop’s ministry in the parish, but it is naïve — despite their record number — to expect bishops to sustain regular contact with their clergy at a sufficiently granular level to be of missional value. We need colleagues, and the deanery is as good a place to start as any. In the same issue, you report that the Archbishops have no plan to abolish the parish system. Sadly, that won’t stop it happening, owing to the diocesan nature of our Church.

There is a connection between these two issues which is also a stumbling-block, and it is our threefold order of ministry, which determines that everything in church life is seen through a clerical filter. If only everything was seen through a lay filter, instead!

The parish system has a fantastic future, but only if it can be wrestled from a clerical mindset that continues to merge clergy and Church in the same sentence as if they meant the same thing. Frustratingly, we see some of our wonderful church leaders slip in this direction when they equate the need for more priests as critical to the salvation of the Church. Therein lies the mistake that we’ve been repeating for most of the past 100 years. We need more priests because we need priestly and sacramental ministry. For everything else — including the largest share of the Church’s mission in the world — we need the broader and much more skilled People of God.

We must stop equating the presence of a stipendiary priest with a “Christian presence in every community”. Every parish needs access to a priest, but it’s time we trusted our lay leaders to run our parishes. We might be humbled and surprised that, very often, they are better at it than the clergy.

The Vicarage, 15 Finstall Road
Bromsgrove B60 2EA


From Mr Ray H. Hart

Sir, — I read with interest the Revd Dr Thomas Carpenter’s article. As a former long-serving deanery lay chair in the diocese of Manchester, and former Reader and Bishop’s Council member, I share Dr Carpenter’s feelings regarding area bishops’ importance at deanery and archdeaconry level. They are the “eyes and ears” at the local level, with the archdeacons.

I was very grateful to share in positive communication, teamwork, and consultation with the three area bishops alongside whom I served. They, in their turn, shared in teamwork with me as lay chair, to the advantage of both clergy and laity.

This idea, in Manchester, of amalgamation of deaneries to create larger super-deaneries will, in my opinion, only downgrade the area bishops’ influence and spiritual and pastoral care for clergy and parishes and, in effect, make a nonsense of suffragan and area episcopacy.

As for the idea of creating seven full-time area-dean posts: there are already good “local” parish clergy who work as area deans, and this system has worked extremely well for a long time, as they are on the ground and can empathise with their clergy and parochial brothers and sisters.

As a great supporter of the deanery system and especially lay involvement, I conclude that all that super-deaneries will do is weaken this involvement and the voices of the people that the Church should be listening to and nurturing.

At this time, when the Church is struggling at parish level with regard to clergy numbers and extended interregnums, we should be putting resources into filling those vacancies instead of creating another full-time area-clergy level. Who is going to pay for it?

Leave the area bishops to share their cure of souls and their advice, influence, and local knowledge, for the good of clergy and people. If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.

70 Glenfield Park, Pilling
Wyre PR3 6HE


Unofficial vows in a Kensington garden

From Dr Charlie Bell

Sir, — Given that the Archbishop of Canterbury is now officiating at al fresco ceremonies of the exchanging of vows prior to the solemnisation of marriage, might we finally admit the Church of England has no effective understanding of marriage?

Such a ceremony does not, of course, hold any official sacramental or doctrinal weight in the affairs of the Church, and yet I cannot see him doing the same for a same-sex couple. There appear no grounds, however, for these couples to be excluded from such a novel ceremony. Perhaps this is the elusive answer that the Church of England has been looking for in its search for a recognition of commitment without the risk of blessing it at the same time.

One wonders, however, whether this innovation simply shows that the Church has no idea what to do with straights, let alone gay people.

3 Parish Mews
126 Parish Lane
London SE20 7JH


Cri de coeur on behalf of working parents

Sir, — As a clergy mother, I write on behalf of all working parents, particularly those who have home-schooled through the pandemic. Waving our children back to school this week, we are surveying the wreckage of work and home life with a feeling of abject despair.

We are well aware that the past year has affected our ability both to do our job well and to be good parents. We are painfully aware that we have serially failed to do either brilliantly, at a time when both our children and our workplace (including our congregations) needed us most. We claim no sort of monopoly on pain; we are acutely aware of the isolation that others have endured. (Throughout the pandemic, the wide-ranging disparity of experience has sometimes left all of us even more isolated from one another.)

We would simply like to make a small plea to our church communities. Please don’t expect us to be all right now that the children are back at school. Most of us have burned midnight and dawn oil for months. The constant juggling and interruptions have left us drop-dead exhausted. None of us has had the usual childcare support that enables us to function. The impact of the past year has been devastating, and it will take all of us a while to recover.

We are not asking for pity. But please understand that we are all probably one ill-timed criticism away from shouting or crying. Most of us are holding it together — but barely. Perhaps, on a Sunday when parenting will be in focus, ask us how we are. Or, perhaps, better — because kindness often reduces us to tears — send us a note or an email, simply saying that you’re thinking of us and assuring us of your prayers.

Once we’ve recovered, we’ll be able to look back over the year and face constructive criticism. We will be able to give our colleagues and our congregations the care that they have sometimes lacked from us. But not now. Not this week. Thank you.



Politics, not religion

From Mr Edwin Gray

Sir, — It’s always a treat to read the Revd Gillean Craig’s TV column, but I was dismayed to note that in his review of Bloodlands (5 March), he perpetuated the myth that the tensions in Northern Ireland are a result of hostility between Catholics and Protestants. They are nothing of the sort, but, rather, a conflict of political identity, heightened now by uncertainties over Brexit, and owe very little to religion, and certainly nothing to genuine Christianity.

32 Derryboye Road, Killinchy
Co Down BT23 6TP


Parsonages campaign

From Mr Anthony Jennings

Sir, — The Revd John Davies (Letter, 26 February) and Andrew Brown (Press, 5 March) both misrepresent the part played by Save Our Parsonages. The work of the Church is done in the parishes, not by academic discussion in diocesan committees, and our members are parishioners who feel they are not sufficiently consulted by diocesan officials in decisions that affect them.

Parishioners well know that the buildings in their parish are essential to the presence of the Church in their community. The less visible the buildings become, the less visible the Church becomes, and the greater the decline. We receive few complaints about “massive crumbling Victorian edifices”, but many about badly built post-war parsonages.

Save Our Parsonages
Flat Z, 12-18 Bloomsbury Street
London WC1B 3QA

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