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Letters to the Editor

by
13 August 2021

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Learning lessons from crisis in Winchester diocese

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — The leadership in the Church of England are quick to say that they will learn lessons after the publication of certain reports, or after a challenging and distressing situation has occurred in the life of the Church. Will the same be true after the sad situation in the diocese of Winchester? or, now that the Bishop has announced his retirement (News, 23 July), will life move on as before? It is a distressing time both for the diocese and for the Bishop and his family. Surely, things cannot just be left with an attempt to forget them.

It is all the more important when several dioceses are vacant or shortly to be so. If there is to be a lessons-learnt exercise, in the interests of transparency, which is another word often used by church leaders, may we know what the lessons are? It seems to me that several important questions need to be answered, in an attempt to prevent any recurrence.

First, why is the Bishop of Winchester not to retire until next February, when he has said that, between now and then, he will hand over his responsibilities to others? The Bishop stepped down in May 2021; so does that mean that he will receive his episcopal stipend for eight months without functioning as the diocesan Bishop? We are told that the Bishop of Southampton is running the diocese.

Second, will there be an inquiry into how the appointment was made in the first place, bearing in mind that there are those who couldn’t believe that such an appointment had been made.

Third, will Caroline Boddington, the Archbishops’ Appointments Adviser, be questioned regarding the research that she undertook into the Bishop’s background before the meetings of the Crown Nominations Commission, and how much information the commission was given? Who provided references to Ms Boddington regarding his suitability for senior leadership? Did she approach the Church Army, given that he had been Principal of its college in Nairobi, or CMS, whose General Secretary he was at the time?

Fourth, I am led to believe that the list of potential bishops which is held by Ms Boddington comes together from names supplied to her by diocesan bishops. If this is correct, did Lord Harries, when he was Bishop of Oxford, put Canon Dakin’s name (as he then was) forward, as the latter lived in the Oxford diocese?

Fifth, what does this situation have to say regarding the senior-leadership training course, which, we are led to believe, is undertaken by all diocesan bishops and those who might go on to Ms Boddington’s list of potential candidates?

Sixth, has the time come for a more open process in the appointment of bishops, as certainly happens in several other Provinces of the Anglican Communion?

PHILIP JOHANSON
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth
Dorset BH6 3PN

 

Responses to launch of ‘Save the Parish’ campaign

From the Revd Rich Townend

Sir, — The “Save the Parish” campaign (News, 6 August) should be welcomed in its promotion of a system that theoretically exists for every person to have a local connection to a church. But, as the movement has been born largely in reaction to the new Vision and Strategy paper, as well as the clumsily expressed “key limiting factors” episode, there is a danger that clergy will overlook the opportunity for much-needed reform within their parishes.

It was unfortunate that the vision for 10,000 (or was it 20,000?) lay-led churches under the Church of England banner came from a Charismatic Evangelical initiative. In doing so, it seems to have pitted tradition against tradition, which is unhelpful when you consider that church-planting is universal across all traditions.

Perhaps the time has come to hold more loosely to our own traditions and promote the vast range of spiritual resources that are available and have been through the Church for a thousand years. The clergy should signpost parishioners to opportunities for prayer and worship that enable them to move towards a relationship with God within a loving community — even when those opportunities don’t naturally sit in the clergy’s comfort zone.

In doing this, not only would our parishes offer a worship experience that meets the needs of more people in the parish: it might also encourage more people to go to their local church rather than follow the consumerist trend of travelling further afield until they find somewhere that suits. In the longer term, this will serve not only our ecclesiastical priorities, but our environmental ones as well, as people cut down on their journeys to commit themselves to worshipping in their parish.

RICH TOWNEND
70 Cardigan Road, Bridlington
East Riding of Yorkshire YO15 3JT

 

From the Revd Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — In Ancient-Future Faith: Rethinking Evangelicalism for a post-modern world (Baker, 1999), Robert Webber wrote: “I invite you to be aware of your own background and interact with me in an I-thou, not I an I-it, encounter. Let me begin by asking you to recognize my major prejudice.”

My major prejudice is that of a parish priest who is deeply committed to the parish model, not just as an expression of Anglicanism, but as Anglicanism’s primary ecclesiological and missional platform. Without a vibrant parish system, we will become a hollowed-out and inconsequential Church, characterised by a portfolio of seemingly successful projects, such as resource churches, and yet divorced from a wider Anglican nexus of relationships.

This is both my fear, and my prejudice. I, therefore, agree with the Revd Stephen Trott that “we need to find a better way to run the Church of England.” I also feel that we need to become far less concerned with numbers — 10,000, for instance — and the propensity to brand various initiatives and forms of ministry.

Nevertheless, I also worry that in our ongoing debates we are losing the ability to encounter the other as a beloved “thou”. Our rhetoric suggests a rugby match, ten minutes before kick-off, c.1990, when all that emanated from the respective dressing rooms was a mixture of impassioned but unsubstantiated winner-takes-all claims.

The Bishop of Islington, at the Myriad Conference, said: “It is always new churches that are best at reaching younger generations, the unchurched, minority groups, and groups of people not seen in other churches,” while, at the launch of the Save the Parish campaign, which I attended, Canon Alison Milbank said: “The Holy Trinity, Brompton, model that is so much in the ascendancy could carry on its life in any Protestant denomination.” Are these statements true, or dressing-room rhetoric?

As a Church, we need to speak better, and start with a clear expression of our own fears and prejudices and a commitment to encountering the other as a “thou”.

ANDREW LIGHTBOWN
The Vicarage, Vicarage Road
Winslow, Bucks MK18 3BJ

 

Gifts and opportunities of the retired clergy

From the Rt Revd Ian Brackley

Sir, — Your leader comment (6 August) highlighted a problem of the need for better understanding of how lay leadership can be better integrated and developed with ordained leadership in our parishes.

This is something with which I can wholly concur. But I was disheartened to read the sentence that concluded “and most parishes now have to accommodate a shared or part-time priest, or even a succession of retired minsters.” Apart from the oxymoron “part-time priest”, the priestly ministry offered by retired clergy plays a vital part in the resources available to dioceses and parishes.

There are many more retired clergy than those in stipendiary ministry, and they have a wealth of experience to offer. In the first ten to 15 years or so of retirement, many are happy to assist in a regular and committed way, using their gifts and specialisms gained, and not just seen as “fillers-in” for the occasional need or vacancy. Being a regular part of a leadership team of clergy and laity in our parishes is something that many retired clergy would value and to which they would have much to contribute.

IAN BRACKLEY
Chair, Retired Clergy Association
1 Bepton Down
Petersfield GU31 4PR

 

The Archbishop of York on the English regions

From Miss Vasantha Gnanadoss

Sir, — The Archbishop of York on his website claims that “Many English people feel left behind by metropolitan elites in London and the South East. . .” Yet some politicians and journalists belonging to these supposed elites were quick to criticise the Prime Minister’s indefensible joke about the closure of mines. The Church of England at a senior level has been silent on this so far.

This silence is a troubling contrast to Bishop David Jenkins, who became well known for his outspoken criticism of government policy during the miners’ strikes. Archbishop Runcie also supported mining communities during the 1984 strike. The notion that the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer had to be revised as a result.

Can we hope that the Church of England will rediscover its prophetic voice?

VASANTHA GNANADOSS
242 Links Road
London SW17 9ER

 

From Mr Tim James

Sir, — Interesting that a Christian Church gets into a debate on national identity when our faith should be beyond that, but then an Established Church is pulled in all directions, some of them wrong.

Nevertheless, if the Archbishop of York feels that the English identity is an issue, and it may be, he needs to be aware of the Established Church’s historical part in marginalising the Cornish national minority identity. Our language is suppressed; the English, not Cornish, flag is flown from Cornish churches; and the Church’s very name “of England” disconnects from the Cornish national minority. The Christian Church is never “of”: it is with and in.

TIM JAMES
Chy An Botallack
Penzance
Cornwall TR20

 

Service from Beirut

From Canon Daniel O’Connor

Sir, — What a sadly moving but beautiful Sunday-morning service from Beirut on Radio 4 on 1 August. Those who planned, introduced, and led the worship and the singers deserve our thanks and our prayers. Thanks, too, to the BBC.

DAN O’CONNOR
15 School Road, Balmullo
St Andrews, Fife KY16 0BA

 

Story of the tarred and feathered archdeacon

From the Revd Patrick Irwin

Sir, — I was interested to read “Klan violence in the South” (100 Years Ago, 23 July). The Mr Irwin to whom the article referred was my great-uncle Philip Sidney Irwin.

He was serving as Archdeacon in Miami when he was abducted by the Ku Klux Klan. On 18 July 1921, he was taken to the Everglades, where he was tarred and feathered. Family tradition records that he was spared the death by hanging with which he was threatened only because one of the gang was dating his 17-year-old daughter and had enough intelligence to realise that killing the young lady’s father would be unlikely to assist his courtship. Nor did tarring and feathering him, and the romance came to a sudden end.

After that, the Klan put the Archdeacon in a sack and drove him back to Miami. There, he was found at the roadside by police. Irwin asked them to take him home and inform his daughter of what had happened. She was alone at home, as his wife was away. The police were too frightened of the Klan to do so, and dropped Irwin one block from his home, leaving him to tell his daughter himself.

Next day, Irwin was invited to a meeting with the Bishop and the State Governor. The Klan had stated that if he did not leave Miami within 48 hours they would, indeed, kill him. Bishop and Governor told him to leave the state, which he did.

The Bishop publicly stated that Irwin did not believe that blacks were equal to whites, which, on the contrary, he did. Irwin had previously worked for years as a missionary on Cat Island in the Bahamas, and did not share the racist views then popular in the American South.

The Irwins moved north, eventually settling in Canada, where Philip Sidney’s grandson and namesake became Archdeacon of Ottawa. The latter once visited Nassau in the Bahamas, where he met an elderly priest who told him that he and all other children baptised by Philip Sidney the elder on Cat Island had been given “Irwin” as a second Christian name.

Irwin came from a prominent Church of Ireland family. One of his brothers, Henry (“Father Pat”), was a famous missionary in British Columbia, Canada, and another brother, Edmund Alexander, was a missionary in South Africa. While they cared for the spiritual needs of the Empire, an architect cousin, Henry Irwin, was designing many of the grandest buildings of the Raj, including the Viceregal Lodge in Simla.

PATRICK IRWIN
Hedgebank, 8 Paganel Road
Minehead, Somerset TA24 5ET

 

Christmas transferred

From Canon Cecil Heatley

Sir, — In Australia, it has long been a custom to celebrate Christmas in July (Letters, 6 August), particularly among the Brits. This is because it is usually too hot to have turkey and all the trimmings; so many have a barbecue on the beach instead.

CECIL HEATLEY
Flat 37, Sheppards College
Bromley BR1 1PF

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