C of E ‘Beeching’ policy won’t work
From Professor L. J. S. Lesley
Sir, — The future of the Church of England faced with an operating loss due to falling congregations brings to mind Dr Beeching (1963) and the future of the rail system faced with falling traffic on branch lines. His solution of closing the branch lines should be a warning to the C of E, since the traffic lost from the branches meant revenue lost to the main lines. What Dr Beeching should have addressed was the high and unsustainable cost of the central organisation, which accounted for more than half the “cost” of running branch lines. Without those central costs, most branch lines were viable.
I understand that a typical parish church has to pay about £30,000 a year towards the central costs of the C of E. For the 50 or so members of a parish, raising £600 each yearly diverts efforts for the greater benefit of the local community, including broadening the activities of parish churches to involve more people, as was usual in earlier times.
Dr Beeching’s plan should have reduced central rail costs, and changed the financial framework of branch lines with more autonomy for “business” development. It would be counter-productive for the C of E to close thousands of parishes, since that would only reduce the funding foundations, without reducing the burden of the costs of the superstructure.
Yes, many parish churches have risen to local needs by running foodbanks, mother-and-toddler groups, encouraging young people with Guide and Scout groups, pensioners’ bingo, etc. The asset of parish-church buildings can only benefit those responsible for using and caring for them.
One of Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses condemned indulgences for the hierarchy, carried on the shoulders of the poorest. New thinking is needed to keep parish churches open, as pillars of their local communities, to fill the void left by the withdrawal of many services.
L. J. S. LESLEY
30 Moss Lane
Liverpool L9 8AJ
Covid and Zimbabwean pressure on South Africa
From Mr Michael Tinarwo
Sir, — It is devastating to witness the people of Zimbabwe live helplessly and fearfully under the hands of the ZANU-PF government. The desperate Zimbabweans are now trying to cross a flooded river Limpopo, known for dangerous crocodiles, as the border between South Africa and Zimbabwe is now closed, owing to Covid-19.
The Zimbabwean government’s lack of compassion for its people is shocking and overwhelming to witness. A country once called the breadbasket of Africa now sees its citizens fleeing across crocodile-infested rivers in attempts of a better life in South Africa. It is clear that ZANU-PF has failed to revive the ailing economy as the mass migration of Zimbabweans to South Africa is increasing by the day.
This is also evidently creating a problem for the South African government, as it is constantly forced to shut its borders in attempts to keep the illegal Zimbabweans out of the country. Many Zimbabweans who do happen to enter are reportedly responsible for many of the criminal activities taking place in the country. It is clear that the desperation of the Zimbabwean people has left them with no choice but to resort to drastic measures.
An estimated five million Zimbabweans are now living in South Africa. The majority are illegal migrants, who have no legal right to be in South Africa. South Africa is overwhelmed by Zimbabwean citizens who are over-stretching resources and creating lower wages as well as increasing criminal activity in the country.
It is clear that the reckless, careless, and corrupt Zimbabwean government has burdened South Africa. The South African government should not remain silent.
60 Capesthorne Road
Warrington WA2 9AP
Decisions about church services during lockdown
From the Revd Anna Griffiths
Sir, — With reference to comments (Leader comment, 8 January) on whether religious buildings should remain open for worship, I am sad to see that the concern is primarily about the safety of the worshippers.
Last week, in our liturgical calendar, we were reflecting on the baptism of Jesus. Jesus did not need to be baptised, but he underwent the rite in solidarity with the rest of the human race. Can’t we believers manage to do the same, and stay at home in solidarity with all those made in the image of God who are under great restrictions at present?
Our witness is surely compromised if we do not. The impression given is that we consider ourselves somehow more worthy of gathering in our “club”. What does it say about our faith if we cannot manage a few more months with the blessing of so much technological connection for worship, even if we do not have a partner or family with whom to worship at home?
Our God is faithful. A little sacrifice for the sake of all will not dampen his love for his people.
35 St Mary’s Square
Gloucester GL1 2QT
From Canon Andrew Lenox-Conyngham
Sir, — All the discussion about the possible closure of churches appears to consider the matter purely from the medical or physical point of view. What about the spiritual? For some of us, the receiving of the Sacrament is so vital that it should take priority over other considerations. You yourself write that, with proper precautions, “the chance of transmission in church is negligible.” In this case, only the most exceptional degree of risk should justify the closure of a church.
9 Hitches Lane, Edgbaston
Birmingham B15 2LS
Populist projects in the United States and UK
From the Revd Iain Osborne
Sir, — The Revd Brian Adams’s letter (8 January) contributes to myth-making around Brexit. Pace Mr Adams, the UK never voted for the policy that has been implemented. The 2016 Leave camp promised a soft exit, so provides no mandate for the crash-out that has actually happened. Nor does the 2019 election, fought by the Conservatives as a single-issue campaign, as if it were a referendum. On that basis, Brexit lost handsomely with barely 44 per cent of the votes.
Fighting myth matters because, as we see now in Washington, the time of populists will come to an end. It might take a decade, but the younger generation will want to reclaim the freedoms given away. They will remember that Brexit was not a mass demand, but a populist project profiting from weak national institutions. I refer to an electoral system that turns a minority view in the country into a governing majority of seats; electoral law and enforcement that are too weak to protect democracy; a lack of constitutional protection for the UK nations; and media dominated by billionaires.
US democracy has been saved, just barely, by strong democratic and legal institutions. The UK’s “elective dictatorship” looks peculiarly ill-adapted to facing down a similar risk.
The Rectory, 18 Hollow Lane
Ramsey, Huntingdon PE26 1DE
From Canon Calvin Ward
Sir, — The Revd B. Adams misquotes the Treaty of Rome: “ever greater union”. To be precise, the Treaty expresses the aspiration to “an ever closer union of the peoples of Europe”. There is no proposed super-state, no suggestion that the constitutions of the member countries should merge, or that the state in each country should cease to function. The mutilated quotation has been used incessantly by those seeking to incite antipathy or disunion between us and our neighbours. They were successful.
The EU includes a deep symbiosis of the member countries’ economies, to exclude economic separatism and rivalry, which have consistently been causes of wars in history. The members also collaborate in other areas of policy by unanimous agreement of their democratic governments. That is morally far superior to retreating into separatism and rivalry.
47 Wheatlands Drive, Bradford
West Yorkshire BD9 5JN
From Mr Paul Sandham
Sir, — I am a guide at Portsmouth Cathedral, whose history is heavily influenced by the English Civil War. I explain the conflict to visitors and, by way of comparison for those from the United States, I would add: “Imagine a President with a complete disregard for the Senate and the House of Representatives,” and they would laugh.
Nobody’s laughing now.
52a Salterns Lane, Hayling Island
Hampshire PO11 9PJ
Wedding charges over and above statutory fees
From the Revd Christopher Rogers
Sir, — Canon Sandra Millar, head of life events for the Archbishops’ Council, is quoted (News, 8 January) as stating that “A church wedding can be as intimate or grand as a couple wish. . . The church fees are fixed by law, but everything beyond that is down to choice.” That is supported by the Statutory Fees Table, which refers to additional items as extras, and by the Your Church Wedding website, which states that anything in addition to the statutory fee may be declined.
That is not, however, the position as represented on a significant number of churches’ websites, which often quote a far higher basic cost, including the statutory fee, but also a range of other expenses that are not referred to as optional.
While some incumbents may consider themselves to be fairly competing with more expensive secular venues, it seems that many couples, by not being told that they can decline many of the quoted costs, are in practice being denied the choice of the kind of inexpensive wedding which Canon Millar refers to. And for those who cannot afford to pay the inflated fees quoted (or do not know of their right to decline the bulk of them), their right to be married in their parish church may in effect be denied.
59 Southend Lane
London SE6 3AB
From Mr Ian Newton
Sir, — The Revd Robin Stockitt and S. John Dawson make important points about the Donewiths (Comment, 8 January), namely, that many folk drift away from the Church because of the expectations they experience. Sadly, that issue is confirmed by the way in which the Church conducts its own statistical survey, which many of us are currently engaged in completing. Here, we are asked to include only those who attend more than once a month as part of the worshipping community.
That cannot be right. In our small rural parish, we value all who attend, however irregularly, and seek to make them feel part of our church family. Indeed, it is an important part of how we embrace our wider community. Strange that the survey is entitled “Statistics for Mission”.
(St Andrew’s, Field Dalling)
Manor Farm Cottage
67 Langham Road
Field Dalling, Holt NR25 7LG