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Letters to the Editor

by
15 October 2021

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Ministry plan in Leicester diocese

From the Bishop of Leicester

Sir, — It would appear that I stand accused of wanting to dismantle the parish system and do away with priests. If by “parish system” (News, Comment, 8 October), however, we mean a Christian presence in every community served by a priest who has the cure of souls, then my accusers could not be further from the truth.

If we think that every priest must be stipendiary, and that lay people are mere “pew fodder”, and that every parish must be independent from all other parishes, then my accusers need reminding that many parishes would have collapsed years ago were it not for the ministry (and leadership) of lay people; that self-supporting priests are priests in the Church of God like every other priest; and that parishes have long worked in benefices and teams with the cure of souls shared by priests and bishops and the whole people of God.

Thankfully, my own diocese knows me well enough to have supported (72 per cent of the diocesan synod in favour) the current proposals for addressing our missional and financial challenges.

MARTYN LEICESTER
Bishop’s Lodge
12 Springfield Road
Leicester LE2 3BD

 

From the Revd Jenny Bridgman

Sir, — As a priest with several years’ experience of parish leadership, and yet currently engaged in training men and women for lay ministry while researching leadership for a professional doctorate, I stumbled over the headline of Canon Angela Tilby’s column: “Ministry that is lay-led is not Anglican”.

The question “What is leadership and where does it happen?” remains strangely elusive to us. Three decades of leadership studies beyond the Church have led to concepts of “followership”, “co-creation”, “leader-member exchange theory”, and “generative Partnerships”, all of which are yet to permeate the C of E’s language of leadership. Yet all are almost certainly enacted in parishes across the country.

Any good leader knows that their leadership is most effective when it is shared, dispersed, and even given away: models of collaboration such as appreciative enquiry or simply leading as “one among others” become powerful ways in which priests and lay people serve together. Any conversation about “lay-led” initiatives must recognise that healthy ministry is always lay-led as much as “priest-led”, if servant-hearted collaboration is to be a model for shared ministry.

I fail to see how such a healthy exercise of priestly power, even where necessity means more oversight and responsibility for fewer priests, threatens either the Catholicity or the sacramental ministry of the C of E. What is needed is deep and reflective work on what we mean when we talk about “leadership”, if we are to remain both faithful to tradition and innovative in practice.

JENNY BRIDGMAN
The Rectory, High Street
Tarporley CW6 0AG

 

From the Revd Bill Britt

Sir, — News of the Leicester diocese’s ambitious plans for increasing lay ministry and lay leadership to offset a 20-per-cent reduction in full-time stipendiary posts came the same week as I completed 19 archdeacon’s inspections in my deanery. In these meetings, more churchwardens expressed concern about a drop in volunteers than about a drop in income, coming out of the pandemic. I wonder whether those who have drafted the plans in Leicester have tried to put together a coffee rota lately?

BILL BRITT
Rural Dean of Hitchin
The Vicarage, 61 Church Road
Stotfold, Hitchin SG5 4NE

 

Justice, safeguarding, and abuse cases

Sir, — While I agree with much of what Dr Selby writes (Comment, 8 October), his argument is weakened substantially by his reference to Christ Church, Oxford.

Dr Selby writes of double (or multiple) jeopardy and uses my complaint as his example. Yet the situation at Christ Church does not illustrate double jeopardy at all. My complaint has never been fully investigated by the Church of England. It was put before the President of Tribunals but she was not asked to make a determination on my allegation.

Indeed, she states unequivocally in her judgment (published with no consideration to my wishes or privacy) that she was making a determination on whether the complaint was serious enough to warrant a Church of England Tribunal. She said it wasn’t, and so it was dismissed. It will not appear on any record of Dean Percy’s.

That is not a verdict of innocence. It is not even a verdict of not guilty. Nor is it a recommendation to pass the complaint back down to an earlier stage of the CDM for mediation or similar. This is not the exoneration that Dr Percy’s supporters claim. It is simply a decision to end the process here.

Surely, it is not acceptable for a complaint against a clergyperson to go un-investigated by the Church? This is an allegation that has disappeared as though I never made it. That cannot be justice.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Sir, — As a retired priest currently designated as the one supporting a church employee who is being investigated under the Discipline Measure, I give heartfelt endorsement to Dr Peter Selby’s article.

The presumption of innocence appears to have been a presumption only in name; matters that were resolved in the past are recycled; and what seems to be a weakness in the record-keeping of the Church has meant that issues openly discussed earlier are not recorded in the files.

What he says about the “delegation” of pastoral care and what that is allowed to mean in practice is also all too true. I have been both saddened and appalled by the way in which a Church that proclaims ongoing consideration and care for all then tries to render someone incommunicado with many of those whom they most need to provide support in a situation that threatens their livelihood and well-being.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

From the Revd William Davage

Sir, — While contemplating the woeful and cloth-eared response of the Bishop of London to the “unfortunate” death of Fr Alan Griffin, I read these words: “We shall never be in a position to correct the lives of others as long as we neglect our own. We are wrapped up in the cares of this world, and the more we seem to busy ourselves with external affairs the more spiritually insensitive we become.

“Holy Church . . . expresses it well when she says of her weak members, ‘They have placed me on guard in the vineyards and I have not guarded my own vineyard.’ We have been put in charge of the vineyards and we are not even looking after our own, because we are neglecting our own proper ministry, as long as we remain wrapped up in external affairs” (Pope St Gregory the Great, Homilies).

WILLIAM DAVAGE
7 Hampstead Square
London NW3 1AB

 

From the Revd Dr Barry A. Orford

Sir, — Clearly, something is rotten in the diocese of London and in the wider Church of England. What has happened among us to the notion of personal accountability?

You report that an official diocesan investigation into that tragedy will not seek to apportion blame. What can that achieve? None of us enjoys facing the truth that we have made serious errors, but how are forgiveness and healing possible if we do not acknowledge individually our responsibility for them?

In past years, a report like Lord Carlile’s could have led to resignations.

The emerging stories of cover-up and slandering of the innocent present us with the opportunity to repent and accept the chastening that will enable us, under God, to become the Church that we are called to be. Will we take it?

BARRY A. ORFORD
Flat B, 8 Hampstead Square
London NW3 1AB

 

From Professor Ann Loades

Sir, — Is it the case that all dioceses maintain a “brain dump” of tittle-tattle, rumour, gossip, all presumably anonymous, with copies placed in the files of the clergy so abused — files to which they have no access? The place for such material is in the shredder on receipt, as a minimal start to “safeguarding” the clergy. What appears to be present practice (e.g. in the diocese of London) is simply shameful.

Allegations of whatever kind need to be accepted only if clearly and legibly written, with an address and identity/contact details provided, and with independent legal advice sought for an opinion on their supposed substance.

We should support the recommendations of the IICSA and put any and all issues to do with “safeguarding” under the aegis of those who are professionally competent to assess them.

ANN LOADES
1A Grey Street
Tayport, Fife DD6 9JF

 

From Dr Joseph Mullen

Sir, — A key finding of the seven-volume report on sexual abuse in the Catholic Church of France (News, Leader comment, 8 October) is that “the Catholic Church is, after the circle of family and friends, the environment that has the highest prevalence of sexual violence.” The Catholic-affiliated newspaper La Croix describes the event as “crimes against humanity in the realm of intimacy, love and belief’’. In other words, in the eyes of a significant stakeholder, the Church was edging towards a virtual moral equivalent of the International Criminal Court in the Hague.

The startling implication of the report is that children are safer in non-Catholic or secular institutions than in Church-managed ones. This has profound consequences for the justification of Catholic education and other Church-related activities that have always claimed the moral high ground.

The response of the Church in reparations, transparency, and accountability may be a barometer of its degree of repentance.

JOSEPH MULLEN
7 St Gabriel House
Eastbourne BN20 7GB

 

Ghanaian Church and anti-LGBTQI measures

From Dr Charlie Bell

Sir, — This week, the Anglican Church in Ghana urged the government to get on and pass the anti-LGBTQI Bill. The Bill calls for the imprisonment of LGBTQI activists and those who show public displays of affection, for the criminalisation of LGBTQI support groups, the implementation of forms of conversion therapy and forced surgery for intersex people.

We have heard much in the run-up to the delayed Lambeth Conference about walking together as a communion — a communion whose Primates have pledged to work against homophobia.

Not a word has been spoken by any bishop in the Church of England about this looming, Church-sponsored infringement of basic human rights. It is quite scandalous that our pledge of commitment to the Anglican Communion appears to focus on the men in power rather than the most vulnerable in the pews.

CHARLIE BELL
Fellow
Girton College
Cambridge CB3 0JG

 

University research into the experience of worship during the pandemic

From the Revd David Billin

Sir, — The reported conclusions of the report on worshippers’ experiences of online services (News, 1 October) cannot pass without a challenge. It is reported as suggesting: “For whatever reason, C of E clergy seem less aware of or attuned to the experiences that their worshippers have had during the pandemic than others.”

This conclusion does not follow from the observation that the laity were less satisfied with online worship than the clergy. The article alongside, “Data show churches changed quickly to home worship in first lockdown”, recognises the astonishing speed with which online services were put in place. Clergy did everything possible under the circumstances, and were aware that the provision was far from ideal, but were unable to do more.

It seems to me that the dissatisfaction of Anglican laity might arise from a mixture of three factors:
(1) Anglicans have a strong sense of place, and the church building is a focus for that;
(2) C of E clergy were more restricted than other clergy, being banned from entering their churches for a time; and
(3) a sense of the numinous, the use of a sacred space, and physical participation in ritual (especially in the eucharist) are particularly important in Anglican worship, but were incompatible with online worship.

DAVID BILLIN
33 Beeches Avenue
Carshalton SM5 3LJ

 

Orthodox marriage rite

From the Revd Ian Randall

Sir, — Sadly, the photograph of the marriage service of Grand Duke George Mikhailovich with Rebecca Bettarini (News, 8 October) was miscaptioned. His Highness is not receiving Communion, which in Orthodoxy is administered with a spoon. As Metropolitan Kallistos Ware explains in his book The Orthodox Church, “At the end of the service the newly married couple drink from the same cup of wine . . . a symbol of the fact that henceforward they will share a common life with one another.” The Liturgy plus a marriage service would be quite long, even by Orthodox standards.

IAN RANDALL
12 Westmead Road
Fakenham NR21 8BL

 

That’s not the way to get on to the deanery synod

From Caroline Grieve

Sir, — Ian Marchant (Diary, 8 October) amusingly describes being “elected” as a lay member of his deanery synod (the electoral college for the diocesan synod and General Synod). He clearly was not. There is enormous ignorance of the process. Election is by the annual parochial church meeting, not the PCC. Deanery synods can do a great deal to support collaboration between parishes, and membership is to be encouraged, but only a properly elected member is entitled to a vote.

CAROLINE GRIEVE
A deanery-synod secretary
Address supplied

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