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Letters to the Editor

by
16 April 2021

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Objections to a Christian Seder

From the Revd Andrew Roland

Sir, — I would like to make four points about the article by the Revd Simon Reynolds “The Seder is not for Anglicans” (Comment, 9 April).

First, the writer asserts that Passover was “not primarily a domestic meal” in the time of Jesus. But Exodus 12.46 states clearly: “In one house shall it be eaten.”

Second, “It was only after the destruction of Jerusalem . . . that Pesach developed into a domestic liturgy.” But R. Gamaliel, the teacher of St Paul, said: “Whoever does not explain three things in the Passover has not fulfilled the duty incumbent on him. These three things are: the Passover lamb, the unleavened bread and the bitter herbs” (Mishnah, Pesach x.15). And, at the end of the Last Supper, the company “sang a hymn” (Mark 14.26), probably the last five of the Hallel psalms, Psalms 114-118.

Third, your contributor talks about “our desire to respect the distinctiveness and integrity of Judaism”. This determination to keep separate possible parallels between Judaism and its offspring Christianity finds echoes in St John Chrysostom, who as Bishop of Antioch (386-97) put a stop to Christians’ taking part in Jewish Passover celebrations. He did this because of the basic anti-Semitism of the church hierarchy. Using each other’s prayers can only add to mutual respect and, dare I say it, learning of and from each other.

Fourth, above all, the article allows no place for us to rediscover the actual Jesus, who, as Albert Schweizer put it, “was not a Christian, he was a Jew” (as, indeed, were all the bishops of Jerusalem up to Bar Kochba’s revolt in 135 CE). My book Jesus the Troublemaker: His last eight days puts Jesus, or rather Yeshua, firmly in his Jewish context. I naturally included the Last Supper, using the prayers from Gregory Dix’s The Shape of the Liturgy (pp. 51-54), in which he recreated the Last Supper, not as a Passover, but as a solemn chaburah or fellowship meal. Surely, no objections to that?

ANDREW ROLAND
( Rosenbaum)
100 Philbeach Gardens
London SW5 9ET

 

Criticism of the Sewell report’s conclusions

From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — The Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, may find the conclusions of the Sewell report “deeply disturbing” (News, 9 April), but what I found deeply disturbing was her suggestion that those who clean and serve are somehow second-class citizens, and that it is an indignity for black people to fill these positions. The implication that they do so only because discrimination has prevented their working in areas of leadership is unsupported by any evidence.

Her claim that “lived experience” tells a different story is not surprising if those in ethnic minorities are encouraged to believe they are victims of a virulent anti-black culture that excludes them from power. This narrative is toxic and damaging and is just what the Sewell report, with its meticulous appeal to evidence, sets out to counter.

In fact, as Sewell points out, there are areas of public life where ethnic minorities are making a substantial contribution. For example, the Commission found that 30 per cent of all NHS consultants come from ethnic minorities. And the Bishop’s wish that there should be greater diversity in, among other areas, sport sits oddly with the huge reliance of Premier League football on black players and those of other ethnicities.

The easy and non-evidence-based claim that the poor outcomes for some ethnic minorities are owing mainly to discrimination diverts attention away from a serious examination of what else may have contributed to this; and that is what the Commission sets out to establish. Unless these are addressed and eliminated, the outlook is poor, both from the point of view of individuals who are prevented from reaching their potential, but also from the wider damage to our social fabric arising from the spurious reinforcement that it will provide for those who, like the Bishop, claim that discrimination is the overriding reason for such disappointing outcomes.

MICHAEL CAVAGHAN-PACK
The Manor House
Thurloxton, Taunton
Somerset TA2 8RH

 

Founding narrative of a village’s new church

From Mr Duncan Forbes

Sir, — “Yes, but . . .” was my response to the letter in which the Revd Martin Down (9 April) said that the “most important” thing was “to get on with the job that God has called you to do in the parish. Then see what happens.”

At the time when Mr Down took the decisions to which he referred, I was well acquainted with the Norfolk parish in question, and my perception of “what happened” is rather different from his.

The process of establishing the “Fountain of Life” in the 1990s caused division and much heartache in the village, some church members saying that they felt abandoned by their Vicar for several years before the events of 2000. Whether the deep scars caused by such division were justified by events is not for me to say, but, in the interest of a truthful record, I would not wish them to remain unacknowledged.

DUNCAN FORBES
6 Elm Crescent, Charlbury
Oxfordshire OX7 3PZ

 

Raising the threshold for legitimate protest

From the Revd Dr Catherine Shelley

Sir, — With reference to Holly-Anna Petersen’s article (Comment, 1 April), the law would not need to be changed to deal with Jesus’s turning over the tables in the Temple. It is likely that he would have been guilty of criminal damage and offences under the Public Order Act 1986. Justified though it was, the tipping over of tables in the Temple would have alarmed and possibly frightened many who were there, not just because it threatened their power or income, but because it was a fairly violent, disruptive event.

The Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill extends the threshold from violent and threatening disruptive activity to annoying and noisy activity. It is a significant difference. Some years ago, at the time of the Chilcot report, I was working next to Westminster Abbey at 1 The Sanctuary. To our left, in front of the Queen Elizabeth Centre, we could hear Canon Giles Fraser reading out the names of the dead from the Chilcot report. Yet, far louder and more disruptive was an extended bell-ringing practice from Westminster Abbey to the right.

The current Bill is not about noise and disruption: it is about silencing dissent and challenges to power. As followers of the Jesus who disrupted the mercenaries in the Temple, the Church should be resisting this curtailing of the democratic right to protest and speak truth to power.

CATHERINE SHELLEY
35 St Keverne Road
London SE9 4AQ

 

Diaconal calling

From the Revd Gill Newman

Sir, — I was delighted to read Canon Katy Canty’s article (Features, 9 April) on sector ministry. The past year has indeed brought the need for and value of Christian ministry outside traditional parish structures into sharp focus. So it was exciting, in Vicky Walker’s accompanying report, to read about the increasing variety of this work.

Perhaps the missing link was the omission of any reference to distinctive deacons, who are ordained for a ministry focused predominantly outside the church, where people are

It is a ministry of making God’s love known in the forgotten corners of people’s lives, frequently discovering that he is there already and thus able to take that discovery back into the Church. The distinctive diaconate: truly a missing-link ministry.

Readers interested in discovering more are welcome to join our national conference “Virtual Deacons on the Move 2021” via Zoom tomorrow (details on Eventbrite).

GILL NEWMAN (deacon)
Priory Mews, The Street
Little Dunmow
Essex ­­­CM6 3HT

 

Simon Parke version

From Mr Ben Coulter

Sir, — I am struck by Simon Parke’s depiction of Jesus before Pilate (Features, 1 April). From my reading of the Gospels, what Jesus says about words is rather different.

He says to the Pharisees in Matthew: “I tell you on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter” (12.36). Would he really then say: “Words are not real, Governor, they make things up, they pretend”? He says to the disciples in John: “You have already been made clean by the word that I have spoken to you” (15.2). Would he really then say: “My words cannot change you . . . though you could change yourself by them”? Again, he says in Matthew: “. . . heaven and earth will pass away but my words will never pass away” (24.35). Would he really then say: “We use words for a season, and then the season is past. Only the earth remains . . . and truth”?

I appreciate that Simon Parke is probably already aware of these verses. I do not mean this as a straightforward proof-texting critique. From this extract, it seems that his book is a remarkable creative achievement. My question, however, is whether the possibility of such an enterprise rests on the very deflationary view of the importance of words which his Jesus speaks of.

I not sure that the Gospel-writers held such a view of words (or Jesus, for that matter), and I fear that it serves to widen a false dichotomy between faithfulness to holy scripture and free, creative response.

BEN COULTER
Flat 4, 24 Downleaze
Stoke Bishop, Bristol BS9 1LZ

 

Three Hours choices

From Mr John Radford

Sir, — I enjoyed reading Canon Angela Tilby’s article about choosing hymns for the Good Friday Three Hours’ service (Comment, 1 April). May I suggest an additional concluding hymn? Bishop William Walsham How’s wonderful “Who is this so weak and helpless?” sung to the equally fine Welsh tune (Ebenezer or Ton-y-Botel), which moves from minor to major modes and mirrors the words perfectly. It is 474 in The New English Hymnal, but is also found in other hymnals.

JOHN RADFORD

Church Lodge
Wimborne St Giles
Dorset BH21 5LZ

 

Royal reading habits

From Professor Andrew Bradstock

Sir, — The many references last weekend to the Duke of Edinburgh’s passion for reading about faith reminded me of a letter that I found while researching the authorised biography of Bishop David Sheppard.

Writing in her own hand to thank Bishop David for sending her a copy of Jonathan Sacks’s 1990 Reith Lectures, The Persistence of Faith, Her Majesty said that she would be much interested to see the lectures, but “needless to say Philip whisked them off immediately”. She was able to retrieve the book only after he left for a foreign visit!

ANDREW BRADSTOCK
Fairport, Station Road
St Helens, Isle of Wight PO33 1YF

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