Heed Torrance on the Bishop of Aberdeen & Orkney
From Mr Richard Murray
Sir, — As a member of the laity in the diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney, I should like to offer some comments on the Torrance review.
Professor Torrance’s report is unequivocal, “that there is systemic dysfunction in the diocese” and that “for the good of the diocese, [Bishop Dyer should] be immediately granted a period of sabbatical leave and step back permanently from the diocese”.
Worth also noting is that Professor Torrance brought forward the completion of his report by four months because it became clear to him, after receiving 115 submissions and carrying out interviews, that the matter needed urgent attention.
I was concerned that the College of Bishops’ initial reaction to the report went back on their undertaking to make the report public in the interests of “transparency”.
In a statement on 29 August, they proposed reverting to the original timeline and appointing a triumvirate of reviewers “to enable it to decide how best it can help the Diocese of Aberdeen and Orkney as a whole for the future”.
Now, on 11 September, having released the report, they plan instead an Episcopal Synod, “to initiate the setting up of an independent mediation process”.
Members of my church and ecumenical friends have said to me that they regard these proceedings and this delay as enormously disrespectful to Professor Torrance, a distinguished churchman and professor of theology, and former Moderator of the Church of Scotland.
The College’s latest proposal is also of concern regarding process. Bishop Dyer is a member of the College of Bishops, and was chosen by three of her current peers acting in their capacity as an Episcopal Synod.
Inconceivably, under the College’s current proposals, she will continue to be part of the arrangements for setting up the mediation process.
Also, whereas Canon 51 provides for an Episcopal Synod to be held in public, the Bishops have made the exceptional decision to meet in private. How can this be publicly and verifiably fair unless all involved parties have a say in who and how an investigation can be made into the difficulties being faced by the diocese, and a report made? At the very least, the diocesan standing committee should be involved, and preferably senior clergy having particular synodical roles in the diocese.
And is “mediation” the appropriate process? This is a form of arbitration usually applied to disputes concerning property, money, employment, etc., where there is a sense that some compromise can be reached.
What we need is someone who will work with us collaboratively, someone who will help us to rebuild the structure of the diocese, which has disintegrated, and bring about the restoration of calm and trust, together with the urgent pastoral care of those individuals who have been hurt and remain hurting.
Bishop Dyer’s letter to the diocese reiterates her concern that “Professor Torrance’s report did not fully address the issue which I had originally raised with the College.”
Professor Torrance, however, is quite clear in his report that, “unconstrained by the one-month window for submissions, she has had unlimited opportunity to select those events which she saw as being crucial and send me her timelines and ancillary documents.”
In addition, the College of Bishops’ statement on 11 September, when they published the report, says that they “received the Torrance Report on the 31st July 2021. The College met by Zoom in the week beginning 2nd August, then again on the 10th August, to discuss how to proceed. The College also met in-person on the 24th and 25th August to review these issues.”
Bishop Dyer has stated that she commissioned this review and apologised to Professor Torrance for overloading his inbox with material defending her position, and yet she has failed to accept his decision with humility, penance, and grace. A period of sabbatical leave for reflection, followed by retirement, is Professor Torrance’s clear conclusion.
Rowanbank, Kendal Road
Aberdeenshire AB51 5RN
Initial responses to our feature on the ‘new C of E’
From the Revd Dr Alan Billings
Sir, — The Sheffield diocesan strategy that Madeleine Davies outlined (Features, 10 September) is not new, but intensifies the one begun in 2009. After more than a decade, therefore, it might have been prudent to take stock before deciding to carry on with the same model, not least because it has so far borne little obvious fruit. It has failed to achieve the 2011 goal of creating a new congregation in each deanery; it ran up a deficit in 2018 of more than £1 million; and it has left many parishes feeling marginalised, dismissed as “inherited church”.
I live in a place that has been subjected to this new approach, and it is instructive to see what has happened.
Ten years ago, a large suburban church planted a congregation in our inner-suburban parish. Young professionals moved house to be here. They met in the local library a few hundred yards from the parish church. They opened a shop opposite the church to advertise themselves. Individual members began to appear at various community groups, and the congregation engaged in community events. Their worship leader was ordained by an African bishop.
That was then. But, ten years on, they have bought their own building in an adjoining parish, their focus has shifted, their members have left local organisations, and, as far as the parish is concerned, they have disappeared. They put down no roots.
Meanwhile, the parish church, now with no vicar, continues to offer eucharistic worship, and its members remain embedded in local organisations, many of which use the church hall. And we continue to pay parish share, so that other congregations like ours can be subjected to the same experience!
The current strategy has not worked: it brought the diocese to the brink of insolvency, it is changing the Anglican mind-set, alienating many allies, and shrinking the overall influence of the Church of England.
A different strategy could reinvigorate people to work for the parish ministry that has been the heart of the Church of England for all of its history, and whose role is understood and valued well beyond the regular congregations. It would not preclude new developments, but it would require them not to undermine parish ministry, and it would not make non-Evangelicals feel that they are somehow standing in the way.
43 Northfield Court
Sheffield S10 1QR
From Mr Luke Appleton
Sir, — In your article ‘”Focal, oversight: the new C of E”, a great emphasis is put on the forty-year decline of the parish. This, however, must be looked at in the wider context of the nation, where Christianity overall has been in decline. In this context, and when compared with other historic denominations, the Church of England has actually declined at a slower rate than the average.
Legacy matters. For the Church to neglect to leverage the historic parish system is a mistake. I have secular colleagues who for various reasons occasionally frequent their parish church. They would have no such connection with a “new model”. The parish system is not a historic straitjacket, preventing progress; rather, it is the very thing key to not only a surviving Church, but a thriving one.
Paignton Parish Churchwarden
48 Cecil Road
Paignton TQ3 2SH
From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian
Sir, — So, now we have the official suicide note from the Church of England, as described in your article about “the new C of E”. The only glimmer of hope comes from the Revd Tiffer Robinson, who understands that the clergy remain the only recognisable face of the Church to most people, no matter how much we might wish it were otherwise.
No one outside a small number of enthusiasts knows or cares what a lay-led missional community is. When someone comes looking for a person or place to help them connect with God, they want to find someone recognisable, trained, and experienced in that ministry, who will listen and invite them to join with others trying to do the same. They do not want to be confronted with someone claiming to have the answers and trying to sell them Jesus. They will walk away.
The argument that parish clergy cannot be afforded cuts little ice while the Archbishops’ Council is sitting on huge sums parcelled out to pay for officers, advisers, enablers, and assistant archdeacons. The Church of England already has all the experts it needs in its parish clergy. Cutting back on stipendiary clergy is already leading to an inevitable downward spiral.
27 Percy Avenue, Ashford
Middlesex TW15 2PB
From Sylvia Peile
Sir, — I read Madeleine Davies’s article setting out what we ourselves have just got wind of in our own parish, namely, the proposed remodelling and restructuring of our dioceses.
I came to live in the parish of Selborne, Hampshire, nearly six years ago. It is part of the Northanger Benefice, which has nine parishes and 11 churches. We are in the diocese of Winchester .
There is a group ministry, which has been headed by a vicar for the past 14 years. He takes early retirement next month. There are two non-stipendiary priests, and two elderly retired priests who assist.
A few months ago, we received a bombshell that unveiled the proposals for our benefice. As the Bishop of Winchester had taken time out, these horrifying plans were delivered by the Archdeacon. We learnt that our great cathedrals and the upper echelons of the Church of England are in financial difficulties. So they intend to turn to the well-run parishes to grab their bounty. They plan wishy-washy mission, gatherings in houses led by lay volunteers, and they have weird ecological plans. Unusual language makes it hard to understand exactly what is proposed or how it will work.
If the management bothered to come to the shop floor, they would see how the church is still the centre of village life, and that the essence of a Christian community lives on with mutual support and co-operation.
Let the parishes continue their wonderful work. Leave our funds alone, please, for our own community, who support their church and parish. Some may not even be churchgoers, but they are part of the parish where they live.
If these proposals are put into effect, it will be the worst disaster since the Dissolution. I hope that those involved will think again.
Park View, Gracious Street
Selborne GU34 3JB
The three stones at the entrance to purgatory
From Mr Keiran Proffer
Sir, — Canon Robin Ward’s article on Dante (Features, 10 September) makes just one slip. He says: the entrance to purgatory proper is “marked by three stones; one white signifying purity. . .”.
The first stone is white, correctly enough, but polished to reflect like a looking-glass. What it does is show the penitent exactly what he is like. The next is black for penitence, and the third is red for the blood of Christ.
Canon Ward has the colours right, but the significance is that of confession, contrition, and satisfaction.
London NW5 4ND
Opposition to arms fair continues despite Covid
From Sue Claydon
Sir, — This week brought the Defence Security Equipment International (DSEI) Trade Fair back to Docklands in London. This is one of the biggest arms fairs in the world, supported by the Ministry of Defence. Invited were military and security delegations from around the world, including many that represent human-rights-abusing regimes and countries involved in conflict.
While a smaller presence on the site to voice dissension from this evil trade (you can buy anything from a sniper rifle to a warship) reflected the Covid constraints, that did not mean that people around the UK forgot that the DSEI was happening.
While arms traders, behind protected security fences and police lines, were allowed to sell their wares unhindered by transparency, many joined in prayers and laments for this vile demonstration of the power of money over human welfare.
In an Anglican Pacifist Fellowship online vigil, Bishop Roger Morris shared with us just one of the many examples of the UK’s involvement in the sale of arms. He spoke movingly of the fact that the UK continues to supply Saudi Arabia with weapons of all types. These are known to be used in Yemen, where a humanitarian crisis is ongoing after years. Many other countries have refused export licences for similar sales, but the UK is promoting them.
While the world grapples with the Covid pandemic and the climate crisis, we must not forget the resources and money that could be spent on both of these, but are instead being spent on promoting the sale of weapons of destruction.
Chair, Anglican Pacifist Fellowship
112 Whittlesey Road, March
Cambridgeshire PE15 0AH
Meeting the cost of non-disclosure agreements
From Mr David Brown
Sir, — Madeleine Davies’s report on non-disclosure agreements (Features, 3 September) raises the important question how associated costs are met — the diocese’s legal costs, and the cost of any associated financial settlement. It has been reported that one diocese has paid more than £500,000 in toto, and I know a priest who received in excess of £100,000.
Such incidents stemmed from disputes associated with a CDM, “capability procedures”, or maybe irregular ousting from office. It might be important for congregations and dioceses to know actual costs paid by dioceses across the past ten or so years, who sanctioned such costs and settlements, and whether with synodical cover.
Church offerings are given to God; PCCs and DBFs are entrusted channels to handle them for godly purposes. It would be strange for such monies to be diverted to other purposes. Furthermore, are there signs of the Church’s accepting external advice not necessarily shaped by Christian teaching or principles?
(Former Bishop’s Lay Assistant)
School Lane, Admaston
Rugelety, Staffordshire WS15 3NH
A lesson from Bob Dylan about the cure of souls
From the Revd Michael Parnell
Sir, — The Dylanesque call of Canon Hugh Wright’s article (Comment, 3 September) is not lost on readers of a certain age. According to Bob Dylan on his album Slow Train Coming, there is one thing to be done before we can strengthen the things that remain: “wake up”.
The latest census results may well be a disaster and confirm that we have lost even further ground since the last one, but this in itself is not a reason to give up hope.
I work in a hospital as a chaplain one day a week. What is happening in this sector ministry can be viewed as a test for what could happen in other areas of ministry. As hospital chaplains, we are there for everyone, irrespective of their having a belief in God or not.
Yet I have picked up that there is an assumption that Humanists are best placed to serve the spiritual needs of the non-religious. As the number of people in society who say they are Christian decline, there is more pressure on resources to meet the many and varied needs of the population.
What the statistics will not tell us, because the question was not asked, is how many members of the Humanist Society are there. If the Humanist Society are arguing that faith-based chaplains should be there only for signed-up followers of a faith, then so, too, should the Humanists only be there for signed-up members of the Humanist Society. Being a Humanist is still a faith declaration.
One of the remaining things that need strengthening is our understanding of the cure of souls, which we need to make more people aware that as the Established Church we have. We have had the cure of souls for a long time, which should make us best placed to be able to meet the needs of those without a faith. We need to let policy-makers know, as well as the general population, that we are there for everybody, irrespective of age, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, wealth, and faith.
If we strengthen this aspect, then perhaps people will opt for a Christian funeral again if the costs are transparent. I find that there is a growing misconception that if people don’t attend church, even if they were baptised a long time ago, then a church funeral is not for them.
As we strengthen what we have, we may well find that the answer to the question “How do we regain what we have lost?” is blowing in the wind.
SSM of St James’s, Doncaster, and part-time Bank Chaplain, Rotherham, Doncaster and South Humberside NHS Foundation Trust
25 Bramworth Road, Hexthorpe
Doncaster DN4 0HZ