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Letters to the Editor

22 January 2021

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Church of England finances and the parish system

From the Revd Simon Douglas Lane

Sir, — John Radford’s letter (8 January) identifies a fundamental problem that must be solved. It is not so much the question whether the C of E can survive the pandemic as whether the C of E can survive itself. We have learnt from the pandemic that those who are badly remunerated are often those upon whom we depend the most. We need to learn that if you are going to rationalise an organisation, it needs to apply throughout, not just in one sector.

The Church of England has a unique jewel at its heart: the parish system, which needs to flourish, not wither. Thus we hear about the Chelmsford model (News, 4 December), scything its way through parish clergy, and, if the first cull is not enough, then a second one will follow. It is hardly Christian. Think about the clergy and their families bearing the brunt of this — and probably, soon, others across other dioceses.

What has brought this about? I hate to say it, but ineffective leadership, an inability to proclaim the essence of faith in a country of Christian heritage, and seeking refuge in secular practice, which is no good for an organisation that must be spiritual and bring a unique perspective to a nation in a time of crisis.

If, to save money, the parish clergy are to be reduced, the foundation of what we are is being removed, and collapse will follow. Some of us weep at the state in which we find our beloved Church: long interregnums, appointments that don’t fit the tradition of the parish, and the inexorable rise in head-office posts with interesting job titles. Resource the parishes with able clergy, and the “mission enabler” at the diocesan office will be redundant.

So, in an age of transparency, we need to tell the parishes on what their hard-earned income and fund-raising is spent. The concentration on money is a severe hindrance to mission and growth. When the General Synod meets next month, can we at least see an alternative to clergy cuts and parish closures — and some vigorous leadership to put the C of E at the centre of our national life?

30a Belgrade Road
Hampton, Middlesex TW12 2AZ


From Alexandra Hyde

Sir, — The diocese of Chelmsford intends to cut 61 stipendiary clergy posts by the end of 2021, while simultaneously advertising for a “chief executive” on £85,000-£90,000 a year to support the work of a diocesan bishop, three area bishops, and seven archdeacons. If that was the answer, then what was the question?

Seaview Cottage
The Marshes
Essex CM0 7JN


From Canon Charles Masheder

Sir, — It is with considerable sadness that I have read about the situation in the Chelmsford diocese, as I served my ministry for 35 years there. I fear that some of the issues apply to the wider Church, too.

Finance will inevitably play a part in the organisation of ministry, but questions need to be asked about priorities. The Chelmsford diocese is one of the larger ones, but it has no fewer than seven archdeacons, more than any other; perhaps this is necessary. When I left in 2007, there were only four, who, I personally know, worked hard and whose ministry was appreciated. Many dioceses have concentrated on “specialist” ministries often at the reduction of parish clergy. I am not the first to wonder how many people come to faith through such ministries.

At one point, I served for two years not only as a parish priest in country parishes, but also as personal assistant to the Bishop of Barking; this gave me an insight into the conceptions of the Church held by the “hierarchy” and the person in the pew. Both may be valid, but not necessarily compatible.

One small suggestion would be for all (like archdeacons) to have a small and understanding parish. This would not only help such people not to lose sight of the significance of parochial ministry, but, at festival times, would give them the joy of ministering to their flock, something, I know, that is often missed by senior clerics.

Enock House, 2 Musson Close
Abingdon OX14 5RE


From Mr Dennis Cooper

Sir, — You quote the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker (News, 8 January), as saying that “any reduction in the overall number of dioceses, or smaller ones, was not under discussion.”

It is disheartening that an organisation in such a parlous situation is not taking time for radical thinking. I doubt that I am the only person who thinks that there are far too many dioceses, with all the hierarchy and officers that each bishop seems to feel entitled to. Do we really need more than, say, eight or nine dioceses?

Perhaps it is time that all appointments above parish priest were put on hold until the full cost of the pandemic is known.

The Willows, School Lane
East Keal PE23 4AU


Doctors need urgent support on medical ethics

From the Revd Paul Eddy

Sir, — Doctors’ leaders are calling on the Government to change the law to exempt them from future cases of legal liability if they have to choose to save one person on life-support at the expense of another, on the basis that they have run out of oxygen, or other vital medical equipment that might help prolong life just long enough for the body to fight Covid-19.

This “moral injury”, as medics call it, when they are placed in the position that no doctor who has sworn the Hippocratic Oath ever wants to find themselves in, was not foreseen by those drafting the Coronavirus Act 2020, but now it is becoming essential that the Government offer a clear, unambiguous statement, from the floor of the House of Commons, that no medic shall be personally held liable for consequences made from such a decision, provided some simple bases were followed.

These might include that at least two doctors agree on the decision, one being of at least registrar- or consultant-level; and obviously, no decision is to be affected by a patient’s being a family member or friend.

In an ideal world, it would have been good to have time to come up with a full protocol, considered carefully over time by the heads of the Royal Medical, Surgical, Emergency Medicine, and Anaesthetic Colleges, as well as with input from nursing and allied professions, assisted with expert resourcing by medical-ethics advisers. But we don’t, I fear, have the luxury of time for that in the vital two weeks that we are heading into in every country in our NHS.

This is something that will need to be looked into, in full, post-Covid — alongside the public inquiry into how the pandemic was handled, and what lessons can be learned.

Exhausted doctors and nurses have worked flat out for nearly a year trying to save lives from Covid. The last thing that they need, as they head into another 12-hour shift, is the thought of ambulance-chasing lawyers breathing down on them, or, years after Covid has become as managed as the flu virus, and maybe even after they have retired, a letter dropping on their mat accusing them of manslaughter or professional negligence.

Of course, every death is potentially open to a coroner’s inquiry, and any grieving family can make representation and ask for one. But what our frontline NHS staff need to hear from the Prime Minister and Health Secretary, on behalf of the Government, is just: “We’ve got your back.”

The Vicarage
24 Church Green
Stanford in the Vale
Oxfordshire SN7 8HU


Orthodoxy in Anglicanism and LLF next steps

From the Revd Dr Lee Gatiss

Sir, — In his review of the Revd Dr Charles Erlandson’s Orthodox Anglican Identity (Books, 15 January), the Revd Professor Paul Avis rather tendentiously asserts that, as a “criterion for the definition of orthodoxy”, the rejection of same-gender physical relationships is “a contemporary innovation, not found in the ecumenical creeds or the teaching of the great divines”. The ecumenical creeds don’t explicitly rule out a whole raft of morally dubious forms of behaviour, because that was not their purpose — as he surely knows. The “great divines”, however, most certainly did include sexual morality in their definition of orthodoxy.

In his discussion of what counts as orthodox or heretical in his commentary on Titus 3, for example, Thomas Aquinas teaches that “if a person were to maintain that God is not triune and one, or that fornication is not a sin, he would be a heretic.” No great divine with whom I am familiar would encourage living in sinful love and simply bolting on a vaguely credal “faith”, hoping thereby to retain a credible semblance of orthodoxy.

Church Society
Ground Floor, Centre Block
Hille Business Estate
132 St Albans Road
Watford WD24 4AE


From Canon Nicholas Cranfield

Sir, — Living in Love and Faith was published during the second lockdown (News, 13 November), and discussion around it might be affected by lockdown three, such that the General Synod might well consider the timetable for such debates; much of the honesty expected of participants is not ideally addressed online.

I would wish to suggest that the issues under consideration might also be seen against the agency of such lockdowns.

At page 130, the Bishops identify three responses by other church communities to LGBTI members: broadly, a pastoral accompaniment of an individual; a “congregationalist” approach, allowing individual churches to take action as they choose; and a change of doctrinal teaching and biblical understanding for a whole denomination or Communion.

In lockdown one, churches were closed by episcopal fiat. In lockdown two, the Government closed places of worship, arguing that worship was not “essential”. In lockdown three, the Bishops, tacitly recognising they had acted illegally in lockdown one and trumpeting the claims of Magna Carta to demand freedom of worship under lockdown two, have left it to individual parish churches to remain open for public worship and private prayer.

How might this translate to LLF? Episcopal fiat could be used to manage change. The Government could repeal the 2014 triple lock that permitted the Church of England to maintain discrimination. Or the Bishops could allow individual PCCs to decide their own practice, agreeing that no priest or bishop’s officer could be sanctioned or suspended as a result of any actions that they took — for instance, in performing same-sex marriages, or in encouraging vocations for a person in a non-celibate relationship.

I appreciate that this is a very English commentary on LLF. That seems, sadly, to be in keeping with the report itself, which seems not to take into consideration the varied experience of LGBTI Anglicans in Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, or the Russian Federation, for instance, all part of the diocese in Europe.

All Saints’ Vicarage
London SE3 0TY

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