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Letters to the Editor

by
23 April 2021

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Panorama report and racism in Church and society

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — Every single member of the Church of England — so all of us, then, regardless of race or colour — will have undoubtedly been guilty from time to time of racist attitudes and words, for which we need to repent continually and seek God’s forgiveness; but that does not alter the fact that Clive Myrie’s Panorama report this week (“Is the Church of England Racist?”) was, to my mind, a questionable piece of investigative journalism.

In an approach that could have been seen as inverted racism, he appeared to accept unquestioningly the stories of the witnesses interviewed, without probing more deeply. No space was given to those thrust “into the racist dock” to present their side of the story.

Had we learned from their perspective, we might (I say “might”, not “would”) have been able to view the unhappy incidents in a more balanced way. And, given that our Church’s recent second-in-command, the Archbishop of York, is himself a person of colour, why was Dr Sentamu not even mentioned, let alone interviewed? An extraordinary omission!

While diversity and equal opportunity are important ideals to strive for, surely the most important thing in making any church appointment, senior or lower order, is that the person is chosen who is most suited to the task at that particular time and in that particular location, regardless of their colour, race, tribe, or gender.

ANDREW DOW
7 Bluebell Close
Moreton-in-Marsh
Gloucestershire GL56 9PW

 

From the Revd Sulaiman Shahzad

Sir, — On Monday, the BBC broadcast on Panorama a damning picture of the Church of England under the title “Is the Church Racist?” Nothing that I saw surprised me, and I will not be surprised if, in five years’ time, the BCC broadcasts another programme reporting on exactly the same issues as have deeply marred the image of the Church.

It was painfully disappointing to see that, despite extensive research and the numbers of books written and recommendations made to the Church of England by their appointed people on race relations, nothing had been implemented.

It makes you wonder what will happen now, after this broadcast: what will the next strategy be to calm down the situation? My plea to the Archbishop is not to send out foxes to search for his lost chickens.

We are very fortunate to have an archdeacon who is not only supportive, but also available to his clergy in times of trouble. From my personal experience, my advice to those clergy who are racially abused and have no support around them is this: if you are genuinely racially abused and get no help or support from your diocese, then don’t waste your time. Call the police straight away and explain to them everything that you have encountered and endured before it destroys you and your family. The police officers I met while I served in three different dioceses were extremely helpful and supportive and showed no favouritism.

I have been serving my Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ in the Church of England for the past 25 years and wouldn’t swap it for the world. In my current diocese, I have done 11 years. Last year, I received an insensitive letter from one of the departments in the diocese asking me to confirm my ethnicity, after all this time. It did upset me, and sometimes the best way of dealing with educated idiots is to ignore them; so I did.

SULAIMAN SHAHZAD
St Andrew’s Vicarage
276 Brampton Road
Bexleyheath
Kent DA7 5SF

 

From the Revd Dr Alan Gadd

Sir, — Contrary to Michael Cavaghan-Pack (Letters, 16 April), I am grateful to the Bishop of Dover, the Rt Revd Rose Hudson-Wilkin, for her comments on the Sewell report.

That report has been discredited, in my view, by the disclaimers of some of those whom it cites in evidence, and by the strong criticisms of academics, charitable foundations, trade unions, and others.

Mr Cavaghan-Pack draws attention to the ”huge reliance of Premier League football on black players and those of other ethnicities”. (He means minority ethnicities, of course; we all have an ethnicity.)

Quite so. And what is the position regarding football managers from ethnic minorities? Ah yes, very few. That looks like institutional racism: a reality that the Sewell report wants to wish away on behalf of the present Government.

ALAN GADD
24 Homewood Gardens
London SW2 3RS

 

Synod’s reform of the Clergy Discipline Measure

From Dr Sarah Horsman

Sir, — A year ago, the Bishops agreed that a complete replacement of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) was necessary. It is curious that there is no mention of this in the updates to the existing CDM being brought to the General Synod this week.

We would have hoped to see these, presumably interim, changes being made in the context of an overview to help us understand the intended journey towards replacement.

The flaws in the CDM are so fundamental that these modest improvements cannot make it fit for purpose. The Sheldon/Aston research laid bare the harm being caused.

A good replacement for the CDM is of major importance to the good ordering of church life and the welfare of both clergy and complainants. Sheldon has proposed a concise but comprehensive “Scope and Purpose” blueprint against which proposals for replacement may be assessed.

This is available, along with the Lambeth and ELS working group proposals and in-depth forum conversations, at www.sheldonhub.org/cdm.

We would welcome the appointment of someone with the capacity, independence, and trust of all affected parties to steer this much needed reform to completion.

SARAH HORSMAN
Warden
Sheldon, Sheldon Lane
Doddiscombsleigh
Exeter EX6 7YT

 

Responsibility of Hamas for suffering in Gaza

From Frances Waddams

Sir, — Christian Aid’s William Bell (“Gaza faces a lockdown that will outlast Covid”, Comment, 16 April) has given “a little context” to Gaza’s ongoing plight against the background of the pandemic. I should like to look at the context from an angle that Mr Bell overlooks — with advance apologies to Solihull.

Imagine you live in Solihull. Imagine that it’s controlled by an internationally recognised terrorist group sworn to nearby Birmingham’s destruction. Since 2007, this group has launched thousands of rockets from Solihull’s schools, farms, and even hospitals (the latest ones just last week). Three times, open hostilities broke out as Birmingham retaliated to stop a hail of rockets raining down on communities just metres from Solihull.

Unlike Birmingham, Solihull doesn’t provide bomb shelters. As a human shield, you’re far more use dead than alive, because Solihull’s government will use your death as propaganda against Birmingham via sympathetic coverage from media and NGOs.

Solihull’s water pipes were turned into rockets to fire at Birmingham years ago. They haven’t been replaced; so there’s little clean water, and sewage services don’t work. Internationally donated cash and building materials donated for Solihull’s schools, hospitals, infrastructure, and jobs are hijacked and poured into weapons and sophisticated tunnels for kidnapping and murdering Birmingham folk living near the Solihull border. Orchards and farms are gone, because government-backed “militants” used them as cover for sniping and launching rockets at Birmingham’s civilians.

Job opportunities are scarce, unless you are well-connected. Unemployment is high, despite a desperate need to replace ruined infrastructure.

Solihull’s government won’t spend money on medicines or medical equipment, and it’s hard to get medical treatment in Birmingham, because, although they usually grant necessary permits, your government doesn’t, preferring instead to blame your plight on Birmingham.

You could protest; but who wants their family targeted by government goons? Who wants to be beaten, jailed, or publicly executed?

Not a perfect analogy maybe, but not so very far from how Gaza’s millions live now. Iranian-backed Hamas forces openly yearn for Israel’s annihilation and cynically abuse their citizens to further that aim, blighting both Palestinian and Israeli lives.

Mr Bell invites readers to hold Gaza in their thoughts and prayers. But while NGOs — including Christian Aid — deflect attention away from Hamas’s overwhelming responsibility for Gaza’s misery, they ensure that Anas and his fellow Gazans won’t be living their dreams any time soon.

FRANCES WADDAMS
Address supplied (Nottingham)

 

Links between Jewish and Christian prayers

From Jane Thomas

Sir, — The Revd Simon Reynolds’s consideration of why the contemporary Seder is an inappropriate framework for Christian worship on Maundy Thursday (Comment, 9 April) was helpful in many respects, not least in challenging a simplistic reading of scripture. It was unfortunate, therefore, that the Revd Andrew Roland responded to this article by citing Exodus 12, without any attention to its historical context, to infer that it justifies Christians’ appropriating the Seder that Jews celebrate today.

A broad scholarly consensus identifies Exodus 12.46, with its instruction to eat the meal in a domestic setting, as an exilic or possibly post-exilic retelling of a much earlier practice. The text probably dates from no later than the middle of the fifth century BCE (more recent scholarship would say, even earlier). As such, it describes a ritual that predates the arrangements for Passover at the time of Jesus. Indeed, much of the rest of Exodus 12 belongs to even earlier sources, dating as far back as the ninth century BCE.

That isolated verses of scripture refer to features that have become part of today’s Seder does not mean that it was historically or theologically identical to the meal that Jesus is recorded as sharing with his disciples on the night of his betrayal. Neither does it account for the significance that the Church subsequently attached to it. Moreover, it does not account for why some elements of today’s Seder (e.g. the lamb shank) recall the long-lost sacrificial cult of the second Temple with an element of lament.

Mr Roland expresses a desire to use prayers that Jews and Christians have in common, but does not acknowledge that this already happens in many ways, without the need to compromise the integrity of a contemporary Jewish ritual. For me, it is best expressed in the two prayers provided by Common Worship at the preparation of the table in the eucharist, with their unmistakable Jewish character, beginning “Blessed are you, Lord God of all creation, through your goodness we have this bread to set before you. . .”

JANE THOMAS
The University of Manchester
Oxford Road
Manchester M13 9PL

 

Time has come to sell the Church’s family silver

From the Revd Dr Stuart Bell

Sir, — As a Methodist minister who was trained ecumenically at Cambridge, undertook four years of postgraduate study at Cuddesdon, and has published papers and books on the history of the Church of England, I had thought that nothing about the Church of England could shock me. I was wrong.

I refer to your report (News, 16 April) of the proceedings of the consistory court of the Norwich diocese which ruled that a Thetford church could not sell church silver for which it had no use whatsoever to finance improvements to the church fabric.

It invites the obvious question, Why? — apart from the fact that that is what church law requires. What is the purpose of their retention? A second question might be, For how long? — to which the answer would appear to be, Until the Parousia.

As for there being no “force majeure” to compel the sale, does not the current situation, which Callum Brown summarised as “The Death of Christian Britain”, suggest that we are at a time when the resources of the Church need to be used for its mission rather than hoarded for no credible purpose?

There is no need for me to list the many sayings of Jesus which, although they should not be simplistically treated as proof texts, must at least cause us to wonder at this policy with regard to the Church’s family silver. I have no reason to doubt that the court correctly applied the law as it stands. The question must be the appropriateness of that law for 2021.

STUART BELL
29 Cartwright Way, Beeston
Nottingham NG9 1RL

 

BBC tributes and funeral service for Prince Philip

From Canon Cecil Heatley

Sir, — I usually agree with nearly everything that Paul Vallely writes, but I am astonished at his defence of the BBC (Comment, 16 April). One hundred thousand complaints represent only a proportion of those angered by the fact that BBC1 and BBC2 were showing exactly the same programme, not to mention BBC News.

As well as that, Radio 4 Extra, my nighttime comfort, disappeared completely. I am all for paying our respects to the Duke, but by going overboard in imposing a collective tribute the BBC was driving viewers to other channels.

CECIL HEATLEY
Flat 37, Sheppards College
Bromley BR1 1PF

 

From the Revd Wealands Bell

Sir, — The Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral was undeniably a thing of spare beauty. But we should resist any temptation to transfer its style to our parishes and crematorium chapels.

The ducal scalpel had indeed removed all reference to himself, saving a modest proclamation of styles and titles by Garter Principal King of Arms. It has also been noted with approval that there was no eulogy. There was indeed a eulogy, delivered through blanket television coverage spanning several days following the Duke’s death: This is your Life in spades.

I did miss a homily. Except in so far as it was made through readings, prayers, and music (a mighty exception, even in an anaesthetically archaic register), there was no proclamation of the resurrection, no linking of the lives of God, the deceased, and the mourners.

Well-crafted eulogy and funeral homily are vital to the Church’s mission and theology if we are to retain our diminished funeral ministry and retrieve a gospel of intellectual resilience in our day. Choristers and Cranmer are very wonderful; but they cannot repel the materialist hordes unaided.

WEALANDS BELL
Chaplain
Magdalen College School
Oxford OX4 1DZ

 

Sir, — No doubt you are getting letters of complaint that “the gospel was not preached” at St George’s, Windsor, last Saturday. This is not one. I have at­­tended several C of E funerals in recent years at which the sermon was, frankly, embarrassing.
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Professor Küng and Roman Catholic pluralism

From Dr Simon Barker

Sir, — I enjoyed the Rt Revd Dr Saxbee’s informed and empathetic obituary of Professor Hans Küng (16 April), one of the giants and pioneers of theological exploration in the modern era. But I deplore the opening and closing of his article, appropriating Küng to Anglicanism: when is a Roman Catholic theologian not a Roman Catholic theologian?

Never, in a situation like this — even if a myopic Curia is unable to recognise that in the moment (popes come along with better insight). There are very many Roman Catholics, like me, who share Küng’s questions about priestly celibacy, women’s ordination, sexual orientation. He was absolutely a Catholic and a theologian at the same time: he represents the plurality of Catholic life and tradition.

SIMON BARKER
56 Beaumont Terrace, Gosforth
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 1AS

 

Wider influence exercised by patronage society

From Professor David Catchpole

Sir, — Canon Andrew Dow (Letters, 1 April) mounts a stout defence of private patronage in general and the CPAS in particular, the most daring claim in which is that the wider Church is represented not by the Bishop, seen in a not particularly Anglican way as an essentially local figure, but by the patron. The system, to which the CPAS is said to contribute, maintains “the spiritually beneficial continuity of ecclesiastical tradition and practice, be it Catholic, liberal, or Evangelical”.

Readers with sharp eyes and long memories will recall that in your issue of 22 March 2019 an advertisement for a “dynamic ordained evangelical” as patronage secretary and team leader at the CPAS declared: “You will exercise a strategic ministry with significant potential to shape the future life of the church in this country [my italics], advising and guiding churches through the appointment process, up to and including interviews, and building on the existing strong relationships with dioceses and senior staff.” As the Good Book says, “Let him or her that readeth understand.”

DAVID CATCHPOLE
15 Uplowman Road, Tiverton
Devon EX16 4LU

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