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Letters to the Editor

23 July 2021

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Vision and Strategy and church-planting models

From Canon David Tomlinson

Sir, — Further to the concerns expressed about “Myriad” and “limiting factors” (Letters, 9 July), I write as the person in the diocese of Durham leading on our church-planting programme. For us, church-planting includes everything from a new gathering alongside an existing service to a completely new worshipping community. It is to the parish priest that we look for discernment about what will serve their parish well, how we can best resource, train, and equip, and guidance around how to love them well, that they may confidently know themselves as the called of God in their place.

I am convinced that God has called the wonderful kaleidoscope of parish, chaplaincy, and non-stipendiary ordained women and men that I work with to this Church for this time. Equally, I am convinced that God has called our Readers or licensed lay ministers to bring even greater riches to the mix. Working with our clergy, along with my colleagues, I’m also in the process of working out what an authorised lay planter might look like.

As a result of our inclusion, we do have a mixed ecology of plants: “Communities of Hope” focus on low-income communities. One, based in a church building heading for closure last year, is now humming with life, thanks to two paid lay leaders under the oversight of the priest and within a liberal Catholic tradition. I rejoice. At our recent Evangelical Charismatic plant into a school in a new housing area, 17 people have already joined the two ordained plant leaders. Again, I rejoice.

We work hard in this diocese to value everyone. As a result, the creativity and diversity of our church-planting is amazing. I am determined, therefore, to resist the lazy tendency to blame others for the numerical decline of the Church. The people of God working together are breathtaking. I pray that we are not distracted by the recent clumsy words.

So 10,000 or 20,000 — it doesn’t matter very much. What matters is that I aspire with my colleagues, ordained and lay, to respond faithfully to our call in this place. That we value one another well and rejoice in the God who calls us is the road to fruitfulness; so let’s all tread it together.

Director of Strategy for Growth (Durham Diocese)
The Vicarage, Brookside
Evenwood DL14 9RA


From Mr Don Manley

Sir, — “This” (the Vision and Strategy for the Church of England) “isn’t top-down” claimed the Archbishop of York in the General Synod (Synod, 16 July). Of course it is! How little detail of this scheme has reached through successive levels of synods “down” to parish level! But, of course, it isn’t “bottom-up” either — the Archbishop could hardly claim that, could he? But wait a minute: here’s the punchline: “It is Christ.”

Some special justification here then to quell any dissent: Jesus weaponised as he was by that ultra-pious group of Corinthians who smugly told Paul “I belong to Christ.” Is this dishonest steamrolling by a section of our Church the best we can expect from the General Synod? Really!

26 Hayward Road
Oxford OX2 8LW


From the Revd Ben Phillips

Sir, — I write with great hope for the growth of our Church, but a slight despair in the direction of our leadership. The Archbishop of York’s idea for the revival of our Church after a global crisis seems to be to keep paying himself and his many staff £90,000 a year whilst telling the rest of the Church to do-it-yourself.

I am a big believer in every-member ministry and the priesthood of all believers, but many of my parishioners are deeply tired of being asked for more and more money and then being offered DIY ministry. The strong feeling among our members is that the Church of England has become overly centralised while depleting its parishes.

We do not need any more centralised initiatives created by distant diocesan staff. The real leadership that I would like to see would be a drastic reduction of bishops and centralised staff and all resources poured into gospel proclamation and action in front-line parish ministry.

I run five rural churches, and we have excellent lay leadership and involvement. There is much to do here and great scope for growth. More full-time clergy and youth workers would lead to exponential growth here. I truly believe that we can reverse the decline of the Church of England, but this will not be achieved by draining our congregations of ministry and money.

My plea to all senior staff and General Synod members is for a complete U-turn; now is the time for drastic action. Cut the number of bishops to between 26 and 42, with perhaps two support staff each. Give any diocesan roles considered necessary to clergy in parishes. Stop charging fees for Occasional Offices (ministry should be a gift, not a professional service). Let us go out among the people. We have Good News for them in difficult times. The harvest is ripe, but the workers are few.

The Vicarage, Townhead Road
Dalston, Carlisle CA5 7JF


From Mr Clive J. Dixon

Sir, — I am writing as treasurer of a rural PCC in support of the public exposure of diocesan neglect of country parishes. We are bombarded with new schemes for raising money from our dwindling numbers while, for a number of years, we have had no priest to serve or motivate us.

“Generous Giving” is the latest innovation. For this, central funds have been allocated to recruiting two diocesan staff to apply the thumbscrews presumably more “professionally” and effectively than hitherto. They pepper us with emails urging us on to get more out of the parish or to be trained in the art of the thumbscrew.

For services, we get by with huge help from a couple of retired priests with permission to officiate, but with growing disenchantment with the C of E among retired priests, they are becoming a diminishing resource. Lack of any sort of care for clergy, especially the retired ones, together with the onerous demands of safeguarding and the like, are causing many of these to chuck in the towel.

The diocesan accent is now firmly placed on the young (disregarding that the parish network could reach the young if it were not stripped of resources) and expensive urban mission projects that have no impact on, or relevance to, rural life. The day of the ministry of the well-trained priest, administering the sacraments, teaching the gospel, and knowing their community as individuals and caring for them as valued souls now appears to be regarded by the hierarchy with indifference or neglect — despite the Archbishop of York’s assurances

Quite frankly, I’m getting fed up with the C of E. Many of us give freely and gladly of our time, but receive nothing in return except for demands for more money to fund inflated management structures that need to reform if the Church is to survive, and irrelevant initiatives. My advice to our PCC when the next “Generous Giving” demand arrives is to stick it. Perhaps if the coffers start to run dry, someone may realise that it’s long past time for a change.

Treasurer to St Cuby Duloe PCC
73 Bodrigan Road
Looe, Cornwall PL13 1EH


From the Revd Andrew Downes

Sir, — As a theological student, I spent an enriching rural-parish placement with a wonderful, if slightly cynical, old-school incumbent in the diocese of Salisbury.

He was particularly scathing of church surveyors and architects who, he thought, were always looking for work and exaggerating problems. He was of the view that when people told him the church was falling down or the roof was falling in that if you simply locked the church up and came back in fifty years’ time, then you would find very little would have changed and the church would still be standing.

In this vein, is there not an argument to be made that if parish clergy didn’t lose too much sleep or hours from their diary over the various initiatives that are being bombarded in their direction from on high for, let’s say, a year or two and concentrated on their rewarding and challenging priestly work, day in and day out, then might not the Church as a whole, and their parishes in particular, benefit greatly?

The Vicarage, Thames Street
Middlesex TW16 6AA


Legal challenge to abortion law over disability

From the Revd Eric J. Lobsinger

Sir, — I very much welcome the robust response from the Archbishop of York, the Bishop of Carlisle, and the Bishop of Newcastle on the recent legal challenge to the UK’s abortion law that discriminates against the life of unborn children diagnosed with disabilities (News, 9 July).

These bishops have bravely spoken up against the unjust and inhumane law that allows a child with disabilities, such as Down’s syndrome, to be aborted for no other reason than he or she has a disability. In other words, the current legal framework that permits abortion opens the door for eugenics.

Tragically, eugenics against human beings with disabilities is already taking place around the world with similar abortion laws. In Iceland, nearly 100 per cent of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome have been aborted since the early 2000s.

Denmark, which has a similar legal framework, has seen around 98 per cent of children diagnosed with Down’s syndrome aborted. In the UK, the NHS, like medical services around the world, regularly runs antenatal screening tests to determine the likelihood of a child’s having Down’s syndrome, Edward’s syndrome, and Patau’s syndrome.

The results of these tests, along with social pressure to give birth to the “perfect” baby (sometimes from within the medical community itself), and the legal option of abortion lead to a very real devaluation of life for those with disabilities. Moreover, with fewer babies born with disabilities, like Down’s syndrome, each year, the level of social acceptance of people with disabilities can likewise diminish.

The Church has a moral duty to stand up for the dignity of every human life. Abortion, sadly, cheapens life, as abortion makes life disposable. With the record number of abortions in England and Wales in 2020, it is all too easy to see how a devalued appreciation for human life overall can make life for the disabled even more precarious. The Church must offer an alternative vision for society, by speaking out for the intrinsic value of every human life, from conception to natural death, and show the world that it is possible — and indeed good — to love each and every human being,

At a time when there seems to be so much discord within the Church of England over ecclesiology, the future of the parish, church-plants, gender, and sexuality, I hope we can all unite on something that is literally a life-or-death matter for those who have no voice. Every human being in every phase of life is a priceless gift of God.

St Mary’s Vicarage
9 The Fairway
Ruislip HA4 0SP


Safeguarding and clergy discipline

From the Bishop of Huddersfield

Sir, — In response to your story “Interim Support Scheme has caused more anxiety, survivors report” (News, 9 July), I would like to point out the importance of the scheme and explain how it works. It was set up after a very distressing case last autumn where funds were clearly needed, and since then it has provided immediate support for 30 survivors. Ten further cases are now being heard.

I am very sorry to hear about the two survivors unhappy with the process. We always seek to learn from any issues raised, but I have personally heard from others who have described it as a life-changing scheme.

It would be wrong for me to talk about details of individual cases, but I can explain that the scheme has an experienced independent chair and a panel, which includes another independent member and two survivor representatives who attend every hearing and consider each case, and the panel is collectively responsible for taking any decisions. The panel is made up of a number of people, all completely committed to making it work, above all in the interests of survivors, and I would like to emphasise that it is not run by one person.

The National Safeguarding Team provides the panel secretary, who was named in the article, whose role is primarily administrative, and who is not a member of the decision-making panel.

I would like to thank personally all those involved in this scheme, which is not yet a year old, and which has begun to make a real difference, though, of course, there is a great deal more still to be done.

Lead bishop for safeguarding
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ


From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The National Safeguarding Team must be grateful that two news stories broke after the General Synod was dissolved: namely, the coroner Mary Hassell’s “Prevention of Future Deaths Report” to Archbishop Welby after the inquest on the Revd Alan Griffin; and Judge David Turner QC’s admission that there was no jurisdiction under the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) to consider an allegation against Canon Paul Overend relating to his time as a university chaplain in Cardiff in 1997.

There are disturbing aspects to both cases. Fr Griffin was found to have committed suicide “because he could not cope with an investigation into his conduct, the detail and source for which he had never been told”, the “source” revealed in evidence at the inquest to be no more than gossip and innuendo.

Canon Overend and his wife contemplated suicide while the allegation was investigated, their two-year ordeal ending only in June 2021, six months after Canon Overend’s acquittal by a jury, when the Deputy President of Tribunals ruled that there was no case to answer in the CDM proceedings that followed the acquittal. For the first ten weeks in 2019, Canon Overend was kept in the dark about the nature of the accusation (News, 18 June).

Perhaps the most disturbing aspect of the Griffin case is the revelation in the coroner’s report that she “received submissions on behalf of the Church of England . . . [urging] me not to include any concerns that may be taken as criticism of clerics or staff for not filtering or verifying allegations.” This is truly appalling.

One had hoped that part of the culture change relating to safeguarding was a recognition of the need for transparency and getting away from seeking to protect the reputation of the institution. The person making this submission to the coroner should not only be identified, but should consider his or her position. As Martin Sewell has commented, “There need to be resignations.”

The other connection between the two cases relates to the issue of confidentiality versus transparency. Fr Griffin was not informed of the detail of what was alleged against him. Amendments approved by General Synod in April 2021 to the CDM Code of Practice emphasise the confidentiality of CDM proceedings. But it was only after the Deputy President’s decision in June was announced on the Lincoln diocesan website that the existence of the CDM against Canon Overend was made public, which led Matthew Chinery, Head of Legal Services for the Church in Wales, to point out the jurisdictional bar that everyone else had overlooked.

There is a case for some details of a CDM complaint to be kept confidential while the case is effectively sub judice, but the contrary argument applies to any decisions of the President or her deputy not to proceed with a case. At present, the President’s office does not routinely make these decisions public, though its position is that the parties to a complaint are free to do so: hence the publication in a redacted form of the decision on 28 May 2021 not to refer the “hair-stroking” allegation against the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, to a disciplinary tribunal. (The diocesan website still wrongly calls this a “leak”.)

During the Synod’s CDM debate (Synod, 16 July), the Dean of the Arches, the Rt Worshipful Morag Ellis QC, gave cogent reasons that such decisions should be made public, namely fairness to the parties, reasons of transparency and openness, and the building up of a library of decisions to help achieve consistency of decision-making. This does not require legislation. The President’s office could declare such a change of policy now.

20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU


Dispensation needed

From Margaret Coombs

Sir, — Surely the guidelines about divorce under Canon C4 need urgent revision? Many of us are gravely concerned about the predicament of the Revd Sorrel Shamel-Wood, one of the ablest Cuddesdon students of her year (News, 2 July; Letters, 9 July). I trust the Bishop of Oxford will ask the Archbishop to offer a dispensation at the earliest opportunity.

Former Mental Health Act Commissioner
54 Divinity Road
Oxford OX4 1LJ

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