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Letters to the Editor

by
24 September 2021

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Taxation, Church, and social care

From the Revd David Haslam

Sir, — Reading the final paragraph of “How to tackle poverty in an age of austerity” (Comment, 10 September), which says ‘It will . . . only be when the Church lives up to its calling to transform structural injustice . . . that we will be able to make poverty history,” it was quite shocking to read (News, same issue) that church leaders “welcome”, albeit cautiously, the Government’s plan to fund social care.

There are three serious flaws in that plan: first, nothing is being offered to address the care crisis immediately; second, much of what is supposedly being offered will be spent on the NHS; and, third, perhaps most importantly, it is being funded by a regressive tax.

As your report states, low-income families will pay £100 a year extra, just when their Universal Credit is being cut by £20 a week. Those earning well below the average wage will pay an extra £180. As the Bishop of Manchester, Dr David Walker, says, most, if not all, of us will be happy to see our taxes spent on the weakest; but we urgently need some economic literacy in our ecclesiastical statements about how the economic system works.

Advocates of Modern Monetary Theory point out that governments issuing their own currency do not need to “balance the books”: they can borrow, and our current level of debt is less than it was after the 1939-45 war, 35 per cent of it is anyway owed to the Bank of England, and our current debt repayments amount to just three per cent of our tax income, the lowest proportion for many years. But, even if we do not wish to borrow, tax should fall on those able to pay, and the Tax Justice movement has been urging for some years that capital gains tax — which the wealthy use to minimise their obligations — should be paid at the same rate as income tax.

Richard Murphy of Tax Research has shown that, if that were so, some £9 billion a year could be raised. Furthermore, making National Insurance a more progressive tax could raise £14 billion a year, which was actually the sum required. An investment income surcharge could raise maybe £7 billion a year. And if the tax reliefs on pensions and gifts to charities were restricted to basic-rate tax, again more than the required sum to meet this need could have been raised. There are alternatives with no extra demands on the poor.

Furthermore, a working paper issued this week by a team of economists at the Greenwich Political Economy Research centre makes the case for an annual progressive wealth tax on the top one per cent of wealthiest households in the UK. It estimates that a new wealth tax on that one per cent could raise roughly £70-130 billion a year.

The problem is that this Government is wholly committed to protecting the assets and wealth of the rich. If, as the “How to tackle poverty” article says, “church leaders and policy-makers need to work together to address the causes of poverty in the UK,” this basic fact needs urgently to be recognised. We must be clear about how the “principalities and powers” operate. Otherwise, we will be left issuing cautious welcomes to government sleight of hand which will undoubtedly lead to higher debt, larger foodbanks, increasing poverty, and wholly inadequate social care.

DAVID HASLAM
59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG

 

Welby interview, the parish, and mission areas

From Dr Andrew Hobley

Sir, — I see from your interview with the Archbishop of Canterbury (News, 17 September) that he thinks people will be attracted when they see a Christian community being loving and caring. They may appreciate the service offered, such as a foodbank, but what is the evidence that they are aware what is being provided is because providers are Christian, and why it is that they do this?

He also says that people will “. . . understand when they come to church because . . . they have been bereaved or are just puzzled about things. . .” From my own observations of those in their mid-twenties to thirties, the idea of going to church in such circumstances would never cross their mind.

Why would they seek help in somewhere whose rites and culture they do not understand, which they see as misogynistic and anti LBGTQ+, and which they hear about only when there is news of a sexual or financial scandal? They are as likely to distinguish between the different Christian denominations, and to understand what the C of E offers to all its parishioners, as the average person in the pew is able to distinguish between different Buddhist sects and understand what they offer.

Finally, the one Christian that the person in the street can distinguish is a priest in a clerical collar. And a parish church is a clear statement of “We are here.” If we have our 10,000 lay-led churches, and if those in difficulty look for them to seek comfort, I fear that they will be invisible, as the lay leaders will look like everyone else, and so may the locations.

A parish church with a parish priest is a visible location and a visible person for those who may look for help in times of trouble. It is a system that should be properly supported, resourced, and actively encouraged.

ANDREW HOBLEY
238 Galahad Close, Andover
Hampshire SP10 4BT

 

From the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Sir, — It was good to read your positive account of what has happened in Wales as a result of the recommendations of the review that I had the privilege of chairing a decade ago (Feature, 17 September). It is important, however, to avoid some misconceptions.

The policy does not mean the end of the parish system as such, but the parish system “as we have known and loved it”. The intention is that each local congregation would have a designated leader: lay or a self-supporting priest. Clearly, in many rural areas in particular, this is a huge challenge. Second, the area ministries need to be large enough to support financially a small team of stipendiary staff, one or more of whom may be specialists, for example in youth ministry. This approach requires a whole new mind-set, so that a stipendiary priest is appointed first of all to the team, and only then to one or more of the parishes.

Without this change, there is the danger of present parishes’ simply adding more and more others, with a single incumbent being increasingly stretched. This system does not rule out the possibility that a stipendiary priest, appointed primarily to a team, may in fact spend a significant part of their ministry in one particular parish, if there is one very large one in the team; but this would be the exception rather than the rule.

I have every sympathy for clergy now ministering in what T. S. Eliot described as “conditions that seem unpropitious”. But I always remind myself of some wise words of my friend Tony Russell (Bishop of Dorchester, then Ely): “A small church is not a failed church.”

HARRIES
House of Lords
London SW1A 0PW

 

From the Revd Stephen Hayes

Sir, — The correspondence about “saving the parish” has me puzzled. Where is this ecclesiological Shangri-La of parochial ministry, every parish with its own incumbent? Surely, sixty years of amalgamation and plurality means that this ideal dissolved long ago? I can understand a campaign to “restore the parish”.

But I’m also saddened by some of the language used, especially to disparage those whose ministry is often faithful, informed, and diligent. Is it helpful or gracious to caricature lay ministry as “claiming to have the answers and trying to sell them Jesus”, or “wishy-washy mission [and] gatherings in houses led by lay volunteers”? Unhappily, much of the emerging debate resembles shouting from trenches more than an honest, loving seeking of a way forward.

Lay ministry and lay leadership do work. A move to ministry areas in Wales did not cause the heavens to fall. Many of our rural churches, sustained by licensed and commissioned lay ministry, maintain a life within ministry areas which they could not have continued to enjoy within a rigid parochial/clerical paradigm.

Moreover, they retain their identity and continue to draw the love and loyalty of their communities. True, hard decisions still face us; and true, we are still learning to harvest all the advantages flowing from ministry areas. What we certainly have learnt is that they are most effective when all those involved, lay and ordained, forget about striving for precedence and freely contribute their complementary gifts and ministries. Which sounds like rather a good thing.

STEPHEN HAYES
Mulberry Place, Arthur’s Gate
Montgomery SY15 6QU

 

From Canon Brian Hails

Sir, — I have read with interest, and some dismay, the articles in recent editions about the drop in church membership, the actual and projected financial out-turns, and associated likely consequences. The coverage appears to concentrate solely on the structural implications: how should the dioceses operate, how many staff can they afford, and how many national bodies should there be?

At one level, as a practical response, should not the resources available from the Strategic Development Fund of the Church Commissioners be directed towards those parishes most in need of the Church’s support? Closing parishes in areas of desperate need is surely not the answer, even if the Parish Share is only partially being met. Central church support could and should be offered to re-imagine the mission outreach by building community hubs and to work more ecumenically, thus advancing the fellowship of the Kingdom.

At another level, however, in all my experience, it has always made more sense when “form follows function” — in other words, when structure is developed once it is clear what it is there for. Nowhere, so far as I can see, is there a current discussion about the role and purpose of the Church of England, of churches or of dioceses. Instead, the debate appears to revolve around looking after our older members, the recruitment of younger ones, the provision of church services, and estates management.

While these activities are essential, deserving our concern and attention, they hardly reflect the primary reason for the existence of the Church. Jesus came to serve the poor and the marginalised, to heal the sick, and to bring good news to all.

If this crucial debate about the future of the Church were to start in a different place, i.e. with the vision and purpose of the Church, we might get to a more hopeful end. If, however, we continue only to rework the structure, regardless of how vital that is (and it is), we will be guilty of moving the chairs while the proverbial Titanic sinks. Where there is no vision, the people perish (Proverbs 29.18).

BRIAN HAILS
The Coach House, 7 The Close
Church Lane, Whitburn
Sunderland SR6 7JN

 

Torrance review of diocese of Aberdeen & Orkney

From Professor Brian Brock

Sir, — An ugly dispute about the leadership of Bishop Dyer is currently roiling the Scottish Episcopal Church (News, Letters, 17 September). Events at St Andrew’s Cathedral, Aberdeen, are at the heart of the tale. I attended the cathedral for more than 15 years. Along with my family, I remained part of the congregation until the cathedral was closed. I have preached there, and my wife served on the trustees for three years and led the children’s ministry.

I feel that one important factual inaccuracy in the Torrance report demands correction. I refer to the claim with which the substantive analysis of the report begins: “There was a suggestion that the diocese had been in disrepair for years and that the difficulties faced by Bishop Dyer all had their roots in the situation which preceded her. On the basis of the submissions received, I believe this suggestion is simply false.”

When Professor Torrance writes that “a number of submissions maintained that the diocese was a happy place during the tenure of Bishop Gillies,” he implies that there were no noteworthy reports to the contrary. Given my intimate first-hand knowledge of the cathedral and all the persons that the report names as relevant to the analysis, I can categorically state that this is not the case. By opening the report with the suggestion that he received only positive reports about the state of the cathedral before Bishop Anne’s arrival, Professor Torrance misleadingly implies that he has comprehensively surveyed the state of affairs in the cathedral and diocese.

I offered a much more complex narrative of various tensions and conflicts in the cathedral which long predated Bishop Dyer’s appointment. I find no hint in the final report that Torrance took account of my narrative nor the other reports that also highlighted various longstanding tensions at the cathedral (not least the reasons behind its parlous financial state). The final report ignores any more complex narratives that did not fit the simplified narrative that the report offers of a happy and humming diocese brought low by the heavy-handed governance of Bishop Dyer.

The absence of a more complex narrative leads readers with no knowledge of the cathedral to the erroneous conclusion that all the cathedral’s problems began with the imposition of a new and controlling bishop. In excusing himself from presenting the counter-evidence submitted to him, Professor Torrance ignores the central question: Why did the bishop feel the need to become so involved in the governance processes of the cathedral? The answer offered in the report, that she was power-hungry and wanted to control every detail of the governance of the diocese, is not plausible.

The dismissal of more complicating submissions at the outset of the report raises wider questions about the extent to which the report accurately represents the submissions received. It certainly does not on the topic of the cathedral. Even more disturbing, I would suggest, is that the report offers us a narrative of the diocese as a whole so shorn of nuance and complexity that most readers who do not know the truth are led toward the conclusion that there is really only one reasonable way to draw a line under this sorry saga.

BRIAN BROCK
Department of Divinity and Religious Studies
King’s College, Aberdeen AB24 3UB

 

Same-sex marriage and ecumenical differences

From Prebendary R. D. Jenkins

Sir, — While we should all participate in the discussions surrounding Living in Love and Faith, we must always realise that ideas have consequences. Supposing, then, that our Church goes along with the conclusions reached by the Churches in Wales (News, 10 September), Scotland, and the United States, and also the Methodist Church here in England, and our bishops authorise the blessing of same-sex couplings. Such a decision will have significant consequences

Rifts within our own Church will soon appear. Many Anglo-Catholics are unlikely to accept changes to the sacrament of marriage (Roman Catholics include marriage as one of their seven sacraments), and some may follow the Bishop of Ebbsfleet to Rome. Only an Ecumenical Council involving all the Catholic and Orthodox Churches could possibly make the changes that are required to make the blessing of same-sex partners legitimate from a Catholic point of view.

Many Evangelicals will not accept such flagrant denials of the clear teaching of holy scripture, as they read it, and they may plead for alternative episcopal oversight from GAFCON, or look elsewhere for a home.

We who still remain will find our Church not only depleted in numbers, and confused as to whether or not we should go along with these new practices, but, also, we shall be bereft of so many traditions of spiritual insight and wisdom which the disaffected who will depart represent — traditions that in the past have richly endowed our Anglican Church. We shall be left an impoverished Church, more vulnerable than ever to the allures and pressures, the crazes and phases, of contemporary culture.

RICHARD DAVID JENKINS
The Council House,
Council House Court, Castle Street
Shrewsbury SY1 2AU

 

From the General Secretary of Churches Together in England

Sir, — You reported the appointment of two new Presidents of Churches Together in England (CTE) and the forthcoming induction of a third, the Revd Helen Cameron, to be the Free Church President from April 2022 (News, 10 September). She represents a group of Free Churches as diverse as is the wider family of 51 member Churches in CTE, the majority of which do not affirm same-sex marriage, neither in the Free Churches Group, nor in CTE. I wish to clarify an aspect of the reporting of this which may have arisen as I spoke with insufficient accuracy, for which I apologise.

President-elect Helen is a presbyter in the Methodist Church, which has recently taken steps to enable (but not require) its churches to offer weddings to same-sex couples. That step has not been taken by the majority of national Churches in the Free Churches Group, which Helen represents as its President-elect; neither has it been taken by the large majority of Churches in CTE. This diversity of approaches reflects the profound differences in theology and ethics between member Churches (and the diversity of opinion within some Churches, also).

I did not want to convey that the Free Churches Group as a whole is affirmative of equal marriage or moving in that direction — far from it — even if two of its member Churches have taken the first steps. Nor should I have conveyed anything about Helen Cameron’s own convictions, other than her wish to reflect accurately the mind of the whole Group. The whole of the Presidency, in some ways, reflects the rich diversity among CTE Churches on many issues of profound difference in approach to church life and polity, but, it must be clear, not the diversity over sexuality.

The goal of our unity is that we seek to walk together in Christ’s love, despite those profound differences, and find ways to hear adequately all voices in this currently most contentious of disagreements among Christians.

The Presidents are fully aware of this. Helen Cameron and the current Free Church President, Dr Hugh Osgood, are in no doubt about the sensitivities of the issue and possess the wisdom, I believe, together with their colleagues, to help the whole Church navigate these waters of diversity while remaining committed to the search for ever greater unity in Christ. To that goal we commit our energies and prayers.

PAUL GOODLIFF
Churches Together in England.
27 Tavistock Square
London WC1H 9HH

 

‘In earth’ and ‘on earth’

From Mr A. C. Porter

Sir, — The Archbishop of York says (Quotes of the Week, 10 September) that “somewhere in the last 300 or 400 years in the popular saying of the Lord’s Prayer, it changed from ‘in earth’ to ‘on earth’.” This is a very odd remark. The change came about in the past 40 or so years, with the ASB and Common Worship.

Brought up in the Archbishop’s former diocese of Chelmsford, I can assure him that until then we all said “in earth”. I recall our school chaplain commenting on “in earth” in very much the same terms. I dislike the change and can be heard saying “in earth” behind my mask on any Sunday the Archbishop cares to join me. Cranmer knew what he was doing. But, of course, the ASB/CW defence is that the Gospels use “on” — Matthew 6.10, épi tes ges.

TONY PORTER
212 Saddington Road, Fleckney
Leicestershire LE8 8AX

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