Still hope for ministry to children
From Gill Ambrose and the Revd Peter Privett
Sir, — Many would join with the Archbishop of York’s lament for the “lack of children in church” (News, 18 June). His cry comes exactly 30 years after the publication of All God’s Children? Children’s Evangelism in Crisis, debated by the General Synod in 1991. The report’s sixth and final recommendation said: “Everyone concerned with children should ask themselves what sort of Church and society they would like to see in 30 years’ time — and what needs to be done now in order to enable that vision to be realised.”
The report was published a few years after Children in the Way (1988), which followed the BCC reports The Child in the Church and Understanding Christian Nurture (1984). CHP also published How Faith Grows: Faith development and Christian education, in 1991, which offered the Church the work of James Fowler and John Westerhoff. All these books were based on thorough research and offered possibilities for ways forward.
Currently, Rebecca Nye’s research into childhood spirituality offers important insights about the innate quality of that spirituality and its implications for the Church’s work and mission. Seeing children as empty vessels waiting to be filled or as part of the problem rather than as models of discipleship is one of the many factors that increase their marginalisation.
We cannot say that we were not warned, nor that we lack recourse to creative advice and possibilities. After the C of E reports came out, there were hopeful developments: the establishment of the post for a national officer for evangelism among children, for example. But the developments were, in the main, short-lived, and a litany of the withdrawn funding, chopped posts, and skilled workers who experienced redundancy would take some time to recite.
There are, of course, pockets of hope. Perhaps if the Archbishop were to tour the Messy Churches of York diocese he would encounter some different hopes and dreams. And there are other creative, yet orthodox, initiatives that yearn for recognition and encouragement by the Church of England. Godly Play, deeply rooted in the Church’s liturgy and drawing on first-class research, is among them.
Despite the many imaginative developments brought on by the pandemic in terms of church outreach, children’s ministry is not really among them. Children have struggled with streamed worship. Research and practice have taught us that real relationship is at the heart of their spiritual and faith development.
Time is short now, very short, but the insights are available to help us to work on this, if it is the will of the Church. We pray that the 30th anniversary of All God’s Children might be the time we start.
GILL AMBROSE (Chair of Trustees)
PETER PRIVETT (Lead Trainer)
Godly Play UK
229 Arbury Road
Cambridge CB4 2JJ
The Welsh bishop and the English archbishop
From Mr David Richards
Sir, — As an ordinary parishioner in the Church in Wales (and not uncritical of much that often passes for episcopal leadership in these parts), may I respectfully suggest that the Archbishop of Canterbury urgently seek the help of a suitably qualified theologian who will remind him of the scope — and limits — of his authority in the Anglican Communion?
Not only is the Church in Wales an independent, autonomous (and disestablished) Province of the Communion, with its own structures of governance and canonical authority; but the Archbishop of Canterbury (as he readily acknowledged when giving evidence to the IICSA) has no episcopal authority outside the diocese of Canterbury.
To presume to rebuke a diocesan bishop from another Province of the Communion, and in response to a political figure who is far from being a unifying focus here in Wales, is not only theologically arrogant: it is also profoundly resonant of the imperialistic tendencies that the Bishop of St Davids was highlighting in her indelicate and ill-judged tweet.
She has had the good grace to apologise. Would it not be equally appropriate for the Archbishop of Canterbury to apologise to her, and to the rest of us in the Church in Wales who have been offended by his intervention, for this unacceptable over-reaching of his authority?
It may be instinctive (and convenient) for the Archbishop of Canterbury to make common cause with the Conservative Government in Westminster; but he will make few friends here in Wales by attempting to big-foot matters in Wales. When at least one diocese in the Archbishop’s own province has recently shown that it is not prepared to tolerate (what it considers to be) the abuse of episcopal authority, he might find it helpful to reflect on this as he prepares to preside at the forthcoming Lambeth Conference as primus inter pares.
Gelynnen, Ffordd Bryngwyn
Llanrug, Gwynedd LL53 3AY
From the Rt Revd Dr Michael Doe
Sir, — The controversy over the posts by the Bishop of St Davids will, I hope, remind all of us about the need for respect and restraint in our use of social media. But it would be a shame if it frightened off our Christian witness to justice and truth.
The Conservatives responded to the financial crisis of 2008 with an austerity that punished the poor and increased inequality. What will they do to reshape the economy as we come out of the pandemic? The cuts in international aid already indicate the direction.
Prophets are never popular in their own generation. Look at the Old Testament. And didn’t someone in a synagogue in Nazareth once say . . . ?
405 West Carriage House
Woolwich SE18 6GA
Sir, — The Revd Paul H. Morgans (Letters, 18 June) would be perfectly correct if the Bishop of St Davids had simply opposed — even quite virulently opposed — Toryism. But she did not; she said that she thought all Tories were not just wrong, but dishonest, which is a different matter altogether. (What other construction could one possibly put on “Never never never trust a Tory”?)
So may I, as a Christian who is also a (non-card-carrying) Tory, say that I accept her apology and forgive her, and while I’m at it, that I also forgive those who have slated her for making it, and greet Mr Morgans as a brother in Christ.
NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED
The Overends, discipline, and safeguarding
From the Ven. J. H. C. Laurence
Sir, — You report that, in response to the statement of Canon Paul Overend, the diocesan authorities explain that his suspension has been “stressful and emotional for many people in a variety of different ways” (News, 18 June).
Canon Overend was forced to wait for eight weeks before he was told of the reason for his suspension. His bishop, ignoring a blameless record of 23 years’ ministry, justified his suspension by describing him as “posing a risk of serious harm”. He was forbidden to speak to his colleagues and banned from entering his place of worship, or any other without forewarning of his official status.
The years of uncertainty under this cloud of suspension drove him and his wife nearly to suicide, he reports. The grim Sheldon report suggests that he and his wife are far from alone in receiving this appalling treatment. I hope that the responses of other diocesan authorities will be more gracious than this report of this diocese. Perhaps even an apology?
5 Haffenden Road
Lincoln LN2 1RP
From the Revd David Ackerman
Sir, — I decided to resign as a Clergy Safeguarding Support in the diocese of London after reading about the situation in Winchester. Your report about the harrowing ordeal of Canon and Mrs Overend at Lincoln confirmed in my mind my decision.
At a recent safeguarding meeting in the diocese, its then current head said that at the beginning of the first lockdown churches that wished to remain open using the various legal means available should refer to local-authority safeguarding. If it were possible then, why not all the time?
Safeguarding the Church of England is in crisis, and that crisis relates to the failure of archbishops and bishops. It is they who should take responsibility, and, until many follow the example of the Bishop of Winchester, things will not change. Change, however, they must.
St John’s Vicarage, Kensal Green
London W10 4AA
From Canon Gordon Oliver
Sir, — Thank God that Canon Paul and Sue Overend found help and support through the Sheldon Hub amid the sheer brutal insanity of their horrendous and abusive experiences of the Clergy Discipline Measure.
I write, however, to correct a possible misunderstanding, because your report and leader comment (18 June) could give the impression that the Sheldon Hub is primarily an online support network for accused priests and their families. Sheldon Hub does offer this resource, and thereby contributes to the saving of lives and ministries. But it is so much more than that.
Sheldon Hub is the go-to free and wholly independent resource for clergy of all churches who need to be able to access information, wisdom, and support for many aspects of ministry experience. Readers can access the Sheldon Hub at www.sheldonhub.org. Meanwhile, what a wonderful gift to us all is given through Mrs Overend’s painting of her agony as shown on your astonishing front page. It says more about the current CDM than thousands of words ever could.
112 Bush Road, Cuxton
Rochester ME2 1HA
From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC
Sir, — It is not only the clergy who sometimes encounter problems with the Church’s discipline procedures. One Monday morning, a choirmaster and youth-club helper received a letter in the post from his incumbent. It said: “As you are now aged 30 and there is no sign of a lady-friend, I must assume that you are homosexual, and that raises questions about safeguarding issues, I therefore regret that I must dismiss you from those two positions forthwith.”
The man contacted the incumbent and asked if he had any particular concerns. He replied: “Oh, not at all; it is simply that a single man aged 30 is probably homosexual, and homosexuals are a risk to children.”
After their conversation, the incumbent announced the man’s sexual orientation and dismissal at the following evening’s PCC meeting.
The man contacted the bishop and the diocesan safeguarding officer, and, after they spoke to the incumbent, the man was reinstated.
Maybe we need clarification of how genuine safeguarding concerns are dealt with from the moment they come to light.
20 Litchdon Street, Barnstaple
Devon EX32 8ND