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Letters to the Editor

26 February 2021

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Ecumenical initiative from the East

From the Very Revd Keith Jones

Sir, — The intention of the Ecumenical Patriarch to mark the 17th anniversary of the Council of Nicaea (News, 19 February) provides a good opportunity for all Christians to celebrate that statement of our faith. There is also a special resonance for Christians in this country because of our link with Constantine, who called the Council together.

Constantine the Great is for some Christians a great villain, and for others a providential saint. In 2006, at York Minster, we marked the 1700th anniversary of his being acclaimed Augustus in northern Britannia, and the start of his ascent to being the undisputed Emperor. The original text of the Nicene Creed was proclaimed by the late Archbishop Gregorios of Thyateira & Great Britain, attended by our Archbishop, the Dean and Chapter of York, and representatives of many Churches.

We stood together under the central tower of York Minster, directly above the basilica of the Roman Legionary HQ, which is where it is very possible that Constantine was acclaimed by the troops in succession to his father. The Archbishops then hung a garland on one of the surviving columns of that Roman hall in the crypt of the Minster, and the day concluded with a pageant, devised by the University of York St John, through the city to the park where the finest Roman remains in York still stand.

Constantine and his mother Helena are for ever associated with Britain and our long Christian memory. Might we take the opportunity of marking our gratitude for something Constantine helped the Church to get right? The creed of Nicaea and our hope of shared life in Christ, in which all traditions of the faith will be united, should help us to enable the human race to be a blessing to the world and not the opposite. Now is the time to start planning!

Dean Emeritus of York
7 Broughton Road
Ipswich IP1 3QR


Responsibility for housing crisis and its remedy

From Dr Robin C. Richmond

Sir, — The UK’s housing crisis has not “defeated” many governments, as Pat Ashworth writes (“Nowhere to call home”, Features, 19 February), but many governments have withdrawn, for ideological or political reasons. from the provision of public housing for disadvantaged families. Charity, however, will never solve the UK’s housing needs, although laudable is the proposal to make church-owned land available for “affordable” housing.

“Affordable housing”, used in the Archbishops’ Commission report, is a tricky term by which recent governments mean subsidised house-purchase prices, and which prompted Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for the Mayor of London, to claim that “homeless people should have no trouble saving the £5000 deposit required”!

It is time to face the truth. Ever since Margaret Thatcher famously claimed that there was no such thing as society, just individuals, and then forced local authorities to sell off council houses (the majority now in the ownership of private landlords), stopped local councils building, and removed rent controls, insecure housing and the appalling insecure living conditions of disadvantaged families have become a cruel national scandal.

Only government, indirectly all of us, can feed and house those unable to feed and house themselves; but recent UK governments have embraced the workhouse mentality, in that public welfare is seen as an instrument to force people into jobs so that life is made as precarious and unpleasant as possible, with a five-week wait for universal credit, benefit sanctions, and a benefit cap.

A new national vision of shelter and housing is required based on principles of the dignity of everyone and the entitlement of everyone to an adequate standard of living. In the words of Pope Francis, in his recent book Let Us Dream, alluding to Nehemiah, “we need to feel again that we need each other, that we have responsibility for others, for those not yet born, for those not yet deemed citizens.”

Only the Government can build the thousands and thousands of homes for social rent that are required. After the war, 2.5 million new houses and flats were built, 75 per cent publicly owned; and it can be done again. Those who find an excuse for passing by on the other side in the toxic notion of strivers and shirkers might remind themselves that good homes for everyone is the price that we pay for our own thriving and well-being in society.

Providence Cottage
The Downs, Bromyard
Herefordshire HR7 4NY


Church-opening and pressures put on the clergy

From Canon Simon Butler

Sir, — On the subject of “demi-truths”, Patrick Kidd (Letters, 19 February) engages in one of his own when he claims that it was the Bishops who closed churches to public worship last March. On a review of Church Times reporting last year, the bishops of the dioceses of Greater London issued a joint instruction for churches to close a short while before the Government ordered all churches to do so; but there was no national instruction prior to the Prime Minister’s announcement on 23 March 2020. Given what was known at the time, Mr Kidd might credit the bishops of Greater London with considerable pastoral, even prophetic, wisdom.

Like my good friend the Vicar of All Saints’, Blackheath, where Mr Kidd is a churchwarden, the churchwardens and I at St Mary’s, Battersea, have kept our church safely open for public worship and private prayer during the current lockdown. We did this against the clear advice of the Bishop and the Mayor of London, but I have felt nothing but respect from Bishop Christopher for the decision we took. He has been at pains throughout the pandemic to show trust in his clergy and lay leaders without a hint of the passive-aggressive in his approach. I hope we have honoured the trust that has been shown us.

To strike a balance on the wider issues that Mr Kidd raises, I hear stories from some shielding clergy who feel intense pressure from “The Spectator lobby” in their parishes to resume leading public worship against their better judgement: it isn’t just the Bishops who can add burdens.

If we are a Church that is about parishes, as The Spectator clearly believes we should be, then incumbents and churchwardens should be respected for their decisions, irrespective of whether they please or annoy one particular group or another. Everyone is simply trying their best to get through this pandemic.

Prolocutor of the Lower House of the Convocation of Canterbury and Member of the Archbishops’ Council
32 Vicarage Crescent
London SW11 3LD


Regulations governing children’s memorials

From the Revd Mike Plunkett

Sir, — Your article “‘Rigid’ rules on graves” (Features, 19 February) brought back memories and made me want to shout from the church rooftops. I want to shout out that if the Church has anything to do with the Gospels, then these regulations when applied to tragic deaths are are anathema: just blatantly the opposite of what faith requires of us.

The majority of my ministry was spent in large outer urban estates where there were thousands of children and, therefore, many child funerals. The mental state of bereaved parents is generally way beyond what human minds can put up with. This state — literally “beyond human capacities” — can last for many weeks. A daily or even twice daily re-arrangement of flowers, pictures, teddy bears, model trains, or candlesticks around a grave is a healing or coping activity. After a few months, there can be a discussion about the future.

Just to remind you how extreme child bereavements can be, first something that happened when I was a curate: a man arrived in church and told me with weapon in hand that he was on his way to murder a colleague bus driver who had run over his son. I walked with him towards the other man’s house, praying that I would find the right words.

Second, during my first post as a vicar: a horse with an 11-year-old year on its back jumped over the field hedge into fast-moving traffic: think of what happened to that body. The local RC nun asked if she could come with me when I visited on the day it had happened: I stayed for two hours, but she stayed all night.

Grave regulations belong to a different world. When tragedy is involved, they can have no place in a Christian graveyard.

1 The Ridge, Bishops Castle
Shropshire SY9 5AB


Carbon-footprint calculation and green tariffs

From the Church of England’s National Procurement Officer

Sir, ­­— Mr Stephen Thomas’s letter (19 February) is a helpful contribution on accounting for carbon, but it should not put churches off from switching to a green tariff for their electricity.

There is an inexorable logic here: more demand for green electricity through the national grid means less demand for polluting (brown) energy. The Parish Buying Energy Basket offers churches electricity from renewable sources. Increased demand for green energy should see more investment in renewables, leading to less brown-energy power generation and consequently reduced carbon emissions.

Each of these steps is incremental, collective, and helpful, and technical disputes about carbon book-keeping do not invalidate that.

Last year, the UK went for a record 67 days without burning coal to produce electricity, and every move away from brown energy serves to increase this. While only around one third of parishes currently report that they are sourcing their electricity from green suppliers, many will find that these are now the cheapest option.

Information about green tariffs can be found at www.parishbuying.org.uk/energy-basket

Church House, Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ


Listening to Dr Farrer

From Canon Colin Westbrook

Sir, — I was surprised to read in the Revd Dr Cally Hammond’s review (Books, 12 February) that Austin Farrer’s sermons “could hardly be heard”. I heard Farrer preach at Pusey House several times in the 1950s. Despite sitting near the back (unavoidable in a crowded chapel), I do not recall ever having any difficulty in hearing him. He was criticised also for reading his sermons. But I still believe that he was the finest preacher I ever heard.

The Vicarage, Oakfield Road
Newport NP20 4LP

[The suggestion that Farrer’s sermons were “acoustically unimpressive” in Keble College Chapel had been made in Austin Farrer: Oxford warden, scholar, preacher (Books, 5 June 2020). Editor]


Rural churches without a lavatory

From Mr Bill Heslop

Sir, — Rosemary Lofty (Comment, 22 January) asks whether the Church of England could consider employing an architect to design a simple and elegant wooden building capable of housing lavatory facilities, but there is no need. An online search for “prefabricated toilets” takes one to many options, which vary in price and quality from a few hundred pounds upwards and are available to hire as well as purchase. I know of Grade I listed medieval churches that have made at least temporary use of such limited facilities.

Whether a lavatory in a wooden building, however elegant, would fully satisfy Ms Lofty is another question, as she indicates that she desires something that is also in-house, includes a servery, and makes provision for people with disabilities. As for going the extra mile, building regulation already set standards to ensure new work is suitable for most disabled people.

Quotations of £50,000 to £100,000 are mentioned for a lavatory and a small servery at St Matthew’s, Derrington. I assume that this includes mains drainage, which can be a significant part of the cost when the drain runs through a burial ground. In some rural churches with low use on the lavatory, there can be economic alternatives, including the trench arch system and biolets. It all depends on circumstance, soil conditions, etc., and, at the end of the day, we get only what we pay for.

Instead of seeking “to negotiate the somewhat esoteric mysteries”, any PCC should invite the guidance of its archdeacon, diocesan advisory committee (DAC), and quinquennial inspector/project architect. Together, they can define needs, estimate resources, and consider a variety of options before choosing a preferred course.

The architect will attend and conduct consultations with the local authority, while listed-building consent will hardly every apply, thanks to churches’ being subject to faculty regulation.

16 Glebeside, Satley
Bishop Auckland, DL13 4HR


Sir, — How sad to read Rosemary Lofty’s article. I am now retired, but spent, along with our PCC, nine years battling the DAC to gain permission to provide lavatories without success. The DAC constantly placed obstacles and expense in the way. The church had to struggle with an utterly inadequate Portaloo, embarrassing to refer wedding and funeral congregations to and completely undermining the church’s welcome.

I hope a copy of the article goes to every DAC, and would even suggest that the General Synod makes this provision compulsory as a duty of care to the souls (and bodies) we are called to care for.

I would be grateful if my name was not published so as not to further hamper my successors’ attempts to install facilities.


From the Revd Anette Love

Sir, — Rosemary Lofty is absolutely correct, but a wooden building sited in the churchyard is not the answer. The “outside lav”, when I was a child, was an indication of poverty, not progress. Who wants to come out of the building in whatever weather and pick their way across uneven paths in the dark? Moreover, it would invariably be kept locked, necessitating the need to ask for the key — another humiliation.

The same standards should apply in church as in our homes. Every church should make installing an indoor lavatory a priority, if it wants folk to come!

3 Chase View, Crich
Derbyshire DE4 5DZ


Put clergy at the heart of parsonage decisions

From the Revd John Davies

Sir, — Emma Thompson (“Protect parsonages, or lose donors’ good will”, Comment, 29 January) suggests that “a small ugly house with one bathroom” would be “less attractive to good applicants”.

This would make me a “bad” applicant to my first parish, where, supported by parishioners and diocesan officers, I took the decision to live not in the housing estate’s one large detached house, removed from the people, but in a three-bedroom terraced house, just like everyone else in the parish.

It wasn’t that pretty, but it was manageable, comfortable, and truly “alongside”. In this switch of parsonage, we were motivated by the view, shared by Ms Thompson, that “Clergy need to live in the heart of the community, to be identifiable,” and I think it’s true to reflect that together we felt the benefit of a “happy, supported parish priest” living in a home that was fit for its purpose.

While there will undoubtedly be some parishes where the continued use of old parsonages will be appropriate, in others, the need to change properties will best serve the mission of the parishes and the well-being of their resident clergy families. One situation would be the value in moving the clergy-home “base” periodically in multi-parish benefices to support better their ministry of “presence” between villages.

A more pressing situation for many clergy is that they are rattling around massive crumbling Victorian edifices, painfully costly to heat and maintain, let alone decorate and furnish, the discomforts of damp, draughts, and water ingress making life barely tolerable at times.

Their well-being should be more actively considered both by dioceses and by lobbying groups such as Save Our Parsonages; for each parish and family is different, and the challenging circumstances of our times call for us all to work together on more imaginative approaches to housing.

Clergy should be at the heart of decision-making about their housing, in preference to its being driven by the predispositions of dioceses or special-interest groups.

The Vicarage, Clapham Road
Lancaster LA2 8BE

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