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Press: Irate parishioners flock to Times letters pages

26 March 2021


GABRIELLA SWERLING continued to be on top of the Jonathan Fletcher scandal; it’s a shame that her coverage appears in The Daily Telegraph, while Quentin Letts’s outrage over safeguarding training is available only to subscribers to The Times (Press, 19 March).

His article provoked some rumbles in the letters pages: Morwenna Ford, of Queen Camel, agreed with him: “The clergy have hidden behind their dreaded Zoom services and have appeared terrified of showing any leadership at all. The church is not fit for purpose: Covid has rendered it impotent.”

One assumes that the Times letters subs do check to see that the letters are sent by real people, and that they have got things the right way round. There might, after all, somewhere in Wessex, be a hamlet of Morwenna Ford.

Then a counter to that, from West Wickham, in Kent: “Morwenna Ford may need to move churches (letters, Mar 17). Our United Benefice of St Francis and St Mary’s has catered well for the local community during the lockdowns and made a big difference to those of all ages. The vicar and her team have been readily available to all, not just the parishioners, in person as well as on the telephone, on Zoom and through services every Sunday on YouTube, some of which have been live transmissions.”

And a sadly pseudonymous response in the online comments: “I so wish there were more churches like yours. Apparently my church, of which I have been a member for 30 years does have a weekly zoom service, but you have to ask to be allowed to join, the website has not been updated since before Christmas, the weekly newsletter never changes and no one seems to care about each other, let alone the rest of the community.”


BUT the real meat of The Times’s religious coverage was in Andrew Billen’s long report from the Christ Church, Oxford, scandal (News, 19 March): at the most recent alumni annual general meeting, it had emerged that more than 100 of them had written to their old college to protest at its treatment of Dean Percy; three had written in to support it. So the heavy artillery was brought in to suppress dissent: “Many of the old students’ written questions were fielded, in full clerical outfit, by Canon Sarah Foot, a senior member of the governing body.

“At one point she objected that some of the issues being raised by the association might not be commensurate with its statutory ‘objectives’. [The Alumni Association’s chairman] was rebuked for referring to a ‘second tribunal’. The two hearings were ‘entirely unrelated’. . .

“At the AGM, the college leaders were asked to explain why they had refused to reimburse the dean’s £500,000 legal costs after his win at the 2019 tribunal. Foot said the governing body was always ‘very mindful of the need to focus on its beneficiaries’ (its students, staff and so on). Her implication was that paying Percy’s legal fees might breach this obligation, although she refused to say how much the college had itself spent on lawyers and PRs during the dispute.”

I keep thinking that I am too old to be shocked by anything that anyone in a clerical collar could possibly say or do. Then along comes Canon Foot to make me feel young again.

FROM the Financial Times comes the magnificent story of an investment fund that appears to be a prosperity-gospeller’s dream: “[Cathie] Wood is the public face of a speculative tech boom many liken to the dot.com boom and bust of the early 2000s. The success of Tesla and other technology stocks that Ark owns has, together with massive investor inflows, propelled the combined value of the five exchange traded funds she manages to $60bn from $3bn just a year ago.

“This extraordinary performance has made Wood a cult figure among some investors. Doubters say her bull run is due to a mix of self-publicity and investor mania fed by abundant financial liquidity. . . [But] As Wood sees it, it’s all God’s work anyway. ‘It’s not so much about me and my promise. It’s about allocating capital to God’s creation in the most innovative and creative way possible.’”

What I particularly like about this story is that her fund is not named after Noah’s Ark, but the Ark of the Covenant, which not only killed anyone who touched it, but turned out to be empty anyway.


I HAVE been hopelessly inefficient this month, and, while mocking various press officers for their own inefficiency, I failed to note that I had been unfair to Tom Geldard of Chelmsford diocese (Press, 5 March). We had a spat occasioned by deadline pressure, as journalists call impatience, when I asked him for the proportion of the Chelmsford diocesan share which went on central administration and he could not immediately tell me. He did send along the relevant documents at about seven o’clock that evening; more to the point, he had sent a note earlier to say that they would be late. That was polite, and I was discourteous not to acknowledge it. I’m sorry.

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