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Letters to the Editor

26 November 2021

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The Vicar of Wymondham and the Bishop of Norwich

From the Revd Paul Burr

Sir, — The Clergy Discipline Measure provides that, where the Bishop determines that no further action be taken, he “shall reduce his determination to writing and shall give a copy of it to the complainant and the respondent”. It does not permit the Bishop to wrap up disposal of lots of dud complaints with adjudications about other matters and to publish it all on his diocesan website; for such a step is highly prejudicial and injurious to the reputation and ministry of the respondent, and offers none of the safeguards of a tribunal hearing, which is not normally held in public, and where there is a right of appeal.

The express purpose of the rules is justice so that “the complainant and the respondent shall be treated on an equal footing procedurally.” No chance of that: everyone now knows what the Bishop of Norwich thinks of the Vicar of Wymondham (News, 19 November); no one knows the identity of any of the complainants or whether anything alleged was ever of any substance.

But the Bishop directs that the Vicar must nevertheless apologise for every complaint! He says that the Vicar must “meet with the complainants in person (including all those whose complaints made in 2019 and 2020 failed to meet the test of being of sufficient substance to engage the Measure) and to apologise to them without reservation for the behaviour which gave rise to the allegations which they raised”.

The diocese says that “the Vicar had a legal duty to comply with the Bishop’s directions and failure to do so could lead to disciplinary action for misconduct.” So the Vicar has a choice of either self-incrimination or episcopal discipline for disobedience. It is scarcely credible and absolutely shocking.

The Bishop is far from disinterested and protests too much. Who would ever guess that Bishop and diocese had wronged the parish in question by unlawfully appropriating its historic vicarage for the use and benefit of the Bishop of Thetford? Is it honest for the Bishop to call the Vicar’s claim to that property “irrational and unsupported by legal opinion” when the Church Commissioners judged its appropriation void for unlawfulness in 2019?

The reason that the churchwardens were content for the plan to proceed was that the diocese said that it would build a new vicarage and had land on which to build. We believed it. But the glebe that it owned it then sold — again without notice to Wymondham. The diocese now denies that any such representations were made; but I was Rural Dean and was present and witnessed it all. I have requested minutes of meetings of the diocesan property executive, but am just ignored.

I reported all this to the present diocesan in September 2019 after he was first appointed. He got the Church Commissioners formally to transfer title in the vicarage to the diocesan board of finance. But the application was highly irregular.

One might assume from his Directions that the Bishop and his diocese had their house quite in order. But the lack of a diocesan parsonage board, required by the Repair of Benefice Buildings Measure 1972, was remedied by resolution of diocesan synod only on 3 June 2020. When last I enquired, the diocesan property committee (referred to as a statutory committee in diocesan annual accounts) had no membership: it did not exist.

All attempts to appeal for sense, to raise alarm, or to make complaint have failed — and they have been numerous. The stress has been appalling; but the greatest injustice has been suffered by the Vicar.

I was the Rural Dean at the time: asking whether the vicarage had been lawfully appropriated was enough to require my resignation. Merely to ask a pertinent question is dangerous in a corrupt institution. Heaven knows what will happen to me should you publish this.

The Vicarage, The Common
Swardeston, Norwich NR14 8EB


Home Office assessment of Christian conversion

From Mrs Jessica Pacey

Sir, — As a lay Reader and a retired immigration judge, I was most interested in the issue over the Liverpool bomber (News, 19 November).

In my time, I heard very many appeals from, mainly, Iranians, who claimed to have been Christian in their own country or to have converted in the UK. It was often exceedingly difficult to discern the truth. The Home Office often asked ridiculous questions, the most memorable being “What colour is the Bible?” Even the Home Office Presenting Officer could not tell me what the expected answer was.

The Home Office tended to rely, in my experience, on factual questions, which, in my view, are not helpful. Anyone can memorise the four Gospel-writers or what happened on Easter Sunday without having faith. (Having said that, I once allowed an appeal where the appellant had been rejected by the Home Office for saying, inter alia, that the four Gospel-writers were “Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul”. This was not the only evidence, but I attached weight to the fact that the appellant was in a stressful situation in an asylum interview and mentioned a name that is fundamental to early Christianity. It was, in my view, perfectly plausible that in the heat of the moment the appellant would state the name of Paul. He did not give a totally random name.)

A very wise priest suggested, when I confided my dilemma in such appeals, that I ask the following questions: “Why did you become a Christian?”, “What difference has being a Christian made to your life?”, and “Why did Jesus die?”

Our task was extremely difficult, particularly since we as judges were not necessarily Christian and had to be totally objective and neutral (although I once assured the Sikh Presenting Officer and the Sikh representative for the appellant that his answer was, as a Christian, correct).

In essence, though, what we were charged with doing as Immigration judges was to look into appellants’ hearts. No wonder we sometimes got it wrong — but, I will always maintain, far less wrong than the Home Office.

3 Dickinson Way
North Muskham
Newark, Notts


Intellectual hinterland in senior appointments

From the Revd Dr Stephen Goundrey-Smith

Sir, — Having read Canon Angela Tilby’s column on senior church appointments (Comment, 19 November), I think that she is being rather unfair on our senior clergy.

Canon Tilby laments that few have any interest in serious theology (what makes some theology especially serious, I wonder?), philosophy, poetry, music, the arts, or science.

Given the institutional demands of the Church these days, it must be very hard for senior clergy to be amateurs of any of these things. It is hard enough as a parish priest (although, over the past few years, I have combined doing a theology doctorate with acting in Shakespeare productions in our village, in addition to my parish duties).

Never mind whether the senior clergy today can give an after-dinner speech: perhaps Canon Tilby might like to engage some of them in after-dinner conversations, to find out what they are really like as people rather than assume a stereotype?

The Vicarage, Cheap Street
Chedworth, Cheltenham
Gloucestershire GL54 4AA


The story of Irish Christianity is not finished yet

From Canon Brian Stevenson

Sir, — I returned from a visit to Ireland a few days before you published an edited extract from The Rise and Fall of Christian Ireland by Crawford Gribben (Features, 19 November). I agree with much of what Gribben says about the secularisation of Ireland, although church attendance is still higher than in Britain. As I had no car, I travelled about by bus and train, often coinciding with schoolchildren catching these vehicles in Armagh, Bangor, Donaghadee, and Belfast.

Good education has played a big part in transforming Ireland from a peasant economy to one opening up many other possibilities. The Churches have had their faults, but they have helped provide a successful school system, though a weakness is its segregation. All the children I travelled with were well dressed and well behaved; indeed, I was never without a seat, even in a crowded bus. I couldn’t work out which schools were Catholic or Protestant but the atmosphere was pleasant.

It is not entirely due to the Churches, but there has been a remarkable flowering of literary talent in Ireland in the past 75 years. I merely mention Beckett, Heaney, Toibin, Kavanagh, Trevor, Rooney, and Anna Burns, among others. Gribben himself in his many writings is adding to this by making us ponder the complex relations of Christian Ireland within itself and across the wider world. We have not heard the end of it yet.

Michaelmas Cottage
Stan Lane
West Peckham
Kent ME18 5JT


Doubts about power of ‘progressive’ doctrine

From Mr Donald Rutherford

Sir, — I read with interest Canon Adrian Alker’s letter (19 November) in response to an article by the Revd Stephen Hance (Comment, 12 November).

Canon Alker is honest in stating his abandonment of the theology of the Nicene Creed and the liturgies of the Church of England in favour of proclaiming a multifaith spirituality. I cannot imagine evangelism succeeding in bringing outsiders to faith in the Church of England through his “progressive” denial of the Christian faith that is rooted in the Bible and the creeds carefully formulated over centuries,

133 Dalkeith Road
Edinburgh EH16 5AH


Problem lies in process

From the Revd Richard Adams

Sir, — The issue of solar panels for St Luke’s, West Holloway, and the objection by the Victorian Society (News, 12 November) highlights not so much the faculty process per se as the way of resolving disputes by Consistory Court.

Contrary to your correspondent R. L. Skelton’s hopes (Letters, 19 November), the Victorian Society will not have to pick up the bill (likely to run into five figures), but St Luke’s PCC will, by the current rules of the process

But of equal importance is the adversarial nature of the process, which seems a bizarre way for Christians to settle disagreements. We are long overdue for some kind of mediation process to supersede the court system in churches. This is quite apart from the point that the Victorian Society should hang its head in shame for promoting environmentally damaging building policies.

Tros y Mor, Llangoed
Beaumaris, Anglesey LL58 8SB

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