Constitutional reflection is urgent
From Dr Jonathan Chaplin
Sir, — The Revd Dr Doug Gay is entirely right that, with unprecedented strains now appearing in the Union, Churches in Scotland and England need to open a constructive conversation about their implications, both for our Churches and for our nations (Comment 27 May). I fear that he is also right that the Church of England is not yet ready for such a conversation.
He is not alone in being “troubled by the lack of engagement with constitutional questions among Anglican political theologians”. That lack was painfully on display during the entire Brexit process, which threw up the most momentous constitutional question that the UK has faced for a generation, but one that elicited no official theological intervention from the Church of England.
In 2015, the English bishops could produce a substantial and insightful pre-election document, Who is My Neighbour? But from then until now they have, collectively, adopted a stance of deafening official silence on the traumatic constitutional and wider political issues that Brexit raised. For a body that seeks to retain the title, and privileges, of a “national Church”, that was a serious dereliction of duty.
Without a concerted effort starting now, the Church of England will, again, have nothing of substance to say on the no less momentous matter of the future of the Union. There will be plenty of hand-wringing and calls for “reconciliation”, but no serious attempt to offer theological wisdom on the complex issues of national identity, authority, democracy, subsidiarity, or church-state relations that the precarious current state of the Union throws up.
As with Brexit, the purpose of such an offering would not be to side simplistically with one side or the other in what will inevitably be rancorous debates (whether on the possible independence of Scotland or Wales or on the possible reunification of Ireland). Rather, it would be to present a theologically and ethically grounded diagnosis of the deeper issues at stake and an analysis of the resources available for addressing them. The Church of England should graciously and promptly take up Dr Gay’s invitation to a conversation on these matters, in partnership with Scottish Churches and those from other nations of the Union.
19 Coles Lane, Oakington
Cambridge CB23 3AF
Pause for thought after experience of pandemic
From Canon Roger Hill
Sir, — Now that the Government has agreed to a Covid inquiry, it would be appropriate for the Church of England to pause before pressing on with new challenges and programmes. Time for reflection is never wasted. But not another diocesan initiative, heaven forbid! A do-it-yourself one for each parish.
Professors Village and Francis raise important issues from their research (“Has the pandemic put men off church?”, Comment, 14 May), and these could profitably help congregations to understand themselves better. PCCs might also be asked to consider how they thought that their churches fared in terms of the worship and congregational support offered during the pandemic. Who was attracted and who was deterred, and why?
Looking beyond our own parishes, did people wonder why Roman Catholic cathedrals maintained public ministry while so many Anglican ones did not?
All these things will have important bearings on our continuing spirituality and our public and pastoral ministry.
4 Four Stalls End
Lancs OL15 8SB
Dementia-sufferers, their carers, and pastoral care
From Mrs Kathleen Robertson
Sir, — I write in response to the back-page interview with ’Tricia Williams and the article by Robin Thomson (Features, 14 May). I hope that church leaders will recognise at long last the needs of those dementia-sufferers and their carers.
As a carer for my husband, who suffered from vascular dementia, both of us being Christians and serving the church for most of our lives, I was shocked by the Vicar’s response when I said that I had had a difficult morning with my husband. I was due to be playing the organ for the service, and when he spoke to me beforehand, and I said that it had been a difficult morning, his response was to say “Put him in residential care,” and then to disappear. Another member of the clergy saw me, and was also shocked.
I hope the Church’s leaders, and those training the clergy, will note the comments of both writers, and realise just how much the Church and faith can still mean to those with dementia, as was the case with my husband.
He did end up in residential care, the hardest decision that I had ever had to make after 46 years of married life. To see the one you love disappearing, day by day, week by week, is very distressing. Thought and compassion are needed, not the assumption that the person is ready to be dumped elsewhere.
It may be that those making such remarks, as the Vicar did, have no idea how to deal with dementia-sufferers. My husband, sadly, died in the care home without any care or visits from leaders of the church. I am convinced that it is because they had no idea how to deal with such a situation.
19 McNish Court
Grenville Way, Eaton Socon
Cambridgeshire PE19 8PE
From Professor Peter Kevern
Sir, — In his moving article on caring for his wife with dementia, Robin Thomson directs our attention to the supportive role of the church community, but acknowledges that it can be difficult to know where to start. For those who wish to respond to his call but are unsure about how to do so, I would like to commend the “Dementia Friendly Church” programme that has been developed and refined over the past nine years by the diocese of Lichfield.
This programme takes congregations on a supportive journey from learning about dementia to initiating changes in culture and attitudes across the community, and has been adopted and adapted widely within the Church of England and beyond. Our research has found robust evidence for a significant shift in attitudes to dementia in the congregations that have embarked on the journey, indicating an increased readiness and ability to offer support. Further details are at www.lichfield.anglican.org/transforming-communities/dementia-friendly-church.
School of Health and Social Care
Stoke-on-Trent ST4 2DE
From Canon David Primrose
Sir, — With regard to improving the lives of people affected by dementia, I am in conversation about the contribution that, as part of social prescribing, churches can make towards care in the community, and would welcome contact from anyone interested in taking this forward.
The Chapter Office
19A The Close
Lichfield WS13 7LD
Palestinians and Jews in the Holy Land and UK
From Mrs Basma Chitham
Sir, — Here we go again. Every time that I feel I may be able to belong in the Church of England as one with Palestinian heritage, I am shown my real place: second-class. All of last week, when Palestinians were being killed in Gaza, experiencing apartheid in Israel, and being ethnically cleansed from Jerusalem, we heard nothing from the Archbishop of Canterbury. But when a single anti-Semitic act of frustration occurs in London, there is immediate condemnation (News, 21 May).
Do I not exist? Am I not Semitic as well? Years of blockade, the apartheid wall, inhuman checkpoints, illegal occupation — they all mean nothing to my Archbishop. I am ashamed to be thought of as Anglican.
The Vicarage, Kents Lane
Standon, Herts SG11 1PJ
From the Revd Donald Reeves
Sir, — Gerald Butt (Comment, 21 May) asks whether another approach is needed to resolve the Israeli-Palestinan conflict Here is one: establish a global coalition of academics, teachers, and activists in peacebuilding. The task of the coalition will be to set up in every town in Israel and Palestine conversations between Jews and Arabs about those matters that affect their communities, and to ensure that these conversations are fruitful. Nothing is real unless it is local.
There is much wisdom and experience in peacebuilding; so the world needs to draw on it
Director of the Soul of Europe.
The Coach House
Crediton EX17 2AQ
From Dr Keith Dimond
Sir, — John Levy (Letters, 21 May) refers to the rejection by the Arabs of the two-state solution imposed on the area by the UN. Some facts might be of use here.
There was to be one area for the Jews. The Arab state was three non-contiguous areas: the West Bank minus Jerusalem, which was internationalised, an extended area around Gaza, and the hill country of Samaria and Judea — all of these surrounded by the Jewish state. Given that the founders of the Jewish state had, for years, not limited their ambitions for the area, was this an offer that could be accepted?
4 Dryden Close
Canterbury CT1 1XW
Racism that exported Smyth’s abuse to Africa
From the Revd Neil Patterson
Sir, — It was good to read of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s full apology to survivors of John Smyth’s abuse, and, more importantly, that it was received with gratitude (News, 21 May). It was regrettable, however, that when the subject is rightly so much in our collective minds, the apology did not mention or condemn the blatant racism of those who enabled Smyth to move to Africa.
Inasmuch as they considered it at all, his supporters presumably reasoned either that his brand of disturbing sadism was uniquely aroused by white English schoolboys, or that if he was inclined to inflict it regardless of race (as turned out to be the case), it didn’t matter. In examining our record of racism, it will be important to consider this strategy of packing off troublemakers “to the colonies” alongside events and practices here in Britain.
The Diocesan Office
The Palace, Hereford HR4 9BL
BBC religious affairs
From the Revd Andrew McLuskey
Sir, — Not the least important of the questions arising from the Martin Bashir affair is, What exactly are the qualities required to become the BBC’s religious-affairs correspondent?
70 Stanley Road, Ashford
Middlesex TW15 2LQ
Interim ministry and the support that it requires
From the Revd Julie Bacon and four others
Sir, — In your excellent feature on interim ministry (9 May), a Church of England spokesperson is quoted as saying, “The National Ministry Team will continue to engage with the network and support it as much as possible.”
We would like to clarify that the “network” currently comprises a grassroots group of practitioners, and will exist for any purpose other than to be a support network only insofar as the C of E is prepared to support it.
As a national practitioners’ group, we have no access to the networking list held by Chelmsford diocese, owing to GDPR considerations; and so our hands are tied in being able to offer further support for networking events and training. Even if we did, we do not have access to the resources to do so.
As many acknowledge, it seems that interim ministry and these resources came into being at a time when they were most needed. It would seem to be a waste of both opportunity and the Church of England’s investment to leave this work to lie fallow, at the very time when further training and support are needed to build better practice and understanding of this ministry.
The costs of supporting, training, and networking are a fraction of the resources currently being allocated to training, planting, and pioneering, and yet, as your feature so effectively highlighted, interim ministry is a powerful additional tool in the renewal toolbox.
We have suggested to the Church of England that this work should be delivered in future through a coalition of dioceses and practitioners working in a networking partnership. But this cannot happen in a vacuum and without support from the Church of England. God is great at transformation, but still requires us all to make a commitment to helping it happen.
JULIE BACON, FIONA PENNIE, STEPHEN SKINNER, PHILIP SWAN, LOUISE VINCER
2b Nab Lane, Shipley
West Yorkshire BD18 4HB
Orwell and Anglicans
From Mr Dennis H. Cooper
Sir, — May I suggest that, along with the guidance Contested Heritage in Cathedrals and Churches (News, 14 May), all those involved are given and required to read a copy of George Orwell’s 1984?
DENNIS H. COOPER
(East Keal, Lincolnshire)