Belief and evangelisation today and the obstacles
From Dr Mark Vernon
Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 26 November) is right that Matthew Parris raises the fascinating question what it might mean to believe. It may also be an existential question for the Church of England, if being wrong about the nature of belief contributes to congregational decline. And I think the atheism-confessing, church-loving Mr Parris nails something crucial about belief that is typically overlooked.
God is not an object of belief, like ghosts or extraterrestrials, and therefore a question of reasoned proof, historical evidence, or heightened experience. Rather, God is known as the boundless presence found within an awareness of being itself.
Mr Parris finds that reflected back to him in the wonder of a cathedral or the reverence of a graveyard. Mr Brown turns to hallowed ritual. It is an awareness of awareness that is easily drowned by the noise of panic and persuasion.
200 Benhill Road
London SE5 7LL
From Margaret Forey
Sir, — Mr Donald Rutherford (Letters, 26 November) thinks that updating the Christian faith “carefully formulated over centuries” will never bring outsiders to belief in it. Well, it’s hardly succeeding in doing that in its present form, is it?
And many of those who were brought up in it 50 or 60 years ago have dropped out of church-going, although spiritual searching is widespread.
I was encouraged to read the review of David Bentley Hart’s That All Shall be Saved by Richard Harries (Books, 13 December 2019), since he ended by saying that he had been totally convinced by the argument (as was I), and that the Church needed to change its doctrine on this matter. Surely what we need is more bishops doing more thinking along such lines more often.
The Bell House
Kirtlington OX5 3HJ
From Mr James Edwards
Sir, — I’ve been reading the Church Times for the past couple of years and occasionally sigh in despair. . . Another Christian exhorting colleagues to evangelise in a new way, to reach out to missing generations, to use technology or church-planting! The Church is waning, they wail, because of declining congregations, building maintenance, the struggle to engage with the young, falling income, etc.
The Revd Stephen Hance (Comment, 12 November) wants us to think of a Church that has been responsible for the way we think about human rights and the worth of every individual; but the Church has played little role in progressive movements, being implacably opposed to homosexuals, to this day in many instances, against feminism and non-traditional roles for women, attitudes towards race, increasing intolerance about abortion, and the overarching concern about safeguarding and child abuse.
Social campaigners in the past 50 years haven’t found in the Church an ally. Nor have their motives or campaigns stemmed from the inculturation of Christian thought.
The Church is declining for the simple reason that people no longer believe in God. People are not hungry for God, but tired of being lectured by Christians, who appear to have little understanding of their problems nor any natural or compassionate grasp of their communities or lives.
People may have a benevolent attitude to the C of E on the ground, possibly because they buried their Nan or run a foodbank; but they aren’t going to be converting in droves if only you can approach them in the right way, using a different form of words. Most people don’t have a faith tradition. We listened to the stories in junior school and didn’t believe them then.
On top of that, people experience the faith in public as an irritant, with street-Christians singing, preaching, or waving placards mistaking a zygote for a foetus. We are approached by grown-ups who believe in Jesus on our doorsteps and have to listen to Thought for the Day or bishops in the house of Lords.
Just this week, the Archbishop of Canterbury signed a letter to peers opposing the Assisted Dying Bill. In it, he sought to paint the reasonable and restrained measures proposed by Baroness Meacher as troubling, when in fact they are urgently needed.
With a poll a few years ago confirming that a significant minority of the clergy no longer believe in God in a traditional way, why should we expect anyone else to? The Church needs to manage the decline in believers, close churches, and use the land for social housing. Trying to gain converts is only going to alienate more people.
150 Lambeth Road
London SE1 7DF
British Empire’s achievements not all imaginary
From Dr R. P. Fernando
Sir, — As a Commonwealth immigrant from South Asia, let me assure your readers that the supposed achievements of the British Empire were not simply a sentimental narrative in the popular media (TV review, 26 November).
The British did indeed transform governance, education, healthcare, and infrastructure in our countries. In India, by independence, 13 million children were attending primary schools, three million were attending secondary schools, 75 million Indians were being treated in hospital, and nearly one billion were travelling by train annually.
The distinguished Indian civil servant V. P. Menon said of the British in his book The Transfer of Power in India: “They brought about the consolidation and unity of the country; they created an efficient administrative organization on an all-India basis; it was they who for the first time on the rule of law and they left to India that most precious heritage of all, a democratic form of government.
“As long as there is an India, Britain’s outstanding contributions to this country will continue will abide.”
The greatest British achievement was perhaps your services to Buddhism. Though India was a Buddhist country during the reign of Emperor Ashoka and in the succeeding centuries, by the 12th century all traces of the religion had been eradicated in India. British archaeologists rediscovered and restored all the Buddhist sites in India, and Buddhist pilgrims were able, after many centuries, to return to India and visit our holy sites.
May I, a Buddhist from Sri Lanka, use your columns to express my gratitude to this Christian nation, on the edge of Europe, for enabling India to regain its Buddhist heritage?
R. P. FERNANDO
19 Danetree Close
Surrey KT19 9SU
Diocesan motion concerning faculty jurisdiction
From Mr Michael J. Wilson
Sir, — The fact that an application to install solar panels by a church was denied because of an objection by a heritage organisation does not come a surprise (News, 12 November; Letters, 19 November, 26 November). I would also add the intransigence of planners on district councils, along with other regular objectors to similar improvements to church buildings.
Past examples caused me to take a motion to the diocesan synod challenging the Church to change its attitude of allowing such objections to be major influences on the faculty decision-making process. I understand that we do not live in the Victorian age or the Georgian age, or any other historical period other than the present.
The reason that churches were built in the past without lavatories was that most domestic dwellings did not have them inside, often sharing them with other houses. The list of what our forebears did is long, but it doesn’t mean that we have to suffer their discomfort today; nor should we ignore the technology of the present.
I look forward to seeing my motion being debated by the General Synod, and that it will be prayerfully debated without prejudice. Churches need to be fit for their purpose; objections to installing solar panels, heat pumps, or other innovations will not help. Were such objections made when the new-fangled electric lighting was installed in ancient church buildings?
MICHAEL J. WILSON
Chair of the House of Laity, Southwell & Nottingham diocese
54 Queen Street
Newark NG24 3NS
Prayer and touch have a place in pastoral care
From Canon Brian Davis
Sir, — “Prayer works,” Heather Erridge writes (Letters, 12 November). Some of us reading that might be uncomfortable and sceptical with such a simple claim. But it is important to underline what is happening, when “prayer works.”
This is not just about saying a prayer. Other things were happening. The lady she prayed with said: “I know you. You were warm. . .”. When Mrs Erridge prayed with her, she said, she placed her hand on the lady’s arm. This is all part of the healing process. It is not just words, but has to do with touch, making people feel loved, valued, and cared for.
That was an important part of the healing ministry of Jesus: reaching out and including the marginalised and outcasts, making them feel valued and cared for. The healing happened when he reached out and touched the leper,w hen he called the woman with menstrual bleeding, “Daughter”, and when he ate with tax-gatherers and “sinners”, and blessed little children.
That is why pastoral care in the parish is so important. Whenever we comfort the bereaved, visit the sick, and the lonely, and pray with them, we are carrying forward the healing work of Christ: being channels of his healing love and peace. And that’s how “prayer works.”
62 Lubenham Hill
Market Harborough LE16 9DQ
Motes and beams
From Mr Robert Leach
Sir, — In last week’s edition, you report church leaders criticising the Government and other bodies over porn-website age checks, farming subsidies, emission standards, gambling, Belarus, oil and gas exploration, fishery workers, Franco victims, Yorkshire County Cricket Cub, northern railway lines, and pay inequality.
You also report disciplinary action brought by the Dean of Llandaff against the Bishop, the continuing saga at Christ Church, Oxford, a clergyman jailed for 19 years for sexual abuse, and serious allegations against the Bishop of Norwich regarding Wymondham parish.
I wonder whether I am the only reader who finds that words like “plank” and “sawdust” come to mind when reading your pages.
19 Chestnut Avenue
Surrey KT19 0SY