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Letters to the Editor

31 December 2021


Christmas thank-you misfires

From the Revd Richard A. Seabrook SSC

Sir, — The Church of England Face­book post of 26 December “To all our vicars and church leaders, we are thankful for you and everything you’ve done for your community this Christmas” — while laudable in its aims — falls far short of how the Church of England understands ordained ministry.

With a photo of a paschal candle in the foreground (very odd: why not a photo of the Christ-child in the manger?), the post is highly exclusive and very insensitive. The inclusion of church leaders is to be wel­comed: I would be the first to acknowledge the importance of the baptised people of God in exercising their ministry.

Nevertheless, to lump the ordained (male and female) under the grouping “vicars” is just ignorant. What about rectors, curates, chaplains, deacons (and, dare I say, archdeacons and bishops?), and so on . . . not forgetting the admirable army of the retired clergy who are no longer vicars, but without whom the C of E could not function? Why not use the word “clergy”?

I was not ordained a vicar. I was ordained a deacon, then a priest.

If the “Comms Dept” can’t get it right, what hope is there that the correct picture will be painted of ordained ministry in the C of E?

Chaplain (not Vicar), SS. Peter and Paul, Torrevieja, Spain
Calle Manuel de Falla 240
03169 Algorfa, Spain


Llandaff crisis requires Bishop’s suspension

From the Revd Vicki Burrows

Sir, — You recently reported that the Dean of Llandaff, the Very Revd Gerwyn Capon, has brought a case of “bullying and harassment” against the Bishop, the Rt Revd June Osborne (News, 26 November). Under the complaints procedure of the Church in Wales, a Disciplinary Committee found that she had “a case to answer”. More recently, 23 members of the cathedral congregation have written to say, “That experience has been shared by us” (Letters, 17/24 December).

I believe that I speak for many clergy when I say that there is a culture of fear in Llandaff diocese. Curates, vicars, ministry-area leaders, and lay diocesan staff tell me that they fear their Bishop. Although many say privately that they have been ignored, reprimanded, moved sideways, paid off, invited to take early retirement, or that their resignation is referred to as a retirement, I imagine they would be too fearful of repercussions from the Bishop to put their signature to this letter.

Knowing that I would be suspended if it were alleged that I had bullied a colleague, may I suggest that the President of the Disciplinary Tribunal suspend the Bishop of Llandaff (since he alone has the power to do so, as the investigatory committee that found a case to answer by her was set up by him) while the seriousness of the allegations made by Dean Capon is considered.

I hope that, at the same time, an open and transparent review both of the policies and processes of the Church in Wales and the Llandaff Cathedral Chapter will be conducted by an independent agency.

Vicar of Radyr, St Fagans and Michaelston-super-Ely; and Garth Ministry Area Leader, diocese of Llandaff
The Rectory, Rectory Close
Radyr CF15 8EW


Geneva Convention cannot meet today’s need

From Mr Richard Sweet

Sir, — I am sorry that Paul Vallely took such exception to Matthew Parris’s article on the Geneva Convention (Comment, 3 December), as I thought that it approached a very difficult subject with some care.

Mr Parris was careful to argue that the British people’s undoubted opposition to migrants’ landing in Kent is based on the facts that they are uninvited and that there appear to be no ways of controlling the flow of refugees — not because of any animus to strangers per se. At no point did he refer to migrants as “chancers” or imply that “stealing jobs” was an issue: this is unfair of Mr Vallely.

I think Mr Parris is correct to argue that asylum and immigration tribunals are asked to discern who wants to be safer and who wants to be richer, when, for many migrants, these motives are the same; that modern transportation and international networks mean that many millions now want to migrate across continents for just these reasons; and that, in an effort to comply with the Convention but also control numbers, many governments put up obstacles (employment restrictions, documentation requirements) to deter migration, which, however, cause frustration and misery.

I agree with Mr Vallely that our inspiration to help refugees comes from “basic British decency rooted in two millennia of Christianity”, but I do think that it is right to question whether a 1951 treaty is the best way of expressing it. The Convention currently offers hope to such huge numbers of people that it can never be fulfilled. Governments are rightly bound by law, but then do everything that they can to stymie the full impact of the Convention. The results are horrible: death, despair, danger.

Surely the Convention has become a shibboleth and should be replaced with an international agreement fit for the 21st century?

57 Ritherdon Road
London SW17 8QE


Gospel translations and the historical question

From the Revd Alan Bill

Sir, — Your marvellously long and interesting article about Gospel translations (Features, 10 December) ignored a key issue in the translation of such works as the Gospels.

Although they are, of course, the work of particular writers, with their own style and language, they also purport to recount the events and sayings of historical characters, and of “Jesus” in particular.

And there is the problem. Lying behind our English versions are not the words of Jesus, but some attempted Greek translation of the Aramaic that he was reported as, or credited with, having said. Study of the Gospels on the basis of the Greek text does usually try to cope with this, but, if it is confined to an English “translation”, any serious attempt to tackle the problems and subtleties of the original is largely doomed to failure.

And lying behind that problem there is the fact that Jesus’s understanding of the Aramaic that he used would have been seriously modified by the Hebrew behind key words and concepts. It is difficult to deal with the subtleties and uncertainties of what thus lies behind our Greek text of the Gospels, and those difficulties are also faced, in a different way, with the rest of our Greek New Testament.

The reading in our worship of English translations/versions of the Hebrew and Greek originals of our scriptures is natural. But what is not natural or right is the continued attribution to them by preachers and the Church generally of an authenticity that they are far from possessing.

13 Wilmington Close
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 2SF


Religious weddings outside places of worship

From the Revd Dr Nicholas Henderson

Sir, — I see that plans are proposed that for the first time will allow religious weddings to take place outdoors. Full clarity on the proposals is as yet unavailable, but certainly, in the case of the Church of England, they would include weddings in the grounds of a church or chapel.

The driving force behind the change appears to be to help cut costs, to provide greater choice, and, by implication, in these Covid days, grounds of health and safety. If approved, the changes will be made by amending the existing legislation.

There is a certain amusing irony in all this in that those clergy who can see the evangelistic opportunities available in following the people and affirming them in their chosen locations are being given a glimmer of hope by the civil authorities. Splendid and spiritually inspiring as our church buildings are, they are increasingly not the first choice of prospective wedding partners.

We must be careful, then, of implying that somehow there are first- and second-class weddings, depending on whether they are in a religious building or not. Instead, perhaps eventually, God’s blessing might be recognised as more geographically flexible than hitherto?

Given precedent, I doubt whether the Church of England will wholeheartedly embrace these changes if they become available. I suppose that the best we might be allowed will be to make a literal token step forward into the churchyard, but it would be a start.

38 Caledonian Wharf
Saunders Ness Road
Isle of Dogs
London E14 3EW


Simplicity, not resources, key to Duke’s funeral

From the Revd Professor Ian Bradley

Sir, — The author of your retrospect of the year’s television (Review of the Year, 17/24 December), the Revd Gillean Craig, rather misses the point when commenting on how the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral won universal acclaim as the kind of worship that everyone wants from the C of E. Its power and impressiveness had little to do with the rich resources that St George’s, Windsor, can marshal, and everything to do with its austerity and simplicity.

There were no robed choir — just four singers standing in the ante-chapel — no grand procession, and no fulsome eulogy, but, rather, a clear focus on the reality of death and the Christian promise of resurrection and eternal life. Any parish church could have hosted the service, and the fact that it moved so many people so much surely suggests that we should return to plainer, simpler funerals, more focused on the scriptures and the faith, rather than the increasingly elaborate memorial services that have largely taken their place.

4 Donaldson Gardens
St Andrews
Fife KY16 9DN


No empty chair at PCC

From Mr Gwilym Stone

Sir, — Reading, with outrage, the Revd Anthony Appleby’s letter (17 December) about his clerical friend’s not attending any PCC meetings, I reached for my well-thumbed copy of the 2020 Church Representation Rules. I find that M1 (2) (c) entirely validates the practice.

No one other than the minister of the parish can be the chair of the PCC, but the chair of the PCC can “invite” the vice-chair to act on their behalf and, in so doing, invest the vice-chair with the full powers of the chair. Incumbents, take note. PCC vice-chairs, be warned!

Tomsk Villa
11 Rollesbrook Gardens
Southampton SO15 5WA

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