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Letters to the Editor

by
04 June 2021

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Disparity in wealth of dioceses 

From Canon Stephen Fielding

Sir, — The Government’s “levelling-up” agenda has lessons for us as a Church. Admirable as is the voluntarism that the Bishop of Sheffield, Dr Pete Wilcox, hopes for (News, 28 May), by which wealthier dioceses would transfer resources to poorer dioceses, the reality is that only a determined and central programme of recapitalisation will help to cure long-term fundamental disparities.

Only the Church Commissioners can do this. Their assets have grown through wise and sensible investment at an enviable rate above inflation for the past 30 years. A tiny proportion of that increase in real capital value could be redirected towards the refloating of the many dioceses experiencing financial hardship. Much the same logic could apply to our cathedrals, too. At a stroke, it would remedy historic and, frankly, unacceptable inequalities.

The effect on the well-being of clergy — as well as on the senior leaders in those dioceses — would be marked and positive. If it is said that it cannot be done because of some statutory or other restraint, then let that restraint be modified by swift action by the Church’s legal advisers and the General Synod, acting with determination and urgency. This is the time for courage and bold action.

STEPHEN FIELDING
The Vicarage, Bendish Lane
Whitwell SG4 8HX

 

From the Revd David Ford

Sir, — The Bishop of Sheffield is right to highlight the inequalities in wealth between different dioceses, and he is right to encourage the General Synod to take tentative and yet positive steps towards encouraging greater inter-diocesan generosity.

The unaffordability of stipendiary ministry brings these issues into sharp focus, but the assumption that stipendiary ministry is the reason that it needs to be addressed is surely wrong. It should be addressed as a basic function of Christian discipleship, quite regardless of the missionary implications.

There are few places in the Church of England where stipendiary ministry is affordable to congregations or dioceses, and stipends are increasingly unaffordable to clergy, the majority of whom rely on additional income to get by.

The elephant in the room is that we cannot continue with a model of stipendiary ministry as the norm for parish life. We cannot keep making the clergy work harder over larger and larger areas while reducing their incomes — a problem that Leslie Paul identified in his report nearly 60 years ago.

A new approach is needed that dissociates the value of ministry from the income associated with it. A great leap forward would be achieved if we could see a self-supporting bishop appointed, and a return to archdeacons’ routinely combining their diocesan responsibilities with parochial ones.

DAVID S. FORD
The Vicarage, 15 Finstall Road
Bromsgrove B60 2EA

 

What is expected of a bishop in England 

From the Rt Revd Jan McFarlane

Sir, — Sometimes, stepping back from something allows clearer vision. Over the past few years, diocesan bishops appear to have been appointed in part for their ability to acquire “management speak” with an appointment process more akin to that for a CEO of a secular organisation than for a spiritual leader in the Church of God.

Who, now, are the great spiritual leaders in the Church, inspiring others to discipleship and mission, not through laborious mission strategies, but because their hearts are on fire?

And how many problems do we create when bishops try to be managers, usually not very successfully, thus disabling archdeacons, who ought to have been appointed for such skills; causing complaints of a “top-heavy” Church; and disabling those of the laity who truly do excel in management. Should we be leaving the bishops free to be what they ought to be: shepherds, chief pastors, teachers, visionaries, and inspirational leaders?

JAN McFARLANE
House-for-duty Residentiary Canon and Hon. Assistant Bishop
19a The Close
Lichfield WS13 7LD

 

From the Revd John M. Overton

Sir, — It was the bold headline “Diocesan Secretary £80,000 per annum”, that drew my eye to the advertisement by the diocese of St Albans on page 30, in the Church Times (21 May), but my jaw dropped progressively lower as I read each succeeding paragraph. It looked a very expensive substitute for a bishop in today’s Church.

I wish St Albans and the eventual winner of the prize post every success, but am still left wondering if they need both a Bishop and such a paragon. . .

JOHN M. OVERTON
6 Brown Edge Close, Buxton
Derbyshire SK17 7AS

 

Improvement of worship after lockdown privations 

From the Revd Christopher Irvine

Sir, — Many of us have been on a sharp learning curve during these past 18 months as we have had to become more competent in using digital media and communications. There have been gains, not least in extending the reach of the Church. But perhaps you will allow me to raise a note of caution as we begin to evaluate what we have learnt and continue to learn during this global pandemic?

We will undoubtedly continue to work with a mixed economy, not least in live-streamed worship. But my note of caution is that we should be hesitant in being too quick to make norms out of what emerged out of exceptional circumstances. For good reasons, our services during lockdown were shortened, readings were reduced, and ceremonial was curtailed; but such simplified services can all too easily result in a rather thin offering.

We should come to God not empty-handed, but with the rich resources of language and music. But, alas! even some of the best available resources can seem rather shallow, or less than they should be. Take, for example, the provision of hymns and music on the resource hub of the Church of England’s A Church Near You website. This has been a welcome and useful resource, but I recently sent an email to say that I would like to see at least some of the available hymns for each Sunday being chosen in relation to the readings for the principal service as they are listed in the Lectionary. A polite reply simply said my point had been “noted”. No action seems to have been taken.

The choice and combination of hymns, music, readings, and prayer texts in an act of worship is a complex exercise, and it is one that requires liturgical competence and a rounded understanding of worship. Liturgy informs our sense of God, and that is also why we need our theological colleges and courses to be centred on the liturgy. Yes, these institutions are costly, but it is a price worth paying if our worship is to be worthy of God’s holy name, and an inspiration for the people of God.

CHRISTOPHER IRVINE
The Rectory, Ewhurst Green
Robertsbridge TN32 5TB

 

Clergy discipline is not just HR management 

From the Revd Stephen Cooper

Sir, — The report (News, 28 May) on the progress or otherwise of a replacement for the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) and on the Sheldon Community’s withdrawal from the process refers to a note that the House of Bishops has discussed the need “to develop an appropriate ‘framework’ for ordained ministry in the Church of England covering areas such as fitness to practice, ‘supervision’, ministerial development review, grievance procedures, and capability procedures”.

This is the language of human-resources management, where people, along with computers, photocopiers, paperclips, etc., are there to be used, used up, and replaced when no longer functioning to specification. Where is the language of pastoral care? Where is the language of enabling growth and development in ministry? Where is the language of supporting people and churches in challenging times and helping them to find their way to a constructive future? Where is the instinct for trust, for hope, for love, for accountability, for forgiveness, for faithfulness, for grace, even for death and resurrection? Where is the heart of the Church for its people? Or does expecting such things just make me a relic from times before the C of E plc?

Without such instincts front and centre in whatever is proposed to shape how the C of E works with its people and churches in good times and bad, whatever replaces the CDM may help the C of E to manage its human resources, but will it be church?

STEPHEN COOPER
The Vicarage
Goosnargh PR3 2BN

 

Cost of greener church 

From the Revd Stephen Hudson

Sir, — I note from your report (News, 17 May) that many Churches are withdrawing investments from fossil-fuel companies. Nevertheless, most of our Church-owned buildings continue to pump vast quantities of pollutants into the air through our central heating.

I have been investigating converting my own central heating from gas to something more sustainable. So far. I’ve had quotes up to £15,000 for a three-bedroom semi.

If the Churches really want to be seen to take this seriously, we’re going to have to put our money where our mouth is.

STEPHEN HUDSON
166 Little Breach, Chichester
West Sussex O19 5UA

 

Question not asked 

Sir, — I share Philip Belben’s disquiet (Letters, 14 May) about the casual ways in which statistics on gender-based violence and sexual harassment are being presented.

The most serious and persistent sexual harassment experienced by me was committed by an older woman, when I was in my late teens. Under a pretence of helpful friendship, she manoeuvred my mother into inviting her to stay. I felt unable to confide in my parents. The woman was clever, devious, and determined. The situation became so unpleasant and frightening that I left home. Surveys that I have completed on the subject have asked my sex, but never that of the perpetrator(s).

I feel that research, analysis, and reporting all need to be more rigorous.

NAME & ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

Brides and canonists 

From Mr Alan Bartley

Sir, — In parroting the Roman Catholic explanation of how the twice-divorced Prime Minister could remarry in a Roman Catholic cathedral, the media remind me of the post-Second World War scandal complained of by the Church Society: that, on returning to Poland, Polish men were remarrying in church despite having abandoned their Anglican brides because our marriages did not count!

ALAN BARTLEY
17 Francis Road
Greenford
Middlesex UB6 7AD

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