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Letters to the Editor

by
09 July 2021

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Growth and ‘key limiting factors’

From the Revd Kat Mepham and 164 other members of the clergy

Sir, — In response to the reference to “limiting factors” (News, 2 July) that prevent mission and ministry in the Church of England:

We are the limiting factor.

We are the listeners to stories to heartache to pain — that arrive in our hearts via email, Facebook, and a knock on the door.

We are the holders of hands, the ones who bless the dying and comfort the bereaved.

We are the writers of risk assessments and the readers of regulations and Covid guidelines (often late at night)

We are the facilitators: the “Let’s change our plans” people, the “We can adapt”, the “Rain/Covid won’t stop us”.

We are the up-at-6-a.m. people, the learners of Open Broadcaster Software, the reluctant YouTube stars; we moved our ministry online in moments. We are the learned-new-skills people, wept many tears of frustration people, worried about those not online people.

We are the shoulder to cry on, the place to bring frustrations, and “Why did you move the candle?” questions. We are the listeners to roof problems, the unblockers of toilets. and the listeners to joyful moments.

We are the lovers of our community, the spreaders of the gospel of love, even if this doesn’t translate to bums on seats.

We are the baptisers of babies and the reassurers of young parents. We smile at wonderful noisy toddlers and sing nursery rhymes at toddlers’ groups.

We are the ones who bring up our babies and juggle their needs alongside our communities. We are the ones who sacrifice our loved ones to others too often (but we are getting better at that).

We are the ones who have missed many family occasions because we don’t get a weekend; we have smiled too many wry smiles at our spouses because of emergencies’ changing plans. We are the ones who give so much time to others and then return to an empty house with no one to hear about our day.

We are the fun Jesus people at schools: the supporters of teachers, the bringer of gifts, the ones who struggle to find a new exciting way to tell our school children that they are amazing and loved and valued.

We are the ones who marry the in-love — who learn new systems, who listen about flowers and seating plans, and pray for sunny days and happy marriages

We are the ones who journey with the sick and who talk about death and don’t back away from hard conversations.

We are the ones who bury our friends and total strangers and give each the same respect and care.

We are the ones who lose hours to safeguarding, who write policies and hear stories, and who fear handling it badly; who safeguards us?

We are the ones who bless the bread and feel inadequate, who say the blessing and know it’s not us.

We are the welcomers, the never tired or sad one, the always available one. The ones who know there are always more phone calls and visits we should make and the ones whose inbox is never empty. We are the lovers of Jesus who wish there was more time to pray and less admin.

We are the broken, the tired, the “We are not good enough”, the weary. The called to a ministry we love but is so, so hard.

We are the limiting factor.

KAT MEPHAM
The Rectory
Redmarley Gl9 3HS

Other signatories: MICHAEL SMITH, JANE BELL, KIM E. LAFFERTY, HILDA ISAACSON, ALISON BENNETT, SIMON DOUGLAS, SARAH EDMONDS MAGUIRE, JOANNA PARKER, JOHN PAUL HOSKINS, CHRIS BOLAND, FIONA BRAMPTON, MANDY RHODES, AMANDA DIGMAN, MICHELLE JOANNE GODBOLD, NICK WALSH, PETER TIPZ, ANN GOLDTHORP, DOT GOSLING, IAN MÍCEÁL GALLAGHER, LINDA COX, KATH ROGERS, SHEENA WILLIAMS, MICHELLE PARKMAN, STEPHEN WILKINSON, KIRSTINE BUCHAN, FIONA KOUBLE, JACQUELINE STOBER, ANDREW SILLIS, LAURA MONTGOMERY, MARION WILLIAMS, ROSIE TALLOWIN, JAMES PACEY, TERESA WYNNE, PHYLLIS BAINBRIDGE, SIMON DOUGLAS, MANDY MACVEAN, BEN GRIFFITHS, ALASDAIR KAY CFC, FIONA HARRISON-SMITH, JODY STOWELL, ADAM J. BEAUMONT, KATE HARRISON, CATHY REARDON, SIÂN GASSON, MARK ABREY, JANET TURVILLE, BECCA BELL, SMON CUTMORE, IAN SMITH, LAURA HNATIUK, ELAINE EVANS, PETER GILROY, JANE RICHARDS, RICHARD CLARKSON, SALLY NASH, DAVID BABBINGTON, SUZAN WILLIAMS, ANNETTE ROSE, DONNA GIBBS, STROMA MCDERMOTT, CHANTAL NOPPEN, JANET WATERFIELD, BRENDA FORRESTER, LAURA HNATIUK, CLARE WELHAM, JO NEARY, SIAN LAWTON, LISA KNIGHT, KATE BAILEY, SAMANTHA TREDWELL, SARAH MOON, ALISON CARSON, RUTH BARR, MARGARET PREUSS-HIGHAM, EMMA RACKLYEFT, KALANTHA BREWIS, JANE SPECK, CLAIRE WALKER, RACHEL DALE, CLAIRE MCARTHUR, DAWN STAMPER, SALLY THURSFIELD MASON, LYNDA DAVIES, JUDITH WALKER-HUTCHINSON, NICKY HARVEY, JANET MAY, SUZANNE PATTLE, PHILIPPA LEA, FIONA SHOULER, EMMA SPEAKE, MIRANDA THRELFALL-HOLMES, JULES WALKER, LINDSAY SOUTHERN, VICTORIA ASHDOWN, MICHELLE PARTON, PAULA CHALLEN, JACQUI HYDE, ELAINE SCRIVENS, RUTH BOND, JACQUELINE RODWELL, BECKY HANCOCK, LIZ PALIN, SALLY PRENDERGAST, JUDITH GRETTON-DANN, ROSEMARY POTTEN, LISA HOLLAND, CARMEL GITTENS, LAURA SELMAN, SHARON BROWN, SUE THOMAS, CHARIS ENGA, SARA-JANE STEVENS, JOANNA DAVIS, L. J. MORGAN, LYNDA LILLEY, SANDRA JONES, RONA STUART-BOURNE, PAT MANN, YVONNE CALLAGHAN, KATHRYN FLEMING, MEL PARKIN, LORRAINE DOBBINS, ALI BEGLEY WILLIAMS, JO WINN-SMITH, CHARLOTTE CHESHIRE, ALISON MASSEY, ANN STEIN, KT TUPLING, JO NAISH, SERENA WILLOUGHBY, DAVID GRANTHAM, JENNIFER RIDDLESTONE, DAVID BABBINGTON, BECKY ELLIOTT, KARIN VOTH HARMAN, SANDRA SYKES, DIANNE GAMBLE, ANNETTE HAWKINS, JANE PALMER, JOHN TELFORD, CLAIRE SCARGILL, KAREN CHARMAN, SUE MAKIN, PHILIPPA SARGENT, SUE MCWHINNEY, CLAIRE TODD, CHRIS KILGOUR, CAROLINE TAYLOR, ANDREW STEER, ESTELLA RUTH LAST, GRAHAM POTTER, CARL MELVILLE, STEVEN SIVYER, CORALIE MANSFIELD, SUE ROSE, CATHERINE BRUMFITT, SUE COOKE, CHRIS GRASSKE, DAMON DRAISEY, MARK WOODROW, GEORGINA MACHELL, PAUL KITE, JO WILLIAMS, MANDY RHODES


From the Revd Graham Kirk-Spriggs

Sir, — If Canon McGinley’s intention was both to insult and to undermine the confidence of ordained people in the Church of England, then It’s a job well done. Have we not suffered enough this year?

Having theologically educated stipendiary clergy is not a burden. Many of us are already doing the work of empowering God’s people into leadership. As anyone who’s read the Ordinal will know, it’s a core part of our calling, and you don’t need a church-plant (good as they sometimes are) to do that.

The notion that the C of E is declining because it doesn’t have enough lay leaders is quite frankly absurd. It is declining because of its attitude towards LGBT people, because people of my generation (millennials) are patronised and don’t want to be part of something that they see as hateful. And, fundamentally, because our leaders do not speak out enough against the rampant injustices that younger generations are now facing.

My hope and prayer is for a truly “mixed mode” where neither clergy nor lay leaders are ever described as “key limiting factors”.

GRAHAM KIRK-SPRIGGS
63 Recreation Road
Norwich NR2 3PA


From the Revd Dr Philip Murray

Sir, — While I’m sure that low pay (frozen this year), difficulties with housing, a lack of incumbency opportunities, and the mental ill-health and personal strain often encountered in priestly ministry are “key limiting factors” to my and my family’s well-being, I’m equally sure that the sacrifices offered by me and many clergy in fact contribute to, rather than limit, church growth.

Thank God most clergy are motivated by fidelity to Christ’s call, and not by any affirmation we might expect to receive from more senior leaders in the Church.

PHILIP MURRAY
12 Kendal Road
Stockton-on-Tees TS18 4PU


From the Revd Steven Shakespeare SMMS

Sir, — It is time to stop the zero-sum game that pits ordained ministry against lay ministry. When priesthood is dismissed as a “limiting factor” to lay-led growth, I can only assume that it is being confused with something that it is not.

Belittling ordained priesthood devalues the priestly heart of all Christian vocation. That vocation is first and foremost to live out of the heart of Christ’s priesthood, his assumption of our flesh, his offering and drawing us into communion. Ordained ministry’s purpose is to serve, visibly and sacramentally, that universal calling. This is why the Anglican commitment to ordained ministry is neither a historical accident nor an optional bureaucratic extra. It is theologically reductionist to treat priesthood as a function, a set of skills and methods.

Ordained priests are flawed; the structures of our churches equally so. But priestly Orders signify that God’s love is not defined by external “success”, perfect structures, targets, or techniques. If we allow the language of marginalising priesthood to pass, we block the very spring of our shared life in Christ.

STEVEN SHAKESPEARE
Liverpool Hope University
Liverpool L16 9JD


From the Revd Anne-Marie Naylor

Sir, — As a stipendiary priest in my parishes, I am a less limiting factor than a limited one.

The Church has made a huge investment in my training, and continues to attempt to form me into someone who is skilled at proclaiming the gospel, seeking out God wherever God is at work, and forming and shaping new disciples there. That’s the theory. But, before any of that, I have to form and shape people to be safeguarding officers, churchwardens, and guardians of heritage. I have to administer weddings through meaningless boundaries, answer countless emails, and keep the churchyard free of rotating plastic windmills.

A local church is like a ship whose sails are filling with wind, but which is dragging the anchors of safeguarding, heritage, administration, and regulations. It is surely time to cut those anchors by the creation of cost-effective administrative posts to cover local areas, setting priests and people free for the work of the gospel. I could do a lot more of it.

ANNE-MARIE NAYLOR
The Rectory, 23 Dalebrook Road
Somerford, Cheshire CW12 4YD


From Mr Gwilym Stone

Sir, — When I hear about a vision for quarter of a million-plus people to be engaged with the Christian faith for the first time via a network of 10,000 lay-led house churches, I can be excited by it while at the same time saying, quite firmly, that this vision is not the charisma to which the C of E is called. Indeed, to me it would be an example of Anglican arrogance to presume to take the work of other Churches and try to express the body of Christ in this manner.

It would also distract us from the fact that within our existing structures there are countless examples where the skills and capabilities of the laity are under-utilised, including — although perhaps limited to no more than a handful — cases where in the context of a mixed-ministry team the person with incumbent status could be lay.

It feels like something unhealthy in the spirit of our age that we have become so tempted always to look to build afresh rather than repair and revitalise what we already have.

But what is probably most troubling is the overarching desire to do things on the cheap — because, whatever model of church you follow, you do a disservice to all concerned if you peddle the belief that you can deploy effective leadership (lay or ordained) at scale without significant investment in the training and continuing professional development for those leaders.

If the Church’s only “viable” future is one where we have disinvested in local leaders, the Church has no future.

GWILYM STONE
Tomsk Villa
11 Rollesbrook Gardens
Southampton SO15 5WA


From the Revd Iain Osborne

Sir, — Last week’s Church Times showed the C of E thinking hard and creatively: encouraging, in a bracing way. But reference to clergy as a “key limiting factor” on growth has elicited a sharp response. Is it possible, by some chance, that our need to be needed might in fact, be a limiting factor?

Meanwhile, proposing 10,000 new “churches” without priests (but by definition sacramental) suggests some muddle. What exactly is a “church” in this context? Will it be a self-governing entity, and how? Will it have any cure of souls? Or is this PR, and really just re-baptising fresh expressions — which, to thrive, often depend on parishes and inherited-mode congregations?

IAIN OSBORNE
The Rectory, 18 Hollow Lane
Ramsey, Huntingdon PE26 1DE


From the Revd Denise Owen SCP

Sir, — I note that “10,000 churches would start small” and meet in homes. I rather wonder whom the writers of the report would envisage having a “home” large enough to accommodate 20-30 worshippers?

DENISE OWEN
The Vicarage, Glebe Lane
Oldham OL1 4SJ

 
From Canon Joanna Collicutt

Sir, — As someone who has been involved with establishing worshipping communities in residential care homes, I was interested to read that “in church-planting there are no passengers” (News, 2 July). While the word “passenger” is not to be found in the Bible, there are semantic equivalents, for example:

“Listen to me, O house of Jacob, all the remnant of the house of Israel, who have been my passengers from your birth, carried from the womb; even to your old age I am he, even when you turn grey I will carry you. I have made, and I will bear; I will carry and will save.” (Isaiah 46.3-4).

“Blessed are the passengers, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5.3)

“When you give a luncheon or a dinner, do not invite the movers and shakers . . . [but] invite the passengers. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay you, for you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.” (Luke 14.12-14)

“Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for passengers in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the mind-set of the world.” (James 1.27)

JOANNA COLLICUTT
Harris Manchester College
Oxford OX1 3TD

 

The Church of England, or Church of the English?

From Canon William Gulliford

Sir, — The letter from Mr K. Augustine Tanner-Ihm and the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano (18 June) poses questions that remain unanswered.

Post-Brexit British immigration policy has resulted in the deployment of candidates from the diocese in Europe for curacies in England being suddenly harder. This sad reality has been made much worse by ignorance or unawareness of current legislation on the part of those holding the HR brief in diocesan offices, which Mr Tanner-Ihm and Dr Guiliano highlight.

Your correspondents imply five queries, which, from the perspective of my post, I would echo. For ease, I repeat the issues raised as direct questions, with some amplification born of my experience of assisting Europe candidates to find posts in English dioceses.

  1. How can it be better understood by Church of England diocesan authorities that curacies are not subject to the resident-labour-market test?
  2. How was it that a qualified candidate for a Church of England curacy was forced to raise his own funds for a global-talent visa, when any diocese registered with the UKVI was in a position to sponsor his visa application?
  3. How can it be made better known that all non-British and Irish passport-holders may now apply for any clerical vacancy?
  4. How is it that only half of the 41 English dioceses are sponsors with the UKVI? To rephrase: how can it be right that half of the Church of England wishes to recruit only those with British (and Irish) passports, when we know from recent statistics that those with settled status alone total five million people in the UK?
  5. The Church is seeking to encourage BAME vocations. A proportion of these originate among non-UK nationals in England or Europe. Candidates make their way through the discernment process in good faith. Why is there then a hidden brake on their progress? Why do some dioceses require candidates to have only extended leave to remain or British nationality before discernment or training? To rephrase those questions: do individual Church of England dioceses realise that in agreeing policies for recruitment which exclude non-British and Irish nationals embarking on discernment, the whole Church is thereby perpetuating disadvantage and discrimination for BAME candidates, among others, in an invidious way?

I am left with my own question: do we really want to be the Church of England, or the Church of the English?

Just when we are trying to signal that the Church champions diversity and celebrates different heritages, it seems without self-criticism to be shying away from demonstrable action against tightening and harsh immigration controls.

I hope for the sake of those who asked the original questions, they receive answers. In the name of those discerning vocation in Europe, I know many others would value them, too.

WILLIAM GULLIFORD
Diocesan Director of Ordinands for the diocese in Europe
14 Tufton Street
London SW1P 3QZ

Mr Tanner-Ihm is now a deacon. Editor. Read his story here.

 

Ordination postponed

From the Revd Professor Bryan Spinks

Sir, — Have I understood this correctly? The Revd Sorrel Shamel-Wood (News, 2 July), who has not been married before, cannot be ordained priest for at least three years because her husband, who is a priest, has been married before, and so a wait period is necessary to see if the marriage is stable?

Is there empirical evidence to show that such a marriage is any less likely to be stable than the marriage of persons who have not been married before? I could just about understand this reasoning if it was the Revd Sorrel Shamel-Wood who had been married before, but that is not the case. Am I alone in viewing this as just asinine casuistry? It needs changing — now.

BRYAN D. SPINKS
Yale Divinity School
409 Prospect Street
New Haven, CT 06511, USA

 

Flourishing minority

From the Revd David Fisher

Sir, — How the Arians would have embraced the views of Dr John Williams (Letters, 2 July) in their debates with St Athanasius; their view was indeed a “majority and now normative view, unambiguously confirmed”.

Anglo-Catholic and Complementarian Evangelicals are not moving on to extinction: we are “flourishing” in our parishes and in the wider Church, notwithstanding the hostility, misunderstanding, and ignorance that Dr Williams and others show regarding our position in the Church of England.

DAVID FISHER
The Rectory, 42 Tollgate Road
Salisbury SP1 2JJ

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