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Letters to the Editor

01 July 2022


Add lay ministers to new Measure

From Clive and Linda Billenness and Janet Varty

Sir, — We are writing, as retired Readers, to suggest that the new Clergy Conduct Measure (News, 24 June), which will be considered at the forthcoming meeting of the General Synod in York, be expanded to become a Pastoral Conduct Measure, and include within its jurisdiction lay ministers such as Readers and lay worship assistants.

Through GS1265, A Vision for Lay Ministries, the Church of England is greatly expanding the involvement of the laity in ministerial activities. The “minster- communities” model recently proposed by the diocese of Leicester, and others like it, will further increase reliance on lay leadership, which will often be subject to little or no close clergy supervision.

There is, however, no nationally defined procedural code of conduct for lay ministers, either to regulate their behaviour and activities or to protect them either from maliciously inspired accusations by congregation members and ministerial colleagues or from capricious behaviour by senior clergy, who can at present revoke their licence “summarily and without further process”. If bishops are now to be distanced from the disciplinary process for clergy, surely it is also time for the same provisions to apply to lay ministers.

In either case, a Church-wide, consistent, and transparent process seems to us to be to the benefit of all concerned. Those among the laity who have been subject to codes of professional conduct in their working lives will affirm that such regulation is not onerous and helps to define a clear and balanced framework of professional responsibilities and protections. In most other professions, such a code exists.

We recognise that for some lay ministers, the requirement to be subject to a professional code may be a cause of concern in the same way as safeguarding checks were when they were first introduced. In retrospect, however, it is unlikely that any church officer will now say that these have not been beneficial in creating a safer space for all members of congregations.

If the new Clergy Conduct Measure is deemed to be fit for our clergy, then it surely must also be fit for laity performing ministerial functions. Were we still in ministry in the Church of England, we would have no objection to being subject to such a professional code.

We feel that this is an opportune moment to be proactive about these matters rather than have to address them in retrospect in a few years’ time. We hope that this suggestion will be thought about as the General Synod begins its consideration of a Measure that is likely to govern proper pastoral conduct in our churches for the next two decades.

c/o 4 Rue Des Sports
09600 Leran, France

Queen Anne’s Bounty and the sins of the past

From the Revd Dr Zachary Guiliano

Sir, — For the past eight years or more, I have prayed the Litany on Wednesday, Fridays, and Sundays, as appointed in the Book of Common Prayer. Its first major supplication is instructive: “Remember not, Lord, our offences; nor the offences of our forefathers; spare us, good Lord, spare thy people, whom thou hast redeemed with thy most precious blood, and be not angry with us for ever.” In confessing sins past and present, the Litany follows the model of biblical prayers like those offered in Nehemiah 1.4-11 or Daniel 9.1-19.

Because of the Bible and the Prayer Book, I found the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield’s letter last week more than a little absurd. If we cannot apologise for the sins of the past, including our ancestors’ investment and gains from slavery, we seem to have joined a new religion, far different from traditional Judaism or Christianity.

Similarly, the Revd Andrew Hunt (Letters, same issue) appears to have taken the wrong lesson about our neighbourly sins. He cites “two elephants” in the room: African and Arabic practices of slavery. I don’t recall such whataboutery working so well for Adam in the Garden (Genesis 3.12-19). But, in any case, early modern slavery and the slave trade were well known and long practised in the Christian West. Whether they were practised in Africa and among Arabs is not really the point. Typically, our Lord calls us to attend to our hypocrisies (“Take the log out of your own eye”), not to justify our transgressions in the name of “historical context”. Are some sins universal? Were our neighbours sinful while we ourselves were? Does it matter? “Be holy as I am holy,” says the God of the Exodus (Leviticus 19.1).

And, finally, the Revd Robert Gould (Letters, same issue) wonders what good it might do to take full responsibility for past enslavement, and urges us instead to attend to climate action. To put it bluntly, I suspect it would do much good for race relations. Of course, such things are not in competition with one another, and could be taken in tandem. I was thankful to see Mr David Wang, at least, speak some sense, reminding us that practical financial commitments in the present would not only be a practical first step, but might speak a good and noticeable word.

The fact is that our spiritual and fleshly ancestors invested in slavery to fuel the mission of the Church. Poor clergymen and their families were relieved by the labour of those enslaved in the West Indies and North America. Surely those receiving present-day pensions feel some twinge of guilt? Surely our bishops and cathedrals, funded by the Commissioners, wonder whether the best destinations for the historical fruits of African labour — compounded by investment growth over centuries — are Canterbury, Lambeth, and York, Ely and Winchester, among others?

In scripture, Zacchaeus gave half his goods to the poor, and promised a fourfold restitution to those he had cheated (19.8). I am sure something could be offered in the name of Jesus to the descendants of those whom the Crown and Church of England helped to enslave, also in the name of Jesus.

St Edmund Hall
Oxford OX1 4AR

From the Revd Christopher Allen

Sir, — “The Prime Minister responsible for outlawing slavery in the British Empire” (News, 24 June): actually, he wasn’t. The Act of 1807, for which Lord Grenville was responsible, banned British Subjects from participating in the slave trade, and banned the import of slaves into British colonies. But the slaves already there weren’t freed. The slave plantation economy throughout the British West Indies and elsewhere, continued until the Emancipation Act in 1833, under Earl Grey’s premiership. The Act came into force the following year, 1834.

It’s this kind of misapprehension which suggests that more education in black history is necessary, despite the Windrush scandal and the Black Lives Matter movement, and all that we’ve supposedly learnt over the past few years. Thankfully, as your report suggests, many schools are actively involved in teaching the basic facts about the slave trade and the slavery system, and the Church is often surprisingly well placed to play a part in this.

The Vicarage, Red Lane
Shipley, Horsham
West Sussex RH13 8PH

Don’t dismiss parish stake in glebe and assets

From Professor Nicholas Orme

Sir, — In the debate about parish resources, such as glebe and parsonage houses, it is insufficient to say, as Mr Derek Wellman did (Letters, 24 June), that they belonged only to the incumbent. They were given, typically by local landowners in late Anglo-Saxon times, to support a cleric for the benefit of a particular parish. He held them legally, but in return for providing services to the parish: worship, the sacraments, and also charity to the poor — an ethic that lasted down to recent times.

When glebes and parsonages have been taken away, parishes have been deprived of resources meant for them, and for them only. It is not improper to ask how dioceses, which are relatively modern organisations in the sense that they now exist, have a better right to them than their original parishes.

Department of History
University of Exeter
Exeter EX4 4RJ

From Emma Robarts

Sir, — Nick Orman (Letters, 17 June) misinterpreted my remark (Letters, 10 June) that “considerable resources have been extracted from the parish system since 1976 to fund the current diocesan system.” He assumed that I was referring only to the dioceses’ taking over the parishes’ glebe land and endowments in 1976.

The word “since” was intended to make it clear that I was referring to an ongoing situation. What about all the parish-owned buildings, such as parsonages, which have been sold, the proceeds going to the dioceses? I am told that some 7000 parsonage houses have been sold. What about the fees for weddings and funerals, which used to form a considerable part of clergy stipend? Parish volunteers give up their time to help at these occasions, and yet the diocese benefits.

Many parsonage houses, some of great size and value, have been sold and replaced with much smaller houses, and the balance secured by the diocese. In the benefice of six churches here, a total of seven parsonages have been sold. Although, in my village, the Rector still has a modern vicarage. His house has previously been sold and downgraded by the diocese twice.

Here are clear examples of dioceses’ pumping money out of the parishes, which are seeing no benefit.

The Old Vicarage
Hertfordshire SG9 0NT

Roe v. Wade

From Dr J. T. Hardy

Sir, — William Wilberforce (1759-1833) brought the hidden plight of slaves into public view, thus helping to fix their release from servile bondage. Today, we see Catholic and Evangelical voices agitate for the human rights of the unborn to be respected. When “America coughs, Britain sneezes”; so that Roe v. Wade case reform may represent a divine breath blowing across the Atlantic to awaken the UK from moral slumber and ethical darkness. Please look up and share an image on the NHS website: “Dating Scan”.

Address supplied

Motes and beams in Church and State

From Canon Malcolm France

Sir, — Hardly a week goes by without the Church Times’s reporting the view of one bishop or another criticising the work of elected politicians in Government: Bishop Baines (News, 10 June), “Zombie Government”; Archbishops Welby and Cottrell (News, 10 June), “Rwanda policy shameful”; Bishop Howarth (News, 17 June), “Gove criticised”; Bishop Mullally (News, 24 June), “Act urgently”. It occurs to me that those bishops sniping at politicians may like to reflect on what these words mean: “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye?”

Such planks that may need the attention of bishops include: finding ways to support the continuation of the parish system; providing theological guidance on accommodation of same-sex relationships in the life of the Church; repurposing redundant medieval heritage assets to provide affordable housing units.

Those working with “wood”, whether politicians or bishops, no doubt find that it can be a dusty business, with no clear sight of what the best course of action may be, and with everyone else claiming to know. A politician from an earlier age once said: “What to do for the best I do not know; I only know that if I knew what it was, I would do it.”

7 High View Park, Cromer
Norfolk NR27 0HQ

Russian Orthodox position and ecumenism

From Mr Hugh Darnley-Smith

Sir, — This greatly saddens me. In 1975, I spent a month in Krasnodar as a student. This was at the height of the Cold War, but I could never regard Russia as an enemy. Under the slight disapproval of those supervising, several of us attended the Saturday vigil service at the Orthodox cathedral.

It was quite crowded, and there was a lovely choir. I got the distinct impression that here was a venue for those seeking an alternative life from the Soviet approach, people who felt able to be themselves and different and be accepted for who they were.

When it came to the anointing of the congregation by the bishop, the old people pushed us forward, shouting “molodyozh” (young people), and I found found myself being anointed by the bishop. I had arrived in Russia.

I am horrified at the position that the Russian Church and Patriarch Kirill are now taking towards the invasion. But I do agree with Professor Sauca (News, 24 June), and I hope that they attend the Karlsruhe plenary. They need to be reminded of what they represented in Soviet times. I still make the sign of the Cross using three fingers, which I learnt to do in Krasnodar.

15 White Dirt Lane
Catherington, Waterlooville
Hampshire PO8 0NB

The Canterbury CNC

From the Revd Stephen Griffiths

Sir, — It is not too soon to start thinking about who might be the next Archbishop of Canterbury. May I encourage any who think they are in the running to weigh up carefully whether they have the stomach to bring a much needed change of culture to the Church of England. His successor does not need to follow his example. The charism of the Church of England can be rekindled.

Perhaps such a candidate exists in the House of Bishops. If not, there is still time to promote the right person into the usual talent pool. Could I ask the members of the forthcoming Crown Nominations Commissions (CNC) to provide the Canterbury CNC, when it eventually convenes, with a wider variety of candidates to consider. If that choice fails to materialise, the Canterbury CNC will have to be very brave.

2 Vicarage Road
Oakham LE15 6EG

Pride flag in churches

From Dr Brendan Devitt

Sir, — The problem with the display of LGBT flags on church premises (News, 24 June) is that for many Christians they have come to symbolise closure, not openness to discussion or debate.

206 Lowestoft Road
Norfolk NR31 6JQ

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