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Letters to the Editor

14 January 2022


Appointments Secretary appointed

From Rebecca Chapman

Sir, — I was astonished to discover that the new Archbishops’ Secretary for Appointments has already been selected merely two months after the announcement of the vacancy, and that the new post-holder has emerged from the Archbishop of Canterbury’s own staff.

I do not recall seeing this post advertised in the Church Times or elsewhere. It appears to have been made available only internally and briefly. The contrast between this and the open and transparent recruitment process for the new Anglican Communion Office Secretary General, which was advertised over a period of weeks for prayerful consideration and sharing widely, is marked.

Both posts are vital at this crucial juncture for our Church and our Communion. Both appointments will, no doubt, be hugely challenging professionally and personally, and both can be performed optimally only when there is trust, built on confidence in the appointment, and in the integrity of its process.

How can the Church be confident that we have the best possible person for this position without looking outside the National Church Institutions’ narrow pool of candidates? I am all for the development and promotion of our servant-hearted staff. Nevertheless, for such an influential appointment, transparency and accountability are essential; how has this process reflected the proposals made in From Lament to Action?

I am a recently elected member of the General Synod Appointments Committee, which has guidelines to ensure that “the procedure to be followed should be clear and known.” Why has the person responsible for our most senior clerical appointments been chosen through such an unclear and unknown process? Is this the standard now for church appointments?

It is important that the process for this appointment is made transparent, so that, if it is found wanting, it could be run again. In this way, any resulting appointments would not be affected by lack of confidence in this post and this process.

Lay member of General Synod
220 Camberwell New Road
London SE5 0RR


Public position of Ghanaian Bishops is unchanged

From the Revd Christopher Rogers

Sir, — I was glad to see the Revd Simon Grigg raising the Archbishop of Canterbury’s response to events in Ghana (Letters, 7 January). Aside from the initial furore, however, few seem to have noticed the Archbishop’s more recent example of unspeak.

Your readers will remember that, last October, the Archbishop condemned the Church of Ghana’s support for the Bill going through that country’s parliament, which imposes a five-year maximum sentence on those identifying as LGBTI+ and ten years for those campaigning for gay rights. He then apologised for issuing that statement without first speaking to the Archbishop of Ghana. On 16 November, he said that, in fact, the Church of Ghana did not condone the criminalisation of the LGBTI+ community. What on earth is going on?

Whatever may have been said between the Archbishops, the Ghanaian House of Bishops’ statement in favour of the Bill stands. That statement promises that they will do anything in their power to ensure that the Bill is passed, while offering counselling and “transformation services” (otherwise known as conversion therapy) to those affected. Three priests in the diocese of Southwark have resigned Ghanaian canonries because the Church of Ghana will not withdraw it.

The lack of integrity shown in playing politics with people’s lives in this way, particularly the lives of those who cannot speak for themselves without grave risk, is in stark contrast with the way in which Desmond Tutu stood up for human dignity, including the rights of his gay brothers and sisters. It is a scandal that both Archbishops seem more interested in calming things down for themselves than in speaking the truth today.

Cottage 1, St Mary Abbots Vicarage
Vicarage Gate, London W8 4HW


C of E should adopt professional duty of candour

From Dr Josephine Anne Stein

Sir, — The Church of England would do well to follow the example of the General Medical Council’s professional duty of candour:

“Every healthcare professional must be open and honest with patients when something that goes wrong with their treatment or care causes, or has the potential to cause, harm or distress.

“This means that healthcare professionals must: tell the patient (or, where appropriate, the patient’s advocate, carer or family) when something has gone wrong; apologise to the patient (or, where appropriate, the patient’s advocate, carer or family); offer an appropriate remedy or support to put matters right (if possible); explain fully to the patient (or, where appropriate, the patient’s advocate, carer or family) the short and long term effects of what has happened.

“Healthcare professionals must also be open and honest with their colleagues, employers and relevant organisations, and take part in reviews and investigations when requested. They must also be open and honest with their regulators, raising concerns where appropriate. They must support and encourage each other to be open and honest, and not stop someone from raising concerns” (www.gmc-uk.org).

This has obvious resonances with safeguarding practice, but also applies to bullying in the Church; the weaponisation of the CDM and other procedures and practices applied to church officers; and the accountability of the national church institutions to General Synod and, as the Established Church, to Parliament and to the public.

62 Elfindale Road
London SE24 9NW


Vicar-General’s lecture commended to Synod

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — The Ecclesiastical Law Society lecture by Judge Peter Collier QC (News, 7 January) may seem a tad niche for many members of the General Synod, but I do urge them all to read it in preparation for our debates when the proposals for reform are brought later in the year. It will be vital not only to complainants and respondent clergy, but to the entire Church, because the public perception is that these scandals are symptomatic of our complete lack of moral integrity. It is hard to argue with that.

We know we do not do justice well enough, and, while this is partly a structural problem, too often those operating the system have the discretionary capacity to do the right thing, but fail to do so. They operate safe in the knowledge that no appeal system exists. There are obvious current examples, where there have been clear decisions and guidance, plainly explained, but those in “core groups” think they know better. These groups are completely non-transparent, unaccountable, and unregulated. This is the source of much of our muddle and grief.

I shall scrutinise the reform proposals looking for one simple change that will transform this at minimal expense. We must make these secular decisions about “the right to a fair trial” during our safeguarding and disciplinary processes subject to external challenge under the Human Rights Act in the local County Court. It is a well-developed corpus of jurisprudence.

Some may fear the potential expense, but, paradoxically, the easier, quicker, and simpler the remedy, the faster the Church will clean up its act, and the less it will be needed. The reason few stand-alone claims for damages come to court in the secular sphere is precisely because, knowing the remedy exists, institutions behave better. The sooner the Church joins that worthy cohort of properly scrutinised justice, the better it will be.

General Synod member
8 Appleshaw Close
Kent DA11 7PB


Possibilities that lie in the festival church

From Sir Tony Baldry

Sir, — Andrew Brown is correct in his recent column (Press, 7 January) that the future of parish churches will “become the most important English religious story of the decade. Someone is going to have to pay for the church buildings that no longer support a congregation.”

Newspapers such as The Daily Telegraph now seem to see church closures as a stick with which to beat the Church of England, with headlines such as “‘Shocking threat’ to parishes as more than 400 churches close in less than a decade” (4 January); and in the Telegraph’s editorial suggests that “most of the churches facing closure are in inner cities but perhaps if they were made more central to community life they would flourish once more.”

In fact, over the past 20 years, the rate of church closures has averaged around 20 to 25 closures a year, i.e. on average a church closing in each diocese once every two years. Given that the Church of England has something like 16,000 church buildings, this is not particularly dramatic.

Nevertheless, it does look as though, not least as a consequence of the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on church finances, this is about to take serious turn for the worse. A recent survey indicated that five of the worst-hit dioceses financially were expecting up to 40 church closures in the next two to five years and that the rate of church closures could double over the next two to five years.

No one benefits from a closed church. Indeed, a “closed church” seems something of a contradiction in terms. Closing a church building may relieve the PCC of the responsibility of maintenance of that building, but the liability immediately passes to the diocesan board of finance, which, in turn, immediately passes on that liability to the Church Commissioners.

Experience shows that the Church Commissioners find it extremely difficult finding other uses for closed rural churches, which are often Grade I or Grade II listed, and there is a limited capacity for the Churches Conservation Trust to take on responsibility for many more parish churches.

Festival churches are intended as a way to keep as many churches as possible “open”, to continue to be places of worship, and sacred spaces, raising enough money each year for basic maintenance and upkeep, and seeking to involve the wider community in helping to maintain what would very often be the oldest building in their community, and one that is of significant historic and heritage value.

The Association of Festival Churches, now a registered charity, exists to help any parish or community that is wanting to keep a church open, and wishes to explore the idea of becoming a festival church.

Chair, The Association of Festival Churches
Dovecote House
Oxfordshire OX15 4ET


More lay testimony to problems in Llandaff

From Jane and Karl Glaze and others

Sir, — We write in support of the Revd Vicki Burrows, Vicar of Radyr (Letters, 31 December 2020), and the 23 congregation members of Llandaff Cathedral (Letters, 17/24 December 2020).

(a) We obviously cannot, and do not, speak for members of the clergy, but know of several occasions when lay members of our church were subjected to the autocratic diktats of the Bishop, the Rt Revd June Osborne. We therefore endorse an independent investigation, as suggested by the Revd Vicki Burrows.

(b) We support the 23 congregation members at Llandaff Cathedral in their request to the Archbishop of Wales, to institute a comprehensive, transparent, and fully independent inquiry (from outside the Church in Wales) into the senior leadership of Llandaff diocese.

The undersigned are all members of St Isan Church, Llanishen, Cardiff.

c/o 64 Heol Lewis, Rhiwbina
Cardiff CF14 6QB

Astronomical accuracy

From Professor Kevin Walsh

Sir, — Whenever my copy of the Church Times arrives, the Revd Dr Malcolm Guite’s delightful and thought-provoking column is my first port of call, but, while I am always deeply engaged by his poetic interpretations, on this occasion (Poet’s Corner, 31 December), I cannot let the references to the Earth’s orbit of the Sun pass without comment.

With his laws of planetary motion, Johannes Kepler (1609) demonstrated that the Earth and the other planets orbit the Sun in elliptical, not circular, paths. This means, of course, that the terrific 67000 mph achieved last year was not “consistent”, as our planet’s speed varies according to its distance from the Sun. Indeed, as we raised our glasses at midnight on 31 December, we were almost at our top orbital speed (nearer 68,000 mph), the Earth’s closest approach being on or around 4 January.

Also, the distance covered in one complete orbit is closer to 586 million miles, the quoted figure (92.96 million) being, roughly, the mean Earth-Sun distance (more like a radius than a circumference, to use the circular analogy) — an even more impressive distance. This is certainly not an attempt to convert the Corner from Poet’s to Pedant’s, and the successful completion of another orbit is most definitely something to celebrate.

Editor, Bulletin of the Society for the History of Astronomy
Address supplied


C of E strategy: responses to Canon Hackwood

From the Revd Peter Jackson and the Rt Revd Stephen Platten

Sir, — We read with interest the two articles by Canon Paul Hackwood (Comment, 31 December and 7 January) about the financial and mission problems of the Church of England and the favoured top-down remedies and their limitations.

We come to Canon Hackwood’s arguments from different perspectives, but we agree with his judgement that the top-down approach is rooted in a concern “about getting best return on investment and that this has inevitably influenced the way in which the new discipleship has embedded itself in the institution”.

In our opinion, he rightly argues that this “command-and-control structure, with mission-strategy decisions pushed upwards and away from the coalface”, has had a dispiriting effect at the local, parish level, where growth ultimately has to occur.

It is interesting to note that Pope Francis has been encouraging the Roman Catholic Church to do the opposite, to practise “synodality”, whereby clergy and laity are encouraged to collaborate at the more local level, away from the centralising authority of the Roman Curia.

Pope Francis’s initiative — admittedly from the top — is an example of Catholic social teaching’s principle of subsidiarity, whereby decisions are best made by the people closest and most affected by the issues and concerns of their community.

We agree with Canon Hackwood that the Church of England needs to desist from top-down initiatives and divert more resources to the local, parish level, where people are invested in their communities and know best their communities’ needs.

From parish experience in London and Nice, where major restoration projects were necessary, we know that the commitment and vitality needed to realise them were available only locally. Further, in Nice, our work with the homeless and refugees depends on the ideas and work of local volunteers.

For the Church of England to regain its sense of mission and engagement, we need to acknowledge this fact, and draw resources away from top-down projects and help local, parish initiative to flourish.

Chaplain, Holy Trinity, Nice
11, rue de la Buffa
06000 Nice, France

22 Quay Walls
Northumberland TD15 1HB


From Mr Ashley Perks

Sir, — I am intrigued by Canon Paul Hackwood’s analysis: my local C of E is, literally, dying, as it is in a town with the highest demographic of over-80s in the UK. There is no new influx. At 64 years of age, I represent the youth wing! And it is a parish in desperate financial difficulties, exacerbated by the lack of income related to the Covid-19 pandemic. But Canon Hackwood outlines other factors to do with a radical shift in the Church’s culture.

In response, may I offer some wise words of observation and wisdom? “There are ecclesial structures which can hamper efforts at evangelization, yet even good structures are only helpful when there is a life constantly driving, sustaining and assessing them. Without new life and an authentic evangelical spirit . . . any new structure will soon prove ineffective. . .

”The parish is not an outdated institution: precisely because it possesses great flexibility, it can assume quite different contours depending on the openness and missionary creativity of pastor and community. . . This presumes that it really is in contact with the homes and lives of its people, and does not become a useless structure out of touch with people or a self-absorbed group made up of a chosen few. The parish is the presence of the Church in a given territory, an environment for hearing God’s word, for growth in the Christian life, for dialogue, proclamation, charitable outreach, worship and celebration.”

These lines all occur in Evangelii Gaudium: The Joy of The Gospel, published by Pope Francis in 2013. The Church, then, is not a global conglomerate in need of corporate management techniques and an endless profit motive, but the spiritual and material Body of Christ, made up of men and women with a grace-given prophetic ministry and motivation.

Perhaps Archbishop Welby could revisit his own copy of Evangelii Gaudium, and then send copies to all members of the General Synod, as well as the Church Commissioners?

Rosebank, New Road
Sheringham NR26 8EB

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