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Letters to the Editor

18 February 2022


Leaked paper on restructuring of English dioceses

From the Revd Adrian Alker

Sir, — At a time of serious decline in church attendance and considerable unease and anxiety at parish level over clergy cuts, it seems to me sheer madness that our Archbishops and the Bishop of London feel that “God is calling” them to spend time and energy producing a paper about diocesan restructuring and the reshaping of episcopal ministry (News, 11 February).

There has been, in recent months, suspicion that the parish church and its ministers are failing and that mission-strategy decisions need to be “pushed upwards” (see Paul Hackwood’s recent critique of this). So, now the archbishops are telling us that the bishops have the responsibility for ‘leading mission’ in what we must assume is ever more management-speak diocesan plans.

I have served in four dioceses in the York Province. In each, I felt that the size was such that the Bishop was accessible and the diocese reflected well the area that it served. I had (naïvely?) assumed that the Bishop, according to the Ordinal, would be both a teacher and a shepherd, caring for the clergy and challenging them with theological and intellectual insights. I came to understand that “mission” takes place in the parish in the myriad of encounters which one has as a priest or lay minister.

I valued and appreciated the support and care of the bishops whom I served under and felt valued in my parochial tasks. I would have thought that the Established Church in its service to the nation and its clergy might be better equipped if its bishops had more to say about their understanding of God and more sensitivity to their workforce rather than their immersion in endless management restructuring.

Chair, Progressive Christianity Network Britain
23 Meadowhead
Sheffield S8 7UA


From Mr Jonathan Goll

Sir, — I’m wary of the proposals apparently being put forward for the radical reform of the episcopate.

Many clergy, in particular, seem to regard diocesan offices as the most useful target for cuts. As a former Civil Service trade-union activist, I have learnt that “bureaucrats” are a tempting target for those who think themselves “dynamic” and “forward”; but the clergy must face the fact that their stipends are by far the biggest part of the Church of England’s expenditure. Axeing diocesan offices won’t save much, and may be harmful. While there may be a case for some pruning of senior positions, small churches especially benefit from diocesan-office help and advice.

Possibly the biggest irritation with diocesan offices — as with practically all major organisations — is the almost universal temptation of central staff to believe Headquarters Knows Best. Attitude rather than size may sometimes be the real problem. Remote administrations of the envisaged “super-dioceses” could end up even more distant from the rank and file.

And my heart sinks at yet another managerial solution to our failure of mission. Our Laodicean Church may need, instead, more spiritual remedies and a change of heart.

16 Beechcroft Estate
West Midlands B63 2BP


From Canon John Craig

Sir, — I hope that the Church, while discussing the work of bishops and diocesan structures, will have the opportunity to consider the opposite direction of travel to the current proposals. There seems much to be said for more, smaller dioceses, each with one bishop with a very small secretariat, while pooling responsibility for many financial, legal, and safeguarding concerns on a regional basis.

Each smaller diocese would have a cathedral with, perhaps, two centrally supported clergy. These would also be hubs for ministry and mission under the guidance of the bishop, to which parishes could look for support and inspiration.

231 Beacon Park Village
Lichfield WS13 6JZ


From Mr Donald Rutherford

Sir, — I shuddered when I read your report on the consultative paper Bishops and their ministry fit for a new context. It reminded me too much of the creation of Police Scotland, which abolished local police forces and imposed Glasgow-style policing on the whole of the country.

The paper seems to be proposing the imposition of the Holy Trinity, Brompton, model on the whole of England. Under such a regime, no doubt, “mission” would consist of inviting the population into megachurches for wine and nibbles and being urged to enrol in the Alpha course.

Bishops are not intended to be missionary bishops, but pastoral bishops, shepherds of the local shepherds. The whole point of the parochial system led by bishops was to provide pastoral care for every locality. When that original view of the Church of England was followed, there were more parish clergy, more attending churches, and less bureaucracy.

The pastoral care in parishes offers care from birth to death. Children are baptised, taught the faith, and nurtured and grow into congregations. There is no need for mission strategies. The members of local churches invite friends and neighbours to church continuously, not through special mission activity.

I do pray that Archbishop Welby and his associates will repent and become primarily shepherds again, not chief executives of national institutions. Repentance is painful. It could start with reducing the vast, highly paid staff at Lambeth to a team of six, paid no more than parish clergy.

133 Dalkeith Road
Edinburgh EH16 5AH


From the Revd Iain Osborne

Sir, — Forthcoming discussions about dioceses and bishops will benefit from being anchored in the core understanding of bishop and diocese accepted since the first century: that a bishop is essentially the chief pastor in a place.

Nicene order leaves unanswered the question what a suffragan bishop actually is, let alone an episcopal visitor. But it does clarify that a bishop does not need to cost much — not needing an administration, a higher stipend, or even a palace. The bishop does, however, need a small and coherent enough diocese to engage with the social fabric of that place, and know and care for its Christian ministers.

Administrative support for bishops, on the other hand, should capture economies of scale. There is little reason to provide one team per diocese. A team might cover a wider geography, if a function has a geographic dimension (e.g., DACs), while other functions (e.g., finance) have no essentially local character, and could be run on a national basis. We might envisage multiple service-charities, governed independently of the bishops who are their clients, competing for contracts. Informal sharing of resources may not have worked. That is not a reason to stop sharing, but to ditch the informality, and organise sharing properly.

In short, we perhaps need more and smaller dioceses, supported by fewer and larger administrative teams. Topics like how to organise “spokespeople”, or staff the House of Lords, are second-order, and the tail should not wag the dog.

Let’s begin with a firm reassertion of Nicene order, the basis of the Church of England’s life since Augustine of Canterbury, and of the primary episcopal ministry as a leader in mission in one place.

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


Remarks on Jesus College case were ill-timed

From Messrs Charles George QC and John Bullimore

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury’s remarks (News, 11 February), in the recent debate in the General Synod on racism in the Church, on the proposal by Jesus College, Cambridge, to seek permission from the Consistory Court of the diocese to relocate the memorial to one of its benefactors, Tobias Rustat, should not have been made.

The case is presently under consideration by the Deputy Chancellor, who heard the evidence, and submissions from the two experienced counsel, who represented the college and the objectors, during the week prior to the Synod sessions. He was, and is, preparing his judgment, in which he will give detailed reasons for his decision. His Grace’s clear indication that the result should allow the relocation is a breach of the sub judice rule that forbids discussion of matters under active consideration in the courts.

Such comments would not have been allowed in the Houses of Parliament (Erskine May, para 25.74); nor should they be in the General Synod.

We are confident that the experienced Deputy Chancellor will not be influenced by such remarks, but if his decision were to favour the college, will not those opposing the application be inclined to believe and say that the Archbishop’s comments swayed the outcome?

We accept that the Archbishop’s words came during an emotional and sensitive debate, in which anger and dismay at slow progress by the Church in this important area of its life were widely expressed. None the less, restraint in commenting on any case under active consideration by a court needs to be maintained by members of the General Synod, however senior.

(formerly Dean of the Arches and Auditor)
(formerly Diocesan Chancellor of Derby and Blackburn)
Addresses supplied


Too much like ‘trope’

From the Revd Ravi Holy

Sir, — I would imagine that I am not the only person who was offended by Michael Cavaghan-Pack’s letter (11 February). His suggestion that Dr Renie Chow Choy’s “problem . . . [might be] created by her looking exclusively ‘through the prism of identity and belonging’ understood in nationalistic and racial terms” was not just patronising, but close to an accusation of “playing the race card” or being “touchy”: a trope that non-white people who have experienced racism are all too used to hearing.

The Vicarage
Cherry Garden Crescent, Wye
Ashford, Kent TN25 5AS


Tribute to the Queen from a republican

From Mrs Elizabeth Pearson

Sir, — After a special choral evensong to mark Accession Day last Sunday, I heard someone say “I’m really a republican, but I wanted to be here this evening to give thanks for the Queen’s long and faithful service.” The UK and the Commonwealth — indeed, the wider world, too — were deeply moved by the Queen’s message to mark her Platinum Jubilee. Am I alone in hoping that history will acknowledge her as “Elizabeth the Servant Queen”?

7 Rosedale Walk, Frome
Somerset BA11 2JH


The Revd David Fletcher and the Smyth scandal

From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — Lest your notice (News, 11 February) of the death of the Revd David Fletcher appear too cursory, I would like to honour the memory of one who was known as a warm and kind fatherly figure to thousands of schoolboy campers and Oxford students in his long leadership ministry.

Even individuals not averse to criticising the Iwerne camps have strongly commended important aspects of them publicly. The Revd Nicholas Harris speaks for many in writing: “we had great fun and made great friends” (Thinking Anglicans, 13 August 2018). Mary Mullins in the Iwerne founder’s memoir volume was “profoundly impressed” by the “spiritually mature” young men. Anne Atkins agreed (Telegraph, 3 February 2017). The main C of E numerical growth in the past 100 years has been Evangelical, most of that spearheaded by Iwerne products.

David Fletcher (like everyone else not involved) could not reasonably have known of Smyth’s secretive beatings at the time; but he was the individual most engaged (all over England) in the rehabilitation of the worst-affected victims (as I witnessed in 1982), and active in providing information for the Coltart report, which was expected to bring Smyth to justice in Zimbabwe in 1993. This document and related newsprint, together with the 1989 memoirs of the headmaster John Thorn, meant that Smyth’s activities were already in the public domain from quite early on.

But had Fletcher amplified that publicity, he would thereby effectively have “outed” those who wanted the confidentiality that he expended so much for them to retain: namely, all known UK parents (whose families would have become tabloid fodder because of the fame of several) and (until 2012) all known UK victims.

7 Markway, Sunbury
Surrey TW16 5NS


Fairtrade flowers have smaller carbon footprint

From Suzanne Fletcher

Sir, — While delighted that a question from Mr Charles Houston in the General Synod emphasised the need for using environmentally sustainable items for arranging flowers in church, I was concerned about his recommendation of the flowers to use.

He rightly talked about the damaging plastic-related products in current usage such as floral foam, and the need for alternatives for use by not just church flower-arrangers, but florists who supply flowers for weddings and funerals. In calling for a ban on imported flowers, however, he missed the point about using Fairtrade flowers.

For instance, the flower industry provides vital jobs and income for the 73,000 in six countries in the developing world which are Fairtrade certified flower-producer organisations. But it is more than that.

Fairtrade certification means flower workers have improved working conditions, better pay, protection of their basic rights, and a safe working environment, including the safe use of chemicals and a ban on dangerous pesticides.

A year ago, Fairtrade flower farmworkers received premium payments of more than £6.4 million, which enabled flower workers to improve their lives and invest in social, education, and infrastructure projects. At the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, the premium was a lifeline to workers to help them to meet their essential needs.

Fairtrade flowers grow in climates that allow naturally heated conditions. This is why Fairtrade flowers have a lighter carbon footprint, on average, than those grown under artificial heat and light in Europe, even when factoring in transport. The carbon footprint of Kenyan roses is 5.5 times lower than that of roses from the Netherlands.

Let us celebrate God’s creation, and in doing so ensure that it is improving the lives of the flower-growers, and is not at the expense of the environment that God gave us to care for.

So, lots of reasons here for our churches not just to stop using floral foam, and buy Fairtrade flowers where possible, but encourage local florists to do so, too.

3 Hoylake Way, Eaglescliffe
Stockton on Tees TS16 9EU


Streaming and recorded services help the frail

 From Mrs Penny Keens

Sir, — I applaud those who find pre-recorded services “energising and fulfilling” (Comment, 11 February), though I very much enjoyed some live-streamed services during lockdown.

I am aware, however, of the huge benefit that both offer to faithful churchgoers who are unable to return to in-church services. In the past, frail and elderly friends have felt abandoned by their church communities, succoured if they were lucky by an occasional sick communion, but otherwise unable to participate in regular worship. Now, anyone with some form of electronic communication can join in a service near by, which is a great pleasure.

377 Japonica Lane
Milton Keynes
MK15 9EG

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