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Letters to the Editor

18 November 2022




Migrants on the bishop’s doorstep

From Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — The Bishop of Durham, the Rt Revd Paul Butler, as lead bishop for refugees, asylum, and migration policy, shows a heartfelt concern for the welfare of asylum-seekers (Comment, 11 November). There is, however, a sweet innocence about his approach, which fails to grapple seriously with the issues raised.

There is no recognition that the Government has a responsibility not only to those claiming asylum but also to the wider community, and particularly to those communities in the south-east which are directly affected.

Further, his use of statistics is casual. He invites us to acknowledge that the majority of those crossing the Channel have a credible claim to asylum, but offers no evidence that this is so. To extrapolate from the four per cent processed who have their claims granted to the conclusion that, if 97 per cent of Eritrean, Syrians, and Afghans were successful in that small sample, then that would be replicated across the whole population, is simply inadmissible. It may simply be that strong claims are more readily identifiable.

He praises the French for having a far better rate of deciding claims, but fails to mention that, in 2020-21, 68 per cent of all applications were turned down, although people from Eritrea, Syria, and Afghanistan fared somewhat better, of whom 30 per cent, 39 per cent, and 47.1 per cent respectively were unsuccessful.

If Bishop Butler had a hundred people turn up at his house seeking accommodation, he would probably find that this posed considerable financial and logistical problems. Jesus’s “view of neighbour is not limited — and neither should ours be.” But how would this alone help to resolve such issues and balance competing claims?

The Manor House
Thurloxton, Taunton
Somerset TA2 8RH

From Mr Philip Belben

Sir, — Paul Vallely (Comment, 11 November) is right to emphasise the link between immigration and the economy, but he has missed an important point. In regions such as the Lake District (which he cites) and Somerset (where I live), there are two important problems.

One is that so many of the residents are retired, well-off people; the other is that much of the housing stock is taken up by holiday lets. Both of these mean that the sort of people who might take jobs at the hotels — and in construction, farming, nursing, and so on — have difficulty finding anywhere they can afford to live. This is true whether the workers are British or foreign.

If we cannot sort out the issue of affordable housing, staff shortages in these parts of the country will continue no matter how many immigrants obtain permission to work here.

The Chapel, Maitlands Close
Nettlebridge, Radstock
Somerset BA3 5AA

The way that clergy are appointed to parishes needs to be improved

From Kate Morris

Sir, — The Revd Robert Bennett (Letters, 11 November) suggests that interview panels should bear some responsibility for the appointment of incumbents who, after appointment, rapidly alienate their parishioners.

As someone who, as lay dean, regularly sat on such panels, I wonder as a general point whether I would have been in a better position to play my part if the references, withheld as a matter of general policy, could have been circulated (with due regard to confidentiality) before the interview.

I would then have had more time to reflect on what issues (if any) might arise concerning a candidate’s leadership style and how I could best contribute at the interview, which although always well chaired, sometimes made me wish I knew more of others’ experience of the candidate.

3 Medina Gardens
Middlesbrough TS5 8BN

From the Revd Christopher Mitchell

Sir, — Mr Bennett is, of course, correct in his summary of the selection procedures for a new incumbent, but I would suggest that he is being a little naïve as regards reality. There are two reasons for this.

First, PCC representatives (usually overworked churchwardens) often do not have the confidence or knowledge required to question what they are told by bishops or diocesan officials, and traditional deference can play a part. They may or may not have career experience that enables them to be comfortable in such roles, and to suggest an alternative approach.

For example, advertising the post is usually heavily discouraged by the diocese. Sometimes there may be good reasons for this, but the representatives do not feel in a position to question or explore the decision. Some parishes may have highly qualified professional people with a depth of knowledge of the Church, but this is the exception. In small rural benefices or the inner city, parish representatives are unlikely to be such people.

Second, as the writer mentions, the field of potential candidates may be very small, and often there is only one person who is interested. It can take strength to say no and extend a vacancy that has already lasted years, not months.

As a school governor, I was involved in the selection process for head teacher at village primary schools on several occasions. The LEA advisors would tell us that “No appointment is better than the wrong appointment.” Maybe this advice should be given more strongly in parish appointments also.

42 Melton Avenue
York YO30 5QG

Sir, — We, too, have an overbearing priest, but the situation differs from that of previous correspondents.

Our Rector left, and the parish is in vacancy. The churchwardens and PCC are meant to oversee things. But the Team Vicar has taken control of as much as he can, introducing changes in service arrangements and liturgy without consultation, and also cancelling services at short notice, with little or no explanation. He likes to do everything himself and doesn’t welcome offers of help. He expects the congregation to kow-tow to what seem to be his whims.

People feel intimidated, even those who are, or have been, in leadership roles at work. Some have voted with their feet; others are deeply unhappy. It’s not that he’s thick-skinned, but, rather, thin-skinned and doesn’t brook criticism. I suppose the rest of us will try to stick it out until a new Rector is appointed, but these days that might be a couple of years.


Sir, — My deanery, one of the biggest geographically in the Church of England, does not currently have a single stipendiary minister. Is this the time for one of our hard-working retired priests to be effectively unfrocked, for failing to undergo some sort of refresher course?

Effectively, this means that in our struggling village church, the only person who cannot take the service, from the end of this month, is the one who is qualified by training and experience to do it.

Bishops and archdeacons, get a grip!


From Mr Barry Ewbank

Sir, — We as a benefice are now in interregnum following the retirement of our vicar at the end of September, and so begins the process of finding a new one.

We are following the procedures laid down by the Church of England which means that we could not even think about advertising for a new incumbent until the last one has actually left their post. This means that if we put an advert into the Church Times immediately, it would probably take a minimum of four or five months, and that’s providing that a suitable candidate comes forward, before a new priest would be in post.

As we are approaching Christmas, we are advised that clergy would probably not respond due to workload; so, placing an advert in January appears to be the best course of action. Another two months before we can start the ball rolling, so by the time we have had any applications, carried out interviews, made an offer if an appropriate candidate appears, and they have served notice in their current post, it could take up to the middle of 2023, eight months before we have a vicar in place.

This break in continuity of clergy causes many problems for the parishes trying to find a vicar to take communion, weddings, funerals, and christenings.

If this was replacing an employee in a commercial enterprise, an advert could have been placed shortly after notice had been given, interviews carried out and potentially a new person in post without any break. Why can’t the Church work on a similar basis, or is there some archaic protocol that does not allow the church to join the 21st century?

17 North Road, Lund,
Driffield, East Yorkshire YO25 9TF

Why do people now opt for Sunday worst?

From Mr Paul Minter

Sir, — I have noticed an odd thing in churches. People who dress smartly all week for work, then deliberately dressing down for church. People who would dress smartly also at other times to go out for dinner or to a show. Is this not an insult to God? Is not this putting what people think of you before what God thinks of your actions.

First, the days went when people who dressed casually all week, put on smart clothes, their Sunday best, for church. But surely it is madness for people who at nearly all other times dress smartly, to only dress down for church. Surely church is the most important place we go every week.

Try dressing down when you have to meet anyone important and see what reaction you get (Malachi 1.8). This trend seems to be led from the top, with church leaders in professional jobs all week, thinking church is a place for their more casual clothes.

Please consider if you were invited to Buckingham Palace to meet the King. How would you dress? Then dress appropriately to meet the King of Kings at church.

1 Constable Way, Bexhill
East Sussex TN40 2UH

Vanuatu in danger

From Mr Brian Macdonald-Milne

Sir, — I write on behalf of the executive officer of the Melanesian Mission UK, with reference to the article about the environmental concerns of the Bishop of Norwich (Feature, 4 November).

Bishop Usher mentions meeting the Bishop of Vanuatu, who expressed his deep concern about islands disappearing (“sinking”) in his Pacific Islands diocese. There are in fact two dioceses in Vanuatu, formerly known as the New Hebrides: the diocese of Vanuatu and New Caledonia, and the diocese of Banks and Torres. There are also seven dioceses in the Solomon Islands. They are two separate countries.

The nine dioceses make up the Anglican Church of Melanesia in the Western Pacific, and all the islands are facing problems caused by climate change, such as the inundation of low-lying atolls and reef islands, coastal erosion, more frequent cyclones, stronger winds, and increased rainfall, which can cause the flooding of rivers and the destruction of gardens and plantations.

Most islands in the three countries of Vanuatu, Solomon Islands, and New Caledonia, are mountainous, but there are also atolls which are at great risk and may have eventually to be evacuated, causing problems of relocation in these countries with limited agricultural land.

It is our hope that COP27 and people around the world will take extremely seriously the problems of island states, and especially the situation of threatened islands which have not contributed to the pollution of land and sea caused by other larger countries, including the UK, and that Christians will continue to keep them in their prayers.

(Honorary Canon of St Barnabas’s Cathedral, Honiara, Solomon Islands)
39 Way Lane, Waterbeach,
Cambridge CB25 9NQ

Dioceses, not PCCs, responsible for clergy pay

From Mr Martyn Bowler

Sir, — Mr Tom Benyon suggests that PCCs should take the initiative and financially assist clergy to pay their way. It is true that clergy have not had sufficient pay increases, and it must be difficult in households where the only income is a stipend, but it is not the responsibility of the PCC to support in this way. This is the responsibility of the diocese, as PCCs pay, sometimes handsomely, towards stipends as part of their parish share.

PCCs are finding it increasingly difficult to pay their own way with the ever-increasing parish share, and costs of maintenance of church buildings, and energy. Every time we open up our church during the winter will cost £200, which is unaffordable; and yet people won’t come if the church is cold.

In this deanery, the parish share for 2023 has increased by more than £31,000 to more than £812,000, to be covered by 19 churches. Parish treasurers are now emailing me, telling me what they can afford to pay rather than what they should be paying, and it could well be that half of those 19 will not be able to pay in full.

As much as some would like to help their clergy, there just aren’t the resources locally to do so.

Martyn Bowler
Deanery treasurer, Newstead deanery
2A Ascot Drive, Mansfield
Nottinghamshire NG18 3BX

In peril, now thriving

From Mr Eddie Tulasiewicz

Sir, — There is a constant ebb and flow in the affairs of men and women which the Rt Revd Dr Brian Castle points to in his article about ‘counter urbanisation’ (Comment, 11 November).

Fifty years ago, Dr Beeching was busy closing railway lines and train stations, which today many seek to re-open, as population levels have grown and new communities have been created in what were once declining parts of the country.

We close parish churches based on today’s facts with little thought of what may happen in the years ahead.

It is apposite to note that All Saints’, Wilby, Norfolk, which this year won the National Churches Trust Friends’ Vote and a £10,000 grant, was threatened with closure in the 1970s. Today, it is growing its work not just with the local community but also linking with a city-based church in Norwich to offer rural activities. A lesson in how important it is to keep churches open for the future.

Head of Communications and Public Affairs
The National Churches Trust
7 Tufton Street, London SW1P 3QB

Legion less Christian?

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — Am I mistaken, or was the Royal British Legion’s Festival of Remembrance last Saturday night subtly less Christian this year than in the past? The men and women of the armed forces gathered on the floor of the Albert Hall were not invited to sing a Christian hymn (“Jerusalem” is scarcely Christian), and they did not join in saying the Lord’s Prayer.

Am I being over-sensitive, or is this the woke lobby flexing their muscles? I tremble a bit for the forthcoming coronation.

7 Bluebell Close
Gloucestershire GL56 9PW

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