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Letters to the Editor

19 August 2022

Please send letters for next week by 2 p.m. on Monday 22 August, owing to early deadlines necessitated by the postal dispute


Theology deficit in growth targets

From Canon Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — As a former sales and marketing director with an MBA, who has also taught MBA students, and as a deacon and priest who is passionate about church growth, in both holiness and number, I read Abi Hiscock’s article, “Empower churches for growth” (Comment, 12 August), with a gathering sense of ecclesiological and missional gloom and despondency.

It needs to be acknowledged that the Church has a poor track record when it comes to delivering against quantitative targets: just how many new worshipping communities have been established, for instance, and how do these numbers compare to the figures used to support Strategic Development Funding bids?

But it was the idea that, if dioceses and churches adopted inherently top-down and managerial concepts such as agile planning, with its emphasis on project and product evaluation, the Holy Spirit might become “part of the process”, which grated most. The Church is neither ecclesiologically nor missionally an amalgamation of projects and products. It is something far richer. In a world characterised by enduring and deepening levels of material, social, and spiritual poverty, the Church need not worry about such abstract concepts such as “impact cycles”, “product”, and “market saturation”.

Perhaps the Church should, instead, taking the words of this Sunday’s Old Testament reading from the Prophesy of Isaiah (9b-14) at face value: “If you offer food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then your light shall rise in the darkness and your gloom in the noonday. The Lord shall guide you continually, and satisfy your needs in parched places, and make your bones strong, and you shall be like a watered garden, like a spring of water, whose waters never fail.”

Let’s not over-complicate things as we get on with the job of being church.

The Canon’s House, Stow Hill
Newport, Wales NP20 4EA


From the Revd Mike Plunkett

Sir, — When reading chemistry at university, I read books and articles about chemistry, and, when I picked up a book, I would know whether or not it was about chemistry. If I picked up a Greek New Testament or book of mechanical engineering, I would be in a different world where I was not at home.

Since deciding to serve the Church, I have become at home with theology: I have been reading theology since the 1960s. When I read the article about empowering growth, I was “not at home”. This was not theology. It did not belong to the world of faith. I have read theology of all sorts in the past, fifty years from Honest to God to Don Cupitt, Moltmann, liberation theology, and even literature from the Creationist homophobics. “Empowering growth” had nothing to do with the life-long attempt to discover your place and task in God’s universe.

1 The Ridge, Bishop’s Castle
Shropshire SY9 5AB


Potential direction of a storyline in The Archers 

From June Rodgers

Sir, — Well, months of exciting radio listening stretch ahead for the chancellors of the dioceses of England in respect of the proposed window for St Stephen’s, Ambridge (Letters, 12 August). One can guess the plot now.

Peggy rushes ahead to find a designer too late for the next meeting of the diocesan advisory committee (DAC). Then the DAC has doubts about the design. By then, a petition of objection against the window is being launched on a Saturday night at the Bull, signed up to (for peace and a quiet drink) by a tour-bus load of tourists from Inverness. As it happens, the design that they are all shown is an earlier and rejected one, not the one that went to the DAC. Meanwhile, Peggy has had to be persuaded that her proposal will have to be properly advertised. “But who can object?” she asks. She has lived long enough in Ambridge to know the answer to that question. The petition is placed on an internal notice board in the church (still with the wrong proposed design).

That should take us up to Advent. The excitement of a contested consistory court will then loom as an amenity society objects because the new window will upset the existing themed range of other windows already in situ (and maybe there is a whiff of an unrestored medieval wall-painting that might be damaged). The Borchester Echo reports the proposals inaccurately, but then someone’s nephew from a smart London paper, down for the weekend, does a “colour” piece on rural parish life (which manages to upset all the parties).

I mean, it could not happen like that, could it? Surely, in real life, the incumbent would have had early advice from the archdeacon, and Peggy from the DAC secretary, and the petition would have been properly advertised and gone through smoothly with an appropriate dedication service late next spring. The donor, the cleric, and the PCC would all have listened to (and complied with) the advice and help that they will have been offered. Gloomy experience, let alone the series’ need for plots, tells me that it will not be so simple. Anyway, the Felpersham Diocesan Chancellor will surely be portrayed in next year’s Ambridge pantomime.

If The Archers could provide for parish folk the same depth of advice as for their farmers, maybe people would listen with avid attention to the advice on faculty petitions or gravestones if it comes from Ambridge on the radio. After all, what do boring old archdeacons and chancellors know when they talk to their parishioners?

(Retired chancellor)
2 Harcourt Buildings
The Temple, London EC4Y 9DB


From the Revd Dr Jennifer Zarek

Sir, — I think that Philip Deane is mistaken in saying that there has been no mention of the necessity for a Faculty for a new window in St Stephen’s, Ambridge. The actual word has not been used, but in the episode in which the idea was first mentioned, there was acknowledgement that the appropriate permission would be required.

Peggy Woolley has already paid for a window to commemorate her late husband, and both she and her family will be well aware of the constraints. What has apparently not crossed the mind of either the scriptwriters or her is that, first, the supply of windows suitable for removal and replacement of the glass might be limited, and, second, there is (in my experience) a general presumption against dedications that pertain to living people.

As for whether most ordinands are blessed with much training about the legalities of faculties or much else concerning church law, that is a whole different question.

Horsedale House, Silver Street
Huggate, York YO42 1YB


Lambeth Conference: the debate continues 

From Canon Andrew Dow

Sir, — It would appear from reliable reports of the whole Lambeth Conference that the bishops, contrary to Sandi Toksvig’s much publicised tweet (News, 12 August), did not let their “main takeaway” be the sinfulness of gay sex, but did indeed focus on what she called “more pressing matters”, such as war and poverty — and climate change, and political oppression, and many more of the world’s agonies.

So, I hope that when the Archbishop of Canterbury sits down with her for coffee, he will challenge her to write a second public tweet, apologising for her premature censures, and admitting that the Church had, after all, amid heartfelt debate, sought to address some of the crucial issues that trouble her, affecting, as they do, so many millions worldwide.

7 Bluebell Close
Gloucestershire GL56 89PW


From Susan Hinds

Sir, — A bishop at the recent Lambeth Conference is reported as saying: “The struggle in the Anglican Communion is not about sexuality. . . it is about biblical authority” (online News, 30 July). I am thankful that the word “struggle” is used: it gives hope that one day the Church will acknowledge that the Bible is not, as a whole, to be taken as literally true.

Many years ago, in a little village church one Easter Day, the elderly priest said: “The resurrection is not about the resucitation of a body: it is about an experience.” I had never heard a priest say that before, nor have I since. It came as a great relief to me. Yes, “all stories are true and some stories actually happened.” This doesn’t lessen the power of the gospel; rather, it enhances it.

145 Maidenhead Road
Windsor SL4 5EZ


Mental health and clergy-cutting in Truro diocese 

From the Revd Peter Bellenes

Sir, — Dr James Oliver (Letters, 12 August) rightly points to the part played by parish clergy in supporting people with mental-health problems. I think most clergy with parochial experience would agree that this is their own experience. Dr Oliver laments the abdication of this role by the Church of England, and it not surprising to me that he writes from the diocese of Truro, which is moving hard and fast to cut clergy numbers.

I would go further and draw attention to the mental health of clergy themselves, threatened with dispossession. The plan in my deanery calls for dispossession notices to be issued with all speed. This is nothing less than the Church of England using the fire-and-hire techniques used by other employers with no concern for their workforce. The only difference is that in the current action the objective is not to pay less, but to lower the number of clergy and ensure that the ones left are singing from the same ideological hymn sheet as the diocesan episcopal college.

Clergy feeling under pressure, I hope, will use mental-health support organisations, and, in terms of action against them by dioceses, should seek help from the Faith Workers branch of Unite: helpline 0333 123 0021. Clergy can also seek supportive time away at the Sheldon Retreat Centre in Devon, 01647 252752.

Little Grove
Harrowbarrow PL17 8JN


From Dr Sue McClaughry

Sir, — Dr James Oliver from Cornwall provides a stark reminder of the law of unintended consequences. The drastic reduction in clergy numbers proposed by the diocese of Truro is ostensibly designed as a cost-cutting measure. The move is also considered by some to be a means of reforming the traditional Anglo-Catholic-based churchmanship of Cornwall. Whatever the purpose, the consequence will be to remove Church of England ministers from areas where they are needed.

According to government statistics, rural communities make up more than 90 per cent of the population of Cornwall, farming-related professions have higher-than-average rates of depression and suicide. Our rural parishes have serious problems with mental health, loneliness, and isolation. The presence of churches and clergy in these remote areas provides support for all parishioners, whatever their needs.

The proposed concentration of clergy in hubs based around towns, to which the countryside villages have little or no access, will remove a significant source of support from all those who live in isolated rural areas.

Address supplied
(Pillaton, Cornwall)


The state prayers 

From the Revd David M. Goldberg

Sir, — Given the Queen’s February 2022 letter desiring that the Duchess of Cornwall be Queen upon the accession of the Prince of Wales to the throne, it would seem fitting that the Duchess be included alongside her husband in the state prayers at the conclusion of morning and evening prayer and in the Accession service of the Book of Common Prayer

It had been the custom to include the spouse of the heir-apparent in the prayers for the Royal Family. Though the Duchess has been omitted since her marriage to her husband, surely it is time for her inclusion, not only for tradition’s sake, but also the benefits that come from the people’s prayers?

Keble College
Oxford OX1 3PG


Democracy is possible only in societies ready for it 

From Canon David Stranack

Sir, — In the article about authoritarian rule in the Middle East (Comment, 12 August), Gerald Butt paints a realistic and yet depressing view of democratic efforts there over recent years. In our concern to cherish and commend democratic values, we need to remember certain aspects of democracy which in the West we so easily take for granted and are in danger of forgetting.

I refer to the aspect of the necessary cooperation within a nation which can be regarded as aspects of grace. In democracy. we need to have fair and respected elections. Those in the majority are called upon to govern. But democracy can only work when those who lose an election accept gracefully the outcome of the voting and accept the rule of the larger party.

On the other hand, those who win the election are expected to govern not merely in their own interests, or those of their voters, but to have the grace to govern on behalf of the whole nation. Nations that are unable to work in this way can never become truly democratic.

This underlines the importance of grace, which is to be found at the heart of the gospel that we cherish and proclaim.

12 Sandy Lane, Sudbury
Suffolk CO10 7HG


Influence of a church and a ministry in Peckham 

From the Revd John Lane

Sir, — As a young Methodist minister in Peckham, I was moved by the building’s beauty and flexibility for worship, together with the personal influence of the then Vicar of St John Chrysostom’s, Geoffrey Heal (whose remains rest in the rose garden), which led me to seek ordination in the Church of England. Your analysis of the building (Feature, 12 August) goes some way to understanding its effect on the people of the parish and beyond.

2 Tregony Rise, Lichfield
Staffordshire WS14 9SN


Church of England young people 

Sir, — I am writing to you with a worry and fear for the future of the Church of England regarding the lack of engagement with young people on the national stage.

I grew up in the Church of England, and remember a big children’s programme, youth group, and choir during the week, and a children’s group during services. All of this I actively took part in and enjoyed: it was an integral part of my upbringing.

As I became a teenager, however, the provision decreased. I still had a Sunday-night youth group, which was led by parents in the church, but nothing led centrally by the Church of England.

In my later years in university, I became part of the Church of England Youth Council (CEYC), and went to a national weekend, during which I met other teenagers and young adults who were part of the Church of England, something that I had found extremely rarely between the ages of 12 and 20. But no sooner had I discovered this group of similar Christians than the CEYC was disbanded, and later youth were no longer represented at the Synod, thus once more leaving me without a link to other like-minded young adults in the C of E.

Outside of the C of E, I found other young adults through other Christian organisations, but felt myself being distanced from church, because I didn’t see myself reflected in congregations. Speaking to friends in other denominations, I felt disgruntled with the difference between their teenage experiences and mine. My friends in the Methodist Church attended a youth conference every year, taking part in discussions, sending the young people’s perspective to the main church conference, which was read and acted upon, and having prominent parts to play within the church body as a whole, as part of a series of youth reps.

I was invited as part of my involvement with the Iona Community to attend a URC youth weekend, which was, unfortunately, cancelled because of Covid-19. It was during the pandemic that I became a member of the Student Christian Movement, attended events, and made friends with other young Christians again. I felt frustrated; were there Church of England weekends or events that I was not aware of? But I have relatives who are vicars. Surely, if there were opportunities, they, of anyone, would be aware of them? And if there were events and they were not aware, why? How are they being advertised?

Recently, I attended the SCM National Gathering, and had a wonderful weekend. I was sitting around one evening with friends from the C of E, and a couple of people from other denominations, and we got on to the topic of feeling included in the Church, both locally and nationally. All of us present from the C of E discussed that we did not feel represented, seen, or prioritised in the Church, and had contemplated moving away to other denominations where the young people were more included.

If I have children, I want them to have the experiences that I missed out on in my teenage years. I don’t want to leave; I grew up in the C of E, I feel happy in the church buildings, and I enjoy the liturgy. But, if it keeps going the way it is, where many young people are excluded and their activities are underfunded, I will have to. And then what will become of the C of E, if more people who feel like me, of whom I personally know many, leave?

In another Christian organisation I am a part of, I have helped to set up a young adults’ group, because I saw their future going in a similar way to the Church of England, that without actively engaging young people in their governance they would fizzle out. But I don’t have the energy or access to do this for a huge national organisation.


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