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Letters to the Editor

02 September 2022


Disabled people in the Church and its ministry

From Mr Mark Cooper

Sir, — I refer to the extract “Disability: more steps to take” from At the Gates by Naomi Lawson Jacobs and Emily Richardson (Feature, 19 August). As a disabled person, I have experienced some of the incidents that it mentions, like sitting at the back of a church. For me, it is not just a theological issue: it is a people issue, too.

I am a wheelchair user discerning a call to ministry, and yet there are very few churches where I can read from a lectern or get behind the communion table. Now, yes, simple adaptations could be made, but part of what inspires people to consider a vocation is seeing people like them leading worship, and people are not encouraged if they can’t do the things that I described.

Each denomination will be keen to have its view on disability known, to make its members feel included. For me, however, this should be an ecumenical matter, so that there is a common approach to disability. This kind of ecumenism has been done before: for example, there is common agreement on what a baptismal certificate looks like. So, why not on big issues such as disability?

The fall in church attendance creates an opportunity for this ecumenism to take place, as more worshipping communities join together in local ecumenical partnerships to survive, and churches adapt their premises as community hubs to be used seven days a week, not just on Sundays and the odd weekday.

The ministry of the parish priest is changing, as people recognise that in its current form is unsustainable, both for the post-holder and their congregations: as the priest covers vacancies or sickness, this allows less time to be spent with a congregation, especially on a Sunday, as they may have several services a day. With the current climate, the job itself needs to be looked at. It may encourage more vocations among disabled people if it is seen as more manageable. At the recent Lambeth Conference, the Archbishop of Canterbury spoke of being part of a “revolution without violence”. If this includes encouraging people to think differently about disability, I will be at the front of it, if he can push my wheelchair.

We are all welcome round the Lord’s table, no matter where we sit in church, but we need to take the next step, so that we are all able to meet around all sides of it.

53 Nichollfield
Edinburgh EH6 4RA

From Canon Cecil Heatley

Sir, — Regarding “Disability: more steps to take”, it is a scandal that such a subject still has to be raised. Disability access has been on the agenda for decades. One small example is the case of the hard of hearing, a substantial proportion of our congregations. In two recent churches, “Have you a loop system?” “Yes, but it’s not working.”

With regard to whether there will be wheelchairs in heaven, I can see that this is really about a person’s sense of identity here and now. It doesn’t help to speculate about something beyond our comprehension. If there is a heaven and if I am lucky enough to get there, will I still need my hearing aids or glasses? See what I mean?

Flat 37, Sheppards College
Bromley BR1 1PF

Position of the Independent Safeguarding Board

From the Revd Sam Maginnis

Sir, — The recent letter from Martin Sewell to the Charity Commission (published on the Thinking Anglicans blog on 10 August; News, 12 August) raises serious issues of concern surrounding the Independent Safeguarding Board’s (ISB’s) review of the Christ Church/Martyn Percy case: in particular, whether the ISB is competent to carry out this complex task and whether it actually has legal standing to operate independently from the Archbishops’ Council.

Mr Sewell reports that no action has been taken by the Council to address or even acknowledge these concerns — in breach of its duties under charity law — and so calls on the Charity Commission to intervene and establish a “comprehensive, competent, and truly independent” inquiry to remedy the manifest defects of the process to date.

Mr Sewell also expresses hope that such an inquiry would help to kick-start the culture change so desperately needed in the Church of England. He paints a picture of an institution in which reputation management trumps principles of justice and fairness, and an institution that hesitates to investigate alleged failings of bishops and senior staff with real transparency or accountability. The history of the Clergy Discipline Measure (CDM) reflects this denial of justice for clergy and complainants alike, and a failure of leadership among those bishops and diocesan staff who insulated themselves behind legal process from difficult pastoral situations.

The recent review of the events surrounding the tragic death of Fr Alan Griffin shows the extremes to which such failings can lead. Yet his is only one name in the catalogue of those whose lives, ministry, or faith have been damaged or destroyed by being treated by the Church as problems to be managed rather than human beings in need of support and, sometimes, loving correction.

We at Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates (CEECA) remain encouraged by the proposals currently before the General Synod to replace the CDM, while recognising from contact with our members that many other factors shape the environment in which they work and minister — both good and bad. Behind all this lies the culture that the bishops and senior staff set in their dioceses. CEECA is committed to working with the dioceses and NCIs to ensure conditions and processes are in place which embody best practice in employment relations and free our members and the wider Church to fulfil their Christian calling.

On that basis, we would encourage the Archbishops’ Council to set an example for others and work with the Charity Commission to address the concerns raised in Mr Sewell’s letter: to show that justice, transparency, and accountability are central to our common life, and essential to building effective and supportive missional communities where all can discover their true identity in Christ.

Chair, CEECA12
The Greens Close
Loughton, Essex IG10 1QE

Solar panels could help with the cost of living

From the Revd Carl Chambers

Sir, — It is clear that the actual and prospective rise in energy bills is causing real concern for many in our country (News, 19 August). With double-digit inflation, real income is being seriously hit. If ever there was a time for a bold initiative from the Church Commissioners to address the welfare of clergy whom they pay each month, now is it.

Returns on solar panels are vastly better than they were a decade ago, at substantially lower prices. One recent national broadsheet estimated that the return on any investment this winter would be around 20 per cent, with payback likely in much less than ten years.

My proposal is simple: for the Church Commissioners to use their huge buying power and expertise to source the best solar panels available (in terms of cost/benefit efficiency) and to procure these for every vicarage, rectory, etc., in the country. “Round numbers” of ten thousand houses and investments of £10,000 would mean a total investment of £100 million: just over one per cent of the Church Commissioners’ assets. At a stroke, it would: (i) relieve clergy of some of the cost of energy in what is substantially their place of work; (ii) mitigate any lack of pay increase due to inflation; and (iii) make a significant impact on our carbon footprint as a Church.

The technology, the expertise, the finances, and the need are there. If the central purchasing and discounts were available for other church projects, this might even kick-start many parishes’ raising money to install panels on church halls and other property.

1 Curates Walk, Wilmington
Kent DA2 7BJ

Non-eucharistic rites continue in clergy’s absence

From Dr David Harris MRCVS and Mrs Helen Harris

Sir, — As churchwardens, we take issue with the prescription (Leader comment, 26 August) that “more congregations may have to accept . . . the closure of their parish church during their priest’s absence.” Why?

This idea smacks of clericalism: that without a priest, there can be no service and even (by extension) no church. Nothing is further from the truth. You also downplay the role of lay ministers or Readers as being able to lead “morning and evening prayer”.

In our small rural parish and the others of our wider benefice, we are blessed with a number of PTO clergy, but we have chosen to have only two eucharistic services a month. We have Services of the Word in the mornings on the remaining Sundays: specifically, a contemporary Prayer and Praise, and a family service. These are led by Readers or the churchwardens, as are our alternating evening prayer and BCP evensong (as has long been normal practice in this parish).

We find that this range of service-types attracts a range of people, including some who would never attend a formal eucharist, and those who dislike more contemporary forms of worship. It is not a sacrifice on our part, but a conscious decision to widen our outreach.

By focusing entirely on the ministry of the ordained clergy, you ignore the resources of the laity and perpetuate the problem of over-stressed clergy unwilling to step back because they, wrongly, believe no one else can lead a service.

While this may not apply to every context, in general, the rural parishes that thrive are those that commission and use the gifts of their laity. Perhaps it is time for urban churches and central church structures belatedly to learn this lesson?

Churchwardens, St Michael de Rupe and Christ Church, Brent Tor
Stablelights, North Brentor
Tavistock, Devon PL19 0LX

Anglo-Catholic planters

From Dr John Wallace

Sir, — I have recently completed a thesis for the Durham University Doctorate of Theology and Ministry on the subject of Anglo-Catholic church-planting. My research shows that Anglo-Catholic planters and pioneers often feel isolated, and generally are not well supported, lacking the type of network that Holy Trinity, Brompton, provides for those in its churchmanship.

One of my recommendations was to set up a network, real, virtual, or hybrid, for mutual support and encouragement.

May I, through the medium of your pages, invite any priest in this position who wishes to be involved in such a support network, to contact me at jcharleswallace@gmail.com. If there is an uptake, we can then plan the next steps.

14 Church Street
Leighton Buzzard LU7 1BT

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