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Letters to the Editor

22 April 2022


The challenge of direct cremation

From Mr Gordon James

Sir, — Daytime television is full of advertisements for cremation without ceremony. The emphasis of these advertisements is on choice, while mildly disparaging religious funerals. For many, however, the attraction is the cost: around £1000 rather than a minimum of £3000 to £5000.

The presence of the physical remains of the deceased person, where possible, is an important element in a Christian funeral, acknowledging the reality of death as the background to the Christian hope of resurrection. Is this not equally achieved by the presence of ashes? If the Church of England could make advertised provision, as a standard option, for a full funeral with cremated remains, at a reduced fee, this would allow those who cannot afford a traditional funeral to remember their loved ones before God. There would be no need to involve a funeral director in the service, but it would be a more substantial rite than the order for burial of ashes, which explicitly refers to a prior funeral service.

A simpler but less satisfactory approach would be to devise a rite for the burial of ashes, “when a funeral service has not been held”. The mourners would then be free to call this service a funeral, even if the Church of England did not.

We already battle against the false perception that church weddings need to be vastly expensive. We do not want church funerals to become the exclusive preserve of the comfortably off.

Apartment 28, Trencherfield Mill
Heritage Way, Wigan WN3 4DU

Trans people and the ban on conversion therapy

From Jayne Ozanne and the Dean of St Edmundsbury

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s ill-informed article (Comment, 8 April) is both dangerous and disingenuous. It is dangerous because it fails to recognise that omitting trans people from a ban on “conversion therapy” has nothing to do with the Cass review and everything to do with being told that you can never be trans because your faith or cultural group won’t permit it. It is disingenuous, because it fails to acknowledge the long healthcare pathway that there is for people with gender dysphoria, which can take years. Sadly, for many, the process takes too long: many choose to take their lives before they get the support they need.

Instead of stoking irrational fears and muddying the waters, as the Prime Minister has also chosen to do, Canon Tilby would do well to sit down and listen to the lived experience of trans people and understand the abuse that they face, often at the hands of religious leaders who are ignorant of the facts.

Chair, Ban Conversion Therapy Coalitio
Chair, Ozanne Foundation
Address supplied

From Nicky Lord

Sir, — May I express my dismay at Canon Tilby’s stoking of people’s fears, while being seemingly oblivious of the issues involved and the harm, which continues unabated.

“Muddle” and “wider misunderstanding” of conversion therapy are disappointingly reflected in Canon Tilby’s article. The basis of her argument fails immediately, as she falsely conflates conversion therapy (persuading/forcing/praying with a person, so that they deny themselves and fit the conversion-imposer’s preconceived stereotype) and counselling (a professional, listening therapy that enables a person to explore who they are and make their own informed decisions).

Her suggestion that being trans is due to “social contagion” and “campaigning groups that provide “a pre-formed language of distress” is a contradiction in terms. One does not catch being LGBT+ like a virus. Growing social and scientific understanding names and gives voice to difference.

The Tavistock Clinic and other services offer counselling, not conversion therapy. There is a waiting list, years long, and the process to receive any hormone treatment is arduous and lengthy.

“Children seem less free to experiment with who they are without censure,” Canon Tilby claims. Yet it is the very conversion therapy that she appears to support, for trans people, and inexperience, like her own, which add to the censure.

The Yew Tree, Faversham Road
Wychling, Sittingbourne ME9 0DH

Archbishop’s comments on the Rwandan project

From Mr Michael Winterbottom

Sir, — I think that it is safe to say that the vast majority of people in this country will agree that the gangmaster trade in people-trafficking and the deportation of trafficked people to Rwanda are both undesirable.

After the Archbishop of Canterbury’s Easter sermon, however, it would now appear that the teaching of the Church of England is that Britain is morally obliged to take as many asylum-seekers as wish to come here, and basically abandon all control of our borders.

Even with current controls, we saw the number of people arriving in small boats climb from 2012 in 2020 to 23,000 by last November, often with fatal consequences, and, at the very least, the passengers’ lives endangered and criminals enriched at the same time.

Even so, I would sympathise with the Archbishop’s point of view if the small boats making the long journey to Britain were from Gwadar in Pakistan, Bushehr in the Persian Gulf, or Tartus on the Syrian coast.

But, for goodness’ sake, they are coming from France: a nation that sees itself as the country that gave civilisation to the world. Does the Archbishop really think that France is a country from which asylum-seekers are compelled to flee to these shores?

Harper Place
Lancashire OL6 6LR

Maintaining ministry despite declining numbers

From the Rt Revd Lord Harries of Pentregarth

Sir, — It was very good to read that the Church in Wales has made such progress in implementing the recommendations of the review that I chaired ten years ago (News, 11 March). At the same time, I can very much understand the frustrations of those clergy who have found that the new system has not worked for them (Letters, 18 March). So, let me try to clarify a few points.

Our main recommendation was that the parish system as we have known and loved it is no longer sustainable. We recommended that every parish should continue to have a worshipping community, but that it should in most circumstances be led by a self-supporting priest or licensed lay minister. We envisaged really big ministry areas, with 20 or more parishes, which would have a small team of paid clergy, who would be appointed first to this and only then to one or more of the parishes, if they were large enough.

We realised that there was a danger that clergy would just go on being asked to take on more and more parishes in a way that was unsustainable rather than be part of a structure that required a different mind-set. Obviously, the success of this new system depends on each worshiping congregation’s being able to raise up its own leadership team, and we did not underestimate the real difficulty in doing that in rural areas with tiny congregations.

In their letter, the clergy who are not happy about ministry areas point to a lack of growth, even decline, under the new situation. But we did not believe that the new structure would by itself bring about growth. Our concern, quite simply, was with the sheer survival of the Church in Wales in what is going to be a very difficult period for a long time to come, for reasons that have nothing to do with the structure of the Church, but have to do with our failure to recapture the imagination of our culture for the Christian story.

Congregations may remain small for some time, but they will be there, and “A small church is not a failed church,” a lesson that I learnt from Tony Russell, a colleague when I was Bishop of Oxford.

I believe that the Church in Wales is to be congratulated in facing up, ten years ago, to the seriousness of the situation and that there are important lessons to be learnt by the Church of England from our recommendations, particularly in rural areas

(Bishop of Oxford 1987-2006)
House of Lords
London SW1A 0PW

From Canon Malcolm France

Sir, — I share the concerns expressed by the Revd Philip Brent (Letters, 25 March) regarding “Retrenchment and survival” in the diocese of Lincoln (Features, 18 March). Some 15 years ago, I sat alongside Philip at a Lincoln clergy conference to hear from the then team of bishops their top-down vision for the development of “super” priests who would be the ones to take the Church forward into a “new era” for parish ministry.

Naturally, there would be fewer priests, but they would all be better trained and have personal qualities and gifts that would overcome all obstacles. As then, and thankfully now retired from parish ministry, I feel that the Church generally has its eye on the wrong ball in the search for a solution to the funding of Anglican mission.

The Church of England is the custodian of a rich built heritage, which arguably, however, stands in the way of mission. Reduced attendances at Anglican services may not be due to lack of interest in the new life of Christ; more probably, it may be that people are weary of the responsibility of managing church buildings.

The burden of heritage upkeep is tiresome, wearisome, and soul-destroying. The list of burdens is endless: complicated grant applications, cleaning down bat droppings before each service, the long-drawn-out faculty process to reorder or provide modern facilities, the high costs of maintenance.

It is far easier to walk away, as many do in my retirement diocese of Norwich, where alternative Christian fellowships, living Christian mission, are burgeoning. By way of contrast, in some Norfolk villages, no one can be found to be a keyholder, serve on the PCC, or act as a churchwarden.

The Archbishops and bishops discussing “radical reform” (News, 11 February) may wish to consider alternatives for the management of built heritage, and offer Christian fellowships a home. The priest is trained to serve the worshiping community and promote the Christian faith; the management of heritage assets requires unrelated skills. The built heritage could be considered a distinct enterprise, suitably funded, with oversight provided by the General Synod, where specialists may work with purpose, and strategies for conservation may be developed and applied.

Relieved of burdensome responsibilities, lay and ordained people could be free to direct energies towards mission. The confusion between money given to support Christian mission and money given to meet the cost of built heritage would be clarified to the benefit of both objectives.

7 High View Park, Cromer
Norfolk NR27 0HQ

Handling of allegations against Bishop Osborne

From Mr Malcolm McGreevy

Sir, — I am not in the habit of writing to newspapers, but I am concerned, as are a large number of the congregation in Llandaff Cathedral, at the inertia that we see in the handling of the allegation of bullying made by the Dean, the Very Revd Gerwyn Capon, against the Bishop of Llandaff, the Rt Revd June Osborne (News, 1 April).

In all well-run organisations, a serious allegation such as bullying would require immediate suspension of the person accused and a thorough and early investigation of the allegation. This has not happened in the Church in Wales. The initial complaint was made in early 2020, but, in the mean time, the Dean remains “on the sick” and on half-stipend, and the Bishop has not been suspended.

Since his initial complaint was made, others in the diocese have come forward with similar views and one, the Revd Vicki Burrows, a ministry-area leader, has described Llandaff as “unsafe” and has subsequently resigned. The congregation in Llandaff Cathedral has reduced in numbers as a result of this situation, and income is down inevitably.

This highlights three things. First, the constitution of the Church in Wales needs urgent revision. Second, clear and workable procedures in disciplinary matters of this type need to be introduced, and, third, the Church in Wales needs to act with honesty, transparency, and openness.

The complaint of bullying against Bishop Osborne is shortly to be heard by a Tribunal at which the Dean is to be represented by the joint registrar in the diocese of Salisbury, which is extraordinary, as this is where Bishop Osborne was previously Dean. We hope that it will result in a thorough investigation of the allegation, that the significant amount of evidence is considered, and that it will result in an open, transparent, and objective judgment that is open to scrutiny by the diocese.

Cilmeri, 24 Hardwicke Court
Llandaff, Cardiff CF5 2LB

Was the resurrection really a historical event?

From Canon Andrew Lenox-Conyngham

Sir, — The Revd Dr Cally Hammond describes the resurrection of Jesus Christ as “a historical event” (Sunday’s Readings, 14 April). Surely we have to be precise in our language when discussing this. The well-known historian A. J. P. Taylor defined — rightly, in my view — a historical event as one to which there were witnesses. In that sense, the crucifixion was undoubtedly a historical event, but the resurrection of Jesus was not. No one actually saw him rise from the dead.

Obviously that doesn’t mean that it didn’t happen. As Edwyn Bevan put it — in what I consider one of the best short works on Christianity — “whether Jesus did or did not rise from the dead, it is a historical fact that the belief that he rose from the dead was the belief of those first Christians from the earliest days.”

The resurrection of Jesus is a belief, based on the very strong evidence of the experience of those first Christians – and of Christians ever since. That belief can amount to experiential certainty but that doesn’t make the resurrection a historical event.

9 Hitches Lane
Birmingham B15 2LS

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