Pro-fossil-fuel lobbying at COP27
From the Revd David Haslam
Sir, — Lord Harries was right to point to the progress on a fund for “loss and damage” at COP27, but a key issue absent from his article was the part played by the oil companies (Comment, 2 December). While fossil-fuel lobbyists at COP26 were more than 500, their number increased by more than 100 at COP 27.
Their part in the current climate crisis was revealed in the BBC documentary Big Oil against the World, with three episodes of one hour each, and available on i-Player. There are interviews with several people who worked for Exxon and other companies who had believed they were working to alleviate climate change, but now much regret their involvement.
Perhaps the key moment in the investigation was when the Republican Senator Chuck Hagel was asked about the lobbying of the oil companies in the late 1990s and the 2000s to help to win key votes, and said simply: “They lied to us.” As they have continued to do since, action which can justly be described in biblical terms as demonic.
Meanwhile, the Church of England retains substantial shareholdings in companies whose genuine commitment to 1.5° is deeply questionable. A “loss and damage” fund may just begin to compensate for the past but unless Big Oil, and its lobbying of government, is stopped, the future will indeed be turbulent; currently, the demons are winning.
59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG
Vibrant campus chaplaincy: a thing of the past?
From Thelma Mitchell
Sir, — The Rt Revd Graham James (Diary, 18 November) wrote: “On my first Sunday at the University of Lancaster [LU] I wondered whether to rouse myself . . . to go to the service at the Chaplaincy Centre. . . The influence of those I met at the chaplaincy helped me to offer for myself eventually for ordination.”
That is not going to happen today. On a recent visit, mid-term, I found the University of Lancaster Chaplaincy Centre immaculate, but empty. In the Anglican/Free Church chapel, the chairs were pushed right back, and there was no sign or notice of services anywhere.
My memories of the Chaplaincy Centre during my time as a mature student at LU during the late 1980s was of a vibrant, dynamic, slightly chaotic, and fully supportive spiritual hub. I am not sure that I would have stayed the course without it. It provided a safe environment for the lost, the lacking in confidence, and, of course, those of faith. We loved to meet there to discuss issues of morality, religion, and ethics, as well as to enjoy the coffee bar — now walled up — and open house in the two chaplaincy flats above, where we met many interesting people, and firm, lasting friendships were made.
There was a sharing in times of joy and of sorrow, hurts, and disappointment, as well as mutual support between staff, students, the chaplains. It was a place for students exploring their identities, where we were able to share in rich diversity of tradition and spirituality. Often, younger students have not experienced life’s vicissitudes and griefs. We were there for each other.
Campus universities provide the last enclosed place for students with a living faith to share their beliefs and demonstrate their meaning for them. Seven of my peer group have been ordained as Anglican priests since, one is a diocesan secretary, and many of us are lay chaplains, Readers, and active members of churches. It was beyond disappointing and disheartening to find the chaplaincy sterile and empty.
Campus-university chaplaincies are uniquely placed to be a joint point of worship, a compact missional opportunity, within a church body desperate to be missional, and crying out for spiritual support and the preaching of the gospel.
34 Adcock Drive
Warwickshire CV8 2RB
Calling the Ukraine war ‘just’ is problematic
From Mr Stephen Cooper
Sir, — In his interview after his trip to Ukraine (News, 9 December), the Archbishop of Canterbury unequivocally declares the war in Ukraine to be a just war in Christian terms, at least from a Ukrainian perspective.
I struggle when Christian leaders call any war just in Christian terms. We follow Jesus, who taught us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us. Whatever that looks like, it doesn’t look like war.
Wars happen because of human pride, greed, and the desire for power. They are always an evil, a failure of our humanity and of our politics. For the Church to give ourselves and our politicians the fig leaf of a “just war” to hide behind simply compounds the issue.
We may choose to go to war, and, were I in a Ukranian’s position, I might well choose to do so; but I shouldn’t be pretending that the evil of war is a justified good.
7 St Mary’s Street
Clitheroe BB7 2HH
Cut out the rubbish, and give parishes priority
From the Revd Simon Grigg
Sir, — While I don’t always agree with Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 16 December), her devastating analysis of the current hierarchy of the Church of England is absolutely correct.
I have, for years, been confused: are we confident, compassionate, creative (London), growing, nurturing, serving (Manchester), walking, welcoming, growing (Southwark), or, most egregiously of all (and stop sniggering at the back), younger, wider, deeper (Southwell)? I think of all of them as “fiddly-tiddly-tum”: meaningless Number 10-lite advertising slogans, which at least give the bishops something to do (in the absence of pastoral care), and (up to a point) stop them from interfering in parish life, which is just as well, since many have little or no parish experience anyway.
But this rubbish is merely the tip of the iceberg. Let’s stand it up with some figures. In 1959, there were 13,075 stipendiary clergy and 250 diocesan support staff in the Church of England. In 2022, there are 7210 stipendiary clergy and 6500 diocesan support staff. There is the problem — oh, and the numbers in church dropped from two million to 700,000 during that period.
It is time to recognise that the 40-year experiment of centralising the Church of England has been a disastrous failure.
Now, it is no good looking to the current bishops to change course: they are both cause and product of this catastrophic path. They collude, of course. Parishes (unless you are HTB) are starved of clergy, and you have the (un)official policy of stringing out interregna as long as possible (unless you are HTB or a bishop). So, no hope there.
But the rest of the Church must rise up, insist that the still massive resources of the Church are returned to parishes, cull the central hierarchy, stop the endless creation of new bishoprics — along with all the other daft “initiatives” — and restore the parish system that served the people of England so well for 1000 years.
St Paul’s Church
London WC2E 9ED
From Mr Jonathan Baird
Sir, — David Lamming (Letter, 2 December) points out that the Patronage (Benefices) Measure 1986, as amended by the Legislative Reform (Patronage of Benefices) Order 2019, enables a bishop to initiate the process of finding a new incumbent as soon as he or she is “aware that the benefice is shortly to become vacant by reason of resignation or cession”.
If so, why on earth do we continue to have an interregnum for stipendiary clergy?
Such interruption of service would not be tolerated in the secular world. Think of the air-traffic controller or the signalman on the railways.
Ideally, if the incumbent’s removal van pulls out of the parsonage on a Monday, a replacement’s should pull in on the Tuesday. Seamless service would help parishes to survive.
Why is it denied? To save money? As the Revd Simon Douglas Lane points out (Letter, 25 November), this is a false economy. To subsidise bloated diocesan bureaucracy? To drive decline? To compensate for the paucity of clergy numbers?
Concerning the last, the Church has known for more than a decade that 20 per cent of its clergy are due to retire between 2020 and 2025. Why is it not ramping up significantly the training of stipendiary clergy? Only an unspecified portion of less than 11 per cent of the next triennial budget is to be spent on such training, while vast sums are to be frittered away elsewhere on uncosted vanity projects.
There is no excuse for the continuance of the interregnum for stipendiary clergy. To address it, there needs to be a seismic shift in the relevant diocesan culture.
Perhaps a good starting point would be the naming and shaming of slothful bishops.
General Synod member
Flint Cottage, Conock
Wiltshire SN10 3QQ
Honest to God, 60 in 2023, explains the Census report
From Mr Ben Whitney
Sir, — The results of the Census (News, 2 December, Letters, 9 December) should come as a surprise to no one; and, of course, the level of actual participation in Christian worship is way lower than nominal adherence. But the responses that I have seen still avoid the most fundamental issue. Belief in a supernatural God is now impossible for most people. It will be 60 years next year since Honest to God, John Robinson’s short and prophetic book, which recognised that you cannot modernise the presentation of the Jesus story without also updating the content.
Once the idea of a cosmic Being is abandoned, as has already been done by all, but a small and ever-diminishing remnant, the message becomes about what makes us fully human, not about what is required of us by an external deity. Jesus becomes “the man for others”, not “a once-for-all sacrifice for the sins of all people”. The sacred/secular distinction disappears, and all of life becomes sacramental; an opportunity to find the meaning and depth to all our experience.
Until Christians wake up to this, further decline is simply inevitable.
14 Balfour Crescent
Wolverhampton WV6 0BJ
Ecumenical fellowship for autistic Christians
From the Revd Mr Mark Paine
Sir, — I am a permanent deacon of the archdiocese of Birmingham, and I am autistic. Since I was ordained, I have been looking for an ecumenical group for clergy like me. There appears to be nothing of that nature in the UK; so, in the absence of anyone else, I am taking the initiative and setting one up. Why?
My own experience is that autistic clergy and non-neurotypical Christians in general face challenges and issues that are not faced by the neurotypical majority, and, because of a lack of understanding, we are largely left to cope and muddle through as best we can. Personally, I would find it incredibly valuable to share my experiences with other autistic clergy, and I am sure others feel the same.
Going forward, perhaps we can collectively act as a voice for our non-neurotypical sisters and brothers in the Church.
Please contact me at the address below if you are interested. Let’s see where the Spirit takes us.
17 Linnet Close, Bournville
Birmingham B30 1XB
Focusing on shortages
From Mr Andrew Graystone
Sir, — The Church is meeting the shortage of parish priests by appointing focal ministers (Comment, 9 December). Perhaps this model could be extended to other professions in short supply. It’s easy to see the possibilities for focal opticians. Focal dentists might fill a few gaps.
17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG