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Letters to the Editor

by
24 June 2022

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Queen Anne’s Bounty and slavery

From the Revd Andrew Hunt

Sir, — Seeing the report (News, 17 June) about the Church Commissioners’ funds having early links with the transatlantic slave trade prompts me to mention two elephants in the room, which are seldom brought to public attention.

The first is that this horrible commerce could not have existed without the actions of Africans themselves. Africans were sold by their own chiefs or by neighbouring tribes, who had conquered them. Coastal kingdoms/tribes mounted raids into the interior to capture their human merchandise and to take them to prisons on the west coast to await transportation to the West Indies/America by Europeans.

The triangular trade of slaves to the west and sugar to Europe was completed by the sale of arms and material goods to West Africans. This is well documented, and shows how the slave trade was thoroughly dependent on Africans themselves.

The second elephant in the room is the Arab slave trade, which operated along the east coast of Africa, between that coast and Southern and Eastern Europe, India, and Central Asia. Here, Arabs sometimes even mounted raids themselves into the interior to capture their human goods. Approximately 17 million slaves were sold eastwards by Arab slavers between the ninth and 19th centuries.

The European slave traders rivalled the Arabs by the 16th century, transporting between 12-20 million slaves westwards, of whom some 15 per cent perished on the sea voyage.

To omit these two elephants (there are probably many more) is to distort and diminish the truth and complexity of the slave trade. The whole historical context is crucial to understanding anything properly, and responding appropriately and at the appropriate time.

In a similar vein, it is crucial to know the whole context of the scriptures to understand them properly.

Some people today mistakenly take the scriptures of the Bible literally, without any knowledge of the historical and literary context that lies behind them, hugely influencing their content. For centuries, Christians did not read the scriptures literally, knowing full well that that was not how people wrote at the time.

Reading the scriptures literally is a relatively recent aberration, beginning perhaps in the mid-1800s in revivalist America, and can be found in other religions, too. It spreads its ignorant and nonsensical influence in parts of Christendom, Hinduism, Islam, etc., often resulting in violent fundamentalism. We see this today in Africa, the Middle East, America, India, France, Britain.

We always need the whole historical context, not just a few bits.

ANDREW HUNT
58a Cowl Street
Shepton Mallet
Somerset BA4 5EP


From the Revd Dr Ian K. Duffield

Sir, — Self-blame and self-flagellation are unedifying and self-defeating in the private realm, let alone the public realm. They are often a key cause of depression. Is that why the apology by the Archbishop of Canterbury for the way in which our ancestors invested their money 300 years ago, along with other investors in that period of history, makes me depressed about the Church of England?

No doubt, in another 300 years, we will be criticised, but I hope that there will be no apologies for our being inhabitants of this century and not another.

IAN K. DUFFIELD
Director of Research
Urban Theology Union
Victoria Methodist Hall
Norfolk Street, Sheffield S1 2JB


From the Revd Robert Gould

Sir, — The revelations are very sad, but there is a limit to what practical action would be helpful now, even if, to use the Prime Minister’s phrase, we “take full responsibility” for what happened 300 years ago. Taking the statue of Queen Anne from the front of St Paul’s and throwing it in the Thames doesn’t look very helpful.

What we might do is to think about the burden that we are putting on our descendants, should any survive, who will be asked to apologise for what we failed to do to avert climate catastrophe. As with slavery, the effects of this are hardest on the poorest in the world.

It was shown by Svante Arrhenius, in 1896, that molecules such as carbon dioxide in the atmosphere impede the radiation of heat by the earth, and hence that increasing their concentration raises the temperature. How much warning do we need?

ROBERT GOULD
80 Strathearn Road
Edinburgh EH9 2AF


From Mr David Wang

Sir, — To apologise and lament over the substantial benefit to church funds from the slave trade is welcome. I am so pleased that Archbishop Welby has used the term “restorative action”. To me, those words of moral leadership would carry true only weight if that meant action on restitution of those funds.

Returning £443 million would be a really good start. Wise discernment would be needed about what beneficiaries, of course, but oh! that would speak loud, I’ll wager — both inside and outside the Church.

DAVID WANG
121 East Acton Lane
London W3 7HB


Parishes and finance in the Oxford diocese

From the Secretary of the Diocese of Oxford

Sir, — Stephen Billyeald suggests that some Oxford diocesan initiatives are of debatable value (Letters, 17 June). We agree. Our largest areas of discretionary diocesan expenditure — on enabling new congregations (of all churchmanship and size); responding to the climate emergency; the provision of a Development Fund to support parishes and deaneries with their missionally creative projects — have all been thoroughly debated in the diocesan synod. Our £10-million environmental commitment (News, same issue) was supported by the synod after proper debate, and no one voting against. Without taking vital ministry from rural areas, we must also support areas of massive population growth.

Mission in the Church is carried out in the Church at national, diocesan, and local level. The majority will be at the level of the local parish, but there is plenty that is either helpfully enhanced or provided at diocesan level. For example, this year’s diocesan discipleship initiative, Come and See, attracted more than 1000 people per day through Lent, and the Space Makers contemplative toolkit is already being used in more than one third of our 284 church schools.

Our general reserves are around the level required by prudent management (3.2 months’ expenditure), owing to the tremendous generosity shown by our parishes. The reserves of our parishes vary substantially, many having been depleted by Covid, but many others having increased during 2020-21. Diocesan Stipends Fund money is applied only for stipends purposes, as is legally required. The pooling of glebe funds enables those funds to be allocated equitably according to need within a diocese. Those judged in greatest need of such support receive greater benefit through the parish-share allocation. Mutual support is key to the gospel and to our approach within and beyond the diocese.

We are regularly held accountable, and rightly so. Indeed, the majority of those making the diocesan allocation decisions are directly elected by parishes. Parishes are concerned about parish share, but they also want clergy to receive stipend increases, and clergy pay is the largest line in the diocesan budget.

In Oxford diocese, I am pleased to say that there has not been an increase in the average level of parish share for three years, despite increasing expenditure. It is to be celebrated that we are also able to invest monies in so many different places for the benefit of current and future generations.

MARK HUMPHRISS
Church House
Oxford OX5 1GF


From Mr Derek Wellman

Sir, — Stephen Billyeald repeats an old canard when he writes that under the Endowments and Glebe Measure 1976 all “parish glebe assets” were pooled into the dioceses. Glebe never was an asset of the parish or its parishioners, but formed part of the endowment of the incumbent’s benefice or living. The same is true of parsonage houses.

DEREK WELLMAN
52 Nettleham Road
Lincoln LN2 1RH


Calvin Robinson and the Church of England

From Mr Tom Middleton

Sir, — Diana Jones (Letters, 17 June) writes: “Calvin Robinson . . . is fundamentally opposed to the ordination of women. One might have expected Canon Tilby, as an ordained woman, to find this archaic view unacceptable — but apparently not.”

I shall leave the rights and wrongs of the Calvin Robinson affair to others; but it does need to be pointed out that the Church of England has been gracious enough to protect the minority position — that of opposing the ordination of women to the priesthood and to the episcopate — through its Declaration on the Ministry of Bishops and Priests, which includes the Five Guiding Principles.

More than anything, this is an important ecumenical statement, as it implicitly acknowledges the theological position adopted by the great Churches of the East and of the West. Further, here in England, it enables the Anglican Shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham to continue to flourish under the Catholic faith, as handed down to us in the Church of England from previous generations.

TOM MIDDLETON
Director of Forward in Faith
2A The Cloisters, Gordon Square
London WC1H 0AG


Effect of multi-academy trusts on LEA schools

From the Revd Richard Martin

Sir, — As a foundation governor of two church schools in a diocesan multi-academy trust (MAT), I read your article about the education White Paper (Education, 10 June) with interest. Clearly, there will be an impact on church schools if this is implemented. I was, however, disappointed that its impact on local-education-authority (LEA) schools did not feature.

As I understand it, LEA schools that have not already been swallowed up by MATs, usually the neediest, will be forced into academisation. If no MAT will take them on, the LEA will have to create a MAT to accommodate them. What impact will this have on these schools, staff, and pupils? If we as a Church care for every child in the country, we should not just think about protecting our own rights and privileges.

RICHARD MARTIN
Church House, Cornfield Drive
Hardwicke GL2 4QJ


LGBTQI Africans have been erased and ignored

From the Revd Dr Charlie Bell

Sir, — While the tetchy letter of response from the Primates of Rwanda, Uganda, and Nigeria (News, 10 June) can hardly have been pleasant reading for the Archbishop of Canterbury in relation to the utopian dreams of peace in the Communion, yet again a key group of people have inevitably been ignored in the response: LGBTQI Rwandans, Ugandans, and Nigerians. Yet again, they are seen as cannon fodder: erased by their own Primates and ignored by ours.

It is not good enough to pit “the West” against “Africa” in communion dynamics — the situation is far more complex. Yet one theme — that of supporting the patriarchal system, whether here or abroad — is consistent. We are not trying to keep everyone in the tent: we are pandering to the patriarchal, homophobic mores of particular church hierarchies.

Until we stand up for our LGBTQI fellow Christians around the world, we are allowing politics to trump basic human fellow-feeling. This cannot go on.

CHARLIE BELL
Girton College
Cambridge CB3 0JG


Not the UK’s stain

From Mr A. T. Spillett

Sir, — In response to the letter from Liz Jones (Letters, 10 June): surely the “stain upon the reputation of our country” is one for France to bear.

As a First World country on an equal footing with the UK, why does it keep refugees kept in such appalling conditions? As the European Union rules state that refugees should be administered at the country of entry, why are they massing in France, and not being dealt with in those other countries?

Is it that the EU is unfriendly? Is it that the EU is a danger to refugees? Is it that EU is so poor it cannot afford to feed, house, and respect those refugees? Are refugees in danger from persecution in the EU? Matters must be unbelievably bad if they cannot bear to live in such a prosperous continent.

That refugees in France are being so badly treated, as Ms Jones states, is indeed a stain; but I doubt it is the UK’s stain.

ALYN SPILLETT
2 Raynham Road, Belford
Northumberland NE70 7NS


Hunger for spirituality among the younger clergy

From Canon David Goodacre

Sir, — It is now a year since the Chelmsford Diocesan House of Retreat, in Pleshey, celebrated the work of Evelyn Underhill in an online conference. She and people like Reginald Somerset Ward, Percy Dearmer, and Rose Macaulay — all featured in a recent book by Jane Shaw (Books, 30 November 2018) — represented an important Anglican tradition of spirituality. They taught a spiritual way for the secular married priest and the lay person of a typical Anglican parish. It is a tradition that was continued by Martin Thornton in the 1960s, Gordon Mursell in his two-volume history in the 1980s, and more recently in the writings of the Littlemore Group. Are we now at a point when we once again need to refresh this tradition for our Church today?

Several Newcastle colleagues have spoken of a hunger for spirituality among the younger clergy, some of whom seem unfamiliar with what Anglican spirituality might be. Add to this the much greater size of so many parishes, and the extent of the priestly task, the dictum of someone such as Somerset Ward — and, indeed, my father, who continued RSW’s work — becomes increasingly important.

They taught that a priest should first of all be a person of prayer; second, one who reads and studies and cares for their family; and only then — from such a sure foundation — to engage with the work.

I have noticed, over many years of spiritual direction, how clergy, even in the days when they had only one church and parish to care for, found it difficult to allow time for prayer. Having several parishes now should not make it any more difficult, if their priorities are right.

Do we need a large conference to think this through? There is to be a Zoom meeting sometime in the autumn or coming winter to explore a way forward, possibly followed by a couple of 24-hour seminars, one in the south, one in the north. For these, a limited number of participants will be invited to prepare a short paper on the subject. Then perhaps the conference!

DAVID GOODACRE
9 Wilmington Close
Newcastle upon Tyne NE3 2SF

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