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Letters to the Editor

by
25 March 2022

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The Lincoln strategy: A Time to Change Together

From the Revd Philip Brent

Sir, — I was deeply concerned when I saw “Retrenchment and survival” (Features, 18 March). As a cleric of 25 years’ standing, 22 of which have been in the diocese of Lincoln, I wondered how balanced the piece would be. As I feared, most people quoted were either senior clergy or part of the Time to Change Together (TTCT) team, and, as one would expect, are therefore bullish and upbeat about something that they are basically pushing forward.

The one thing that continues to upset me is that those who challenge this process or criticise it are accused of being unable to embrace change and of being frightened to move forward in their ministry or mission. They are, as your article quotes, seen as those who “distract our ministers from the task of building, restoring and re-forming the mission churches which offer the best change of survival, flourishing and growth”. This is almost as patronising as being called “limiting factors”, as the clergy were last year.

As stated several times in the article, how clergy deployment is to happen hasn’t been decided. After each benefice has been asked to consider the cost of stipendiary clergy, there is a fear in areas such as Scunthorpe, with some of the highest deprivation in England, that we won’t have clergy because we can’t pay and that the “wealthy south” (where I was previously a rector and rural dean) will have all the clergy.

Areas of deprivation, both urban and rural, will have not only a shortage of clergy, but also the inability to encourage lay ministers, either because of low attendance, ageing congregations, or lack of vocations to such ministry. It is not clear where such areas will be able to get such ministers to help.

Despite the claim that clergy well-being is now a priority, many clergy I speak with talk of burnout, fatigue, and increased isolation. Many with less than five years to go until retirement are now retiring to “get out before it’s too late”. Those of us with 15 or more years to go have serious concerns.

As with all these initiatives, there is a dislocation from the decision-making and what is happening on the ground. Senior clergy surround themselves with like-minded people and sycophants and don’t hear the words of caution and concern. There also seems to be a total lack of theology and spirituality behind this and many other initiatives, too.

A question is often raised: why is the national Church after Lincoln’s historical resources, when the Church Commissioners are sitting on £9 billion? Surely, using just a fraction of this across the whole of the Church of England would help parishes, clergy, and vocations. An archdeacon in the diocese of Lincoln has been known to tell parishes that they shouldn’t sit on reserves “for a rainy day” when it is pouring now. Surely the same could be said of the Commissioners’ money?

Your article ended by suggesting all eyes are now on Lincoln to see if this works, which is a concern enough for the whole Church.

PHILIP BRENT
The Vicarage, Vicarage Gardens
Scunthorpe DN15 7AZ


From Stephen Billyeald and Emma Robarts

Sir, — Madeleine Davies paints a very sorry picture of the diocese of Lincoln. Her article states that Lincoln, although the second largest diocese geographically, has the lowest parish-share giving of any diocese (around half of the national average); this must say something about the value that donors feel they are getting from its financial managers. Are these managers the same people who are now selling the ‘family silver’ to fund an annual operating deficit of £3 million?

If Lincoln diocese was once the wealthiest in the country, it certainly isn’t now; the diocese of Oxford has £73 million more glebe funds and more than four times the value of parsonage houses. It is a travesty that Lincoln has failed so miserably in caring for its assets in such a heritage-laden part of our country.

Where is the accountability for such mismanagement? The Bishop of Grimsby is quoted as saying that Lincoln plans more clergy reductions, despite its being “the diocese that proved that cutting stipendiary clergy is disastrous”. Rather than embark on more restructuring of parishes, perhaps this diocese should be put into special measures, whereby (i) its bureaucracy is put into the hands of a financially competent diocese, (ii) all the ordained staff from Church House, including archdeacons, are put into parishes, and (iii) the space thereby made vacant in Church House is let out.

Only when parish ministry has recovered should consideration be given to re-establishing the diocesan HQ, and only then in a greatly slimmed-down and competent form.

STEPHEN BILLYEALD (Oxford diocese)
EMMA ROBARTS (St Albans diocese)
c/o 16 Briars Close
Pangbourne
Berkshire RG8 7LH


Children and youth adviser’s work for parishes

From Canon Peter White

Sir, — When the Church is aiming to be younger and more diverse, how does it make sense to cut the Children and Youth Adviser post (News, 18 March)?

The Revd Mary Hawes has worked tirelessly and sacrificially to serve the network of diocesan children, youth, and family advisers, among many other aspects of the post. She brought incredible experience, knowledge, wisdom, and creativity, which will not easily be replaced. It is hard to see how her specialist support for parish ministry through supporting the adviser network will be offered by “strategy consultants”.

Diocesan-adviser appointments require a broad range of knowledge and skills, including advising on employing workers, setting up new groups, training clergy, advising on youth-culture trends, and advising bishops on strategy, as well as exploring theological perspectives. All of this and more has been aided by the expertise provided by our national adviser.

Diocesan youth and children’s advisers have been working on developing a younger Church for many years; our job, I believe, has just been made much harder.

PETE WHITE
Director of Children and Youth, Peterborough diocese
10 Foxglove Close
Northampton NN4 5DD


Wording prayer in the current international crisis

From the Rt Revd Robert Paterson

Sir, — Once again, Canon Angela Tilby hits the nail on its head with her suggestions for prayer in a time of crisis (Comment, 11 March).

I found myself looking at my copy of Common Worship Daily Prayer, covered in pencilled amendments, not least to those annoying antiphons, convoluted sentences, and the over-use of “as”.

A worrying sign is the tentative nature of intercessory prayer: we pray on almost every line that something “may” happen, which presumably also hints that it may not; so we’d better hedge our bets.

My wise old training incumbent nearly half a century ago warned me away from the repeated use of “may” and “might”. He suggested that, if I am committed to my prayer and I believe it to be right to ask, I should pray that it “will” happen

I pray today that God will (in Canon Tilby’s words) “pour down the peace from above” and “quench the rage of war” in Ukraine and around the world.

ROBERT PATERSON
Cedar House, 63 Greenhill
Evesham WR11 4LX


The marriage service for same-sex couples

From the Revd Dr Jeffrey John

Sir, — Whatever Angela Tilby intended to say about same-sex mar­riage in last week’s article (Comment, 18 March), her conclusion sounds dis­tinctly hostile: “It is pious sentimentality to think that truly ‘equal marriage’ is possible, even if you con­sider it desirable.”

Not surprisingly, these words have been eagerly picked up by homophobic websites.

Contrary to what she suggests, churches that already solemnise same-sex weddings have not found it difficult to provide equal liturgies, with minimal adaptation and with­out changing their doctrine of marriage.

The covenant theology that says that marriage reflects the union between Christ and his Church is equally applicable to a same-sex couple; the vows of unbreakable, lifelong commitment are the same; Christ’s presence at Cana can still be recalled; and if a reference to childbirth is omitted, that is already permissible, since a childless marriage is acknowledged still to be fully a marriage.

Nevertheless, Canon Tilby believes that marrying same-sex couples means changing the doctrine of marriage. Why?

All her observations about liturgical change, gender symbolism, and the sexual dimorphism of creation were deployed in just the same way to argue against the ordination of women. Did ordaining women change the Church’s doctrine of ordination? Is it “pious sentimentality” for a woman priest to think that her priesthood is equal to a man’s?

Equal marriage is not a theoretical possibility: it is a reality now for many same-sex couples, including many faithful Christians. Demeaning them — doctrinally or otherwise — harms the Church as much at it hurts them.

JEFFREY JOHN
St George’s Anglican Church
7 Rue Auguste Vacquerie
75116 Paris


From G. M. Lyon

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby considers the doctrine of marriage but not the doctrine of the Trinity, with which same-sex “marriage” (we have always had equal marriage) seems incompatible.

Were not all three Persons active in creation when God instituted (complementary-sex) marriage? Is the triune God not all-powerful and all-wise and, therefore, perfect in his choice of which era and society the Son should become incarnate? Should we not “listen to him” when the Father’s beloved Son gives clear teaching on marriage and sexual sin?

Does the Spirit “speak only what he hears” or “speak on his own” (John 16) on marriage and sexual sin? Do the three Persons say to each other, “This is my truth — tell me yours”? Or has the one eternal God decided that contemporary Western man knows better than him?

G. M. LYON
13 New Acres, Newburgh
Wigan, Lancashire WN8 7TU


‘Seated one day . . .’

From Dr N. P. Hudd

Sir, — I write not as an organist (cackles of laughter from church choir here), but as a physician. The relative height of bench (News, 25 February; Letter, 18 March) and pedals must also relate to the keyboard(s). So, at least two of those parameters should, if possible, be adjustable. Car drivers and computer users know all this. The electric basis of vast numbers of organs now ought to make this perfectly possible

N. P. HUDD
Consultant physician
13 Elmfield, Tenterden
Kent TN30 6RE

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