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Letters to the Editor

25 November 2022


Christianity and Remembrance

From the Revd Andrew Myers

Sir, — Canon Andrew Dow’s letter (18 November) made me tremble. Many Anglicans will share his view that the Festival of Remembrance is becoming less Christian — on the understanding of Christianity’s embodying teachings of Jesus which are diametrically opposed to violence and nationalistic militarism — when, all over the country, we have witnessed its growing militarism and celebration of chauvinism and nationalism since the 1960s.

I, before I retired as a working-class left-of-centre priest, spent years compromising the understanding of the teachings of Jesus on Remembrance Sundays especially. I repent of this. In my view, the teachings of Jesus are diametrically opposed to war and nationalism of all kinds. I can’t stomach the overt militarism and nationalism any more.

I am proud to be trying to be woke. I believe that the God revealed in Jesus does not sit well with nationalism, militarism, or monarchism, or racism, or sexism, or hierarchies of any kind. I hope that our new King will show how much he has embraced Christianity by abandoning the earthly throne and all its militaristic trappings and giving at least most of his enormous wealth to the poor at a time of our deepest crisis.

I was also astounded at the Canon’s characterisation of “Jerusalem” as “scarcely Christian”. Well, if the Canon means the wrongful interpretation of Blake’s utterly radical Christian poem by many who see it as a celebration of British nationalism, then I’m with him. But it’s fairly clear that this isn’t what he means.

Blake’s form of religion, for me, is deeply misunderstood when we hear “Jerusalem” as some kind of sentimental national anthem. His faith meant that he couldn’t stomach the inequalities and sufferings of the poorest in the society of his day in the dark satanic mills: could Jesus the prince of love and equality have visited this land, where the rich Establishment’s wealth was earned by labour of slaves and children and the oppressed working class? No!

This is the response to Blake’s question which his song clearly demanded. “Jerusalem”, in this sense, is profoundly Christian.

In response to Mr Cavaghan-Pack (Letters, same issue), I pray that more clergy, like the Bishop of Durham, will be bold in “rediscovering” the radical message of Jesus so clearly presented by Blake, and advocate the welfare and welcoming of migrants, following Matthew 25, as many churches do in their inspired projects. Borders are man-made and often painful. Making room for the stranger is not an optional extra for Christians.

6 Lyndon Avenue
Garforth, Leeds LS25 1DZ

Different approaches to the parishes’ challenges

From the Revd Simon Douglas Lane

Sir, — The news from Chelmsford (Comment, 18 November, 8 July; News, 23 September) seems more encouraging, with a reminder that we are a spiritual organisation, not one that flourishes under micro-management.

My experiences on moving from one parish to another lead me to believe that, for once, a secular model for succession planning would be beneficial, and, with an industrial background in training, development, and succession planning, I put it to good use. I gave my parish and Area Bishop seven months’ warning of my retirement. When I left on 1 February 2013, the advertisement for my parish vacancy appeared four days later, and my successor was operational from 8 July.

Back in 2004, I attended my then area clergy conference. One of the speakers was the Archdeacon of Walsall (name forgotten, I fear), who led a presentation on the damage done by interregnums that go on too long. Percentage declines in the congregation were identified: anything over 18 months, and the loss can be 75 per cent. The task of rebuilding the congregation is exceedingly difficult, and, all the while, full parish share is normally demanded.

The optimistic “parishes having time to reflect” is a euphemism for just another way of not having to pay a stipend. This is a false economy, as the financial loss of an unnecessarily long interregnum is greater than that of a short vacancy with a new incumbent. All too often, the wishes of the parish regarding the candidate that they would like to have are overridden by the hierarchy, with dire results, such that the work of the previous incumbent is undone. Even more alarming is a candidate’s being imposed after an interregnum running into years, which, again, is seldom beneficial.

So, for once, let’s encourage this particular secular process, and wave goodbye to the ones that really do inhibit growth and the proclamation of the gospel.

30a Belgrade Road, Hampton
Middlesex TW12 2AZ

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — It would appear there is one rule for appointing an incumbent and another for the appointment of a suffragan bishop. Mr Barry Ewbank writes that his parish is following the guidelines, in that it could not begin to advertise for a new incumbent until the previous person had left their post (Letters, 18 November).

In contrast, the Bishop of Manchester had an advertisement in the Church Times on 14 October stating that the Bishop of Bolton would retire on 28 February 2023. People with suggestions to fill the forthcoming vacancy should write to him by 6 November.

It would suggest that an appointment will be made before the current postholder retires. The same was true in the diocese of Exeter where the bishop appointed a new bishop of Plymouth before the previous person retired.

10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Dorset BH6 3PN

From the Revd James Dwyer

Sir, — I smiled wryly to myself when I opened the Comment pages last week. On the left-hand page was an article praising the Bishop of Chelmsford’s move away from centrally dictated vision and strategy, while on the right-hand page was an article outlining six steps to growing ministry with teenagers.

Both articles were excellent: a glimpse, perhaps, of mixed ecology in action?

The Vicarage, Chapel Road
Flackwell Heath
Buckinghamshire HP10 9AA

Counter-urbanisation and the village churches

From the Revd Barry Osborne

Sir, — I applaud the article by Bishop Brian Castle (Comment, 11 November). The trend, for those who can afford it, to move to the countryside has had a huge effect on rural life. Back in the 1960s, when this trend began to be noticeable, it was possible to make a distinction between the incomers and the indigenous. Now, in many villages, “they” outnumber “us”.

In those earlier years, there was an observable trend for the incomers to attend the local church, even if they were not regular churchgoers previously. It was seen as one of the main ways to belong to the community. That trend seems to have ceased.

The first two points in Dr Castle’s article focus on the distinctiveness of each village. In our experience, this is a vital factor. It is inappropriate to take a one-size-fits-all solution to the challenges that rural churches face. More time and care need to be taken to ensure that strategies for mission and growth are tailored to those distinctives. Rural Mission Solutions works in benefices on that principle.

Generally speaking, PCCs feel overwhelmed by the cost of maintaining their buildings and their parish share. The only answer, as the Bishop points out, is a partnership between the church and the wider village community. Since what draws urban people to the countryside is the character of villages, there is potential to encourage their involvement in maintaining a major landmark. With a little wisdom, this could even become a missional opportunity.

CEO of Rural Mission Solutions
4 Clarence Street
Market Harborough LE16 7NE

From the Revd Dr Robert Barlow

Sir, — Dr Castle rightly draws attention to central church bodies’ viewing rural churches through urban or suburban lenses. He writes of alienation and misunderstanding, and the need for the Church in rural areas to be sufficiently resourced.

Might a first step in addressing this issue be to reinstate the post of National Rural Officer, a post created by the General Synod and held with great effectiveness, but quietly axed, with little or no discussion, in the post-Covid confusion?

Oak House, Rhyse Lane
Tenbury, Worcs WR15 8NH

Dr Croft’s reflections
on holy matrimony

From the Revd Dr Sean Cathie

Sir, — I wish to comment on the way in which the Oxford Evangelicals take issue with their Bishop over his booklet of personal reflections on LLF and raise the issue of separate oversight (News, 11 November).

Talk of separate oversight weaponises the issue: it is a flight-fight response that evades the great task of witnessing to Christ. It is easier to promote internal conflict than to work together on a task that does not offer easy results. The result is that society sees how bitterly these Christians fight one another.

Second, they take their stand on scripture, but pointedly fail to acknowledge tradition and reason. This fails to honour the centuries-long practice of the Church, which Anglicanism made explicit, when it linked scripture to tradition and reason, and which Methodists suggestively expanded to include experience.

By emphasising scripture as they do, they suggest that they alone occupy the high ground. Yet they, too, like all of us, necessarily draw on tradition and reason to interpret scripture. This is less than honest.

16 Riverview Court, Bridge Street
Hereford HR4 9BQ

From the Revd Joseph Farrell

Sir, — The Bishop of Oxford has recently proposed that the clergy of the Church of England should now be authorised to officiate at the marriages of same-sex couples in church, something already permitted in certain parts of the Anglican Communion and elsewhere.

Surely this contradicts the words that preface the solemnisation of matrimony in the Book of Common Prayer? There, we find three reasons for which matrimony was ordained: first, for the procreation of children; second, for a remedy against sin — to keep themselves undefiled members of Christ’s body; third, for mutual society, help, and comfort, into which holy estate these two persons present come now to be joined. As it says at the beginning of the admonition: “To join this Man and this Woman in holy Matrimony.”

How can these words be applied to a same-sex couple?

JOSEPH FARRELL (Roman Catholic priest)
2b Langdale Gardens
Elm Park, Essex RM12 5LA

Should there be a return to ‘Sunday best’?

From the Revd Richard Adams

Sir, — I was interested in Paul Minter’s letter (18 November). But I think he misses three significant points.

First, for many people, dressing up in more formal clothing feels slightly uncomfortable, and coming to worship is made easier by feeling relaxed.

Second, the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector reminds us of the dangers of focusing on externals.

Third, the King that we worship is everywhere all the time, not only in our churches on Sundays: he looks on our hearts 24/7; so there is no point in trying to impress.

Tros y Mor, Llangoed, Beaumaris
Anglesey LL58 8SB

From the Revd Simon Rundell

Sir, — Mr Minter calls for us to dress at our best to meet the King of Kings. I, however, would advocate the advice of the Prophet Kurt Cobain to “Come as you are,” because whatever is worn will be washed clean by the blood of the Lamb (Revelation 7.14).

The Vicarage, 33 Leat Walk
Roborough, Plymouth
Devon PL6 7AT

Worthy of her hire

Sir, — It was encouraging to read about the Archbishop of York’s equating the Living Wage with the biblical principle of the worker’s being worthy of his or her hire (Leader comment, 18 November). I must point it out to my recently ordained, non-stipendary-curate wife when she returns from leading the service and delivering the sermon this morning.


Red-letter day for the bicycling enthusiasts

From the Revd Graeme Holdsworth and the Revd Grace Thomas

Sir, — We would like to invite clergy who ride bicycles to join us for a sociable ride on World Bicycle Day next year (3 June 2023).

Our hope is to use the opportunity that World Bicycle Day presents to demonstrate that clergy are aware of the personal, social, and environmental benefits of cycling. In addition, we hope to promote the concept that cycling is a practical way to have a visible presence within our benefices, one that allows us to carry out our ministry with a light environmental footprint.

We do, of course, understand that not every cyclist in the Church is ordained, and that not everyone is able to cycle, and we’re certainly not trying to make anyone feel left out. All we hope is that, by sharing the joy that we feel in cycling, we might be a source of encouragement for others.

Should anyone wish to join us, please contact either of us by email. Should no one be interested, don’t be worried about us: we’ll just be going for a ride and some cake together.

c/o The Vicarage, Station Road
Slaithwaite HD7 5AW
Emails to: graeme.holdsworth@leeds.anglican.org

Disappearance of the clerical voice

From the Revd Dr M. A. Johnson

Sir, — Whatever happened to the clerical voice in which the Almighty was addressed as Lard or Gard? When I was young, the local Norfolk rector used very flowery language, and I remember him asking at a church gathering “Which of you lovely ladies will get me a cup of tea?” Today he would be told to get it himself.

1 Foxgrove Drive
Woking GU21 4DZ

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