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Letters to the Editor

27 May 2022


Ecumenical relations with the Moscow Patriarchate

From Canon Jeremy Morris

Sir, — The correspondence of Canon Oestreicher and Lord Williams (Comment, 20 May) is a sobering reminder, if we needed any at this time, that Christians of the deepest conviction and seriousness, in close moral agreement, can disagree on strategic matters. Few people can have witnessed the appalling atrocities of the past three months in Ukraine, knowing that they have been in part sanctioned by the Patriarch of Moscow, and not felt revulsion at the stance that he has taken. The sense of moral outrage that we feel would surely be expiated by the decisive act of cutting the Russian Church out of the world Christian community.

But there are strong reasons to doubt the efficacy of expulsion. Expelling the Moscow Patriarchate from the World Council of Churches (WCC) would be an unprecedented, almost irrevocable, action. It would remove at one sweep the largest Orthodox Church in the world from the WCC, and, given the recent history of anxiety about Orthodox membership (involving other Churches than just the Russian one), and non-membership of the Roman Catholic Church, risk reducing the WCC to something like a Protestant rump in the worldwide Church. It would be likely to reinforce the siege mentality that has fuelled Patriarch Kirill’s apparent association with extreme nationalism.

Something is made in the correspondence of the Deutsche Christen movement in the 1930s. The WCC did not exist then, but it would almost certainly have been impossible for the movement to join, had momentum for the creation of a World Council come to fruition before the war and issued in a statement of faith akin to the current “Basis”. But what is forgotten is that the Deutsche Christen movement was a failure, and Hitler quickly abandoned it himself. It did not unite the Protestant Churches behind the Nazi banner.

The Confessing Church was a minority — but a small minority — of German Protestantism. Most German Protestants were neither Confessing nor Deutsche Christen; they remained members of their state Churches. Martin Niemöller was an early supporter of Hitler and an anti-Semite, who then gravitated away from anti-Semitism and the Nazi Party. Bishop Theodor Heckel was neither a Nazi nor a Deutscher Christ, but he supported the Aryan paragraphs in Nazi legislation, and was on the Continuation Committee of Faith and Order, which led to the creation of the WCC, throughout the 1930s. In other words, an anti-Semite was involved in the formulation of international ecumenical policy. The history is messy, and no one’s hands are completely clean.

So is this situation messy. We know that many Russian Orthodox clergy and people oppose the war, both inside Russia itself and outside. We know also that the peculiar combination of suspicion of the West and loathing of the outsider which fuels the Holy Russia ideology, at least in the language of Patriarch Kirill, although an extreme expression, echoes some tensions with deep roots in Russian history. What, I would suggest, is not needed now is complete isolation for the Russian Church.

The sense that the Patriarchate should not be given a fig-leaf of legitimacy via membership of the WCC reflects a powerful sense of revulsion. But surely there is a comparison here with the UN? No country has ever been expelled from the UN, though provision exists in its Charter. In other words, through the Vietnam War, apartheid, the Iran-Iraq War, the invasion of Afghanistan, the Yugoslav civil war, the Syrian civil war, to name but a few cases of appalling conflict and oppression, countries on all sides have continued to send representatives.

Political alignments obviously have underpinned this, but the prospect of nations essentially separated even from the formal mechanisms of international peace and order — acknowledging their frequent ineffectiveness — doesn’t bear thinking about. The WCC aspires to bring together the global Christian community, despite Roman Catholic non-membership. Better to hold the Orthodox in, and to account. Continued membership would strengthen rather than weaken the possibility of public challenge and rebuke. There are no easy answers in this matter. But a step that drove the largest Orthodox Church in the world into the bunker because of the pronouncements of its leader would be, in my view, deeply regrettable.

National Adviser for Ecumenical Relations
Lambeth Palace
London SE1 7JU

From Graham Syrett

Sir, — It seems clear to me that the invasion of Ukraine would not have happened in the way that it did if the Russian Orthodox Church had not given its support and blessing from the start, and the outcome can still be greatly influenced for the better if Patriarch Kirill has the belief, courage, and compassion to speak out.

First, then, given that part of the stated driving force in Russia for war is that this is a moral and religious crusade, why doesn’t the Archbishop of Canterbury publicly invite the Patriarch to join him in a brief visit to a destroyed city, such as Mariupol, or possibly even the less damaged Kiev, to talk with some of the victims and see for themselves the wanton destruction and carnage that has been wrought by Russian artillery among the elderly and children, as a result of the illegal invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and clearly constituting war crimes?

If the Patriarch cannot then condemn President Putin and the Russian government for their actions, the Anglican Communion and the wider Christian Church must cease to recognise the Russian Orthodox Church (corporate) as being a part of the Christian community.

Second, this may appear a very naïve response, but why doesn’t His Grace ask all Anglicans to write to Patriarch Kirill, expressing their immense and overwhelming sadness and hurt at what is happening in Ukraine and their disbelief that this could have the support of a section of the Christian Church?

His Grace should ask the leaders among other denominations to take similar action. Indeed, suitably modifiedm this could be extended to those of other faiths, or none.

This may seem weak and simply symbolicm but I believe that that the receipt of several million letters would add another voice for a disbelieving world and perhaps demonstrate that our faith still has some relevance for a fractured humanity, and that our position going forward is very clear: we will no longer recognise the Russian Orthodox Church as being in the Christian tradition.

Address supplied

How Triennium Funding came to be announced

From the Secretary General of the Archbishops’ Council

Sir, — Mr Sam Margrave (Letters, 20 May) questioned the governance around the Triennium Funding announcement.

The trustee bodies with legal responsibility for setting spending plans are the Archbishops’ Council and the Church Commissioners. They are drawn substantially from the General Synod. The recommendations were made by a time-limited group, the Triennium Funding Working Group, with membership drawn from the Council, Commissioners, and House of Bishops (all of whom serve on the General Synod). It was tasked with making a recommendation on how the funds available for distribution from the Church’s endowment managed by the Commissioners should be spent.

Before it did so, it consulted with various bodies, including the House of Bishops, and diocesan secretaries. The decisions were taken by the bodies responsible, in the light of those recommendations. The funding plans were widely received as good news for the Church and our communities.

There will be a debate on the spending plans at the Synod’s July group of sessions, which will provide the opportunity for a thorough and detailed discussion.

Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Good work — but only the categorisation is new

From the Revd Dr Stephen Brian

Sir, — The Revd Rosheen Browning (Letters, 20 May) describes the excellent work being done by the Camborne Cluster of churches under the Transforming Mission programme. This includes offering meals to people in need, and running toddler groups and holiday clubs. Unsurprisingly, these activities attracted good support.

It has to be said, however, that churches have always offered these kinds of activities, but without special funding and without necessarily seeing them as signs of growth. Also, if I take a monthly school assembly, as many clergy do, does that mean that the church is “in regular contact” with hundreds of children?

The church where I grew up many years ago ran a midweek badminton club. Halfway through the evening, play paused for coffee and a brief epilogue. Nowadays, I guess we would call it a fresh expression (”Badminton Church”?) and add the numbers to the annual Statistics for Mission return.

The point is that so much of what is being described as growth or “transformation”, and which is being handed large sums of money, is largely a re-branding exercise, in which “church” is being redefined to include pretty much anything. Do those parents who bring their children to the toddler group or holiday club really believe that what they are doing is equivalent to attending a Sunday eucharist?

By all means, encourage churches to engage in all these social activities — as they always have done — but, if we are looking for church growth, then put the resources into staffing frontline ministry where they will have greatest effect.

27 Percy Avenue, Ashford
Middlesex TW15 2PB

Churchyard payments withdrawn by councils

From Mr Christopher Whitmey

Sir, — Everyone dying in the parish has a right to be buried in the churchyard, if it is not closed, even without a service: Burial Laws Amendment Act, 1880 s.1.

Over 12 years, our parish council gave some £11,700 in total towards the grass-cutting of our churchyard. This accorded with the Local Government Act 1972 s. 214(6): “ A burial authority may contribute towards any expenses incurred by any other person in providing or maintaining a cemetery in which the inhabitants of the authority´s area may be buried. . . (8) . . . ‘cemetery’ includes a burial ground or any other place for the interment of the dead.”

Then contributions were stopped, owing to advice that it was unlawful, which the parish council had from the National Association of Local Councils. A survey in Hereford diocese showed that some 45 PCCs “lost” some £20,300 in total of open-churchyard grants in 2021.

I wish to know the experience of PCCs in other dioceses’ losing churchyard contributions. Please email me: cj@whitmey.me.uk.

Oldstone Furlong, Capler Lane
Fownhope, Hereford HR1 4PJ

Nearer God’s heart

From Canon Daniel O’Connor

Sir, — Dean Willis and his invisible partner cannot leave the Deanery garden at Canterbury (News, 20 May) without heartfelt thanks from an ordinary member of the Garden Congregation for an inspiring 26 months.

It is not easy to pick out one particular feature: the whole — the perceptive exposition of the scriptures, the in-touch biddings, the cultural and historical insights and illustrations, and, above all, of course, the setting, in all weathers, with its ever-changing flora and magically unrehearsed fauna — has carried us through pandemic and news of war, economic anxiety, and climate forebodings, as only gifted and creative ministry could have hoped to.

It is cheering to know that in one form or another there is more to come.

15 School Road, Balmullo
St Andrews, Fife KY16 0BA

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