Farming C of E land, and a professor’s ‘four truths’
From Mr Anthony Goodger
Sir, — Your story (News, 23 September) led me to read the full Operation Noah report Church Land and the Climate Crisis. I write as an agricultural marketing consultant, working mainly in the livestock sector.
In terms of agricultural impacts, much of what was written is well known across the sector. But the three key priorities suggested — tree-planting, peat protection and restoration, and supporting farmers to reduce emissions — will, I suggest, make only a minor impact when it comes to the climate crisis.
Trees take a long time to grow to a level at which they would be effective at carbon sequestration; so it is much better to grow grass land and allow it to be grazed by ruminants. While some see ruminants’ emissions as damaging to the climate, the reality is that they sit within regenerative agricultural systems, their grazing often turning land that would otherwise be unproductive, together with rainwater, into consumable protein. Their faeces nourish the soil, allowing the grass, which also is an effective means of carbon sequestration, to regrow, and also attract all sorts of bugs and insects, which then pollinate wild flowers and grasses.
As the report states, “The Church Commissioners have expressed some support for regenerative farming practices.” Some support? Here is an opportunity to express full support, because, as research has shown, where regenerative agriculture is properly executed, its outcome is net zero or better.
Peat protection and restoration is essential. I would urge all readers not to wait for the ban on peat in horticultural compost to come into effect, but to stop buying it now. It is, however, the third priority that has the opportunity to reduce impacts, though not through the suggestions that the report makes.
Yes, of course, in our land of plenty, it is incumbent on us all to reduce food waste wherever it occurs in the supply chain. In terms of the Church and its ownership of land farmed by tenants, I suggest that where a farmer has, maybe, grown a vegetable crop but finds that they don’t have the access to labour to pick it for resale, that they invite volunteers to harvest the crop and to divert it into foodbanks.
Of course, I support eating more locally sourced food. With regenerative livestock farming, I believe, this would have a great benefit to reducing climate impact than the suggestion of more plant-based meals. Plants have a part in a balanced diet. Much of what is sold as plant-based, however, is also ultra-processed, and can involve composition from ingredients sourced from around the world. Some are high in either fat, salt, or sugar, or a combination of all three, while many of the plant-based dairy alternatives come from mono-culture systems that both degrade the land and require higher inputs of treated water than the dairy that they are seeking to replace.
Food is essential to life, and food systems are highly complex. But the Church’s ownership of so much land does have a real opportunity to drive change.
At the end of a tenancy, please look to re-let the land to young farming entrants. They often have the energy, drive, and technical know-how to do things in a more efficient way. They just need to get their feet on the bottom rungs of the farming ladder.
Glebe lands should, where available, be turned into either allotments or wild-flower pasture, with bee hives for pollination. Allotment-holders should be encouraged wherever possible to give away their surpluses, not waste them.
As for the 31,000 acres of forest investments: graze them with pigs or free-range turkeys. Don’t just see them as trees: see them as productive land.
The Church of England has a valuable asset. Use it to progress mission and to address the climate crisis now, and encourage your congregations and your tenant farmers to do more as part of your overall efforts.
17 Chestnut Close
Rutland LE15 9TQ
From Mr Robert Barlow
Sir, — In your item about Church Land and the Climate Crisis, I didn’t see any reference to, or praise for, the significant progress already made by UK farmers. Neither was there any mention of the National Farmers’ Union’s commitment for UK agriculture to be carbon-neutral by 2040.
Perhaps a better approach than haranguing an industry to address problems that it is already dealing with would be to address the issue of trade deals. The recent ones will allow less environmentally scrupulous production from overseas to undercut sustainably produced UK food.
Oak House, Rhyse Lane
Worcestershire WR15 8NH
From the Revd Ulric Gerry
Sir, — Professor Julian Allwood (Features, 16 September) was brilliant presenting the change required to avert the impending apocalypse. Two major points omitted were: (1) The jury is out on the climate science on which his talk was premised, with moderate voices cancelled by “Armageddon-is-nigh” fanatics. (2) There are no plans to limit population growth, which is the biggest driver of increases in carbon-dioxide production. As Christians, we are stewards of creation, not in thrall to it. The new religion of climatianity increasingly looks like pantheism.
The Crown, other faiths, and establishment
From Mr Stephen Evans
Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby is wrong to assert that secularists wouldn’t be satisfied if the monarchy’s constitutional entanglement with religion was removed by rewriting the coronation vows (Comment, 23 September).
Many citizens may still question whether inherited power and privilege are appropriate in a modern democracy, but if the role of head of state was secular, those arguments would be beyond secularism’s remit.
Ultimately, the Church’s doctrine is its own affair. Secularists should respect that. The Church should be independent and free, within the law, to flourish or flounder in the marketplace of ideas.
In his recent book, Beyond Establishment, Jonathan Chaplin, an Anglican, argued that the C of E itself should voluntarily relinquish its privileges and established status to “free the Church to pursue its own mission with greater authenticity”.
This in an argument that Canon Tilby may wish to consider, as may anyone else who values church autonomy and recognises the importance of state impartiality.
Disestablishment need not be a clash between the faithful and secularists, many of whom may have their own religious beliefs. It could be progressed with the mutual understanding that a formal separation stands to benefit both. Both sides can surely recognise that maintaining a minority established Church in a religiously pluralistic and largely secularised nation is unsustainable.
Chief Executive Officer
National Secular Society
Dutch House, 307-308 High Holborn
London WC1V 7LL
From Elizabeth Belben
Sir, — It is worrying that Nick Spencer characterises the Church of England’s relationship with other Christian denominations and other religions in terms of competition versus refereeing (Comment, 16 September). Surely, the question about other expressions of faith is not “How can we compete with them?” but “Are they true?”
If we believe that (for example) the Roman Catholic, Methodist, and Pentecostal Churches preach the true message of the gospel, then they are co-workers, not competitors, and we have no reason to feel threatened if someone goes to a church other than ours. Conversely, if we believe that the teaching of (for example) the Jehovah’s Witnesses is heretical, we will worry about it because it could cause people to miss out on the message of God’s grace.
As far as non-Christian religions are concerned, the question becomes: if we as Christians believe that no one is saved except through Jesus, does this mean that only Christians are saved, or that Jesus, by his death and resurrection, has already saved the whole world, including people of other religions and of none?
If we believe the former, then we will want to evangelise as much as possible to save people from going to hell; if we believe the latter, we may see other good reasons for evangelism. If, on the other hand, we believe that Jesus is not the only Saviour and that God has provided many routes to salvation through different religions, our attitude will be different again.
Whatever our doctrinal position, the issues are much too important to be reduced to the imagery of competing sports teams, or consumer choice between rival brands.
The Chapel, Maitlands Close
Somerset BA3 5AA
From the Revd Ravi Holy
Sir, — I thought that Nick Spencer’s article articulated our dilemma as the Established Church very succinctly. Nevertheless, I think that I’m more optimistic than he is — maybe naïvely — but isn’t it possible that really being the umbrella and letting people see and know that we are that could also be the most productive mission strategy?
Cherry Garden Crescent, Wye
Ashford, Kent TN25 5AS
Childhood, families, and biblical teaching
From the Revd Jonathan Frais
Sir, — Thank you for covering the Good Childhood report of the Children’s Society (News, 23 September). Once again, there is no reference to the positive effect of parents’ getting married, of biological fathers’ being at home, or of faith in Christ in either parent or child. How come these Christian concerns are no-platformed and made victims of cancel culture? How long, O Lord, before we adopt the full agenda set by scripture? Where is our prophetic edge?
11 Coverdale Avenue
Bexhill-on-Sea TN39 4TY
From Canon Steve Parish
Sir, — Divine timing? Two days after the Government embraces the nonsense of “trickle-down economics”, the Gospel is of a poor man hoping to receive what falls from the rich man’s table. And the rich man goes to hell.
26 Leamington Close
Warrington WA5 3PY
Tutu van Furth ban is an example of humiliation
From the Revd David Ackerman
Sir, — While the story of Canon Mpho Tutu van Furth touches on issues of human sexuality, the issue of clergy officiating outside of their countries and, indeed, home dioceses is yet another example of the humiliations that we face. The “safe to receive” process not only goes beyond what is lawful: it assumes that clergy are unsafe unless a process (however simple and efficient) is undertaken.
Why clergy permit themselves to become clogs in such a dysfunctional and creaking machine is, of course, another question, no doubt one that Canon Tutu van Furth has asked herself many times.
The Vicarage, Kilburn Lane
London W10 4AA
Welsh Church’s plan for spending from reserves
From Dr Phillip Rice
Sir, — The Church in Wales will spend £100 million from capital reserves over the next decade as the most serious and significant investment since disestablishment in 1920 (News, 9 September). This is a remarkable initiative. The numbers (with a further £37 million to ensure core funding) are compelling reading — from the September report and presidential address of the Archbishop, the Most Revd Andrew John.
I wish to compare with English eyes and look for the read across to what the plans are in the Church Commissioners’ 2021 report (News, 11 May). The aim is to seek to make a valid comparison with plans in C of E for front-line work for the nine years 2023 to 2031.
First, I have to say that the 2021 annual report of the Representative Body of the Church in Wales brings together the ministry and finance statistics in a comprehensive way, and the various accounting adjustments are clearly set out to give a general reserves figure. So, the bottom line is that the Welsh body has £1134 million total funds; but the key number is the declared general reserves of £533 million. Hence the announced spend is £100 million over ten years when you have £533 million reserves, and arguably it is £137 million in place of the £100 million.
Also, the further hit is in the lost investment income from using reserves. On my reckoning, this could be a further £60+ million over the ten years. Yes, this announcement is “not going gentle into that good night”, as Archbishop John said.
It is undeniable that this scale of response — strategic plan for growth combined with a strong bias to the poor (dioceses) — has much to commend it. And, in relative scale, which is difficult to define against the C of E, it is big now, and yet ought to have started sooner. The C of E Lowest Income Community Funding (LICF) and Strategic Development Funding (SDF) have been leading the way for some time as a calibrated use of general reserves.
Finally, the Welsh report has an admirable disclosure of what are the biggest equity investments that the body holds: £20 million of Microsoft and £15 million of Google/ Alphabet. In the English report, we know only who are in the top 20, and Microsoft and Alphabet are included there.
I hope that the announced spend will start “big” in each diocese/community and very soon — while the door is open.
Retired Professional economist
23 Christchurch Square
London E9 7HU
Things new and old
From the Ven. Paddy Benson
Sir, — The caption to the St Gargoyle’s cartoon (23 September), “The Prayer Book amendment team were busy with Tippex and pen”, was received with bemusement here. Our BCPs at Leeds Minster already refer to the King, not the Queen. Indeed, so far ahead of the game are we that we are praying for King George.
26 West Park Drive
Leeds LS16 5BL