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Letters to the Editor

by
04 February 2022

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Process of nominating the Archbishop of Canterbury

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — Surely, first and foremost, the responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury are as Bishop of the diocese of Canterbury, Primate of the Southern Province, and leader of the Church of England. The fact that he says 25 per cent of his work is outside England raises the questions who made this decision, and whether fulfilling his primary responsibilities allows for this. This must be a question that is addressed by the General Synod (News, 21 January). It also raises the question to whom the Archbishop is accountable.

A debate about the suggestion that five people should be on the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) for the appointment of the Archbishop of Canterbury is the wrong place to start. The first question to be dealt with by the Church of England is what the responsibilities of the Archbishop of Canterbury are and whether time allows for 25 per cen of the workload to be spent outside the Church of England. I venture to suggest that the response might be no.

The argument that many of the national church responsibilities of the Archbishop are closely bound with Communion responsibilities is no reason for a greater representation of the Anglican Communion on the CNC for Canterbury. Any Primate around the world could argue that many of their national responsibilities were bound up with Anglican Communion affairs. Will other Provinces, therefore, allow the Communion to be involved with their appointment processes?

Is not the way forward for the Anglican Consultative Council to appoint a President whose Province allows the person concerned to be absent from their diocese and Province on Communion affairs? Such an appointment could be for a set number of years, and an election to take place towards the end of the term of office.

PHILIP JOHANSON
10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Bournemouth
Dorset BH6 3PN

 

From the Revd Alan Chidwick

Sir, — When Pope Gregory the Great sent Augustine, it was quite specifically to be “an Apostle to the English”. No Archbishop since Michael Ramsey has achieved that level of engagement with all levels of English society.

At the Reformation, at least one motivation of Henry VIII was to free the English Church from foreign meddling. The Anglican Communion is an historic by-product of the British Empire, and, as the countries and peoples of the Empire were given independence from Britain, so, too, were the other Provinces of the Anglican Communion. Worldwide, they are independent, and use their independence without reference to Canterbury.

The Church of England is also independent and can and should use that independence to engage with the disparate sectors of modern English society. Only embedded English members of the commission would be able to choose an appropriate candidate.

Brexit was, at least in part, a result of unease of a majority of the English about foreign control of peculiar English structures and norms. The Church of England is a “state Church”, and, therefore, foreign intervention is inappropriate and would be widely unwelcome.

ALAN CHIDWICK
85 Claremont House
14 Aerodrome Road
London NW9 5NW

 

From April Alexander

Sir, — In the current discussion about the future of the Communion and who should lead it, there has been one aspect not mentioned by Canon James Walters (Comment, 28 January) or by any other commentator, to my knowledge, except the BBC. This is that, if we adopt a solution of giving the Archbishop of Canterbury greater legitimacy as leader of the Communion by ensuring that other Provinces have a part in the discernment process for that see, there will be, in effect, no possibility of a woman in that office.

We know that, in our own Province, where a mere six per cent of parishes declare themselves on the relevant websites (Wikipedia and The Society) as dissenters in this respect, there is a far higher bar for women being nominated as diocesan dishops than for men (only 30 per cent of those nominated since 2015).

GAFCON lists 12 Provinces of the 38 in the Communion on its website, although it is not certain that conservative Evangelicalism is the prevailing tradition in every one of the 12. None the less, this bodes ill for women candidates.

It may well be that the same problem will arise in the rotating-presidency model; but that regime would allow the C of E to plough its own furrow in this respect with regard to its own Primate. Maybe it can work harder internally to improve its nomination processes for women candidates in relation to Canterbury and all its other sees.

APRIL ALEXANDER
Crown Nominations Commission (2013-18)
59 High Street, Bletchingley
Redhill RH1 4PB

 

The Church Commissioners’ stake in ExxonMobil

From Molly Clark and others, on behalf of the Young Christian Climate Network

Sir, — As members of the Young Christian Climate Network (YCCN), we are writing to express our deep concern and anger that the Church Commissioners are making special exceptions to continue investing in ExxonMobil.

While we welcome the announced restricted list, which is consistent with the commitment to disinvesting from fossil-fuel companies not aligned with the Paris Agreement in 2023, we are incredulous that an exception has been made on the basis of the three new board members elected at ExxonMobil’s AGM last May.

Last year, we organised the Relay to COP26, in which more than 2500 people of all ages joined us to campaign for climate justice. We were encouraged by the support that we received from Christians and church leaders, but we are concerned that decisions like this reveal a collective failure to respond with the courage and moral leadership required.

As Christians, we are too easily persuaded by arguments about utility and by illusions of power and influence. We should disinvest, first and foremost, because it is the right thing to do, and the holy thing to do, and not be swayed by our attachment to keeping our seat at the table, as was said by the Church Commissioners’ Head of Responsible Investment.

A Harvard study in 2017 showed that Exxon knew about the risks of the climate crisis in the 1970s, and yet misled the public for decades. To be in line with 1.5°C, we cannot allow any new fossil-fuel developments, as confirmed by the International Energy Agency. Board replacement and shareholder engagement or not, ExxonMobil is far from being aligned with this.

When we met the Archbishop of Canterbury at Lambeth Palace on the 20 October, he said that the Church of England’s national investing bodies would “disinvest immediately” from any companies that did not meet its milestones. That has not been the case with ExxonMobil.

A Tearfund report, Burning Down the House (News, 14 February 2021), showed that nine out of ten Christian teenagers surveyed were concerned about climate change, but just one in ten believed that their Church was doing enough to respond to the climate crisis. Fossil-fuel disinvestment was highlighted as one of the key actions that they wanted to see from their Churches.

We urge the Church Commissioners to reconsider their decision to continue investing in ExxonMobil. We recognise that it is always easier to respond to a call for change with a call to gradualism. At the same time, making an exception effectively pushes back the promise to disinvest by a year. This feels like a betrayal for those of us who will be in our thirties when the world reaches 1.5°C of warming.

We pray on behalf of our generation of the UK church, and all those in parts of the world already being severely affected by the worsening effects of the climate crisis, for a reconsideration.

The Church Commissioners must show moral leadership and disinvest from ExxonMobil now.

MOLLY CLARK, RACHEL MANDER, CHRIS MANKTELOW, RUTH WALTERS
Flat 2, 13a St James Road
Exeter, Devon EX4 6PY

 

Lambeth bishops’ diocesan visits are a serious loss

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — What a shame that the business managers of the Lambeth Conference Company have decided to stand down plans to welcome bishops from the Anglican family to dioceses before the Conference, instead urging them to congregate first in the University of Kent (News, 28 January). The picture for this story on the Church Times website, of a narrow-windowed grey box [the School of Arts building at the university], is worth 1000 words.

If Covid concerns allow the emission of quantities of carbon to gather the bishops together, what an opportunity is to be missed to redeem those air-miles by enabling the bishops from companion dioceses to visit their partners in Britain, maybe their only chance during their episcopate. It is not just the Big Hellos that will not be extended, but also the chances for a multitude of small hellos, as bishops spread out to visit deaneries over the pre-Lambeth weekend.

I can still recount the sermon delivered in 1988 by a Pakistani bishop visiting Manchester, his companion diocese. A Brazilian bishop in 1998 and a Tanzanian bishop in 2008 were the catalysts for deanery eucharists — bringing together members from small congregations to experience worship in a well-filled church, gathering handfuls of singers to make up a strong four-part choir to lead the music, and two files of churchwardens escorting in the visiting bishop.

Once in a decade, parishioners, liberated from parochialism, experienced what it is like to be members of the worldwide family of Christians. This year, the pre-Lambeth Saturdays could yet be occasions to engage with Christian Aid’s programme encouraging church schools working towards their Global Neighbours awards. Is there still time for such opportunities to be redeemed?

Such a business plan has been described — truly, if indelicately — as “an aggregate of bottom-up inputs”. A previous Bishop of Durham was critical of large clerical gatherings, likening them to heaps of organic material whose fragrance reaches on high, instead of being spread more thinly across the earth to nurture the roots of new growth.

CHRISTOPHER HALL
The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

 

Pandemic and the eucharist: online rites, and administration of the chalice

From Canon Gordon Oliver

Sir, — Canon Professor Richard Burridge’s Holy Communion in Contagious Times (News, 21 January) is a major contribution to the debate about what is involved in sharing eucharistic fellowship, and through it sharing in celebrating and receiving the grace of God in our Lord Jesus Christ. The letters from the Revd Simon Rendell and the Revd Richard Seabrook (28 January) fall, in my view, a long way short of engaging with grace and seriousness in this vitally important debate for our times.

As an almost weekly participant in the eucharist via Zoom since its beginning, I have found myself in a genuinely ecumenical and international eucharistic community in which both experience of the grace of God in Christ and church discipline and order have been held in real respect.

My hope is that, in these coming months, the implications of this widening experience of eucharistic fellowship will continue to be explored with real openness to the presence and leading of the Holy Spirit and with respect for the living traditions of the Church of God, as well as with the courtesy that Christians owe to one another, especially in such difficult and demanding times as these.

GORDON OLIVER
112 Bush Road,
Cuxton ME2 1HA

 

Sir, — I believe that Canon Richard Burridge (Comment, 21 January) is mistaken in arguing for the unilateral adoption of digital communion. The tradition of the Church is that “the bread and wine must be taken into the president’s hands,” and, while I do not think that that can never vary, this is not the way.

The past two years have given numerous missed opportunities for our leaders to provide appropriately for congregations divided and isolated by the pandemic. Canon Burridge gives the erroneous impression that this impasse is to be resolved by local innovation rather than collegial progress.

The Revd Andrew Roland’s response (Letters, 28 January) is likewise misguided. A model for spiritual communion within the Western Christian tradition may be found in sources such as Teilhard de Chardin’s essay “The Mass on the World”. It is not necessary to appropriate traditions from within Rabbinical Judaism. Kiddush at the sabbath morning service is a rabbinical tradition that postdates Christianity.

The biblically mandated blessing of the kiddush cup on Friday evenings has already a direct parallel in the eucharist, as the berakah haGafen is quoted in full by the prayer over the cup in the communion service. That ship has sailed; but we have a moral duty not to do harm to the Jewish community by further appropriation. As Rabbi Danya Ruttenberg has said, “Appropriating other people’s symbols, rituals, liturgy isn’t interfaith work. Rather, it hinders it. Building genuine relationships out of trust and connection is interfaith work.”

Good interfaith dialogue will serve us all well in the uncertain times ahead. But appropriation in no way resolves the conundrum with which Canon Burridge is struggling.

NAME AND ADDRESS SUPPLIED

 

From Mr Andrew Connell

Sir, — None of your correspondents on the subject of online holy communion, or the article by Canon Burridge to which they respond, refers to the rubric in the 1662 Prayer Book order for communion of the sick.

I am not a theologian, but it seems to me that this rubric, which explains how a person who for good reason cannot physically receive the consecrated bread and wine may nevertheless receive the Sacrament, is very well suited to the circumstances of the pandemic. Certainly, I have found it so in my own online and remote devotions.

We can learn much from the practices of other traditions, and from the development of new theologies of shared virtual space; but surely our first resource should be our own Church’s liturgy and teaching?

ANDREW CONNELL
8 Marlborough House
Westgate Street
Cardiff CF10 1DE

 

From Mr Steve Vince

Sir, — I suggest that the way to return to the common chalice (Letters, 28 January) is this. As and when each church is happy to do so, they should announce that they are now going to administer the common chalice, but that anyone who is nervous about drinking from it is very welcome to receive the consecrated bread alone, “and nobody is going to think badly of you at all if you choose to do that.”

This will enable communicants to resume drinking from the common chalice according to their own timing. For my part, I would take it tomorrow if it were offered to me.

STEVE VINCE
13 Selwyn Close
Wolverhampton WV2 4NQ

 

Condition of rural parishes and the numbers game

From the Revd Katherine Colwell

Sir, — Well said, Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 28 January)! For the past ten years, I have served a group of five rural parishes, four of which are isolated and lacking in facilities and public services.

Yes, congregations are small, sometimes struggling to make double figures, though in the smallest community of just over 100 people there are regularly 20 or more in church on a Sunday, as some attend from a neighbouring village. But none of them are “failed” churches!

There is regular worship and a rich sacramental life, the full range of occasional offices, and good pastoral care from lay people of others in their own villages, as we seek to be “a Christian presence” in each community. Has the Church of England now decided that this is an unworthy aim?

Attending a rural-ministry course some years ago, I recall, the then Church of England Rural Churches Officer reminding us that “A tangerine is not a failed orange.” Small churches have a vital part to play in village communities the length and breadth of the country. The churches in which I am privileged to serve may have small numbers, but they are hard-working, committed, compassionate, and faithful. They strive to maintain impossibly challenging listed buildings and struggle to pay their share. But they are emerging from Covid more committed than ever to working collaboratively and supporting one another.

Such churches are the backbone of the Church of England, there for everyone as the spiritual heart of the places that they serve. Once they are lost, they will be lost for ever. Pray that we do not let that happen.

KATHERINE COLWELL
St Andrew’s Vicarage
28 South Cliff Road
Kirton in Lindsey DN21 4NR

 

From the Revd Robert Barlow

Sir, — I was surprised, for two reasons, that you chose to run the story “No-show at service prompts questions about rural ministry after Covid” (News, 21 January).

First, the article is based on the experience of one priest on one Sunday; hardly a large sample from which to generalise. A much more comprehensive picture of the rural Church could be obtained from the research published in the journal Rural Theology. That journal reports on the pre-Covid phenomenon of “fragile church”. Recent issues report on the effect of Covid on rural churches and their fragility. Much better to ask questions about the future of rural ministry on the basis of robust research rather than on a one-off experience.

Second, “ministry” appears to be equated with numbers of people who do or do not turn up on a Sunday. In the very small rural churches where I, as a retired priest, have the privilege of serving, during Covid and its various lockdowns, churchpeople have prayed together online, phoned people at risk of isolation, delivered groceries and prescriptions, sewn face masks, sent postcards, held online tea parties. . . The list could go on. Isn’t this just as much rural ministry as counting numbers on a Sunday morning?

ROBERT BARLOW
Oak House, Rhyse Lane,
Tenbury, Worcs WR15 8NH

 

What next after Dr Dakin’s departure

From the Revd Dr Rohintan Mody

Sir, — I am truly sorry that Dr Tim Dakin has had to resign as Bishop of Winchester. I can really empathise with him, since I had to sign a settlement agreement with a “confidentiality clause” which meant that I, too, had to resign from my ministry in Winchester diocese. I am praying for him.

What is now required is for the diocese of Winchester to commission an independent inquiry into all the events leading to clergy dispossession, and subsequently apologise to all clergy involved for its past unethical and unbiblical behaviour.

ROHINTAN MODY
74 Brenda Gautrey Way
Cottenham
Cambridge CB24 8XW

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