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Letters to the Editor

by
04 March 2022

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The Russian invasion of Ukraine

From Canon Roger Arguile

Sir, — While grateful for the letter from our Archbishops encouraging us to pray for peace, an ever timely reminder of our Christian duty, I am reminded of two things. There is prayer, and there is action: struggle and contemplation, as the ecumenical community of Taizé had it. The other is the reminder by St Thomas Aquinas of the need to defend the undefended, lest by adopting the way of peace one allows greater harms to eventuate.

Those of us without any military experience do well not to advise those who have about what strategies to adopt; but it seems to me that several things might be done by the Church. The first is to encourage talks. We can be as blunt as we think necessary, but the breaking off of dialogue seems to me a mistake. Unless we propose to cast the Russian people into outer darkness, where there is already the gnashing of teeth, communications need to be continued.

The other is that while the Western democracies may adhere to a different theory of statehood from that of the Russian Federation, there ought to be common ground between ourselves and the Orthodox and Uniat Churches of the East. If theology is any use at all, its gospel principles ought to be the subject of urgent engagement between the members of the World Council of Churches.

They ought to be able to give and exercise advice and influence in relation to the millions of citizens whose livelihoods are disrupted, whose families are harmed, and whose lives are possibly lost.

There is no argument about the harms done and the need for a just peace. The virtues of courage and justice, moderation and wise judgement are starting positions. Prayer, of course; but also engagement. I trust that those who engage in ecumenical dialogue are far ahead of me.

R. H. W. ARGUILE
10 Marsh Lane
Wells-next-the-Sea
Norfolk NR23 1EG
 

From Mr Charles Mugleston

Sir, — An ugly action by an ugly mind: President Putin disregards one of the all-time classic statements and spiritual insights of Fyodor Dostoevsky, one of the great sons of Russia, that “Beauty will redeem the world.” Mr Putin disregards his professed Christian faith, of “loving his neighbour as himself”, not turning his neighbour into himself — simply using the fine Eastern Orthodox Church as but a means for his cunning, egotistic, ugly ends.

He needs removing as soon as possible to show what life can really be like — needs to be like — so that we can all live together as a unity amid diversity.

As the Ukrainian poet Taras Shevchenko wrote,


The sun sets, mountains fade
Into the darkness; the birds note
  is stilled.
And in the shadowy blue appears
   a star. . .
O Star — My Star.


May this be prophetic for the people of Ukraine at home and around the world, prophetic of “The Triumph of Light”.

CHARLES MUGLESTON
1 Ascot Drive
Felixstowe IP11 9DW


From the Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari

Sir, — It is heartening that the Government and the Opposition are committed to welcoming Ukrainian refugees to Britain. Although it was necessity that prompted the nation to welcome refugees with open arms, it is great that Britain is getting more diversified in its populace.

This is another opportunity for churches, alongside aid agencies, to respond to humanitarian requirements relating to access, food, and non-food items, as well as social and spiritual needs. Without delay, the Government should make provision for refugee children’s schooling. Employment opportunities for new refugees need to be thought through strategically, to help them to settle in their new home well.

In our world today, it is surprising and shocking to see a marginal group object to welcoming refugees on social media platforms. There are many Britons within Britain. The salient feature of Britain is its diversity. If we butcher democracy by removing diversity in England we should not criticise Putin or anyone else for their undemocratic deeds. I hope you will agree that it is the disposition of those who matter that achieves the ultimate success in God’s eyes.

GODFREY KESARI
The Vicarage, Church Lane
Southwater RH13 9BT

 

Appointments in the light of From Lament to Action

From April Alexander

Sir, — Rebecca Chapman (Letters, 14 January) remarked that the appointment of the Archbishops’ Appointments Secretary had been made very swiftly, and she surmised that it had been advertised internally in the national church institutions only. She pointed out that this would offer only a “narrow pool of candidates”, and she wondered how this process “reflected the proposals in From Lament to Action”.

The matter was raised at Questions in the General Synod (News, 10 February) by Sam Margrave and the Revd Dr Tom Woolford, who sought reassurance that UKME candidates had been included. The Archbishop responded “The recruitment was in line with current best practice for all vacant . . . roles within the National Church Institutions. . . The post was open to all employees of the NCIs, including those from a UKME/GMH background. . .”

That very afternoon, the Synod had overwhelmingly supported the report Racial Justice in the Church of England, after the earlier report From Lament to Action, which has much to say about appointment processes. This had been introduced with enthusiasm by the Archbishop of York and includes the action to “. . . establish goals at the start of each recruitment process to attract greater participation e.g. identifying search partners, volume recruitment providers — so we never hear ‘we put out an advert but we didn’t get much UKME/GMH response’.”

What a pity that this straightforward change to “current best practice” particularly for high-profile appointments could not have been put into effect at least by year end 2021. It has been common practice in the public sector since long before I left it in 2010. How else can an organisation comply fully with the Equality Act 2010 if one suspects or knows, as they do, that the organisation in question is not sufficiently diverse?

APRIL ALEXANDER
59 High Street, Bletchingley
Redhill RH1 4PB

 

Synod procedure and a safeguarding motion

From Mr Gavin Drake

Sir, — In his response (Letters, 25 February) to Rebecca Chapman (Comment, 18 February), Canon Simon Butler defends his procedural motion to stop a debate on my safeguarding motion by saying that it contained “untested claims” about the National Safeguarding Team.

The claims in the motion are not new: victims, survivors, and their supporters have been making them for years. Books have been written about the failures of the Church’s national safeguarding response. Blogs and websites have been created to shine a light on them. Victims, lawyers, academics, and clergy have written to the Charity Commission calling for a full investigation. A coroner has said that she fears that more deaths will follow that of Fr Alan Griffin. There have been countless national and diocesan “lessons-learned” reviews — from which no lessons are seemingly learned. IICSA has held a full inquiry and produced a damning report. And now the new Independent Safeguarding Board has highlighted them.

With all of this, how can anybody argue that such claims — that the Church of England’s national safeguarding functions are not fit for purpose — are “untested”? If so, is it not time that such claims were tested?

The motion that Canon Butler blocked called for a full independent assessment of the work and performance reporting of the NST and the myriad national safeguarding bodies of the Church of England. Surely such an assessment would have been able to test the claims and given the Synod an opportunity to right the wrongs and put in place an effective safeguarding function.

I asked the chair to consider splitting my motion so that members could reject the part that listed criticisms while voting for the part that called for an independent assessment. Canon Butler’s procedural shenanigans prevented such a vote.

Canon Butler is critical that such a motion was tabled without notice by a new and inexperienced member of the Synod. After his 17 years on the Synod, he is surely aware that following motions are always tabled with little notice — that is their nature. But it is perfectly in order. This motion was tabled more than a week before Synod members were informed about it. That delay was not of my making. Canon Butler is also, surely, aware that Synod membership has no probationary period.

At this group of sessions, he worded a question (Question 44), in which he referred to victims, survivors, respondents, and their supporters as “cyberbullying” in turning to social media. When the Church refuses to listen — as it did by blocking debate on the safeguarding motion — where else do victims and survivors have to go, if not social media?

GAVIN DRAKE
Synod member for Southwell & Nottingham diocese
10 Doverbeck Drive
Woodborough
Nottingham NG14 6ER


From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — Canon Butler’s advice to new members of the General Synod to engage with the intricacies of Standing Orders is sensible, but his dismissal of new members’ suspicions after watching procedures cynically deployed is not so well placed.

Introducing his proposals to reform our governance, the Bishop of Leeds, the Rt Revd Nick Baines, referred to the domination of those whom he termed “power-mongers” under the current system. “If you don’t have a coherence and consistency, it’s the people who know how to play the game, who play within the gaps, within the cracks.” It was through that prism of invited distrust that new members interpreted what they had witnessed.

On two occasions, concerning the key issues of safeguarding and governance reform, closure was brought to debate by those choosing to move not simple adjournments, but motions strategically intended to kill the debate and to impede anything like it from being swiftly reintroduced.

The previous Synod had specifically endorsed the creation of an Independent Safeguarding Board with real teeth to address our long history of injustice and malpractice. What was actually brought to this Synod — with 60 per cent new members — was a de-fanged version. In short, we have simply added another thin under-resourced layer of “blah blah blah”. That was an important change to the previously democratically endorsed decision, a change that looked suspiciously like the work of unaccountable power-mongers and that our motion robustly resisted. That debate was closed down by Canon Butler’s procedural acumen.

Maggie Atkinson has assured us that the new ISB will bring “moral pressure” to bear on church leaders and that she and her colleagues will ask for additional powers if they should feel the need to have them. Such a request would probably take at least three years to implement. Meanwhile . . . ? Why did they not simply accept the powers that we offered through our earlier decision, but exercise them sparingly under discretion?

It’s almost as if the power-mongers don’t want an independent outside body calling the Church robustly to account, with the power to intervene.

MARTIN SEWELL
General Synod member for Rochester diocese
8 Appleshaw Close
Gravesend DA11 7PB

 

Still Standing next to the Rawson monument

From Dr Mark Stocker

Sir, — The Nigerian artwork unveiled in St Paul’s Cathedral (News, 17 February) raises many problems. Would Professor Dan Hicks, its co-sponsor, care to explain the involvement of Oba Ovonramwen — whom it celebrates — in slavery in Benin, and that of the imperialist Sir Harry Rawson in ending it? I am no specialist in the “scramble for Africa”, but I would appreciate a fair-minded historical explanation and justification of the reasoning behind the tapestry.

I deplore the removal of the Benin bronzes and understand the desire for their restitution to a free and democratic Nigeria. But I would certainly applaud this more vociferously if there were any acknowledgement and apology from the present Oba for the wrongdoings of his ancestors.

A separate point: as a founding member of the Public Statues and Sculpture Association, I am concerned that neither we nor, as far as I know, our sister group, the Church Monuments Society, have been involved in the “50 Monuments from 50 Voices” project which the Dean of St Paul’s, the Very Revd David Ison, champions. In our belief in retaining and explaining monuments both in St Paul’s and beyond, we represent constructive and informed voices in this delicate cultural issue.

MARK STOCKER
102/18 Carlton Mill Road
Christchurch 8014, New Zealand

 

Theatrical and poetic

From the Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee

Sir, — It was good to see a review of Rowan Williams’ collection of plays, including Shakeshafte (Books, 25 February). This was performed at the Dylan Thomas Theatre, Swansea, in 2016, and, although, as your reviewer suggests, Williams’s plays might appear likely to “work better on the page than on the stage”, Shakeshafte proved to be dramatically effective in performance, and was very well received (Arts, 5 August 2016). It is to be hoped that this and his other plays will be regularly staged as testimony to such a perceptive poetic imagination.

JOHN SAXBEE
22 Shelley Road
Haverfordwest
Pembrokeshire SA61 1RX

 

Point clarified

From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — This is to clarify that when my letter (18 February, referred to by David Lamming, Letters, 25 February) said that the Revd David Fletcher and all non-participants had not known about Smyth’s beatings “at the time”, that meant “at the time they were happening”. His knowledge of them from February 1982 onwards was also confirmed in my letter.

CHRISTOPHER SHELL
7 Markway, Sunbury
Surrey TW16 5NS

 

Ecclesia Anglicana

From the Revd Christopher Rogers

Sir, — Professor Michael Wheeler’s review (18 February) of Tim Williams’s new book referred to Chaucer’s Parson as being an Anglican clergyman. This would have been news to Chaucer, and to his Parson.

CHRISTOPHER ROGERS
Cottage 1, St Mary Abbots Vicarage,
Vicarage Gate, London W8 4HW

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