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Letters to the Editor

08 July 2022


Plea to Synod on assisted dying

From Canon Rosie Harper

Sir, — How we are able to die is very much on the agenda again. As the law stands at the moment, MPs whose moral compass dictates to them that any assistance in that dying process is wrong control not only their own death, but the death of everyone in this country. It is a profoundly unequal situation.

The Church of England is implacably opposed to assisted dying. In doing so, it is using its moral heft to deprive others of that freedom to choose the manner of their death. More than 80 per cent of religious people want a compassionate new law. Still, a few senior church leaders claim that their moral insight is superior to that of the common person. The implication is, therefore, that the more senior you are, the deeper your insight and the more correct your moral compass.

Dear church leaders, I will defend your right to refuse an assisted death. Most of the country can see that you now need to offer us the same dignity and defend the right to choose one if matters come to such an end. There are significant leaders who have thought and prayed and using the muscles of their faith to voice support for a new law: men such as Desmond Tutu, Lord Carey, and the Swiss theologian Hans Küng. Theirs is also a position of integrity.

This is, in fact, nothing new. Our ancestors knew well that “Death is better than a bitter life or continual sickness” (Ecclesiasticus 30.17).

The Christian faith believes in both life in all its fullness and the resurrection. It teaches that death is nothing to fear.

As things stand, there is much to fear. Some go to Switzerland, a difficult and expensive process. Others take their lives before their time, because they know that, if they lose their bodily autonomy, all choice about how they die will be gone.

I have campaigned for this change for many years. I find it increasingly rooted in my own faith. I have seen the good side of assisted dying, where it not only eased a family member beyond what was to be a terrible last few weeks, but also spared his whole family that harrowing experience. I have also heard countless real-life stories of deaths that have left an indelible scar on everyone involved.

Watching the person you love most in all the world die in agony is not in any way sacred. If faith is not about love and compassion then it has no meaning.

Where we are now is neither loving nor compassionate. A new law would protect the most vulnerable with proper checks: a far better situation than the current one. It would prevent early suicides. It would give comfort to many more people than those who actually took the final step, and it would restore the dignity of being able to decide about their own life at the very point when they need that freedom the most.

I sincerely hope that our leaders will come to see how much good they could do by supporting assisted dying. I would encourage all General Synod members (News, 1 July) to support compassion and have the courage of their convictions and vote accordingly. The world will not end if you vote for what you believe.

2 Old Chapel Close
Little Kimble, Aylesbury
Buckinghamshire HO7 0RA

Inquiry by the Independent Safeguarding Board

From Canon Simon Butler

Sir, — In the sorry tale of the dispute between Christ Church, Oxford, and its former Dean (News, 24 June; News online, 30 June), matters have been made more difficult by the involvement of proxies.

Claims made by one “side” or the other have been aired as if they were true by such well-intentioned folk, sometimes with little caution or care. This has even extended to making personal and direct criticism of the alleged victim of the related safeguarding matter, who maintains her position that Dr Percy acted inappropriately.

It is likely that the facts of this situation will never be fully known; but what we can safely believe is that information is being fed to proxies by some closely involved in the affair.

It is a sad reality that alleged perpetrators and alleged victims have been known to act and speak in self-serving ways, especially when matters appear far from clear cut. Anyone seeking to rush to defend one “side” or another, especially when fired by righteous indignation, should bear that in mind.

When General Synod members make claims about the quality of the Independent Safeguarding Board or about the trustworthiness of members of the staff of the Archbishops’ Council, which they can know only through information provided by one of the parties in dispute, such information should be treated with a hermeneutic of suspicion. In these situations, proxies risk inflaming matters and causing confusion. They certainly add little to the generation of clarity.

This is partly why an Independent Safeguarding Board exists, to be independent of all vested interests. As a former member of the Archbishops’ Council, I think that readers should be reassured that the robust independence of Maggie Atkinson and her colleagues is something that we were left in no doubt of from the moment we first encountered them.

Maybe well-meaning colleagues, rather than try to undermine the very board for which they were so vocal in advocating not so long ago, could allow it to do its work.

32 Vicarage Crescent
London SW11 3LD

Former vicar’s gratitude for his vicarages

From Canon Brian Stevenson

Sir, — The letters from Professor Orme and Emma Robarts (1 July) about the assets represented by the parsonage houses have been thought-provoking. Are the present occupants of rectories, vicarages, etc., happy living in them?

I cannot speak for others, but I have enjoyed living in the vicarages provided for me. One was a Queen Anne house with creaking floorboards and a large garden, and another was 1960s and full of light. The weakness of the latter was that the church tower cast a shadow down the drive: in extreme weather, this was covered in ice. After one Christmas midnight service, we had to push the Archdeacon’s motor up the slippery slope.

I missed living in the vicarage when I retired, and now am in a bungalow one quarter of the size. It was then that I understood how fortunate I had been for many decades in a spacious warm abode that was pleasant to come home to and also provided hospitality to others. It is good to be received by current vicars and be reminded of this. I hope the present incumbent clergy also feel happy in their living accommodation and so realise the asset that it is.

Michaelmas Cottage
Stan Lane, West Peckham
Kent ME18 5JT

Digitised burial records

From Mr Norman Jackson

Sir, — I appreciate the attraction of saving the costs of storing physical burial records. As a layman, however, I read the Ven. Mark Ireland’s article (Comment, 1 July) with considerable concern. I wish to raise the following additional issues.

First, if a company is doing considerable work for “free” (in this case inputting millions of burial records), then look for the catch(es).

Second, PCCs will have to pay a significant sum to keep records up to date. Without being updated, any dataset can rapidly become almost useless: think of the number of out-of-date church websites. Most PCCs that I can think of are unlikely to have the money, and so won’t update. The more affluent are likely to have members who spot the catch.

Third, as a headstone owner, I would like to know about data-protection rights over photos posted online. My late parents would not have wanted this.

Fourth, likewise, my parents would not have wanted to be connected with the Mormon Church.

24 Littlemead Lane
Exmouth EX8 4RF

Not a debating society

From Mr Gwilym Stone

Sir, — The problem with making LGBT+ people the subject of never-ending “discussion and debate” (Dr Brendan Devitt, Letters, 1 July) is that a Church that fails to live out the gospel of unconditional love is nothing more than a clanging cymbal.

Tomsk Villa, 11 Rollebrook Gardens
Southampton SO15 5WA

Abortion and God’s law

From the Revd Jonathan Frais

Sir, — Your leader comment (1 July) values life according to the capacity for relationships. Have we forsaken “Do not kill”? How chilling for the injured, depressed, and elderly!

11 Coverdale Avenue
East Sussex TN39 4TY

The Mission
merits honour among Christian films

From the Revd P. A. Newman

Sir, — It was unavoidable, perhaps, and yet David Kerensa’s omission of The Mission (1986) from his decade-by-decade listing of Christian films (Feature, 17 June) is regrettable, not only for the haunting sublimity of the late Ennio Morricane’s soundtrack accompanying the cinematic magnificence and poignant and horrific tragedy. Seated that year among several hundred others in the Odeon, Leicester Square, I wondered what members of a presumably secular audience made of it all beneath and beyond the terminal silence?

Five years previously, Prime Minister Thatcher uttered her own mission statement, which became the lodestar through the ensuing decade, with consequences beyond her conceiving — or regretting: “Economics are the method; the object is to change the heart and soul” (The Sunday Times, 8 January 1981).

Beauty and brutality, tenderness and terror, sublimity and degradation, the triumph of greed and wickedness in the defeat of all that faith, hope, and love may do? Such are the questions with which the viewer is addressed at the closing moments of the film, in an exchange between the Vatican emissary (Cardinal Altamirano, played by the late Ray McAnally) and a representative of the victorious slave traders, who proffers in cynical faux commiseration: “It’s the way of the world.”

Such a conclusion could be one to which all might resign themselves; but staring straight into camera through moist eyes, the Cardinal rejoins with a shaft of piercing poignancy: “No. It’s the way we have made it.”

A Christian film? Assuredly.
5 Cranworth House
Winchester SO22 6EJ

Divine untidiness highlighted by Turnbull

From Mr Ian Gordon

Sir, — Rebecca Chapman’s helpful and challenging article “Episcopally led — and synodically sidetracked?”’ (Comment, 1 July) omitted to include one of the phrases in the Turnbull report which has stuck with me and, I am sure, many of your readers: namely, that, above all, the Church needs to be aware of “the untidy work of the Holy Spirit”.

Have we walked so far down the road of “effective management” as to forget the greatest gift bestowed on the disciples which fired their world-changing mission?

16 Bayle Court, The Parade
Folkestone CT20 1SN

Mingling is a ministry for Anglicans to study

From Jenny de Robeck

Sir, — As Church of England members, we are not good minglers, are we?

The Petertide ordinations are taking place as I write. Mingling should be part of an ordinand’s training: how to mingle effectively, giving everyone to whom one speaks focus and attention, without getting snared by any one person.

Time and time again, I have witnessed and partaken in church mingling, almost weekly. It is not an easy skill — because it is a skill. Indeed, I would go as far as to say that it is a form of ministry.

Here are all these people, needing a “word”, needing recognition, needing conversation. It is natural to gravitate towards those with whom we have things in common, those we like, those whom we haven’t seen for ages.

Because of what it is, church always has its handful of people with severe problems or mental-health issues, or the gabbing need to attract attention and be noticed —marginalised people whom no one really wants to speak to or get lumbered with. These special people, loved dearly by God, and to whom Jesus would gravitate, can be very difficult and, in some cases, alarming to approach. But must they always be left standing, or sitting all alone, because no one wants to know them?

We have a tendency to form holy huddles, chairs drawn into a circle, allowing no one else in. We tend to stay in our own comfortable groups, making little effort to welcome the new comer.

Mingling fascinates me. I am the world’s very worst mingler. I find it terribly hard. What can be done about this very important issue?

Good mingling means that people leave a venue warmed and uplifted. Bad mingling means we leave feeling rejected, unnoticed, cold, and alone — not what Christ Jesus advocates. Jesus was the perfect mingler. May our Lord make me more like him.

Sebergham Hall
Sebergham, Carlisle
Cumbria CA5 7DQ

Lombard, not Abelard

From Dr Cate Gunn

Sir, — While I may agree with the Bishop of Worcester’s emphasis on the importance of the study of theology (Faith, 1 July), may I point out that the figure at the top of the tower of the liberal arts is not Peter Abelard (who was condemned by the medieval Church, not for his relationship with Héloïse, but for his writing on theology), but his near contemporary Peter Lombard, the author of the Sentences, an exegetical work that became the bedrock of systematic theology, and was a standard text in universities for four centuries.

Woodlands, Colne Engaine
Essex CO6 2HD

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