Responses to Census findings
From Professor Fraser Watts
Sir, — The Census finding that the majority of the population are not Christian (News, 2 December) comes as no surprise. Things have been heading in this direction for a long time. How should the Church respond?
First, it should face facts, and stop pretending that things are better than they really are, or believing that messy church and “new missional communities” are turning things round. There is a tendency to put a positive spin on flimsy evidence. For example, the latest ComRes poll showed that the majority of the population have never had any contact with a church, though that was reported as though it were an encouraging finding. As the Bishop of Burnley said at New Wine: “We are working like crazy; we are praying like mad; we are trying every new idea under the sun. Yet the longed-for renewal does not seem to come. In fact, decline just seems to speed up.”
Second, it is very doubtful whether the majority of the population now accept the Church of England as a national Church. The Church has lost the nation, and needs to behave with greater humility. To many, it seems riddled with self-importance and an unconvincing sense of moral superiority, preoccupied, above all, with its own institutional survival, and clinging to the idea that it has an important place in British society. All that needs to change.
Third, we need to get back to basics, taking the real historical Jesus seriously, including his affinity with the poor and marginalised; applying ourselves seriously to the task of explaining Christian belief in fresh ways in the present intellectual climate; and taking spirituality seriously and connecting with the many in our society who are adopting some kind of spiritual practice. As the same issue reported (News), one third of the Nones are “Spiritual Nones”. We need to know more about what kind of services or events connect with them. For example, the personality profile of those attending messy church is little different from ordinary church services, but cathedral carol services attract a psychologically more diverse congregation.
2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL
From the Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari
Sir, — The disclosure in the recent Census report that we live in a country with Christians in a minority is food for thought. There is a dichotomy between the perception of England as a predominantly Christian country, which is widely shared outside the British Isles, and the reality that fewer than half of the total national population consider or describe themselves as Christians.
As one who grew up — as a child — in a very different cultural context in India, where Christians make up only 2.5 per cent of the population, I was always aware that truth doesn’t change in relation to statistics. Whether the number of Christians increases or dwindles, the truth remains that the love of God revealed on the Cross by Jesus Christ never changes. I find that the joy of faith in God in Christ which I felt in India is the same as the one I feel now here in England. To put it in other words, the source of lasting joy is the same.
Christians are humble and bear witness to the love of God, whether they are in a majority or in a minority. The truth is that God’s love for humankind is immutable and unalterable. This truth is all that matters; it does not matter whether Christians are in a majority or a minority. We can do without letting the so-called minority status dishearten us as the Church, as the body of Christ is here to stay, despite the Christians’ slide into a minority in England or calls to “disestablish” the Church of England.
The Church should take this as a reality check and a wake-up call, and proclaim the eternally life-changing good news of God in Christ with renewed commitment and redoubled enthusiasm.
The Vicarage, Church Lane
West Sussex RH13 9BT
Assisted dying and the care of the terminally ill
From Dr Elizabeth Burroughs
Sir, — According to Lord Carey of Clifton (Letters, 2 December), the Church “would do well to listen to its lay members and the wider public, who overwhelmingly support law change”.
There is, however, a world of difference between being asked a theoretical question when we are fit and 40 and being the patient who is told that s/he has less than six months to live. In my experience, when the situation arises, most of us wish to cling on to life for as long as we can. In my 30 years as a GP, just two terminally ill patients asked me to help to hasten their deaths — and neither of them was imminently dying. In more than15 years working in hospices, I cannot recall ever having received such a request from a patient, although I have had some from relatives. While I am sure that most relatives believe that they are speaking in the best interests of their loved ones, the worry is that patients may feel pressured to agree to assisted dying to save their family extra worry, inconvenience, or expense.
In many discussions, dying patients have told me that they want to go on living, but their main worries have been about the effect of their illness on close family members.
Lord Carey seems to imply that there are but two alternatives: a dignified and clean assisted death or an undignified, painful, and messy natural one. In fact, there is a third way, which I am sure most people would want both for themselves and for their loved ones: high-quality palliative care.
High-quality palliative care consists of holistic care with attention being paid to all the needs of the patient — physical, psychological, social, and spiritual — and his/her family, by a multidisciplinary team including (among others) medical and nursing staff, therapists, chaplains, and family-support workers. I vividly recall one patient who was admitted very reluctantly to our unit for help with troublesome symptoms; she left a few days later a changed woman, and, as she thanked us for the care that she had received, she said: “I never thought it would be such a happy place.”
Sadly, despite increased funding and a great deal of charitable giving, we have at present in this country the resources to offer this type of care to only a fraction of those patients who would benefit from a palliative-care approach. This is particularly the case with respect to patients with non-cancer diagnoses such as end-stage heart, lung, or kidney disease, and degenerative neurological conditions.
A health-needs assessment carried out in Cornwall a few years ago demonstrated that a minimum of 40 beds was necessary to meet the specialist palliative-care needs of the community. At that time, there was a maximum of 16 beds available.
But quality palliative care costs money; assisted dying is a considerably cheaper option. If an Assisted Dying Bill became law, terminally ill people who chose to kill themselves would be doing the country a favour: saving us money! Is this really the sort of society in which we wish to live?
Surely, a truly compassionate society is one whose hallmarks include palliative care, greater support for carers, and enhanced end-of-life services — to enable all of us to die in God’s good time with comfort and with dignity?
ELIZABETH A. BURROUGHS
Retired GP and hospice doctor
2 Carnsmerry Crescent
St Austell, Cornwall PL25 4NA
Asylum-seekers in the diocese of Durham
From Suzanne Fletcher
Sir, — In the letter from Mr Michael Cavaghan-Pack (18 November), there are several points in his disagreement with the Bishop of Durham’s article which do need correcting.
I live and worship in the Durham diocese and can assure the writer of the letter that concern for the whole community is, indeed, substantial. I have seen nothing to suggest that the same is not so for the rest of people in the UK, whoever they are.
I didn’t want to fill the letters column with statistics, but we need to understand the current situation. The latest statistics available show that in the quarter ending in September 2022, 77 per cent of initial decisions resulted in a grant of asylum or humanitarian protection. More than half of those who were refused asylum and who appealed were granted leave to remain. For the same period, nearly 150,000 people were waiting for an outcome on their initial claim for asylum, and, of those, 68 per cent have been waiting for more than six months.
A better decision-making that was speedier, fair, and just would mean that existing Home Office accommodation for asylum-seekers would be freed up, so that those arriving in the south-east of our country could quickly be relocated to other parts of the country with accommodation already there, removing the use of hotels and barrack-like institutions.
As for an influx of asylum-seekers on the Bishop’s doorstep, we already have around 2356 people seeking asylum in our diocese. Very many of our churches willingly provide support in different ways. They are also welcomed into many of our communities in general. In return, not only are congregations increased, but we are enriched with their voluntary work and friendship. Their faith, whether Christian or otherwise, is a great example to us all.
3 Hoylake Way, Eaglescliffe
Stockton on Tees TS16 9EU
Could same-sex marriages be Augustinian?
From Mr Jack Lyons-Allen
Sir, — I was pleasantly surprised to note Fr Farrell’s citing of the preface to the Prayer Book marriage service (Letters, 25 November), and wanted to take the opportunity to respond to his question, How can these words be applied to a same-sex couple?, since I think that they very well can be.
The three ideas — procreation of children, keeping oneself “undefiled” by “fornication”, and “mutual society and comfort” — are, of course, older than the Prayer Book, going back to St Augustine’s De Bono Conugalii; and at least two of them can be easily applied to same-sex couples. Such couples are exclusive, and as such help to keep the partners “undefiled”, and are clearly for “mutual comfort”, as such is the joy of love.
The idea of procreation in such a situation is, of course, more interesting, but it is possible to accept this in the case of a same-sex couple if we take it that “procreation” primarily means raising the child rather than merely conceiving it, as I believe it should be in light of the tradition antecedent to the Prayer Book; Augustine’s phrase was proles, not conceptio. After all, Roman Catholic theology accepts that our Lady remained a Virgin until her death, and yet was truly married to St Joseph, since they did raise a child — our Lord — together; if we mean conception alone, then our Lady was not married to St Joseph.
At least, such was the argument of Blessed John Duns Scotus that our Lady was “truly” married; and, if “only” raising a child is good enough for the Holy Family, it is good enough for me.
London WC2B 6LE
Rural funding of C of E
From Sir James Burnell-Nugent
Sir, — Luke Appleton (Letters, 2 December) quite rightly encourages rural parishes — “Do not give up” — even though “their neglect by the central Church is an act of cultural vandalism, not to mention the lost missional opportunities.” He also mentions that “Our rural churches are not money-makers.”
Thankfully, not so. In answer to a parliamentary question from Ben Bradshaw MP (PQ 26686) on 28 June, the Second Church Estates Commissioner, Andrew Selous MP, replied on behalf of the Church Commissioners that the 24 per cent of the English population who live in parishes classified as rural by ONS gave 44 per cent of the giving of the whole of the Church of England in 2020.
Rural churches are more than paying their way and, furthermore, carrying much of the cost of upkeep of hundreds of listed buildings on behalf of the nation — churchgoers and non-churchgoers.
Sheepham Mill, Modbury
Devon PL21 0LX
Bishop is out of order
From the Revd Mike Hayes
Sir, — I am appalled that the Bishop of Southwell & Nottingham, the Rt Revd Paul Williams, seeks protection for churches from disruption under the Public Order Bill (News, 25 November). Churches should be glad to be involved in anything that draws attention to the most pressing moral issue of our time, and should not be supporting this repressive and draconian legislation.
22 Ridley Road, Rochester
Kent ME1 1UL