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Letters to the Editor

13 October 2023


Experience of C of E class divide

From the Revd Graeme Anderson

Sir, — I sat down and said to myself: “Phew! I can’t believe that it actually happened.” All I can say is, “Well done.”

Coming from a poor working-class background, I have experienced the class divide (News, 6 October) throughout my selection, training (not our lecturers), and ministry (ordained in 2002). One word that has been used to describe me is “quaint”. A couple of Anglican clergy who believed that our Lord was calling me to ordination coached me through the selection process, saying that I didn’t stand a chance, speaking like that. Bless their cotton socks! So I had to learn and inhabit a middle-class way to be accepted. I wish to add three things.

First, may I suggest that there are two glass ceilings. One is that of ordination selection, and the other relates to senior appointments. In my experience, the second is much firmer than the first.

Second, it is often supported by spouses, as they are part of the culture, too. My wife was in a clergy spouses’ meeting. People were saying what they did. One was a doctor, another an accountant, another led a small charity, etc. My wife was on the checkouts at Tescos. On hearing this, the group physically moved into a circle excluding her. She didn’t go again. We both have had to accept an extra level of loneliness as part of our sacrifice.

Third, our Lord is a great and powerful God, and, despite the above and many other examples, has developed our lives to be a blessing to many people.

The Rectory, Main Road, Crick
Northamptonshire NN6 7TU

USPG and Renewal &
Reconciliation Project

From Canon Daniel O’Connor

Sir, — The decision of the USPG to pledge some seven million pounds for the Church in Barbados as a gesture of repentance for its part in slavery in 18th- to 19th-century Barbados (News, 15 September) is an honourable one. Given, however, the society’s manifold commitment to supporting the Churches throughout much of the Anglican Communion today, including work at places like St Luke’s Hospital at Nablus on the West Bank, I wonder whether the Church of England’s overall effort in response to slavery might not include the society’s pledged amount.

When the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts inherited thee Codrington plantations, it was manifestly representing the Church: a secretary and a messenger were its staff, and its monthly meetings were chaired by the Archbishop of Canterbury and attended by such diocesan bishops as were in London at the time. For much of the period to the abolition of slavery and the slave trade, the Bishops — for the most part, complacently — accepted responsibility for what was going on in Barbados.

The USPG has been responding to the horror of slavery for many years: I was at the staff meeting some forty years ago when residual funds in trust with the society were transferred to Barbados; and I was at the tercentennial service in St Paul’s when a public expression of repentance was made. Would it not be right for the Church of England to shoulder responsibility for the amount that the society has pledged?

15 School Road, Balmullo
St Andrews, Fife KY16 0BA

Permission for baptism refused over teaching

Sir, — For the first time in more than 20 years of ordained ministry, I have declined to give permission for a child of my parish to be baptised in a neighbouring parish where the parents have begun attending. The reason is that I have heard from several sources that the priest of that parish is teaching publicly that same-sex relationships can be blessed in church. This is contrary to scripture and 2000 years of Christian teaching and pastoral practice.

The Bishops of the Church of England have decided this week that they will put revised prayers to the General Synod in November, after a long and heated debate in July. So far, they have declined any appeal by the Church of England Evangelical Council and other bodies for a separate province for either revisionists or conservatives, claiming that they “want to maintain unity”.

I have to tell them now: unity has already broken down, when we cannot commend the ministry of a fellow Anglican minister (or indeed bishop). “Good separation” has to be better than years of the breakdown of structures.


Is ‘treatment’ of racism being widely applied?

From the Revd Keith Griffin

Sir, — The Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari (Comment, 6 October) begins his article in an upbeat fashion, talking about structures and saying that, “The Church of England has begun to grapple earnestly with the problems of racism.” Yes, there are new initiatives and steps in the right direction; but, of course, Dr Kesari is right to state that “there is still a very long way to go.” Beyond the Church’s national and diocesan committees and structures, surely there are many congregations up and down the country where all or almost all the faces are white: churches where racial justice is likely to be considered as mainly an issue for people of colour.

The latest report from the Archbishops’ Racial Justice Commission (News, 18 August) states that, “a failure to address [the cause of racial justice] represents an existential threat to the Church.”

It is almost four years ago that the Archbishop of Canterbury stated in the General Synod that the Church of England was “still deeply institutionally racist”. If that was a diagnosis that there was a cancer in the body, then it is hard to believe that among the vast majority of worshipping Anglicans there has been a keen desire to seek urgent treatment.

3 Vicarage Meadows
West Yorkshire HD9 1DZ

Questionable emphasis on resource churches

From Professor R. G. Faulkner

Sir, — Whatever may be said about the theological values of resource churches (Letter, 15 September), there is no question that they have been a complete failure demographically.

The Chote report showed that, after eight years of the 13 that the Strategic Development Fund (SDF) was expected to run, it had spent nearly £80 million, but had succeeded in creating only 12,075 new disciples, as opposed to the expected number of 89,375. William Nye now claims, with dodgy evidence, that this 12,075 has now risen to about 24000, but this can still hardly be regarded as a success.

But the main consequence of SDF, and its successor, Strategic Mission and Ministry Investment (SSMI), funding has been to starve traditional sustainable parishes (those that pay more in parish share than the full cost of an incumbent) of stipendiary-priest support. In Leicester, in 2021, 82 of the 234 parishes were sustainable.

All of these sustainable parishes are now faced with losing their dedicated, local, incumbent under the minster scheme being championed by the Bishop. The scheme seeks to reduce the number of traditional incumbents from 100 to 60 over the next four years. At the same time, all the SMMI/SDF money is being poured into new resource churches, so that 22 new incumbents have been created for these types of church since 2020.

Canon Tilby (Comment, 8 September) is right when she says that the Church cannot be run on adjectives. Resource churches may be a convenient management tool for seeming to arrest the decline in church attendance, but they lose sight of the fact that the lifeblood of the C of E is the traditional parish church.

When this fact is recognised, then we might find that theological concerns are satisfied, and at the same time, perhaps the worship of bureaucracy will be relegated to its rightful place.

General Synod member for Leicester diocese
51 Tynedale Road
Leicestershire LE11 3TA

A Quiet House Movement might relieve stress

From Mrs Jenny de Robeck

Sir, — I read with aching heart Huw Spanner’s article “The smoke before the burnout” (Michaelmas Ordinations, 6 October), because this distressing issue is happening all the time, all around us.

Our much loved clergy all seem to have so little time to just “be”, as advised by St Augustine. Indeed, they rarely have time to read the Church Times, so fast are they running. How, I pondered, can we of their congregation help?

We are a member of the Quiet Garden Movement, which offers such peace and quiet — but usually in warmer months.

I wonder, Sir, if such an enterprise as a “Quiet House Movement” might offer peace, space, absolute sanctuary every so often, for those heading for burnout, to take time, seek Christ, and to heal.

Of course, if such an option were available, would busy clergy take advantage of it? Probably not. Too busy.

Sebergham Hall
Carlisle CA5 7DQ

Suggestions for the donation of clergy vesture

From the Revd Neil Patterson

Sir, — In response to the Revd Hilary Wakeman (Letters, 6 October), if she or other retired clergy, Readers, or widow(er)s have robes in good condition seeking a new home, I suggest that they contact either the nearest theological college or course, or their diocesan director of ordinands, or the equivalent.

As Diocesan Director of Vocations and Ordinands in Hereford, I am regularly pleased to receive such items, which can usually be found a home with ordinands or curates. There are exceptions: one donation included a strange surplice, traditionally cut, but made of crinkly, possibly waterproof, nylon. A kind curate took pity and decided that it would do for an angel costume in a nativity play!

The Diocesan Office
The Palace
Hereford HR4 9BL

St Jameses confused

From Mr Gordon Whewell

Sir, — There are two churches in Accrington dedicated in honour of St James: St James’s, Accrington, and St James’s, Church Kirk, Accrington (Church Urban DC before 1974).

Your report (News, 6 October) confuses these two churches. Indeed, St James’s, Church Kirk, is a “closed church”, and the one to which your article refers. St James’s, Accrington, was founded in 1546 and is located in the town centre of Accrington. Both churches are Grade II*. It is St James’s, Accrington, whose present building is dated 1763.

St James’s, Accrington, was the Regimental Church of the Accrington Pals. St James’s, Church Kirk, is of much earlier origin, and the building is 1804, though the tower is reputed to be 12th-century. It lies close to the Leeds Liverpool Canal at the terminus of St James’s Road, approximately one mile from Accrington town centre in the Accrington district of Church. Of your three photos, the first is of St James’s, Accrington, and the other two are of St James’s, Church Kirk.

The congregation of St James’s are presently enthusiastically supporting a proposal to reorder, and the church is certainly not closed or closing. Blackburn diocese is supporting this venture, and news of funding may be forthcoming in 2024. I trust this clarifies the confusion.

Churchwarden of St James’s, Accrington
55/57 Hollins Lane
Accrington BB5 2LB

Would a woman in the orchard make a difference?

From Mrs April Alexander

Sir, — “Attention must be paid to the social and structural context in which abusers are enabled to flourish,” the Revd David Bunce argues (Comment, 6 October). Maybe it was this that caused me to pause and realise that all the examples of abuse in his article and all the other examples of which I am aware have taken place in churches where there are no women of equal standing to the abuser in question — indeed, no ordained women at all.

All were Evangelical churches whose “arm’s-length” relationship with their dioceses led the then Lead Bishop for Safeguarding, the Rt Revd Peter Hancock, speaking before the Independent Inquiry in Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA), to accede to the following statement from Professor Alexis Jay (with his own comment in italics): “Church leaders sought to keep allegations out of the public domain and the resulting lack of engagement with external agencies helped to create a culture of ‘almost unchallengeable authority’ in the Church”.

In the final IICSA report we read: “Many contributors saw their perpetrators as prominent members of society, with ‘privilege, respect and reverence’ by virtue of their influential positions; their actions were ‘never questioned’ and their ability to abuse was ‘never contemplated’. The report stated that the ‘particularly high regard and trust placed in religious institutions’ amongst other factors facilitated abuse and discouraged appropriate responses to allegations in the Church.”

The Thirtyone:eight report on Emmanuel Church, Wimbledon, noted the power of the networks to which these churches belong. Maybe they are the “orchards” to which Mr Bunce refers. The authors were told that relationships between the leaders of each component church conferred on these leading clergy “more power than the Archbishop of Canterbury”.

Current arrangements where there are no women in leadership positions in these churches does not allow research into how effective women would be in calling out abuse by clergy; but evidence collected in many reports would suggest that the Church should consider this particular issue and consider taking action on it.

59 High Street
Redhill RH1 4PB

Contrasting views of the training path for NSMs

From Col. the Revd Richard Selby-Boothroyd

Sir, — I expected to read at least one letter last week highlighting the stark contrast between the views of the Revd Dr Paul Roberts (Letters, 22 September), who was advocating, in the light of scandals in the Church, the need for responsible supervision during a title curacy, after full engagement in training for ordination, and of the Rt Revd Dr John Saxbee (Comment, 22 September), who argued for the training and formation of NSMs to be focused into a local context and separated from central standards and even from regional courses.

I was trained for non-stipendiary ministry by local staff on a regional course to centrally defined standards. The course staff had the local knowledge to place me as an ordinand in a parish near by where I would most benefit from the experience. After my ordination, the incumbent changed, and I was then placed by my bishop in another parish, where I was appropriately supervised by an exemplary training incumbent. People’s lives change, even NSMs’, and I was later deployed in a house-for-duty post in a parish in another diocese and shortly afterwards as priest-in-charge. The breadth and depth of my training as a NSM was not wasted.

The expression “serving a title” has never been used in my context, and I have long been puzzled by its reference in the biographical details that accompany notices of archdeacons’ appointments and clerics’ obituaries. So, I am grateful to Dr Roberts for his clarification, and commend his prudent approach to ministerial formation as being considerably more constructive for the Church than Dr Saxbee’s call for freedom from standards.

8 St Josephs Way
Lyneham SN15 4FA

The mission to confirm

From the Revd R. W. Crook

Sir, — What has happened to confirmation? I read the Church Times every week with great interest to discern the Anglican opinions of many matters. Much is made of mission, whatever that might mean. But I would seek information about what has been a mark of assessing that mission in terms of confirmations. What has happened to confirmation in terms of parish and episcopal ministry?

I have searched the internet for some information on this without success. I was confirmed at the age of 14 years, then assessed as the “age of discretion”, and its preparatory instruction has stayed with me all my life (I have permission to officiate, and do so, at 84 years old).

Have the clergy and bishops given up on confirmation as fulfilling the baptismal promises?

14 Bollington Avenue
Northwich CW9 8SB

Father, dear Father

From the Revd Allan Wilcox

Sir, — Patrick Kidd of the Times Diary is quoted congratulating “the third Bishop Bishop”, later referring to the former Lord Chief Justice, Judge Judge (Quotes of the Week, 6 October). Many years ago, a friend told me of having had a parish priest whose surname was Fathers. In church, one Sunday morning, an elderly stranger, also a priest, had introduced himself to the congregation as “Fr Fathers, Fr Fathers’ father”.

Tyn y Ffynnon,
Nant Peris,
Gwynedd LL55 4UH

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