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Letters to the Editor

15 December 2023


The ‘cheesed-off’ churchwarden

From the Ven. Chris Skilton

Sir, — I am sorry to read of the problems that “Michael Victor” has had in trying to ask his diocese about the make-up of the parish share. A few years ago, I was one of a small group responsible for devising and implementing a new system for the parish share in Southwark diocese — based on the principle of generosity.

Notwithstanding the pandemic, the diocese has annually achieved a very high rate of collecting the share. One of the other key principles of the scheme was “transparency”, whereby the diocese shared with parishes as accurately as possible the actual costs (and indicative where not) of financing diocesan and parish life.

Transparency worked both ways: from diocese to parish, and parish to diocese. Trust and understanding increased significantly, and I hope that they will continue to be maintained.

46 Downview Road
Worthing BN11 4QY

From Mr Michael J. Wilson

Sir, — I was very disappointed with the attitude of “Michael Victor”. It is this very attitude that, to me, has beset the Church of England for too long.

I wonder, where is the response to our generous God who sent his Son into the world to redeem us? Clearly, in the parish concerned, not towards the collection plate. The anonymous churchwarden also makes a mistake about how much a contribution is being asked for, because taxpayers in the congregation would only need to “stump up” about £900 to match the total suggested — a poor choice of words regarding a voluntary contribution.

I plead that all lay officers of each parish seriously encourage their parishioners to rethink about how much they contribute financially to the work of the Church. It would be wonderful if everyone donated willingly and generously (with Gift Aid added) so that the parish-share request is fully paid, enabling the continued teaching and spreading of the gospel. Without a change, we will have even fewer priests to minister to us, and that would be tragic for the Church of England.

Also, a change to a positive attitude towards giving would, I am sure, improve discussions at meetings of PCCs, and deanery and diocesan synods when money (or the lack of it) tends to dominate rather than welcoming new disciples, which should be the priority.

One final comment: my vicar is worth every penny of £88,000.

Southwell & Nottingham Diocesan Lay Chair, Newark and Southwell Deanery Lay Chair, and PCC Treasurer of St Giles’s, Balderton.
54 Queen Street, Balderton
Newark NG24 3NS

Sir, — I have just read the churchwarden’s article about parish share. In it, he bemoans the fact that each of his congregation “is now expected to fork out £1100 a year for the privilege of worshipping with us”. Obviously, I know nothing about the congregation’s financial circumstances, or how many households are represented by the 80 weekly churchgoers. Hence, I have no desire to criticise him or them in any way.

I am. however, slightly concerned that we all too often fall into the trap of regarding the parish share as a tax demanded by a greedy diocese. When I started as an incumbent, in 1991, my PCC held that very view. I am glad to say that I was able to explain that generous and cheerful giving is a privilege and a joy. It is our way of showing our trust in, and gratitude to, God. Although our parish was the poorest in the deanery, our giving per capita became by far the highest.

Since ordination, my wife and I have always given at least a tithe — ten per cent or more of our take-home income — to the Church. We find that giving actually brings us joy and has produced the blessings promised in Malachi 3.10.


Plight of Rohingya is at risk of being forgotten

From Mr Alain Cozens

Sir, — Your report on the Rohingya refugees fleeing the camps in Bangladesh (News, 1 December) highlights the rather forgotten plight of those people. As someone in daily contact with Rohingya refugees, however, I am aware that the situation is, in fact, even worse for these stateless people. They are prisoners in their camps, without hope and without a release date when they might return to their homeland, where they were not treated as citizens, but were murdered and raped, and their homes were destroyed, by the Myanmar military.

Armed gangs in the refugee camps are, sadly, fighting each other and kidnapping other Rohingya for money. Innocent people are dying in the crossfire. The small Christian community among the Rohingya Muslim majority are also under threat from extremists. A Christian pastor was murdered a few years ago. The world may well have its attention focused on other crises, but the long-term plight of the Rohingya must be addressed by the international community.

The Vicarage, Station Road
Shoreham, Sevenoaks TN14 7SA

Christmas festivities under shadow of Gazan war

From the Revd John-Francis Friendship

Sir, — This year marks the 800th anniversary of St Francis of Assisi creating the first Christmas crib in Greccio, Italy, that he might “see as much as is possible with my own bodily eyes the discomfort of his infant needs, how he lay in a manger” (Thomas of Celano, Life of St Francis). He also invited the local inhabitants to midnight mass to wonder at how God became flesh in Bethlehem.

As the minds, bodies, and spirits of tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians and Muslims suffer immensely in Gaza and, to a lesser extent, Bethlehem and the West Bank, might those in our land who follow this tradition heed the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in their call to “stand strong with those facing such afflictions by this year foregoing any unnecessarily festive activities [and] focus more on the spiritual meaning of Christmas” in their “pastoral activities and liturgical celebrations” (Online News, 30 November).

While secular culture continues to encourage excessive, expensive festivities, the way in which churches present their cribs, and the kind of celebrations offered, would provide a clear message concerning the real meaning of Christmas, by showing how the crib reflects that incarnate reality that St Francis sought to portray to the world.

22 The Old Fire Station
1 Eaglesfield Road
London SE18 3BT

From the Revd Sue Parfitt

Sir, — The Mayor of Bethlehem has cancelled all Christmas festivities this year, in solidarity with the people of Gaza. The Christians in Bethlehem have decided to represent their crib scenes as though Jesus was being born in Gaza. Jesus is somewhere amid the rubble, and Mary, Joseph, the Shepherds, and the Magi are frantically searching for him (Al Jazeera News, the Revd Munther Isaac, Lutheran Pastor, Bethlehem Evangelical Church).

Maybe we, as Christians in this country, might forgo our pretty Christmas cribs and do the same, in solidarity with our greatly suffering sisters and brothers in Gaza, the Occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem and help ourselves and others to understand better the real meaning of God’s extraordinary entry into the sinful darkness of the world and his ongoing solidarity with it.

Garden Cottage
Rectory Gardens
Bristol BS10 7AQ

From Mr Michael Maxwell Steer

Sir, — As a sincere Christian, I shall find it intolerable to go to church this Christmas and sing carols like “O come, O come, Emmanuel, and ransom captive Israel”. We/I cannot ignore the disproportionate violence being inflicted on women and children in Gaza.

The irony of singing “Away in a manger” while newborns are being shunted out of hospitals is off the Richter scale. As the death toll rises, at what point is the suffering and death sufficient to register urgency on the Christian Churches’ moral radar?

125 Duck Street
Tisbury SP3 6LJ

Crucial time of decision over C of E safeguarding

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — This month will be crucial for the future of safeguarding in the Church of England. This week brought the publication of Sarah Wilkinson’s review of the débâcle that led to the end of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB). In January, Professor Alexis Jay will publish her proposals, designed to provide fully independent scrutiny of safeguarding in the C of E.

Both reports were commissioned because of an almost total collapse of confidence in the Church’s national safeguarding structures. Ms Wilkinson points the finger at incompetence at the highest levels rather than malice. Professor Jay is likely to recommend radical change, particularly as the recommendations that she made in the statutory Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) more than three years ago remain largely unimplemented.

The fate of the IICSA recommendations illustrates the challenge facing the Church in the new year. Whatever recommendations emerge from these reports will have to pass through exactly the same defensive and inept governance structures as have brought the Church to this desperate place.

For years, there has been little evidence of willingness in the Church to change fundamentally. Instead, there is a long history of tinkering at the edges: a new safeguarding post here, a new review there. My greatest fear is that instead of immediately implementing Professor Jay’s proposals, they will be sent out for a typical C of E consultation process — and we will still be debating whether to implement some watered-down version ten years from now.

The reality, as expressed by Ms Wilkinson and experienced by many victims and survivors of abuse, is that hardly anyone in the senior leadership of the Church has a deep understanding of abuse and trauma, and what it takes to help survivors rebuild their lives. Mandatory trauma training is one of her key recommendations. Day after day, I hear from survivors whose trauma is met with bureaucracy. It is as if the A and E department of every hospital were staffed entirely by overworked senior managers with no clinical expertise and a heap of other problems to deal with at the same time. All of the survivors I know are exhausted, ground down by navigating the Church’s managerial and adversarial systems. So are the senior leaders. Yet still they project an absolute conviction that they know how to run the hospital better than any outside experts.

I suspect that one reason for this is that so many of the senior leaders of the Church are leading from a place of fear. Many are carrying their own unprocessed trauma, much of it a result of their own bruising experiences within the Church. We all need to experience the theological realities of repentance, hope, and healing, and that requires us all to own our own vulnerability. Survivors offer an icon of Christ’s suffering, not a problem to be managed.

The Church needs to find the humility to accept the gifts of the Magi; external experts such as Professor Jay and Ms Wilkinson, and even the former ISB members. I sincerely hope that whatever Professor Jay recommends, it will be implemented in full and without further delay.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG

Difficulties of autism, with or without a diagnosis

From the Revd Carol Farrer

Sir, — I am grateful to the Revd Rachel Noel for her letter about autism (8 December). I retired, aged 60, completely exhausted, at the end of 2007, having visited doctors frequently, but without a definite diagnosis. A counsellor whom I saw in 2019 suggested that I read a booklet on autism, and suddenly all it all made sense. Formal diagnosis finally came in 2021, but there is little or no support for “old ladies” with a new diagnosis.

When I tell people that I have autism, there is usually no response at all, unless there is a family history. Every person with autism is different. This makes it difficult for “outsiders” to understand, or even believe, that there is a genuine issue.

3 Marlow Terrace

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