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Letters to the Editor

17 March 2023


Clergy pensions and housing costs

From the Chair of the Church of England Pensions Board’s Housing Committee

Sir, — The Church of England Pensions Board wishes to clarify comments made about the increase in pensions payments and CHARM housing rents for some retired members of clergy (News, 10 March).

Clergy pensions have not been cut. The 10.1-per-cent increase in pensions payments to retired clergy, effective 1 April, is more than double the scheme’s guarantee. Pensions Board trustees decided to go beyond the guarantee this year to support pensioners, after careful review of a range of factors, including strong investment returns in recent years.

For the vast majority of CHARM rental customers, the increase in pension payments exceeds the increase in rent. In addition, many clergy pensioners have additional income; so it would be incorrect to look only at income from the clergy pensions scheme. The Pensions Board is actively encouraging anyone in CHARM housing who is struggling financially to get in touch with the Housing Services team to look at the support that might be available to them. This could include grants or other support.

It is also important to note that the Pensions Board is a charity, not a registered provider of social housing; and it does not represent itself to be a social-housing association. That means it does not have access to Homes England (public) funding, unlike many housing associations. The recently announced government cap on rent increases for 2023-24 applies to registered social landlords, and does not apply to the Pensions Board. Church rental properties continue to be offered at a significant discount to market rents for comparable properties in the same area, which is just one of the ways in which the Pensions Board recognises the important part that retired clergy play in church life.

The Board carefully considered the level of rent increase this year. Like individuals, churches, and other organisations, the Board is facing increases in its own costs in the current inflationary environment. The Board’s practice in previous years has been to increase CHARM rents in line with inflation, taking account also of the increase in clergy pensions. This year, we have decided to limit the rent increase, so that it stays in step with the increase in clergy pensions, rather than apply our normal inflation benchmark (September 2022 RPI).

Even after the increase, the Board will be unable to cover its costs for the CHARM scheme alone. My fellow trustees and I take seriously our duties to current residents, future residents, and the wider Church, whose generous funding enables the continued provision of retirement housing. We are considering options for the future to put the service on a more sustainable footing.

Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3PS

From Mr Richard Symonds

Sir, — Spare a thought and prayer for tenants of church-owned properties who have suffered a 33-per-cent increase in monthly rent from March — who include me in my 70th year.

The local church landlord increased my rent by £275 per month (£825 to £1100). I complained about the scale of increase, but was then issued a Section 21 Eviction Notice. It was only after the intervention of the local media and a community petition that the Section 21 Notice was withdrawn.

I now have a new diocesan landlord and new tenancy agreement, but still have to find an extra £275 per month.

2 Lychgate Cottages
Ifield Street, Ifield Village
Crawley, West Sussex RH11 0NN

Parish Buying, energy bills, and standing charges

From Mr Michael J. Wilson

Sir, — I have been arguing with Parish Buying (News, 10 March) and the energy supplier about the excessive increase in the daily charge levied for my church and its hall, of which I am the treasurer, St Giles’s, Balderton.

I have alerted the diocesan authorities because the increase of the daily charge for gas is 625 per cent per day for the church and 750 per cent per day for the hall. This equates to the church’s having to pay more than £1000 during the summer months when the building uses no gas: worrying for small parishes when having to balance the books and pay parish share.

I am informed that it is to do with the annual quantity, or AQ, which, I understand, means that the lower the gas usage is, the higher the daily charge, and that this is a consequence of the closure of churches during the Covid lockdown.

So, while the Government persuaded energy suppliers not to increase unit costs, it failed to regulate the daily charges. Thus, churches are paying more for using less gas, and the energy companies maintain their profits. This is unacceptable.

Chair of the House of Laity, diocese of Southwell & Nottingham
54 Queen Street
Newark NG24 3NS

From Mr Andrew Rainsford

Sir, — The parish highlighted in the article about increased standing charges should contact their diocesan office. There, they could find assistance in funding applications to cover the cost for at least the coming year.

Failing support from there, the local Council for Voluntary Service could be a useful port of call. And, if it cannot assist, a skilled fund-raising consultant (such people are not expensive) will be able to assist. There are many funders interested in supporting rural buildings that serve their communities.

One of the small benefits of Covid is that the church building was seen as a space for socially distanced community gatherings in a way that a village hall could not manage because of size constraints. Indeed, the socially distanced solitary “place to be” was also a use that came to the fore.

Let us hope that relevant authorities really buy into the net-zero agenda. A photovoltaic array and a battery may well remove the need for standing charges, as electricity use, in lightly used churches, could come from the sun.

Stonehaven, Ramsgate Street
Norfolk NR24 2AX

The Churches’ duty on
the Illegal Migration Bill

From Canons Richard Truss and David Driscoll and two other members of the Public Square Group

Sir, — It was heartening to read Bishop Paul Butler’s statement (News, 10 March) that “We must not abdicate our legal and moral responsibility to some of the world’s most vulnerable by simply treating asylum-seekers as a group not to be welcomed or integrated but detained and returned. We must do and be better.” Your leader comment was equally challenging, reinforcing the Bishop’s message and reminding us of the UN 1951 Refugee Convention and the European Convention of Human Rights, both of which Britain helped to frame.

Then, last weekend, apart from news coverage on the views of Gary Lineker and others well known in the media, Archbishop Cottrell was quoted condemning the Government’s intentions.

There is also a challenging article on the Modern Church website by Interjit Bhogal, a former President of the Methodist Conference and founder of the City of Sanctuary network and movement. He opens by saying: “Applying for ‘asylum’ is not a crime, but criminalising people for even trying to find a safe place is a crime against humanity. Detaining and deporting them without even considering their story and claim is immoral and unethical.”

It is worth remembering that Christian Aid was founded in 1945 by British and Irish Churches to help refugees and asylum-seekers after the Second World War. There are probably nearly as many refugees and asylum-seekers today. Apart from Ukrainians, there are refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Ethiopia, Somalia, South Sudan, and Myanmar, to name but a few.

The Church of England has also been in a covenant relationship with the Methodist Church since 2003. Perhaps we could work together for a more humane approach to refugees and asylum-seekers. We could make an even greater impact working with other Churches and faith communities in Britain, and as your leader comment’s conclusion implies, we must urge our Government to make it a priority to work with other countries for a global solution to the refugee crisis.

No Christian can avoid the challenge of Jesus’s words in the parable of the sheep and the goats, “When I was a stranger, you welcomed me.”

12 Camden Cottages
Church Walk
Weybridge KT13 8JT

Evangelicalism and its teaching on sexuality

From Dr Nick Land

Sir, — I am sorry that the Revd Gareth Wardell (Letters, 10 March) suffered homophobic abuse and violence in his youth. Neither coercion nor bullying has any part in clinical or pastoral care. We need, however, to be careful in alleging that biblical Christian teaching on sex and marriage causes suicides.

The Samaritans’ media guidelines warn: “Speculation about the ‘trigger’ or cause of a suicide can oversimplify the issue and should be avoided. Suicide is extremely complex and most of the time there is no single event or factor that leads someone to take their own life.”

I am sure that we can agree that young people benefit from belonging to a church where they are welcomed and loved. I wonder, however, whether the pressing question being considered by the Church whether a person’s temporal and eternal well-being is best served by their being affirmed in their current identity and behaviour, or by helping them to be transformed to be like Jesus, is really a question that can be answered by medical science or psychotherapy alone.

Psychiatrist and General Synod member for York diocese
Low Farm House
Ingleby Greenhow
Great Ayton TS9 6RG

From Canon Andrew Lightbown

Sir, — The Revd Dr Ian Paul in his letter (10 March) emphasises that polemics play no part in the letter penned by the Church of England Evangelical Council, with his starting position being an unconvincing, and polemical, assertion of “Anglicanism as historically understood”.

Dr Paul and his allies may contend for a brand of Global Anglicanism, inherently conservative, in which doctrine is determined through some form of global magisterium, but such an approach would be far removed from a historic understanding of Anglicanism.

Anglicanism is not a global denomination, but a federation of reformed Catholic Churches held together in creative tension through the Four Instruments, the Creeds, the ordering of ministry through the offices of bishops, priests, and deacons, a firm acknowledgment that the Bible contains all that is necessary for salvation, with an acceptance and even encouragement of diverse methods of interpretation, and a commitment to sacramentality. These are the hallmarks of our shared Anglican orthodoxy. To suggest otherwise is, indeed, highly polemical.

Newport Cathedral
Newport NP20 4ED

From the Revd David Runcorn

Sir, — It takes only a read of their literature and publicity material to make clear that the Church of England Evangelical Council uses the word “Evangelical” to mean people who hold their conservative view of same-sex relationships.

This in no way reflects the present or historic theological diversity of the Evangelical tradition in the Church of England. But one thing is obvious. If you create your own definition of the word, you can speak without fear of contradiction.

32 The Avenue
Tiverton EX16 4HW

Age limit is depriving parishioners of the eucharist

From the Revd Geoffrey Squire SSC

Sir, — I note that the bishop appointed to be Bishop to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is aged 70 (News, 10 March). Likewise, retired bishops have been appointed as assistant bishops and acting archdeacons aged above the general maximum retirement age.

As the serious shortage of priests is causing the people of some parishes to be deprived of a Sunday eucharist, why cannot more priests aged 70 or above be permitted to carry on in their parishes or appointed as parish priests in some of the smaller parishes? This could be during the period of a vacancy or for an unspecified period as long as they are willing and able.

Many years ago, and before official retirement ages were set, I well remember the vicar of a country parish who was still in office at the age of 90 and would celebrate the eucharist daily.

Litchdon House, Litchdon Street
Barnstaple, Devon EX32 8ND

Providence and coincidences in the spiritual life

From Dr Monica Tobon

Sir, — I gather that for Sarah Meyrick the “highly improbable” coincidences involved in the plot of Anne Booth’s novel Small Miracles (Books, 9 March) diminish its plausibility. If so, I am intrigued. In my own experience, more or less improbable coincidences characterise the spiritual life, and, as a result, it is precisely their proliferation in Small Miracles which makes the story ring so true for me and endow the book with real depth; my first thought upon finishing it was how well it illustrated the workings of Providence.

Department of Greek and Latin
University College London
Gower Street
London WC1E 6BT

Quaker insight into AI

From Simon Joe Jones

Sir, — I enjoyed Nick Spencer’s article on the tension between artificial intelligence (AI) and theology, in all its length (Comment, 10 March). But words — “dialogue between”, as we always say these days — might not be the best tools for approaching the subject. When AI falls silent, it does so into blankness and absence. But a soul in stillness is a full and expressive thing, a place where meeting happens. I’m sure it’s not just we Quakers who think so.

Editor, The Friend
Friends House, Euston Road
London NW1 2BJ

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