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Letters to the Editor

by
02 June 2023

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Parish Buying energy contracts supplied by Total

From Messrs Paul Moring and Mike Buckland, and eight others

Sir, — We welcome the recent decision by the Church Commissioners to take symbolic action at the AGMs of the major fossil-fuel companies in which they continue to have significant holdings (News, 12 May). This includes the company Total.

But we note with confusion and dismay that the Church of England continues to signpost parishes to its own group-purchasing scheme, Parish Buying (which is operated under contract on its behalf by 2buy2), the majority of whose business is constituted by energy contracts for thousands of parishes, all of which are supplied by Total Energies.

Furthermore, we have seen examples where quotations from Parish Buying’s Energy Basket scheme are significantly higher than those from alternative suppliers with no worse environmental “credentials” than Total, and also a direct contract from Total being quoted at one third lower than the Energy Basket. We assume that there is a significant financial benefit to Parish Buying from its relationship with Total.

We are aware that the issue of Church Commissioners’ investments in fossil-fuel businesses has been and continues to be raised in the General Synod and elsewhere, we support those efforts. But, additionally, we note that Total still has many questions to answer about its business ethics; it was slow to react to the situation in Myanmar, and late in the day has reluctantly agreed to a “gradual withdrawal” from its business interests in Russia.

Therefore, we specifically call on those responsible in the national Church to take urgent action to enable parishes across the country to choose collectively a truly renewable energy supply from an ethically sound company. The contract terms and commission payable should be transparent to all.

We believe that the current situation is damaging to our reputation as part of the Church of England and counter-productive in achieving the carbon reduction goals adopted by the Synod.

PAUL MORING, MIKE BUCKLAND, MIKE HILL, NIGEL WHITE, DEBORAH PHILLIPS, HUGH LEE, HANNAH ETHERTON, SAM MORTIMER, JOANNA LAYNE SMITH, HANNAH HIGGINSON

Deanery environmental leads in the diocese of Oxford
c/o Church House, Langford Locks
Kidlington, Oxford OX5 1GF


Amend Illegal Migration Bill for the children’s sake

From Mr Mark Russell

Sir, — The Archbishop of Canterbury has taken the unusual step of tabling amendments to the Illegal Migration Bill to ensure that ours is an asylum system that “reflects our values, moral responsibilities and place within the international community” (News, 26 May).

How moral is it for a child who may have fled war or persecution and seeks protection to be detained, locked out of claiming asylum, and denied the safety and support that they need? This is what the Bill is proposing. For a children’s charity that fights for the hope and happiness of children and young people, it is horrifying. It rolls back past commitments and protections that the UK has long recognised are needed for children, so that now a child seeking sanctuary — whether arriving alone or with family — will be detained indefinitely wherever the Home Secretary deems appropriate. The Bill also does away with a fundamental protection allowing children who arrive alone to have their claims for asylum considered.

We are glad that the Archbishop, as well as others, is taking a stand to stop this Bill passing in its current state. While the asylum system does require reform, the Bill is immensely flawed. It cannot be right that we turn our backs on children who are desperately seeking safety. The Bill must be amended to ensure children who need our help are protected.

MARK RUSSELL
Chief Executive
The Children’s Society
Whitecross Studios
50 Banner Street
London EC1Y 8ST


Mote and beam? Lord Sentamu upbraided

From the Bishop of Kirkstall

Sir, — The Revd Dr Ian Paul’s rather grandstanding criticism of Lord Sentamu (Letters, 26 May) seems somewhat confused in its content. Of course safeguarding is a matter for the whole Church. In addition, particular duties are set out for office-holders, be they PCC members, parish safeguarding officers, clergy, bishops, or archbishops.

Dr Paul’s letter makes particular reference to his membership of the Archbishops’ Council in the same week as the Independent Safeguarding Board served the Council with a formal dispute-resolution notice saying that the Council has “repeatedly blocked their work, compromised their independence, and refused to listen to both them and to survivors” (News, 24 May).

As a long-serving member of the Council, perhaps Dr Paul might take more time acting upon the beam in his own eye before pronouncing on the mote present within that of others.

ARUN ARORA
17-19 York Place
Leeds LS1 2EX


From the Rt Revd David Wilbourne

Sir, — In the 1970s, our Acting Dean at Jesus College, Cambridge, was Leslie Brown, former Archbishop of Uganda. He asked that our weekly chapel collection help support a young lawyer who had been brutally treated by Idi Amin and had fled Uganda with his wife, seeking asylum in Cambridge, and hoping to train for ordination.

At the same time, Archbishop Donald Coggan welcomed other Ugandan refugees into Bishopthorpe Palace, incurring the wrath of local xenophobes. God had the last laugh when, thirty years later, by his divine Providence, the Ugandan whom we had gladly supported at Jesus inherited Coggan’s mantle.

Sentamu proved a highly supportive father-in-God, the most Spirit-filled and prophetic Archbishop of York in my time. Once, in Helmsley, I was doing my home-communion round before meeting Dr Sentamu, and asked my communicants whether they had any message for their Archbishop. Shamefully, several made racist comments, which I didn’t pass on. I braced myself for my final communicant, the most outspoken of them all. “You can tell him, YOU CAN TELL HIM”, she said, ominously raising her voice, “that I think he’s simply wonderful.”

“Why, Barbara?” I asked.

“Because he stands up for the underdog!”

In last week’s Church Times, a member of the Archbishops’ Council declared himself appalled by Lord Sentamu, asking that we bishops distance ourselves from him, with the Bishops of Newcastle, Stepney, and Bristol leading the charge.

The primacy of safeguarding notwithstanding, could we not model a better way of cherishing the refugee who rises up in our midst, perhaps as an exemplar to HM Government?

DAVID WILBOURNE
8 Bielby Close
Scarborough YO12 6UU


From the Ven. John Barton

Sir, — Dr Paul’s intemperate rant against the former Archbishop of York looks like a veiled promotion for his own idiosyncratic agenda. To suggest that Lord Sentamu “delegated” his safeguarding responsibilities is a flight of fancy.

A less hysterical way out of our safeguarding muddle might begin with Professor Oliver O’Donovan’s insightful essay in the Scottish Episcopal Institute Journal Volume 5.1 (spring 2021) (at www.scotland.anglican.org).

JOHN BARTON
7 The Spires
Canterbury CT2 8SD


From the Revd Larry Wright

Sir, — I have nothing to contribute to the substance of any critique of Lord Sentamu or Bishop Croft over safeguarding. But it is intriguing to reflect upon the recent use of a set of euphemisms accorded to public figures who have been found wanting. Instead of suspended, we read “step back”. Instead of resigned, we read “step down”. This is true of politicians as well as clerics.

The use of such euphemisms may soften the blow, but do they capture the significance? Jesus used parables to set moral standards, but, when it came to judgement, he was more direct in his language. Equally, he set out the language of repentance and mercy.

LARRY WRIGHT
81 The Green, Kings Norton
Birmingham B38 8RU


Causes of violence in the state of Manipur

From Professor John Parratt

Sir, — The suggestions of the supposed religious persecution of Christians in Manipur quoted in your report (News, 12 May) are seriously misleading. It is quite wrong to regard the Meetei Hindu population of Manipur as sharing in the aggressive Hindutva ideology that characterises the Modi government elsewhere in India.

The cause of the conflict between Kukis and Meeteis is not a religious persecution of Christians, but, rather, one of ethnic difference and political aspirations, which have very long roots in Manipur’s history. The states of the north-east are markedly different from mainland India in their histories, languages, and cultures. This needs to taken into account in understanding and reporting events in the region.

As regards the background of the current violence: when Manipur was annexed by India in 1949, the “tribal” hill peoples became classed as Scheduled Tribes under the Indian constitution and were eligible for the advantages of the “positive discrimination”. The largely Vaishnavite Meetei valley-dwellers were thus placed at a disadvantage. Additionally the pre-independence colonial regulation that forbade Meeteis’ owning land in the hills (90 per cent of Manipur’s land area) still remains in place. The recent decision of the Manipur High Court for this to be reconsidered was meant to address these anomalies.

It is these non-religious factors that sparked the violence in the predominantly Kuki town of Churachandpur, which subsequently had repercussions in the Manipur Valley. It has nothing to do with any supposed persecution of Christians. Relatively small minorities in both communities acted with violence, and many more in both communities have grievously suffered as a result.

Though there are occasional outbreaks of violence in Manipur, religious difference has not been the cause, but ethnic difference, sadly, often has been. Religious leaders, along with representatives of civil society in all parts of Manipur, have now appealed for calm, peace, and reconciliation between the two ethnic groups. Claims of religious persecution do not help this essential process.

JOHN PARRATT
Oakwood, Longtown
Carlisle CA6 5SZ


Pros and cons of canines visiting or residentiary

From Canon Jane Brooke

Sir, — I was delighted to read (News, 26 May) about dogs’ being welcomed into Chichester Cathedral. The statement, however, that it is the third cathedral, following “the lead of Wells and Lincoln”, is incorrect.

After the pandemic, in summer 2022, Chester Cathedral Chapter agreed a policy to welcome dogs. The admissions staff had noticed that some visitors decided not to enter the cathedral when they were told that dogs were not allowed. Dogs are an important part of households, have strong relationships with their owners, and are companions on visits to cities.

So far, the dogs have been quiet and barely noticeable. We are vigilant and careful with school visits, ensuring a clear safe space for children and teachers to work, and giving consideration to possible allergies with children.

I may wait a little before taking my 14-month-old Labrador, Bumble, inside Chester Cathedral, because he needs a little more training before I am able to relax.

JANE BROOKE
Vice Dean of Chester
Chester Cathedral Office
9 Abbey Square
Chester CH1 2HU


From the Interim Dean of Newcastle

Sir, — Norwich Cathedral has been welcoming dogs for many years, and Benson, our Labradoodle, now regularly joins us for worship in Newcastle, where he is not only welcome in the cathedral, but also in the refectory.

I am sure that many other cathedrals and parish churches welcome animals, and that, besides being made welcome themselves, these animal friends play a crucial part in breaking down barriers between people, bringing comfort to the distressed, and enhancing our mission and ministry as we reach out with God’s love to all the people who come through our doors.

JANE HEDGES
Dean Emeritus of Norwich
Cuthbert House
Rennington NE66 3QY


From Chris Macey

Sir, — Congratulations to Chichester Cathedral. I have been at Salisbury Cathedral for nine years. Throughout that time, dogs have been welcomed with visitors and at services.

CHRIS MACEY
33 Montague Road
Salisbury SP2 8NL


From Sheila Allton

Sir, — Dogs on leads have always, as far back as the 1950s, been made welcome in Southwell Cathedral. One verger’s dog, Rupert, used to sit quietly by the vestry door and welcome people, but wouldn’t let visitors into the vestry without his master’s approval. We have also had pet services: a bit noisy at times, but it was still wonderful to give thanks for all God’s creatures.

SHEILA ALLTON
Address supplied (Beeston, Nottingham)


From Mr Tom Sutcliffe

Sir, — There are various very good reasons that dogs should not be brought into cathedrals, theatres, museums, or churches. I love dogs and cats. But dogs bark and sometimes need to urinate or worse when they are going for a walk. And cathedrals are just large churches with wonderful architecture, in most cases, whose distinctive qualities and purpose are of no real interest to dogs or any other animals.

I speak as a former Chichester chorister in the 1950s. Church music well sung is one of the artistic glories of our country. Dogs, in my experience, often feel like joining in when they hear the sound of music. Who is going to be able to make sure that the dogs permitted have left the building before music-making begins?

Dogs are not religious. I am sure this permission is meant as a nice, friendly gesture. But there are very good reasons that dogs are generally not allowed into churches, and other places where performances will take place of music or plays. I doubt that dogs will recognise the purpose of this very human gesture. Most dogs are used to doing what their keeper or owner wants. They are not offended by being kept out of a place — except where there is another dog there that interests them for reasons I will leave to the imagination.

TOM SUTCLIFFE
67 Stanthorpe Road
London SW16 2EA

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