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Letters to the Editor

24 March 2023


Let boys be authentic individuals

From Mr Will Moore

Sir, — Having published a book, Boys Will Be Boys: And other myths (SCM Press, 2022), I, you will be unsurprised to read, reject Nick Harding’s worrying claim (Feature, 17 March) that the saying “‘Boys will be boys’ has a basis in fact”.

Mr Harding helps to bolster myths that all boys have a certain way of being, many of them leading to the toxic attitudes and behaviour that he avows to be countering. I could unpack each one at length, but some, for brief mention, include: that boys “need an adventure”, that girls might be a “distraction” to boys, that boys should be involved in “practical” work in church, that boys “do not enjoy reading” and would need a more accessible Bible, and that boys need space to “let off steam”.

What would be more authentic to human experience than the author’s implicit claims to some sort of biological essentialism would be to interrogate how we construct social understandings of boys and men, and inscribe those meanings on to particular bodies, and unpick what we mean when we say that boys and men are made to be and behave in a certain way: where has that come from?

Before giving resources and answers that may do more damage than good, we ought to peel back what myths and misgivings we have around masculinities and how we can provide better education on those issues. The further we oversimplify, homogenise, and dichotomise gender, the more we fail to recognise the diversity of God’s good creation and the space that we need to cultivate in churches for both children and adults which allows for individualised encounter with God among communities.

In his closing lines, that boys will not want to follow Jesus unless he is “strong in the face of opposition, pain, and death”, Mr Harding feeds into problematic narratives of a “macho Jesus”, which have been seen particularly in American conservative Evangelicalism. Masculinities can be vulnerable and exposed, just as Jesus was in life and on the cross.

We ought to recognise that boys might learn more and grow deeper in their faith if they see the Christ who was open and vulnerable to the world, who embraced all, and who was not scared to show his emotion and love to those whom he encountered. In doing so, we stay committed to scripture and yet still begin to unpick the toxic narratives around gender (especially masculinities) that we see around us today.

If readers are interested in healthier, more inclusive understandings of masculinities and their intersection with the Church, the Bible, and theology, there are many of us working progressively in this field and would be happy to provide an alternative perspective.

Westcott House
Cambridge CB5 8BP

From Mrs Catherine Stephenson

Sir, — I read with interest Nick Harding’s article about churches’ “getting it right with boys”. While I applaud his intention to engage better with young people, I did feel that I had stepped back in time to the 1940s and the era of Enid Blyton’s “Famous Five” books, in which everyone had their gender-specific role to play.

I heartily agree that we should not “diminish difference”. As the wife, mother, daughter, sister, friend, and colleague of men who did not conform to the stereotypes of boys presented in the article, I would far rather that we look for ways to understand and communicate with all the people whom we encounter, in their wonderful diversity, than make assumptions about people before we truly know them. No doubt, some — not all — boys do display the traits described in the article. Some girls display exactly the same traits. There is far more diversity among boys (and girls) than seems to be assumed.

General Synod member for Leeds diocese
18 St Mary’s Road, Netherthong
Holmfirth, West Yorkshire

From Dr David Cooper

Sir, — I read with interest Nick Harding’s article. I expected a reference to membership of choirs. It never came, and yet this has often been a “safe” area for boys in a church. Over the past couple of decades, the numbers of boy choristers have plummeted, often coinciding with the arrival of girls in the same choirs. As the article suggested, occasionally separating girls and boys is often the best way to approach any situation in a church. Running one choir can be difficult these days, let alone trying to have two. Only within our cathedrals are we able to build up such a fair system of music-making, and they have the resources to do this, although it is a known fact that, as the girls’ choirs continue to flourish, keeping the high standard of singing from the boys is becoming increasingly difficult to achieve.

I know from decades of training both boys and girls, that the boys are much harder to deal with, particularly in terms of recruitment and retention. I kept the boys’ choir and the girls’ choir as separate groups, joining together only on major festivals. The boys’ practice would have an interval of physical activity — often a quick game of football in the adjoining parish hall.

After my retirement, more than 20 years ago, the boys and girls were combined to form a single choir. Within a year, the 18 boys become three, while the numbers of girls fell slightly. Over the next few years, with the gradual emphasis on a mixed adult choir, the junior section, both boys and girls, declined dramatically.

Choirs can often be a great source of outreach, parents attending church with their offspring. Youth choirs can develop. Choirboys may develop into choirmen, future organists, and future clergy, not to mention loyal members of the congregation. Choirs of children, girls and boys, separately or mixed, are fragile entities. They need to be encouraged and nurtured.

Perhaps it is time that we viewed our dwindling numbers of choirboys more carefully. They are, after all, an endangered species.

20 Hardwicke House
Malvern, Worcs WR14 3HH

Psychological trauma in LGBTQI experience

From the Revd Dr Charlie Bell

Sir, — Dr Nick Land (Letters, 17 March) provides some helpful input on the multifactorial and often over-simplified cause of suicidal thinking and of completed suicide. It is quite a stretch, however, to suggest that “biblical” (sic) teaching on sexuality plays no part in leading to such outcomes. The evidence is to the contrary — and nor is such teaching biblical.

In addition, the overwhelming evidence — scientific, psychological, and medical — is clear: conversion therapy does not work, and psychological trauma is caused by stigma and negative attitudes towards non-heterosexual sexualities rather than by the sexualities themselves. God has already done the “affirming” in the sexualities we find ourselves in. We cannot afford just to ignore the evidence when we don’t like what it tells us.

It is not only queer people who need to be “transformed to be like Jesus”: straights do as well. Perhaps, if we focused more on that than on gender and sexuality policing, the Church might finally be a blessing to LGBTQI people.

Priest and psychiatrist
Girton College
Cambridge CB3 0JG

The Archbishop of Canterbury in the Communion

From Mr Philip Johanson

Sir, — Archbishop Robert Runcie once said to me that he felt more appreciated and valued in parts of the Anglican Communion outside the Church of England. I wonder if that is why Archbishop Welby appears to spend more time away from the Church of England than in it. You reported (News, 17 March) that he had visited Romania, Bucharest, and Moldova. He has visited at least ten countries since last September.

Would it not be better for the Church of England if Archbishop Welby became the foreign representative for the Anglican Consultative Council (ACC), paid for by it, and the Church of England had an Archbishop of Canterbury who spent all their time in England leading the Church of England? Perhaps this was in Archbishop Welby’s mind when he suggested at the recent ACC in Ghana that perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury would no longer be first among equals in the Communion. “I will not cling to place or position as an Instrument of Communion provided the other Instruments choose a new way.” In passing, it invites the question whose decision it would be.

Last year, in the Church of England’s General Synod, when persuading it to appoint five people from other parts of the Communion to sit on the Crown Nominations Commission for Canterbury, the Archbishop said that 25 per cent of his time was spent on Communion affairs. Who, I wonder, made the decision that the Archbishop should spend so much time on Communion business? The decision of the Synod was in exchange for the diocese of Canterbury’s having only three members on the commission rather than the normal six. Having made that decision, Archbishop Welby is now suggesting that the function of the Archbishop of Canterbury in relation to the Communion might change. Might the Synod therefore have to rescind its decision?

The Archbishop has already said that, in relation to the draft prayers arising out of the Living in Love and Faith process, while he agrees with the draft prayers, he will not use them because of his responsibilities in the Anglican Communion. Surely, the C of E deserves an Archbishop of Canterbury who not only states that he agrees with something, but is also prepared to act on what he believes.

10 Ditton Lodge
8 Stourwood Avenue
Dorset BH6 3PN

Links with Mirfield

From Canon Christopher Irvine

Sir, — I was delighted to see Pat Ashworth’s article (Vocations, 10 March) about opportunities for people to live alongside religious communities, but I think that what was written about the Community of the Resurrection, Mirfield, is not quite correct.

Mirfield has had, and does from time to time have, individuals living alongside to share the life and worship of the Community. But, as you can see from the “CR family” page on the Community’s website, there are various degrees of association. A more recent and certainly remarkable development is the Society of the Resurrection, which was inaugurated in 2017. It now has more than 40 members and is international in its reach.

The Society is made up of women and men, single and married, ordained and lay, who share a Rule of life. Members are committed to the pattern of daily prayer, and to draw deeply from the eucharist. In many respects, the Rule reflects the CR charism, and members are also encouraged to continue study and to give active support to a cause that promotes social justice. Corporately, we seek to promote the Tariro educational charity, which works in Zimbabwe, and, day by day, we seek to encourage each other in the living out of our Christian discipleship in the individual circumstances and relationships of our lives. Members keep in touch electronically, and there are two in-person chapter meetings a year at Mirfield.

It is a serious commitment, and two CR Brothers provide spiritual support and inspiration. Mirfield is a growing community, and, together with the College and other partners on campus, is really a seedbed for Christian formation and the discernment of vocation, and so deserves a mention.

The Rectory, Ewhurst Green
East Sussex TN32 5TB

Reasons for lockdown

From Mary P. Brown

Sir, — I think Canon Angela Tilby is largely mistaken in her view that church leaders imposed lockdown “in sheer and understandable terror that, if there were an outbreak of Covid linked to a church, the C of E would be blamed” (Comment, 17 March).

That narrative was put forward by some journalists, but it was not the reality in the diocese (Chester) where I attend church. We locked down, on the instructions of our bishop, to set an example of responsible behaviour by following the best scientific advice available.

No one was aware of it at the start of the pandemic, but Covid proved to be extremely dangerous for pregnant women and their unborn children. One member of our congregation caught Covid at a family party just before lockdown, and miscarried. Our other two expectant mothers came through safely.

A doctor working in a general hospital at a smallish town in the county told me that it had had ten Covid-related deaths of pregnant women in less than a year. A London hospital reported that its maternal death rate was up by a half, owing to Covid infection.

Whatever the original reasons may have been for the C of E lockdown, I believe that it was a blessing that we did it.

Bross Croft, Glossop
Derbyshire SK13 1HF

Why the steam is let off

From the Revd Peter Bellenes

Sir, — Your pseudonymous author of “Armchair critics should tame their tweets” (Comment, 3 March) laments the rush to social-media comment of so many in the Church of England.

Some years ago, I was the registrar of complaints for a social-services department in a large local authority. I frequently came across clients described as “aggressive” and, on review, frequently found that the “aggression” arose from the failure of managers to engage reasonably at an early stage.

My observation of some areas of the Church of England is that, in plans for wholesale pastoral reorganisation, there is the same failure to engage. The lie is trotted out about the bottom-up development of policies that have really arisen from micro-managed meetings.

I recently attended a meeting of more than 30 disgruntled parish representatives, who painted a uniform picture, the length of the diocese, of “consultation” meetings with little time for questions and a response of talking over the questioner, and a failure to engage in any serious way.

Bloated diocesan staff teams are part of the problem. Thirty years ago, with twice the number of stipendiary clergy, a letter to the Bishop would elicit a handwritten response within days. Now, after weeks have elapsed, your answer, if at all, will come from someone titled senior executive assistant. How can you see this as a response to the call for the Church to be simpler, humbler, bolder?

Little Grove
Callington PL17 8JN

Retirees and repairs

From the Revd Allan Campbell-Wilson

Sir, — Your information concerning CHARM housing (News, 10 March) is not totally correct. The Pensions Board is not responsible for repairs, etc., on all its stock. Those of us who invested our pension lump sum in contributing to a share in the property have to fund in total all repairs, including incoming costs, landlord’s safety certificates, and buildings insurance. This is a heavy responsibility to bear.

51 Oak Road
Scarborough YO12 4AP

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