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Letters to the Editor

by
27 October 2023

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Prayers of Love and Faith debate 

From the Revd Alex Frost

Sir, — Of the 12 bishops who publicly dissented from the position to commend blessings of same-sex couples (News, 12 October), two were from my own diocese of Blackburn, which has the potential to enthuse like-minded supporters while alienating others who hold a very different position. Whatever our own views (I’m an inclusive), it should be recognised that transparency and honesty published from a heart of integrity is preferable to a wall of silence and denial. In that regard, I am grateful to my Bishops for that.

Our way to a satisfactory conclusion is more transparency and less skulduggery and silence. I have invited various bishops on to my own podcast for discussions, and unnamed individuals have refused, owing to not wanting to aggravate already difficult subject matter. The success or failure of this matter will be found only in confident leadership, from Bishops, Synod, clergy, and laity moving together with mutual respect and honesty. In that regard, delays, diversions, and dithering only makes us appear as a ramshackle mess of uncertainty and division.

Despite my Bishops’ objections, I feel empowered enough to have a voice without fear of recrimination or isolation in the Blackburn diocese. I have full confidence that I can be a voice at the General Synod for those who voted for me when I stood on platform seeking a full and inclusive agenda. Over time, a solution must and will be found. I urge people of varying theological positions to act with humility and kindness, as we negotiate and find a way to fulfil the decision that was passed at Synod earlier this year.

I call for more open and honest discussions, particularly from the Bishops, particularly when the world is a dangerous and worrying place, and particularly for minority groups and those on the fringes of mainstream society. We might not agree with one another, but we do have to love one another.

ALEX FROST
General Synod member
St Matthew’s Church
St Matthew’s Street
Burnley, Lancashire BB11 4JJ

 

From Mr Dan Grayson

Sir, — When the General Synod debates Prayers of Love and Faith next month, my boyfriend and I will be working out how to solemnise our cooperation in the graces of our relationship. As a lay Catholic and an Anglican ordinand, we have a particular perspective. We don’t agree about everything, but we’ve both been challenged by the call to greater holiness that we’ve experienced in our relationship.

GS 2328 implies that marriage is the “ideal” form of human relationship. We agree that it is a gift of God in creation, but disagree that it is “the ideal”. The ideal is the love of the Trinity, in which each Person perfectly wills the good of the other. The Father’s ad extra creative love brings forth the created order, and its perfection is revealed in the sacrificial love of the Son, and eternally sustained by the love of the Spirit. Marriage is a reflection of that love, but still falls short of its perfection.

In this chain of being, the noun “a love” — when applied to homosexual couples — is objectively a lesser good than its procreative heterosexual counterpart, but “we love” no less. GS 2328 fails to see the difference in the interdependent concepts of “amor” and “amare”. Most LGBTQ+ Christians are not Platonic philosophers seated in a library studying love (noun); we love (verb).

God’s creative love brings the earth and the heavens into being. Some aspects of human relationships are earthly, but our current preoccupation with bodies and body parts excludes the heavenly nature of human relationships and fails to meet the standards of Christian anthropology.

Same-sex relationships are good, not because they resemble earthly marriage, but because they, too, straddle the two aspects of God’s created order. Heterosexual marriages pass away for the same reason as our same-sex relationship will: their imperfection. There is no marrying in heaven, because the intimacy of perfect union with God means perfect union with our fellow creatures beyond what mortal hearts can encompass. In this life, we are called to reflect God’s love as best we can into the world. The theological rationale of GS 2328 appears to miss this point.

God demands greatness of same-sex couples: that our ad intra love reflects the love of the Trinity ad extra into the world. We need rites that fortify us for, and celebrate, the task of becoming who God has created us to be.

DAN GRAYSON
Westcott House
Cambridge CB5 8BP

 

From the Revd Paul Burr

Sir, — The Bishops now concede what was obvious all along: their Prayers of Love and Faith will have to be properly authorised by the General Synod. Since that will require two-thirds majorities in each House, such authorisation can hardly be presumed. But if (as it seems) the Bishops think that they can, in the mean time, somehow authorise the use of Prayers of Love and Faith experimelntally, they are mistaken.

At least, it cannot be done lawfully. For such authorisation is only possible with forms of service “neither contrary to, nor indicative of any departure from, the doctrine of the Church of England in any essential matter”. Given that the Bishops have previously said that homosexual practice is incompatible with scripture (Lambeth 1.10 and Issues in Human Sexuality), blessing such relationships is very obviously a departure from the doctrine that they previously upheld. That bishops deny such departure is manifestly absurd.

When bishops conspire in secret conclave to bless what is forbidden, serious questions arise about the quality of our bishops and archbishops and their decision-making. First, the deliberation and decision-making of the House of Bishops needs opening up to public scrutiny. Second, the selection of bishops and the appointment process needs opening up to public scrutiny. Third, the accountability of bishops to the General Synod and to their own diocesan synods is ineffectual and needs urgent attention.

When an archbishop leads his House of Bishops into such a scandalous débâcle, is not the most honourable course prompt resignation? And, when he does, might not his replacement need to be looked for beyond the present House of Bishops?

PAUL BURR
The Vicarage, The Common
Swardeston, Norwich NR14 8EB

 

Liturgical familiarity is important in dementia 

From Mrs Jill Sandham

Sir, — I welcomed the Revd Dr Nigel Copsey’s article (Health, 20 October) on sharing his wife’s Alzheimer’s journey, much of which resonated with me. My husband, the Revd Hugh Dawes, is at the very advanced stage of dementia (not Alzheimer’s), the first signs of which were evident 14 years ago, just five years into our marriage. He is a priest who, with support and generosity, continued his ordained liturgical ministry until five years ago, and, I believe, still ministers through his very presence. He lives at home with me, where I am primarily his wife and, as part of that, his carer. It has been a long journey of adjustment and bereavement for us both, though still with moments of joy.

We are fortunate to have a strong group of friends who relate to him as Hugh, with dignity and respect. He is generally unable to recognise me or others, can no longer read (having once written a book) or engage in conversation. The place where, I believe, he feels most safe and at home is in church. The liturgy from our Anglo-Catholic tradition is so deeply embedded that he can participate: he knows the words and the actions and is touched through the depth of the eucharist. It is a time of connection for us both which I treasure.

There are many of us who live closely with people who live in the frightening world of dementia. Congregations through their liturgy and friendship can do much to love and include them. But, please, don’t treat them as having lost their intelligence, and reduce liturgy to a simplistic form of the “old” hymns, choruses, and child-like prayers.

Find out their tradition, and include them in the regular worship that has always been for them familiar, and enable them to use all their senses to see, hear, feel, and smell the liturgy, giving reassurance that challenging behaviour will be accepted. Become a ‘dementia-friendly church’ as part of your mission. Resources can be found on many diocesan websites.

JILL SANDHAM (Lay Canon, Southwark Cathedral)
Address supplied

 

Buthelezi’s part in the struggle against apartheid 

From the Rt Revd John D. Davies

Sir, — Leo Aylen’s tribute to Mangosuthu Buthelezi (Comment, 20 October) is very welcome. Buthelezi was an absolutely unique figure in the history of South Africa, from an early age. As long ago as 1962, he brought exceptional insight to the working of the Natal Christian Council, when it was trying to respond to the Nationalist Government’s plans to devise a “rationalisation” of land-tenure in kwaZulu.

The previous London-based administration had worked out a system whereby Zulu labourers would work as migrants in barracks in the lowland wattle- and sugarcane-areas for most of the year and then go home to small clusters of territory set aside for their families, to breed the next generation of labourers. The government proposed a tightened application of this system; the official “Opposition” in Parliament proposed something even more unfair, and indeed almost ridiculously unpractical. Buthelezi enabled the Christian Council to present a genuinely just plan, which, predictably, was not acceptable to government, but provided a model for the future.

At that time, government was busy setting up its policy of “Native Homelands”, or “Bantustans”, sending as many Africans as possible to live in segregated areas far away from the main towns of employment. The territory of kwaZulu appeared to fit this plan neatly, and Chief Gatcha (as he liked to be called in those days) accepted the role of being in charge. But, with his position in a strong and recognisable royal inheritance, he was able to demand a much more flexible mandate than the other “tribal” areas, whose leaders could reasonably be described as “stooges”.

A group of these leaders came to the UK on an interpretative mission, and met, among others, Michael Ramsey, Archbishop of Canterbury. Afterwards, with his characteristic twinkle in his eye, the Archbishop summarised the meeting as “Mathanzima and Mangope in one corner versus Buthelezi and myself in the other”. Buthelezi was able to claim a certain degree of independence, as against the representatives of the Transkei and Bophubotswana. He was anything but a stooge.

Buthelezi’s life became more and more full of contrary pressures and demands. Mr Aylen clearly supports him in his formation of the Inkatha Freedom Party and his opposition to the ANC’s policy, promoted by Desmond Tutu and the Christian Council of South Africa, of encouraging sanctions against investment in South African enterprises. This, very publicly, demonstrated the disagreement within the opposition to the apartheid regime, most tragically leading to the vicious conflict that gripped kwaZulu, particularly in the area where I had once been a local priest.

For a long time, Buthelezi and the Inkatha Freedom Party boycotted the approaching first-ever proper parliamentary election. Buthelezi was bombarded with messages urging him to cancel this boycott; at the last minute, he relented; his agreement was made visible by the way in which the place of his party was stuck on to the final version of the voting-paper. It was a very difficult time for him, because he had received a lot of covert support from financial interests, especially from certain prominent British political leaders. But, in the outcome, President Mandela did much to heal the breach, by making Buthelezi his Minister for Home Affairs, and even, on occasion, his own Deputy as Prime Minister.

Buthelezi’s place in the new South Africa can never be forgotten.

JOHN DUDLEY DAVIES
Mission priest and university chaplain in South Africa 1956-70 (residence permit cancelled by South African government)
14 Meadowbrook Court
Twmpath Lane
Gobowen SY10 7HD

 

Being ‘anchor institutions’ despite falling rolls 

From Professor John Goddard

Sir, — I would urge your readers to link the article “I have inscribed you on my palm” (Faith, 13 October) about St James’s, Riding Mill, where I am a member of the PCC, with the one by my university colleague Professor John Bryson, “Church buildings can help the UK to level up” (Comment, same issue).

In the pictorial representation of the St James’s future vision, the church building is only part of the image. Professor Bryson is on the button in referring to churches as local “anchor institutions”. But buildings are a necessary but not sufficient condition to fill this role. It needs people to act as a bridge between the church and the community. How to do this when congregations are falling?

One answer is to engage with those outside the church who are concerned with the challenges facing society globally and locally, such as climate change and growing inequality. This is what universities have been doing as classic anchor institutions. Much could be learned by the Church from experience in the university world. Many universities are in cities where they could work with their cathedrals to help them to develop capacity in parishes across the dioceses to act as anchor institutions.

JOHN GODDARD
Emeritus Professor of Regional Development Studies, Newcastle University; Hon. Professor, University of Birmingham; Visiting Professor, Sheffield Hallam University
18 Stephenson Terrace
Wylam NE41 8DZ

 

The library in the study is worth sharing, too 

From the Revd James Dwyer

Sir, — Anna James’s tour around theological libraries (Features, 20 October) not only cast light on some of our finest public homes for books, but reminded me that some of the best theology collections will be housed in the studies of clergy and lay leaders across the country.

Perhaps we need to take a leaf out of the Quiet Garden Movement and begin to offer local sources of literary enrichment. Not only would this benefit those looking for books: I know that my wife would be delighted to see that my diligently shelved books were actually being read.

JAMES DWYER
The Vicarage, Chapel Road
Flackwell Heath HP10 9AA

 

Confirmations still an important part of ministry 

From the Bishop of Dudley

Sir, — No, clergy and bishops have not “given up on confirmation” (Letters, 13 October). I was privileged to confirm 20 men, women, and children in Coseley and Dudley: faithful churches with faithful clergy, serving some of the more challenging urban parishes in the West Midlands, and each person affirming their baptismal promises with real sincerity and sharing moving testimonies of how they had come to faith.

“The congregation brings out the beautiful things in us that nobody else looks hard enough to find,” one couple said. “It was like I’d met up with an old friend,” another candidate said, “and he’d welcomed me back.” The Sunday before, I was at a church in Worcester confirming 12 people from four different countries. Their stories of persecution abroad, and racism endured in this country, were painful to hear, but the faith that they had found and wanted to affirm was real and filled with joy. One man had known of Christians in Iran, but discovered Jesus and his own faith only in Worcester. With little English when he first arrived, he said, he could tell those who were Christians “by their eyes”. His face is now alive as he gently shares Jesus with those he meets or serves in his coffee shop.

When I was a parish priest, confirmation was always a key point in my year, and in the discipleship journeys of individuals and the congregation as a whole. It remains a highlight for me as a bishop and is, surely, a key marker of growing, healthy parish churches.

MARTIN DUDLEY
The Bishop’s Office
3 Parsons Street
Dudley DY1 1JJ

 

A climate-change distinction without a difference 

From Mr Paul Clifford

Sir, — Canon R. H. W. Arguile (Letters, 20 October) tries to make an unhelpful distinction between those who see climate change as a “crisis” and those who consider it “a set of problems which are in principle soluble”. There is no such distinction. If the problems of climate change are not soluble, the future for humanity on this planet is bleak indeed. But to call them a crisis is entirely appropriate, given the urgency with which the solutions must be found.

PAUL CLIFFORD
Michaelmas Cottage
Bletchingdon Road
Kirtlington OX5 3HF

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