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Letters to the Editor

28 April 2023


Church interference with the ISB

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — The Annual Report 2022-23 of the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB), written by the two members, Jasvinder Sanghera and Steve Reeves, and published on 24 April, blows away any remaining claim that the ISB is independent, stating on page 19 that it “currently exists within the structure of the National Church Institutions with oversight from the Archbishops’ Council”.

That servile relationship with the Archbishops’ Council is highlighted by the fact that Meg Munn has been imposed on the ISB as acting chair, in clear breach of the ISB’s terms of reference, which state that the Archbishops’ Council “ratifies” board appointments and that each member is appointed following a process that includes “public advertisement of vacancies” and “the use of expert recruiters to ensure a wide field”. Added to this is the obvious conflict of interest in appointing a person who is also chairs the National Safeguarding Panel.

It is especially disturbing to note, according to the report in the Sunday Telegraph on 23 April, that neither board members nor abuse victims were consulted over the appointment of Ms Munn, and that the members were “instructed not to engage with victims on matters of ‘independence and the arrival of the chair’”. Given, too, the expressed lack of confidence in her by many survivors of abuse, Ms Munn must surely now state that she will not take up the role of acting chair, and the Secretary-General, William Nye, must give a full account of how her appointment came to be made.

In February, General Synod members were denied the opportunity to debate the ISB (News, 2 February; 6 February). Patently, such a debate must take place at York in July, when those responsible for the current débâcle can be held to account.

General Synod member 2015-21
20 Holbrook Barn Road
Boxford, Suffolk CO10 5HU

Vacancies in parish ministry: the donkeys have buckled under the weight

From Virginia Stourton

Sir, — I read with interest Madeleine Davies’s appraisal of the report relating to reduced Church attendance post Covid (News 3 April).

In a nutshell, demand itself has not decreased. The likelihood of any falling away has been because some churches have abandoned their online offering and cut the number of services available. If you offer nothing, no one is going to turn up, surely.

The church hierarchy have a huge and difficult job. I am tempted to say that they have completed missed the point, giving themselves angst that is very hard to deal with.

Chedworth in Gloucestershire is presently offering a house-for-duty vacancy. I truly believe that the diocese is making every effort to find someone. However, advertising has produced nothing for very good reasons:

House-for-duty priest posts have lost their attraction. Today they are not affordable: clergy are asked to cover so many parishes that they have no time or energy to take on outside work to support themselves. Their spouses probably feeling resentful having to support an over-worked and ill-paid husband or wife.

So, at present in Chedworth, retired priests are being used to administer communion. Some are so old that I worry for their welfare, especially as they have to drive some distance.

Since there are ten vacancies in the diocese, what hope is there?

The Church has not paid their priests properly, and they overwork good people. Now the donkey has buckled, and if the Church is not careful, it may never be able to get up. Oh dear, Church of England what have you done?

6 Coln Rogers
Gloucestershire GL54 3LA

We have spent more than a penny in our attempts at a church lavatory

From Prebendary Pippa Thorneycroft

Sir, — Have you tried putting modern conveniences into a medieval building? All the forces are ranged against you. We have had (and paid for) 11 different “Options Appraisals”. So far it has cost us £20,000 in fees to no avail.

There is always some good reason why something else has to be done before we can add a little kitchen and toilets into this ancient edifice; so, on Sundays, people have to stagger the whole length of the church with the coffee machine and urns full of water from the tap outside to be able to serve a cuppa after worship, let alone the natural corollary of that which is to spend a penny.

St Bartholomew’s has some ancient tombs and effigies, the oldest of which dates from 1410. These bring people from far and wide to see them, and it seems the heritage bodies are far more interested in the tombs than in the comfort of the people who visit them.

The tombs are having to be conserved at a cost of £600 for a report on each (there are six) and an estimated total of £37,000 to do the work.

There is no way forward with any of these projects without getting a faculty, and also planning permission if we build an extension. (There is little floor space for such a project internally because of all the tombs and our historic chancel.)

The DAC meetings are roughly every two months, and we have firstly to receive approval in principle before any detailed drawings are submitted. You might guess there is always someone who wants to kick the project into the long grass and raises objections. And we still have to run the gauntlet of SPAB [Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings], Historic England, the Victorian Society, and the Church Buildings Council.

From the minute book, I see that toilets/kitchen were first mooted early in the 2000s — that’s two decades ago. It is so tempting to throw in the towel, but then the bureaucrats win.

St Bartholomew’s, Tong,
Shifnal, Shropshire TF11 8PW

Long wait for Easter to dawn on the BBC

From the Revd Barbara Watson Hammond

Sir, — I was awake in bed at 5.30 on Easter morning and turned on Radio 4 to get the festive day off to a great start, but was somewhat mystified. The date was announced, but no mention of Easter; and the news bulletin in brief made no greeting, either.

After the impending junior doctors’ strike had been discussed, however, Passover was mentioned, along with Ramadan, “and the school holidays”! The only acknowledgement to the Christian festival, the most important of the year, was the news that “the Pope would appear in Rome for all Roman Catholics”. Oh, and the “Archbishop of Canterbury would deliver a sermon.” How exciting was that?

Bells on Sunday followed, but as ordinarily as any other Sunday morning; the 6 a.m. news was a word-for-word repeat of the earlier bulletin; and there was no improvement at 7 a.m.

Was the editorial team forgetful, embarrassed, or just plain ignorant? At least they could have mentioned “the school Easter holidays”, do you not think?

Fortunately, the programmes that followed were full of uplifting celebration until 9 a.m. Alleluia!

28 Church Path, Emsworth
Hants PO10 7DP

In praise of Urquhart

From the Revd John Ray

Sir, — The Church Times all too often causes me to reflect as a 95-year-old that we can’t escape the bad news, as none of us is perfect. Church leaders, in particular, have huge burdens and hopes laid on them, and very small resources to enable them to cope. I served a brilliant Indian diocese and its Bishop, Anand Chandulal Amritsar, as Secretary of the Diocesan Council, and then rejoiced in the fellowship of Birmingham diocese in its synod through the ministry of two fine Bishops, John Sentamu and David Urquhart.

Thus I was delighted to see that Bishop David had been captured by Lambeth to delay him returning to his ancestral patch west of Inverness (News, 3 February). Like most of us, I knew little of his share of failure in safeguarding (News, 9 March; 10 March); nor do I remember much money being set aside to pay for a safeguarding team in a cash-strapped diocese with great expectations.

I do remember the confident, modest-sized fellowships in Sparkhill and Sparkbrook, and the strong sense in Birmingham churches of sharing the gospel among people of a great variety of cultures and faiths. Yes, we must hang our heads over our failures, but not let them have the last word or dominate our multiple good experiences of God’s wonderful Church.

2 Birchfield, Hook
Goole DN14 5NJ

Times when clergy find themselves in denial

From the Revd Larry Knight

Sir, — Consumption of too much caffeine during parish visits (St Gargoyle’s, 21 April) is only one of the potential pitfalls of unwanted hospitality for visiting clergy. There are also the offers of cake, biscuits, sandwiches, and alcohol to navigate.

Over many years of ministry I’ve developed a few — hopefully gracious —responses: “May I have a glass of water, I’m very thirsty.” “No, thank you. I had a late breakfast.” Or, “No, thank you, I don’t want to spoil my lunch/dinner.” Alcohol refusal is easier, as clergy are usually driving or even cycling.

What’s important is that clergy still visit.

81 The Green
Kings Norton
Birmingham B38 8RU

Friends and relations

From the Revd James Dwyer

Sir, — It is encouraging to see Rowan Williams and Justin Welby extolling the wisdom of Winnie the Pooh (Quotes of the Week, 14 April). I am sure they are among many who have long admired the down-to-earth approach to life and perceptive observations of friendship contained in A. A. Milne’s famous stories.

What might the wise parishioners of the Hundred Acre Wood say to the Church of England today? Perhaps these words, originally spoken by Rabbit to Eeyore: “You can’t stay in your corner of the forest waiting for others to come to you. You have to go to them sometimes.”

The Vicarage, Chapel Road
Flackwell Heath HP10 9AA

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