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Letters to the Editor

28 July 2023

Please note: the deadline for next week’s letters is noon on Monday 31 July


Safeguarding and Standing Orders

From Canon Simon Butler

Sir, — Clive Billenness and his colleagues complain (Letters, 21 July) that the Standing Orders of the General Synod were abused when their various attempts to change the agenda to address some members’ concerns about safeguarding failed.

As a former member of the Standing Orders Committee, I know how much care and attention is put into not just drafting Standing Orders, but also the diligence of Synod’s legal team in interpreting them objectively and fairly. In my judgement, the rulings that the lawyers made were fair and understandable, made in exceptional circumstances, and in a highly charged atmosphere.

When members of the Synod push Standing Orders to their limit — as Mr Billenness, Mr Sewell, and Mr Drake did during the sessions on safeguarding — it isn’t surprising that eventually they will at some point find rulings going against them. Ultimately, they failed to convince enough other members get the supermajority required to change the Standing Order that would have allowed them to get their debate.

Far from being “suppressed”, the safeguarding governance issues that concerned Mr Billenness et al. were aired fully across four sessions of the Synod. It was to the credit of staff and the Business Committee that we were enabled to give so much time to it and still complete the business that we had actually gathered to undertake.

I wish the energy devoted to unreflective public criticism was directed, not into criticising staff and making unjustified allegations of corruption and collusion, but into a shared commitment to ensuring that the way in which we address and resolve our safeguarding disagreements does not deter present and future complainants from coming forward.

32 Vicarage Crescent
London SW11 3LD

From Mrs Susan Hunt

Sir, — Even those of us who are aware of the devious safeguarding practices approved by the hierarchy of the Church of England were shocked at the way in which Gavin Drake was not allowed to speak. What has been overlooked by those responsible is that the Synod was live-streamed, which made it accessible to the wider public. Thus, many people who were hitherto unaware of what is happening now know just how untrustworthy those in power seem to be. People are now beginning to realise that the Church of England is falling short of what the true Church should really be.

4 Ardsley Road
Chesterfield S40 4DG

Abusers and confession, in American research

From the Revd Dr Rupert Bursell KC

Sir, — I greatly welcome the Ecclesiastical Law Society working party’s report on the seal of the confessional and Bishop Christopher Hill’s summary of that report (Comment, 21 July). Especially to be welcomed is its emphasis on conflict of conscience and on proper training for confessors.

There is, however, a serious lacuna. Although the report “suggests that (contrary to received opinion) abusers do not go to confession”, this ignores the extensive evidence from America to the contrary. I appreciate that the working party was under pressure of time, but it would be a disaster if this American evidence were to be forgotten or ignored.

Pear Tree Cottage
Hatchet Leys Lane, Thornborough
Buckinghamshire MK18 2BU

Children learning about the resurrection and after

From Canon Jane Brooke

Sir, — I was interested to read the report “‘Easter is all about the chocolate’” (News, 21 July). All RE syllabuses include learning about Christianity: KS1 and KS2 are taught (usually progressively) about the last week of Jesus’s earthly life and the resurrection. I wonder, however, if that is enough. Should there be more?

A few years ago, I led an assembly for Year 3 on the last week of Jesus’s life. With visual aids, I spoke about Palm Sunday, the Last Supper, the crucifixion, and the resurrection. I felt very pleased with myself and considered that I had brought the events to a sound conclusion. “Any questions?” I asked confidently. A boy on the front row enthusiastically raised his hand. “What happened next?” he asked.

The resurrection is not, of course, the end. We need to teach beyond the resurrection to Pentecost, to the difference that it made to followers of Jesus, and the difference that it makes to Christians today.

What happened next?

Vice-Dean of Chester Cathedral and Project Manager for Learn Teach Lead RE North West
9 Abbey Square
Chester CH1 2HU

Conversion-therapy ban

From Dr Henk Carpentier Alting

Sir, — You report that some of our bishops have joined with others in urging the Government to bring forward legislation banning conversion therapy (News, 18 July).

The innocuous-sounding “ban” is likely to translate into prosecution, criminalisation, and even imprisonment of our brothers and sisters for pastoral practices where we disagree.

Your report also mentioned an earlier letter sent to the Minister for Women and Equalities and similarly calling for a ban. That earlier letter claimed that “conversion therapy is coercive and therefore free choice is not possible.”

Now recall that one of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) videos introduces us to Graham. He is ordained and happily married with grown children after his move away from an early unwanted same-sex orientation. His is a moving story. Though such a change is not always possible, a person should be free to pursue what matters to them. That includes access to pastoral help and professional counselling.

But, with free choice denied, some who might have changed are left without the help that they seek. This has nothing to do with coercion, which no one wants. Neither is anyone being rejected on the grounds of their sexuality. This ban arises from a contentious ideology that has no place for the free choice of persons like Graham.

Where does that leave the LLF process? We were supposed to listen respectfully to one another and walk together in good disagreement. Yet, some who presumably supported that worthy aim have been simultaneously petitioning the Government for prosecutions. So much for diversity and inclusion.

If and when prosecutions start, the Church’s already fragile unity will be over.

30 Buckingham Road West
Heaton Moor
Stockport SK4 4BA

C of E and parish in a marriage ‘buyer’s market’

From Mr Robin Lunn

Sir, — I was not called to speak in the General Synod’s recent debate on wedding fees (Synod, 14 July), but, if I had been, I should have made the following points.

Eighteen years ago to the day, I made my maiden speech in a debate on this very subject. Many speakers in that debate expected that the majority of people would carry on wanting to be married in our churches, and that we should still be able to determine who did and did not. The then Bishop of Hereford, the Rt Revd Anthony Priddis, warned, in his speech, “that we were in a buyer’s market and not a seller’s one”. Nobody contributing to the discussion, however, could have envisaged just how far and how quickly the amount of church weddings would decline. We are no longer the first place that couples consider. This is a growing challenge to our mission and influence.

With this in mind, the decision by the central Church to remove the post of Head of Life Events, which covered weddings, increasingly looks penny-conscious, pound-foolish.

Rather than bemoan what has befallen us, it is incumbent upon us to do something about it. The best approach is not a major initiative by the central Church or dioceses, but for individual parishes and their local deanery to promote themselves and their church buildings as the place where couples would want to get married. Many churches and parishes have much to offer, but, rather than just assume that people will always beat a path to the church door, when they clearly are not doing that, we need to reach out and attract them.

Only in this local and determined way will we halt the decline of the past 20 years and start to see growth in this important wedding ministry.

General Synod representative for the diocese of Worcester
Little Hambledon
10 Malthouse Crescent
Inkberrow, Worcester WR7 4EF

Purpose of amendment in governance debate

From Dr Ian Johnston

Sir, — I did not, in fact, try to “avoid welcoming” recommendation 3 of GS 2307 (Online News, 10 July; Synod, 14 July). The inference that I want to avoid scrutiny of Church of England National Services (CENS) would be the polar opposite of my intent, as those who listened to the debate will testify. It should be of the highest standard.

The Governance Review Board used its reference group, of which I am a member, to discuss many difficult issues, but one that it could not agree on was any detail of exactly how a “synodical committee should . . . [have] the power to properly scrutinise”. My amendment would have ensured that the conversation that we will need to have will be as broad as possible, something that the Board failed to achieve. The implications of its not being accepted are worrying. Does the Board agree with me that oversight of CENS must be of the highest standard?

I look forward to playing a constructive part in the further development of GS 2307 into effective legislation.

General Synod representative for Portsmouth diocese
Tithe House, Greenway Lane
Buriton, Petersfield
Hampshire GU31 5SQ

Even in poorer dioceses, let’s not subsidise waste

From the Revd Simon Grigg

Sir, — I was fully prepared to have my withers wrung by the Bishop of Blackburn, the Rt Revd Philip North, as he made his heartfelt appeal about the poverty of his diocese, compared with others (Comment, 7 July). So touched was I, in fact, that I looked up the Blackburn website and found the following “departments” in that poor diocese. There was Finance, Property, HR, and Safeguarding (probably all necessary in some form or other), but also Vision Delivery, Vision 26, Communications, Making Disciples, and Growing Leaders, among others. My withers remained resolutely unwrung.

I suggest that Bishop North cull some of this deplorable waste before asking other dioceses (which are, of course, similarly afflicted) to subsidise the diocese of Blackburn.

What the bishops of the Church of England refuse to understand is that the generous folk in our pews want to give to their parish church (the Bishops might want to look up this word), not their overstaffed diocesan offices, and still less other, equally wasteful, dioceses.

Parish Office, St Paul’s Church
Bedford Street
London WC2E 9ED

Too much information

From Canon Alan J. Bell

Sir, — So, the Acting Archdeacon of Liverpool, the Revd Dr Miranda Threlfall-Holmes, parades before the General Synod (yes, really) the news that she had sex with her future husband before they were married (Synod, 14 July).

My late wife and I waited three years and eight months from our unofficial engagement at Christmas 1967 until our marriage in August 1971 before we slept together, on our wedding night. Had we done anything less than exercise this restraint, she might never have been a teacher, and I would have been thrown out of theological college.

I find Dr Threlfall-Holmes’s promotion of her view on marital love a disgrace to her orders, and her brazen advertising of what happened with her future husband, frankly, disgusting. There is a phrase: “too much information”. Apparently, nothing, or at least very little, matters any more.

24 Hall Road, Clenchwarton
Kings Lynn PE34 4AT

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