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Letters to the Editor

03 March 2023


Cathedrals and their governance

From the Dean of Peterborough

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 24 February) paints a picture of cathedrals and their new governance arrangements which I simply don’t recognise.

I don’t recognise the widespread surrender of the daily rhythms of prayer inherited from our monastic roots which she implies. Certainly, there are times when the demands on cathedrals to fulfil the many calls on these great spaces can be a challenge. There are times when cathedral clergy seek to lend their support to hard-pressed parishes that don’t have the same resources as we enjoy. Nevertheless, and sometimes against the odds, we continue to offer a rich diet of worship and sustain our extraordinary choral tradition, drawing in a new generation of young people from all kinds of backgrounds in celebrating this treasure.

I don’t recognise in the new Measure a Chapter stripped of its authority. Quite the reverse: Chapters will be stronger, with the potential to draw in more lay expertise, better equipped to ensure good governance and prevent the sort of meltdown that, here in Peterborough, we have worked hard to put right.

I don’t recognise the implied “power grab” by the bishop in the appointment of the senior non-executive member. Here in Peterborough, up till now, the Bishop appointed all the members of Chapter. Now it will only be one, and that person will be appointed in consultation with the Dean. They will chair Chapter in the Dean’s absence, but I fail to see that their “power” will almost equal the Dean’s.

We shall want to work hard at building a healthy and grown-up relationship with the Bishop, as much as with the senior non-executive member. As for the authority of the Dean in relation to his or her residentiary colleagues, such authority will have to be won (as it always has been) through working hard at relationships, building a culture of collaboration, recognising and honouring the dispersal of gifts and skills and understanding, and articulating clearly our respective roles and responsibilities.

As for becoming “venues”, I rejoice that people in our city and region wish to come to the cathedral and see it as “their” cathedral. Whatever our monastic roots, we are communities that are called to be open, hospitable, and accessible, in whatever way we can. The creativity and risk-taking that have been the mark of cathedrals, great and small, in recent years have brought many to enjoy and celebrate these buildings and have offered opportunities to encounter the God to whose glory they are built.

The Deanery, 14 Minster Precincts
Peterborough PE1 1XX

From Juliet and Richard Lingham

Sir, — Canon Tilby last week quite rightly addressed the urgent need for Bishops and Chapters to develop harmoniously constructive relationships that will build on strengths as well as minimise organisational weaknesses. In this respect, the recent statements in all the media made by Bishop Philip Mounstephen (News, 3 February) relating to the Visitation that he imposed at Truro Cathedral leave much to be desired in terms of natural justice.

Without defining the originating concerns, or producing the facts and reasons required under the relevant national Guidance on Visitations, those statements are damning in their criticism of the leadership at the cathedral and make no mention of the Chapter’s considerable achievements.

Under the cathedral’s leadership over the past 11 years, the doors have been kept open to all without charge, and the wonderfully successful girls’ choir was established and is soon to play a part in the Coronation service. Furthermore, the nave roof has been renewed, and the significant funding needed to restore the only medieval part of the cathedral is reaching its target.

Public amenities have been enhanced by the installation of new lavatories, and the Cathedral Close has been made fully accessible by strategically revising the function of its various buildings and grounds. Most importantly, the cathedral has continued to be a valued, welcoming place for all the people of Cornwall, as well as to the many visitors who contribute so much to the county’s tourist industry. At the same time, its congregation has remained a united crowd, who enjoy the highest standards of prayer, preaching, worship, and pastoral care, and have always welcomed new members and visitors.

As in any institution, there have at times been lapses in administrative effectiveness, differences of opinion, and clashes of personality, but, even in the demanding years when the pandemic disrupted every organisation’s normal activities, the Chapter maintained a steady leadership. If serious concerns had emerged during the Dean’s absence on sabbatical leave in the autumn of 2021, on his return, the Bishop could have used his persuasive powers to introduce external audit and advice, system review, personal appraisal, or mentoring and conciliation, to settle essentially internal matters.

Instead, the decision to impose a public inquisition in the form of a Visitation has inflicted distress on many of the cathedral’s people and damaged the sincere efforts and reputations of particular individuals, both clergy and lay, who have consistently done their best to maintain progress and show true pastoral care. On the basis of this experience, many of us would share Canon Tilby’s concern that, armed with the “badly drafted legalese” of the Cathedrals Measure, the new dispensation will exacerbate the conflicts of interest and confusion of roles which diocesan staff are required to share with their cathedral colleagues.

Truro Cathedral Friends and congregation members
Address supplied

Evangelical opinion on the Bishops’ LLF proposals

From the Archdeacons of Sheffield and Rotherham, of Dudley, and of Knowsley and Sefton, and 15 others

Sir, — Before and since the recent General Synod’s vote on the House of Bishops’ response to Living in Love and Faith, it has frequently been implied by the Church of England Evangelical Council (CEEC) and other groups and individuals that Evangelical Christians are united in their opposition to the proposed direction of travel and prayers of blessing for those in committed same-sex relationships.

As Evangelical members of the Synod, we would like to make it clear that this simply isn’t true. Many Evangelical Christians wish to welcome and celebrate committed same-sex relationships, including those attending Evangelical churches across the country who are only now discovering that their views contrast with their church leadership’s. We would, therefore, respectfully ask that organisations, groups, and individuals holding more conservative views recognise this reality and refrain from laying claim to speak for all Evangelical Christians in their public statements.

Similarly, words such as “orthodox” and “biblical” are frequently deployed in an unhelpful manner to imply that those with contrary views are somehow “heterodox” or “unbiblical”. Again, we would simply ask that language be used more carefully and with a greater degree of integrity.

At various points throughout its history, the Church has changed its understanding of what scripture teaches, as the Spirit of Truth continues to lead us into truth (John 16.13). Evangelicals, those with a high regard for scriptural authority, have frequently been at the forefront of such changes, not least in the abolitionist movement. As Evangelicals, we are committed to the authority of scripture, but we are also acutely aware that we continue to “see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Corinthians 13.12) as we seek to interpret the scriptures, and have much still to learn as followers of Jesus.

As Evangelicals, we welcome the House of Bishops’ proposals as an important step on this journey, and thank the College and House for their discernment. We look forward to being able to express God’s love and blessing to more people in our communities, in the hope that they might enter into a fuller relationship with Christ.

c/o 34 Wilson Road
Sheffield S11 8RN

President Putin and the ‘gender-neutral God’

From Mr Edward Jones

Sir, — You report (News, 24 February) President Putin’s diatribe against the West and, specifically, his claim that “the Anglican Church” plans to consider the idea of a gender-neutral God. The reported response from a C of E spokesman is that this is “simply wrong”.

Yet, within the next two paragraphs we read: “there is nothing new in Christians’ belief that God was neither male nor female”; and “there are no plans to consider a gender-neutral God”; and then the Bishop of Lichfield says that “a new project on gendered language” will begin in the spring.

No wonder President Putin is confused. I certainly am, and I thought Christ himself taught us to pray “Our Father . . .”.

6 Manor Close, Bromham
Bedford MK43 8JA

Wren’s interest in architecture; RA show’s labels

From Canon Nicholas Cranfield

Sir, — In her tercentenary piece, Christine Miles states: “Wren showed no interest in architecture until the mid-1660s” (Features, 24 February), which would make his part in the rebuilding of London after the Great Fire the work of a genius ex nihilo.

In fact, Wren had already established himself on the Fabric Committee, as we would see it, of Old St Paul’s in the immediate aftermath of the Restoration, on the resumption, after the interruption by the Civil War, of work to refurbish the old cathedral.

In 1661, Wren was reprimanded for failing to deliver one of his astronomy lectures in Oxford as he was on London business. He is later recorded at a site meeting in the cathedral in the week before the disastrous fire (27 August 1666).

Also in 1661, he had been commissioned for the fortification of the harbour at Tangier, and by 1663 he was engaged in designing a chapel for Pembroke College, Cambridge, and was invited to oversee the projected Congregation House for the University of Oxford, later named the Sheldonian Theatre.

In all these projects, as Anthony Gerghty has shown (2013), Cavalier patrons and familial links had proved vital to establishing the path for the young mathematician astronomer. At Windsor, his father, another Christopher (d.1658), who had succeeded his uncle in the Deanery, was invited to build a banqueting house for Queen Henrietta Maria and galleries for her Lord Chamberlain. That £13,000 project was never realised, because war came; but it suggests that Wren was no stranger to architecture from his childhood.

10 Duke Humphrey Road
London SE3 0TY

From Mr Owen Toller

Sir, — A small correction to Canon Nicholas Cranfield’s review of “Spain and the Hispanic World” at the Royal Academy (Arts, 24 February). The door knocker showing the head of an African is indeed labelled and commented on, but at the other end of the display cabinet from all the other notices, presumably because there it is next to the object. I thought that the exhibition did a good job of stating facts about colonialism, racism, and other issues, and largely allowing those facts to speak for themselves.

Address supplied

Anglican religious life

From Rachel Fielding

Sir, — Much as I applaud the work done so far in the relaunched Anglican Religious Life Project (News, 17 February), it has, for me, highlighted the gaps for those of us who are exploring this vocation. I was able to attend the launch online (9 February) and hoped for clearer and simpler information, but the Twitter platform is at present the only one offered. It seems to be airing personal issues in public — not for me.

As for dispersed communities with consecrated life vows, there is one option: SCL. Perhaps time for a new dispersed order to be created?

Address supplied

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