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Letters to the Editor

04 August 2023


Peace — after Moscow’s defeat

From the Revd Dr Stephen Holmes

Sir, — I appreciate Canon Malcolm Rogers’s ministry at St Andrew’s, Moscow, and found his thoughts on leaving (Comment, 28 July) interesting. One aspect of his article, however, is dangerous and disturbing.

He says: “I will speak for peace. . . The fighting has to stop. . . People have to sit down and talk.” This sounds so obviously true. He also says that “we have heard at first hand of the destruction this war is causing in Ukraine, and I have seen the de­vastation it has caused countless people in Russia.” Canon Rogers’s attempt to be even-handed also includes noting that there are two views on the war, and he presents his own position, “I will speak for peace,” as a noble via media.

I have just returned from Ukraine, on a trip with the Scottish charity Jeeps for Peace, and I fear that the moderate Canon’s attitude is pernicious. There would be peace if Russia withdrew its troops and stopped attacking Ukraine. By advocating a ceasefire and negotiations, he is acting as Putin’s stooge. This mentality might work to keep a brave congregation alive in Moscow, but it is not tenable in the free world. The Russo-Ukrainian war is a clear struggle of good (Ukraine) against evil (Russia). The rest of the Orthodox world knows that the Patriarchate of Moscow has done a deal with the devil. One can note all sorts of problems with Ukraine and NATO, but the reality is that Russia is killing civilians and invading a peaceful neighbour, and the only just outcome is the decisive defeat of Russia on the battlefield, or Russian withdrawal with reparations.

For those of us with Russian friends, this is difficult, but, as I watched the widows in the war cemetery in Lviv, viewed destroyed buildings, listened to the air-raid sirens, and spoke to brave Ukrainian soldiers and civilians, the situation was clear. For the good of civilisation, Ukraine must win. Ukraine must be given the tools to finish the job. Perhaps, through defeat, Russia might again find its soul; but there can be no false equivalence. Priests must be able to discern between good and evil. Perhaps Canon Rogers has been so long in the heart of darkness that he has lost that ability.

18 Barnton Gardens
Edinburgh EH4 6AF

Blackburn diocese and wealth redistribution

From the Bishop of Blackburn

Sir, — Helpful as it is to receive advice in wealth redistribution from clergy based in Covent Garden, the Revd Simon Grigg’s misrepresentation of the financial picture in the diocese of Blackburn (Letters, 28 July) is so misleading and badly researched that I cannot allow it to to go unaddressed.

If cutting central costs were the answer to the financial issues faced by under-endowed dioceses, I would love to know which department
Fr Grigg would like me to make redundant first. Those who pay clergy stipends? Those who enable local mission through pastoral schemes and improvements to buildings? Those who keep our churches safe for children and vulnerable adults? Those who ensure legal and financial compliance?

In most dioceses, staff work incredibly hard for below-market wages for the benefit of parishes, and to suggest that we should sack them is both undervaluing of their important work and shows a woeful mis­understanding of the complexity of running a large charitable organisation.

In Blackburn diocese, the cost of the core support team is just 4.7 per cent of budget, one of the lowest figures in the country. Cutting it would save a parish paying £50,000 in share just £2350. Many of the teams that Fr Grigg mentions are funded for us by the national Church. Parish-share receipts almost exactly match the stipends budget, which means that the giving of parishioners pays for their priest. Indeed, it is the extraordinary generosity of our parishes which means that, as a diocese, we have been able to make a commitment to maintaining clergy numbers.

The issue of building a more just and equitable Church is undoubtedly complex and challenging. But it would be a pity for our mutual responsibility in the gospel to be reduced to petty point-scoring. Let us hope that others will respond more generously, and that we may, indeed, be a Church for every community.

Bishop’s House, Ribchester Road
Blackburn BB1 9EF

Bishop of Newcastle’s ruling on Lord Sentamu

From the Ven. John Barton

Sir, — The treatment of Lord Sentamu as a sacrificial lamb in the continuing safeguarding débâcle raises two important issues.

First, it is clear from the Bishop of Newcastle’s statement that the National Safeguarding Team consider that Lord Sentamu poses no safeguarding risk and would act within current guidelines. There is no suggestion that he is, or has ever been, a risk to children or vulnerable adults.

Second, it now appears that a priest may lose their licence if their public utterances are “inconsistent with the tone and culture” expected by their diocesan bishop. In the rush to judgement against Sentamu, the precedent that has been set must be of deep concern for all retired clergy and others who exercise their ministry under licence.

7 The Spires, Canterbury CT2 8SD

Safeguarding: the ISB and Synod business rules

From Mr Andrew Graystone

Sir, — On 11 April, the Independent Safeguarding Board (ISB) delivered a review of the Church of England’s management of the survivor ciphered as “Mr X”. On 21 June, the Board members were sacked before the Church had responded to the review.

The review was detailed and thorough. It had been conducted by Peter Spindler, who had previously commanded the Met Police Opera­­tion Yewtree. The review highlighted multiple failings by the Church and made several recommendations. The recommendations that were specific to Mr X were so urgent that a four-week deadline was imposed for the Church to address them.

More than three months have passed. The ISB no longer exists to receive the Church’s response to the report. The only people who have lost their jobs as a consequence of this débâcle are the independent safeguarding experts. Absolutely nothing has been done to address Mr X’s urgent needs, and there is no mechanism for the Church to learn from the serious failings identified.

Such is the chaos in the Church’s safeguarding structures that not only can the Church not treat survivors with justice and mercy: it doesn’t even have a mechanism to learn from its own failings.

Already, I have been contacted by people alleging that they have been abused in church settings, who have decided not to report their abuse because they have seen how the Church has treated Mr X and others.

We hear that Professor Alexis Jay is going to investigate, issue a report, and then have it debated and implemented. This will take well over a year. This is an emergency, and it requires a well-resourced expertly run emergency response.

17 Rushford Avenue
Manchester M19 2HG

From Mr Gavin Drake

Sir, — Canon Simon Butler denies that the General Synod’s Standing Orders (SOs) were abused during safeguarding sessions at July’s Group of Sessions, and he says that “the rulings that the lawyers made were fair and understandable” and that “ultimately [those of us wanting to debate my following motion] failed to convince enough other members get the supermajority required to change the SO that would have allowed them to get their debate” (Letters, 28 July).

First, no “supermajority” is required for a following motion. It was only required in this case because the Business Committee, acting with the advice of the lawyers (SO 147(d)) placed timed business less than an hour after the beginning of the presentation of the Archbishops’ Council’s Annual Report. But SOs allow Synod members to table following motions to the annual report of the Archbishops’ Council (SO 106(9)), and the placing of timed business in the agenda in this way frustrates this right, in breach of the Business Committee’s obligation (SO 4(1)) to settle the agenda “subject to . . . these Standing Orders”.

This provision was tightened at this most recent group of sessions (SO 107A) to require the consent of the Chair of the body which moved the report, or 25 members of the Synod to stand, before any debate on a following motion can take place. There is still no requirement for a supermajority.

The abuse of the Synod’s SOs to prevent the debate on my safeguarding motion began before July. I originally tabled it to take place as a following motion to the presentation by the Archbishops’ Council about their decision to disband the Independent Safeguarding Board (SO 107(4)(b)). This would have provided sufficient time for a debate, but it was ruled out of order on the basis that the presentation was “freestanding” and not related to a report.

There are two problems with that argument. First, it was related to a report: GS Misc 1341, “ISB Recent Developments”; and, second, Synod SOs do not allow for “freestanding” presentations (despite the increasing number of them). Presentations can only be used where the Business Committee “is of the opinion that it would be for the better conduct of the Synod’s business . . . that an item of business should be the subject of a presenta­­tion” (SO 107(1)). If there is no pre-existing “item of business”, there can be no presentation about it. The report, GS Misc 1341, was circulated to Synod members with the agenda and papers, it was referred to several times in the presentation and was an item of business.

After my following motion to this report was ruled out of order, I made representations to the Synod Clerk. I have yet to receive a response.

SOs exist to manage the good conduct of meetings. In the case of the General Synod, its Standing Orders are being used and abused by the Business Committee and Archbishops’ Council to prevent ordinary Synod members’ doing the job that they were elected to do, and to frustrate their rights.

Canon Butler refers to rulings being taken by the lawyers. The lawyers are not there to make rulings, but to give advice to the Chair (SO 147(a)). It is the Chair’s job to make rulings, but advice often comes across as instructions.

This leads to the greatest problem of all: the registrars are employed by the Archbishops’ Council. There is a clear conflict of interest in their advising the Synod about a motion that may be seen to be critical of the Archbishops’ Council. Lawyers have a legal duty to prevent real or perceived conflicts of interest and to act in the best interests of their client. When a lawyer employed by the Council is advising the Synod in a debate on a motion which criticises the Council, who is their client?

My motion could not be debated, despite Synod members’ voting, by 175 to 69, for the debate to continue. Incidentally, the Synod Secretariat have excluded this vote from the recently published list of names of those voting for and against, contrary to SO 38(9).

It is for this reason that I have resigned from the Synod. I don’t mind losing an argument. I do mind being denied the right to put my argument and to have it tested because of the misuse the rules of the Synod.

11 Church Street
Kirkby in Ashfield
Nottingham NG17 8LA

From Mr David Lamming

Sir, — As a former member of the General Synod and one who both attended as an observer the last three days at York and who assisted Gavin Drake in the drafting of his following motion, I wish to provide a via media response to Canon Simon Butler’s letter (28 July) and that from Clive Billenness and others (21 July), to which it was a reply.

Canon Butler is right to comment on the care with which Standing Orders (SOs) are drafted and the diligence of the legal team in their draft­ing, to which I can attest. Legislative counsel, Chris Packer, could not have been more helping and assiduous in ensuring that amend­ments said what was in­­tended. Canon Butler is wrong, however, in asserting that the Synod was able to “complete the business that [it] had gathered to undertake”.

As in February, important amend­ments to the SOs were not reached — including one to rectify an apparent lacuna that led to the fiasco on Monday morning when Mr Drake’s important following motion was effect­ively timed out. Moreover, debates on some items of business were truncated, leading to a complaint on Tuesday morning when the closure was moved after less than ten minutes’ debate on the motion to approve a safeguarding Code of Practice that it had been “horrendously rushed.”

I say “apparent” lacuna, since a liberal interpretation of the relevant SO would have enabled Mr Drake’s motion to be taken as a following motion to the safeguarding presentation on Sunday afternoon, which item of business was not time-limited so as to invoke the restriction in SO 8 (1) that the Synod so narrowly failed to agree to lift by the necessary 75-per-cent majority.

Indeed, it seems that it was only the omission of a reference to the supporting paper GS Misc 1341 (“Independent Safeguarding Board — Recent Developments”) in the formal agenda that caused the motion as first submitted to be ruled out of order, notwithstanding that this was the very subject of the presentation at Item 11 and that GS Misc 1341 was clearly given as the supporting paper in the list of items on the C of E website. Mr Drake can justly feel aggrieved, therefore, that his swift action in revising his motion so as to follow the presentation on the Archbishops’ Council annual report was spiked by SO 8 (1), especially when he was effectively ambushed by the chair’s reference to it without prior warning.

I suggest that rather than a “full review” of the SOs, as proposed by Mr Billenness and his colleagues, what is required is a more focused study of how they have been, or may have been, used or interpreted in a way to prevent Synod members’ raising matters of genuine concern. Absent such a study the lack of trust in those running the Synod agenda which led to Gavin Drake’s decision to resign will not be restored.

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

Retired clergy’s pension and housing problems

From Revd Marcus Gibbs

Sir, — Bishop Fletcher (Feature, 28 July) is concerned about the way in which retired clergy are having to seek charitable support (Leader comment, 28 July). Surely, as a Church, we need to repent at the poverty of provision for our retired clergy. After 41 years of service, the maximum that a 68-year-old will receive in pension upon retirement is £12,759 per annum. Even adding on a state pension of £10,600, this is a miserly amount, falling well below the current national minimum stipend.

Surely, it is time to start using more of the £10.3 billion of church investments to honour and provide for the current clergy in a way that models the generosity of God’s love not just for the Church of tomorrow, but for the Church of today.

5 Rossiter Road
London SW12 9RY

From the Revd Clive Edmonds

Sir, — I read with interest your article regarding the equity-sharing mortgage entered into by the Revd Ian Black and his wife (News, Letter, 21 July). Their difficulties mirror mine. Twenty years ago, having entered into a similar scheme, I was paying interest at four per cent, for which I was very grateful. My rate of interest is now nearly double that figure, having increased this year by a whopping 10.1 per cent.

I am responsible for all repairs and renovations, detailed in a survey and report every five years. After deducting the mortgage amount, my net pension is a little over £200 per month. Fortunately, I have a City pension.

Like Dr Angus Black, our children will face one day the same problems when the house is sold.

3 Church Road
Longhope GL17 OLH

When Taizé was too Protestant for the Anglicans

From Canon Christopher Hall

Sir, — The news that the lay Anglican Brother Matthew is to become Prior of the Taizé Community (News, 28 July) is warmly welcomed by the many Church of England members, young and not so young, who have visited Taizé, and the countless users of Taizé’s music. It goes some way towards redressing the deep dismay endured by Canon Roland Walls in 1961. Roland had had a long and close relationship with the Brothers, who had visited Roland’s embryo community in Sheffield.

When that was closing, Roland wanted, with the support of Archbishop Michael Ramsey, to join the Taizé Community. The common mind of the Superiors of Anglican religious communities, however, was that for a priest in the apostolic succession to join a community that was not would break the communion to which they all belonged; a number of their Orders would become Roman Catholic.

Roland decided that he could not cause disunity by joining a community dedicated to Christian unity. He was welcomed in Edin­burgh, where he founded the Community of the Transfiguration, and many of all denominations were enriched by his teaching and deep spirituality.

The Knowle, Deddington
Banbury OX15 0TB

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