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Letters to the Editor

06 April 2023


Cathedral governance and ethos

From Anne Foreman

Sir, — It was instructive to read Canon Peter Doll’s absorbing piece “What cathedrals can learn from St Benedict” (Comment, 31 March). As a lay member of a soon-to-be-defunct cathedral council, I found that the statement “Worship needs to be the effective source of the cathedral’s life and to shape all its other activities” particularly resonated with me; for, if worship is indeed to shape all other activities effectively, then it is, surely, helpful if employees are fully committed to, and understand, the mission, work, and ethos of their cathedral, as Canon Doll states.

It is easier to fulfil the aspiration that chapter, staff, and volunteers “must be co-dependent partners in enabling the cathedral to prosper and flourish” if all sign up to the primary cathedral function: to be a house of prayer. Exeter has a cathedral offering a rich, imaginative mix of worship and cultural and social events, offered with warm and welcoming hospitality. And this is despite implementing an extensive and challenging building project that could shake those core principles of St Benedict’s Rule: stability, obedience, and conversion.

We are living in unsettling times, and changing patterns of work mean key employees are part-time with other pastoral responsibilities, living at some distance from Cathedral Green: another challenge, then, of the practical reality of how to be a community that prays the daily Office and offers the eucharist each day.

Though I agree that the 2020 Cathedrals Measure, in part, was about preventing future calamities, it also offered clarity around lines of accountability, ensured a balance of laity within its structures, and affirmed cathedrals’ core purpose. But I wonder how many people involved in any form of volunteering with their cathedral feel themselves to be regarded as co-dependent partners in the enterprise.

12a Baring Crescent
Exeter EX1 1TL

From the Revd Neil Patterson

Sir, — Canon Peter Doll makes an excellent case for the continued value of Benedictine principles in the leadership of our cathedrals. While it is true that the Cathedrals Measure 2021 is mostly about governance, I draw the attention of all concerned to section 7(4), which reads: “The statutes must include provision for the fostering of the corporate and spiritual life of the Chapter and its members.”

My intention in introducing this clause during the revision of the Measure in the Synod was precisely to defend the principle that a cathedral chapter is always a spiritual corporation as well as a governance body. I trust that the Vice-Dean of Norwich will not be alone in seeking to apply that principle.

Sunnybrook, Wellington HR4 8AZ

Regional course finds
collaboration natural

From Mr Barney Leeke

Sir, — I agree wholeheartedly with the Rt Revd Humphrey Southern’s call for ministry training that is collaborative rather than tribalist (Comment, 17 March). His college has had intentionally to seek what my own college happily takes for granted.

Studying with the Eastern Region Ministry Course (ERMC), formed as it is from geographical location rather than church tradition, I have enjoyed the benefits of exposure to a rich variety of views, traditions, and cultures. Students and staff come from across the Anglican spectrum in England, besides including those from European chaplaincies, and also Methodists.

While our debates in the bar at residentials may be heated and lively, it seems that we are in the vanguard of learning good disagreement. And, while naming my training institution is often met with blank looks and confusion, I am grateful for an IME1 course that will prepare me amply for IME2 in a large team with the associated diversity of opinion, and a local ecumenical partnership with my college chaplain! Vive la différence!

Licensed lay minister (Reader) and ordinand
100 Fishers Lane
Cambridge CB1 9HR

Alongsiders welcomed by Mirfield community

From the Superior of the Community of the Resurrection

Sir, — The recent article on experiencing the religious life (“Testing a call? Get embedded”, Features, 10 March) is both welcome and interesting. It does contain, however, a statement that is not correct, namely that the Community of the Resurrection does not offer a programme to alongsiders. I am happy to tell you that the Community both welcomes alongsiders and does indeed offer them such a programme, adjusted to need.

Community of the Resurrection
Stocks Bank Road
Mirfield WF14 0BN

Evangelical divisions and conversion therapy

From Canon David Banting

Sir, — Assorted archdeacons (Letters, 3 March) are keen to assert their Evangelical Anglicanism. They, however, “do protest too much, methinks”, in trying to assure others of their Evangelical credentials.

Evangelical in doctrine and practice means, in effect, biblical. Writing in 1964 in The Anglican Synthesis, the late John Stott stated: “The evangelical churchman could not contemplate the existence of an evangelical doctrine as distinct from a biblical doctrine, since his concern is to understand biblical doctrine and to conform his thinking and practice to it. If any so-called ‘evangelical’ doctrine can be shown to be unbiblical, the evangelical churchman is ready to abandon it in favour of any doctrine which can be shown to be more biblical.”

These senior “Evangelical” leaders do not obviously commend their handling of scripture when they rather too easily and quickly apply the Lord’s promise of John 16.13 to the contemporary Church of England leadership. Disciplined hermeneutics would include the principle of exegeting “a text in its context”, and therefore understanding and applying this Dominical promise first, if not solely, to the apostles. It was they who were the unique eye- and ear-witnesses of the incarnate Lord. It was they who on the eve of Jesus’s departure understandably needed the reassurance that they would not forget, but be reminded of, all the Lord had said while he was with them (John 14.25-26), and that, for all that they could not bear at that time, they would later be guided into all truth (John 16.12-13) — both the remembrance and the guidance to be given them by the coming Holy Spirit.

This unique promise was fulfilled at Pentecost, whereafter the witness and teaching of the apostles became essentially the yardstick for the mission and ministry of the gospel and later for settling the canonicity of the New Testament and the apostolicity of the Church. If in the footsteps of the apostles we subsequently wish to be “led into all truth”, then we do well to “believe and remain loyal to this inheritance of faith, uniquely revealed in the Holy Scriptures, which is the faith of the Catholic and Apostolic Church” (Declaration of Assent).

These campaigning clerics imply they speak for “many Evangelical Christians”, but in the light of the wide range of bodies and networks that represent Evangelicals in this country, for their “many” let the reader understand “small minority”. The Evangelical Alliance represents some two million Evangelicals in their churches, while the C of E Evangelical Council (CEEC) has never been more consciously representative. CEEC has 55 members: 18 elected across the country in both Provinces via Diocesan Evangelical Fellowships (DEFs) or equivalent; 24 appointed from 15 recognised Anglican Evangelical organisations or groupings, including self-identifying Evangelical bishops in the College of Bishops, the Evangelical Group on the General Synod (EGGS), and half of our theological colleges; eight co-opts and five ex officio.

All these are quietly, but clearly, agreed in conserving the received historic Christian understanding and disciplines of marriage, in the face of the growing clamour for change and redefinition in secular society and the “modernist” Church. For all their failings, Evangelicals have always sought to listen more to the Word of God than to the voice of culture, and at their best have always put as much time and effort into sacrificial pastoral care as into necessary doctrinal boundaries.

I am grateful to my father-in-law, now languishing with dementia and living with us, and my training incumbent, now in glory, for their insistence on the importance of both the order of words and the noun in the attribution “Anglican Evangelical”.

15 Amersham Close
Romford RM3 9JL 

From Dr Christopher Shell

Sir, — The Revd Dr Charlie Bell (Letters, 24 March) opines (correctly) that “we cannot afford just to ignore the evidence when we don’t like what it tells us,” and (sweepingly) that, regarding conversion therapy, “the overwhelming evidence — scientific, psychological, and medical — is clear.” But evidence cites he none.

To the contrary, it is undisputed by large-scale studies (Lisa Diamond; Savin-Williams and Ream) that sexual orientation can have a notable, even startling, degree of fluidity. This undercuts his premise, as does the way in which various environmental factors (the very stuff of psychology and counselling) correlate far more strongly with particular sexualities than any biological factors have ever been found to do: see the national-scale studies of Laumann, and Frisch and Hviid.

Given that the imposed phrase “conversion therapy” is so unhelpfully broad, the more that its definition is avoided, the more it is bound to look like a calculated attempt to throw the baby out with the bathwater: to jettison even friendly requested chats about even such sexual practices as are producing misery, for the sake of banning something completely unconnected, like electric-shock therapy — which is not only already banned, but also effectively non-existent.

7 Markway, Sunbury TW16 5NS

Oversight of the National Safeguarding Panel

From Mr Martin Sewell

Sir, — There seem to be so many schisms developing in the Church of England that, evidently, the Archbishops’ Council appears to think that one more will not matter overly much.

Thus, we now have the appointment of the Chair of the National Safeguarding Panel to also undertake the role of Chair of the Independent Safeguarding Board, which is, inter alia, supposed to oversee the work of the former. I have yet to encounter anyone who thinks that this is a great idea.

The new divide can be defined succinctly along non-sectarian lines. On the one hand, there are those of us who think conflicts of interest are really important and must be avoided if credibility is to be sustained; on the other hand, there are those in positions of influence who seem to believe that this is a lot of fuss about nothing — provided the person appointed is a “safe pair of hands” and “one of us”.

It may not turn out well.

General Synod member
8 Appleshaw Close, Gravesend
Kent DA11 7PB

The Government, BBC funding, and choral music

From Canon David Thomas

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby (Comment, 31 March) may be dismayed at the cynicism that the BBC displayed in cutting (among other things) the funding to the BBC Singers. What dismays me far more is the cynicism of a Government happy to cut the BBC’s funding by a considerable amount in real terms (no mention of it in their manifesto, of course) and leave the BBC to take all the flak wherever the cuts are made.

40 Longmead Road
Salford M6 7EU

From Mr Michael R. Cavaghan-Pack

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby’s column on the importance of music in the life of the Church reminded me that, in the BBC’s adaptation of Trollope’s Barchester Towers, now more than 40 years old (and none the worse for that), Mr Harding, the Precentor of Barchester, played by Donald Pleasance, on hearing of the new Bishop’s plans to eliminate music from the life of the cathedral, says in horrified amazement “But where there is no music, there is no mystery, and where there in no mystery there is no God!”

It’s not Trollope, and you won’t find it in Barchester Towers, but it’s a wonderful addition, and a saying I’ve always treasured.

The Manor House
Thurloxton, Taunton TA2 8RH

The new Lambeth Palace Library is ‘a great gift’

From the Principal of Montreal Diocesan Theological College

Sir, — On a recent trip to London, I was able to spend several days conducting research in the new Lambeth Palace Library. It is a magnificent facility and a great gift to the Church of England and the Anglican Communion. Truly, we are fortunate to be in a Church that invests so much in a resource such as this. So much of our current church life has antecedents in the past, and much can be learned by the patient study of our shared history.

Let me add, as well, that the staff are uniformly professional, helpful, and kind.

Montreal Diocesan Theological College
3475 University
Montreal, QC H3A 2A8

Plain words preferred

From His Honour Samuel Wiggs

Sir, — I am a former barrister and retired diocesan chancellor and secular judge. I have A levels in Latin and Greek.

The use of “fissiparous” and “prestidigitation” in your leader comment (24 March) sent me to my dictionary. And a quick poll among my fellow choir members (and the Vicar) found only one person who knew one of the words.

I’ll just about give you primus inter pares, but wouldn’t it be better to aim your writings at every person in the pew?

Address supplied

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