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Letters to the Editor

06 January 2023


Ukrainian refugees and the war

From Canon Clare MacLaren

Sir, — The compromised situation of the Ukrainian Orthodox Church is, indeed, politically complex and contested, as Jonathan Luxmoore’s report (News, 16 December) points out.

Nevertheless, while we “Western” Christians have been celebrating Christmas, some of our Eastern Orthodox brothers and sisters in Christ, who have taken refuge in this country, are struggling to find churches where they might be permitted to celebrate Orthodox Christmas.

Several months ago, we at Newcastle Cathedral were approached by clergy from the Ukrainian Autocephalous Orthodox Church who were asking to hold services in our building. The UAOC, as distinct from the Ukrainian Orthodox Church (UOC), who claim that they are not canonical, is a Church independent of the Russian Orthodox establishment which has, since 1995, come under the authority of the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople.

No Ukranian Orthodox denominations are currently on the Church of England’s list of “designated Churches”. Looking into what is required to obtain a “temporary designation” from our diocesan Bishop, a labyrinthine process has emerged in which this small and poorly resourced community must provide proof of its doctrinal orthodoxy, financial probity, good governance, and ecumenical credentials. . .

We are trying to obtain the paperwork — but what a laborious and time-consuming process! In the mean time, our Ukrainian Orthodox friends are finding a swift and warm reception amongst our Nonconformist neighbours.

I absolutely agree that due process must be observed; but what a tragedy that the Established Church of this land is so tied up in red tape that we cannot offer an unconditional welcome to the refugee who is knocking at our door, wanting simply to celebrate the birth of Christ.

55 Queen’s Terrace
Newcastle upon Tyne NE2 2PL

From Mr Roland Smith

Sir, — Stephen Cooper (Letters, 23/30 December) takes the Archbishop of Canterbury to task for declaring the war being fought by Ukraine to be a just war in Christian terms. I agree with Mr Cooper that “wars are always an evil,” but there is a long tradition of Christian thinking, going back to St Augustine of Hippo, which accepts the idea that a war can be just. Ukraine’s war seems to me to fulfil all the conditions for a just war set out by St Augustine, St Thomas Aquinas, and others.

The war is indeed happening because of “human pride, greed, and the desire for power”, as Mr Cooper says, but, in this case, it is the pride and greed of President Putin and his government which are to blame. Ukraine did not “choose to go to war”: the country was invaded by Russia, and consequently found itself at war.

The Ukrainians are fighting only to defend their country, and to call their war just seems to me a correct description, and certainly not a “fig leaf” to cover something else.

(Former British Ambassador in Kyiv)
Ramsay Hall
9-13 Byron Road
Worthing BN11 3HN

Jewish heritage excluded from minority group

Sir, — I watched with interest, on Channel 4, David Baddiel’s programme Jews Don’t Count, which attacks the ignorance of anti-Semitism by modern-day progressives. Mr Baddiel argues that Jews are not seen as a proper minority group, and that there exists a hierarchy of racism which excludes anti-Semitism.

As a vicar of Jewish heritage, I very much hoped that my experience of the Church of England would prove Mr Baddiel wrong. Sadly, this is not the case. At a recent diocesan conference, I sat a table with others from minority-ethnic backgrounds. They told me with excitement that, following the report From Lament to Action, they had set up a group to support those clergy from minority-ethnic backgrounds.

“This sounds really good!” I exclaimed. “As someone from Jewish heritage, can I join the group?” The answer, I was told, was “No!”

They told me that they had discussed this issue, but the group decided that, as Jews were rich, well educated, and involved in the persecution of the Palestinian peoples, they should be excluded from the group.

I am not a lover of Mr Baddiel’s polemical style, but perhaps he is, sadly, correct in his assertion that “Jews don’t count.”


Drafting LLF outcomes

From the Revd Paul Burr

Sir, — You report (News, 16 December) that the Bishops are drafting outcomes of the Living in Love and Faith (LLF) discernment process and that recommendations will be put to the General Synod in February.

But how can the Bishops discern the mind of the Church without expressly inviting the views of the Church’s membership? Six thousand LLF participants may have responded, but that’s just 0.5 per cent of the Church. What about the huge majority that (perhaps for very good reason) did not participate in LLF?

How can Synod members properly represent their dioceses when diocesan bishops have not even consulted their own synods?

The Vicarage, The Common
Swardeston, Norwich NR14 8EB

Seats in the Lords for hereditary peers

From Mr Barry Williams

Sir, — Jonathan Chaplin (Letters, 16 December) rightly refers to the potential effectiveness of a revised Upper Chamber, and yet he fails to mention the one matter that most urgently needs attention.

Some ninety members of the House of Lords sit there by sole virtue of their birthright. Most, possibly all, of them may be well-qualified to sit in the Upper Chamber, but not, surely, just on hereditary grounds alone.

One might reasonably ask why none of the hereditary peers in the House of Lords is female.

93 Croydon Road
Beddington, Wallington
Surrey SM6 7LU

Gone to a better place

From Mrs A. Wills

Sir, — It has been stated on the news that, “sadly”, the 95-year-old former Pope Benedict XVl has died. After a good life well lived, however, it is not always sad to die in very old age: it is natural — although, of course, it is sad for those who loved the person.

We should stop always thinking of death at a great age as being a failure, especially as Christians believe that they go on to a better place to be with Jesus in eternal life.

67 Dulverton Road
Harrow HA4 9AF

Matthew’s genealogy

From the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke

Sir, — Dr Elaine Storkey was right to highlight the importance of the genealogy in St Matthew’s Gospel (Faith, 23/30 December). It is also significant that it includes some mothers’ names — for example, Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth, who were Gentiles by birth. Also the wife of Uriah, with whom King David committed adultery.

Does this point forward to the closing words of the Gospel, when the disciples are told “to make disciples of all nations”?

Flat 7, Portland House
Teignmouth TQ14 8BQ

Resourcing parishes and reviewing performance

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — The scale of the shift in resources from parish ministry to diocesan support posts which is set out by the Revd Simon Grigg (Letters 23/30 December) is shocking, and I share his view that it has contributed to decline. I do not, however, fully share his support for parishes. Not all parishes are the same. There is a big difference between old parishes in the countryside and the new urban parishes created since the Industrial Revolution.

The old parishes are mostly real communities, and the whole parish still often has a strong sense of connection with the parish church, reflected in the high rate of occasional offices proportionate to the population. Those links are invaluable and should be preserved. Most old parishes want traditional clergy-led worship. There are many who occasionally attend services in their parish church, but who would not travel to a neighbouring church. Parish reorganisations that break up rural benefices and annex village churches to town parishes (there is currently one such in the Staffordshire Wolds) are misconceived, and further weaken the already fragile links between Church and society.

Post-industrial urban parishes are a very different matter. Most never were real communities, and were just arbitrary chunks of urban sprawl with little connection between the local community and the parish church. With motorised transport, people no longer need a place of worship in walking distance. The 19th-century attempt to re-create the parish system in towns hasn’t worked well. There are too many town churches offering very similar services, which now have declining appeal. We need more variety to win people back.

Most town-dwellers identify with the town in which they live, not the parish; so we need central churches that connect with the town as a whole, such as the “Coventry experiment” pioneered there by Provost Williams (see his 20th-century Cathedral).

The Holy Trinity, Brompton-type churches that exist in most large towns provide front-line ministry and reach people who wouldn’t go to their parish church. We also need new forms of monasticism, as seen, for example, in the current vitality of Pusey House in Oxford. We need churches such as St James’s, Piccadilly, which connect with the “spiritual but not religious”. Art-related worship, the Celtic tradition, and meditative silence all have appeal.

Such diversification of front-line ministry complements parishes and is very different from shifting resources into central support posts. It offers the best hope of reversing decline.

2B Gregory Avenue,
Coventry CV3 6DL

From Dr Audrey Wells

Sir, — I strongly agree with Jonathan Baird (Letters, 23 December) that there “is no excuse for the continuance of the interregnum for stipendiary clergy”,

My church will soon lose its vicar, and, in anticipation of a long interregnum, already some members are talking of leaving for another church. The work of those who built up the church membership is thus undermined, and an unfair burden is also placed on the non-stipendiary clergy. If bishops were made responsible for personally serving in vacant benefices or finding temporary clergy for them, the interregnum rule would, no doubt, soon be abolished.

Mr Baird’s conclusion is that “there needs to be a seismic shift in the relevant diocesan culture. Perhaps a good starting point would be the naming and shaming of slothful bishops.”

It is surely time for the clergy to be given the regular opportunity to evaluate their bishops anonymously, their evaluations going for appraisal to the Archbishops, who could also be evaluated, this time by the bishops. These evaluations could go to a special body established for the purpose.

Moreover, for the Church to understand why congregations are declining, it is important to introduce anonymous regular evaluation by the congregation of the clergy, the services, and the running of their churches. The evaluations should go first to the bishops, who will see in what areas they can help and advise their clergy, to whom they should return the evaluations — which can be useful when applying for jobs and thus undermine hierarchical patronage.

Anonymous evaluation of lecturers has long been used in universities to good effect, as well as by most companies and services dealing with the public, including GPs’ surgeries. It is high time that this method of appraisal was used by the Church.

2 Cleve Road
London NW6 3RR

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