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Letters to the Editor

08 December 2023


No funeral: the pastoral response

From Canon Hugh Wright

Sir, — The Theos report mentioned in the story “The British turn their backs on funerals” (News, 1 December) confirms what I’ve thought and noticed for a while now. Having just retired after 36 years’ parish ministry, from my first year as a curate, when I would often do four funerals a week (once four in a day), to my last few years, when a month would sometimes pass without any funerals, and having seen the pastoral pain created in the relatives of those who chose not to have a funeral, could I make two suggestions?

First, we need to question the sacred truth that the deceased’s wishes should always be followed. Public opinion is easily manipulated, and the media are full of adverts by the various direct-cremation companies encouraging people to save money and ignore their relatives. Let it be stated clearly: a funeral is for the sake of people left behind, not for the deceased. I hope that I will make some helpful suggestions for my loved ones in the event of my death, but I would happily leave the details to them when it comes to it.

Second, today’s parish clergy need to understand that caring for the families who have been abandoned by these decisions will be an important part of their ministry. In my last year, I twice organised services of thanksgiving for such relatives and would have expected more, had I carried on. The need for “an event” after death is one profoundly embedded in human culture. One only need look to Africa and other parts of the world where people will spend money that they don’t really have to lay their loved ones to rest. Such services do much more than committing and giving thanks. They help to bind a community together.

People are making decisions that will have as yet unknown, but certainly detrimental, effects on their mental and spiritual health, and that of their families. It must fall to a broad range of people, from the Church, celebrants, and funeral directors, to social anthropologists, to warn of this.

40 Angelica Grove
Newport PO30 2GH

How labels may help an individual to understand challenging conditions

From the Revd Rachel Noel

Sir, — I find Canon Angela Tilby’s thoughts regarding neurodiversity and mental health (Comment, 1 December) ignorant and offensive. I am a priest, diagnosed with several “labels”, as Canon Tilby puts it. In my third year of curacy, aged 42, I was diagnosed with ADHD, sensory processing disorder, and bipolarity, with suspected autistic traits — later confirmed autistic. Until those diagnoses, I had assumed that my body and brain worked in a similar way to others’, and that I just needed to keep trying harder.

I had previously been diagnosed with severe asthma and allergies. I went through school on approximately 50-per-cent attendance. I have three degrees, and led a change programme across a large corporation. I have never been workshy, but I have struggled to show up in the way that neurotypicals seem to be able to.

In January 2017, I went Googling, and came across what ADHD looked like in bright girls. This was who I had always been, and I hadn’t known that there was a language for it.

Even just the realisation unlocked much for me. I could finally name, with appropriate language, the particular challenges that I faced. I was nearly 42, and I smiled at myself in the mirror for the first time, finally knowing, and wanting to know better, the person looking back. These were my answers to life, the universe, and everything.

It has opened up practical support and coaching to help my brain to work in the best way possible for how it is actually built. I need to take more care around sensory stuff, because my brain can melt down if I get overloaded with sensory stuff. In the past, I would keep pushing through that until eventually my body stopped breathing, and I was treated for asthma.

Neurodivergent diagnoses have helped me to understand all this about myself and my family, and to work well with who I am.

The Vicarage
12 Harewood Avenue
Bournemouth BH7 6NQ

BBC Choral Evensong protest in Chichester: argument for disinvestment

From Mr Mark Francis

Sir, — I was one of the Christians singing and praying during the protest in Chichester Cathedral on Wednesday 29 November. I am responding to your report “BBC departs in peace after climate protesters disrupt Chichester evensong” (Online News, 30 November). You quoted a spokesperson for the diocese of Chichester saying: “The synod agreed . . . to continue to invest in Shell and BP only while those companies have a clear strategy aligned with the Paris Agreement goal.” (It should also be noted that the diocese of Chichester has a small holding of shares in Total Energies).

The position of the protesters from Christian Climate Action is that neither Shell, BP, nor Total has a clear strategy to achieve the 1.5°C Paris target. This is a view that is shared by the Church of England’s National Investment Bodies (NIBs). The NIBs’ position in July was that, despite a policy of engagement and lengthy meetings, it was clear that Shell, BP, andTotal were demonstrating that they were no longer aligned to net zero. This conclusion was based on the independent and authoritative research carried out by the globally renowned London School of Economics’ Transition Pathway Initiative.

In proposing disinvestment at the July 2023 General Synod debate, Alan Smith of the Church Commissioners explained that remaining invested gave social licence to the oil majors to continue to row back on their commitments. “We have to be careful that people aren’t engagement-washing. Because there is a certain way in which these big firms, by engaging with entities like ourselves, it becomes a rubber stamp.”

If the First Church Estates Commissioner believes that engagement has had its day, on what basis can Chichester diocese think otherwise?

Address supplied (Horsham)

In impact-of-faith research, causes stay unclear

From Professor Fraser Watts

Sir, — I welcome reports of research on religion in the Church Times, such as that religious people are happier and more resilient (News, 24 November), and that religious people in the workforce are more trusting, satisfied and optimistic (News, 1 December). Both emerge from the Institute for the Impact of Faith in Life.

It is abundantly clear that religion is positively correlated with a host of measures of health and happiness. The problem comes with the causal interpretation of those correlations. It is tempting to move too easily to the conclusion that religion is good for people. It may be, but there are at least two other plausible causal interpretations of the correlational data, as any competent researcher would be aware.

One is that people who lack health and happiness stay away from religion, perhaps because they haven’t got time and energy for it, or because they don’t think that they are good enough. The other causal interpretation is that the correlation of religion with health and happiness is a spin-off from their both being related to socio-economic level. Maybe being well off makes people happier, healthier, and more religious.

Religion may be good for you, but correlational data really do not prove it.

2B Gregory Avenue
Coventry CV3 6DL

Michael Ramsey’s ‘five jobs’ and the next Primate

From Prebendary Desmond Tillyer

Sir, — Further to your report (News, 24 November) on changes on the appointment of future Archbishops of Canterbury: Michael Ramsey said that being Archbishop of Canterbury was not one job, but five jobs: attempt four of them. The five jobs were diocesan bishop, Primate of All England and Metropolitan, the General Synod, The Crown and Parliament, and the Anglican Communion. The one that he did not want to do was the General Synod: his first priority was to be an accessible diocesan bishop to the people of Canterbury diocese, then to be a pastor for all the people of England, while at the same time not neglecting the Crown and Parliament and the Communion.

While there is a reasonable case for there to be more than one representative of the Anglican Communion on the Crown Nominations Commission for the appointment of future Archbishops of Canterbury, surely this should not be at the expense of the number of diocesan representatives from Canterbury diocese. I do not see why the committee cannot be increased in number by the addition of Anglican representatives without penalising the Church in Canterbury diocese at a time when the Church of England is facing serious issues locally and needs a hands-on ministry from experienced diocesans.

3 Millennium House
132 Grosvenor Road
London SW1V 3JY

Do the CLC’s cases put people off Christianity?

From Dr Aaron P. Edwards

Sir, — I was intrigued to see mention of my case in Andrew Brown’s Guardian-inspired criticism of the Christian Legal Centre (CLC) (Press, 1 December).

In one of the last lectures that I gave at Cliff College before they fired me, I quoted from Andrew Brown’s co-written book, That Was the Church, That Was: How the Church of England lost the English People (2016). I used that book for several years. While I always appreciated the authors’ analysis of the symptoms of church decline, and generally found the book to be interesting and insightful, the evaluation of why the Church “lost the people” always struck me as misguided.

They argued, essentially, that modern society’s rejection of traditional Christian practice and belief ought to have been embraced by the Church, not resisted. I notice this line of thought popped up again in his aforementioned piece, where he argues that the benevolent work of the CLC in helping people like me “will surely put people off Christianity”. This made me wonder whether Mr Brown actually speaks with many unbelievers regularly (not least those who do not frequent The Guardian).

Following my case, non-believers from various backgrounds have told me how much they appreciated my standing up for historic Christian belief and resisting progressive “invasions” of it. Many have told me that they wished more Christians did so. Some even expressed an interest in hearing more. They still seem to think that a people who actually believe in Christian beliefs is what the Church is.

The Jubilee Centre
Wilson Road
Sheffield S11 8RN

Parish Giving change

From Mr Christopher Whitmey

Sir, — You report: “Parish Giving under new management” (News 1 December). As a user of the PGS scheme in our parish, I trust that the very good management under Grant Forrest and his team will continue, and that it is only the ownership that is changing, from the dioceses to the Church of England Central Services. It would be very helpful, and courteous if users of the PGS scheme could be told the reasons for the change.

You report: “The ultimate legal status of the PGS remains to be confirmed.” At present, it is a “Private Limited Company by guarantee without share capital”. Even if the membership will change, why does the legal status need to change? More explanation is needed, to retain the trust of PCCs.

Oldstone Furlong, Capler Lane
Fownhope, Hereford HR1 4PJ

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