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Letters to the Editor

by
16 February 2024

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State funding for church buildings

From Mr Malcolm Dixon

Sir, — The Bishop of Worcester makes a good point (Quotes of the Week, 9 February) that the Church of England receives less help from the State in maintaining its buildings than is the case of Churches in other European countries.

He will, no doubt, be aware that, in some of those countries (particularly Germany), this is as a result of a historic settlement between Church and State, where the Churches agreed to hand over most of their land and inherited wealth to the State in return for a pledge from the State to provide financial support indefinitely.

There have probably been times when such a settlement might have been possible in this country, too, and it would, in my opinion, have been a very good thing. But it is hard to imagine any recent government’s entering into such an arrangement, or our Church’s being willing to yield up any of its inherited wealth, or trusting the Government to honour such a pledge of support indefinitely.

Nevertheless, unless some way can be found of encouraging the State to take over responsibility for the maintenance of our churches, it seems inevitable that, despite the best efforts of the Churches Conservation Trust and other bodies, the majority of our churches will go to rack and ruin. The long-forecast demographic cliff-edge is now very close, and it will be impossible for many declining and elderly congregations to maintain their church buildings any longer.

Far better for the Church Commissioners to consider using their wealth in this way than to continue to spend vast sums taking on redundant secular buildings and converting them into worship spaces thought to appeal to young people, which only adds to the presenting problem.

MALCOLM DIXON
26 Tubbenden Drive
Orpington
Kent BR6 9PA

 

Threat to the future of the Inter Faith Network 

From the Revd Dr Marcus Braybrooke

Sir, — The Revd Guy Hewitt’s defence of the Churches’ mandate to tackle racial injustice (Comment, 2 February) is particularly important, as the future of the Inter Faith Network for the UK is under threat of closure because Michael Gove said that he was “minded to withdraw funding” because one of the trustees is a member of the Muslim Council of Britain.

The pursuit of interfaith cooperation, like the pursuit of racial justice, as Fr Hewitt says, is because “each person and all people are created in God’s own image.”

Sixty years ago, as a student at Madras Christian College, with other students of various nationalities and religions, I helped at a leprosy clinic, where the doctor was dressed in a traditional dhoti. As we washed the feet of the smiling children, our differences were transcended in service of others.

This is the inspiration of interfaith work at both local and national level, and it deserves the support of the wider community and of the Government.

Gaza is a terrible warning of the dangers of seeing differences as a danger, not an enrichment.

MARCUS BRAYBROOKE
Flat 6, Portland House
Teignmouth TQ14 8BQ

 

‘A loving friendship’ — and what has followed 

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — His Honour Peter Collier’s “surprise” (Letter, 9 February) about my letter (2 February) might need to take a fact-check.

Both in the documentation provided to the General Synod, and in multiple speeches, there was reference to “the legal advice”. My own bishop commented: “I am compelled to, respectfully and very regrettably, say that I cannot agree with the opinion that nothing that might be useful to this Synod is simply not being withheld. I believe that there are a number of things — discussions, decisions, and advice that we have received in the House — that would be useful to the Synod, and important for its work at this time, but that is held behind Standing Order 14.”

I am led to believe that there was a main document of 33 pages in March 2023, and a further eight-page document in October 2023, plus an undated five-page update —none of which has been made available to Synod. I am not, apparently, allowed to ask about these, but I am told that nothing is being hidden.

That we are now debating the nature of what we are not being told simply confirms what a tangled web the House of Bishops has woven through this whole sorry process.

IAN PAUL
102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

 

From Mr Richard Lyons

Sir, — Running the Living in Love and Faith study-group material, I felt that it was the best study to ever come from the Church. The subject inevitably makes you wrestle with your biblical understanding and how you might truly be accepting of difference.

The study group did not come to a consensus, but we continue to meet in a loving friendship. LLF has, if nothing else, held a mirror up to all us Christians to see how loving and accepting we can be of one another, let alone those we seek to reach out to.

So, I pray that there will be a new way forward, and that we as Church do not become divided. It is not what the world needs just now.

RICHARD LYONS
19 Manor Road
Fenny Stratford
Milton Keynes MK2 2HP

 

Asylum cases and the baptism of applicants

From the Revd Neal Terry

Sir, — I find it incredible that anyone should think that the Home Office is hanging on the word of the Church of England collectively, or in its individual licensed ministers, to make its mind up about anything, let alone individual asylum cases (News, Letters, and Press, 9 February).

NEAL TERRY
4 Sandpiper Place
Longbenton NE12 8PE

 

From Mr Nicholas Daunt

Sir, — Suella Braverman’s recent tirade against the Church of England fills me with hope. If she hates us so much, we must be doing something right.

NICHOLAS DAUNT
(Reader Emeritus)
8 Hallbridge Gardens
Up Holland
Lancashire WN8 0ER

 

Pensions Board’s Enabling Choice consultation 

From Canon Tony Macpherson

Sir, — I spent some time completing the Church of England Pensions Board’s inquiry form about clergy retirement housing. Having been faced with the “circle of death” after trying to submit for more than 20 minutes, I have little confidence that it uploaded.

I have read, however, your report (News, 2 February) quoting both the Retired Clergy Association and Unite in their response. I completely endorse what they say.

I have, so far, spent 43 years in pensionable service. My stipend has either been the principal income or only income for that time. (My wife has worked very hard in caring for three terminally ill relatives and other family members with health issues.)

I have served as a parish priest, a diocesan missioner, and a cathedral canon, and was the chair of the House of Clergy in my previous diocese for 12 years. In those years, I have seen the covenant of care for clergy progressively diminished, often in response to a funding shortfall in pensions or for the Church Commissioners.

It is clear that the clergy are asked, in hard times, to face a reduction in the real value of stipend, pensions, and retirement housing; but no remedy or restitution for this is offered when the Church Commissioners do well. Investment strategies are all well and good, but I had believed that the purpose of the Commissioners was to support the parishes and the clergy.

In about three years, I retire, and we would like to stay in this area. This means that we will have to seek social housing for three reasons that were clarified for me at a recent church retirement seminar: (a) we have no capital (no large spousal income or inheritance to build it with); (b) there is no CHARM housing north of Ripon; and (c) CHARM rents are, as illustrated at the seminar, about double those of social-housing rents here and are no longer, as formerly, linked to a percentage of the clergy pension.

I don’t despair, as I trust that we will be OK; but this will be despite, not because of, the care exercised by the Church for its clergy.

When the payment of clergy stipends was recently delayed 24 hours, this caused many to realise that even such a short delay could lead to a crisis for some clergy households. This is as nothing to the lack of provision and thought in terms of pensions and retirement housing.

TONY MACPHERSON
The Vicarage, 155 Main Street
North Sunderland
Northumberland NE68 7TT

 

Ash Wednesday, commination, and Shrovetide 

From Canon Andrew Warner

Sir, — In her column concerning the history of “one of the most powerful moments of the Christian year” (Comment, 9 February), Canon Angela Tilby, like so many others, seems totally unaware that the imposition of ashes is an act of disobedience to the clear teaching of Jesus.

What is more, in the Ash Wednesday service, just before this imposition, the congregation is actually reminded of that teaching when the priest reads the Gospel — whether the Prayer Book or Common Worship is being used: “When you fast do not look dismal like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by men. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by men but by your Father in heaven.”

In 37 years of being an incumbent, when I explained to any parishioner who asked me why we did not impose ashes in our church, I don’t remember anyone who could not understand that it was to obey what Jesus taught.

ANDREW WARNER
5 Pearman Drive
Andover SP10 2SB

 

From the Revd P. S. Seaton-Burn

Sir, — Canon Angela Tilby rightly acknowledges that “the intimacy of ashing moves us”, but then asserts that “contemporary sensibilities cannot cope with God’s wrath.” Cranmer understood that a living Church needs a living liturgy, and yet some cannot let go of the god of wrath (with a small “g”), whose bloodlust must be sated in order to love and redeem his Creation. The cross was and is, surely, supposed to be an end to that business.

One reason, I suggest, that ashing is much appreciated by many congregations is that it reminds us of the faithful loving kindness (hesed) of our God, whose touch in the hands of Jesus brings healing to blighted lives.

To raise our foreheads is akin to putting our hands out to receive the bread of life and has deep sacramental significance. To cling to an image of a wrathful god who “hates nothing that he has made” — a tortuous phrase, if ever there was — is a sign of our institutional anxiety.

What may the Spirit be saying to the Church today? “Fear not” to open your beloved Churchianity to the light, for as Mahler (may have) put it, “Tradition is not the worship of ashes, but the preservation of fire.”

P. S. SEATON-BURN
The Rectory, 11A Joiner’s Road
Linton, Cambridge CB21 4NP

 

From Canon Brian Stevenson

Sir, — Dr Charles Moseley’s reflection (Faith, 9 February) on the qualities mentioned in the BCP collects for Septuagesima, Sexagesima, and Quinquagesima, as foreshadowing the qualities that we wish to grow in our lives and actions during Lent — i.e. discipline, humility, and love — was very helpful. Although Peter Bruegel’s painting of The Battle between Carnival and Lent was a beautiful backing to the theme, it was not itself mentioned.

I was sorry about that, since, last Lent, I was given a jigsaw of that painting in 1000 pieces. It was a real test for me and my family as we tried to complete it by Easter. We needed discipline, acquired humility, and came to love the painting, as we battled to find the right pieces.

The dark-coloured nuns and church on the right-hand side were the most trickiest, and the easiest was the man astride the beer barrel in the front. But, then, that is temptation for you.

BRIAN STEVENSON
Michaelmas Cottage
Stan Lane, West Peckham
Kent ME18 5JT

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