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Letters to the Editor

17 May 2024


Theological formation under strain

From the Principal of Ripon College, Cuddesdon

Sir, — The story of the diocesan director of ordinands (DDO) who is reluctant to send ordinands into residential training as they believe most residential colleges to be on the brink of closure (“Ordinands should not have to live in hardship”, Comment, 10 May) is unsourced and anecdotal. Sadly, it is also all too credible.

One wonders what the basis may be for this DDO’s judgement. Speculation? Assumption? Gossip? Prejudice? Wishful thinking? It would be reassuring (but surprising) to know that it had been reached on the basis of careful and objective research into colleges’ accounts and Periodic External Review (PER) reports, all of which are readily available. If this could be demonstrated, I should be happy to withdraw my own disappointed scepticism, with apologies to the DDO concerned.

But, in the mean time, I would urge this DDO and others, including sponsoring bishops, to assess the suitability (and viability) of all training institutions on the judgements of those professionally charged and equipped to make them rather than on inevitably less well-informed private opinion.

Theological formation and education in the Church of England (increasingly in all modes, not just residential) are very significantly under stress. The world of Initial Ministerial Education Stage 1 (i.e. the element before ordination) is segmented, competitive, and badly in need of joined-up strategic direction. The market dynamic that separates roles (and interests) into customers and service providers (and that enables the opinion alleged and others like it to be damaging) has been, and remains, a significant factor in the strangulation of the entire system.

I might add that I write as the leader of an institution that provides training in all modes — full- and part-time, residential and non-residential — and so I am not making a “party” point in relation to any specific training mode.

I do observe, however, that the health of the whole operation depends on the health of all its parts, something that I believe to hold true for the sector as a whole. Different modes suit (and develop more richly) different individuals in their different circumstances. I am concerned for the limitation of possibility which the quoted DDO’s opinion represents for ordinands in their care for whom residential formation would be the best way forward.

Ripon College, Cuddesdon
Oxford OX44 9EX

From the Archbishops’ Council’s Director of Ministry Development

Sir, — I write in response to the article “Ordinands should not have to live in hardship”. We, of course, agree with this statement, and are actively progressing the review of maintenance arrangements which the article notes.

We did, however, want to point out that the statement that maintenance amounts for a couple with two children had only gone up by six per cent since 2017-18 is incorrect. The parallel figure to this year’s £16,684 for a couple with two children under 11 in 2017-18 would have been £12,835; and so the increase since then has been 28.2 per cent. Indeed, rates have increased by the equivalent of more than six per cent since last year, given the recent drop in the rates of inflation.

Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3NZ

Maternity support that was ‘exceptional’

From the Bishops of Doncaster and Sheffield

Sir, — We write in response to the report “Maternity provision chaotic, audit suggests” (News, 10 May), concerning the independent report on maternity provision in the Church of England. We are encouraged to see many dioceses embracing the national guidance on family-friendly policies developed by the national Church in recent years. We note that the report offers an important perspective from the current lived experiences of ordained women, serving in different contexts as they raise their young families.

There is much to celebrate, especially by those of us who have engaged with this topic for decades. We appreciate that this was largely a “desk-based” exercise, reporting findings from diocesan-website searches, with a little accompanying conversation. Though Sheffield diocese is reported as a “gap”, we are glad to say that this has been an area of strength for us in recent years. With a suite of supportive resources and an intentionally family-friendly culture, we have seen a growth in our numbers of female clergy, including stipendiary curates, with two currently on maternity leave.

One of them commented recently: “The maternity support I have received in the diocese of Sheffield has been nothing short of exceptional, both at diocesan and parochial level. The Bishops, IME2 team, and my TI have listened to and worked with me to come to the best arrangements for my family. More significantly, they have truly rejoiced with me in this new phase of life and endorsed the changing nature of my ministry that will follow. Their positive, can-do attitude has been backed up by financial support, pastoral care, and creativity in planning my return to work.”

We truly hope that this work will ensure greater consistency across the dioceses through both policy and practice, enabling more families to flourish in the coming years.

Church House
95-99 Effingham Street
South Yorkshire S65 1BL

Concern over safeguarding agenda for York

From Messrs Clive Billenness, Martin Sewell, and Chris Hernandez

Sir, — We are disappointed to note that in the just-released outline programme for July’s meeting of the General Synod, the Response Group established to address the report and recommendations of reports on Safeguarding prepared by Dr Sarah Wilkinson and Professor Alexis Jay will not be presenting their conclusions and recommendations with actions for the Synod to set in motion, but just an “update”.

Professor Jay took seven months to prepare her report and present it to the Synod. In it, she recommended “urgent” action, and, assuming that proposals are presented to Synod at the earliest next opportunity (in November 2024), it will have taken nine months for the Church to respond. This is clearly a reinterpretation of the word “urgent” and we are compelled to ask why the hierarchy of the Church feels it needs so much time to respond to an extensively researched report that came accompanied by pages of detailed legal advice.

As our documentary programmes on YouTube and Twitter — The Jay Files — show, the issue of independence was extensively explored by the courts over a quarter of a century ago and is regularly considered by accounting and auditing bodies. Unless the Church of England intends to do precisely what Professor Jay urged it not to — i.e. to “tinker” with her findings — it is hard to understand the reasons for prevarication.

Next month, it will be a full year since the Independent Safeguarding Board was wound up. We are nowhere near replacing it. Survivor confidence in the integrity of the Church’s safeguarding processes has evaporated.

When the Synod gathers in York in July, we hope members will join us in calling for the Response Group to treat their work with the urgency that it deserves and not to “tinker” with the expert findings/recommendatons or indulge in the regular pastime of kicking the can down the road — again.

General Synod members
Chair of the Anglican Survivors Group
c/o 4 Rue Des Sports
09600 Léran, France

The Five Guiding Principles and the CNC

From Canon Judith Maltby

Sir, — I voted in the General Synod for the Five Guiding Principles (Letters, 3 and 10 May) as part of the “package” accompanying the 2014 Measure — in contrast to some who voted against the “package” and who are now, ironically, among the Principles’ most adamant defenders. It is their interpretation and application which is the key issue.

My faith in the Principles was first severely dented when, after the consecration of Libby Lane, Philip North was consecrated the next day in York Minster, not by the Primate of the Province as the lead consecrator, as is right and proper, but by a small group of doctrinally acceptable bishops.

I do not see how such sacramental segregation embodies maintaining “the highest possible degree of Communion” contained in the Five Guiding Principles.

In July 2020, the Archbishop of Canterbury issued, seemingly from out of the blue, the baffling “A Statement on Episcopal Consecrations”. Invoking the Principles, he stated that the Archbishops would no longer conduct consecrations in their Provinces, but delegate this function to other bishops. In addition, co-consecrating bishops would be limited to three, thereby severely limiting the participation of bishops from the Communion and ecumenical partners such as the Porvoo Churches.

“We have agreed”, the Archbishop says, “that the Metropolitan will normally ask another bishop to be chief consecrator. . . We are not stepping back under these new arrangements, rather we are stepping forward to work within the Five Guiding Principles.”

The “Statement on Episcopal Consecrations” makes clear that it was not simply a pandemic measure, but intended as a new, long-term application of the Principles. What was the theological rationale for such a novel practice? What was the problem or the issue that it was attempting to address? Could it be the possibility of a woman’s serving as York or Canterbury at a future point?

I have tried to find the answer to these questions through the General Synod. Yet, however my question was framed, it was repeatedly ruled out of order by the ever patient lawyers in Church House. Their view was that consecrations are a “Metropolitan matter”, and, therefore, the Archbishops were not subject to questions from a Synod member.

I am not questioning the legal advice. It means, however, that a significant development in the application of the Principles, with serious consequences for the life of the Church of England and beyond, can be made without any theological inquiry.

This highly unusual set of arrangements seems to have been put out to pasture after only one or two outings, but it also illustrates what further ecclesiological innovations, claiming the authority of the Principles, can be imposed without even the right to ask for a theological rationale. The Bishop of Dover’s critique is well grounded.

Synod member (Universities and Theological Education Institutions in Convocation)
33 Magdalen Road
Oxford OX4 1RB

From Mrs April Alexander

Sir, — Anne Foreman (Letters, 10 May) forgot the golden rule of politics, “Have you got the numbers?”

She is right that “The central members of the of the Crown Nominations Commission (CNC) are elected by General Synod.” The electors have no way of knowing what it is that the candidates stand for, especially as many of the electors are new to the Synod. In particular, they will not know whether a candidate comes from one of the five per cent of parishes which cannot accept women as priests or bishops. There are no hustings, and election addresses deliberately do not mention the matter.

The CNC process itself requires that the successful candidate gain two-thirds of the 14 votes available. This works out at ten votes (71 per cent) rather than the 66 per cent intended by the Standing Orders. At the time the Standing Orders were drawn up, the CNC had only 12 members, but Baroness Perry recommended an extra two diocesan members in her report Working with the Spirit (2001), making 14; but the two-thirds stipulation remains.

The Archbishop of Canterbury was concerned about this anomaly shortly after I became a CNC member in 2013, but there was sufficient opposition for him to drop the matter.

The effect is that if, as now, there are four members of the central CNC who do not support the notion of women as bishops, then any successful candidate has to achieve 100 per cent of the remaining ten members. If a single member of the diocesan six is also opposed to women as bishops, then the die is cast against a woman bishop from the first day of the CNC deliberations. An abstention counts as a “no” vote; so the requirement is two-thirds of the people present, not of the votes.

As an ardent supporter of women in the episcopate, I found it sickening to watch women going through the gruelling process of interview by 14 people when I realised that they had no chance of being successful. The Bishop of Dover’s description of CNCs as “diametrically opposed to women in leadership” (News, 26 April) is entirely accurate, in my experience, and is reflected in the nomination figures since 2014: 22 male bishops and seven female.

She herself was nominated by the previous CNC, which had “only” three central members who opposed women.

Synod (2000-21) and CNC (2013-18) member
59 High Street, Bletchingley
Redhill RH1 4PB

From Dr Theo Hobson

Sir, — The bishops who are opposed to the ordination of women find it “profoundly troubling” and “of grave concern” that WATCH has got off the fence and called for the 2014 settlement to be gradually ended, as if this was an affront to Anglican order. Is it really so outlandish to seek the reunification of the episcopate?

72 Leghorn Road
London NW10 4PG

Will readers help Charismatic History project?

From the Rt Revd John Finney and Canon David MacInnes

Sir, — As the Church celebrates Pentecost, we have a request to put to some of your more senior readers.

We are two retired clerics in our nineties, who met some months ago to share our memories, and realised that we faced a choice: we could be nostalgic old men reminiscing, or we could seek to gather some historical wisdom for the Church’s mission today.

Both our ministries were significantly shaped by Charismatic renewal. We recognise that for some it was like a “new Pentecost”, while others found it puzzling and even unhelpful.

Our conversations have led to the formation of a project, Charismatic History in the Church of England and Beyond, 1960-2000, which is recording the history of what happened in that period, and considering what lessons can be learnt by the Church of today.

The project is guided by Dr John Maiden of the Open University, with an advisory group of academic historians and church leaders, and is being hosted by ReSource.

There is a questionnaire that is now available online at: www.resourcingrenewal.org/charismatic-history

We would be delighted if those with memories to share would like to complete it; or it can be requested from the ReSource office on 01952 371300.

Meeting Point House
Southwater Square
Telford TF3 4HS

Green unfrocked is the Cluedo clue to decline

From Mr John Pockett

Sir, — If confirmation was at all needed that the influence of the Church — especially that of the Church of England and the Church in Wales — was in rapid and terminal decline, it was certainly made even more evident to me last week.

I bought a new travel version of the classic crime board game Cluedo, and found, to my great horror, that the character known and, dare I say, loved for generations as the Reverend Green has morphed to become Mayor Green!

1 Lewis Terrace
Pontypridd CF37 2AF

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