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Letters to the Editor

19 January 2024


The motives for clergy unionisation

From the Revd Sam Maginnis

Sir, — Andrew Brown asks (Press, 5 January) why clergy are joining the Faith Workers Branch (FWB) of Unite in increasing numbers. To clarify, there are currently 3112 members in the FWB, of whom 2181 are members of Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates (CEECA). CEECA clergy members number 1950 — including 16 bishops — which is rightly said to be around ten per cent of clergy in active ministry. Given, however, that more than one third of serving clergy minister with permission to officiate (usually granted to retired clergy), the proportion of working-age clergy that we represent is considerably higher.

Mr Brown wonders whether clergy join CEECA primarily out of distrust and fear of their superiors and the institutional Church rather than as a platform to campaign for better pay and conditions across the C of E. A recent survey of FWB members revealed that the majority of C of E members wanted better pay, while nearly three-quarters wanted better support in their ministry from the institution. This reflects the concerns of clergy and other faith workers about the detri­mental impact that the cost-of-living crisis has had on their ability to serve their communities effectively: the increasing pastoral demands placed on an already exposed and stressful public ministry, compounded by financial anxiety at home after an extended period of inflationary erosion of the value of the stipend.

The overall picture presented by the survey is of C of E clergy working long hours for inadequate remuneration and at increasing risk of stress and burnout, and of an institution that is failing to respond to the material and emotional needs of its frontline clergy, even as it demands more and more from them.

This is why CEECA will continue to campaign for substantial increases to the clergy stipend until the short­fall relative to inflation of the past few years has been eradicated, and for a new (or, rather, revived) approach to funding ministry so that money from the Church Commissioners is made directly available to dioceses to ensure that all clergy receive an adequate stipend. Particularly urgent is the need to restore the value of the national minimum stipend in line with recent inflation, as this figure determines the initial level of the clergy pension.

But, beyond this, CEECA continues to campaign for a healthy institutional culture at all levels of the C of E and for the structures and processes necessary to enable all to flourish. We do this through the General Synod, in regular meetings with the national church institutions, in our new diocesan groupings and in our work supporting individual members when problems arise.

This is why, finally, I would ask Mr Brown to reconsider his likening of CEECA and the Faith Workers Branch to a “faceless mass”; for the real strength of the union is in the character and commitment of our individual members, both to their ministry and to the real change that they can bring to the Church when they act together for the good of all.

Chair, CEECA
Holy Trinity House, Blunts Way
Horsham RH12 2BL

From the Revd Ruth Cartwright

Sir, — I am a member of the Faith Workers’ Branch of Unite. While better pay and conditions would certainly be welcome, and, if I came into conflict with the higher echelons of the C of E, union support would be helpful, these are not my main reasons for joining up.

In my life before priesthood, I was always a union member, to express solidarity with fellow workers and to see others benefit from the union’s services and support. I have continued with this. The union movement, in my view, is not just about what I as an individual can get out of it, but is a force for justice for workers and non-workers (retired and unemployed people can be members), and as such is worthy of the support of all of us.

50 Rectory Road
Benfleet SS7 2ND

Same-sex blessings and HTB: debate continues

From the Revd George Day

Sir, — Dr Brendan Devitt (Letters, 12 January) says that “in the Gospels, Jesus is remembered as a teacher who strictly upheld the Torah.” But, in the section about what makes a person unclean, recorded in Mark 7.14-19, Mark ends by commenting: “In saying this Jesus declared all foods clean,” which means that, in one fell swoop, Jesus has effectively set aside a whole area of the Torah.

Similarly, in John 8, when the Pharisees and the teachers of the law bring the woman caught in adultery to him, they are right in suggesting that the Law of Moses commanded the death penalty for somebody caught in adultery (Leviticus 20.10 and Deuteronomy 22.22). Jesus does not engage in a verbal debate, but ensures that the requirement of the law is not carried out, and that the woman is not condemned, and is sent off to live a better life.

It seems that Jesus’s approach to the law was highly nuanced. In the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 5), he expounds the demanding implications of several sections of the law, but in the two cases above he seems to sit light to some of its requirements. And that raises questions about how we should view and use the two commandments in Leviticus in the present debate on same-sex relationships.

We should indeed “share Jesus’s presuppositions about the scriptures”, to quote Dr Devitt’s letter; but those presuppositions appear not to be as simple as he suggests.

5 Abbey Grange Close
Buckfast TQ11 0EU

From the Revd Christopher Blunt

Sir, — Your report (News, 12 January) on the phenomenal support that Alliance leaders enjoy from church leaders of the Holy Trinity, Brompton, network: why do you focus on the one dissenter you managed to find rather than on the 99 (who do not need to repent?)? Disgusting bias and spin.

St Mary’s Rectory
Gorsey Mount Street
Stockport SK1 4DU

Facts of Hamas attacks yet to be established

From the Revd David Haslam

Sir, — Paul Vallely repeats the oft-quoted statement that 1139 people were “killed by Hamas in the 7 October terrorist attacks on Israel” (Comment, 12 January). The numbers were originally 1400, then revised down to 1200. Serious questions have, however, been raised about the blanket statements put out by Israel about the events of that day.

The respected journalist Jonathan Cook has set out an analysis that suggests that Western media have been far too ready to repeat such statements without any independent verification. These included the burning of up to 40 infants, although only two babies were later identified as victims. The US Secretary of State, Anthony Blinken, described in graphic detail to a Senate Committee the torture and execution of an Israeli family which turned out to be entirely untrue.

Atrocities were undoubtedly committed by Hamas that day, as they have been by Israelis in Gaza every day since then. There were accusations of mass rapes, repeated by the BBC, but Israeli authorities have obstructed UN efforts to verify the claims.

In terms of how Israelis were killed, one survivor, Yasmin Porat, said that, after a four-hour firefight with Hamas militants holding hostages in a house in Be’eri, the Israeli military fired shells into the house, which caused the deaths of the militants and the hostages. In this context, it seems that bodies were so badly burned that it was not possible to tell the difference between Palestinians and IsraeIis for some time, hence the reducing of Israeli dead as some of the bodies turned out to be Palestinian. A 12-year-old Israeli girl’s remains were said to be almost unidentifiable, and Hamas was furiously blamed, but it seems that she was most probably a victim of “friendly fire”.

In another context, it must be asked why many cars were burned out. It seems that helicopter pilots flying frequent sorties were told to destroy the cars to prevent Hamas operatives’ fleeing in them, but were understandably unable to distinguish between cars with hostages or militants in them, or indeed both, and so all were killed. In a video released by the military, Apache helicopters were shown firing randomly at cars on the ground. How did they know who was inside? There were two dozen helicopters in the air, and an air-force assessment admitted that they were instructed to “fire at everything they see in the area of the fence”.

Blanket statements such as how many Israelis who shockingly died on that day were actually killed by Hamas need to be avoided, until there is a clearer picture of those events. It is time that British journalists stepped up and helped us to see the full picture.

59 Burford Road
Evesham WR11 3AG

The Post Office scandal and the Church of England

From Mr Edward Bevin

Sir, — On 13 May 2022, you published a letter from me in connection with the Post Office scandal, in which I suggested that the disgraced former chief executive, the Revd Paula Vennells, should hand in her CBE, which she had received in the 2019 New Year Honours.

The news that she has finally said she will forfeit this honour (News, 12 January) might help to restore her diminished credibility, but there is still a long way to go yet. The former Anglican priest in the St Albans diocese should now consider handing back the hundreds of thousands of pounds that she received, despite her failings, on leaving the Post Office.

This might allay some of her guilt, but, much more importantly, would be some comfort for the 550 sub-postmasters persecuted by the Post Office, many of whose lives have been ruined by this terrible saga.

116 Watford Road
St Albans AL2 3JZ

From Canon Michael Kingston

Sir, — So, a narrow escape for the Church of England, then! I cannot understand how the Revd Paula Vennells could have been on a shortlist for Bishop of London in 2017. Did the powers that be think that her experience as an NSM in a Hertfordshire village would prepare her for such an appointment? Or were they more swayed by her management experience? Yet, information about the Post Office scandal was already in the public domain at that point.

This flags up a flaw in the current selection policy for ordination, whereby management experience seems to be prioritised over pastoral. The vocations of a captain of industry and a parish priest are fundamentally incompatible. The one is paid a considerable sum to burnish the credentials and financial value of a company, mixing it with other high-fliers. The other ministers pastorally to ordinary folk — such as sub-postmasters.

Priestly vocation resists the temptation to fly high. How far we have moved away from the prêtre ouvrier movement of the mid-20th century, which provided the inspiration for non-stipendiary priests in the Church of England!

Maybe it is thought that having a priest on the board of a company would mean that business was infused with Christian values. More than 900 sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses and their families have a very different experience. And, in any case, you could do it without being a priest.

23 Windmill Avenue
Bicester OX26 3DX

From Mr James Stewart

Sir, — Further to Vasantha Gnanadoss’s letter about the long-delayed publication of the Learning Lessons Case Review concerning the Smyth allegations (Letters, 12 January), it is worth noting that the review, according to its terms of reference, is intended to help “ensure the Church provides a safer environment for all”.

The terms of reference also expected that the lessons learnt should be available within nine months — that is, by June 2020. While the review is to be published by the National Safeguarding Team, it is difficult to see why the National Safeguarding Steering Group cannot issue an interim report simply covering the lessons learnt, even in general terms. It is as if “providing a safer environment for all” was no longer particularly important to them, nor to the Archbishops.

Given the further allegations of abuse in the Church which have emerged since the disclosure of the Smyth affair by Channel 4 in 2017, that is shocking in its complacency. The comparison with the management of the Post Office is well made.

The Old Vicarage
Bedfordshire MK44 1BQ

Music of today’s worship unsuited to the crowds

From the Revd Professor Ian Bradley

Sir, — Canon Victoria Johnson asks what 40,000 Christians gathered together in a stadium would sing (Feature, 5 January). May I suggest Rodgers and Hammerstein’s “You’ll never walk alone”, which has made the transition from stage to stadium and sanctuary and become the nation’s unofficial anthem? Like other show songs, it provides the clear spiritual message, the strong singable tune, and the corporate communal dimension lacking in so many contemporary worship songs.

Maybe the Revd Lucy Winkett’s “mischievous guest” who told the Mexican Christmas Day visitors to St James’s, Piccadilly, that the song of the angels was believed to be Abba’s “Dancing Queen” (Diary, 5 January) was not so wide of the mark, after all.

4 Donaldson Gardens
St Andrews, Fife KY16 9DN

Epiphany or Baptism?

From Dr Keith Battarbee

Sir, — I am writing this on the Feast of the Epiphany, 6 January — but our parish, like many others, will actually celebrate Epiphany Sunday tomorrow, as allowed for in Common Worship. In many countries, the Roman Church now makes this transfer to the Sunday the default for parish worship, and it is undoubtedly a realistic practice.

This, however, has the unfortunate consequence that it clashes with the Baptism of our Lord, which is scheduled for the first Sunday after the calendrical Epiphany, 6 January. Common Worship defines the Epiphany as a Principal Feast, but classifies the Baptism merely as a Festival, which has less calendrical clout, and gets shunted to Monday 7 January.

Yet, theologically, the Baptism is surely every bit as significant as the Epiphany, and deserving to be celebrated as a feast of our Lord by the assembled parish on a Sunday. Couldn’t this clash be resolved by rescheduling the Baptism to the first Sunday after the celebration of the Epiphany — i.e., this year, to Sunday 14 January?

18 Letchmore Road
Stevenage SG1 3JD

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