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Letters to the Editor

21 June 2024


Church Commissioners and reparations for slavery

From Mr John Brydon

Sir, — I read with interest the article (Comment 14 June) by Gareth Mostyn, chief executive of the Church Commissioners for England, regarding the £100-million impact investment fund set up by the Commissioners in mitigation of the perceived historic links of the Church to slavery.

While I totally agree that slavery in any form is wrong, it raised for me two questions. First, among his reasons for proceeding with the fund, he stated that they were supported by expert academic historians, and also a report commissioned from a firm of forensic accountants.

Mr Mostyn seemed to dismiss without any detailed reasons the contrary views which have been widely expressed in various quarters, including those of other eminent scholars, such as Professor Richard Dale, Emeritus Professor within Southampton Business School at the Southampton University (Comment, 22 March).

Second, being a member of the General Synod, it also raised for me the question of accountability. I fully accept the Commissioners have the right to make their own decisions; yet my understanding is that they are also accountable to Synod. This accountability apparently does not extend to involving us in formulating fundamental decisions such as the subject of Mr Mostyn’s article. Triennium funding is another example.

Currently, governance is being considered by Synod. Here is an opportunity to involve the whole of Synod in these important and far-reaching decisions, and for us to have an input on where the money should go. We may, in fact, suggest some better uses than some of those that have been previously made.

(Member of the General Synod)
8 Daniels Road
Norwich NR4 6QZ

Sir, — Gareth Mostyn’s article mentions the connection of the Queen Anne’s Bounty (a predecessor of the Church Commissioners) with the South Sea Company. But Mr Mostyn glides over the fact that the Bounty was not investing in the Company’s trading activities, which included the horrific slave trade, but rather in government debt via the Company’s so-called Annuities

Those who held the Company’s Annuities received interest payments provided by the Treasury, with the Company as intermediary. The Annuities were thus similar to modern-day gilts. The arrangement lasted more than a century, long after the Company ceased carrying out any sort of trade on its own behalf.

This routine administrative function of the Company had nothing to do with its profits (or losses) from the abhorrent trade in slaves or any of its other trading activities. In the period in question, those who wished to invest in its trading arm could do so, but not by buying Annuities.

All this has been understood for many years, particularly since the magisterial work of Peter Dickson in The Financial Revolution in England (1967).

It would be helpful to know where the Commissioners stand on these matters of historical record by answering three questions. References are to their 2023 Report into Historic Links to Chattel Slavery (available online).

The report says that the Company’s Annuities provided “a regular income in perpetuity . . . that was derived from the interest payments received from the Treasury on government debt”. Do the Commissioners stand by this?

Second, the forensic accountants state that, during the Bounty’s early decades “by far and away”, its most significant investment was in such Annuities. Do the Commissioners accept this statement?

Third, given the above, why do the Commissioners believe their predecessor’s investment policy provides a moral for underpinning the £100-million impact fund described in Mr Mostyn’s article?


Clery: office-holders or employees?

From the Revd Dr Malcolm Torry

Sir, — Should the stipendiary clergy be office-holders or employees (News, 31 May)? Church of England parishes are religious organisations, a category with unique characteristics. Unlike private, public, or voluntary organisations, a religious organisation’s primary authority is external to itself: it is God. A stipendiary priest is primarily accountable to God, and, in a secondary manner, to the bishop, the archdeacon, statute law, canon law, the Church Representation Rules, the churchwardens, the PCC, the General Synod, the diocesan synod, every member of the congregation, and so on. This is network accountability, and is entirely appropriate to a religious organisation. Line management in a religious organisation would compromise its network accountability and would turn it into something other; for the clergy to become employees would impose line management on them and would compromise the Church’s religious status.

286 Ivydale Road
London SE15 3DF

From the Revd Paul Williamson

Sir, — The Church of England has made a fundamental mistake in its consideration of the actual legal position of clergy and their rights. I draw attention to Inland Revenue 35 which states that anyone who has tax, National Insurance, holiday, and sick pay handled on their behalf is in “an employment situation”. As such, they do have the right and the ability to go to an employment tribunal.

The Supreme Court has ruled since 2017 that “there is no exemption that leads to discrimination that is not overturned by human rights.” The Church cannot claim any exemptions from the law, the Equality Act, or employment legislation.

The Rectory
7 Blakewood Close
Hanworth TW13 7NL

From Canon Paul Dawson

Sir, — My mind goes back to 2020 and a conversation with a parishioner who runs their own business. They have many years’ experience of managing people. It was at the time that clergy were instructed to close churches and not enter them. The comment was made to me that this was issued as a clear instruction. My parishioner commented that this bore all the hallmarks of an employer/employee relationship.

Of course, at a later date, we were assured that everything we were told to do was “advice” rather than “instruction”. Times of crisis often reveal truths, and, in this case, the assumption was that clergy could be instructed, and the expectation was that those instructions would be followed. I had (and have) no issue with the instructions, but, in that moment, we acknowledged something previously implicit. It is time the Church of England came clean about it. Clergy are employees, and the myth of being office-holders is duplicitous.

The Vicarage, Cinder Hill
Whitegate CW8 2BH

Lessons from the campaign trail

From the Revd Paul Hunt

Sir, — I was pleased to read the assurance by the Revd Margaret Joachim, who chairs the Liberal Democrats English Candidates’ Committee, that there is no discrimination against candidates because of their religious (or non-religious) beliefs (Letters, 31 May). I can confirm this as someone who served for 12 years as an HQ-appointed assessor of people wishing to become approved Liberal Democrat candidates.

I was less pleased to read media reports that the Bishop of Winchester has weighed into the controversy surrounding the deselection of David Campanale as the Liberal Democrat candidate in Sutton and Cheam because of “concerns about his Christianity” (News, 14 June). I have no inside knowledge of the situation, but 50 years in politics tells me that these situations are rarely caused by one factor. Quite bluntly, he is talking nonsense.

The sad aspect of the Bishop’s foray into politics is his failure to recognise that there are many groups who do not feel welcome in the Church of England, but who, like Christians, are welcome in the Liberal Democrats.

President, Hastings and Rye Liberal Democrats, and Vice-President, National Liberal Club
Flat 3, 87 Pevensey Road
St Leonards-on-Sea
East Sussex TN38 0LR

From Mrs Elizabeth Bell

Sir, — I remember it well. Take the lift right to the top of the high-rise flats, and gradually work our way down each level. Leaflets through doors. “This is what we stand for.” “This is what we believe is important.” “This is what we have been doing for you.”

Each and every time I knocked on doors, asking for votes, I said to God: “Why, oh why, am I not doing this for you?”

Every now and then, there are the big drives in a diocese. But mission and outreach should be an everyday part of every parish. Here are some tried and tested suggestions.

  1. Start with a full day of prayer in your parish.
  2. Design a welcome card for each household. “We are praying for all those living in your road today.” “We believe God knows and cares for each and every one of you.” “If you would like us to pray for you, you can contact us on . . .” Link to your parish website.
  3. Look at your parish baptism register: hold a celebration for those whose children have been baptised in the past five years.

I could go on. Follow the campaign road — and go out and do the same for Jesus.

Address supplied

Moltmann remembered, with thanks

From Canon Hugh Wright

Sir, — I read with great interest your obituary of Professor Jürgen Moltmann (Gazette, 7 June). Professor Moltmann has been an inspiration to me throughout my adult life and ministry since I first read The Crucified God at university, 47 years ago. He showed me how theology grows out of lived experience, and also how to bring together politics with the Christian faith, especially the central event of the cross and resurrection, leading me to preach politically without imposing partisan views on people through my ministry.

It wasn’t, however, until I heard him speak at a clergy conference 20 years later that I realised the uniqueness and depth, not just of his teaching but his character. At a meditation following Morning Prayer, he spoke — as he often liked to, to British audiences — of his welcome in a Scottish prisoner-of-war camp after the war in 1947, and his subsequent coming to faith. Reading Mark’s Gospel in a Bible given him by a “well-meaning army chaplain”, he spoke of Jesus’s death cry: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” He said: “I knew with certainty: this is someone who understands you . . . this was the divine brother in distress, who takes prisoners with him on his way to the Resurrection. I began to summon up the courage to live again, seized by a great hope.”

Following his talk, I was lucky enough to share a few words with him over breakfast. I told him of the effect of my spending three months with a German family in Darmstadt, aged 16, where the father welcomed me and other young people from all over Europe — a stay which strongly influenced my future life, leading to a lifelong friendship with one of his sons, who became a Lutheran pastor.

At the time of the conference, I had a crippling shoulder pain, but, during his talk, it seemed to lift. The humility and depth of the man gave me the courage to hope and see beyond the suffering: two key themes in his theology.

May he now find in Christ the new beginning of which, according to his friend Miroslav Volf, he often spoke leading up to his death.

40 Angelica Grove
Isle of Wight PO30 2GH

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