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Letters to the Editor

28 March 2024


Churchwardens and their duties

From Sheila Kent and Simon Wain

Sir, — Further to your article “Not enough people to make a warden” (Features, 15 March): we are both church members in a multi-parish benefice (different parishes), and do agree that filling all the posts can sometimes be difficult. But a top-down approach isn’t the best way to do it. The leadership and way out of this system must come from the laity.

In our view, plain speaking, trusting those who attend church to make the right decisions, and allowing them to adapt to situations in their own way is the only sensible course of action. To expect a scheme from above to cater for diverse places of worship in a multi-parish benefice stretches credulity to the limit. No amount of top-down organisation is able to take into account that different churches have vastly different needs and traditions.

Smaller parishes have the same needs and requirements as the larger ones. We still need people to look after the building, clean and make tea, mow the graveyard and paint the walls, greet visitors and do pastoral visits. This is where the trust comes in: people must be trusted to run their place of worship in a way that works for them, not have those above telling them what they need to do.

The solution to this problem in our benefice is simple: we are trusted to get on with our affairs, and most of our posts are filled. The current wardens from each church (or, if there aren’t any, a nominated representative), plus selected other officers of each PCC, meet to co-ordinate services and other business that affects the benefice as a whole. The group, which we have called Wardens Plus, is chaired by two other officers from different parishes who aren’t wardens, but are experienced PCC members and are able to stay neutral in discussions.

The group meets regularly. Because there is trust, the clergy do not normally join the meetings, allowing free discussions for the benefit of all. The wardens and the admin team then disseminate the information from those meetings to the individual parishes. In this way, we retain our individual identities, but work closely together for the benefit of all. We are independent, but interdependent, and this ensures that we can retain our traditions, but grow together and help each other. The results have shown that this approach has had an impact, not least in attendance at services.

We still invite clergy to meetings if there is a need (we even had a bishop attend one meeting). This is a sensible and efficient method that could be of use in other places, perhaps. In our view, allowing the parishes the freedom to work together, and not creating other layers of bureaucracy above, is what is allowing us to flourish once again and improve our lot.

Chair and Vice-Chair, Wardens Plus, Rural Daneside Churches
Address supplied (Congleton, Cheshire)

From Mrs Margery Roberts

Sir, — Bishop David Wilbourne’s method of choosing “his” churchwardens (Letters, 22 March) was possibly ultra vires and probably undemocratic. Churchwardens are nominated, seconded, and elected by persons entitled to attend the annual meeting of parishioners. The minister can appoint a churchwarden personally only if he or she considers that one of the candidates, if elected, would create serious difficulties.

Bishop Wilbourne’s letter does, however, highlight one of the many difficult responsibilities of churchwardens. According to Canon E1, they are expected to represent the laity and co-operate with the incumbent. They are also officers of the bishop.

Although, in an ideal world, these triple duties should not be in conflict, in practice they can give a churchwarden as many headaches as do the crumbling stonework, the ancient boiler, and the stained altar linen. If a churchwarden were chosen in the way that Bishop Wilbourne describes, how might he or she deal with reported rumours about the incumbent’s behaviour? Where would loyalties lie?

In my time as a churchwarden, I had to cope with everything from unblocking the drains to helping to run a vacant parish. Holidays lasting more than a few days at a time were non-existent. But trying to maintain a balance between the congregation, the incumbent, and the bishop was possibly one of the most challenging duties. Well-off parishes — and there are not many of them these days — employ paid staff to take on some of the practical work of the parish, but that does not remove the legal responsibilities of the churchwardens. And, the more seriously those responsibilities are taken, the more of a burden they are, physically and mentally.

Lord Chartres, when Bishop of London, once said to a cathedral full of churchwardens and their companions that churchwardens were some of the most respected people in the country. Even if that were still true, it would not compensate for what has become an almost impossible task.

7 Nunnery Stables
St Albans
Hertfordshire AL1 2AS

From the Revd Paul Burr

Sir, — There is a problem with recruiting churchwardens from outside the church in the novel way that Bishop Wilbourne commends: it is unlawful. The Churchwardens Measure 2001 requires that candidates be “actual communicants”, which means that they have received holy communion three times in the past year, are on the parish electoral roll, and are confirmed or ready and desirous of being confirmed. The reason for these rules seems obvious enough. What makes a bishop think legal observance merely optional? I am tired of bishops brazenly coming up with unlawful solutions to genuine problems. Aren’t we all?

The Vicarage, The Common
Norwich NR14 8EB

‘Deconstructing Whiteness’ in the West Midlands

From Mr John Wilson

Sir, — You couldn’t make it up — or could you? The Archbishop of Canterbury was at a loss as to the meaning of “Deconstructing Whiteness” in relation to a job advertised by the diocese of Birmingham. Well, if he doesn’t know, what hope is there for the person in the pew?

It emerged recently, in an answer to questions during the Lichfield diocesan synod, that six dioceses in the West Midlands had agreed to establish a Regional Racial Justice Board. Furthermore, they had been awarded £2.4 million by the Archbishop’s Council to recruit a team of 11 people to work for three years to increase awareness and responsiveness to issues of racial justice, racial-justice strategies, plans and actions, and to ensure greater representation of people of global-majority heritage and UK minority-ethnic people at all levels of the Church.

A £36,000-a-year post — the first to be advertised — includes the phrase “deconstructing Whiteness” among the activities for the post. We are led to believe that the use of this particular phrase is under review. It was, however, included in the advertisement.

So, what is “deconstructing Whiteness”? As was explained in the answer to the questions at the diocesan synod, an academic understanding of what is meant by ‘deconstructing whiteness’ could be expressed as follows:

“When we are talking about ‘Whiteness’ we are referencing the construction of race. The construction of race dates back much further than slavery. Whiteness is manifested by the ways in which racialized Whiteness becomes transformed into social, political, economic, and cultural behaviour. Cultural norms, and values in all these areas become normative and natural. They become the standard against which all other cultures, groups, and individuals are measured and usually found to be inferior.

“Deconstructing Whiteness is therefore about how we work together to address racism by taking a hard look at how we have been socialized and shaped by whiteness, and how we perpetuate these through personal behaviours and organizational systems including looking at what liturgy we use. It is about fostering a long-term commitment to anti-racist thought and action and being accountable for our ideas and behaviours. It is about us taking responsibility for our actions that perpetuate oppression and importantly, how we follow the lead on initiatives and recommendations to promote anti-racist actions.”

Are you any the wiser? I don’t know about the Archbishop of Canterbury, but probably the person in the pew isn’t.

Chair of the House of Laity, Lichfield diocesan synod
General Synod member
49 Oakhurst, Lichfield
Staffordshire WS14 9AL

From Edward Jones

Sir, — I learn from your quotation of remarks by Charles Moore (Quotes, 22 March) that the diocese of York is seeking to recruit “a racial justice enabler” who will, by 2027, have “produced a ‘resource’ for social justice and to have this in use by one third of the ministry Units” in that diocese.

When, oh! when, will the Church stop talking like a department of the Civil Service and realise that we already have a racial-justice enabler? His name is Jesus Christ, and his resource is the Holy Spirit.

6 Manor Close
Bedford MK43 8JA

Royal cancer diagnoses highlight health inequality

From Coco Huggins

Sir, — The recent news of the cancer diagnoses of the Princess of Wales (Online News, 22 March) and earlier in the year, the King, speaks to one of the central messages of the Christian faith: we are all equal in the eyes of God. As in Proverbs 22.2, “the rich and the poor meet together; the Lord is the Maker of them all.” The news that two of the most prominent and privileged figures in Britain have cancer speaks to the vulnerability of us all. We are all at risk of diseases such as cancer, and we all, one day, must face our own mortality and meet our Maker.

But the rapid treatment being offered to both members of the Royal Family is something that many people do not have access to. According to NHS figures, in January 2024, almost 30 per cent of patients in England had to wait more than 28 days to find out from the time of urgent referral whether they had cancer or not; and more than one in ten had to wait more than a month to start treatment.

While death is the great leveller, some people in life are drawn closer to it than others by their earthly circumstances. I would ask all Christians, besides praying for the Royal Family and all those affected by cancer, to think about what this story says about our society today, and urge our leaders to move towards ensuring that we all, regardless of our social status, have access to equal levels of cancer care, just as we are all equal in the eyes of God.

Doctoral researcher and chapel warden
Pembroke College
Cambridge CB2 1RF

Retrograde discussion to disband mixed choir

Sir, — About 40 years ago, as a member of the Movement for the Ordination of Women, I took part in a march from St Martin-in-the Fields to Lambeth Palace. We began the march with the first part of a eucharistic service and then stopped before the Eucharistic Prayer. When we reached Lambeth Palace, there were some who continued to celebrate, but I left, knowing that as yet the Church did not approve.

About 20 years later, I took part in another march, this time with hundreds of other women priests, fully robed, from Westminster Abbey to St Paul’s Cathedral. How thrilled and moved we were when, on our entry, there was a great round of enthusiastic applause!

How is it, then, that, moving on another decade, when my granddaughter has been singing in church choirs all her life and has reached the heady heights of studying at Cambridge University, and is a member of St John’s Voices, suddenly hers and other women’s voices are again not to be heard in harmony in the chapel which they love (News, 22 March)?

I hope and pray that this decision is revoked.


From Mr Michael Brown

Sir, — The Master of St John’s College must surely rank as the strongest candidate for this year’s Sir Humphrey Appleby Award. The wording of her response is in the best traditions of Yes, Minister.

16 Haswell Gardens
North Shields NE30 2DP

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