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Letters to the Editor

08 March 2024


White leaders, consider resigning

From the Revd Dr Godfrey Kesari

Sir, — In the General Synod’s racial-justice debate (Synod, 1 March), there was a consensus about the need for increasing the visibility of people of global-majority heritage — in large numbers — in senior leadership positions. No doubt, this will give out a clear message that the Church takes the issue of racial justice extremely seriously.

Witnessing GMH people in senior leadership positions could change attitudes, too. Changing attitudes is half the battle. But it is unclear how this can happen quickly except in one way. God certainly calls people of all races for all leadership positions in the Church. If the Church really intends to provide greater visibility to the hitherto neglected or underrepresented communities on racial grounds, the only way to do it is by making space for them.

Often God calls people to a ministry for a specific period of time. Perhaps there is no harm in those responsible for senior appointments calling on the deans, archdeacons, bishops, and others from the white community to discern prayerfully whether God is calling them to a different ministry — for example, as a parish priest. This will pave the way to welcoming GMH people in those posts. This is the only prayerful way to accelerate the change that the Synod wants to see.

Many people could be distinctly uncomfortable when this subject is broached. Still, just imagine a few white people doing this. Imagine the huge positive impact that it will have on society. The Church will be truly setting a model of equity for other institutions to follow and become a torchbearer for racial justice, equality, and integration. Of course, it will be sad to see white friends step down, but, I believe, God will lift them up in unimaginable ways in his time. God in Christ who sacrificed himself on the cross can find infinite number of ways to bless those who follow his model of sacrifice.

The Vicarage, Church Lane
Southwater RH13 9BT

Structural provision: lessons from recent history

From Professor David McClean

Sir, — In the LLF context, “structural provision” is a term much used but seldom defined. There may be new and imaginative approaches still undiscovered, but we can perhaps learn from our history in dealing with deeply held differences.

Parish resolutions were introduced in the women-priests legislation, and extended episcopal oversight soon followed. Both have proved useful and capable of adaptation to meet new challenges. What more is needed? And why?

In the debates on the women-priests legislation, more radical approaches were advanced. One proposal would have created a Continuing C of E, to which church buildings and other assets could be transferred. Another proposed the creation of five non-geographical dioceses within the Church of England for those parishes taking a conservative view. Neither amendment attracted even the 25 members needed for it to be debated. The Synod was not prepared to do such violence to our Church.

In fact, the best-established “provision” for dealing with differences lies in parishes’ freedom to have styles of worship and approaches to the interpretation of scripture which may vary greatly from those in neighbouring parishes. For many of the laity, that is all that is needed.

Former Chair of the House of Laity
17 Scotland Road
Cambridge CB4 1QE

From the Revd Dr Ian Paul

Sir, — The General Synod’s LLF debate (Synod, 1 March) was conducted with some “openness and graciousness”, but mostly on one side. The Church of England has a doctrine of marriage which all clergy take a solemn public vow to uphold at ordination — and which remains unchanged. Yet no reference was made to this either in speeches by “liberals” or in your leader comment (1 March). I am not a “conservative”: I am an Anglican.

Several times in the debate, those of us pointing out that pressing for change in marriage — either de jure in doctrine or de facto in practice — was deeply divisive were told that we were the ones causing the problem. The common term for this is “gaslighting”. The Bishop of Guildford hit the nail on the head: “walking together” can happen only with the consent of both parties. Without that, the process is a frogmarch of one side by the other.

Many of us in the Synod and the wider Church do not believe that the doctrine of marriage is something that we can “agree to disagree on”, a view confirmed by the Bishop in Europe as Chair of the Faith and Order Commission in answer to Questions. Yet 53 per cent voted not even to recognise that.

“Good disagreement” requires those pressing for change to articulate the opposite view with accuracy, sympathy, and respect. Till then, the conversation will remain fruitless.

102 Cator Lane, Chilwell
Nottingham NG9 4BB

Safeguarding reviews and their presentation

From the Bishop of Stepney

Sir, — Further to Professor Helen King’s letter last week on the Church’s response to the Jay and Wilkinson reports, as co-chair of the response group announced in January, I thought it would be helpful to clarify some of the points that she raised.

As I said in my speech in the General Synod, despite bringing in some of the best safeguarding professionals in the country to serve in our dioceses and our national team, the Church has not yet gained the confidence of many of the survivors and those who love and support them, and we have not sufficiently put right the wrongs that we have done. This is part of this ongoing work that we must all do together.

For transparency, the terms of reference were published at the same time as the Jay report, and before the response group began its work; the General Synod papers were published nearly three weeks before this. The membership listed, including advisers, is by no means exhaustive, but gives an indicator of those who will participate across the Church. Importantly, this includes the voice of victims and survivors, who will also play a wider part in the work.

There was an open call for involvement through church networks, which included working with the survivor-engagement team. We are committed to ensuring that there is input from those in the Church who may not usually contribute. It should also be noted that the response group is overseeing a period of wide church engagement, which the General Synod voted on by a large majority; it is not in charge of implementation. It will then feed back any recommendations to various governance groups. Key decisions will ultimately come back to the Synod for a vote on the way forward.

We agree that independent advice, input, and scrutiny of our work are important parts of this process, and we are currently looking at ways of factoring these in on a more formal footing.

We heard a range of voices at the Synod about our approaches to the Jay and Wilkinson reports, and there are strong and diverse views. I think, however, that everyone would agree that, as the Archbishop of Canterbury said, “we must act as fast as is wise.” The response group is committed to this approach.

Lead Bishop for Safeguarding
Church House
Great Smith Street
London SW1P 3AZ

Privy Council appeal by All Saints’, Spring Park

From the Revd Pete Hobson

Sir, — Andrew Brown (Press, 1 March) makes reference to the case of the Revd Yvonne Clarke in distinctly disparaging terms. I write as Yvonne’s union rep in the high-profile case that he alludes to, in which the Church Commissioners’ endorsement of the proposed dissolution of her parish in south London is under appeal with the Judicial Committee of the Privy Council.

I was myself present in court when the appeal itself was heard last week. The decision is now awaited. But I fear that Mr Brown may have been fed some spin from sources unfavourable to Ms Clarke’s case, which characterise a Sunday Times article in support of her as “ludicrous”. Well, those opposing the appeal might say that, mightn’t they?

It is unfortunate in the extreme that reference is made to Ms Clarke’s sister’s earlier employment with the diocese, which was ended subject to an NDA that she has not breached, but, it appears, other sources have, in order to allege “sacking due to gross misconduct”. This is, in any case, wholly irrelevant to the question under appeal, and appears merely designed by someone to discredit Ms Clarke.

What the case hinges on, in fact, is not at all the personal qualities of Ms Clarke, let alone her family, but the rather more significant matter whether, in making decisions on such matters, the Commissioners are subject to the same standards as public bodies under the European Convention on Human Rights and UK Equality Law — or whether the Established Church is deemed exempt from such exacting requirements.

That is something that Church of England Employee and Clergy Advocates (CEECA), as part of Unite the Union, takes a significant interest in, and something that the General Synod, in its unanimous approval of steps beyond From Lament to Action only the previous weekend, might be thought to have an interest in (Synod, same issue).

But, for the record, Dr Eve Poole, the Third Church Estates Commissioner at the time of the original Commissioners’ hearing, is on record in evidence submitted for the purposes of the hearing as stating that “the incumbency of the Revd Yvonne Clarke . . . has had such a pioneering and inspiring role both in and beyond the Parish”. Rather a different spin, you might think.

Treasurer of the Faith Workers Branch of Unite; organising officer and workplace rep, CEECA
Unite House
128 Theobalds Road
London WC1X 8TN

The misuse of £100m

From Canon Paul Hamilton

Sir, — Slavery (Synod, 1 March) was a world-view that we look back upon with horror, but we are not responsible for the sins of our fathers. By keeping a close eye on the cleanliness of our current investments, the Church Commissioners serve us well, but it is all that we can and should do.

The use of £100 million of our inheritance, on top of the copious amounts promised to carbon-neutrality support and the Strategic Development Fund, is ludicrous while we remove priests from parishes and close churches.

We are supposed to be the Church of England, for England today, with the gospel as our raison d’être, while I am supposed to tell my PCCs that paying the parish share is good stewardship.

Decisions of this nature threaten to turn us into nothing more than a spiritual social-service group, while our faith in our leaders disintegrates.

Ingrave Rectory, Thorndon Gate
Ingrave, Brentwood
Essex CM13 3RG

I saw the possibility of change, even in Hindley

From the Revd Mark Hunt

Sir, — I often find Canon Angela Tilby’s columns challenging and refreshingly honest, and last week’s was no exception. I believe, however, that there are only a very few people in prison who are incapable of change, who are “wired to do evil”, as one chaplain suggested to her.

There are, of course, those who have serious mental-health issues, or are so emotionally damaged that they may never be safe for release, but, as a full-time prison chaplain for many years, both in the men’s and women’s estates, I found that even the most seemingly “evil” people could experience change.

As Myra Hindley’s chaplain, I grew to know her well. The “Moors murderer” Myra is still vilified as a “monster” in the tabloids, even though she died many years ago, and there are things that she told me that I have vowed never to reveal to another living being. But I recall the day she asked me: “Mark, can God ever forgive me?” to which I replied that God longs to forgive anyone who comes to him in true repentance, and I reminded her of the words of Jesus to the criminal dying with him on a cross.

Myra didn’t respond to my answer, but I felt in my heart that she was on an inner journey known only to God. Maybe there’ll even be “evil monsters” in heaven!

Address supplied (Bury St Edmunds)

Today we see poverty I saw in Peckham in 1969

From Bronwen Laycock

Sir, — As a staff nursery nurse, working in Peckham, I was able to go on a further training course to enhance our understanding of life for families in London. One of the speakers was Frank Field, who told us about the Child Poverty Action Group, and its aims to improve the quality of family life in areas of poverty. This was in 1969.

In the Church Times (News) last week, I read the article “Butler: Answer to child poverty more than work”. After my work in various aspects of children’s work, including teaching, it seems as if children are still suffering in the same ways, 55 years later. When are we ever going to do something practical to give all children an equal start in life?

Address supplied

Dog and gweinidog

From Joan Jones

Sir, — I was extremely irritated by the cover photo and the article that it advertised (Features, 1 March).

On one level, this was because a chorister earns their surplice over a year of hard work as a probationer: I hope no human tourist would be rude enough to dress up in a travesty of choir dress and sit in the choir stalls of a cathedral for a selfie.

But, on a deeper level, I found it extremely degrading for the poor dog herself. Dogs are animals, and should be free to live an animal’s life, not enslaved by a human who forces them to live a thoroughly unnatural life for their own gratification. A church must be an extremely boring place for a dog, and it would surely be much kinder to leave it at home — if you can justify keeping a pet dog at all.

Working dogs are another matter: many of them have useful and fulfilling careers, and work well with their human “owners”.

I also found very revealing the author’s comment that “two-legged children are permitted to behave that way, whereas, rightly, four-legged ones are not.” Children, believe it or not, are human beings, and by welcoming them we hope that they will come to faith. Dogs, on the other hand, presumably have no concept of religion. They are not our “children”, or even, in any realistic sense, our “best friend”.

Address supplied

From Canon Martin Snellgrove

Canon Snellgrove’s canine gweinidog

Sir, — Further to last week’s cover picture: the Welsh for “a minister” is gweinidog. Attached (right) is a photo of one of my retirement presents, three years ago, from a bilingual church in the upper Dee Valley: very composed and perhaps about to lead compline.

9 Meadow Gardens
Llandudno LL30 1UW

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