Save on bishops
Sir: The Church of England is once again missing the point if its financial crisis will result in the closure of parish churches and redundancy of clergy (‘Holy relic’, 6 February). Radical action is required, but the focus should be elsewhere.
A starting point would be to amalgamate the vast majority of dioceses. Why is East Anglia served by the C of E dioceses of Ely, Norwich, St Edmundsbury and part of Peterborough when the Roman Catholics manage more than adequately with a diocese for East Anglia? Time to unite and benefit from economies of scale.
But it should go much further: halve the number of bishops, diocesan and suffragan, and axe some of the non-jobs with fancy names which seem to proliferate in and around the centre. Monies saved should go to front line parish ministry, particularly in those towns and villages where the presence of the church is threatened. It is parish priests and not bishops who prepare people for marriage and minister to the dying. The best remain pillars of their communities. No doubt all sorts of excuses will be made for retention of the status quo. There will be endless discussions in this or that synod; still more focus groups; and there will no doubt have to be time for ‘prayerful reflection’ during retreats or sabbaticals. But action is required now. Just get on with it.
Orton Waterville, Cambs
Sir: As a weekly churchgoer outside of the Church of England, I was saddened to read of the clergy cuts that are being made by the C of E, though heartened by the considered responses from both Emma Thompson and the Revd Marcus Walker. The Revd Walker’s closing questions (‘All that is sacred’, 6 February) seem to strike at the heart of the issue: are the right people in positions of leadership, and if not then what will clergy and parishioners do about it?
The sad fact of the matter is that these questions have been asked before, and many have voted with their feet by leaving to join other Christian denominations. Often when clergy members depart it is at great personal cost — for example, leaving the security of church stipends and housing for the financial uncertainty that comes with church planting. Perhaps, though, this trend is moving church closer to the monastic missionary heritage Emma Thompson rightly laments as a thing of the past.
What to do with churches
Sir: While I agree with Emma Thompson and the Revd Marcus Walker that the future for the Church of England seems dire, I suggest that there is a simple solution — particularly for rural parishes, where we spend a disproportionate amount of our time and effort raising money to maintain expensive church buildings which are ancient, beautiful and of historic interest. We have no choice but to do this, and we have to do it at the expense of spreading the Christian message in our communities by word and deed.
When we meet to worship God, we must do so in a building which is cold, draughty, uncomfortable and lacking toilets or cooking facilities. We are the unpaid and unacknowledged guardians of a significant part of our nation’s built heritage. Let English Heritage be responsible for maintaining these ancient church buildings on behalf of the nation. The churches could still be used for Christian worship when required, so congregations might meet there on special occasions, Christmas, Easter, rites of passage, or regularly, by paying to do so; otherwise in village halls, hotel function rooms, or in homes with large lounges.
Corfe Castle, Dorset
A birthday blessing
Sir: Yesterday was my birthday but in lockdown there was no way for me to celebrate it. What did I do? As my parish church is fortunately open on Wednesdays for private prayer, I went to church. I stayed for two hours, talking to the vicar, and others who came into the building. One of the others was our former organist, who played ‘Happy Birthday’ on the four-manual organ. The Revd Marcus Walker asks: ‘What are the rest of us going to do about it?’ Revd Walker, I am going to church for as long as my little legs will carry me.
God will provide
Sir: I have been ordained in the Church of England for 55 years and retired for the past 15. I have experienced and watched the creeping managerialism now rampant in the church. My advice to Emma Thompson, Marcus Walker and those like them in the parishes would be this: stop paying the parish share; ignore everything that comes from diocesan office; employ local tradesmen to do the repairs on the church and the parsonage house; and get on with the job that God has called you to do in the parish. Then see what happens! God is faithful and will provide for all your needs.
Damned either way
Sir: Several recent articles have been highly critical of the Church of England in general and the Archbishop of Canterbury in particular. Justin Welby’s decision to use his sabbatical to focus on reconciliation, the influence exerted by his chief of staff, and the decision of many churches to close during lockdown have been the themes.
Divisions in society have surfaced acrimoniously of late, and reconciliation is surely as important now as it has ever been. When strong government advice is to close churches to save lives, imagine the outcry if this were ignored.
The Church of England and Archbishop Welby are damned if they do and damned if they don’t. Perhaps an article about how they are attempting to tackle the huge issues they face might redress the balance.
Hartley Wintney, Hants
Sir: If the FBU holds an ‘inflexible stranglehold’ over the fire service, as Leo McKinstry suggests (‘Smokescreen’, 6 February) then its efforts to keep it in aspic have failed miserably. When I joined the London Fire Brigade as a firefighter in 1986, it consisted of 6,500 uniformed personnel, 113 fire stations and more than 200 pumps (fire engines). By the time I left 30 years later, the brigade had been reduced to 5,000 personnel, 102 fire stations and 150 pumps. So much for not adapting to change.
Much of the emphasis changed to fire prevention work, particularly in domestic premises. This was fully endorsed by the FBU, even though it was suspected that fire reduction would lead to cuts in the service: the public good was put first. It should be remembered that fire brigades also tackle road accidents, floods, chemical incidents, water and animal rescues, not just fires.
Where Mr McKinstry really departs from reality is in his attempt to link the FBU to the inadequate response to the Manchester Arena bombings. The officers in charge of that incident were not FBU officials, but senior commanders of the Manchester Fire Brigade. They would have been operating under brigade procedures, framed within the Health and Safety law of the country. If he believes that the response was overly risk-averse then the blame should lie with the culture that successive governments have created.
Ironically, the lackadaisical reaction can be attributed to the reforms that have been imposed upon the fire service over the past 25 years, as politicians from all parties have moved the brigades away from their disciplined military roots. I fear that Mr McKinstry’s dislike of the FBU and fire brigades in general has blinkered him as much as the FBU leadership.
J.A. Stephens (retired fireman)
Sir: Robin Oakley compares the prospect of online gambling regulation to restrictions on how many Dubonnets you can have in the pub (The Turf, 23 January). But pubs have opening hours, and landlords to check if you’ve had one too many. Online gambling currently has no such oversight, no closing times and no restrictions on how much you can spend. In the UK there are hundreds of thousands of gambling addicts, and tragically an average of one gambling-related suicide each day. As a House of Lords report showed, the gambling industry collects 60 per cent of its profits from just 5 per cent of gamblers. Urgent action is needed such as affordability checks — designed to allow those who can afford to spend a high amount on gambling to do so, but to protect those who cannot. Surely horse racing shouldn’t be relying on problem gamblers? Indeed, if the gambling industry stuck to its core business of racing and bookmaking rather than addictive online games, we would not be having this debate.
Lord Foster of Bath
Chair of Peers for Gambling Reform
Sir: Charles Moore’s point about the desirability of courtesy titles in newspapers (Notes, 6 February) applies also to the world of scholarly writing. It seems ironic that historical women should now be referred to in the manner in which their husbands at the time were likely to be addressed: Woolf, Gaskell, Fry and so on. As late as the 1980s, Elizabeth David — a lover of courtesy titles herself — was still using her immortal biographical blurb for her books: ‘Mrs David has lived and kept house in France, Italy, Greece, Egypt and India.’ To have this cut to ‘David’ is not only inaccurate; it’s disrespectful.
Dr Richard Vytniorgu
Sir: Melissa Kite is not alone in being punished by the scourge of LED street lighting (Real Life, 30 January). In our conservation village in Leicestershire, these monstrosities appeared en masse, including one right outside our son’s bedroom window. When we complained, the council apparatchik said it was a health and safety measure to illuminate the bus stop below (which has not been used for a decade). I might have a solution though. In New York recently, I noticed a street lamp bulb that had been painted grey by an angry resident. This was highly effective at night.
Kibworth Harcourt, Leics
Secondary modern success
Sir: Though a beneficiary of the upward social mobility afforded by a grammar school education, I must disagree with David Kynaston’s contention in his review of Selina Todd’s book Snakes and Ladders that opportunities offered by secondary modern schools were ‘virtually nil’ (Books, 6 February). It all depends on what you mean by social mobility. Most of my contemporaries who went to modern school learned a trade, had substantial incomes earlier than me, and owned their homes long before I made it on to the property ladder. The only two millionaires of my generation from the small northern town where I grew up were both ex-modern school boys.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Sir: Dot Wordsworth (Mind Your Language, 30 January) records the origins of the dull but worthy ‘Yours sincerely’ and so on. As a vicar, I’ve been the recipient of many a missive signed off with somewhat more flair. My collection moves from the solid ‘In Him’, through the invigorating ‘In His Grip’ to the faintly troubling ‘Under Aslan’s Paw’, and many besides.
I’ve always enjoyed working with one particular funeral director, who ends his emails ‘Yours eventually’.
The Revd Tim Grew
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