Sir: Matthew Parris has missed the point (‘Give me the Anglican option’, 15 April). He compares Rod Dreher’s suggestion that modern Christians emulate the Benedictines with the retreat into self-imposed exile of groups like ultra-Orthodox Jews and the Beni Isguen community.
The Benedictines did not withdraw from the world. They engaged with the fractured society of the Dark Ages, showing a better way through their schools, almsgiving and prayer. A number of recent books, including Tom Holland’s Millennium, have charted the astonishing role the monasteries played in dragging Europe out of barbarism. In Britain, the Church and its monastic orders set up many of the institutions on which our modern civilisation depends, from Parliament (which met in the Benedictine Westminster Abbey until Henry VIII cast the monks out), to our ancient universities and the first hospitals.
In today’s increasingly secular Britain, parents continue to vie to get their children into church schools. At Ampleforth, for example, the work of St Benedict is plain to see, not just in the monastery and school but in the range of projects directed from there in the local community.
The Church offers hope when it engages the world by offering the Gospel — in deed as well as word. Beguiling as Matthew’s argument is, Our Lord did not say: ‘Go out and be subsumed in whatever is going on.’
Julian Brazier MP
Support for Anglicanism
Sir: If the Anglican church is to retreat into a monastic minority (‘The Benedict option’, 15 April) its leaders will have failed us badly. There may be a decline in church attendance but there are some 30 million in this country who identify with Christianity and its values even if they only attend church for marriages and funerals. They may not believe in the Resurrection, but they respect the established church for its moral code and tolerance. The church authorities should seek to nurture this broad body of support rather than allow themselves to drift towards a ‘Benedict option’.
Praise our orchestras
Sir: Norman Lebrecht does London’s orchestras a disservice ('London's orchestral scene is dead', Arts, 15 April). From my seat in the concert halls, I see busy houses and an audience delighting in adventure. And replace ‘playing at 20 per cent below capacity’ with its equivalent of filling 80 per cent of seats, and you are hitting audience figures that would be the envy of other art forms. The Association of British Orchestras’ most recent statistics show Britain’s orchestras selling nearly five million tickets in 2016, up 25 per cent since 2010, as well as reaching 900,000 people through their education and community programmes. London’s orchestras — and their skilled management — are part of that national success story. It’s a great return on their public investment, too — bearing in mind they receive significantly less in state funding than is lavished on those orchestras he cites in Vienna, Paris, Munich and Milan. How much better it would be to praise our orchestras than to bury them.
Director, Association of British Orchestras
BBC Brexit bias
Sir: Further to Nick Robinson’s defence of the BBC (‘Bias and the BBC’, 15 April), just how did the BBC respond on the day Article 50 was triggered? Here are the first three guest speakers on Radio 4 on this subject from 5.30 a.m. At 5.33 we had Anna Soubry MP ranting that ‘Theresa May is facing an impossible task.’ Next, at 5.50, during Farming Today, we had Lord Plumb announcing that ‘It will take seven years to get anywhere’, and at 6.03 an unnamed civil servant (why unnamed?) spoke of the turmoil which is about to follow. So much for the BBC’s reaction to the ‘Brexit bias’ letter from 90 MPs.
Kingston upon Thames, Surrey
New Zealand’s example
Sir: I always admire Charles Moore’s thoughtful and elegant contributions, but in claiming Britain as ‘the only nation in the world to have twice had a woman as head of state and head of government at the same time’, he errs (The Spectator’s Notes, 8 April). New Zealand, whose head of state is the Queen, had Jenny Shipley as its 36th PM from 1997 to 1999 and Helen Clark as its 37th PM from 1999 to 2008. Furthermore, during Ms Clark’s term, Dame Silvia Cartwright was governor-general and Dame Sean Elias was chief justice.
Dunedin, New Zealand
Sir: Your barometer tells us that the 1937 threepenny bit was worth about 81p in today’s money (Barometer, 15 April). In that case the halfpenny, the smallest coin people then needed and routinely carried, was worth over 13p today. What good reason can there be for us now to mint and carry around coppers, or even the fiddly little 5p bit? We should do away with them and the farce of pricing things at £x.99 and handing out 1p change, when 1p equates to less than 1/6th of a pre-war farthing.
Manners maketh man
Sir: M.T.’s letter about Michael Bond’s father wearing a hat so that he could raise it (Dear Mary, 15 April) brought to mind an experience I had when aged about ten. I used to walk along a long, leafy lane to take the bus to my prep school. Every day I met a man walking in the opposite direction, and as encouraged by my mother, who was a bit of a stickler, I raised my cap and said ‘Good morning, sir.’ After at least a year, he stopped me during my performance and said ‘I am not sir, I am madam!’ This was 65 years ago, before the world changed.