Church of england

Letters: The key to Scotland’s future

The key to the Union Sir: ‘Love-bombing’ the Scottish electorate with supplemental spending in devolved areas (‘The break-up’, 27 February) is unlikely to prove a decisive tactic in the ongoing battle over Scottish independence. It will never be enough, and the average voter will not distinguish Westminster spend from Holyrood’s. Neither should opposition to an independence referendum be the Scottish Conservative and Unionist party’s primary policy in the upcoming Holyrood election. Falling into the SNP trap of focusing on this issue allows the party to pursue its agenda of confected grievance and division. Secession is the SNP’s preferred battleground, not least because it permits deflection of their record in government.

Letters: Immunity passports are nothing to fear

Nothing to fear Sir: Many of us await the day when we can travel abroad for much-anticipated holidays — but surely there is a distinction between immunisation passports and Tony Blair-type IDs (‘Papers, please’, 13 February)? If a country requires you to be immunised to travel there in order to protect its citizens against Covid, then I would be happy to have that ‘passport’ requirement. It is quite different from carrying ID with you in your own country. Let’s face it, the danger from Covid will fade in time, and the ‘passport’ requirement along with it. After all we happily travel with a passport in our pockets to show who

Letters: Immunity passports are nothing new

Too many bishops Sir: As a former Anglican clergyman, I have been following your articles about the current state of the Church of England with interest and sadness. I note that the recent article by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York is strong on modish phrases, such as a ‘mixed ecology church’, but it ignores two of the large elephants in the room (‘A Christian vision’, 13 February). The number of bishops over the past century has more or less doubled, in spite of the diminishing number of worshippers and parish clergy. Likewise, while archdeacons used commonly to run their own parishes in addition to their archdiaconal duties, they are

Letters: How to repair the Church of England

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

A defence of the Church of England

If you’ve been following the media coverage of the Church of England over the course of the coronavirus pandemic, one question you might have seen is: ‘Where is the C of E?’ Let us offer an answer. We have been burying the dead, comforting the bereaved, feeding the hungry and praying for our nation. We have been doing this not as superheroes, but as human beings living through the same crisis as everyone else: grieving, home-schooling, worrying, getting sick, shielding, isolating, weeping. With that said, we fully understand — and indeed share — the anger and frustration felt by some that the government ordered public worship to be suspended during the first

Holy relic: what will be left of the Church of England after the pandemic?

A clergyman admitted to me that he’d recently burst into tears. He’d received an email from his diocese in this latest lockdown ‘strongly urging’ vicars to close their churches. He has an elderly working-class congregation in a poor area. Coming to church was ‘the one thing keeping them going’. Local vicars like him represent the best of the Church of England. They are loving, kind, and they know their flock. Before the pandemic, the C of E had seen attendance halve in a generation. Weekly religious attendance is highest among non-Christian faiths (40 per cent), followed by Roman Catholics (23 per cent) and all other Christian denominations (23 per cent). Anglicans are

The misguided priorities of church authorities

This has been a tough year for everyone. Death, mental collapse, grief, unemployment. In my church we’ve lost people to Covid — one of the earliest victims was a regular at our 9 a.m. Communion. We’ve lost people to mental health — one of the homeless men who came to our services, and who used to delight us by playing the piano, hanged himself over the summer. Money is tight, and ancient buildings need constant repairing. Our Lady Chapel roof costs £280,000 and I still have to raise £100,000, without the help of any fundraising events. Most parishes are staring at deficits of tens of thousands of pounds, so they

How the Church of England can bounce back from its Covid crisis

The bishop of Manchester has warned that many Church of England churches are unlikely to survive the pandemic. The normal trickle of church closures (around 25 per year) is set to become a steady stream in the next few years. ‘I suspect the pace (of closures) will increase as a result of Covid’, the Right Rev David Walker has said. It will be a sad loss to the nation’s social fabric if hundreds of churches become flats, or offices, or are demolished. But there is another possibility. The pandemic has highlighted our need to invest in local communities, and this is an opportunity to do so. The government should give every church that cannot afford to

The man behind Justin Welby

In the leafy seclusion of the Lambeth Palace grounds, Archbishop Justin Welby goes for his daily jog. He used to run along the Thames and over the bridges until Canon David Porter, his Chief of Staff, put a stop to it. David Porter grew up in Belfast in the 1960s and he knows how easy a target a lone high-profile jogger can be. As well as being Welby’s physical protector, Canon Porter has taken on the role of his bureaucratic gatekeeper. ‘No one comes to Justin except through David’ — that’s the impression I get from everyone I’ve spoken to who has tried to contact the Archbishop recently. ‘Nothing happens

Why can’t Justin Welby praise a Tory?

Justin Welby is having a holiday and people are unhappy about it. He plans, in May, to take a three-month break and the general consensus is that this is not what Jesus would have done in a time of plague. Yes, Christ did frequently retreat to pray, but he only once spent more than a few days away from his flock — and it’s not much of a sabbatical if Satan’s trying to lure you over a cliff edge. It’s such a strange decision to take time off now that I’ve been Welby-watching this winter. I’ve listened to his Christmas and new year messages, followed in his online footsteps —

Why has England banned worship?

Over the weekend, more than a hundred religious figures from across the different faiths launched a legal challenge against the ban on communal worship in England. They claim the Covid restrictions are a violation of their basic human right to freedom of religious expression. Leaders from the Anglican and Catholic churches, as well as the Muslim Council of Britain, are in agreement on how unfair they view the ban. It’s difficult to think of a cogent argument against their position.  For background, I am an atheist. Raised in a Catholic family, I never truly believed, even as a small child. Atheism has been something that has been with me throughout my whole

Rejoice for the return of the church choir

Not all coronavirus research sounds like fun, but wouldn’t you just loved to have been at the session where 25 choristers were asked to sing Happy Birthday at varying volumes to determine whether or not it would be safe for choirs to get back to business. The exercise was carried out by academics collaborating with Public Health England (while it lasted) and the Department for Culture. And you know what? It turns out that the quieter the singing, the lower the risk of transmitting droplets. The researchers found that singing did not produce much more aerosol than speaking at a similar volume, but singing or speaking loudly increased the production

Why is Sheffield Cathedral’s choir being disbanded for ‘inclusivity’?

The Dean of Sheffield, the Very Revd Peter Bradley, comes across as a likeable man of sound mind and brisk sense of humour. Of his own liturgical tastes, he assures me, ‘drums and guitars are not my tradition. The London Oratory is more my world, musically speaking. I cannot say too strongly how committed I and the cathedral are to the Anglican choral tradition and evensong.’ As for his current portfolio, he says, ‘I’m Acting Precentor at the moment. I wish I’d been paid for it. God knows I’ve earned it.’ Thursday was a frantic day for the poor man, as he fought to explain to the nation’s outraged press

My fears for the future of my church have been realised

The only memorable argument I have ever heard in that tedious debate about whether Shakespeare was a Catholic came from the poet Tom Paulin. I remember him claiming in a lecture that the ‘bare ruin’d choirs’ sonnet must have been written by someone who had seen the despoiled monasteries, desecrated churches and ravaged holy places of a faith of which they were a part. Famously, such an argument only gets you so far, for by this logic Shakespeare was also a king, empress, ex-king, sailor, magician and fool, among many hundreds of others. But part of the rationale stayed with me. Which is that the bitterest truth of all is

Britain’s choirs are facing oblivion

Britain’s choirs are facing oblivion. Yet they’re also terrified of returning. One story explains why. Picture this innocent choral-society scene in Skagit County, Washington State, on the evening of 10 March. One-hundred-and-twenty singers, most of them elderly sopranos, gathered in the Presbyterian church to rehearse for two hours, their chairs 15cm apart. At half-time they took a break for shared snacks, and at the end the helpful ones stayed to stack the chairs. Fifty-two of those singers came down with Covid-19, supposedly through the release of aerosol droplets in the ether. Thus began the swirling of rumours across the world about the grave dangers of singing. It has still not

This could have been a great opportunity for the Church

During these months of inertia, I confess to having on occasion made illicit trips to churches in the English countryside. Enjoying the frisson that surely accompanies all law-breaking, I have often gone so far as the church door, there to examine not only the locks and bolts but also the laminated notices which adorn so many buildings of the Church of England. The other week I visited a 12th-century church whose laminated instructions were an especially fine example of their kind. These signs informed the visitor that the church was closed due to the Covid crisis and that God can of course be worshipped anywhere, but (and this part was

Will churches open their doors as lockdown eases?

The grumbling of high church clergy should now lessen a bit. They were complaining, in some cases furiously, about the Chuch of England’s decision to go further than the law required when it came to the lockdown, telling clergy not to open their churches at all, and not to broadcast services from them. Some were threatening to re-fight the Reformation over the issue, saying that low-church Welby would really rather preach from his own kitchen than admit that churches are a necessary site of authentic sacramental worship. The Church has now relaxed its rules, allowing vicars to pray in their churches and broadcast services from them. And the Church has started

The Church of England isn’t ‘obsessed’ with sex

There’s been a shocked, wounded response on the part of pundits to the Church of England’s statement last week in response to the introduction of heterosexual civil partnerships. The Church observed that: ‘for Christians, marriage – that is, the lifelong union between a man and a woman, contracted with the making of vows – remains the proper context for sexual activity’. Just to clarify, the statement went on: ‘Sexual relationships outside heterosexual marriage are regarded as falling short of God’s purpose for human beings.’ In other words, the CofE restates the Christian understanding of sex. As in, the view shared by Catholics and Orthodox and by Christians generally over the

Why liberals turn a blind eye to the global persecution of Christians

The new episode of Holy Smoke is about the persecution of Christians. That’s a familiar concept, even if we don’t read much about it in the media. But here’s what it means in 2019: The rape, murder and dismemberment of pregnant Christian women in Nigeria by Islamist thugs. The use of face-recognition technology by the Chinese government to monitor, control and, where it deems necessary, eradicate Christian worship by demolishing thousands of churches The evisceration of ancient Christian communities in the lands of the Bible. The relentless torture of Christians in North Korea. The burning of Christian villages by Hindu nationalists in India, and vicious attacks on Christians in Sri Lanka

For the love of dog

The picture on the front of the Animal Blessing Service programme featured a dog, a cat, a rabbit, a goldfish, a cockatoo, a hamster, a snake and a ferret. In the event, the congregation was confined to people and dogs, including my two cockers. We sat in a circle in the shady courtyard of St James’s Church, Piccadilly as the Reverend Lindsay Meader, resplendent in a rainbow stole, led us in prayer. If a passing tourist wanted to understand British people and their animals, they had come to the right place. A few sightseers did wander into the square and watch for a while. St James’s is a dog-friendly church