A page recording, sometimes with editorial comment,
articles from the papers on matters of concern to the Christian community.
The management apologises if these pieces are mostly from one newspaper group and reflect one political persuasion.
Other contributions are, as ever, more than welcome, but he feels bound to point out that the 'Telegraphs' do at least take religious matters seriously, and, faces with the invariable indifference of most other journals, serious or otherwise, may demonstrate the truth of the familiar saying that there is no such thing as bad publicity...
Please note that, due to an inadvertent sequence of keystrokes by the editor, all items posted since June 2014 have disappeared into the maw of cyberspace and are probably lost for ever. (No, I haven't got a back-up!). Ed, July 2017
Normal service was resumed from August 2017... latest story at the top.
Pope urged to relax ban on contraception
Money matters - it never rains but it pours
Prayers for Peace a Century on
Report highlights growing abuse of clergy
Praying to Father Brown?
Permission to pray?
Can the tide turn for Christianity?
Is your church too 'faffy'?
Archbishop criticised for 'dangerous' paedophile claim
Trendy Nativity plays are 'pants'!
Lead us not into temptation
Trust me - I'm a priest
A.B.C. or C.E.O?
CofE boys can wear tutus
Let us Twitter
More TV, vicar?
Sharp elbows in the choir?
Ancient and Modern language
Church membership in further decline
Odinists ask for return of stolen churches
Pope urged to relax ban on contraception
A British Cabinet minister has told the Pope to relax the Catholic Church's strict ban on the use of contraception, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. Penny Mordaunt, the International Development secretary, urged the Vatican to change its stance during a meeting with senior aides to Pope Francis last week.
At the meeting in Rome's Vatican City with .Archbishop Vicenzo Paglia and Archbishop Paul Gallagher, Ms Mordaunt urged the Church to make it easier for young girls to have access to contraception.
Ms Mordaunt specifically raised her concerns about what officials said was "the tragedy of 800 girls and women unnecessarily losing their lives every day through pregnancy or childbirth complications". Ms Mordaunt told The Telegraph: "Everyone deserves the right to a safe childhood, to an education and to a life without fear. For many girls this is not the case.
"Child marriage, and a lack of control over their own bodies or access to reproductive healthcare including contraception, means- many girls have no hope of completing an education. "It is crucial we engage with faith leaders to help us challenge deeply held beliefs and attitudes. The Catholic Church can help us in .that and my appeal to them was to help us save lives, especially of young mothers. As we work with African leaders to help them build their nations, it is vital that family planning is part of that plan. It will save lives and huge suffering."
In the meeting last Thursday with the Holy See - the global government of the Catholic Church - Ms Mordaunt raised the issues of combating female genital mutilation (FGM), ending child marriage and preventing violence against women and girls. She also raised the issue of LGBT rights, noting the Church's leadership on this area is helping to combat hatred towards these groups.
A spokesman for the Catholic Church in the UK said Ms Mordaunt's comments were a matter for the Vatican. A spokesman for the Vatican was approached for comment.
The Catholic Church's staunch objections to contraception stem from its belief that it interferes with the creation of life. In 1968, Pope Paul VI set Out the Church's official position that it is always intrinsically wrong to use contraception to prevent new human beings from coming into existence.
In his Humanae Vitae letter, the Pope said contraception is "any action which, either in anticipation of the conjugal act [sexual intercourse], or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible". The letter caused a sensation when it was published, at a time when the sexual revolution was gripping the world. Many Catholics, particularly those in the pro-life movement, have long up-held Humanae Vitae as a key statement. It is interpreted to include condoms and other barrier methods, including spermicides and the Pill.
In 2010, the Church appeared to end its absolute ban on the use of condoms, after Pope Benedict said it was acceptable to use a condom when the sole intention was to "reduce the risk of infection" from Aids. His comments appeared in an interview published in the book Light of the World: The Pope, the Church andthe Signs of the Times. However, the Church remains fiercely opposed to birth control.
In recent years, there have been calls for the Church to clarify its position. Theologians suggest that condoms are not a contraceptive if they are intended to prevent death rather than avoid life.
Christopher Hope and Anna Mikhailova. The Daily Telegraph
Money Matters - it never rains but it pours
The number of churches requesting emergency funding for repairs is at a record high as the Victorian buildings reach a "tipping point" in terms of their condition.
Applications for urgent repairs and maintenance funding to the National Churches Trust rose by 44 per cent between 2013 and 2017, from 328 applications in 2O13 to 473 in 2017.
The figures suggest roofs and drainpipes have taken a battering from wet weather. From 2015 to 2018,45 per cent of 1,274 applications to the charity were for roof repairs, to repair gutters or to fix drainage; The trust's report marks 200 years since the creation of the Incorporated Church Building Society, an initiative which led to the founding of many Victorian churches.
Experts said many of the churches were falling apart because they had reached a "tipping point" in age. The topsy turvy weather has also been blamed. Eddie Tulasiewicz, of the National Churches Trust, said the issue had been a particular problem during flooding in Cumbria in recent winters.
The Church of England has recorded a fall in planned donations for first time in 50 years as it says millennials are not giving money in the same way as previous generations.
Money given through direct debits and standing orders has fallen for the first time since records began in 1964, it was revealed yesterday.
John Spence, chair of the Archbishops' Council Finance Committee, told its governing body, the General Synod, that in 2016, income coming from planned giving fell by 0.4per cent. Figures for 2015 show that a total of £337.5 million was given to the Church this way, suggesting that there was a fall of around £1.35 million in 2016.
The donations formed around a third of the money collected by parishes-in 2015, which Mr Spence said rose "by l.Sper cent overall because of other sources of funds. He warned that young people were not replacing older churchgoers in donating money to the church, which was leading to a dent in income.
"An 81-year-old is eight times more likely to go to church than an 18-year-old, and that's having its impact on finance," he said.
The debate over the Archbishops' Council's budget for 2019, which sets out the national church's spending priorities, also heard from members who were concerned that-millennials were not donating to local churches.
Another member of the same finance committee who is treasurer of a parish in the diocese of Oxford, said: "We need to address the issue of giving by our millennial generation, the future of our church - but they are saddled with student debt and looking at being unable to afford to buy a house."
Mr Spence said the church was introducing initiatives such as contact-less collection and text giving in an effort to appeal to young people. He said contactless collection at services "can be very useful for churches that have significant numbers of visitors or when people come for wed dings or funerals".
Two recent pieces by Olivia Rudgard of The Telegraph make worrying reading.
Mourners could be asked to "pay while you pray" at a series of cemeteries in south Wales in order to fund new graveside benches.
Seven graveyards in Blaenau Gwent have been without benches for four years following several personal injury claims by people who fell through them. Now the council has suggested new graveside benches for an "improved visitor experience".
However, a report by Blaenau Gwent County Borough Council stated that relatives of the deceased would help pay for the new seating areas by introducing a licence fee for the graveyards.
"Poorly manufactured and maintained benches donated by bereaved family members have resulted in several successful insurance claims against the council," the report said. It added that the council did not have the necessary resources to purchase and install benches.
The matter will be discussed at the executive committee later this week. However, one relative accused the council chief of "losing the plot" by suggesting the cemetery licence scheme.
"This is a minefield - what can you do if someone is grieving but doesn't have a licence," he said. "Can you fine them? This is not like watching TV or getting a fishing licence." '
Prayers for Peace a Century on
The Church of England has launched a First World War prayer service to promote reconciliation with Germany.
The new "monologue", which incorporates songs such as Pack up Your Troubles and Jerusalem, has been launched to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War this November. It encourages worshippers to experience "reconciliation" with enemies and "commit ourselves afresh to working together for peace".
An explanatory note before the service says: "Each of the 'steps' is linked together with an imagined monologue, in which a British soldier is speaking to his opposite number in the German army."
It adds that in many places modern societies are now disrupted by terrorism as well as warfare. "Today, of course, many of the scars and divisions we suffer are the result not of conventional warfare, but of the cruel and destructive violence of global terrorism," the preface says.
The service, which is designed to be held in a church, a school or a community centre, also suggests poetry by Wilfred Owen and readings from Genesis and Corinthians. The fictional soldier also describes the war as "industrial madness". "Such waste, such horror! How did this happen! Why, oh, just why was it allowed to go on and on," the passage adds.
In a later section the soldier apologises to his German counterpart. "My first word has to be 'sorry'. But it's such a heavy, weighted word. It rolls so effortlessly off the tongue, but what a freight of meaning it has to carry! How can it be said?"
The resources include a prayer for world peace, a prayer to say when visiting a soldier's grave, and a vigil service to take place on the night of armistice day, Sunday November 11, or the evening before. The service includes an unusual section where the congregation is invited to say the Lord's Prayer in French or German instead of in English, which the Church said was an effort to demonstrate "the unity of voices across the linguistic lines of the conflict".
Readings include sections of Corinthians and Genesis, as well as Psalm 29 and parts of the book of Luke and the book of Matthew.
Bishop at Lambeth the Rt Rev Tim Thornton, bishop to the Armed Forces, said: "There are of course very few people now left to tell first-hand stories of the First World War. As we commemorate its centenary, remembering those who gave their lives, it is important therefore also to pause and commemorate those who have lived with the memory of war, and the manifold challenges that brings. These resources offer an excellent way for churches, groups, families and individuals to connect with a generation whose lives were inexorably altered by desperate conflict.
"The season of remembrance each year sees churches and cathedrals come to the fore as communities bring to mind those lost and affected in any way in conflicts, give thanks for the sacrifices of our Armed Forces, -and pray for peace."
Religious Affairs Correspondent, The Daily Telegraph
Report Highlights Growing Abuse of Clergy
Growing secularisation is leading to an increase in violence and verbal abuse against Christian clergy, experts fear.
Priests told of experiences including discovering a witchcraft symbol sprayed on a church door and being followed home as academics launched a mass survey of priests to find out the scale of the problem.
There are also concerns that sex-abuse scandals and a growing number of female clergy are contributing to mounting threats and violence against priests.
Academics at Royal Holloway, University of London, are to survey around 7,000 Church of England clergy using £5,000 in funding from the Ministry of Housing, Communities & Local Government.
The survey, which is to be circulated online this month, will ask clergy whether they have experienced verbal abuse, threats or physical violence in the past two years, and how often church property is damaged. Respondents will also be asked whether they have received abuse online and whether more violence is carried out now that almost a third of clergy are women.
A previous survey that looked at violence against clergy, published by Royal Holloway in 2000, found that 12 per cent of clergy had been assaulted in the previous two years.
Prof Jonathan Gabe, of Royal Holloway's School of Law, said the survey was concerned about "the declining status of clergy" as well as "increasing secularisation, and whether that is impacting on the respect that clergy now receive".
He said there was a "possibility" that the influence of sex abuse scandals and cover-ups had affected the way clergy felt about the church. Nick Tolson, director of National ChurchWatch, which is also involved in the survey, said it also asked clergy whether factors were involved such as drug abuse, mental illness or "anti-Christian sentiments".
The Rev David MacGeogh, the vicar of Glastonbury, told The Sunday Telegraph that he receives verbal abuse on a monthly basis. "People come in before and during the service and rant and rave, saying we are the works of Satan," he said.
A Church of England spokesman said: "We take the welfare and safety of our clergy very seriously indeed."
Abigail Frymann Rouch and Olivia Rudgard, Daily Telegraph
G.K.Chesterton - a literary genius but no saint
If there weren't already any number of GK Chesterton societies about, I'd probably set one up, just to share my views on his detective stories, his mastery of paradox, his literary criticism, The Napoleon of Notting Hill and his observation that "it takes three to make a quarrel; the full extremity of human fury has not been exhausted until some friend has tried tactfully to intervene". Or maybe his introduction to one essay: "The human race, to which so many of my readers belong..."
Chesterton was a writer of genius, a genial and very funny man. One man who met him told me it was often hard to make out what he was saying because he was laughing all the time. He was the kind of polemicist you don't get now: the public debates at the beginning of the last century between him and Bernard Shaw or HG Wells were famous as expressions of their world views - the abolition of private property on their side, the extension of it to as many people as possible on his.
Genius he was. But not a saint. Please, not a saint. Nevertheless, the Bishop of Northampton is reportedly considering whether to promote formally the case for Chesterton to be canonised. He is said to have got through one of the first hurdles on the way to sainthood (hard to imagine, given his bulk) by providing a miracle. Childless couples prayed to him for help -effectively, asking him to put a word in for them with God - and they duly had babies. If true, it would be poignant, given that Chesterton's wife Frances was apparently repelled by sex to the point where it was difficult for them to consummate the marriage - think Ian McEwan's novel, On Chesil Beach, and then some - so they ended up childless.
But for the Catholic Church to declare someone a saint says something about the Church as well as about the individual concerned. And if the Bishop of Northampton has any sense, he'll park the matter of GK right there. Because Chesterton, for all his merits, was anti-Semitic. This is an ongoing charge, although there are those who disagree: Canon John Udris, the cleric who was appointed in 2013 to look into the possibility of opening Chesterton's cause, as it's technically known, says he personally thinks he didn't have a racist bone in his body.
It doesn't wash, I'm afraid. You don't have to read very much of Chesterton to see it. He was friendly with many Jews, but he felt that Jews were fundamentally not English, that Judaism mattered more to them than the countries where they lived - and that led him to embrace Zionism. This view, which Chesterton articulated before the Holocaust, was most fully expressed in his hair-raising suggestion that Jews in public life should wear Oriental dress, by way of reminder that they were not really English. It's not acceptable, not now, not then, for a man, no matter how great in other ways, to be declared a saint who says as much. It is a flaw which all his other merits cannot put right. Canonising him would be, to put it mildly, impolitic.
At the same time, it would be stupid for us to reject GK and all his works because he was wrong about Judaism. We're not very good nowadays at separating our disapproval of someone's opinions from everything else about them, but Chesterton is too large and interesting a figure to be rejected on account of this big, bad error.
For myself, he'll always be the patron saint of journalists - he was forever writing for the papers, usually in the pub.
Melanie McDonagh, The Daily Telegraph
June 13th, 2018
Hot on the heels of the article below comes this well-argued plea that G.K. Chesterton should not be canonised. The writer is a prominent Roman Catholic apologist, clearly sympathetic to the principle of canonisation and sainthood, but rightly more than a little uneasy with Chesterton's views on Jews. Given the brouhaha surrrounding perceived anti-Semitism in the ultra-left wing of the Labour Party, it will be interesting to see how the matter develops.
Bishop puts Father Brown creator up for sainthood
A renowned author may become England's first saint for 300 years after Catholic couples claimed he answered their prayers for "miracle" children.
GK Chesterton is best known for his short stories featuring Father Brown, a priest who solves crimes using his intuition and keen understanding of human nature, who was loosely based on the man who converted him to Catholicism in 1922. But now he could become England's first Roman Catholic saint since the 17th century, once an official report examining the strength of his case is published next month.
The Daily Telegraph understands that the document, commissioned by the Bishop of Northampton, will show that Catholics are praying to Chesterton and asking for intercession - his intervention in their lives.
It will also dispute claims that Chesterton held anti-Semitic views. After the report is published, the bishop willdecide whether to open a "cause" with the Vatican, which begins the formal investigation into the extent of Chesterton's holiness and the sanctity of his life.
Pope Francis may look favourably on the application, having reportedly been a member of the GK Chesterton Society in his home country of Argentina. At a later stage of the canonisation process, the Vatican will look for evidence that he has performed posthumous miracles by answering prayers.
The report's findings show that infertile couples, in particular, are said to have singled out Chesterton, himself childless, to ask for miracle conceptions, said Canon John Udris, who compiled the report. "I have noticed people saying that they are praying for him," he said. "Because Frances and Gilbert [Chesterton] didn't have any children, so they are finding him as a bit of a go-to person, if for example a couple is infertile and looking to have a child."
Tony Diver, Daily Telegraph, June 11th, 2018
See the riposte above
Prayers for the sick may breach GDPR, Church fears
The Church of England has told its parishes not to publish prayer requests for the sick without their permission following the introduction of new EU data laws. The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which came into force yesterday, has caused chaos as small firms, charities and religious organisations struggle to interpret the rules.
The Church of England's guidance tells parishes that consent should be obtained if "names and reasons for the prayer request are recorded and published on the church website or in a parish newsletter". But the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) said organisations should not see the rules as a "barrier" and churches would be free to use information relating to someone who was part of a congregation.
Declan Kelly, the lead adviser for the Church of England on GDPR, said permission would be needed "if the information were to be published on a website, leaflet or social media".
The Diocese of London clarified its GDPR guidance on Thursday after some priests were left under the impression that they could not pray for people without their consent. "There is no obstacle, under the GDPR, to spoken prayers in church," a spokesman said.
"In sensitive situations in which somebody is highly likely to be unhappy about having their name and/or other information shared, we do warmly advise seeking their agreement, and refraining from .sharing their information in print where consent can't be obtained."
In a situation where one individual wants to light a candle for another and leave a note with their details, the new guidance says, the church must "try to ensure that consent is obtained, particularly in our multi-cultural society where people may object to being prayed for".
A spokesman for the ICO said: "If, as an organisation, you have an existing relationship with someone, for instance that person is part of your church congregation or volunteers for your sports team, you would not need their consent to use basic personal information. Consent is not the only basis for using and sharing people's personal data."
Andrew Charlesworth, of the University of Bristol law school, said the Church was "erring on the side of caution". "We're dealing with quite a complex piece of legislation, it's quite a sensitive area.
"If your mum or your nan is seriously ill, you may not take the publication of that very well," he said.
Olivia Rudgard and Katie Morley
The Daily Telegraph
May 28th, 2018
The tide can come back in for Christianity
Even with Anglicanism at its lowest ebb, it would be wrong to give in to fatalism. There are reasons for hope.
Religion is "moribund" and Christianity has "probably gone for good" as Europe's default faith, a gloomy survey told us last week. It found that a majority of young people in a dozen Western countries have no religious affiliation whatsoever. The Victorian poet Matthew Arnold once described the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar" of the sea of faith. This Holy Week, the tide is so far out as to be barely audible.
It’s dismal news, but it won't surprise British churchgoers. Over the years, they've seen the decline with their own eyes. As a young chorister at Salisbury Cathedral, I was struck by how grey-haired the congregation was that packed the nave at the Sunday Eucharist. Later on, at my monastic secondary school, the surviving monks were mostly in their dotage.
To be raised Christian at the turn of the millennium, at times, felt like witnessing the end of something.
If there is ever to be a religious fightback, it is worth being brutally honest about where we are now. Each census shows the collapse of religion to be the biggest single social trend in Britain.
Last week's survey found that 70 per cent of 16- to 29-year-olds in the UK identify with no religion. And just 7 per cent call themselves Anglican. The first figure suggests atheism and apathy are snowballing together, and that the decline of our national religion will accelerate. The second shows that the Church of England now has fewer young adult members than the Catholic Church in the UK, which could undermine its established status. Soon, the study implied, young adult Anglicans will be outnumbered by their Muslim counterparts.
It's no wonder the Prince of Wales, who will one day be "Defender of the Faith", has emphasised that as monarch he will stand up for non-Christian faiths, too. When the Queen promised to "maintain the Protestant reformed religion" at the 1953 coronation, things were different: Her Majesty knew that more than two thirds of the English population were baptised Anglicans. That world has vanished.
To a degree, immigration flatters other denominations and faiths. Catholic numbers have been swelled by the million or so Poles in Britain, the vast majority first-generation arrivals. This Saturday, you might spot some of them carrying Easter baskets full of eggs and bread to be blessed at church. Muslim immigrants are notably more religious, too: bluntly, the lack of integration in some communities, as criticised by Dame Louise Casey's government report, helps to insulate their faith.
Even so, it's overwhelmingly likely that the children and grandchildren of today's immigrants will be less religious. Secularism is the dominant cultural force. For Christians, especially, the trends are alarming. If they continue, we are only decades away from complete statistical invisibility and near-total atheism.
But it would be wrong - and surely un-Christian - to give in to fatalism, or to the Marxist historical view that we are subject to vast, impersonal forces and can't do a thing to resist them. There are points of light scattered about and reasons for hope.
For a start, young people become parents - and when they do, they'll find faith schools dominating the league tables and achieving the best results for their children. They may even find themselves re-engaging with the Church to win a place at them.
There is also evidence of an emerging Christian counter-culture. Evangelical churches are springing up, partly thanks to a sympathetic Archbishop of Canterbury. The new Gas Street Church in Birmingham, based in an old warehouse, attracts hundreds each week. Good liturgy -tambourines for some, the music of Thomas Tallis for others - is for me the crucial factor. It helps to explain a wonderful fact: attendance at Anglican cathedrals is up over the last decade.
Christians have not yet disappeared from public life. It was cheering to see Jacob Rees-Mogg commit publicly to his faith on breakfast television last year. He didn't want to impose his beliefs on anyone, he said. Nor would he abandon them for the sake of cheap popularity. It was quite a moment.
Who knows what other challenges lie ahead: a Catholic teacher recently told me that his greatest worry was how the beauty of church liturgy could ever compete with the excitement of the virtual reality games increasingly. being played by his young pupils. But if Matthew Arnold's metaphor seems fitting, we should remember the point of it - that tides do turn.
Managing Editor, The Spectator
Holy Week 2018
High Church is too faffy, says Bishop of London
The acting Bishop of London has been criticised by senior clergy for describing the High Church tradition as "faffy ceremonial" and suggesting that it lacks "deep faith".
Pete Broadbent made the comments in a Facebook discussion beneath a job advertisement that referred to a church in the "modern catholic tradition". Asked by a priest if that meant "High Church", the bishop replied: "No... High Church is faffy ceremonial without teaching the catholic faith. By contrast, "properly catholic" meant "they teach the faith... and inhabit the liturgy".
On Thursday he added: "High Church [as viewed] in London catholic circles tends to mean just the ceremonial without the deep faith and taught and lived experience that catholic Anglicans understand and live."
Tony Robinson, the Anglo-Catholic Bishop of Wakefield, said the comments were "upsetting" for worshippers in the High Church tradition. "We all need to respect each other in the Church of England," said Bishop Robinson, "It's not right for anyone to disrespect somebody else's way of worshipping."
Bishop Broadbent, the Bishop of Willesden, is acting as Bishop of London until Sarah Mullally is installed as the first female bishop of the diocese on May 12. A prominent Evangelical, he is known for his informal, lively manner. He was briefly suspended as Bishop of Willesden in 2010 for comments he made on Facebook calling the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge "shallow celebrities", which he later acknowledged were "deeply offensive".
London is the largest Church of England diocese. It is home to many parishes that identify as High Church or Anglo-Catholic. Bishop Broadbent told The Sunday Telegraph his criticism did not refer to particular parishes. "No one uses the High Church label [to describe Anglo-Catholic worship centred on the sacraments] any more, certainly not in London. The labels have moved."
Abigail Frymann Rouch, Daily Telegraph 29th January, 2018
Informal, lively Bishop Pete (say no more!) has predictably aroused the wrath of Anglicans of our persuasion with his ill-chosen words. Comment is superfluous: we would merely, as the saying has it, say ' You worship God in your way while we worship Him in His'
But the trendy new word 'faffy' led me to much googling. Entertainingly, various and widely disparate online dictionary meanings are given. We would settle for 'totally awesome' or 'intelligent, happy and friendly' (two definitions given) but be less happy with 'awkward or time-consuming to do or use'. The good bishop seems not to have done his homework, especially since in Australian sang 'faffy' is apparently a term for an intimate part of the female human anatomy.
Archbishop criticised for 'dangerous' paedophile claim
Leading historians have accused the Archbishop of Canterbury of shaming his office with "irresponsible and dangerous" claims that a former bishop may have been a paedophile.
In a letter to the Most Rev Justin Welby, seven academics who examined the allegations against George Bell, the former bishop of Chichester, said there was "no credible evidence" that he sexually abused a young girl. A report last year found the Church of England unnecessarily besmirched the character of Bell, who died in 1958, when naming him publicly in an apology to his accuser in 2015.
The signatories - Professors Sir Ian Kershaw, Charmian Brinson, Andrew Chandler, John Charmley, Michael J Hughes, Jeremy Noakes and Keith Robbins - called for the Archbishop to retract his comments.They stated: "None of us may be considered natural critics of an Archbishop of Canterbury. But we must also draw a firm line. The statement of Dec 15 2017 seems to us both irresponsible and dangerous. We therefore urge you, in all sincerity, to repudiate what you have, said before more damage is done and thus to restore the esteem in which the high, historic office to which you have been called has been held."
Before the allegations were made public, Bell had been a theologian held in high regard for his work helping victims of Nazi persecution. But following an independent review by Lord Carlile of Berriew, the Archbishop said Bell was "accused of great wickedness" and apologised only "for the failures of the process". The historians said they wished "to express our profound dismay with the position you have taken".
They said Bell was a "significant historical figure" central to their careers and their view therefore constituted "a genuine and pertinent authority". The Archbishop's statement "offended basic values and principles of historical understanding" they said, as it assumed a single allegation against Bell had been proven when it had not.
"The allegation is not only wholly uncorroborated but is contradicted by all the considerable, and available, circumstantial material which any historian would consider credible," they wrote. The letter, delivered yesterday, continued: "We cannot understand how such an unsupported, indeed insupportable, allegation can be upheld by a responsible public authority. Quite
simply, it is indefensible." The Archbishop had noted that Lord Carlile did not decide on guilt, but the academics pointed out that he was deliberately prevented from doing so by the terms of reference that had been set out by the Church.
"We state our position bluntly," they continued. "There is no credible evidence at all that Bishop Bell was a paedophile. We state this after reviewing all that is known about his character and behaviour over many years."
They concluded that he had been "impugned from within his own Church of England", adding: "There is today no cloud at all over Bishop Bell. Nobody employing credible critical method could think otherwise."
The Archbishop's response to the allegations against Bell has already led to calls from members of the late bishop's family for him to resign, and resulted in criticism from Lord Carey, his predecessor.
Lambeth Palace did not respond to a request for comment.
Hayley Dixon, The Daily Telegraph
A fried egg has no place in the nativity, say 77% of parents
Parents are tiring of modern updates to the traditional nativity play, figures suggest, as they say their children have been cast as fried eggs and underpants.
According to a survey of more than 500 parents by website Families Online, 77 per cent of parents want the old story back.
Despite this, a clear majority of schools are opting for a modern update, with 63 per cent saying they had chosen a non-traditional version.
Parents said their children had ended up playing parts including an octopus, an alien, caterpillar, taxi driver or a morris-dancing shepherd.
The list of modern characters was not limited to humans and animals, however, it can also include a toy chicken, a pair of underpants, a mobile phone, a fried egg or a carrier bag.
Parents voted the Angel Gabriel as the most sought-after role in a nativity, with almost half saying they had most wished for it during their school days. Mary was the second-most popular, with 37 per cent of mothers choosing it.
Another six per cent said schools should ditch the nativity altogether as it was no longer relevant.
Separate figures from the Church published on Friday revealed that 56,000 Christmas services were registered with its online map A Church Near You, including 28,000 carol services and 1,000 nativities, with 4,472 churches set to serve mulled wine and 6,653 providing mince pies.
Olivia Rudgard, Sunday Telegraph, Christmas Eve
Pope calls for words of Lord's Prayer to be changed
Pope Fransic has called on the Roman Catholic Church to alter the Lord's Prayer because he believes the current translation suggests God is capable of leading us "into temptation".
Instead, "Our father", which is the best-known prayer in Christianity, should be said using the phrasing adopted by French bishops, which reads as "do not let us enter into temptation".
The alternative wording used in France implies that it is through human fault that people are led to sin, rather than by God.
The Pope made the suggestion during a televised interview on Wednesday evening, in which he claimed that the traditional phrasing was "not a good translation".
"I am the one who falls. It's not him pushing me into temptation to then see how I have fallen," he said. "A father doesn't do that, a father helps you to get up immediately. It's Satan who leads us into temptation, that's his department."
The prayer is part of Christian liturgical culture and memorised from childhood by hundreds of millions of Catholics.
The Lord's Prayer has been updated several times in recent centuries, with the Church of England's website containing both the traditional version and a contemporary one.
It comes a month after Bible scholars announced they had produced the most accurate edition of the New Testament since it was first translated from Greek.
Faith in the clergy at an all-time low
Trust in priests is at an all-time low in the wake of several abuse scandals, Ipsos Mori figures show.
Data from the pollng company shows that only 65% of the public would trust a member of the clergy, putting them below newsreaders, police and weather forecasters.
Gideon Skinner, of Ipsos Mori, said: 'Professors, scientists, police, trade union officials and civil servants have become more trusted, but the clergy are the notable losers.
'But not everything changes - doctors, nurses and teachers have consistently been near the top, and politicians and journalists down the bottom'
Daily Telegraph, December 4th, 2017
Clergy feel strain from targets to grow flockLet boys wear tutus, says Church of England
Pressure on bishops and clergy to grow their audience is leading to "clergy self-harm" the Dean of Christ Church, Oxford, has said. Speaking to an audience at the charity Sons & Friends of the Clergy, Prof Martyn Percy, who also teaches in the theology faculty at Oxford University, said bishops "need to stop being the CEO of an organisation that is chasing growth targets".
Clergy stress was "fuelled by anxiety about growth and organisation and professionalism," he said. "The church has become too organisational and bureaucratic. "Sharp missional evangelistic thinking has created a culture where clergy feel like employees, chasing targets - and they feel guilty when they don't achieve those targets, or when they can no longer relate to what has become an organisation." He gave-the example of "affairs" as a type of "self-harm" which can lead clergy to be removed from post via a disciplinary measure.
Problems include a focus on "blue-sky" or "visionary thinking" and "aims, objectives and outcomes," he said, which should be replaced with "a culture of realism". Leaders need to focus on "getting alongside clergy and understanding that the role on its own is, for many, quite overwhelming and completely exhausting," he said.
Last week the Church launched a "covenant" to preserve clergy's mental health amid reports some were struggling to cope. The model, based on the military covenant between the Armed Forces and the nation, would ensure the Church's responsibility to offer "appropriate pastoral care".
Prof Percy said the Church under the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, was becoming increasingly corporate and focused on growth. The Archbishop, who comes from an evangelical background, is a former oil executive who worked in industry for 11 years.
The decision follows a debate at the Church's general synod earlier this year, when the Archbishop said being a parish priest was the "most stressful" job he had done. Commentators have argued that the influence of evangelicals had led to a focus on conversion and getting people into services.
Olivia Rudgard, Daily Telegraph, November 2017
This report strikes an increasingly familiar note. The stress caused by target-orientated management agendas, at the expense of compassionate guidance and support, has been felt, in our experience, by clergy and, significantly, by congregations. We need more blessing and less bureaucracy...
Primary school boys should be allowed to wear tutus and high heels if they want to, the Church of England has said in its first guidance for teachers on transgender issues. Children should not be restricted by their gender when dressing up, and girls should be able to wear a tool belt and fireman's helmet if they choose, the document says.
The guidance for teachers in Church of England schools, endorsed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, says that children "should be at liberty to explore the possibilities of who they might be without judgement or derision".
The document emerges as a growing number of children are coming forward to express doubt about their assigned gender. Figures released earlier this year by the Gender Identity Development Service show that the number of under-18s referred to the north London clinic has grown from 314 in 2011 to 2,016 last year.
The guidance says: "A child may choose the tutu, princess's tiara and heels and/or the fireman's helmet, tool belt and superhero cloak without expectation or comment. Childhood has a sacred space for creative self imagining." The document also says young children "should be afforded freedom from the expectation of permanence: "They are in a 'trying on' stage of life, and not yet adult and so no labels need to be fixed."
Teachers in Church of England schools should "avoid labels and assumptions which deem children's behaviour irregular, abnormal or problematic just because it does not conform to gender stereotypes or today's play preferences," it adds.
Introducing the document, entitled Valuing All God's Children, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, said: "All bullying, including homophobic, biphobic and transphobic bullying :auses profound damage, leading to higher levels of mental health disorders, self-harm, depression and suicide. Central to Christian theology is the truth that every single one of us is made in the image of God."
An increasing number of schools have begun to liberalise their uniform policy to allow boys to wear skirts and dresses if they wish. Under-18s who say they have been born in a body which does not match their gender are not offered surgery, but are sometimes given hormones which suppress puberty. Figures released to the Mail on Sunday earlier this year suggest that more than 800 children are receiving this treatment.
The Church guidance adds that secondary school pupils should be allowed to "'try on identities for size", explaining that teenagers "need to be offered the freedom that was afforded to the child in nursery of the metaphorical dressing up box of trying on identities without assumption or judgement".
Charities and LGBT organisations welcomed the document.Javed Khan, the chief executive of Bamardo's, said: "Respecting the unique worth of every person is an integral part of Barnardo's values, so we wholeheartedly welcome this move by the Church of England."
Olivia Rudgard, Daily Telegraph
We're gathered digitally here today... rather than in church
The Church of England now reaches more people via social media than in services, new figures reveal.
The statistics suggest the Church has now reached the point where more people follow its online accounts than attend regular services. Around l.lmillion attend services at least once a month, while the Church estimates 1.2million people are "reached" every month via Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Linkedln.
The figures showed that the decline in regular church attendance continued in 2016, with average Sunday attendance falling to a new low of 780,000 people.
Over the same period the Church has tripled its followers on both Face-book and Instagram. But it admitted it was struggling to convert a growing digital audience to physical attendance.
William Nye, secretary general to the General Synod, said the figures were a "sobering reminder" of the challenge faces by the Church. He said that while the internet was an area of growth, "our challenge is to join up that growing online church life to the physical community of church that forms the body of Christ".
The figures also showed that another area of growth was midweek services, at which attendance by people who did not go on Sunday increased from 111,800 in 2011 to 122,700 in 2016. The rise is thought to be partly explained by the growing popularity of services such as choral evensong, which is held in urban cathedrals and attracts young professionals.
Midweek services are also held as part of the "fresh expressions" movement, which organises less conventional services in an attempt to attract young adults. Sam Donoghue, head of children and youth ministry support in the Diocese of London, said: "In some ways the idea of church being uncool has gone - children are growing up past that."
By Olivia Rudgard, Daily Telegraph, October 19th, 2017
A Oxford college has banned the Christian Union from its freshers' fair on the grounds that it would be "alienating" for students of other religions, and constitute a "micro-aggression".
The organiser of Balliol's fair argued Christianity's historic use as "an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism" meant that students might feel "unwelcome" in the college if the Christian Union (CU) had a stall. Freddy Potts, vice-president of Balliol's Junior Common Room (JCR) committee, said that if a representative from the CU attended the fair, it could cause "potential harm" to freshers.
Mr Potts, writing on behalf of the JCR's welfare committee, told Lucy Talbot, the CU representative at Balliol, that their "sole concern is that the presence of the CU alone may alienate incoming students". In email correspondence, seen by The Daily Telegraph, he went on: "This sort of alienation or micro-aggression is regularly dismissed as not important enough to report, especially where there is little to no indication that other students or committee members may empathise, and inevitably leads to futher harm of the already most vulnerable and marginalised groups.
"Historically, Christianity's influence on many marginalised communities has been damaging in its method of conversion and rules of practice, and is still used in many places as an excuse for homophobia and certain forms of neo-colonialism." He said that barring the Christian Union "may be a way of helping to avoid making any students feel initially unwelcome within Balliol".
Initially he said the JCR committee wanted the fair to be a "secular space", explaining that since he "couldn't guarantee every major belief system" would have stalls at the fair, students from other religions may "suffer" if their faith is not represented. However, Mr Potts later conceded that he would allow a "multi-faith" stall at the fair, with information about various university religious societies. Student representatives of the CU were barred from attending in person.
The move sparked a backlash among students, with the JCR passing a motion on Sunday condemning the committee's ban as a "violation of free speech, a violation of religious freedom, and sets dangerous precedents regarding the relationship between specific faiths and religious freedom".
A Balliol College spokesman said: "We are pleased to see that the students themselves have now resolved this matter.
"Following last night's JCR motion, the Christian Union will be offered a stall at future freshers' fairs.
"Balliol is a tolerant, friendly college where students of all faiths and none are free to worship and express their beliefs openly."
Camilla Turner, Education Editor, and Tony Diver, Daily Telegraph, October 19th, 2017
Why TV vicars could be the answer to Church prayers
Learning the cha-cha-cha and appearing on reality television is somewhat unusual behaviour for a Church of England priest.
But senior Church figures say that celebrity vicars like the Rev Richard Coles and the Rev Kate Bottley have made it more accessible - and contributed to a ten-year high in the numbers of trainee clergy. This year there were 544 new trainees, up from 476 last year - the largest figure in a decade. New priests are also getting younger, with 28 per cent aged under 32, iip from 23 per cent last year.
The Church of England has had a PR boost in recent months with "celebrity vicars" Coles and Bottley appearing on television and in the media. Coles, a former member of pop band The Communards, is one of this year's Strictly Come Dancing contestants while Bottley, who rose to fame on the Channel 4 series Gogglebox, has been announced as a new Radio 2 host.
The Bishop of Repton, the Rt Rev Jan McFarlane, who was one of the first women to be ordained by the Church in 1994, said she believed the pair had made the church appear more accessible. "With Richard and Kate, being on Strictly Come Dancing and shows like that, they've just come across as human people who happen to have a strong faith," she said.
The number of women in ordained ministry is also at a record high. Of the 544 ordinands - or trainee priests - starting their courses this year, 274 are women, a 19 per cent rise on last year. The Church now has 5,690 women priests.
Jemima Lewis, 33, a journalist, mother-of-three and an ordinand, said she has been encouraged by moves to make the priesthood more inclusive to women, such as part-time curacies and courses that fit around child care.
She said: 'There's a higher profile of women as vicars and it seems a bit more normal that that could happen.'
Olivia Rudgard in the Telegraph again.
It occurs to me that we are also making good progress in fictional priests in recent years. The splendid Tom Hollander as 'Rev' is a vast improvement on the hapless Noot (All Gas and Gaiters if anyone rememebrs him!)
Stops pulled on church organist who backed his 'tuneless' choir
The church choir is generally assumed to be a bastion of inclusivity, acceptance and love for all.
Not, it would seem, in Harpenden, where a church organist felt he had no option but to leave his post after trying to stand up for the tuneless older singers sidelined by a handful of "sharp-elbowed" London types.
Peter Hopkins had been musical director of the choir at St Nicholas Church in the leafy Hertfordshire suburb for six years. But he claims he was "effectively ousted" by resentful singers who did not believe those with more enthusiasm than talent should be allowed some of the limelight.
Mr Hopkins, from St Albans, who has been head of music at several leading schools, said he was "of the view" that the choir should include all types of singers, good and bad. However, within the last year, some "ringleaders" had joined the choir who felt that the better singers should take priority.
While the organist was keen to be discreet, a source close to the choir revealed there had been an "influx" of members aged around 35-40 whose behaviour and "barbed comments" at rehearsals had raised eyebrows. "These are cut-throat lawyer types who work in London and want to apply the same technique they apply in the workplace in the church choir, which just doesn't work," the source said. "You have to be nice. But they try to dominate. They are sharp-elbowed adults who don't seem to be able to sit back and let the expert do his job."
One of the problems in that particular area is that there are many "well-heeled" parents who commute to London but moved to the Home Counties to get their children into good local state schools. Mr Hopkins, 57, said: "I am an inclusive organist and I want everybody to sing, whether they are any good or not."
The group boasts up to 30 members, aged eight to 80, but it is understood that even the children were sidelined by some.
(No sharp elbows at St Faith's...)
'Prevent us, O Lord...'
Trainee priests get crib sheet to decipher CofE prayers
PRIESTS-in-training are to be given glossaries for the first time to help them understand the Book of Common Prayer because they struggle to decipher the language.
The Prayer Book Society, which gives out free copies of the 17th-century book to first-year students in theological colleges, will this year include a key to some of its more old-fashioned words and phrases.
The list includes definitions for words such as "eschew" meaning abstain from, "concord", for an agreement between people^ and "froward", meaning perverse or contrary.
Some of the included words could cause confusion to young ordinands due to more modern definitions. For instance, in the 17th century, "magnify" didn't mean to make something appear larger than it is, but to glorify or praise greatly.
At the time the book was written "meet" meant "appropriate or fitting". And "comfortable", rather than meaning at ease or relaxed, meant to strengthen or to make strong.
Tim Stanley, the Society's press officer who conceived the scheme, told The Daily Telegraph: "The language is quite Shakespearey. It's very beautiful but it's very ancient and there are some words in it which modern readers might find difficult to understand."
The glossary was researched and drafted by Fergus Butler-Gallie, a 25-year-old ordinand at Westcott House Theological College, Cambridge.
The Prayer Book Society was founded in 1972 to promote the 1662 version of the book, which was first created in 1549 by Thomas Cranmer, amid concerns that it would fall out of use due to competition from more modern versions.
It is the traditional service book of the Church of England which is still widely used and remains broadly unchanged from its original 16th-century incarnation. In a press release the Society said: "Although Cranmer committed himself to setting out church services in 'a tongue understanded of the people', the meaning of some of his language - as with Shakespeare's - has changed over the centuries."
The glossary will be given in bookmark form to new students, and is also available on the Society's website.
The ever-reliable Olivia Rudgard in the Daily Telegraph.
Believe it or not
More than half of British people are non-believers
Britain is losing its religion, research has found, with the proportion of non-believers the highest it has ever been. More than half of the population has no faith and the share who say they are Church of England Christians has fallen to just 15 per cent - the lowest recorded.
Just three per cent of those, aged 18 to 24 said they were CofE, while the proportion overall of non-Christians has tripled from two to six per cent. Half of those aged 55 to 64 said they had no religion.
Church of England leaders said the findings were "troubling", but expressed optimism that the Church could still attract some of the 53 per cent who said they had no religion. The Bishop of Liverpool, the Rt Rev Paul Bayes, said: "Saying 'no religion' is not the same as a considered atheism. People's minds, and hearts, remain open."
But Andrew Copson, the Humanists UK chief executive, said the figures were proof that the Church was undergoing an "ongoing and probably irreversible collapse". Of the overall six per cent belonging to other faiths, half were Muslim and a third were Hindu, with Jewish, Sikh, Buddhist and other groups all smaller.
The figures from the British Social Attitudes Survey were first produced in 1983, when more than two thirds of the population said they were Christian. This has fallen to 41 per cent.
Religious Affairs Correspondent, Daily Telegraph, September 8th 2017
We want our stolen churches back, pagans tell Archbishop
A group of pagans has written to the Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, demanding two churches to make amends for those it says were stolen 1,300 years ago.
The Odinist Fellowship, which represents 1,000 members of the pagan religion, wrote to the Church of England last month asking for two churches to be returned to make up for actions which took place during the Christianisation of England.
The letter, addressed to the Archbishop, said: "With a view to re-establishing better relations between the Odinist Fellowship and the Christian churches in England, and persuaded that a restitution of past wrongs is the best way to lay the foundations of improved relations, we wish you to be aware that the great majority of Odinists believe that honour requires the English church to issue a public apology for its former crimes against the Odinists."
Ralph Harrison, director of the Fellowship, told The Sunday Telegraph: "Two bishops have sent responses, which have been polite, but nothing substantial. The objective is just to get the Church to acknowledge that it has got a history of persecution when it comes to the Odinist religion and it has to take stock of that and not just write it out of history. Within the Odinist community there is a strong sense of antagonism towards the institutional Church." The group wants one church from the diocese of York and one from the diocese of Canterbury.
It said that during the Christianisation of England, which began in the 7th century, many temple grounds were seized by early church leaders, including St Augustine, and turned into churches. Mr Harrison called this process a "spiritual genocide". "As things stand, the Church of England is in possession of a vast quantity of stolen property," he said.
In another letter sent to the Archbishops of Canterbury and York last year, a group of priests said: "If such satisfaction is not offered, albeit that your church possesses a superfluity of ecclesiastical properties, then we most respectfully assure you, that we will persist ever more vocally in our just demands until at last they are met."
According to Mr Harrison, Martin Warner, the Bishop of Chichester, responded by saying "As yet I am uncertain as to the evidence for the strength of Odinist faith in these parts".
A registered religious charity since 1988, the Fellowship promotes the "original, indigenous faith of the English people" which was practised by Angles, Saxons and Jutes. It is polytheistic and believers follow the High Gods of Asgarth, who they see "not as our masters, but as firm friends and powerful allies". According to Mr Harrison, there are around 10,000 Odinists in the country.
Sunday Telegraph, 27th August, 2017
The long-suffering C of E is familiar with the claims voiced by not a few of our Roman Catholic brethren that we stole their churches at the Reformation. This, however, is something completely different...
Sing hosanna! No more Songs of Praise retakes
The BBC's Songs of Praise has found favour with church leaders after ending its practice of making congregations sing hymns"several times in order to get the perfect television shots.
Previously, programme-makers required several retakes, a time-consuming exercise that some churches found frustrating. However, filming methods have now changed after the BBC lost the rights to make the show in-house. It is now produced by an independent company, which films church services in one take.
A recent episode visited the annual conference of the New Wine network of churches in Somerset. The Rev Mark Melluish, its national leader, had previously taken a stand against the show's perfectionist tendencies and had declined requests to film there. However, he said the new incarnation of Songs of Praise is an improvement. "There were no retakes. They were so easy to work with." "BBC producers would retake for technical issues - either sound or because someone^ had done something they did not feel looked right."
The BBC lost the rights to make Songs of Praise in-house in March as part of a process in which all shows made by BBC Studios must be put out to tender. It lost out to a joint bid by Avanti Media and Nine Lives Media, which secured a three-year contract.
An Avanti spokesman said: "We have an outside broadcast unit which enables us to film singing without repeated takes. One-take recordings are completed when requested. We really enjoyed filming at New Wine."
The head of BBC Studios said of the decision: "We are disappointed with the outcome. We take great pride in how we've nurtured and developed the series."
Anita Singh, Daily Telegraph, August 2017
Many of us will recall the BBC's insistence on detail, when, during filming at St Faith's we were required to practise saying 'Amen' over and again to get the right sound. Not the best sort of sevenfold amen... During another recording session, sound engineers asked one of our members to desist from singing as he was too loud and upsetting the balance. Who was it? Answers on a postcard, please.
Churches cry foul as bats in the belfry create a stink
Wardens say conservation laws prevent them from taking steps to block the creatures, and their mess
It would try the patience of a saint. While congregations may sing about all creatures great and small, when bat excrement is falling from the ceiling, it is difficult to turn the other cheek. In fact, bats in the belfry are becoming such a problem for parishioners that churches are now calling for a change in conservation laws.
It's illegal to stop a bat reaching its roost - leaving many churches unable to patch up holes in their walls and doors, which bats use for access.
Almost 100 churches are thought to have applied for the Bats and Churches Partnership, which will monitor the bats to see whether church managers could be allowed to take action to protect their historic buildings. It is funded by =£3.8million of National Lottery cash.
At one church, All Saints in Braunston, Rutland, volunteer wardens spend hours cleaning pews and floors of bat urine and excrement each time the church is used, and have been forced to protect valuable furniture i and art with sheeting. Three years ago, staff said they were struggling to cope after the vicar had to shake droppings out of her hair while celebrating Holy Communion.
Gail Rudge, 74, a lay minister at All Saints, said: "I think the whole point is conservation laws were needed, but now they need to be reviewed and made a little less stringent. "The crucial thing is maintaining the balance between our need to have a clean church without any damage and the bats' need to have somewhere to roost. We want to get [the gap in the wall] blocked up but the laws are so strict, there's nothing we can do."
She said it takes around an hour and a half for one or two volunteers to clean the church of bat droppings and urine on the morning of an event, such as a wedding. On one occasion, the church warden collected 200g of bat droppings. They have also had to cover up two 600-year-old wall murals because they were in danger of being damaged by the excrement.
The church is one of three hoping for a reprieve after they were chosen for a pilot scheme under the Bats and Churches Partnership. Another church chosen for the scheme, Holy Trinity in Tattershall, Lincolnshire, says it has more than 700 bats roosting in the building. Staff have been unable to restore the 500-year-old doors to the Grade I listed church because it would mean closing a gap used by the bats for access.
David Mullinger, the church's deputy warden, said the European law that makes bats a protected species is a particular issue in England and Wales because of the way churches are designed. He said: "The majority of European churches have much larger roof space, which means that bats can enter that area without going into the church. In English churches, that isn't usually the case - there isn't a lot of space so they come into the main church."
At the third church, All Saints Church in Swanton Morley, Norfolk, Gerry Palmer, lay chair of the parochial church council, said the pilot gives them hope. "What we're hoping for is a change in the law so that it's relaxed. We want to keep our church open so it can be used for the purpose it's been intended for," he said.
A Natural England spokesman said the agency was trying to find a "broader and more common sense approach to the legislation", which approached conservation "more strategically and less animal-by-animal".
Olivia Rudgard, Daily Telegraph Religious Affairs Correspondent
7th August, 2017
Poor being abandoned by 'coffee shop clergy'
The Church is 'abandoning' the poor because middle-class clergy are unwilling to move away from 'trendy coffee shops' , a bishop has said.
The Rt Rev Philip North launched a stinging critique of Church of England priests in a speech made at Christian conference New Wine United.
The Bishop of Burnley said: 'I am astonished at the number of people Jesus is calling to plant new churches as long as they are in Zones 1 and 2 of the London transport system. We need you on the other estates, in northern towns... we need you in areas where trendy coffee shops are hard to find.
He said the Church was 'complicit in the abandonment of the poor.'
Daily Telegraph, 4th August 2017
To access stories from 2013 and 2014, scroll down the page
Are we still a Christian nation?
No more Parish Magazines...?
Dropping sin and the devil from Anglican baptisms
'Overzealous' church vets 58,000 workers in year
Carey's vision of the church might kill it off
Defender of the Faith
Pruning the Prelates
Faith back at the Heart of Government
The Dawkins Delusion
Catholics may let CofE share communion
No place for Jesus in R.E., but there's always Gandhi
World Christians martyred for their faith
Faith Schools too middle class?
Would God vote Lib Dem or Tory?
Archbishop Welby: church on the edge of a precipice
Girl Guide unbelievers denied use of church halls
Fretting about Fracking
Don't cast away the Bible
Swearing by Jesus
CRB checks for Wardens and Bell-ringers
Is Britain really a Christian Nation?
That's the view of the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams. In an interview with the Sunday Telegraph, he observed: 'A Christian country as a nation of believers? No. A Christian country in the sense of still being very much saturated by this vision of the world and shaped by it? Yes.'
His observations were borne out by the paper's poll. Only 14 per cent of respondents described themselves as practising Christians, while 38 per cent described themselves as non-practising Christians and 41 per cent as non-religious. An interesting group was the two per cent that didn't know. Just over half, 56 per cent, said Britain was a Christian country; 30 per cent said not; 14 per cent didn't know.
Unsurprisingly, it was oldies who were clearest in their sense of Britain's Christian identity: 73 per cent of over-65s said it was. Certainly that's the country in which oldies grew up. Most over-65s will have been educated in schools where Christian religious instruction rather than religious education was the norm; in other words you were taught about Christianity as a matter of received faith, not the quasi-anthropological, multi-faith subject in today's state school curriculum. Which isn't to say that religious instruction was necessarily done well. My uncle, who is 90, remembers these classes as a matter of teachers reading from scripture: there was little or no effort to engage the boys' interest.
What you did have were Sunday schools, where parents could offload their children on a Sunday afternoon to get proper religious instruction. The movement, founded by Robert Raikes - you can see his statue on the Victoria Embankment in London - was at its peak in the :88os when some 5.5 million children attended, but it survived in robust shape until the 19503. Many working-class children would have gone to them and their decline has a good deal to do with the present crisis in Britain - the strange death of working-class Christianity. Private school pupils, with their continuing regime of school chapel attendance, probably have a better chance of some sort of religious formation.
As for Catholics, the most critical development has been the steep decline in the numbers of nuns. They were the backbone of Catholic primary education for boys and girls. A friend, a university chaplain, has observed that the biggest divide he notices is the one between the generation taught by nuns and the generation since; those the nuns taught are indefinably assured about what they should believe, even if they don't believe it. Those taught subsequently by lay teachers are less well grounded in what they're meant to know - the stuff of religion.
Linda Woodhead, the brilliant sociologist of religion, has said that if the churches are to survive, religious instruction must be done in the family, as is the case with minority religious communities such as Sikhs. I can't see it myself. Most Brits regard religious education as a matter for schools - they don't have the knowledge themselves to impart. The best hope is for more Christians to take on the governance of free schools and academies to expand the provision of that elusive thing, the Christian ethos; that way, if parents want a Christian education for their children, they can get it.
Melanie McDonagh, R.C. commentator, writing in 'The Oldie', June 2014
Church fears end for Parish Papers
Church leaders fear for the future of parish magazines, as one of the oldest is to close after 115 years.
The parish magazine at the Brontes' former home of Haworth, West Yorks, is thought to rfave first gone on sale around 1899, growing from a single page into a 12-page magazine. The current edition will be the last after the church, which hosts a busy website, found that only half of the 200 copies being printed were sold.
"It is costing us a lot of money, and like all organisations we have to make hard decisions about spending," said the Rev Peter Mayo-Smith, the vicar of Haworth. "We recognise certain groups of people really love paper so we might go to a quarterly, glossy magazine, rather than [writing about] who is doing the tea rota and who is handing out the hymn books." He added that the exact age of the magazine was unknown but that its roots may extend back to the Brontes.
In 2009, the Church of England celebrated 150 years of parish magazines. Now, there are signs that many are changing from monthly publications to more expensive, quarterly magazines.
The Bishop of Bradford, the Rt Rev Nick Baines, a communications expert at the Church, said: "The whole media world has changed. People look at a church on the internet not wandering around buildings.If we are trying to communicate more widely there are other, more imaginative cost-effective ways of doing it. "What we should not be is slaves to nostalgia and see if there is a better way of doing things.The other thing is you have to have the people to produce a church magazine which can be a problem these days."
A recent report for the Church of Scotland pointed to the decline for church magazines in general. "One of the questions the Church will have to face is whether we wish to duplicate in print news items which inevitably appear instantly in electronic form," it warned.
January 28th, 2014
As editor of our magazine, this strikes a chord. I have seen the printed edition, which was once distributed free of charge as part of our mission, drop from a peak of 380 to some 80 copies each month, partly as a result of making a charge in the last few years, but also due to increasing accessing of the online version, which is inevitably more colourful and which costs nothing to access and read.
Please Don't Drop the Devil
Christina Odone, doughty R.C. journalist, responds persuasively to the piece below
The devil is in the detail, but nowhere else, if the Church of England has any say in the matter. Henceforth, Anglican christenings will drop the word "devil" from the service. Parents and godparents will opt for a new formula, renouncing "evil" and "empty promises" instead of the devil.
What a pity. The devil has been with us for millennia, serving a vital purpose. Whether you see him (I still think of the anti-Christ as a "him") as a horned fellow with a pitchfork and goatee, or, Minotaur-like, as half-man half-beast, the devil personifies the intangible and unmentionable wickedness in the world. It may be childish to hanker for a solid figure of fear and loathing, but I suspect it is a good thing for human beings to share a basic, even primitive, sense of evil.
When being wicked is nuanced and subtle, the very worst can appear sophisticated; when bad is an ambiguous term, being on guard becomes a guessing game. I don't want to be like Aunt Ada in Cold Comfort Farm, spending my life in the shadow of "something nasty in the woodshed". That kind of vagueness thrills in fiction but in real life it's confusing.
There's nothing vague, thank goodness, about the devil. Stupendously, unashamedly evil, Satan has fallen from on high and rubs his hands with glee at the prospect of tempting us to do the same. He pleads and entices, then thumps us -just like the worst bully in the playground or at work.
Whether he succeeds in making us do his bidding, as with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, or fails, as with Jesus in the desert, the devil offers the easiest lesson in ethics. Few children today are taught, as the nuns in Rome taught me and my five-year-old classmates, that a guardian angel sat on our right shoulder, urging us to do good, while a devil sat on the other, tempting us to do
bad. But Beelzebub emerges as such a vivid figure, if sometimes as garish as the bad guy in a Disney film, that even the tiniest child -and not only one raised in a Christian household -recognises what he represents.
The Church should hold on to such a powerful figure. I can see that the devil is controversial in a culture that seeks to blame every vice on poverty, discrimination or spending cuts. The notion of truly unmitigated evil sounds truly subversive in this context, so perhaps the C of E can pass off the devil as a prop in RE lessons. This should not prove difficult given that most schools' RE features nowadays a hodge-podge of the major faiths - and the devil stars in all of them.
Even if through subterfuge, Satan must be spared. He has served Christianity so well: by capturing the imagination of painters, poets, politicians, even the Rolling Stones, he has ensured that the Christian concept of evil is common currency. Or at least, it has been. Today, things look less promising as Britons, so au fait with Americanisms and online jargon, struggle with biblical references.
Scholars point out how many everyday expressions originated in the King James Bible - "a law unto themselves" and "a thorn in the flesh" are but two examples. But Michael Symmons Roberts, who won the Forward poetry prize last year, has complained that if he wants to reach a young audience, he must prune his poetical lexicon of biblical references. Should he mention "the Ark" or "Bathsheba" he cannot be sure anyone under 40 will know what he's getting at.
The devil has survived "Bathsheba" (and David and Goliath too, I warrant) so it would be a shame for the C of E to ban him. In so doing they would rob Anglicans of an easily identifiable foe; and our language of its richness.
Sin no more: dropping the devil from Anglican baptisms
Traditionalists and reactionaries will either laugh or weep at this latest piece of C of E trendiness. Christina Odone has a very different view above...
The Church of England should remove references to sin from baptism services because people associate the word with "sex and cream cakes" rather than religious and moral transgressions, clergy behind the reforms said yesterday.
The Church was yesterday accused of "dumbing down" after trialling a new wording for christenings in which parents and godparents are no longer asked to "repent of their sins" and "reject the devil".
The new wording was drawn up after a request from a group of clergymen from Liverpool, who wanted the service to be made easier to understand. The group included the Rev Dr Tim Stratford, who has since become the Archdeacon of Leicester and is also a member of the Church's 19-strong Liturgical Commission, which drew up the new wording.
"There are questions over how the word 'sin' is received," he said. "There are two ways it crosses people's mind instantly: one way is, it's all about sex. The other way is, it's all about cream cakes and eating less. We are talking about something that is much bigger than that."
He said he would not oppose the inclusion of the word 'sin' in the service, but added: "There is a case for exploring whether we can talk about sin more deeply, without using the actual word 'sin' that trips some people up."
The new wording, which is being trialled from this month until Easter in 400 of the Church's 14,000 parishes, instead asks parents and godparents instead to "reject evil".
The Archdeacon defended the cutting of the reference to the 'devil'. "The devil is a very strong image and the image that will cross people's minds is probably a little red creature with a pitchfork and pointed ears because that's what popular art has done to the devil," he said. "Am I sorry society is losing its sense of the devil? Yes. Do I think that it is easy to use that word in a baptism service in which there are large numbers of people who are not familiar with the language of the church? I think that's a discussion we have got to have."
He said that as a parish priest on a large estate in Liverpool he could see that some "phrases and poetic sentences" in the baptism service were not being understood properly. The clergy, he said, wanted the messages to be "communicated more strongly."
But the Rt Rev Michael Nazir-Ali, the former Bishop of Rochester, told the Mail on Sunday that the change constituted "dumbing down" and that the Church should instead spend more time "preparing people for these great rites of passage".
The Church of England stressed yesterday that the new wording was subject to approval by the General Synod. Even if approved, it "would not replace or revise the current Baptism service but would be available for use as alternatives to three parts of the service".
Emily Gosden, Daily Telegraph, January 7th, 2014
'Overzealous' Church vets 58,000 workers in a year
Volunteer bell-ringers, florists and organists risk being pushed out of the Church of England because of a regime of "overzealous" criminal record checks, the Archbishop of Canterbury has been warned.
Figures obtained through the Freedom of Information Act show that at least 58,000 people have been vetted by the Church in the past 12 months before being allowed to work in parishes or take back-office roles. More than 80 per cent of the checks were on volunteers, it emerged. In many cases, vetting procedures are used in relation to adults working with children in Sunday schools and church creches - a target of the Government's Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS). But large numbers of volunteers with positions including organists, choir members, bell-ringers, altar servers, welcome stewards and tour guides have also been subjected to criminal record checks.
The figures were revealed after the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Most Rev Justin Welby, said this year that the Church was being "utterly ruthless" in its approach to criminal record checks, even though cases of abuse were "negligible". The Archbishop said volunteers refusing checks would be told: "You can't come to church." But campaigners warned that blanket checks were unnecessary, would "breed suspicion and make long-time volunteers feel that they were not welcome". It was also claimed that the move created a "false feeling of security" and did little to weed out child abuse.
The comments were made despite government reforms designed to stop institutions such as schools, charities and churches imposing cumbersome vetting procedures.The Coalition pledged to scale back Labour's "vetting and barring scheme" - introduced after the murders of Soham schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman in 2002 by school caretaker Ian Huntley - amid concerns the process had spiralled out of control.
As part of the new service founded in late 2012, only those in sensitive posts with intensive contact with children or vulnerable adults need to undergo criminal record checks. But the Manifesto Club, which campaigns against the regulation of everyday life, said the Church was taking an "overzealous" approach.
Its director, Josie Appleton, said: "There is simply no need to vet volunteers before they arrange flowers or welcome visitors at the church door. Blanket criminal record checks breed suspicion and make long-time volunteers feel that they are not welcome." She added: "What happened to the Christian values of goodwill and good faith? General vigilance and adult responsibility would do far more to protect children."
But the C of E insisted it would "make no apology for taking action to ensure our systems are as robust as possible".
Graeme Paton, Daily Telegraph
Carey's vision for the Church might kill it off
In this stimulating and sombre article for the Daily Telegraph, controversial commentator A.N.Wilson says that the 'vibrant' services favoured by the former Archbishop will not bring back the crowds
I go to a well-attended church in London, but I have made frequent .travels throughout England in the past year (literary festivals, television work, visiting friends). On Sunday mornings, I have gone to church. When staying with friends near Canterbury, I have enjoyed splendid liturgy, intelligent sermons and often part of a huge congregation. So what do I make of Lord Carey, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, saying that the Church is "only one generation from extinction, its clergy gripped by a feeling of defeat" and its congregations rn down with "heaviness"? Is he suffering from peevish-old-man syndrome?
Alas, Lord Carey is right. Come away n Canterbury with me into the parishes I have visited - in the West intry, in East Anglia, in the Midlands and the North. I have attended at least 10 churches in the past year - all very different in their history, but in each case I have had the same experience. At the age of 63, I have been the youngest person present by 20 years. The congregation has seldom numbered double figures. The C of E is a moribund institution kept going by and for old people. They are ministered to (perhaps I was just unlucky) by an ill-educated clergy with nil public-speaking ability.
Lord Carey, as an evangelical, thinks that the cure for all this is to reach out to young people with such initiatives as the Alpha Course (a basic grounding in the faith, which began at Holy Trinity Brompton). He wants the sort of services that such Christians consider "vibrant".
Evangelicals like him have had some success, mainly in suburban parishes, where congregations can be numbered in their hundreds. But these places, which appear to buck the trend, are in catchment areas of tens of thousands of people, none of whom would go near such an evangelical Church, with its outreach, Toddlers' Praise and speaking in tongues.
There are two simple reasons for this, and there is nothing anyone can say that will make these reasons go away.
The first is sex. Traditional Christianity taught that there is no permitted sexual act outside marriage. All but no one now - even Christians - really believes this. What used to be called "living in sin" is absolutely normal. Nearly all young people, gay or straight, when they reach a certain moment in their relationship, try living together. The Churches can either back down and say that for 2,000 years they have been talking nonsense about sex; or they can dig in their heels. Either way, the Church is diminished.
The second reason is a much bigger thing. That is the decline of belief itself. Most people simply cannot subscribe to the traditional creeds. No number of Alpha courses can make people believe that God took human form of a Virgin, or rose from the dead. They simply can't swallow it. They see no reason, therefore, to listen to a Church that propounds these stories and then presumes to tell them how to behave in the bedroom.
When there was a tradition of church-going, there was more room for unbelief. When a young priest told Archbishop Michael Ramsey that he had lost his faith in God, Ramsey replied, after a long pause: "It doesn't matter - it doesn't matter." You can't imagine Lord Carey saying that.
Unbelief, and the change in sexual mores, affects not only the decline in Anglican congregations, but the entire history of the Western Church. The "Francis effect" is said to be drawing back mass attendance in Italy. But the Pope's focus groups, asking what the faithful believe, will yield similar results as they would in the Church of England - people don't think it is sinful to live together, they don't think it is sinful to be gay, and they no longer really believe in the Incarnation.
This is dire news for institutional Christianity. Yes, pockets of prayer still exist - of course they do, in the surviving religious orders in both Churches, in individuals and in parishes. Some people like me will always feel their hearts restless until they rest in God. And we feast on the riches that the Church provides. Go to church and you are not alone. Stretching back into Platonic and Jewish pre-Christian times, the wise of old are there to speak to you, through liturgy, Scripture, architecture and music.
But such habits of Common Prayer (as we still call it, some of us) are a knack, like the enjoyment of classical music (which is also, we are told, something that is catastrophically on the wane in Britain). Lose the knack and it is very difficult to reclaim it.
Most decent, intelligent, middle-aged or young people I know have no sense at all of what churches are for. The trouble is, so many of those who run the institutions share this deficiency. Those of us whose minds are filled (whatever we believe) with the words and patterns of the old liturgy feel like the old man in Nineteen Eighty-Four, O'Brien, who is one of the last left alive who can remember the words of Oranges and Lemons.
Maybe, in "reviving" a Church along Lord Carey's lines, we would actually finish it off altogether. Maybe for Churches, as for people, there really are fates worse than death.
O'Brien asked Winston (the hero of Nineteen Eighty-Four) to propose a toast - perhaps to drink to the future. Winston instead proposes "To the past!". 'The past is more important,' agreed O'Brien gravely." I'd drink to that.
Defender of the Faith
Christianity is beginning to disappear in its own birthplace due to a wave of "organised persecution" across the Middle East, the Prince of Wales warned last night.
In an impassioned intervention, he said that the world is in danger of losing something "irreplaceably precious", with communities mat trace their history back to Jesus's time under threat from fundamentalist Islamist militants.
He said he had become "deeply troubled" by the plight of his "brothers and sisters in Christ". The Prince, a longstanding advocate of dialogue between religions, voiced dismay at seeing his work to "build bridges and dispel ignorance" being "deliberately destroyed" by those attempting to exploit the Arab Spring for their own ends.
He devoted a Christmas reception at Clarence House for religious leaders to draw attention to the threat to Christians in recent months across Egypt, Syria, Iraq and other parts of the region. In his address, the Prince urged Christians, Muslims and Jews to unite in "outrage" as he warned that the elimination of Christianity in much of the Middle East would be a "major blow to peace".
"I have for some time now been deeply troubled by the growing difficulties faced by Christian communities in various parts of the Middle East," he said. "It seems to me that we cannot ignore the fact that Christians in the Middle East are increasingly being deliberately targeted by fundamentalist Islamist militants." Earlier in the day he heard vivid testimony from Christians who have fled to Britain, as he visited the London cathedral of the Syriac Orthodox Church and the Coptic Orthodox Church centre in Stevenage, Herts.
The Prince said: "Christianity was literally born in the Middle East and we must not forget our Middle Eastern brothers and sisters in Christ. "Yet today the Middle East and North Africa has the lowest concentration of Christians in the world, just four per cent of the population, and it is clear that the Christian population has dropped dramatically over the last century and is falling still further. We all lose something immensely and irreplaceably precious when such a rich tradition dating back 2,000 years begins to disappear."
He added: "For 20 years I have tried to build bridges between Islam and Christianity and to dispel ignorance and misunderstanding ... we have now reached a crisis where the bridges are rapidly being deliberately destroyed by those with a vested interest in doing so. This is achieved through intimidation, false accusation and organised persecution including upon Christian communities in the Middle East at the present time."
John Bingham Religious Affairs Editor, The Daily Telegraph, December 2013
Pruning the Prelates?
The Church may cut bishop numbers as congregations continue to fall
The Church of England is considering "radical" plans to cut the number of bishops as it faces up to a collapse in congregations. Members of the ruling General Synod were told that dioceses could be merged and the role of bishops reassessed to cope with a drop in donations as ageing congregations dwindle.
Lord Carey, a former archbishop of Canterbury, has warned that the Church could be a "generation away from extinction". The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, also urged the Church to begin a missionary campaign, comparing its current arguments to "rearranging furniture when the house is on fire".
Despite strong growth in some parts of the Church, especially evangelical congregations, average Sunday attendances have almost halved in the past 40 years to 807,000. The Census in 2011 showed that the proportion of the population of England and Wales describing themselves as Christian had dropped from 72 per cent to 59 per cent in a decade.
In a written question tabled to the Synod, the Rev Dr Patrick Richmond, from Norwich, asked what the Church was doing to address the "impending human and financial resource challenges". In a formal reply, Prof Michael Clarke, chairman of the Church's Dioceses Commission, pointed to a scheme to merge three• dioceses in West Yorkshire. The dioceses of Bradford, Wakefield and Ripon and Leeds are to be replaced with a "super-diocese" under a single bishop, in the first move of its type in modern times. The Rt Rev Stephen Platten, the final Bishop of Wakefield, is to return to parish ministry in London. His counterpart in Ripon, the Rt Rev John Packer, is to retire.
The Church has 112 bishops, with 43 in charge of dioceses in England, a figure soon to be reduced to 41. Prof Clarke said that more cuts could be on the way.
John Binqham Religious Affairs Editor, The Daily Telegraph, November 2013
Faith is back at the heart of government, says Baroness Warsi
Faith is being put back at the "heart of government," as it was under Sir Winston Churchill and Baroness Thatcher, a minister will say today. The Coalition is one of the "most pro-faith governments in the West," Baroness Warsi, the Minister for Faith, will say. "More often than not, people who do God do good."
Churchill and Thatcher would have welcomed the Coalition's promise to protect the right of town halls to hold prayers and the creation of more faith schools under Michael Cove's Free Schools programme, she will say.
Public policy was "secularised" under the previous, Labour government, Lady Warsi will tell an audience at the Churchill Archives at the University of Cambridge. But Churchill saw totalitarian regimes as "godless" while Thatcher regarded politics as second to Christianity in denning society, she will say. "We see flickers of Churchill's flame and echoes of Thatcher's sermons in all we do," she will say. "But this was never inevitable. When we came back into power in 2010,1 felt that some of the reverence for religion had disappeared from politics. I found that the last government didn't just refuse to 'do God' - they didn't get God either."
The Coalition ruled out a ban on the full-face veil out of respect for religious liberty, she will say, also citing the welcome it gave to a ruling which saw Nadia Eweida win the right to wear a small crucifix at work for British Airways.
Lady Warsi, a former chairman of the Conservative Party, will say that religious groups must be allowed to provide public services without the state being "suspicious of their motives". "I know that Mrs Thatcher would have approved of devolving power to faith communities," Baroness Warsi will say. "As she once said: 'I wonder whether the State services would have done as much for the man who fell among thieves as the Good Samaritan did for him?'"
Of Churchill she will say: "He took the bigots to task, berating one anti-Semitic politician and telling him his views did not represent the Conservative Party, arguing that it was quite possible to be a good Englishman and a good Jew. "And that has inspired me again and again to say that it is entirely possible to be British and Muslim."
David Cameron is a Church of England worshipper but has said his faith "comes and goes". Tony Blair, the former Labour prime minister, was urged to keep his faith private by his aides. Alastair Campbell famously said: "We don't do God."
Matthew Holehouse, Political Correspondent
Daily Telegraph, November 12th, 2013
The Dawkins Delusion?
Interesting man, Richard Dawkins. In interviews for his new book, An Appetite for Wonder, he has been talking about the cultural value of Anglicanism. At Oundle School he led a schoolboy insurgency against kneeling in chapel, which was followed by an interview with the headmaster. 'It was a revelation,' he told the Spectator's Douglas Carswell, 'to talk to a decent, humane, intelligent Christian, embodying Anglicanism at its tolerant best.'
Indeed, he says, 'I'm kind of grateful to the Anglican tradition for its benign tolerance. I sort of suspect that many who profess Anglicanism probably don't believe any of it at all in any case but vaguely enjoy it, as I do... I suppose I'm a cultural Anglican and I see evensong in a country church through much the same eyes as I see a village cricket match on the village green. I have a certain love for it.' He would, he says, miss churches if they didn't exist. 'I would feel an aesthetic loss.' And he thinks knowledge of the Bible is important for the culture.
Yet Richard Dawkins has done as much as anyone to make the Bible seem not just redundant, but malign. He himself draws a clear distinction between Anglicanism and militant Islam, but in his best-known book,'The God Delusion', it was religion per se that was the object of his enmity.
He can take satisfaction in having won the culture war, at least in England. When he observed, in another interview, that 'I think we are winning. We are all moving in the same direction. I get the feeling more and more that religion is being left behind,' I think he is right. At a dinner party, he says, 'you do not have to be reticent in what you say. You do not have to look around and say "I hope I am not offending anyone."' Well yes, that's pretty much my experience too.
Yet I would take issue with the Prof in his contention that his victory will have no moral results, that society will be no less kindly as it becomes less Christian. Asked whether the moral underpinning of British society is not profoundly Christian, Prof Dawkins responds: 'I don't buy that. I live in a post-Christian world in Oxford... and there is absolutely no tendency for rioting and mayhem and it is extremely civilised.'
Yes, but. The Oxford in which he lives is profoundly influenced by Christianity, in a thousand subtle ways, from the physical presence of churches, to college grace, to the age of so many academics, formed, like the Prof, in an environment in which knowledge of the gospels could be taken as a given. A cultural revolution takes a couple of generations to come about. Most middle-aged atheists and agnostics will, like him, have experienced a world that could take for granted that everyone would be shaped by the Christian morality of the Prodigal Son, the widow's mite, turning the other cheek. The precepts of Christianity were shared by all, not just churchgoers.
Once that ceases to be the case, as is happening already, we shall see whether our culture will indeed be more kindly; I am sure it is already less honest. I am afraid when that moral framework goes, the consequences will be grimmer than he imagines.
Catholics may let CofE share communion
By John Bingham
The ban on Anglicans receiving Roman Catholic Holy Communion could be relaxed as part of moves to bring the two Churches together after centuries of division, one of Britain's most senior Catholic clerics has suggested. . The Most Rev Bernard Longley, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Birmingham, signalled that restrictions might be "reconsidered" as a result of "deeper sharing" between the two Churches.
Although he insisted he was expressing a "personal view", the Archbishop's comments will be closely watched as he is the senior Catholic cleric responsible for dialogue with the Anglicans. His remarks were warmly welcomed by leading figures in the Church of England.
For centuries, the issue of communion was a source of some of the deepest and most bitter division between Protestants and Catholics.
In the 16th and 17th centuries Christians from both traditions were killed, in part because of disagreements over transubstantiation - whether the bread and wine in communion was really transformed into the body and blood of Christ or was simply a symbol.
Archbishop Longley is the Catholic co-chairman of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission. In an interview with the Church of Ireland Gazette, he said that although the two Churches now work closely on ecumenical matters it was a source of "pain" that they still could not share communion.
But he pointed to a Vatican document from 1993 as well as a paper produced by bishops in the British Isles which allow non-Roman Catholics to receive sacraments in very special circumstances, including if they are in danger of death.
"I could imagine and foresee one of the fruits of our ecumenical engagement as moving towards a deeper understanding of communion and a deeper sharing between our churches," he added.
The Rt Rev Christopher Hill, the Anglican Bishop of Guildford, welcomed Archbishop Longley's comments and said that the influence of Pope Francis could mean that the time is ripe for change.
Sunday Telegraph, October 13th, 2013
No place for Jesus in R.E., but there's always Gandhi
Aged eight, my daughter knew that she must . take her shoes off when entering a mosque. But ask her to recite the Ten Commandments, and she couldn't. This, despite being at a Catholic state primary. I wasn't too surprised, therefore, to learn that religious education in state schools is inadequate - so much so that Ofsted claims most pupils don't know who Jesus was.
This is not a metropolitan, or even a British, phenomenon. One irate mother tweeted last night that in her child's primary school in Ireland, RE consisted of watching videos of Gandhi. (In his Ben Kingsley reincarnation, I am willing to bet.) I have nothing against the Mahatma, who probably does come as close to holiness as human beings can get. But if Gandhi deserves a role in RE, Jesus should star. This is a Christian country, not a Hindu one.
Yet Jesus is being sidelined, and His teachings with Him. If we treat the nation's religion so casually, as if we valued it no more and no less than an inspiring human rights campaigner, it stands to reason that we should erase it from serious places such as the courtroom. It becomes perfectly legitimate for magistrates to propose to remove the Bible from the court - which is what they plan to do next month. Henceforth, they suggest, when witnesses have to swear to tell the truth, they'll just hold up their hand and... and what? Cross their hearts and hope to die? Mouth the Scouts' pledge, now that God's been banned from that, too?
Christianity was once the lingua franca in the West. Today, it is as exotic as Shiva, Ganesha and Kali, of Gandhi's Hindu faith. Sadly, ignorance often feeds hostility. Grown-ups unschooled in the basics of their religion - the catechism, say, or the parables of the New Testament - are suspicious of its influence. Their
discomfort grows with talk, now unfamiliar, of sin and Judgment Day. Jesus may be hailed as meek and mild, but his message sounds scary to an audience used to the comforting tut-tuts of their shrink, or the happy pill sold by their GP. Far easier to quash such disturbing talk and banish the trouble-makers. Or, at least, warn them not to pipe up in public with their puritanical notions.
I wrote about this recently in my ebook No God Zone. In the course of my research, I interviewed men and women who had learnt that religion had become a secret pastime to practise behind closed doors. Each one had to choose between their work and their faith - or between the boss and God. They included a nurse, a couples' counsellor and a pharmacist.
They had hoped that the state, which pays lip service to freedom of conscience, would exempt them from doing what they held to be wrong. The pharmacist who didn't believe in abortion, for instance, wanted to be exempt from selling the morning-after pill; the couples' counsellor who didn't believe in gay marriage wanted to be exempt from advising a homosexual couple. They were disabused of this blind hope when they were sacked, suspended from their job, or humiliated in public. In effect, a number of professions now are closed to believers.
But, as the magistrates' proposal proves, ignorance of religion affects lives beyond the workplace. People's identity, not just their job, is at stake. Who are we, and what do we believe in? When Christianity was at the centre of British life, that answer was clear - from classroom to courtroom. Not everyone practised, or believed, in the nation's Church. But they knew what it stood for. Today, few can distinguish between Jesus and Gandhi, or Shiva and Yahweh. That's not multiculturalism, but the hollowing out of culture. We are the poorer for it.
October 9th, 2013
Welby: World Christians are being martyred for their faith
Christians are being martyred for their faith in parts of the Muslim world, but should still pray for terrorists, the Archbishop of Canterbury said yesterday.
The Most Rev Justin Welby said that there had been more than 80 Christian "martyrs" in the past few days alone. He was speaking about the bombing of All Saints' Anglican church in Peshawar, Pakistan, in which 85 were killed and more than 200 injured.
Christian communities which have existed "in many cases since the days of Saint Paul" are now under threat in countries such as Syria and Egypt Last month, around 100 Christian sites were attacked amid turmoil with 42 churches burnt to the ground. Ancient Christian communities in Syria have also been singled out for violence.
Speaking during an interview Radio 4, Archbishop Welby, who leads almost 80 million Anglicans around the world, said it was the duty of Christians to pray for their killers. He said that religious conflicts were bound up with other social and historical grievances, but that this could not explain several recent attacks on Christians.
"I think Christians have been attacked in some cases simply because of their faith," he said. "I think it is true to say — and also in Peshawar — that we have seen more than 80 martyrs in the last few days. They have been attacked because they were testifying to their faith in Jesus Christ by going to church. That is outside any acceptable expression... of religious difference."
He said the Church had raised it concerns with William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, and called on other governments to act to protect Christians. He added: "As Christians, one of the things is that we pray for justice and particularly the issues around the anger that comes from this kind of killing. But we are also called, as Jesus did at the Cross, to pray for those who are doing us harm."
John Bingham, Religious Affairs Correspondent, Daily Telegraph
Faith Schools 'Too Middle Class'
Middle-class parents are increasingly monopolising places at the most sought-after faith schools amid fresh claims that religious secondaries are becoming more socially selective.
New research shows that religious schools are far less likely to reflect the economic status of families in the local area than traditional comprehensives.
Around a fifth of secondary schools in England have a particular religious affiliation. But a study found that more than two thirds of the most socially exclusive schools are faith-based. One Church of England school, St Mary Redcliffe and Temple in Bristol, takes just under 8 per cent of pupils from poor families even though more than half of children in the area are in deprived households.
The Fair Admissions Campaign, which wants to end religious selection, claimed that many faith schools have overly complicated admissions policies that favour middle-class families who can play the system to secure places. Researchers analysed the number of children eligible for free school meals in all non-academically selective state secondaries in England. They compared these with the number of poor pupils in the area using data from the Office for National Statistics.
Some 19 per cent of comprehensives are faith-based, the study said, but 68 of the 100 "worst offenders" are religiously selective.
Faith school admissions policies have been repeatedly defended by religious leaders, who claim they ensure schools give priority to the children of true believers. Earlier this week, the Most Rev Vincent Nichols, the Archbishop of Westminster, insisted that parental preference for a faith-based education was a "precious" human right.
But Rabbi Dr Jonathan Remain, head of the Accord group, which is a part of the Fair Admissions Campaign, said: "It is astonishing that faith schools, whose remit should be to look after the needy and vulnerable, seem to be ignoring them."
Graeme Paton, Education Editor, Daily Telegraph
September 21st, 2013
See also Terry Wogan's comment below
The question of which political party God would join is unlikely to have crossed the minds of many notable theologians. But that is precisely what is being asked by Westminster MPs after a minister declared that God is a Lib Dem.
Steve Webb, the pensions minister, said that evidence in the Christian gospels suggested that God shared the values of members of Nick Clegg's party. He made the claim, which he admitted "will shock or offend some" in the introduction to a new book entitled Liberal Democrats Do God. "The most fundamental reason why Christians should feel at home in the Liberal Democrats is that the character of God, as revealed in the Christian Gospel, would suggest that God must be a liberal," Mr Webb wrote. The MP for Thornbury and Yate in Gloucestershire added: "This assertion will shock or offend some, but I believe that there is no other conclusion that can be drawn from a reading of the New Testament."
However, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Conservative MP for nearby North East Somerset, said that "everyone knows that God is a Somerset Conservative". "I think it's highly unlikely that God is particularly interested in the minutiae of party politics but if He were, everyone knows that God is a Somerset Conservative," Mr Mogg said. "Joseph of Arimathea is well known to have brought Christ to visit Glastonbury when Christ was a schoolboy - that would indicate a Somerset connection, and all sensible people in Somerset are Conservatives, so we get Him as a Somerset Tory."
Despite disagreeing with Mr Webb's views, Mr Rees-Mogg said that he was impressed that the minister was "willing to speak up for his faith". "I think he's a first class minister, and I think that in his role, you would want to think that what you were doing was the Christian thing to be doing," Mr Rees-Mogg said. "So I rather admire Steve Webb for saying it, but I'm not going to let him get away with the idea that God lives in Gloucestershire and is a Lib Dem."
The book is a collection of essays by Lib Dems who aim to show Christianity can contribute positively to politics. Its title is a riposte to Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair's former spin doctor, who once said of the last Labour government: "We don't do God." Tim Farron, the Lib Dem president, wrote in his contribution: "Liberal Democrats stand alone as the defender of the rights of all human beings."
The one and only Mr W. adds his comment on the heavenly politics debate in his weekly column
According to Steve Webb, the Lib Dem Pensions Minister, although his party may be flagging in the popularity stakes with the public, it none the less as the unswerving support of Almighty God.
Nothing new there; since man first crawled from the primeval ooze, both sides in every dispute, political or military, have claimed that God is on their side. The belief is everywhere. The Liverpool striker, Louis Suarez, looks to leaven and blesses himself in thanks to the Man Above every time he scores. The golfer Bernhard Langer gave thanks to 'his God" for helping him win the Masters. Leaving the rest of the field wondering why the Almighty had singled out Bernhard for the trophy while allowing the rest of them to flounder in rough and bunker.
Even if Langer and Suarez say their prayers every morning, and are rigorous in the pursuit of their religious duties, it seems hardly fair for God to single them out for special treatment. Surely they must wait for Heaven to claim their eternal reward?
Mr Webb - who, I would remind you, is in charge of our future in the crucial area of pensions - has more to say in the manner of the Prophets: "The most fundamental reason why Christians should feel at home in the Liberal Democrats is that the character of God, as revealed in the Gospel, would suggest that He must be a liberal. There is no other conclusion that can be drawn from the New Testament."
Well, "stone me!", as Tony Hancock used to say, but I always believed, in common with everybody else brought up in the Christian faith, that the God of the New Testament was one and the same as the God of the Old Testament And the latter was as far removed from Liberal principles of personal freedom and self-determination as you can get. He operated more along the lines of a dictator, and not a benign one either. You toed that line, or you got fire and brimstone on the back of your neck, or a plague of locusts. He didn't seem big on self-expression. You only had to turn around against his wishes and you were a pillar of salt.
Nowadays, according to Mr Webb, God takes a kindlier, liberal view: He probably is in two minds over tracking, and will listen to both sides of the debate on wind turbines and climate change. Although, as with Suarez, Langer and the Lib Dems, He will probably listen more closely to Sir David Attenborough on climate change.
Last week, I finished on a line from A Little Night Music: "Send in the clowns." The next line is: "Don't bother, they're here."
Oh, and Nick Clegg says he's an atheist.
Archbishop warns Anglicans worldwide that divisions are taking them close to plunging into a 'ravine of intolerance'
THE Archbishop of Canterbury has warned that the Anglican church is tottering on the brink of disintegration amid disputes between liberals and traditionalists. In his most stark comments yet about divisions over issues such as homosexuality, the Most Rev Justin Welby said the Church was coming perilously .close to plunging into a "ravine of intolerance". He even drew parallels between the crisis afflicting the 77million-strong worldwide network of Anglican churches and the atmosphere during the Civil War. And he likened the collective behaviour of the Church to a "drunk man" staggering ever closer to the edge of a cliff. Yet he added that many of the issues over which different factions in the Church were fighting were "incomprehensible" to people outside it.
He spoke out during a sermon in Monterrey, Mexico, which he was visiting as part of a plan to travel to every province of the Anglican Communion at the start of his ministry. The Archbishop, who took office in February, inherited a Church deeply divided at home and abroad. At home, he has been attempting to resolve the seemingly intractable disagreements within the Church of England over women bishops. But the worldwide Anglican Church has also been split between liberal provinces, particularly in North America, and more conservative regions for several years after the US Church consecrated its first openly homosexual bishop.
Archbishop Welby said the Church had to steer a course between, on one hand, compromising so much that it abandoned its "core beliefs" and, on the other, becoming so intolerant that it fractured completely. Addressing a service in Monterrey, he spoke about the life of Jeremy Taylor, a cleric imprisoned after the Civil War. "I sometimes worry that as Anglicans we are drifting back in that direction," he said. "Not consciously, of course, but in an unconscious way that is more dangerous. Like a drunk man walking near the edge of a cliff, we trip and totter and slip and wander, ever nearer to the edge of the precipice.
"It is a dangerous place, a narrow path we walk as Anglicans at present. "On one side is the steep fall into an absence of any core beliefs, a chasm where we lose touch with God, and thus we rely only on ourselves and our own message. On the other side there is a vast fall into a ravine of intolerance and cruel exclusion. It is for those who claim all truth, and exclude any who question."
He went on: "When we fall into this place, we lose touch with human beings and create a small church, or rather many small churches - divided, ineffective in serving the poor, the hungry and the suffering, incapable of living with each other, and incomprehensible to those outside the church.
"We struggle with each other at a time when the Anglican Communion's great vocation as bridge builder is more needed than ever."
By John Bingham, Social Affairs Editor, Daily Telegraph
Threat to church hall meetings for Girl Guides who refuse oath to God
By Victoria Ward, Daily Telegraph
Girl Guide groups who do not pledge allegiance to God should be turfed out of the church halls they meet in, Christian leaders and groups have warned.
It would be "hypocritical" of the 103-year-old movement to expect to use church premises after abandoning its beliefs, Rev Paul Williamson of St George's Church in Feltham, Middlesex, said. "If the Guide promise does not mention God, I cannot see why they should be on Church premises," he added. "The Girl Guide Association does not realise what it's done. It has not thought through the consequences and has made itself look ridiculous."
The organisation has been plunged into an atheist row after announcing that it is to scrap the traditional oath, replacing references to "God" and "country" with a pledge to "be true to myself and serve the "community".
A group in Harrogate became the first to defy the movement — risking expulsion — by promising that it would be "sticking with the previous promise". Rev Brian Hunt, minister of the church where Harrogate Guides have met for around 50 years, supported their stance, indicating that the unit could not possibly expect to use the facilities otherwise. "My church allows the Guides to use my premises for free," he said. "And we do that because they've always tried to look after the whole person - body, mind and soul - and we encourage that. I don't think, in fairness, that Girl Guides can expect churches to provide premises for free when they don't believe in God."
Hundreds of Girl Guide groups meet in church halls or premises, which they are often allowed to use for free or for a token amount. Rev Williamson, a former Scout leader, said most Guide groups did not have the funds to run their own buildings and that schools or councils would charge far more to hire their facilities. "It seems to me the Girl Guides are being doctrinaire, feminist and anti-Church," he said. "How can they expect, as a reputable charity organisation, to go on using church premises whilst telling young girls that they cannot promise their duty to God?"
A Christian Concern spokesman said removing any reference to God from the oath was a "slap in the face" to churches that provide premises as well as the movement's many Christian members and leaders. "It's understandable that some church leaders won't be happy providing premises if the Guides are so insistent on keeping God out of the movement. It puts the movement at odds with Christian belief as well as its original Christian ethos."
A Girlguiding UK spokesman insisted that the decision to change the oath was based on research to "unify all girls of all backgrounds and all circumstances". She said: "Updating the promise does not alter our continuing commitment to offer all girls a safe space where they can explore and develop their beliefs. "We remain hugely appreciative of all the support churches give to guiding and hope they will continue to do so. If they do not feel able to we will work with local volunteers to ensure a suitable alternative venue is found."
Stephen Evans of the National Secular Society said: "There is something deeply unpleasant and unchristian about the threat to deny Girl Guides access to church buildings, particularly when the new promise is as inclusive of Christians as it is of those of other faiths or none".
August 26th, 2013
A really excellent book has come into paperback - Christianophobia, by Rupert Shortt (Rider, £9.99), an account of attacks on Christians qua Christians around the world. He estimates that 200 million people are persecuted and discriminated against, which makes it easily the most targeted religion. Yet, as he says, the mystery is why the situation is not a source of anger and indignation in liberal countries such as Britain, which rightly takes other forms of discrimination, against women, say, very seriously. We're not talking here about the soft stuff - people not being allowed to wear crosses at work. We're talking hardcore persecution.
The author takes a dozen and a half countries as object lessons, from Egypt to Indonesia. And while he acknowledges freely the problematic record of Christians themselves in relation to each other as well as to other faiths, and notes the grim record of Hindu fundamentalists in India when it comes to Christians, the inexorable conclusion is that this is a problem to do with Islam, and certainly with particular strands of Islamic fundamentalism.I made for the chapter on Egypt because I've just been there. What emerges is that discrimination against Christians is not a new problem, a consequence of a brief period of Muslim Brotherhood government, but a continuing succession of attacks on Christians, on top of systematic discrimination over decades. Discrimination is centuries old, but the rise since the 19703 of Salafism, the Wahabbi fundamentalism of Saudi Arabia, has made a bad situation worse.
There were until recently about ten million Copts, an ancient strand of Christianity, living in Egypt. Yet like all the other Christian communities in the Middle East, believers are blamed for the sins of their co-religionists in the West - anything from the invasion of Iraq to the Danish cartoons. They are better educated than most; they have the means to go abroad, and they do, in hundreds of thousands, to the US, Brazil or Australia.
There are good reasons to leave. To take recent examples, there was the bombing of worshippers at a church in Alexandria in the New Year 2010, killing 21 people, following an earlier attack that killed nine Christians at a church near Luxor. More recently, after the uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood, three people were gunned down outside the Coptic cathedral in Assiut.
Wha's striking is both the triviality of the pretexts on which the attacks are made - alleged insults to Islam, alleged apostasy or an extension to a church, and the reluctance of the police or judiciary to react. The situation of Muslim converts to Christianity is grim. In one 2005 example, a convert, Gaseer Mohamed Mahmoud, was arrested by police and his toenails pulled out. He was taken to a mental hospital where he was beaten and whipped and told he would be incarcerated until he renounced his faith. This isn't lions in the amphitheatre, but it's persecution all the same and it's replicated through many parts of the Muslim-majority world.
The question is why this situation is under-reported. It's hard not to agree with the author's conclusion that the reason for this is a 'bien-pensant blind spot' which identifies religion as a source of conflict, with nothing much to choose between them.
Daily Telegraph, August 25th, 2013
Fretting about Fracking
A sequence of articles and letters on this controversial subject.
1. Fracking risks God's creation, says Church
By James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor, The Daily Telegraph
The Church of England has told parishioners that fracking causes environmental problems and risks harming 'God's glorious creation'.
The warning has been issued to Anglicans in Lancashire, where significant work to extract gas and oil by fracking has been proposed.
The Diocese of Blackburn published a leaflet for members of its flock telling them that, for Christians, fracking presents 'a choice between economic gain and a healthy environment'.
Conservative ministers are stepping up efforts to promote the technology to voters as an economic necessity. Fracking, which involves fracturing rocks deep underground with water and chemicals to extract oil and natural gas, has sharply cut US energy bills and imports. Ministers say it could do the same for Britain, but campaigners and communities are opposing fracking in several counties, warning that it does environmental harm.
The Church leaflet appears to endorse such concerns, saying: 'Fracking causes a range of environmental problems.' It does not explicitly commit the Church to a clear position for or against fracking. But its focus is on the potential for lasting environmental damage and urges believers to consider their Christian duty to act as 'stewards of the Earth'.
It says: 'The time we spend thinking, praying and acting now to protect our drinking water, and the rest of God's glorious creation cannot compare with the time succeeding generations could potentially spend trying to make good what will likely happen if we in the Church remain uninformed and silent.'
A spokesman for the diocese said the leaflet was to inform parishioners about the issues involved in fracking, and not to persuade them to oppose the technology.
August 17th, 2013
2. Fracking fears over Church's land claims
By James Kirkup, Deputy Political Editor
The Church of England has begun legal action to claim ancient mineral rights beneath thousands of homes and farms, prompting fears that it could seek to profit from tracking.
Residents across England have started receiving letters from the Land Registry, informing them that the Church is seeking to register the mineral rights to the earth beneath their properties. Lawyers believe the
Church's claim may allow it to profit from tracking, the method of extracting oil and gas by fracturing underground rocks with water and chemicals.
The Church said it has "no particular plans to mine under any property".
Some church leaders have opposed tracking. The Daily Telegraph revealed this week that the Diocese of Blackburn has warned parishioners in Lancashire that fracking could threaten "God's glorious creation".
The Church Commissioners manage its investments and their financial decisions sometimes clash with the clergy's ethical positions. Last month, it emerged that the commissioners had invested money in the backers of payday lenders that were criticised by the Archbishop of Canterbury.
The commissioners are seeking to assert the Church's ownership of mineral rights beneath up to 500,000 acres of land, an area roughly the size of Sussex. The claim is being made under old laws that give "lords of the manor" rights to exploit the earth under property on their former estates. The Church holds such rights in many parts of England.
Under a new law, landowners have until October to assert their rights over minerals. The commissioners have told the Land Registry they wish to do so.As a result, the registry is sending legal letters to residents informing them of the Church's claim to benefit from any mines and minerals under their land.
Several readers of this newspaper who have received such letters expressed concerns that the Church's claim could be linked to future fracking projects. Dr Richard Lawson, a retired GP who lives in the Mendip Hills in Somerset, said there were proposals for fracking projects elsewhere in the county. He said: "It's an ethical question for the Church, will they use their mineral rights to block fracking or to make money out of it?"
In a statement, the commissioners said: "We would make clear that this is just a registration and protection exercise, to protect existing rights and interests made vulnerable by the change in the law. There are no particular plans to mine under any property."
A spokesman said the registration had "absolutely no link with fracking", but that the legal position on unconventional energy extraction "remains unclear".
August 19th, 2013
3. Letters to the Editor
If fracking puts at risk God's glorious creation (report, August 14), why haven't Anglicans previously questioned mining, oil and gas extraction, deep wells, diverted streams and canals and the use of highly polished jewels in Christian ceremonies? Surely, it couldn't be that the Blackburn diocese is confusing politics with worship.
David Thompson, Ipswich, Suffolk
As a retired Church of England clergyman, I find the Church's pronouncements on fracking deeply embarrassing. There has been not a word of objection to wind farms, which truly wreck the environment, but instead it objects to fracking, which will truly help the poor and leave no trace.
Rev Philip Foster, Hemingford Abbots, Huntingdonshire
How strange that the Church should come out so vigorously against fracking while at the same time the Church Commissioners are bombarding landowners of all sizes, from smallholdings to estates, with notices establishing their rights over all minerals. Does this mean that the Church intends to exercise its mineral rights purely in a preventative fashion, and not in order to realise any material benefit?
Richard Longthorp, Howden, East Yorkshire
August 20th, 2013
We can't cast away our Bible
Daily Telegraph columnist Alan Massie provided this thought-provoking article a few days ago. It speaks for itself.The Daily Telegraph, August 11th, 2013
Suppose you are cast away on a desert island. You might find yourself asking, “why me?” and wondering what you had done to deserve such a fate. Well, ever since the programme began, Desert Island Discs has provided its castaways with two mandatory books, the Bible and The Complete Works of Shakespeare, volumes in which you might find answers to these questions or, if not answers, at least consolation. The best of Muriel Spark’s later novels was entitled The Only Problem. She described it as “a meditation on the Book of Job”, and the problem is: “How can an omnipotent and benevolent Creator permit the unspeakable sufferings of the world?” Job, one has to say, doesn’t come up with a convincing answer, but he asks all the right questions. Moreover the book, recounting his tribulations and the test of his faith which God sets him, has, amid marvellous poetic passages, its lighter, if also puzzling, moments: why is one of his daughters called “Box of Eye-Paint”? You could spend a long time on your island wondering about that.
The National Secular Society, a body not noted for its sense of humour, thinks you would be wasting your time. It has called for the Bible to be dropped from the programme and it appears that this may have been discussed within the BBC. I say “appears” and “may have been” because the BBC has been stonewalling and says there are no plans to ditch the Bible. Still, one can imagine a case being made for doing so. We live, some bright spark might say, in an ever more secular society. Most people don’t go to Church regularly. Practising Christians are now in a minority. Why should non-Christians be lumbered with a Christian and, in the case of the Old Testament, Jewish book?
When Kirsty Young, the presenter of the programme on Radio 4, suggested to Philip Pullman that, as an atheist, he might not be too keen to have the Bible, he replied: “Why not? There are lots of good stories in the Bible.” So indeed there are, especially in the Old Testament, lots of good stories and fascinating characters; and many of the stories and the people provoke teasing moral problems. They are usually true to life, too; even characters clearly regarded as heroes are never perfect. The Bible reminds us that even good men, such as Joseph or King David, may do bad things. St Peter, too, the rock on whom Christ said the Church should be built, has his moment of weakness when he denies Christ. The Bible may, or may not, be the Word of God, but it is a very human book. There is drama and tragedy, the story of Saul, first King of Israel, for example.
This touches only on the fringe of the Bible’s centrality to our culture, though. After all, there are lots of good stories, some with sound morality and others that are very moving, to be found elsewhere – in The Iliad and The Odyssey, in the Arabian Nights and in the fairy tales collected by the Brothers Grimm. So what is so special about the Bible? For practising and believing Christians, the answer is obvious, but even for those who don’t accept it as the word of God, or who don’t even believe that there is a personal God, the Bible may still matter.
First, though not all Christians may accept this, by the Bible I mean the Authorised or King James version, not any modern translation, even if it may be more accurate. God may not be an Englishman, as some in past generations seem to have believed, but one reason to be thankful for having been born into an English-speaking culture is that the English Bible is a great resplendent work of literature, made when our language was at its most fecund and vigorous. “If the salt hath lost its savour, wherewith shall it be salted?”
The public language of 21st-century English has indeed lost much of its savour, and is cluttered with abstractions, but the Bible is “a well of English undefiled”, from which we may yet draw refreshment. George Orwell once took a passage from the Book of Ecclesiastes and translated it into contemporary bureaucratic English to make this point.
Nobody would pretend that all the Bible is of a high literary quality. Some books (Leviticus, Numbers) are tedious in the extreme. St Paul’s Epistles are written in language that is often clotted and obscure, though he does occasionally rise to heights of eloquence as in the Faith, Hope and Charity chapter in Corinthians, read at so many marriage ceremonies, and always movingly — so long as the reader is using the King James version. The content of the Book of Revelation is pretty crazy, though there the language is often sublime. There is indeed much fine poetry in the Bible. Any castaway on a desert island would find delight as well as consolation in the Book of Psalms.
Of course there is much great poetry elsewhere — plenty in the castaways’ other compulsory companion volume, Shakespeare. Indeed, Shakespeare and the King James Bible are so far complementary, so much part of our linguistic heritage, that many quote indiscriminately from either, and may well not know which they are quoting, or be able to distinguish between the two.
For this surely is the point: the Bible is at the heart of our national culture, just as Shakespeare is, perhaps even more so. For centuries it was found in any home where someone could read. The family Bible might be the only book there; often it might sit next to John Bunyan’s allegorical Christian novel, The Pilgrim’s Progress. This makes one thing clear: our historical culture, which has formed the country we have inherited, is a Christian one. Many today may no longer think of themselves as believers. Perhaps a majority of us have abandoned the faith, and yet we have been formed by it. Our ideas of what is right and what is wrong remain essentially Christian, and have been inculcated by the reading of the Bible over generations. We may have come to disregard many of its prohibitions, but whatever is admirable and generous in our morality derives from it, and especially from what Jesus taught, notably in the Sermon on the Mount.
Desert Island Discs is not itself important. It is agreeable easy listening, no more than that. And yet in one way it is significant. It has always been a favourite programme of Middle Britain. If it were to decide that its castaways should no longer be provided with the Bible, this would say something about the BBC’s understanding of the country it exists to serve. It would be tantamount to a rejection of our inherited culture, a rejection of our history, and an acceptance that the National Secular Society is more representative of Britain today than the Churches. Lord Reith, the BBC’s first Director-General who established the ethos of the corporation, would surely be whirling in his grave.
Swearing by Jesus
Bus journeys on Merseyside, already blessedly free for the elderly (!) are occasionally enlivened by a quick scan of The Metro, a daily free sheet distributed through public transport. It is not known for its religious coverage, but this article in its local edition today unsurprisingly got past the editor's secular scanning. The vicar's disingenuous distinction between blasphemy and mere swearing doesn't hide the facts - and it is hard to see how the previous archbishop's substantial eyebrows didn't at least twitch a little. The evangelical fondness for the unexceptionable 'What Would Jesus Do' has something to commend it and to give pause for thought, but it is hard to see how the good folk of Alice Goodman's Cambridgeshire parishes, both inside and outside her churches would approve this crude extension of the slogan. Maybe the Archdeacon (in his role as the Bishop's attack dog) will have something to say. Of course, they say that there is no such thing as bad publicity...
Rapid Subsequent Update... It soon transpires that this heady story is not after all a scoop for the local sheet, but has hit the headlines in the nationals as well. More detailed reports in The Times and The Daily Telegraph repeat the main story but add some entertaining embellishments. Ms Goodman (as they term the vicar: by the look of her dog-collar she is of the evangelical persuasion so wouldn't want to be called Mother!) is American-born, a convert from Judaism, has written an opera libretto which was criticised as being too sympathetic to terrorists and is married to the Professor of Poetry at Oxford University (or Cambridge, if you read the Telegraph account). The complaint about the sticker came anonymously - and Lord Williams of Oystermouth saw the sticker when given a lift in the lady's car. Her bishop, she says, is aware of the sticker and 'has no difficulty with it'. And the Archdeacon, far from acting as his bishop's rottweiler, also apparently sees no problem with the sticker, and advocates a reconciliation meeting between the vicar and the whistle-blower, 'where people can bring their differing views and share their perspectives' (!)
The Times article has one final oddity to report. Repeating Ms Goodman's declaration that 'F*** is not a blasphemy, it's a vulgarity, an Old English word' she later says 'Whoever contacted the paper anonymously about this has only seen the letter F.' This raises the interesting possibility that she meant it to stand for some other, less offensive word... Suggestions on a postcard, please.
The Metro (above), The Times and The Daily Telegraph, August 9th, 2013
Churchwardens and Bell Ringers told they face CRB Checks
By Peter Dominiczak, Political Correspondent
Choir leaders, wardens and bell ringers who refuse to submit to criminal records checks will be turned away from churches, the Archbishop of Canterbury warned last night.
All Church of England volunteers who come into contact with children, including Sunday school teachers and people running parent and toddler groups, now face checks by the Criminal Records Bureau (CRB). Flower arrangers, refreshment stall staff and church sidesmen could also face checks if they have "substantial" contact with children.
The Most Rev Justin Welby warned that the Church was being "utterly ruthless" in its approach to CRB checks despite saying that cases of abuse are now "negligible". In his most outspoken comments on the issue since his appointment earlier this year, the Archbishop said that volunteers refusing checks were being told: "You can't come to church".
A source close to the Archbishop last night said that people who refused the checks would not be banned from services, but would be prevented from volunteering or working for the organisation.
"The whole structure has changed," the Archbishop said in an interview with Total Politics magazine. "I know a safeguarding officer who went into a very traditional church recently ... a number of people who had been members of the church for years and years and years, refusing to fill out the CRB forms.
"And they said, 'Well we're not going to do it, we've been members of this church for 50 or 60 years', and the safeguarding Officer said, 'Fine, don't do it, but you can't come to church'."
The Archbishop made the comments after a series of cases in which volunteers, including flower arrangers complained of "overzealous" CRB checks.
Critics have warned that the strict checks are deterring and demoralising church workers.
The Archbishop said that he understood why an "elderly woman" (not perhaps calculated to appeal to the average members of most congregations? Ed.) who had served her church with "dedication and love" for 40 years would "grumble" about the enforced CRB checks.
"We are being utterly ruthless," he said. "You often understand why people grumble ... But it's changing the culture, and that has effectively largely happened across the Church from about five or six to 10 years ago. We really started turning the screw. And we're tightening up the whole time."
Asked if the Church had come through the worst of the revelations about historical cases of child abuse, the Archbishop said: "No. We're not. We got it wrong," he said. "Loads of other people did, but that's not an excuse. We got it wrong over many years when society had a different view of these things.
"Post-Savile, quite rightly - I'm not complaining about this, quite the reverse, I think it's excellent - the police and social services are going back, often over half a century, and seeing where did they get it wrong. 'Are there survivors of abuse still around who need to have their voices heard?' And so there will be cases, some of which go back for 40,50 years in which people were overlooked and ignored. Utterly inexcusable. So that means quite a bit of stuff will go on coming out."
Daily Telegraph, July 20th, 2013
Church CRB checks
Sir, Justin Welby, the Archbishop of Canterbury, has said that ‘the Church is to be utterly ruthless’ in insisting on Criminal Records Bureau checks for all volunteers.
Can I remind the Archbishop that under the new Freedoms Act of 2012, it is against the law to ask people to undergo a CRB check unless they work intensively, regularly or overnight with children or vulnerable adults? CRB checks are only as good as the day they are done and do not strop or detect the perpetrators of abuse.
There is a danger that organisations may feel a false sense of security by insisting on these checks. In reality the best defence remains constant awareness and vigilance.
Daily Telegraph letters page, July 22nd, 2013