Sunday, 25 March 2018

A response to the Archbishops

Surviving Church has published this: Survivor’s Reply to Archbishops’ pastoral letter.

The author is Janet Fife.

Please read the whole letter.

Posted by Simon Sarmiento on Sunday, 25 March 2018 at 1:19pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: Church of England

Well done Janet.

And I think you are right on the John and Justin bit. Time to dispense with everything other than the name in which we are baptised - isn't that what is most precious to us? Time to emphasise the equality in Christ rather than the hierarchy.

I hope you get a reply to this. I really do. Please publish it if you do.

Posted by: Kate on Sunday, 25 March 2018 at 2:11pm BST

Janet Fife's letter is courageous, candid and perspicacious. Thanks so much.

Posted by: Rod Gillis on Sunday, 25 March 2018 at 5:04pm BST

Excellent letter.

I may have given Sentamu the benefit of the doubt on other matters (pending investigations), but there's no doubt that he put his name to this tin-eared bundle of vacuous platitudes. Survivors need and deserve so much more.

I'm almost certain that both archbishops are hog-tied by the most blood-curdling legal advice, but that's no excuse for high-handed boilerplate like this. Even within its bounds, they can and must do better.

Posted by: James Byron on Sunday, 25 March 2018 at 5:38pm BST

"I'm almost certain that both archbishops are hog-tied by the most blood-curdling legal advice,"

If they are modifying their pastoral response in any way at all to survivors to keep lawyers or insurers happy, that would be dreadful. We are a church of God, the Spirit and Jesus. For all of us, no matter how senior, our absolute loyalty is to the Trinity, no matter what it might cost.

Posted by: Kate on Monday, 26 March 2018 at 12:30pm BST

Gotta say, that was a stonking letter.

Posted by: Tim Chesterton on Monday, 26 March 2018 at 5:39pm BST

Appallingly misjudged letter from the Archbishops. A very good letter from Janet – thank you. But I struggle with the mocking tilt at hierarchy and titles. I think they were right to sign themselves as they did. It was a formal letter. They are their titles. We are a hierarchical church and I do not think that is wrong. Formality can be abused though of course. But so can informality. So I think this touches on a wider issue. On the one hand we are lambasting bishops for not properly exercising the (hierarchical) leadership role the national church has appointed them too. On the other hand we mock them for doing hierarchy. If there are bishops who need holding to account for they way they discharge their holy responsibilities - and there are - the Christians they lead, that’s us, may need reminding of the NT call honour those put in authority over us. The NT does hierarchy too.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 at 8:12am BST

1 Corinthians 16;21

"I, Paul, write this greeting in my own hand"

I wonder what Scriptural basis the archbishops see for their use of titles and/or post-nominals when an Apostle is modest enough to forego them? I think Janet was very restrained. She managed to avoid using words like "conceit" and "vanity". As Janet said, mention of their offices was entirely sufficient. After that, nothing more than Justin and John should be used.

Nor is there a contradiction in calling them John and Justin but saying that they have a responsibility to act. That responsibility comes with their offices, not from any title. Just as a minister is unable to officiate without a PTO, despite being ordained.

Posted by: Kate on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 at 2:23pm BST

Kate Firstly I made clear I thought Janet's letter was very good. Unlike you I also think it was unrestrained in its direct address to the archbishops actually.
But you have missed my point about the NT teaching the church to honour its leaders and make no response to the texts I am referring to. I might also observe that in all but three of the epistles written in Paul's name he begins by calling himself 'an Apostle'. I note that in one of the others he calls himself 'a prisoner' - which might well be closer to how some church leaders are feeling at the moment.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 at 6:45pm BST

I find the titles thing fascinating. In terms of the formularies, I found "Reverend Father in God" in the Ordinal, but I don't find specific honorifics for Archbishops, though I may have missed something. So the honorifics are something else - and some titles and modes of address are linked closely and historically to the class/honours system, and it is arguable that most of the rest were born in a culture of deference.

In his evidence, Justin Welby referred to the discourse of the House of Bishops being changed when people were addressed by name rather than by the name of their See. There is a pointer here to a marker of culture - how to address people with proper respect, without embedding undue deference, is actually quite a tricky thing in a changing culture (the unstable cultural context can mean that there is no universally acceptable means of address). But the need is for this addressing with respect to include survivors, victims and complainants, and to have proper modes of address which respect their dignity too.

David Runcorn makes an interesting point about Paul's self-designation as Apostle - we don't easily read the culture of the early church, but I would suggest that these texts can be read not as Paul seeking dignity for himself, but rather insisting on a hearing for his message (which was sometimes a hard message for people to hear - and as with all such generalisations it is bound to be imperfect). He is using every means at his disposal to get a hearing for the Gospel. When Paul is contending with opponents in 1 Corinthians he uses Paul, Apollos, Cephas, which puts them all on the same level. One way of reading Janet's letter is that she claims her equality in Christ in a similar mode. But even though that mode is present in scripture, it feels rather foreign, and it is not the way that we seem to have learned to read in our culture. Another marker for me that the culture needs to change.

Theologically, our common identity is found in baptism. I made an instinctive decision when I was first ordained that when I went into schools and was asked what I should be called, I would say "Mark" - I have status as an adult, and also as a priest, and these things can be significant - but they seem to me to be less significant theologically, and need to be less in the foreground. Of course young children need points of reference for difference as well as for our common humanity and identity as bearers of God's image - and being an adult who works in the church and whose role has a particular name, does that. But I want the children I meet to have at least some sense that that isn't the most important thing about me.

So I'm all for a debate on titles informed by the sources which should be shaping our culture - that just may be one of the ways in to making a real difference to our relationships. As Archbishop Justin said in evidence (was a wrong to use a title, or is this just a convenient way of making sure we know which Justin it is), apparently trivial changes can make more difference than we imagine.

Posted by: Mark Bennet on Tuesday, 27 March 2018 at 11:01pm BST

I agree with comments about hands tied by Lawyers. I would go further and say that Insurers are in the driving seat - or rather the non-driving seat. BUT advisers etc are just that and the Church should be determining its culture in these safeguarding matters even if that means ignoring the advice tendered.

Posted by: Malcolm on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 at 11:12am BST

As a matter of fact I too feel some discomfort at what David calls the 'mocking' tone of my letter - though I would prefer to call it 'teasing.' But I think my discomfort is due to the deference which is so deeply ingrained in us; even those of us who did not grow up Anglicans. And that deference has specifically been identified as one of the major causes of the Church's failure to address child abuse. The archbishop of Canterbury himself has called for an end to it.

As was pointed out during the IICSA hearings, and has been evidenced over and over again, if our bishops and archbishops fail to act on complaints of abuse, we have nowhere else to go and no recourse to justice. In such a situation humour is perhaps the least destructive way of redressing the balance. In my own case, there was 40 years of pain, shame, anger and frustration behind what I said. And I have been trying to call the Church's attention to these issues since 1990, to absolutely no effect.

The very warm response from survivors who have found my letter helpful means an enormous amount to me. I have been utterly astonished by the strength of the positive reaction. But I do understand that some people will have reacted very differently.

Posted by: Janet Fife on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 at 11:21am BST

"But you have missed my point about the NT teaching the church to honour its leaders and make no response to the texts I am referring to. I might also observe that in all but three of the epistles written in Paul's name he begins by calling himself 'an Apostle'."

I don't think I have. Nobody is suggesting, I think, that the offices of Archbishop of Canterbury should not be respected. There is benefit in retaining respect for those offices. But an office is distinct to the office holder and when they use +, The Most Reverend and The Right Honorable, John and Justin are aggrandising themselves, not the office. There is a world of difference. As Mark says, it is complicated in a changing culture, but the Royal Family has been navigating similar waters with much greater humility and success than the Church. So, for example, when HRH Prince William Duke of Cornwall was serving in the military, he was simply styled Lieutenant Wales etc. The press releases announcing new bishops don't list The Queen's many titles and honours, but style her simply by her office - The Queen.

Similarly, yes, at times Paul refers to himself as Apostle but again, he is simply indicating the office he held in the early church, and doing so in the least fussy way - simply "Apostle".

If royalty and saints can show more humility than our ordained ministry, can't you see that there is a genuine problem?

Posted by: Kate on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 at 11:29am BST

Janet - thank you. Yes teasing perhaps says it better. But I share that sense of discomfort (without having lived through what you have had to endure). My dilemma in this context is that I do not think that deference is a bad thing. In fact I think in some ways in our culture we have lost something important. But it is very hard to argue or defend this notion in the present context of the CoE and for good reasons. What might 'redeemed deference' look like? btw I have several times said how good your letter is. I am grateful for it and for your courage in writing it. Thank you again.

Kate - thanks. I think this is part of wider discussion. When you responded to my comments about the injunction to honour leaders in the NT with a text that is actually saying something completely different it was hard to feel you had got what I was saying. But I am grateful for the exchange and happy to leave it now in this holy season. Grace and peace.

Posted by: David Runcorn on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 at 1:48pm BST

Janet Fife, I am inspired by your Grace, courage, and perseverance.

Posted by: Cynthia on Wednesday, 28 March 2018 at 8:11pm BST

I do not think that these problems will be resolved by any changes in clerical styles or dress. On the contrary, more is to be expected from those to whom much has been given. Diminishing hierarchy diminishes accountability, and I for one wish society as a whole would revert to the use of titles and surnames in all walks of life. The casual mateyness of addressing everyone by their first name is arguably more likely to lead to blurred boundaries, including sexual ones. Those boundaries if anything need to be more firmly established by distinctions of dress and address - and the clergy need to live up to the responsibility of their office in true love of their flocks and fear of the Lord. That responsibility is all too easily occluded by concessions to modern mores.
With respect, it unwise to suggest that a Christian bishop abandon liturgical responsibilities for pastoral ones. Sin is the result of detachment from Christ, and its only sure remedy is in fullest participation in the sacraments he has ordained.

Posted by: Fr T. Plant on Thursday, 29 March 2018 at 4:02am BST

I don't suppose I'm the only one to have received an email from

" Lambeth Palace "

this morning.

Whois shows that this spoof domain was set up on 1 April.

Posted by: John Roch on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 2:33pm BST

This email has been very widely distributed to CofE clergy, but not to absolutely everyone. It is fairly clearly not authentic.

Posted by: Simon Sarmiento on Monday, 2 April 2018 at 5:55pm BST

I haven't received it, so perhaps it hasn't gone to retired clergy. Can you share it with those of us who didn't get it?

Posted by: Janet Fife on Tuesday, 3 April 2018 at 2:01pm BST

What a shame that this has gone out to clerics, posing as it does to be from Lambeth Palace - where is the honesty and justice in that? While the comments may be genuine, I cannot trust it someone feels the need to hide behind a falsehood.

Posted by: An disappointed cleric on Saturday, 14 April 2018 at 11:40pm BST
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