Religion news 21 February 2024

Prof Alexis Jay. Image credit: crown copyright

Report recommends fundamental reform of CofE safeguarding

A report by Prof Alexis Jay into safeguarding in the Church of England recommends  two new charities should be set up to deliver and scrutinise safeguarding operations and they should be entirely separate from the church. The report says the current safeguarding system is “flawed and cannot be sufficiently improved whilst it remains within church oversight. It needs to fundamentally change in order to restore the confidence of victims, survivors and others, including clergy. This can only be achieved by being delivered by a fully independent body.” Professor Jay, the former chair of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse, was asked by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York to produce recommendations for independent safeguarding last July, after the Independent Safeguarding Board collapsed. Her report identifies “multiple concerns about the present system, including variable interpretation of guidance for data collection, inconsistent supervision of safeguarding professionals, and inequity of funding of safeguarding across the 42 dioceses. Overall, safeguarding in the church falls below the standards expected and set in secular organisations”. In a statement issued on an independent website she says the Church of England will finance these new charities and the General Synod is responsible for implementing the recommendations. The Archbishops  have welcomed the report: “We thank Professor Jay and her team for this fully independent report, and the wisdom, expertise and meticulous proposals contained within it. We recognise her criticism of our safeguarding structures and processes and we welcome this scrutiny and challenge”.

Will “freezing” the CofE same sex marriage debate avoid future split?

Four senior members of the Church of England took part in a Church Times webinar to discuss options for its future, as its rancorous debate on same sex blessings threatens to split the church. Speakers Prof Helen King, Rev Jude Padfield, Rev Neil Patterson and Ed Shaw, explained the choices range from structural division, living with irreconcilable disagreements, and allowing same sex stand-alone services of blessing and same-sex married clergy to have a licence to minister. During the discussion, the newly appointed interim theological adviser to the House of Bishops, Rev Dr Tom Woolford, asked whether Professor King would be satisfied to ‘freeze’ the Living in Love and Faith process where it is, in order to keep the church at its current level of communion/unity; or whether she would prefer to allow clergy to be in same sex marriages and bring in same sex marriage into the church – but at the cost of structural separation. Helen King replied that she was surprised to see the question, but if standalone services were allowed and if clergy in same sex marriages were allowed to have a licence, she would be happy to pause at that point, as there was no consensus for same sex marriage in the church. No bishop accepted the invitation to take part in the webinar. The discussion will be on the Church Times YouTube channel.

Disgrace and outrage of rising antisemitism in Britain

The home office minister Chris Philp made a statement in the Commons on the rise in antisemitism, quoting Community Security Trust figures of 4,103 cases in 2023, the highest annual total ever, up by 147 per cent on the previous year. He said the figures were “nothing short of a disgrace and an outrage” and “members of Britain’s Jewish community are suffering a level of hatred and abuse which is frankly shameful”. It was totally unacceptable for a small minority to incite hatred and commit crimes and the government expected the police to investigate and perpetrators to be brought to justice. Shadow minister Yvette Cooper said the rise was intolerable and a stain on our society. In the debate, MPs raised concerns over antisemitism in schools, colleges and universities, and the targeting of MPs.

Prince of Wales addresses terrible human cost of Middle East conflict

The Prince of Wales is due to visit a British synagogue next week to address the need to combat antisemitism. Yesterday he visited the British Red Cross to meet workers providing relief in Gaza. And he made a clear intervention on the war in the Middle East saying that too many have been killed.  In a statement he said: “I remain deeply concerned about the terrible human cost of the conflict in the Middle East since the Hamas terrorist attack on 7 October. I, like so many others, want to see an end to the fighting as soon as possible”. He said it was critical that humanitarian aid reaches Gaza and that the hostages are released, and he continued to “cling to the hope that a brighter future could be found”.

CofE Pensions Board deeply concerned at water companies’ operations

The comedian Joe Lycett has highlighted the Church of England pension fund’s £30 million investment in water companies, in a Channel 4 documentary on the extent of sewage spills and pollution into England’s waterways. He wrote to the CofE asking it to disinvest from water companies, as it had done with Shell and BP over climate change concerns. The CofE Pensions Board replied saying it would not disinvest, but it was deeply concerned at the operation of several water companies and the effectiveness of the regulation.  Telegraph report here.

Muslim Council of Britain campaign to encourage people to vote

The Muslim Council of Britain has launched a campaign to encourage Muslims to register to vote, participate in local hustings and engage in the forthcoming election. The MCB says it is dedicated to support a politics of inclusion and fair representation. Secretary General Zara Mohammed said: “There are many issues British Muslims will be concerned about: the soaring cost of living, the state of the NHS, educational opportunities, the climate crisis, and the alarming rise of Islamophobia. However, at the forefront of these concerns is the ongoing war in Gaza. For many, the response to this crisis will be a decisive factor in determining voter preference.”

Grantchester seeks a new vicar, echoing TV drama

It’s not just the TV parish of Grantchester which is soon to see a new vicar appointed, as the Rev Will Davenport exits stage left. The real parish of Grantchester and Newnham near Cambridge is advertising its own vacancy.  The search is on for a vicar to “provide spiritual leadership through thoughtful preaching and teaching, pastoral care and quality worship; be a visible presence and make positive links with our communities; and value and support the wide range of our cultural, social and devotional activities”. The ad says they can offer a good vicarage, sound finances, a ministry team, committed lay volunteers, administrative support and a serious commitment to clergy wellbeing. Dr Francis Young, historian of religion and belief and lay canon at St Edmundsbury cathedral, commented: “It’s typical of the unspoken duties constantly being loaded on the clergy that this advert says nothing about the expectation to solve crimes”.


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