Why has Joanna Penberthy still not been sacked? Back in May, the Bishop of St Davids, the most heavenly small cathedral in the world, wrote a post on Twitter about perceived threats to the Welsh Assembly from the Conservative Party: “They say that this is not true, but we know better. Just think of the lies of #Boris Johnson. Never trust a Tory.” It was the most appalling comment imaginable from a person whose job it is to bring comfort to all of God’s children. I shuddered when I read it, thinking of the many Conservatives who would have received Holy Communion from a woman who was capable of such a hateful and un-Christian statement.
Following hundreds of complaints, Penberthy closed her Twitter account, apologising for this and other tweets “which may have caused upset and oQence”. The bishop posted under the name Joanna Penberthy WeAreRemain #GTTO (Get the Tories Out) #FBPE (Follow Back Pro-European).
Anyone guess what the bishop’s political views are? If you’re struggling, let me direct you to her reaction to the general election result: “A very sad indictment is that so many still want to vote Tory. Absolutely appalling. I am ashamed of each and every one of you.”
If anyone should be ashamed, bishop, it’s you. In a letter to Conservative Welsh Secretary Simon Hart, the Archbishop Justin Welby said he was “deeply embarrassed” by Dr Penberthy’s tweets and the language used was “absolutely unacceptable”. Still, she remained in her job. Meanwhile, the most senior bishop in the Church of Wales, Andrew John, said: “I regret the impression that has been formed that we favour one political viewpoint over another.”
Impression? The contempt for Conservatives could not have been clearer or more wounding. If Bishop Penberthy were a lone example of a rabid, Compassion-RXUs Leftie malcontent in the ecclesiastical hierarchy, that would be one thing; sadly, she appears to be in the majority.
Lately, the Church of England has been hell-bent on a course which is almost designed to cause distress to traditionally-minded vicars and parishioners: the lowly footsoldiers who do the flowers, run the choir and generally keep their beloved old church going while raising money to send a “Parish Offer” to fund the dioceses with their cloth-eared management jargon, their painfully woke initiatives and proliferating job titles like Mission Enablers and Director of Justice, Peace and Integrity of Creation, with hefty salaries to match.
Some of us were under the impression that the Director of Creation job was filled rather successfully over two thousand years ago. Having lost faith in the eternal verities, the CofE now makes stipendiary clergy redundant – some rural benefices of 10 churches have to share one vicar! – while lunging for relevance with lectures like the one immortally entitled The Church and the Clitoris. Er, it’s been a while since I was a Sunday school teacher but isn’t the G in “G-spot” supposed to stand for God? In a nutshell, the things which most Britons still value about the CofE are about to be destroyed by the very people who are meant to be its custodians. Parish priests and regular worshippers are up in arms over the “Vision and Strategy” plan which was unveiled by the Archbishop of York at the General Synod at the weekend. The new “growth strategy” is called Myriad. It means getting rid of the clergy with their tedious theological knowledge about, you know, the Bible. Flog the vicarages! Abandon the churches, centre of our communities for centuries and a beloved part of the spiritual geography of these islands! Dispense with those annoying old parishioners, the ghastly people probably vote Tory anyway! Then – hey presto! – have 10,000 new pop-up churches led by lay people in their living rooms.
This is not a joke. Canon John McGinley explained: “Lay-led churches release the church from key limiting factors. When you don’t need a building and a stipend and long, costly, college-based training for every leader of the church… then we can release new people to lead and new churches to form.”
As a church warden, one of many to write movingly on this topic to the Telegraph’s Letters Page, said: “Our incumbent vicar will be retiring soon. He will not be replaced. In return, for our generous Parish Offer, a church with a 1,400-year history will expect to have a clergy-delivered act of worship once every six weeks. I fear the end of worship is nigh. I will become a steward of an empty, soulless medieval building, haunted by the echoes and shadows of past congregations. What has the Church of England come to?” Good question. Some vicars may be frightened into complicit silence, but they are deeply offended at being called “key limiting factors”, while their loyal parishioners are sneered at as “passengers”. Increasingly, prominent clergy like Marcus Walker and Giles Fraser are speaking out against the idiocy of pretending you can simply “plant” 10,000 lay churches without any proper structure or safeguarding measures. Let alone the worry of allowing over 12,500 listed buildings to fall into disuse while potentially permitting untrained shysters to instruct vulnerable people in the faith in their sitting rooms.
What the hell are the Archbishop and bishops playing at? It is a bitter irony that those who have presided over the decline of the faith now indulge in this sort of displacement activity to distract attention from their own ineptitude and extravagance, indulging in empire-building while allowing the vast practical good done by the parishes to wither on the vine. During the pandemic, millions craved a place of reassurance, a slender handrail of belief to cling on to. Churches were the ideal refuge, but the Archbishop didn’t fight to keep them open. A vital opportunity for spreading Jesus’s teaching was lost. If you are anything like me, you will have fallen out of the habit of religious attendance while still valuing the profound and comforting role the Church plays in our national life. For so long, we have been able to take it for granted. No longer. Very soon, there will be no trained priests to preach, teach, to marry couples, to christen their babies or bury the dead.
What can we do? The clergy and the people do have a say and this is the moment for rebellion. We need to assist the parishes to withstand the assault from the dioceses which are better described as the “key limiting factors”. You can go to savetheparish.com,which offers a number of ways to help. Write to your MP. Parochial Church Council consent is needed for the closure of churches – don’t give it. The church building belongs to the parish, so does the vicarage, if they haven’t sold it yet.
You can ringfence your parish assets and put them in a trust out of reach of the diocese. The Parish Share is voluntary – a “free-will offering” – so you definitely don’t have to give it to a hierarchy that wants to starve your parish and its wonderful church of resources so that Ray and Brenda can host Holy Communion in their hot tub.
I come back to my original question. Why has Joanna Penberthy still not been sacked as Bishop of St Davids? Apparently, there is no easy mechanism for sacking bishops, even ones who despise half their congregation. How terribly convenient. Make no mistake, the Church is in the process of abandoning its flock and expects to get away with it. Dear Lord and Father of mankind, forgive their foolish ways. Reclothe us in our rightful mind, in purer lives thy service find, in deeper reverence, praise.
In deeper reverence, praise.
Written by Allison Pearson for The Telegraph [13 July 2021]