Village Churches

This is a series of letters between George and The Bishop of Leicester, Dr Ronald Williams

29 Feb 1964

Thankyou for your very interesting letter. I think, however, that you miss the point of my "Guardian" quotation.

As I see it, the need is not for Leslie Paul's, or any other scheme of reorganisation, but for an end of the complacent attitude that says "We're all right, really, it is only everyone else that needs to change". It was the smell of that that made me worried by your "playing down" of Paul's analysis; and it is the frank admission that even the Rock of Rome should make me so enthusiastic about Kung's books and much of what had evidently happened in and around the Vatican Council.

Please forgive this attempt to answer back. I only do so because I wish to ask your advice on the following point:-

We are having some joint meetings of members of our P.C.C. and of the Earl Shilton Methodist Leaders Meeting, and are to have an exchange of visits to each others Services. Our members will be attending the Methodist Evening Service on April 19th, at which there will be an Admission of new members followed by their usual general invitation to Communion. They will come to our Parish Communion on the following Sunday. I made it plain at our meeting last night that in neither case should the visitors go up to receive Communion. This ruling was accepted with good will but with some reluctance, and after sleeping on the matter, I have come to the conclusion that this may be the kind of occasion about which I should consult you.

I know that all the members of the group concerned would be glad if you could advise me to reverse my ruling. And so should I. I have no intention on this occasion either of abandoning our full evening service, or of issuing any general invitation when their members come to us.

One rather important point that has come up strongly in these meetings (which I do not remember seeing in the Conversations) is the completely different concept of Church Membership. Their's depends on the approval of the local Leaders Meeting, and may be extinguished at any time, or rather, needs to be reviewed quarterly. Ours begins at Baptism and is indelible. Our Magazine has just arrived. I enclose the page for my note on Weddings in Lent, which perhaps you ought to see.

3rd March 1964

My dear George,

Thank you for your letter and for giving me an excuse to write again.

First of all, about the Methodist interchanges. I am afraid that broadly speaking your decision is the right one for the time being. It is getting a little more difficult for us to stick to a rigid rule in these matters and I must tell you in honesty that in one or two cases where churches have been working together over a long period of time, I have given my consent to an open Communion, particularly on Maundy Thursday. This is the same kind of thing as we did at the Youth Conference although the conferring is between residents rather than in conference.

All the same, there is a particular difficulty in addition with Methodists only. The whole point of the present conversations and of the Service of Reconciliation is to open the way first for inter-Communion and then for union. If we jump the gun it reduces the present negotiations to a formality.

The only exceptions I can see that would be relevant in your case, are (1) Methodists who happen to be confirmed can of course be welcomed, (2) your people can be told that there is no actual law or rule of the Church which forbids them to participate with the Methodists if for them it is a matter of conscience to do so.

I have read your passage on weddings with great interest. Of course I agree with all the charitable side of it. I personally feel that we ought to accept weddings in Lent as an inevitable result of giving our services in a secularised society (getting quite modern, aren't I?). The trouble is that so often a wedding in Lent is necessary in order to fit in with the Income Tax Year, and ordinary people cannot possibly be expected to sacrifice fifty or a hundred pounds for the keeping of a Lenten season about which they literally have never heard before.

Having said all that I come back to Leslie Paul or rather to the "Guardian". I read the quotation to say that people "pass us by" because of the faults revealed in Leslie Paul's report. That I do not agree with but no doubt should not have troubled to say so had I not been generally Anti-Pauline.

One completely uncontroversial matter. I have just come back from preaching in Aberdeen University - a wonderful experience that has done me a lot of good psychologically. Prophets can do so much more when out of their own country! The point I was going to mention was that in my sermon I paid a tribute to George Adam Smith, and his daughter, still a quite fresh middle-aged woman, (his family seems to have been arranged on the lines of the patriarchal families) told me afterwards that her father's "Historical Geography of the Holy Land" is to be published as a paperback by Harpers. I thought you would be interested as a student of the famous old volume.

Yours ever
Ronald Leicester

3 March 1964

My dear Bishop

I am sorry to come back once again; but your letter of 3 March persuades me that my first decision not to invite Methodist representatives to Communion on April 26th was a wrong one. Here are my reasons:-

  1. As in your Maundy Thursday cases, we have in Earl Shilton been "working together over a long period of time".
  2. Unlike Maundy Thursday this is NOT to be an annual do.
  3. As at the Youth Conference this is a special invitation to those who have been conferring and are praying with us.

I am very glad to hear that the "Historical Geography" is to be reprinted. When I got home I tried to get another copy and failed; but have not been unduly worried. After all I had had my other copy for twenty years before I read it!

Last August I tasted the joy of being a prophet abroad. The Baermanns asked me to be their principle speaker at the Wistow Reunion at Hunoldstal near Frankfurt. I took my wife and Dorothy over, and Dorothy made so many friends that she intends to go again next year. We also met and enjoyed Mrs Jeanty-Raven, Canon Charles Raven's Belgian wife (who first met him in a B.B.C. studio!); and am taking Michael over to Cambridge to have lunch with them next Wednesday.

We look torward to your visit on the 14th and very muoh hope that Mrs Williams will be able to come with you.

9th March 1964

My dear George

I am not sure whether you expect to hear from me again about April 26th. It is difficult for me to go further officially than I went in my last letter to you. If however, you feel that on the facts given in that letter you are justified in extending the invitation given to Methodists on this occasion, I should quite understand your position while hoping to be spared the responsibility of actually endorsing it. If you can make something of this Machiavellian attitude I hope you will do so. If it leaves you completely uncertain you must come back to me again but realize the danger that I might decide against you.

I know this seems terribly Jesuitical, but it is an attempt to combine one's general Christian charity with one's duty to Church Law and the whole Body of the faithful, which includes not only people like you but people like Collyer, Platt, and others whom you could think of.

5 May 1964

My dear Bishop

We are looking forward to your coming next week to the 350th meeting of our Deanery Study Group, and as our secretary, Stephen Twycross, has I think already said to you, we are ready to hear you on any theme. I myself wonder, though, whether you would be willing to think aloud, and off the record, on the subject of sharing the Holy Communion with other Christians, and to help us to do the same. Why, for instance, are we so liberal with regard to Holy Baptism and Holy Matrimony (in the matter of not restricting the Services to Church members) and so rigorous at Holy Communion?

You will understand that this subject is particularly in my mind after our very special Communion Service on the 26th. There were about 20 Methodists (members who had been involved in our local Conversations) among the 130 Communicants, and about 60 altogether at breakfast afterwards. I would not have asked, and pressed, for permission for this Service if I had not been confident that it would be welcome; but I was not at all prepared for the depth of appreciation not only by many of the Methodists but of our own people.

There are local reasons for this, in intermarriages and in the close relations that already exist in the village; but at the meeting afterwards many people expressed the sentiment that it was a real break-through, an event of a lifetime.

It was, or was felt to be, different in kind from an ordinary United Service, or a Rally.

Perhaps you will think about the possibility of opening this matter up in our Group. I am sending my Rural Dean a copy of this letter. He does not normally attend the Group; but I expect and hope that he will anyhow be present on this occasion. If you think that you cannot trust us to explore this deep and delicate matter together in charity, or if you feel that you have nothing constructive to say about the subject, I shall of course accept your decision.

To return to our latest meeting with the Methodists, the question was "Where do we go now?". I had of course to veto the suggestion that we could have a regular exchange of Communion Services; but I undertook to refer to you two further suggestions.

  1. That when we next have a Church of South India Presbyter or Bishop available locally we ask him to celebrate with us, and the local Congregational Church, the Liturgy of the C.S.I. It so happens that we and the Methodists here already have personal links with CSI. Could this be permitted?
  2. That on two successive Sundays this winter we close each Church in turn for the Sunday Evening Service. On one Sunday a leading Anglican would speak about the Church of England to the Methodists in Earl Shilton Methodist Church, with the Parish Church congregation there to overhear and to share in the Methodist Service, and on the following Sunday a leading Methodist would speak, in the presence of his fellow-Methodists at our Parish Church Evensong. The reason for this exchange would be that we recognise that only a minority of either congregation come to discussion groups; but all are involved in the closer relations between our Churches. There would on each occasion be a meeting after the Service for informal questions and discussion in the Parish Church Hall.

Could you allow this? If you could, further, "come on to the plan" by accepting an invitation so to preach in the Earl Shilton Methodist Church on any Sunday Evening in the Quarter beginning October 18th, it would give a great deal of pleasure in Earl Shilton; but we could find some other "leading Anglican" if the proposal was otherwise acceptable.

I enclose our Magazine, so that you may see what I have said about these things publicly. You will also perhaps be glad to know that there has been no mention at all of all this in the "Hinckley Times" or the "Mercury".