JANET STREET-PORTER: The Church of England has been missing in action

JANET STREET-PORTER: The Church of England has been shamefully missing in action since this epidemic started – instead of criticising Captain Tom its clerics should try following his example

This week, I joined the ten million club – receiving my first dose of the Astra Zeneca vaccine. I walked to my local health centre and was out of the door – after a painless prick in the arm – exactly eight minutes later. My arm hasn’t dropped off or swollen up and I’ve suffered no ill effects other than feeling a bit tired and headachy a day later, quickly dealt with by taking a paracetamol and going to bed early.

I want to reassure everyone to take this vaccine, there is simply no other way out of the pandemic, no other route back to normal life, seeing friends and hugging loved ones. Sadly, anti-vaxxers rise up in their hordes on social media every time that opinion is voiced, adding to worries and anxieties.

Now, as many as one-in-five of the workers in care homes and a growing number of nurses and health workers are wavering, unsure whether to have the vaccine and protect themselves.

We urgently need to find the right route to reassure people that the jab will not change their genetics, it will not lead to long term health issues and endanger unborn children. Unless everyone working in social care and with older people and those with special needs in agrees to have this jab, it is hard to see how visits for friends and relatives can resume.

Was the appointment of Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown a ham-fisted attempt by Justin Welby to tick boxes and dip his toe into the fraught waters of ‘woke’ politics? 

If over 80 per cent of residents have now been vaccinated, and by the end of May the vast majority of the over 50’s will have joined them – local authorities and the owners of private homes must decide how they justify keeping their residents isolated and locked up any longer.

Even more importantly, we are desperate for influential role models to talk directly to the black and ethnic communities (who make up a large proportion of those working in low paid jobs in residential care homes as well as social care for the housebound) to encourage them that they should get vaccinated.

That it is a social duty, you owe it to the community. Sports people like Marcus Rashford, actors, TV stars and news presenters like Clive Myrie all have a part to play.

But most of all, the Church of England should be stepping up – because many of these workers were brought up in religious households, many still attend church every weekend, and are people of faith.

Sadly, the modern role of the Church of England is to apologise. They do it every week, very publicly, with maximum praying and hand wringing. But how much really changes behind the scenes?

This week, a newly appointed Church of England curate stunned and appalled us by tweeting that although he would be praying for Captain Sir Tom Moore, he would not be joining in the ‘National Clap’ because it was a ‘cult of white British Nationalism’.

When a hero like Captain Sir Tom Moore comes along, we should cherish and honour them, regardless of their background.

Incredibly, the Reverend Jarel Robinson-Brown seemed oblivious to the hurt this might cause, although he later deleted the tweet and issued an apology.

It was wrong on so many levels – firstly, it was flat-out racist, secondly demeaning and finally – irrelevant.

It was the work of a ‘woke’ box-ticking ninny who seemed unable to comprehend that heroes come in all colours and ethnicities. Heroes are not just white elderly former soldiers, they are people who bring a whole country together and raise our spirits. When a hero like Sir Tom comes along, we should cherish and honour them, regardless of their background.

Jarel Robinson-Brown says he is ‘passionate about the issues of justice, particularly in the areas of race and sexuality’. He has been appointed to a historic church in the City of London which (unlike some) welcomes gay worshippers.

Inevitably, the Church has issued an apology and ordered an Inquiry. Nothing new there. But was Jarel’s appointment (the former Methodist Minister is training to become a priest in the Church of England) a ham-fisted attempt by Justin Welby to tick boxes and dip his toe into the fraught waters of ‘woke’ politics?

We associate the Church of England and it’s hand wringer-in-chief, Justin Welby, with plumetting attendances and thousands of unanswered allegations of sexual abuse which went ignored by senior Bishops and clergy for decades.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his partner Carrie Symonds stand outside 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday to join in with a nationwide clap in honour of Captain Sir Tom Moore

And how has the church responed to our hour of need in the worse crisis since World World 2? By locking their doors in the name of ‘safety’ – something Jesus would never have done.

Churches remain closed at a time when everyone (including non-believers) could have all benefitted from a quiet refuge to escape the crowded parks and streets. Covid has seen the church (as usual) stumble and fail to deliver.

Jarel Robinson-Brown and his fellow ‘woke’ curates, vicars and deans could be playing an important role getting an important message across – that getting vaccinated is an important Christian act because it benefits everyone.

But are they bothering to go out in the community and get the message across? Or are they busy tweeting and texting in the safety of their homes?

Google ‘Church of England’ and the word apology and you’ve got plenty to choose from, they’ve turned it into an art form. 2020 was a bumper year.

In January Welby apologised for issuing guidance that only married heterosexuals could have sex – then backtracked, saying that that opinion wasn’t definite, just part of an ongoing review into ‘Living with Love and Faith’.

We associate the Church of England and it’s hand wringer-in-chief, Justin Welby (pictured), with plumetting attendances and thousands of unanswered allegations of sexual abuse which went ignored by senior Bishops and clergy for decades.

In June 2020 Justin Welby apologised for the Church’s links to slavery, after it emerged that nearly 100 clergymen had benefitted from compensation paid to plantation owners after the Abolition of Slavery in 1833.

In October 2020 Justin Welby apologised to the survivors of sexual abuse as the independent Inquiry into Church Sexual Abuse published their damning findings revealing how the Church of England consistently ignored complaints and failed to believe victims, some of whom waited 45 years for perpetrators to be brought to justice.

For years, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, George Carey, refused to believe allegations against Peter Ball, (once Bishop of Lewes and Gloucester) – who was jailed in 2015 for sexual offences against 18 young men over thirty years. Following a period of disgrace, George Carey has been granted the right to officiate as a priest again, in Oxford.

The Bishop of Lincoln has just returned to work, following a period of suspension for his handling of allegations against a member of his staff. In 2015, the names of 53 clergy and church staff in the diocese were given to the police. As a result, 25 were investigated for sexual abuse, and three were convicted.

A BBC Panorama programme alleged that two previous bishops were aware of allegations against a member of staff (later convicted) at the Cathedral school, but did nothing. The diocese’s Director of Education was finally arrested and convicted for abusing young girls in 2017.

The list of failings in the Church of England is depressingly long. No apologies can make up for the harm innocent young people have suffered, who were ignored and disbelieved for years.

Instead of bleating about climate change, the Welby should throw open his churches to the homeless and stop using health and safety rules to avoid action.

He could sell off some of their multi-million pound property empire and feed the poor, build starter homes and donate to the penniless who are facing redundancies in this pandemic.

As for sexuality – the Archbishop could issue an unreserved welcome to everyone, not just married straights.

And he could stop apologising and start acting like a true leader. The kind that Captain Sir Tom exemplified.

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