Monday, October 02, 2006


The son of Michael Howard, the former Conservative Party leader, has spoken for the first time about his distress at being turned down for ordination by the Church of England. Nick Howard, who completed a theology degree this summer, was not ordained because of his "unwillingness to listen" to other viewpoints. He told The Mail on Sunday that his strongly held evangelical beliefs on homosexuality and multifaith worship marked him out as a "troublemaker" even though they reflect official Anglican doctrine.

During his three-year training at Cranmer Hall, a theological college attached to the University of Durham, Nick discussed his concerns with tutors but found little comfort in their "blase attitudes". Fellow students, although often sympathetic to his orthodox views, did not want to incur the wrath of college authorities by speaking out. Nick, however, quietly reinforced his views by refusing to take Communion at the college's weekly Tuesday evening service. Instead he stayed in his pew, his head bowed in reflection. "An ethics tutor at the college was saying publicly that you can be in a gay sexual relationship and follow Christ," he explains. "That is incompatible with the teaching of the New Testament."

Nick was also encouraged to accord equal spiritual value to Muslim, Sikh and Hindu religions in the name of "multifaith ministry". "As a Christian, I believe that Jesus died for Sikhs and Muslims, too," he says, "so I long to share the good news with them so that they can be saved. It felt a bit awkward sitting there when everyone else was going up [for Communion] but I couldn't physically have done anything else because I can't pretend someone shares the same religion as me if, in reality, they don't." Yet, as a result of this silent declaration of belief, 30-year-old Nick now finds himself ostracised from the Anglican Church he so desperately wants to be a part of.

At the end of his final year, a panel of tutors explained that his "unwillingness to listen" would make him an unsuitable vicar. It was an extraordinary decision because Nick's view - that gay people are welcome to belong to the Church if they remain celibate - is official Anglican teaching. But many may feel that Nick's defence of the basic tenets of Christianity should be welcomed by the Church. After all, woolly-mindedness in its beliefs has seen a huge decline in congregations, while the clear dictums of Islam have contributed to its rapid growth around the globe.

Nick, a quietly spoken and gentle young man, lives in a modest studio flat above a garage in Maidenhead, Berkshire. He does not have a television because he cannot afford the licence. His car, a battered green Ford Fiesta, is rusting around the edges and a back window has been smashed by vandals. He now works for the Association of Evangelists, travelling round the country giving talks in churches, schools and universities. This evening he will speak on God and Politics at a church in Bournemouth, to tie in with the Conservative Party conference.

"In many ways, my current job is everything I've ever wanted to do - to explain the faith to people who don't know it or understand it," he says. "But I'd love to do it in the name of the Church of England. The Church needs reforming but I'd like to be involved from the inside rather than pointing fingers from the outside. "The great problem is that the Church is a mixture of people with lots of versions of the faith. If you're going to hold it together, you've got to be committed to not rocking the boat. Boat-rockers are rather unwelcome. But if I am rocking the boat, it's only because I think we may be about to capsize."

Nick's three-year postgraduate qualification, paid for by the Diocese of Oxford, would have cost about 40,000 pounds. "I knew the college wasn't happy because they gave me a warning in my second year," he says. "But I was surprised that they went that far. My only fault was wanting people to hear the Christian message as taught in the Bible. "If I'd tried to pretend we all believed the same thing when we didn't, that would go against the whole reason I want to be in Christian ministry."

The irony for Nick is that the majority of the world's 73 million Anglicans, many of whom worship in evangelical churches in Africa and South America, would agree with him. When Jeffrey John, the Dean of St Albans and a celibate homosexual, was chosen as the Bishop of Reading in 2003, his appointment provoked such an outcry that he stepped down. The subsequent election of a homosexual bishop by the Episcopal Church in the United States of America triggered a worldwide crisis in the Anglican Church. In October 2004, a Church commission called for a moratorium on the appointment of gay bishops and the performance of same-sex blessings. The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has just backed a further resolution confirming that homosexual practice is incompatible with the Bible.

But Nick, an Eton and Oxford alumnus who gained a 2:1 in his postgraduate theology degree at Cranmer Hall, seems to have fallen foul of liberal Anglicans desperate to make their Church more palatable in the 21st Century. It is difficult not to conclude that his situation is the result of misguided political correctness. "I felt they were trying to change the message of the Bible so that it fits more happily with the culture that we live in," he says. "The college sent me to Bradford on a course entitled Ministry In A Multifaith Context. In the first session, we were told that we should be building the kingdom of God with Muslims, Sikhs and Hindus and that we would be bringing people into the mosque, temple or church as a place of worship." Nick was "horrified". For him, despite his upbringing as a Jew, Christianity is the "one true faith" and should be promoted as such.

According to one Anglican Canon: "Cranmer Hall is an evangelical foundation but it's fuzzy round the edges. They don't want to rub people up the wrong way with so-called outmoded thinking." But Anne Dyer, the warden of Cranmer Hall, insists that these criticisms are "not things that I recognise as being part of Cranmer or its programme. The decision to ordain somebody lies with the person's diocesan bishop. There are several parties that give the bishop advice and the principal of the college is one of those parties."

Nick's father still attends the St John's Wood liberal synagogue in North West London on Jewish holidays. One imagines he was taken aback when his ferociously bright 15-year-old son told him that he was converting to Christianity on the strength of one discussion group at the Eton Christian Union. But does he want to convert his own father? "I would be very keen for my family to come to faith in Christ," he says, after a long pause. "But I still consider myself a Jewish person who believes in Jesus, so I would not call it conversion. Despite this difference with my father, we do get on very well indeed. "We enjoy each other's company. We talk about politics, about football [they are both ardent Liverpool supporters] and we play chess. My family knows where I stand and that I really believe in it. "I did think hard about entering politics for a while, but politics deals with what is external to people whereas the Bible changes us from the inside. So I think preaching is more important."

The Church's history is littered with examples of the faithful taking a stand against the prevailing mindset of the time. In 1556, the Archbishop of Canterbury was sentenced to be burned at the stake by a Roman Catholic queen for his "heretical" views. His name was Thomas Cranmer. It cannot have escaped Nick's notice that Cranmer Hall, the very institution that wants to bar him from the priesthood, bears this martyr's name.



Computer Sciences Corporation (CSC), the US software group, was left to pick up the pieces yesterday after Accenture walked away from the NHS's troubled 12.4 billion pound IT modernisation project. In the most serious blow yet for the controversial project, which has been beset with delays and glitches, Accenture said that it would bow out, leaving only three key suppliers - BT, Fujitsu and CSC. The move comes months after the American consulting group booked a $450 million provision for expected losses from the work, blaming the late delivery of key software designed by iSoft.

Although Accenture's work, worth about 1.97 billion pounds, will be picked up by CSC, its move to extricate itself from the programme at such an advanced stage raised questions about the feasibility of the procurement terms and the ability of the Government to hit the planned budget and 2010 deadline. Under the terms of the project the risks associated with it, such as extra costs and delays, lie firmly with the companies involved instead of with NHS Connecting for Health.

The switch is the fourth such upset - BT and Fujitsu have both been forced to switch software sub-contractors and CSC has ditched ComMedica in favour of GE healthcare. The problems recently led BT to install a new chief executive for its London work. However fears that iSoft, the troubled healthcare group, would be dealt another blow receded yesterday when it emerged that its work with Accenture on the project would be transferred to CSC by January.

Richard Bacon, Tory MP and a member of the Public Accounts Committee, said: "The decision by a firm as big as Accenture, and for whom the Government is such a big customer, to quit is an eloquent testament to how difficult it is to do the project the way the Government is trying to do it."

However, Connecting for Health, the agency that runs the programme, insisted that the removal of Accenture would not increase the bill for the project or threaten its deadline. It is delayed by two years already but CfH insists it will make up this lost time. Under its settlement Accenture will keep 110 million of the 173 million pounds it has been paid by the NHS and pay back the balance. It said it would not be liable for any further penalties and any potential legal action has been abandoned



They are the green jetsetters - environmental campaigners who are leading the fight to restrict aviation and cut greenhouse gas emissions, but who also clock up hundreds of thousands of miles flying around the world on business and pleasure. In the past year the directors and chief executives of groups such as WWF, Greenpeace, Friends of the Earth and the Soil Association have crisscrossed the globe, visiting the Falklands, Japan, Africa and Brazil. All are running high-profile campaigns to persuade people to change their lifestyles and cut emissions of carbon dioxide.

George Monbiot, a leading environmentalist, said this weekend he was "very disappointed - especially if they are flying on holiday". Heat, Monbiot's new book on climate change, warns of disastrous temperature rises unless western countries cut carbon emissions by 90% by 2030, meaning a virtual end to flying.

Among those with the highest air miles is Bob Napier, chief executive of WWF, formerly the World Wildlife Fund, one of the best-known environment groups. In the past 12 months he has visited Spitsbergen, Borneo, Washington, Geneva, and Beijing on business trips and taken a holiday in the Falklands, generating more than 11 tons of carbon dioxide. A typical British household creates about six tons of CO2 a year. Tony Juniper, director of Friends of the Earth, flew to Malaysia, South Africa, and Amsterdam on business and took his family on holiday to Slovakia in the past year. This weekend he is on a business trip to Nigeria. His trips are estimated to have generated at least eight tons of CO2. "This is the dilemma faced by all international organisations, including green ones," said Juniper. "We do all we can to cut travel but we need to do some flying to make decisions." Aviation generates about 5% of the world's greenhouse gas emissions but their warming effect is up to four times greater at high altitudes.

Graham Wynne, chief executive of the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds, says he was acutely aware of such issues when he made business trips to Indonesia, Washington and Scotland over the past year, clocking up more than five tons of CO2. He also takes occasional holidays to New Zealand.

Next month the RSPB will bus hundreds of supporters to a rally in Trafalgar Square against climate change."There are a lot of contradictions like these which organisations like ours have to solve," said Wynne. Other "green" leaders share such concerns. All of those interviewed had imposed "green" measures on their families and organisations, including encouraging staff to walk to work, installing low-energy light bulbs and insulating their homes.

Patrick Holden, director of the Soil Association, who has flown this year to Japan, America (twice) and four European destinations, generating about six tons of CO2, said: "I am deeply concerned about my flying. I am campaigning for a solution but I am still part of the problem." Such conflicts are also found in Greenpeace, which recently helped organise a runway blockade at Nottingham East Midlands airport. John Sauven, the group's campaigns director, has flown his family on holiday to Italy and taken a business trip to the Amazon rainforest in Brazil (total emissions, three tons).

More here

No comments: