This letter appears in today's Leicester Mercury:
Church plan not at expense of others
As the person responsible for delivering the exciting new Cathedral Gardens project, I can't let the letter headed 'Focus on the social issues, not gardens' (Leicester Mercury, Saturday, September 22) pass without response.
So I'm particularly disappointed that the writer didn't feel able to put their name to their views – not least because they clearly know quite a bit about the operations of the Diocese of Leicester, and their point of view deserves a more thorough response than simply another letter. But in the circumstances, that's all I can do.If I had the person in front of me, I'd want to ask them – "why do you think we have to choose?"
Surely this person will be aware of the wide range of work already going on which focuses on social issues, in parishes up and down the city and county, and through centrally-resourced projects.
That includes work with asylum seekers, separated families, young people and those on very low incomes.
It's true that one particular way of working, with a whole lot of associated administration and infrastructure, has been wound up.
That doesn't mean the work stops – it may even free up more resources to do it, not least through the outreach work going on in St Martin's House – which contains far more than the "opulent conferencing and banqueting facilities" your correspondent mentions, though it's kind of him/her to remind people we do also have that resource to offer, and to earn money for our other work in addressing social issues!
But to address the issue head on – is it never right to invest money in capital projects?
If so, then all our churches and community buildings – not to mention our homes and gardens – will eventually fall down, never to be replaced.
And is it never right for the Church to partner with people of goodwill and secular authorities for the greater good, as in this case? In which case we'd better not only abandon all our cathedrals, but also very many of our social projects, which rely on just those sorts of partnerships.
That's why I think criticism of Cathedral Gardens based on the argument "the money could be spent better on the poor" is fundamentally mistaken.
This is in part because the money is not being given for that purpose, but more importantly because sometimes it's important to do something more than spend all our money on the poor.
Jesus himself rebuked Judas when he complained that money was apparently "wasted" on an extravagant gesture.
The principle is the same: the poor will always be with us, and we will always be active in meeting their needs.
Sometimes other things are equally worth doing as well. Cathedral Gardens is definitely one of them.
Pete Hobson, director, St Martin's House, Leicester