COI Gazette – 6th September 2013

Commission doing ‘in-depth’ work on episcopal ministry and structures

Ethne Harkness

Ethne Harkness

Speaking to the Gazette, the Chair of the Church of Ireland’s Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures, Ethne Harkness, who is also an honorary secretary of the General Synod, has outlined the work of the Commission so far.

In terms of the different areas of work which the Commission has undertaken, Mrs Harkness cited the theology and ecclesiology of episcopal ministry; electoral colleges; training for episcopal ministry; funding of the episcopate; and the collection of evidence to underpin the eventual presentation of proposals to the General Synod.

Asked about the prospects for legislation at next year’s General Synod, given the in-depth and wideranging nature of the Commission’s programme, Mrs Harkness said that while the Commission was tasked to report next year, it had been allowed that more time could be requested. She commented regarding General Synod 2014: “I think it doesn’t look likely that there will be fully comprehensive legislation across every aspect of our work.” (Audio interview 43)




In her very informative comments to the Gazette (report, page 1), Ethne Harkness has told of how the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures, which she chairs, has focused first of all on the nature of episcopal ministry itself. In approaching the very important task of formulating recommendations for the future shape of episcopal ministry in the Church of Ireland, it is right to go to fundamentals in the first instance, as part of an in-depth approach.

Episcopal ministry has many dimensions. In an essay contributed to The Study of Anglicanism, the late Richard Norris, Professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York, not only gave a masterful historical survey of the episcopal office but also referred to the bishop’s roles as one who speaks “to”, “for” and “with” the Church (SPCK/Fortress, 1990, p. 308). These are themes which we might take up here, however briefly.

Mrs Harkness spoke of leadership being one of the key issues in the deliberations of the Commission and here arises the first of these aspects: speaking ‘to’ the Church. A sense of needing leadership and teaching becomes all the clearer in complex and confusing times and, as leader in mission, a bishop must call the Church to faithfulness and effectiveness in witness. Leadership often entails isolation, a real degree of which is thus inevitable in episcopal ministry, as indeed also in ordained ministry more widely. So, ministerial life in all its dimensions depends on the prayers and understanding of the whole Church.

A bishop also speaks ‘for’ the Church, the unity of which is a priority of episcopal ministry. To do so requires an awareness of the broad spectrum of opinion within the Church, as well as a clear understanding of the Church’s teaching and stance on particular issues. There are many opportunities in today’s media world for such representative engagement, but it is a tough world, a danger zone, in which it is easy to be misunderstood or, even worse, misrepresented. The demands of speaking ‘for’ the Church, therefore, are not to be underestimated.

Speaking ‘with’ the Church highlights the collegial aspect of episcopal ministry. Although having its own responsibilities, authority and characteristics, as are clear in the Ordinal, episcopal ministry is shared with the wider Church, both among fellowbishops and in Synod with clergy and laity. Moreover, the collaborative aspect of episcopal ministry serves the Church well not only because it counters episcopal isolation but also because openness and collaboration build mutual trust and confidence.

The Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures clearly is serious and focused in its endeavours and should be allowed sufficient time to do its work properly and fully.


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Letters to the Editor

Church of Ireland – Methodist interchangeability of ministries

THE REVD Patrick Burke (Letter, 23rd August) has, I’m afraid, totally missed the point which was, and is, that some of the greatest advocates of episcopacy in the period in which classical Anglicanism emerged did not think it was a sine qua non for a valid ordination.

If, theologically, there can be an exception for one good reason – for example, great necessity, as mentioned by Hooker – there is no reason in principle why there cannot be an exception for another equally good reason, namely, the reconciliation of Churches.

I see the proposals for the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church as providing us with a kairos moment – a time of opportunity – which we should embrace and there is more than one precedent for it.

The South India reunion of 1947, although very controversial at the time, was based on the concept of the reconciliation of Churches; the four Churches – Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian and Congregationalist – committed themselves to one another and consequently to mutual recognition of ministries from the outset.

More recently, the Porvoo Agreement involved mutual recognition of bishops, making no distinction between those whose succession was tactual and those for whom this was not the case (succession in office being deemed sufficient so far as the Lutheran ministry was concerned).

The idea that ordination by bishops is an absolute necessity for a valid ministry is all the harder to sustain, given that there is evidence of presbyteral ordinations in the Church in Alexandria (one of the great centres of early Christianity) during the first three centuries.

So far as 17th century Anglicanism is concerned (Letter, C.D.C. Armstrong, also 23rd August), let one of the all-time ‘greats’ among the Caroline Churchmen and a strong supporter of episcopacy, Bishop John Cosin, have the last word. Speaking as an exile himself in the period of the Commonwealth, he said: “If at any time a minister so ordained [without a bishop] came to incorporate himself in ours, and to receive a public charge or cure of souls among us in the Church of England (as I have known some of them to have so done of late, and can instance in many other before my time), our Bishops did not re-ordain him before they admitted him to his charge as they would have done if his former ordination here in France had been void.”

Michael Kennedy (Canon) Lisnadill Rectory 60 Newtownhamilton Road Armagh BT60 2PW

Kairos Britain

DURING A recent visit to South America, a friend and I had the privilege of witnessing a ‘holy moment’, when German Christians knelt in a church – near the hut where the infamous Mengele had taken shelter – and asked forgiveness for the significant influence of Nazism in the area.

This is a German community where the lies of a ‘superior Arian race’ and hatred of the Jewish people were absorbed and passed on to subsequent generations.

By the grace of God, Britain and Ireland escaped the horrors of the Third Reich and the extermination of unwanted members of society and especially of Jews.

On 25th August at the Greenbelt Christian Youth Summer Camp, Cheltenham Racecourse, the Amos Trust launched the ‘Kairos Britain network of Churches’ (linked to Global Kairos) as part of the Festival’s focus on human rights.

The Amos Trust is one of 62 signatories to the Iona Call 2012, which seeks to provoke a response to a plea from Palestinian Christians for support in their struggles for justice.

The Kairos network will continue the work of the Iona Call, which portrays Israel as an oppressive and unjust nation, which denies political and human rights to Palestinians. The Kairos network will urge the Church to put pressure on governments to engage in boycott, disinvestment and sanctions against Israel. There is no recognition of benefits received from Israel in terms of infrastructure, technological training and sharing of medical advances and expertise.

Boycotting Israeli goods would in fact be counterproductive, causing even greater distress, as thousands of Arabs who work in Israeli businesses would lose their jobs – a fact which some Palestinian officials have recently been expressing anonymously (‘Israel Today’ website, 22nd July).

Efforts to approach the organisers of the Festival to ask them to include an Israeli perspective were in vain. In any conflict, it is unwise to focus only on the rights and sufferings of one side, especially in the midst of peace negotiations.

Anti-Israel presentations and rhetoric can quickly descend into anti-Semitism. We have only to recall where political and religious meetings condemning Jews led to in Germany before WWII .

Surely the Church, the “pillar and bulwark of the truth” (1 Timothy 3: 15), should be engaged in careful examination of both sides of the conflict. To be ignorant of the full truth could be extremely dangerous, especially in the current situation.

Molly Cooper Rostrevor, Newry

John Calvin

I CONTINUE to appreciate the brief histories which appear from time to time summarising concisely the lives of influential figures in Church history.

However, I would make a couple of comments relating to the Editorial on John Calvin (Gazette, 9th August). First, it is stated that Calvin “invented” the idea of double predestination. Yet, the Roman Catholic scholar, Killian McDonnell, points out: “The doctrine of double predestination was taught by Calvin as a fact of revelation.

He was profoundly disturbed by the doctrine of negative predestination, but it was in the source of revelation, as he read it, and to this he bowed.” (John Calvin, the Church and the Eucharist, p.199).

Second, might I also question the Editorial summary of Calvin’s view of the sacraments as “stopped short of their being, in the full sense, means of grace”, preferring to emphasise the preaching of the Word.

For Calvin, preaching the Word certainly mattered, but to one whose wish was that the Lord’s Supper should be celebrated at least monthly, preaching the Word was not the only thing that mattered.

It is my understanding from his writings that, to Calvin, the sacraments are more than “useful aids to faith”. For example, in his Institutes, Book 4:17:10, he writes: “We conclude that our souls are fed by the flesh and blood of Christ, just as our corporeal life is preserved and sustained by bread and wine … Therefore, if by the breaking of the bread, the Lord truly represents the participation of his body, it ought not to be doubted that he truly presents and communicates it.”

They are divine symbols through which the penitent and faithful recipient, including the infant at baptism, receives grace and is united with God in Christ through the work of the Holy Spirit.

As I understand it, this is consistent with the teaching in our Church Catechism (1878) (BCP 2004, p.766) and it surely may be said that in this at least the Church of Ireland continues to manifest the influence of the reformers, including Calvin.

John W. Stewart (Canon) The Rectory 2 Ballylucas Road Enniskillen BT74 4PR



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