Porvoo Communion consultation held in Dublin on the theme of diaconal ministry
The Porvoo Communion of Churches, mostly in Northern Europe, is a fellowship of Churches that have signed an agreement to “share a common life in mission and service”.
A Porvoo consultation, held at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI) in Dublin from 15th-18th April, contributed to ongoing common Porvoo reflection on the theme of diakonia (diaconal ministry/Christian service).
It followed two earlier Porvoo consultations on the subject, in London in 2006 and in Oslo in 2009.
The recent third Porvoo Communion consultation on the diaconate/ diakonia, held at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute in Dublin (report, pages 1 and 8-9), brought an initial phase of formal reflection on the subject among the Porvoo Churches to a conclusion. This is now to lead on to deepening the contact and relationships among those serving in this ministerial capacity across the Communion and to an eventual Porvoo Consultation of Deacons.
There is no doubt that the diaconate, as we know it in the Church of Ireland, and the ministry of diakonia (Christian service), as it is known in the Lutheran context, vary considerably. Even within the Porvoo Churches outside Ireland and Britain there is considerable variation.
What has thus become clear is that the establishing of one form of diaconate across the whole Porvoo Communion is not a likely prospect. The Churches simply are in different places on the matter. However, perhaps what the Churches need to do – and it seems that this may have become a real focus now – is to accept that there will be diversity and to attempt to allow that diversity to be mutually enriching.
What does the Lutheran practice and experience of diakonia, however diverse it may be, have to say to us in the Church of Ireland? Perhaps the main lesson is that we are called, as an institutional Church, to ensure that we have a clear and distinct ministry of practical service to the world around us. Indeed, the Dublin consultation heard how the Scottish Episcopal Church has taken up the challenge of renewing its ministry of deacons along precisely these lines. Changing things in the Church is a long and involved process, but that does not mean that a start should not even be contemplated.
This, however, leads on to a further consideration. Can the Churches in Ireland together identify some particular project of service to the wider community in which they can actually collaborate in a diaconal way? Could Ireland lead a way forward for ecumenical diakonia?
One of the striking things that the Dublin consultation was told was that in a recent survey in Norway, most people placed literally the highest degree of importance on the Church fulfilling its work of diakonia, be it in hospitals, nursing homes or in social care outreach of whatever kind. This really mattered to the people who responded in the survey.
One is surely immediately reminded of the words of Jesus in Matthew 7: 16: “By their fruit you will recognize them.” Therein lies a real diaconal challenge.
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Letters to the Editor
The Revd David Huss (Letter, 26th April) states that Genesis defines marriage as “permanent, heterosexual and monogamous”.
He makes no argument on the merits or otherwise of faithful, lifelong, samesex relationships or whether the State should recognise these in marriage. He also conveniently ignores that the principle of permanency is no longer regarded as absolute either by the State or the Church of Ireland, which permits the remarriage of divorcees and the admittance of remarried divorcees into Holy Orders.
While I am loath to get drawn into a debate on monogamy, which is almost universally agreed to be sacrosanct, Scripture is far from as univocal as Mr Huss claims. He must be careful to apply a consistent hermeneutic to the totality of revelation in Scripture.
Quite apart from the parade of polygamous patriarchs and kings from Abraham to Solomon, Exodus 21: 10 provides guidance on the taking of multiple wives.
The practice of levir detailed in Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 makes no exception for men already married.
Other references, en passant, imply that polygamy is normative, e.g. 2 Samuel 12: 11 and the very references in 1 Timothy and Titus cited in Mr Huss’s letter.
This is perhaps one reason why most Christians throughout history, including the Anglican tradition from its earliest days, have not regarded Scripture as inerrant and but one source of the revelation of God’s will for humanity.
Ironically, the voices calling for limited sanction for Anglicans to partake of polygamy have come from parts of the Communion amongst the most conservative on the issue of homosexuality – see, e.g., the 1998 and 2008 Lambeth Conference discussions on the subject.
I am delighted that Mr Huss agrees with me that we must pay close attention to the overall sweep of the Bible’s teaching on marriage and sexuality.
That is precisely what we in Changing Attitude Ireland have been calling for. Let us continue to debate.
Gerry Lynch Belfast BT15
We are told that the Church of Ireland pension scheme is in difficulty and that drastic action is needed.
The pension scheme’s future will be voted on by members of General Synod, but many of them neither pay into it nor expect to receive from it. This means that many of us, not on General Synod (thankfully), have no say.
Church of Ireland clergy can hobble on until they are 75. Yet, with declining numbers and increasing costs, for how much longer will parishes be able to afford to pay?
In the Church Times, more and more jobs are advertised as house-forduty, so it seems the days of stipendiary clergy are drawing to a close. This would be terrible: who will the faithful have to complain about if there are no stipendiary clergy?! The thought is intolerable.
Stanley Monkhouse (The Revd) The Rectory Portlaoise Co. Laois
Care homes in NI
With he alth boards in Northern Ireland currently proposing to close many of their care homes, is this not a chance for the Church to take them on and run them as charities? A great chance to practise discipleship, effect change and show the Gospel at work.
Gordon Freeman (The Revd) Ballycastle BT54
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