UK withdrawal from the EU would be ‘deeply regressive’ and aid agencies would suffer, Dr Williams tells Gazette
In the course of an interview with the Gazette editor last week in Dublin (see box for details), the former Archbishop of Canterbury and now Master of Magdalene College Cambridge, Dr Rowan Williams, said that a UK withdrawal from the European Union would be “deeply regressive” and that aid agencies, such as Christian Aid, would be “adversely affected”.
Dr Williams was in Dublin in connection with his role as Chair of the Trustees of Christian Aid and addressed the organisation’s Irish AGM.
He told us that, since taking over as Chair of the Trustees 18 months ago, he had been impressed by the way in which Christian Aid strategically stresses long-term issues.
He cited in particular tax transparency because, he said, there was “a long-term impact on developing economies when people avoid tax”, and climate change because it “disproportionately impacts on the most vulnerable and poor in the world”.
The European Union
The clear view expressed to the Gazette by the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, that a UK withdrawal from the European Union would be “deeply regressive” represents a welcome frankness on this important subject from an Anglican churchman of the highest distinction (report and audio details, page 1).
Dr Williams was speaking to us not only in the light of Pope Francis’ 25th November challenging, yet also supportive, speech to the European Parliament but also against the background of a recent surge of electoral support in England for the UK Independence Party, which advocates the country’s complete withdrawal from the EU and replacing membership with a free-trade agreement – that is, keeping the economic benefits but jettisoning political ties. While it has been argued that the Lisbon Treaty brought the concept of political union too far, equally, UKIP’s intentions are seen by most mainstream political parties as a step too far in the opposite direction, if not indeed many steps too far.
The subject is, of course, essentially one for politicians and the people to debate – and debate there must be. Yet, as Dr Williams indicated, it has not yet really begun. The importance of this debate lies not only in the fact that there will be a general election in the UK next year – following the Fixed- term Parliaments Act 2011, the date has been set as 7th May – but also in the fact that Prime Minister David Cameron has promised that, if he is Prime
Minister after the election, he will “negotiate a new settlement for the UK in Europe, and then ask the British people: do you wish to stay in the EU on this basis, or leave?”, and going on to pledge a referendum before the end of 2017. Just how the debate can be structured over this relatively short period is an important question and perhaps consideration could be given to establishing a body along the lines of the Republic of Ireland’s recent Constitutional Convention, or indeed its earlier National Forum on Europe.
As well as being a matter for politicians and people at large, this is also a subject of Church concern because the political environment in which the Church lives can have a very direct bearing on its ability to live out its calling. That is why freedom and democracy are so important to the Church. Also, Christianity has long been at the heart of Europe and, of course, there are strong Celtic connections with the continent. As we reported last week, next year there will be special commemorations marking the 1,400th anniversary of the death of St Columbanus, who studied at the monastery of Bangor Abbey in Co. Down, from where he undertook his European missionary journeys, establishing monastic communities in France and Italy. So, as a European Union debate hopefully takes shape throughout the UK in the near future, the Churches should be actively involved, promoting thoughtful and informed dialogue with an emphasis on what is best for one and for all.
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Letters to the Editor
FOR THE first time in my ordained ministry, I recently found myself a member of boards of nomination for vacant parishes. It was not an encouraging experience.
Applications were not plentiful and faithful Church members found it hard to understand why there were so few people interested in coming to be their pastor.
Given the emphasis of so much of the Church of Ireland on ‘mission’, about which we so regularly read in The Church of Ireland Gazette, I must say I share a sense of their disappointment.
There are great opportunities in many places for ministry with enthusiastic people. In my own parish, we have benefited from the ministry of our local Faith Mission evangelist, who runs an excellent new centre in the county, and have experienced growth in both membership and attendance in one of our churches.
Our Christmas congregations were over 400 last year and at
Easter we had over 250. Similar numbers would be experienced in many rural parishes.
In Co. Laois, the Church of Ireland population comprises a larger element of the population than in Newry and Mourne and we have thriving primary schools, including two newly-built ones, and a community that is not only viable but also hopeful.
Having ministered in parishes in Co. Down and in Co. Antrim, I know it would be financially challenging for a clergy family to move across the border; taxes, medical expenses and the cost of living cut into stipends that are not as generous as those in Northern Ireland, but perhaps there are people who would consider ministry in rural parts of the Republic if they did not think they would never be able to return.
Were it not for the rigidity of the appointments system, might it not be possible to have people to come on secondment?
The Church of Ireland’s response to the opportunities before us seems to be not to act with imagination and flexibility, but to follow the path of retrenchment and withdrawal, the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures being the latest indication by the Church that it has understood neither the nature of our communities nor what might be achieved by visionary leaders.
Thankfully, my presence on the boards of nomination arose only because I was the last supplemental member elected and will not happen again. I feel sorry for the good and faithful servants elected by parishes who feel their parishes have been left like sheep without a shepherd and I hope that it is surely not beyond the wit of those who sit at meetings in Church of Ireland House to introduce new patterns of ministry.
Ian Poulton (Canon), The Rectory Portlaoise Road Mountrath Co. Laois
Disrespect for the Irish language
GREGORY CAMPBELL MP MLA has recently put the Irish language in the news by mocking and seemingly identifying it with Sinn Féin and Republicanism (Gazette report, 5th December).
It appears to me that Mr Campbell and his Unionist supporters are unaware that the Irish language was revived by Dr Douglas Hyde, founder of the Gaelic League, the son of a Church of Ireland rector.
Dr Hyde, who subsequently became the first President of Ireland, is commemorated in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, by a grey stone bust bearing the inscription: ‘Dubglas de Hide, An Craobhinn Aoibhinn 1860-1949.
Cead Uachtaran na Eireann 1938-1945’.
This lack of respect for the Irish language, and in particular for its debt to Dr Douglas Hyde, was particularly evident at his funeral service in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, in 1949, when the then Taoiseach, John A. Costello, would not as “a good Catholic”, enter the cathedral and attend a Church of Ireland service.
As the poet Austin Clarke wrote:
Costello his Cabinet in Government cars hiding
Around the corner, ready Tall hat in hand
Dreading our Father in English Better not hear that ‘what’ for
‘who’d Risk eternal doom.
In 1949, Protestants said Our Father “which” art in Heaven, Roman Catholics said “who”. The funeral service was in both English and Irish.
What is sad is the politicizing of the language by Sinn Féin – repulsive and, indeed, a degradation of the legacy of Dr Douglas Hyde, using the language not for communication but as a means of irritating the unlearned majority.
Victor G. Griffin (The Very Revd)
Praying for the Persecuted
RECENTLY THERE was sent to me a prayer for the persecuted Church of Iraq and Syria. It was sent to me through the Aid to the Church in Need which was recently mentioned on the front page of the Gazette.
I have found it to be a most moving prayer, written by a Church leader in Baghdad who exercises a wider pastoral care of the Church beyond the city. It has been written by someone facing constant persecution and thus
seeks to place the prayer into the Middle Eastern situation.
I would encourage people to pray this prayer and leaders to pray it in public worship.
It is adapted from a prayer by +Louis Raphael I Sako, Chaldean Catholic Patriarch of Baghdad:
Lord, the plight of your people in the Middle East is grave; and the suffering of the Christians is terrible and frightening. Therefore we ask you, Lord, to save your people from all fear and violence; grant them patience and courage to continue to witness to their Christian values with faith, hope and love. Lord, peace is the foundation of life; Give them peace and stability; Help them to live with one another without fear and anxiety, with dignity and joy; We ask this through Jesus Christ, the Light of the World. Amen
Sid Mourant (The Revd)
Hamiltonsbawn Armagh BT61
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