Major Council for Mission conference addresses the Church’s outreach priorities
“It is critical that we become alive to what the Holy Spirit wants us to do in the world of today and to engage in the mission of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Harold Miller said as he welcomed delegates from across the Church of Ireland to the Council for Mission’s conference held at Dromantine Conference Centre, Newry, last week.
The conference was organised to examine how to articulate mission in the range of contexts that exist across Ireland so that all Church traditions could engage.
Furthermore, the conference asked how more traditional and newer forms of Church could strengthen the life of the Church.
The two-day event also allowed for prayerful and practical preparation before further, wider discussions on the subject take place at this year’s General Synod in May.
There were presentations from a number of parishes across the island and small-group discussions, facilitated by Dean Katharine Poulton and Andrew McNeile.
A SPIRIT-FILLED CHURCH AT MISSION
At its recent conference in Dromantine (report, page 1), the Council for Mission gave much thought to the way forward for mission in Ireland today. The insights of the Bishop of London and the President of the Methodist Conference clearly gave a fruitful stimulus to the thinking and reflecting.
The missional challenges facing the Church in London are indeed enormous and it is striking how a situation that some time ago was quite dismal in terms of the outlook for the Church was turned around by what Bishop Chartres quite eloquently referred to as fresh engagement with the “symphony” of Holy Scripture combined with a deeper quality of prayer. Bible and prayer thus re-appear as a driving force for renewal. It was ever thus, and no doubt ever will be thus.
Scripture and prayer together enable us to learn about God, in the widest sense of learning. Through the study of the Bible, which is always a life’s work, and through persisting in prayer, the individual comes to know God and his ways better. So, as Dr Morris pointed out, Christians need not only to expect to see God at work in the world but also need to be able to discern the divine moving among us.
Such are the foundations for effective mission. On these foundations is built the faithful reaching out to the world with all its spiritual and material need. Yet, as we all know, we are a diverse Church. There are different perspectives on virtually every aspect of life and faith. However, difference always has been experienced in Church life and, at some times, we have dealt with it better than at others. Where there are differences, it is important to remember the many things Christians of widely differing outlooks share, not least our devotion to the one, triune God.
Mission is about the proclamation of the Kingdom. It is not about promoting the Church, but is about promoting the Gospel itself. Moreover, when the Gospel is communicated, when people hear and receive its call, the Church changes, because the Gospel brings renewal and renewal brings change. Nor can one expect people to become members of parishes and congregations only to enable those communities to carry on as they are. Rather, it is only to be expected – and welcomed – that, when people come into the Christian fellowship, that fellowship will itself be changed with new insights and new perspectives coming to the fore.
At heart, the Church needs to be more conscious of itself as a missionary body, and less conscious of itself as the institution that we perhaps more readily know. Institutions are, of course, part of society and the Church can never stop being an institution precisely because it is an organised body of people. However, the key question is not whether or not to be an institution but is, rather, precisely what kind of institution the Church should be.
There are many marks of the Church and the highest marks are the fruit of the Spirit, love itself being the greatest. If we do not learn to love, we cannot show God, because God is love (I John 4: 8). The kind of institution the Church must be is one which is truly Spirit-filled.
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Letters to the Editor
Canon Neil on the doctrine of original sin
In the 7th March Gazette, Canon Stephen Neill opined in his column, ‘Rethinking Church’: “I refer to ‘Original Sin’ and the particular understanding of it which has so distorted the divine human relationship and, indeed, the relationship between humanity and the rest of the Creation. I suspect, too, that I am not alone in my discomfort and dissatisfaction with the theology that underpins it.”
Surely he isn’t discomfited or dissatisfied with the doctrinal understanding that he took a signed sworn oath to teach as an ordained minister in the Church of Ireland, is he?
In the Declaration for Subscription (C. of I. Constitution 4.14), publicly signed and sworn to, all clergy take an oath at ordination and institution to a Cure that says in part:
“(1) I approve and agree to the Declaration prefixed to the statutes of the Church of Ireland, passed at the General Convention in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and seventy.
“(2) I assent to the Thirty-nine Articles of Religion, and to the Book of Common Prayer, and of the Ordering of Bishops, Priests, and Deacons. I believe the doctrine of the Church of Ireland, as therein set forth, to be agreeable to the Word of God; and in public prayer and administration of the sacraments I will use the form in the said Book prescribed, and none other, except so far as shall be allowed by the lawful authority of the Church.”
Article IX of the 39 Articles of Religion sets forth the sworn doctrinal understanding of our Church in regard to Original Sin: “Original Sin standeth not in the following of Adam, (as the Pelagians do vainly talk;) but it is the fault and corruption of the Nature of every man, that naturally is ingendered of the offspring of Adam; whereby man is very far gone from original righteousness, and is of his own nature inclined to evil, so that the flesh lusteth always contrary to the spirit; and therefore in every person born into this world, it deserveth God’s wrath and damnation.”
Whether it is comfortable or not, clergy have an obligation to hold and teach those things they’ve taken an oath to do. Nothing less is satisfactory.
Christopher Pierce (The Revd) Ballymore Rectory Portnablagh Letterkenny Co. Donegal
The result of Canon Stephen Neill’s teaching on Genesis 3 (‘Rethinking Church’, Gazette, 7th March) is neatly summed up by Richard Niebuhr in The Kingdom of God in America: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.”
I will humbly disagree with Canon Neill’s innovative interpretation of Genesis 3, his denial of Article 9 of the 39 Articles, and continue to teach, as the Church Catholic does, the doctrines original sin and the substitutionary atoning sacrifice of Christ on the Cross for the same.
Alan McCann (The Revd Dr) The Rectory 20 Meadow Hill Close Carrickfergus Co. Antrim BT38 9RQ
Canon Neill responds: The letters from Dr McCann and the Mr Pierce take issue with my comments last week on the doctrine of Original Sin and place them in the context of the assent to the 39 Articles by a new incumbent which forms an integral part of the Institution to a Cure of Souls in the Church of Ireland.
I want to make it quite clear that at no point did I seek to undermine the doctrine of Original Sin but rather to question some more extreme interpretations of that doctrine which have a very pessimistic outlook on the human condition.
The 39 Articles of Religion of 1562 as received by the Church in Ireland in 1634 and in particular Article 9 (Of Original or Birth-Sin) represent a particular stage in the evolution of the understanding of that doctrine and, unlike Scripture, are open to revision by the Councils of the Church, and therefore are surely open to discussion.
I fully accept that the discipline of the Church requires my assent to these formularies as currently received, but I do not think that it requires me to close my mind to the possibility of further enlightenment.
What I wrote was an expression of ‘faith seeking understanding’. As a human being with many failings and flaws, I am of course happy to admit that my efforts are of necessity less than perfect. – Stephen Neill
Archbishop Eamon Martin’s Ballymena speech
In the Gazette’s 14th February editorial, attention was drawn to a speech given by Roman Catholic Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Eamon Martin, in Ballymena, in which the Archbishop referred to the late Pope John Paul II’s visit to Ireland in 1979, his (the Pope’s) comments on violence, and the relevance these comments continue to have in today’s Ireland.
Pope John Paul II’s words that nobody may ever call murder by any other name than murder represent the moral standard which no society should ever fall beneath.
Archbishop Martin, when referring to the Troubles in Northern Ireland, remarked that people should not be afraid to challenge “any attempts to ‘revise’ or ‘control’ the narrative about the past”.
We welcome Archbishop Martin’s comments and the meaning behind his words.
In recent months, representatives of Innocent Victims United have met with various Christian denominational leaders. In fact, within the last fortnight, we met with Cardinal Brady, Bishop Noel Treanor and other members of the Northern Ireland Catholic Council on Social Affairs (NICOSSA) in Armagh when a wide range of issues affecting innocent victims/survivors of terrorism was discussed.
That meeting was held in a very open and respectful manner. Our message to the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church was the same as it had been to the leaders of the Presbyterian, Church of Ireland and Methodist Churches, that they must consistently reflect and assume a role of providing moral leadership, however unpopular that may be at times.
We insisted that the role of Church leaders was not that of performing the role of quasi-politicians but rather must be that of ensuring that the foundation stones of justice and truth are upheld within society.
In real terms, this means challenging those who seek to justify the act of murder as a legitimate means of furthering their objectives, ensuring that such individuals are defeated in their efforts to ‘revise’ or ‘control’ the narrative about the past, as Archbishop Martin put it.
Kenneth Donaldson Innocent Victims United Coa, Ballinamallard Co. Fermanagh
St. Patrick’s Day in Downpatrick
Your publication of the events at Downpatrick on St Patrick’s Day as a Down and Dromore celebration reminds me that this was founded by the late Bishop F. J. Mitchell as an all-Ireland event and that at the early pilgrimages successive Archbishops of Canterbury were the preachers.
I note that both speakers this year are unknown and neither is an Anglican. Clearly the ‘pilgrimage’, has become a North East Ireland event.
Robert MacCarthy (The Very Revd) Suirmount Clonmel Co. Tipperary
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