Idea of ‘for the good of all’ binds together – Archbishop Jackson tells law service
The idea of “for the good of all” bound together all those attending the annual service marking the opening of the new law term in the Republic of Ireland, the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, told those present at the service held recently in St Michan’s church, Church Street, Dublin.
The service was attended by President Mary McAleese; the Hon. Mrs Justice Susan Denham, Chief Justice; An Ceann Comhairle Seán Barrett; visiting judges from Northern Ireland, England, Scotland and Wales; political leaders; and members of the Irish judiciary, An Garda Síochána, the Defence Forces and the Diplomatic Corps.
A WAY FORWARD
The statement which the Bishops issued following their residential meeting last week and their subsequent Pastoral Letter together point a way forward in the quite alarming circumstances in which the Church of Ireland finds itself at this time (full texts, page 9; letters, page 8; report, page 16).
There has indeed been considerable disquiet in the Church, to use the Bishops’ term, following Dean Tom Gordon’s entering into a civil partnership, a decision which he has said was with his Bishop’s knowledge even before he was appointed last year to the position of Dean of Leighlin. It is not an exaggeration to say that, as a result of this whole scenario, the Church of Ireland’s very unity is imperilled. For that reason, it is somewhat concerning that the Bishops refer to a need for yet further study and research on related biblical, theological and legal issues, because such could be a charter for years-long argumentation. We need to study such matters, but we also need to do so expeditiously.
We can learn from the experience at Anglican Communion level – but will we? There, the issue has been debated, seemingly interminably, for well over a decade. The Windsor Report’s big idea, the Anglican Covenant, seems to be drifting into the mists of obscurity and irrelevance. The ‘Windsor process’ bought more time, but more time turns out to have been precisely not what was needed. Now, the Communion has reached breaking point and we have two Primates’ Meetings and a whole new Anglican Church in North America. The dragging on has been because, of course, the Anglican Communion cannot legislate for the Communion as a whole. However, the Church of Ireland can legislate for the Church of Ireland, and so a clear regulation of the issue before us is needed urgently if we are not to find ourselves in a situation resembling that of the Anglican Communion in all its woes.
The Church of Ireland probably can contain itself for the process which the Bishops have outlined, but it will be difficult. The conference which has been proposed will not be held until the spring, but this does allow time for proper preparation for the gathering which, assuming the matter proceeds to the General Synod, will in turn inform the mind of the Synod with its power to legislate on Church matters, including matters of doctrine. Given the circumstances, the best path for all concerned is to enter into this process with grace and with the clear aim of discerning, as we stressed in our 16th September editorial, the right way forward to guard the Church of Ireland in unity, truth and holiness.
‘THE GOOD OF ALL’
The Archbishop of Dublin, preaching at the annual law service last week (report, page 1) told members of the legal establishment how a concern for “the good of all” should underpin the way forward for Irish society. In particular, Dr Jackson drew attention to those people who hold “deep feelings of alienation and exclusion”, to the need to enable them to move forward in life, and to the duty of those in privileged positions to be examples to the rest of society through their readiness for sacrifice and their service to others.
The Archbishop was not speaking into a vacuum. Rather, his social vision clearly arises from an acute awareness of the reality of glaring inequality in the community today, and of real anguish, not least as a result of the economic collapse.
This reality was recently well documented, in human as opposed to statistical terms, by the Ireland correspondent of The Financial Times, John Murray Brown, in an article in one of the newspaper’s supplements reflecting on his 17 years in his post as he prepared to leave the country. Those years have seen a lot, no doubt. While he personally had the good fortune to buy a house before the boom and to sell it before the market’s collapse – suitably
fitting for a FT man – Mr Brown recorded how an estimated third of home owners are in negative equity, with property prices down 40% from their peak in 2007. He commented that while Irish people have tended to present themselves as not particularly interested in material things, the ‘get rich quick’ mentality soon took hold. There was, indeed, something contagious about it all. Mr Brown concluded his observations by asking whether the apparently less materialistic values of the “older Ireland” would reassert themselves, but also by suggesting that the country faces “a massive hangover” before we will find out.
How will Ireland emerge from this boom- bust scenario? Will we have learned the lessons? Will Irish people remain prone to the ‘get rich quick’ contagion? That vulnerability will surely remain, but we would do well in these days of disillusionment to reflect on the fact that Irish history is much longer than the recent roller-coaster experience, stretching far back in time and revealing that we truly have the capacity to be an inspiration to the world, as well as to ourselves. Perhaps, indeed, the values to which Archbishop Jackson pointed will find, not least through renewed and deeper Christian faith, a fertile ground in the Ireland that is to come.
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Letters to the Editor
Civil partnership controversy
CANON CECIL MILLS (letter, 30th september) is right to point out that the Church of Ireland promotes the ideals of “love, peace, live-and-let live, tolerance and unity”.
It is arguable, however, whether they are “Jesus- based concepts”, as he termed them. In the Gospels, Jesus speaks of bringing a sword, not peace; of dividing rather than uniting families; and of the certainty of judgement for those who don’t heed his message.
Moreover, the narratives of ‘the woman at the well’ and ‘the woman caught in adultery’ would also suggest that what went on in the privacy of people’s bedrooms was of considerable significance to Jesus.
Brendan Devitt (Dr) Hitchin Herts SG4
IN THE accounts of the Desert Fathers, a brother cannot fathom a certain saying and, perhaps reluctantly, he sets off to ask another brother to show him the meaning. On his way, an angel appears to him and says: “ … when you humbled yourself by going to see your brother, then I was sent to tell you the meaning of the saying.” The context of his revelation came as he journeyed towards his brother.
In many contentious issues in the Church, the context is neglected in the rush to settle the content. When Jesus was presented in John 8 with a woman, an accusation against her and a choice of death or alienation, he fought tenaciously for a humane context. The context which mattered was one in which everyone owned their flawed, frail and broken humanity.
When matters of the heart needed to be handled tenderly in Luke 24, Jesus journeyed with two disciples to Emmaus. He became their way by walking their way; their truth by entering their truth; and their life by entering their woundedness.
It is the context of attentiveness and hospitality that brings engagement through Word and Sacrament, and issues in burning hearts and recognition. If we do not journey towards each other, and with each other, then hearts grow cold and we, as one writer reflected, bang out old certainties with a terrifying sincerity.
As we journey on to spring 2012, we have a space to journey towards each other. So often in Church life, we only see where we and others stick our pins on the theological, scriptural, ethical and ecclesiastical map. What that map can’t show us is how we got there, or even what trajectory God may have us on.
It is in sharing our journeys that we begin to recognise the same stranger over each other’s shoulders. Then, whatever path we take, we might be deeper in communion, more humane, and ready to hesitate, as Simone Weil suggested, “… on the threshold of another person’s life”.
Paul R. Draper (The Very Revd)
The Deanery The Mall Lismore
THE 5th OCTOBER statement from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland suggests that they have been engaged in very serious and very frank discussion. We should all acknowledge and thank them for their honest attempt to face issues that have the potential to bring hurt and major division to our Church.
Positively, the key issue of human sexuality is clearly identified and not any of the related yet secondary matters, such as civil partnerships. A spring conference may be helpful or it may reveal the depth of discord within this Church which we love and through which we seek to serve God.
The Pastoral Letter that followed has the 2003 Pastoral appended, suggesting it is still seen as having a worthwhile contribution to make to the current debate, despite the fact that it raised issues without providing adequate explanation. That vagueness was compounded by a refusal to offer elaboration to those who sought it, despite the episcopal call for dialogue.
One positive aspect of the 2003 Pastoral was that it prefaced each of the four positions on sexuality that it identified by claiming that those holding such views did so believing them to be consonant with the witness of Scripture. If participants in this ongoing debate agree on the authority of the Bible then there is hope that we can find a positive way forward that honours God and edifies his Church.
In the 5th October episcopal statement, the big negative for many is the implication that we are ignorant of the mind of Christ. If this were an issue on which Scripture is unclear, then it could obviously be valuable to listen and learn from one another within the fellowship of the Church. As it is, texts from Genesis, Leviticus, the Gospels and Paul’s epistles need to be disregarded or rewritten if we are to view homosexual behaviour as a normal and reasonable expression of human sexuality.
Certainly, orthodox Christianity has assumed for most of 2,000 years that the gift of sex is to be expressed between man and woman within the covenant of marriage and the affirmation of this in the 2011 Pastoral is very welcome. This is the view that many ordinary Church of Ireland people have grown up accepting, and the view that we need to be persuaded is mistaken.
Those of us who hold to this traditional view do so, not out of contempt for people engaged in same-sex activity, but because Scripture gives us no other option.
Brian Courtney (Canon) Carrickfergus Co. Antrim BT38
CHANGING ATTITUDE Ireland is happy to hear that the Bishops are committing themselves to listening and speaking openly about the complicated issues of human sexuality. It is our hope and prayer that Churchmen and women will respond to this call for a serious and thoughtful seeking out of the mind of Christ for our day.
We hope that the atmosphere at the proposed conference will make it possible for gay and lesbian Church people, lay and clerical, to participate honestly in the discussion about human sexuality.
Canon Charles Kenny Secretary, Changing Attitude Ireland Belfast BT9
- A Pastoral Letter from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland
- Statement from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland following their residential meeting from 3rd-5th October
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