Embrace missional challenge or close church doors, Archbishop of Armagh tells General Synod
In his presidential address at last week’s General Synod, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, commented on the statistics from the first Church-wide survey on attendance which had become available since the previous Synod.
He told the 7th-9th May meeting at the Armagh City Hotel: “Although there were few shocks in what we learnt, it was by any standards a necessary reality check. In terms of those who declared themselves as Church of Ireland in the most recent censuses in both jurisdictions on the island, the average attendance over three Sundays in November 2013 was 15%, 58,000 in all.
The General Synod
The General Synod meeting in Armagh last week was the first in a new triennium and it was notable how many younger people took to the rostrum for the first time. That is surely a healthy sign in itself but, more than this, their contributions were frequently both substantial and fluent.
The Synod met against the background of some uneasiness among members following controversy surrounding the subject of same- sex marriage and in the light of letters with numerous signatories having appeared in both The Irish Times and The Church of Ireland Gazette. Many people were wondering if some kind of clash would develop at the Synod and, while the possibility was far from remote, this did not happen. However, the Synod had to wait until the Saturday morning to find that out.
Certainly, the forthcoming referendum in the Republic of Ireland on marriage had given an extra edge to the uneasiness over what one commentator reportedly described as “the elephant in the room”. We know that there are two very deeply divided sides on this matter, with no doubt many other people somewhat unsure or confused as to precisely what to think. Indeed, the Archbishop of Armagh, in referring to Psalm 85, summed up the situation well when he spoke about the challenge of bringing together both mercy and truth.
A striking aspect of the Synod’s proceedings came in the debate on the report of the Council for Mission. There were heartfelt speeches focusing on the plight of persecuted Christians and the barbarity that so many face from ISIS. The Church of Ireland thus showed that it is not totally preoccupied with itself and the intractable questions of sexuality. There was real feeling for all our brothers and sisters in Christ who are facing the ultimate sacrifice for the faith. The reality of this can be difficult to appreciate at a distance from the hard and cruel events, but when speaker after speaker at the General Synod expressed thoughts and feelings on the subject, that reality somehow did break through.
In dealing with the Bills, the Bishop of Cork in the Chair has great competence. Some people say that the system of a series of ‘readings’ of Bills is very difficult for the ordinary member of the General Synod to understand, but Bishop Colton’s handling of this aspect of our synodical business in fact makes it quite intelligible – and, indeed, shows it to be an eminently sensible procedure in itself.
There are so many aspects of the proceedings of this year’s General Synod on which one could comment here, but in the remainder of this week’s Gazette we bring you our reports on the debates and decisions.
General Synod Reports
- Education faces complex regulatory environment
- The ‘dance’ of ecumenism
- ‘Historic’ year in Church of Ireland – Methodist relations
- CCB photography competition winners
- Church’s assets are administered for the sake of ministry
- Bishop of Tuam appeals for Nepal support
- Plans outlined for the renewal of episcopal ministry
- Services of Marriage Council available in ‘blessing and challenge’ of married life
- Environmental charter motion
- Work focusing on same-sex attraction
- Debate on youth ministry stresses volunteerism
- Archbishops’ Press Conference
- General Synod Bills
- Debate on mission focuses on plight of persecuted Christians
- New hymnal supplement
- Wide-ranging ministry themes
- General Synod Eucharist
- Morning devotions
- General Synod guests
- Archbishop Eamon Martin addresses General Synod
Letters to the Editor
The Church’s teaching on marriage
I REFER to recent references to the 2012 resolution of the General Synod concerning human sexuality. This resolution cannot be used to establish doctrine, and in fact it is itself seriously flawed in that it employs Canon 31 to establish doctrine.
As the chairman of the committee which brought Canon 31 to the General Synod, I must point out its purpose. It was to provide a Canon reflecting the Church’s teaching on marriage, and then, only in the light of this, to provide the context in which provision could be made for remarriage following a divorce.
The Canon drew on the Marriage Service in The Book of Common Prayer. Many of us would have wished it to draw also from the then experimental marriage liturgy in wide use throughout the Church of Ireland. However, doctrine could not be established by an experimental service, so Canon 31 emerged in its present form. Canon 31 was in its context a proper reflection of the doctrine of The Book of Common Prayer.
The 2012 resolution is quite out of order (and should have been so ruled) in stating that “The Church of Ireland recognises no other understanding of marriage than that provided for in the totality of Canon 31.”
Since 2004 (some years later than Canon 31), the Church of Ireland, through The Book of Common Prayer, enshrines a more developed doctrine of marriage in the second marriage service. This understanding of marriage puts the relationship between husband and wife in the primary position and speaks not specifically of procreation but of providing a positive context for “the children they may have”.
The first marriage service, in its understanding of marriage, places procreation first and the relationship third, and explicitly numbers each purpose for marriage. Canon 31 reflects only this latter understanding, and so cannot be seen as being the only understanding of marriage as stated in the resolution of 2012.
The wider definition of marriage in the 2004 Prayer Book shows how the understanding of marriage has developed and certainly makes space for thinking towards same- sex unions.
To use only the first marriage service to establish doctrine would be as false as saying that only one of the Eucharistic Prayers in The Book of Common Prayer contains the total understanding of the Eucharist.
Anglican worship has always attempted to be inclusive of differing views, and indeed the manner in which The Book of Common Prayer has evolved since 1549 reflects many developments in the understanding of doctrine.
I will be voting ‘Yes’ in the forthcoming referendum, not because I feel that the Church of Ireland has either affirmed or made provision for same-sex marriage but because I believe that it is a proper development of the understanding of marriage and that the State can give a lead in this matter.
My prayer is that the Church of Ireland will so move in years to come.
In the Old Testament, we have examples of the way that God spoke to people other than through the expected religious channels.
+John R. W. Neill ( The Rt Revd) Bennettsbridge Co. Kilkenny
IAM now an old man who has served in the ministry of the Church of Ireland for 57 years to date. In my younger days, I was very conservative in Church matters, but over the years I have come to understand much more clearly the complexity of a human life and of the situations in which that life finds itself.
Now I stand firmly with Bishops Burrows and Colton, for whom I have deep respect and profound affection. Like them, I will be voting Yes in the forthcoming referendum, for I believe with all my heart that no conference, synod or any other person or group can push a limit to the extraordinary, embracing love of God as shown in the life, death and resurrection of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
+Walton Empey (The Rt Revd) Rathmore, Tullow Co. Carlow
I WISH to commend the courage and leadership of the Bishop of Cork, the Bishop of Cashel and the 42 members of the clergy for taking the steps to call publicly for a Yes vote in the forthcoming referendum in the Republic of Ireland, on the extension of civil marriage rights to same-sex couples.
As a gay man, and a committed member of the Church, I am encouraged that members of the clergy in my Church have supported a development in society that will provide legal equality and constitutional protection to all couples who have committed to loving each other.
There seems to be some confusion amongst those who contributed at the recent General Synod and those who contributed to the letters page of The Church of Ireland Gazette on 8th May.
Those who have supported a Yes vote have commented on civil society and have not necessarily called for a change in Church teaching or indeed called for the inclusion of same-sex marriage rite within the Church.
They have simply exercised their duty to minister to and support members of their flock in the civil debate in an active way.
These are exciting and indeed challenging times that we live in. I wish to thank those who use their power to support potential improvements in civil law to bring about a more equal society for all citizens
Leo Kilroy Rathdrum, Co. Wicklow
CANON 31 not only affirms that marriage is between one man and one woman but also states that, according to our Lord’s teaching, it is a lifelong union. So, I would ask those clergy who signed the letter in the 8th May Gazette, how many of them have done any of the following:
1. Officiated at or attended the marriage of a divorced person whose former spouse is still alive, or
2. Refused to officiate at or attend such a marriage, or
3. Denounced a couple, of whom one at least contracted such a marriage, as living in open and notorious sin and refused them the Eucharist?
Tim Bracken, Cork.
Knocknamuckley parish controversy
I HAVE been saddened to read recently in the media of disharmony between some of the parishioners of Knocknamuckley parish (Diocese of Dromore) and their rector.
I was born and raised in Knocknamuckley rectory in the 1940s and ’50s, when my father (the Revd G.F.G. Mann) was rector there from 27th February 1929 until his death on 27th February 1955. I was baptised, confirmed and married there and have many treasured memories of those warm- hearted people and their kindness and friendship.
Through The Church of Ireland Gazette, may I assure everyone – rector and parishioners – of my thoughts and prayers as I think of that lovely little church on the hill.
Irene M. Thompson (Mrs), Ballymena BT42