COI Gazette – 16th June 2017

Mission possible?

Archbishop Richard Clarke addresses General Synod 2017 in Limerick.

Archbishop Richard Clarke addresses General Synod 2017 in Limerick.

As eye-catching headlines go, it was certainly a good one. ‘Embrace missional challenge or close church doors Archbishop of Armagh tells General Synod’ was the front-page headline in The Church of Ireland Gazette on 15th May 2015.

Jerry Greenfield is the co-founder of ‘Ben and Jerry’s’, a hugely successful global ice-cream brand. He was once asked what he thought the role of leadership was. He put it simply: “One of the key roles of leadership is to tell your own people the truth about the way things really are on the ground.”

So, back to the Gazette headline. To what was it referring? What truth was the Archbishop telling and why was he telling it?

The headline referred to the Primate’s speech at the previous week’s General Synod. He had been talking about figures from the 2012 Church of Ireland census. Apparently, the average attendance over three Sundays in both jurisdictions was 15%. Of those attending, some 13% were between the ages of 12 and 30.



In Leadership Without Easy Answers, Ron Heifetz says: “In a crisis we tend to look for the wrong kind of leadership. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength and a map of the future, someone who knows where we ought to be going – in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.”

Heifetz goes on to say: “… we should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple painless solutions – problems that  require us to learn new ways … Making progress on these problems demands not just someone who provides answers from on high but changes in our attitudes, behaviour and values.”

Election results always bring changes. What hasn’t changed is our need for leadership in Northern Ireland. Leadership is about more than the ability to draw a crowd. It is about helping us collectively to face whatever we need to face.


It is over 50 years since Robert Kennedy uttered the following words in a speech in Cape Town. “There is a Chinese curse that says, ‘May he live in interesting times.’ Like it or not, we live in interesting times. They are times of danger and uncertainty; but they are also more open to the creative energy of men than any other time in history.”

These are ‘interesting times’ for the Church. We live at a time when the place of Church and faith is changing, not only in people’s lives but in society at large. Neither are churches immune from the challenges that came from one of the worst recessions any of us can remember.

‘Interesting times’ can be uncomfortable and uncertain, whatever their cause. It poses the question: How are we to respond to them?

The Church has had the ability to live in ‘interesting times’ from the very beginning of its existence. If we cast our minds back to the experience of the first believers, we remember a small group of people who had just lived through traumatic circumstances that would have shaken their confidence to the core. Some of them were city dwellers but many of them were born and brought up in the country – all of them as fallible as you or me.

It was to such a collection of people that Christ spoke a matter of weeks after his crucifixion and resurrection. The disciples did not always fully understand what their master taught them. He also had a habit of presenting them with tasks beyond what they believed they were capable of.

Shortly before leaving his disciples and ascending into heaven, Christ gave his disciples a promise and a commission (Acts 1: 8). “… you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Pentecost Sunday, which we have just celebrated, reminds us of the time when the Holy Spirit filled those disciples for the first time.

From that moment, a small group of ordinary people grew into one of the most mission-oriented organisations the world has ever known. Somehow the message they were trusted with went from Jerusalem to every corner of the earth.

The Irish Church owes its very existence to the DNA of mission that grew from those first disciples that Christ commissioned. History shows that it has famously reproduced this as Christians from these shores set out into the unknown with the same message.

Through the significant moments of our history, the Church of Ireland has shown its resilience and ability to adapt to new circumstances – we have certainly lived in interesting times. It is now a different place for Church and faith. In an age of economic challenge, the Church of Ireland must also find new ways to make itself sustainable.

The challenge is not just about sustaining or surviving. It is much more profound than that. As Archbishop Clarke put it: “The Church of Ireland must look beyond its own self- interest and its own survival … [to] look beyond the present into the future to which we believe God is calling us.”

In other words, it is to find the energy to ‘embrace [the] missional challenge’.


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Letters to the Editor

Same-sex relationships debate

THE REVD TREVOR JOHNSTON is so passionate in his defence of the Church’s traditional position on same- sex relationships that those who have moved on to a more carefully nuanced perspective might find the comments in his letter (Gazette, 9th June) less than balanced, in terms of scholarship.

It is accepted in modern hermeneutics that, as well as attempted clarity of thought and sincerity of prayer, we all unavoidably bring our own preconceptions, preconditioning and maybe prejudices to our reading of the biblical text. This is every bit as true for Mr Johnston as it is for everyone else. ‘Significant bias’? His accusation cuts both ways – the boomerang effect.

For the rest, may I simply point out that the argument in my letter in favour of a reading of Holy Scripture which supports intimate relationships within committed same-sex unions is not simply my own, but is in line with much responsible biblical scholarship of the last twenty years.

In the end, though, perhaps this argument is not just one of hermeneutics, but a question of how we understand the love of God.

Ginnie Kennerley (Canon) Dalkey

Co. Dublin

FOR YEARS now, I have pondered the way that correspondence on human sexuality and latterly same- sex relationships has been conducted. I have wanted to contribute some thoughts about the mirror-image, back and forth, about texts and biology that has been shown to be a cul- de-sac, going nowhere slowly.

It seems to me that there are other more important aspects to be considered before confronting issues like human sexuality. I have posed the question: ‘What God do we believe in?’ It is not sufficient just to use the word God without clarifying what god we serve. To use Johannine descriptions, do we believe and serve “the Lord of truth and love” or “the Lord of lies and murder”? Or, in other language, grace or law? Quoting Hosea, Jesus reminded his hearers about the divine principle “I require mercy, not sacrifice.”

Clearly, we need a matrix against which to interpret the whole Bible or individual parts that need to be understood in the world today. Our Jewish cousins have a principle about applying the Bible to life. If a passage doesn’t provide a practical solution in everyday terms, such parts should be left for the theologians as a plaything. Now, these are people who look on the Bible as pure and good!

Sayings such as “the Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (to use the old form) and references to David breaking sacred codes to feed his soldiers merit consideration in arriving at truly human applications of Scripture.

These points are meant to show that there are prior and weightier questions to be considered before we dare to decide what God might or might not approve.

Referring to Trevor Johnston’s most recent letter (Gazette, 9th June) opposing Canon Ginnie Kennerley, I want to say three things. Proof texts were discredited many years ago as forming the basis for theological judgement; our mission to proclaim repentance and the forgiveness of sins must first establish what is sinful in fear and trembling; and, bias is unavoidable. So, referring to John 8 and the woman caught in adultery: “Let those who are without bias cast the first stone.”

David S. G. Godfrey (The Very Revd)

Lucan Co. Dublin

CANON KENNERLEY has made some sweeping statements (Letters, 2nd June) which should not go unchallenged.

I hope and believe that every time I read the Scriptures I do so thoughtfully and prayerfully and with a heart and mind open to the leading of the Holy Spirit. In such a spirit of openness, our house group spent five weeks carefully discussing the booklet, Same-sex issues and the Bible, that Canon Kennerley co-authored.

The consensus was that the liberal, non-orthodox interpretations offered were unconvincing and somewhat contrived. For example, the booklet states: “There was no concept of sexual orientation or homosexuality in Paul’s day, or indeed until the 19th century; it is unlikely that he had encountered any stable same-sex partnerships in the Gentile culture of his time.”

This overlooks other sources which state that homosexual marriages were not unknown in Paul’s time as evidenced by the example of Nero himself. In addition, Plato (427-347BC) offers an extended discussion of the serious and sustained love that can occur between one male and another.

Paul was a very well-educated and very well-informed man of huge intellect and well versed in the attitudes, customs and practices in the Greco-Roman world. He was quite comfortable debating with Greek philosophers and quoting from their poets (works dating from 600-230BC) in the Areopagus in Athens (Acts 17: 22). I am quite sure he chose his words very carefully so that they would not be misinterpreted or misunderstood.

Canon Kennerley, quite rightly, encourages us to be mindful of the love command, but the love of God must supersede love of others and self. Luke 14: 26 – “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his father and mother, his wife and children, his brothers and sisters – yes even his own life cannot be my disciple.”

We all must forgo any relationship that obstructs our love for God and we must show our love for him by obeying his Word. John 15: 10 – “If you obey my commands you will remain in my love just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love.”

The Church has a pastoral role and a teaching role and both must be characterised by love. But, in the same way as a loving parent corrects the aberrant behaviour of a child, so the Church has a duty to teach God’s word accurately, faithfully and fearlessly so that God’s people are not led into error by public opinion or societal pressure.

The Church must not be tempted into reprising the role of the serpent in the Garden of Eden. Genesis 3: 1 – “Did God really say … ”? Did God really say – “Do not lie with a man as one lies with a woman”? I believe he did.

John Wilson
Ballyclare Co. Antrim

US Climate Change decision

BISHOPS NEED to speak up for the Paris Agreement. Donald Trump has pulled the USA out of the Paris Agreement on Climate Change and the worldwide reaction has been scornful and disparaging. World leaders were swift to react.

President Macron of France said that President Trump had, “committed an error for the interests of his country, his people and a mistake for the future of our planet”. Chancellor Merkel said: “We need this Paris agreement to preserve our Creation. Nothing can or will stop us from doing that.”

Church leaders equally reacted with derision. The Vatican said for Pope Francis this was a “huge slap in the face” and a “disaster for everyone”. The Church of England’s lead Bishop for the Environment, the Rt Revd Nicholas Holtam, Bishop of Salisbury, said, “churches and other faith
leaders must speak clearly: this decision is wrong for the USA and for the world.”

People in the Church of Ireland often look to their bishop to express how they feel in difficult times. Church leaders can be a prophetic voice on climate change. They can call for a change of direction, a repentance, from a path that leads to destruction. President Trump’s decision this week will further endanger the lives of millions of the most vulnerable people on earth. Church leaders need to be a voice for the voiceless and speak out for climate justice.

There is a growing and urgent need for the Church of Ireland to develop its voice on environmental matters. Our bishops need to speak up to support the Paris Agreement on Climate Change.

Stephen Trew
Lurgan Co. Armagh


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