COI Gazette – 17th February 2017

Church still blocking disclosure of basic details on episcopal costs

Portmarnock golf course

Portmarnock golf course

Last December, the Gazette reported that the Church of Ireland bishops had held a residential meeting at the ‘Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links’ in north Co. Dublin, but that no details of either the business considered by the bishops or any cost to the Church of the meeting had been released to us following our request for the information (issue, 16th December).

However, as was also reported, the central Church promised a response on the costs issue “as soon as possible”.

With no response having reached us over seven weeks later, on 2nd February we asked for an explanation and last week were told that the costs would not be disclosed and that nor would any details of the purpose of the bishops’ 28th-30th November stay in Portmarnock.

However, when the central Church was pressed, we were informed that the business was a mixture of House of Bishops business and other matters which were “of mutual concern to the archbishops and bishops”, but, again, no details were supplied to us.

The central Church had for months also stonewalled an earlier Gazette enquiry regarding episcopal costs.



Life is full of contrasts. In ministry, each day can bring widely differing experiences, from the happiness of a wedding to the grief of a funeral. Clergy can find it very challenging to move between such extremes and to minister without showing that anything else is on their minds. However, experiencing such contrasts is by no means the preserve of the clergy only. Every person experiences in life happiness and grief, pleasure and pain, joy and sorrow.

When one observes the world, on a wider scale, there are also immense contrasts: the great work of those who seek to serve the weak and vulnerable, and the dastardly acts of those who cause murder and mayhem; the organisations devoted to peacemaking, and those states and terrorist groupings that are intent on shattering the peace; the millions who are more than well fed and catered for, and the millions who are desperate for food and clothing and a roof over their heads.

Reflecting on the contrasts of life in a theological way in his book The Beauty and the Horror (SPCK, 2016), Bishop Richard Harries – Lord Harries of Pentregarth – writes of “the sheer wonder and awesomeness of being alive, together with the acute awareness of the prevalence of cruelty and evil in the world and the sense of nameless horror that can sometimes come over us as we become aware of ourselves as a thinking being bound up in a vulnerable body”, and observes: “We might be admiring a tiger in all its grace and beauty, as well as its skill as it hunts its prey. Then it pounces and we may have to watch a gazelle, an equally beautiful animal, being torn in pieces.” Nature, red in tooth in claw, can indeed be shocking.

At the heart of his magnificent book, the retired Bishop of Oxford, considers Jesus and points to his death and resurrection, which in themselves pose perhaps the greatest contrast of all – the cruelty and suffering of Golgotha, the crucifixion of love, together with the mighty act of God in bringing again from the dead our Lord Jesus, turning death itself into life itself.

Yet, while acknowledging the difficulty many people have with such a faith, Harries concludes that seeking to make things better is the way forward: “Rooted in the way of love, this refusal to be satisfied with things as they are carries with it the hope that in God’s good time that love will be vindicated. Within the wider mystery in which we continue to ask questions, protest and rebel, it is commitment to a way of life within a living community, a way of life that, facing the hells we make of the world, remains racked with desire and striving for a better world.”

Every person can think of ways in which the deep experiences of life – some chilling, some warming the heart – have made the contrasts strikingly apparent to him or her. Yet, while ultimately beyond our understanding, the clashing paradoxes of life perhaps serve a purpose in their own way because without them we might not know either the beauty or the ugliness, the unrest or the peace, the love or the hate. If all were good, we would not need to desire the good and, if all were evil, we simply could not desire the good because we would not even know it. Opposites make each other possible and such is the nature of human life that working our way towards God, by God’s help, will mean not being overwhelmed by the sorrow but, rather, being motivated by the joy and, what is more, being driven by the joy towards its true completion in the Kingdom itself.


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Letters to the editor

Church of Ireland ‘quango-land’

I WOULD wish to concur with the views of Archdeacon Alan Synnott expressed in The Church of Ireland Gazette of 10th February.

There seems an increasing disconnect between the activities of those who meet in Dublin and the lives of ordinary parishes.

Despite every church having a preacher’s book which records congregational numbers on a weekly basis, parishes were subject to the census last November which, in our own small parish, demanded the collation of
516 cards, which now sit on the floor in a corner of my study.

It took hours at the beginning of December to complete the return forms and, more than two months later, there are anecdotal stories that some parishes have still not submitted returns.

It is hard not to feel sympathy for those who have taken the decision simply to say ‘no’ to the increasing bureaucratisation of our Church.

In order to reduce the problems being created by
what Archdeacon Synnott calls the “quango-land of our Church leadership”, perhaps it is time significantly to reduce the number of committees and then to reduce the size of those that remain.

Perhaps it is also time to adopt the practice of the Mothers’ Union and confine people to two three-year terms as committee members.

Changes might mean we receive fewer communications to which to say ‘no’.
Ian Poulton (Canon)

Mountrath Co. Laois

Attitudes to Martin McGuinness

SURELY THERE is no difficulty in acknowledging and living with the tension of Sinn Fein – and Martin McGuinness – having their political roots in violence and later becoming purveyors of peace, or at least democracy Northern Ireland- style.

Christians must live with the daily tension of being ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’.

The reality is that we must live with what has gone before, but always expecting and striving for a better future.

We are called to work with people who have ‘changed their spots’ all the time, whether in employment, community, politics or any of the other myriad facets of life. This is a reality of being ‘in the world’.
The Comment in Dr Houston McKelvey’s Church News Ireland (Gazette report, 3rd February) is right when it says that it should never be forgotten that Martin McGuinness was a terrorist, just as Ian Paisley flirted with paramilitarism and violence.

However, these men, for whatever reasons, ‘changed their spots’ and made a contribution towards peace and concensus government in Northern Ireland, as the President of the Methodist Church (same report) wanted to highlight in relation to Martin McGuinness’s journey – no more, no less. It has been a contribution like that of many, many others.

Let us all in Northern Ireland make another contribution
by voting in the forthcoming election.

What one of us isn’t a sinner with skeletons in our cupboards? Let us throw our weight behind the struggle for fully fledged peace and good governance, as a Christian responsibility and joy.

It is a cherished freedom and contribution to democracy that we vote. We have an opportunity to vote for progressive parties willing to coalesce across the constitutional and religious divide with a respect and esteem for each other not shown by the previous coalition.

Colin Hall-Thompson (The Revd)
Mission To Seafarers

Princes Dock Street Belfast

Rector’s suspensions controversy

I REFER to the report in the Gazette dated 27th January and titled, “Down Diocese rector’s suspensions questioned”, and in particular to the following words:

“Bishop Miller has previously been informed by the Complaints Committee that both suspensions of the Revd John Hemphill referred to were considered by the committee at the relevant times, with the Complaints Committee satisfied that neither suspension invalidated the related complaints.”

This is a red herring and is completely irrelevant to my current issue with Bishop Miller, namely, that the suspensions in themselves, and quite apart
from the related complaints, were against the Constitution of the Church of Ireland.

In light of the Bishop’s reply in which he declined to comment on this, as reported in the Gazette article, I feel that my only option will be to proceed with an official complaint to the Church.

However, in light of the Bishop’s health problems needing immediate treatment, which I hope and pray will be successful, I will wait a little longer to allow him time to reflect on his present intransigent position and to convalesce.

John Hemphill (The Revd) Portavogie

Co. Down


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