Irish Council of Churches holds 91st Annual Meeting in Arklow
Last Thursday (10th April), almost 100 representatives from the 14 member- Churches of the Irish Council of Churches gathered at Arklow Presbyterian Church, Co. Wicklow, for the 91st Annual Meeting of the Council.
The Revd Dr Donald Watts, Clerk of the Presbyterian General Assembly, was elected as President of the Council for the period 2014-2016, with Bishop John McDowell being elected to serve as Vice- President during the same term.
The Cross and Resurrection
Good Friday and Easter belong together. While the observance of Good Friday is solemn, the Church recalls the day’s terrible events in the knowledge that the death of Jesus gave way to his glorious resurrection. Christians, during these three days – Good Friday to Easter Day – work their way in spirit from solemnity to joyous celebration. The mood thus changes dramatically, but with every good reason.
The reflections by Professor Frances Young and Dr Heather Morris at last week’s Annual Meeting of the Irish Council of Churches (report, page 1), on the theme of the theology of ‘remnant’, led those present to see the Old Testament epic story of exile and restoration in a new and invigorating light. What became especially clear was both how the period of the exile of the Jews in Babylon was itself a time of great creativity and also how restoration after a time of crisis must not simply be seen as putting things back the way they were before, establishing a status quo ante, but, rather, must be a starting afresh with lessons learned the hard way. This experience of exile and restoration has its resonances with the themes of death and resurrection: exile is to the cross as restoration is to resurrection.
Professor Young referred to the Irish Churches joining a contemporary ‘exile’ of the Church in the Western world. By that she meant the marginalising of the Church that we in Ireland are experiencing, although some time behind other places. Since the 1960s, she said, the Churches in Britain had been facing suspicions of hypocrisy, scepticism and questioned relevance along with the distractions of consumerism and she ‘welcomed’ us to that world. However, in contending with this new order, Christians must avoid the ‘holy huddle’ response, she said, and instead must determine to make a difference to the world around them.
Dr Morris continued the theme, referring to the Churches as no longer the “trusted centre” but rather as now experiencing dislocation and a certain disorientation, having been dislodged, as it were, from our former security. Again, she said, battening down the hatches was not the right response to the experience. Rather, she said, there must be a new reliance on God – who, in turn, will meet those who look to him – and an echoing of God’s character in the world and for the world.
There is no doubt that the experience of exile is harsh, the experience of being cut off from the familiar and placed in strange surroundings. Yet, difficult though it is to imagine, there is also a blessing to be found precisely in the midst of adversity – the blessing of new insights hard learned, of more proper perspectives gained, of the shedding of irrelevancies in our lives. Christ himself endured the agony of the cross and yet that apparent defeat heralded a yet much greater triumph.
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Letters to The Editor
Bethany Home Memorial
The ecumenical service and Bethany Home memorial stone unveiling in Mount Jerome Cemetery on 2nd April was a moving experience (Gazette report, last week). Inscribed on the stone are the names of over 200 Bethany children who are buried in unmarked graves.
Representatives of the main Christian denominations in Ireland were present. We would like, through the Gazette, to thank the Ven. David Pierpoint, representing the Archbishop of Dublin, and the Revd Shane Forster, representing the Archbishop of Armagh.
In particular, we would like to thank Canon Mark Gardner, who conducted the service in Mount Jerome’s Victorian Chapel and who afterwards concluded formalities at the memorial stone.
He addressed in clear terms the importance of facing up to the Bethany Home issue. He also suggested dryly the very good idea of delivering the short speeches afterwards under the Chapel roof, rather than outside beneath umbrellas.
The service was followed by speakers, introduced by Bethany Campaign secretary Níall Meehan from Griffith College, who discovered the graves; Dublin Lord Mayor, Oisín Quinn; Northern Ireland Regional Development Minister, Danny Kennedy MLA; Chair of the NI Committee of the ICTU, Pamela Dooley; Robert Dowds TD, representing Minister of State Joe Costello; Sinn Féin Deputy Leader, Mary Lou McDonald TD; Rachel Doyle of the National Women’s Council; and two survivors, Coleen Anderson, from Westbank Orphanage Greystones (who played the organ at the service), and myself from the Bethany Home.
Ms Dooley reported on her awareness, when she was growing up in Northern Ireland, of Bethany Home in Dublin as a place of exile and punishment for pregnant teenagers. Mr Kennedy reported his enduring commitment to the survivors’ campaign as someone from a Protestant evangelical tradition.
Mr Dowds reported his sense of personal commitment as a representative in the Dáil who was also a Church of Ireland member. Ms McDonald spoke of the need to treat all the children of the nation equally. The Lord Mayor led off the speeches with an account of the failure of sectarian welfare regulation by the State, affecting the health and well being of Bethany Home residents.
Survivors and their relatives – from Ireland, Britain, Portugal and Australia – were impressed by the quiet dignity of the proceedings, that were enhanced by piper Eamon Walsh and violinist Daniel Mulvihill (who designed the memorial).
Mount Jerome monument works sculptors, Bernard and Martin Doyle, ensured that the imposing monument was ready on time. Cemetery director, Alan Massey, and his staff stayed long after normal closing time to facilitate the service and unveiling. We are grateful to them all for their selfless dedication to the tasks they undertook.
Everything fell into place and it could not have gone better.
All that remains is for the Irish government to play its part and admit Bethany survivors to a satisfactory system of redress. We ask for Gazette readers’ support in this endeavour and invite readers to visit the memorial at Mount Jerome Cemetery.
Derek Leinster Chair, Bethany Survivors’ Group 42 Southey Road Rugby, Warwickshire CV22 6HF
I read with interest in the Gazette issue of 11th April of the interesting and imaginative restoration work in St Comgall’s church, Bangor, Diocese of Down. However, I was somewhat surprised to read that “the Rector welcomed the Bishop”.
How does an incumbent of a Church of Ireland parish welcome the diocesan bishop to that which is already his/hers? That one’s bishop is present can be acknowledged, and it might even be deemed to be a good thing, and worthy of some form of acknowledgement, but hardly “welcomed”.
We are, surely, still an episcopalian rather than a congregational Church.
Peter Rutherford (The Revd) The Rectory Laytown Road Julianstown Co. Meath
The 39 Articles
I refer to the letter from the Revd Peter Hanna (Gazette, 11th April).
If we are living in Christ, we want his body to be whole. This does not mean that we need to become good Roman Catholics or they good Protestants; on the contrary, we can cherish our differences because they bring richness to Christ’s Church.
My understanding of this in relation to Christ’s way is to recognise and respect boundaries; we should not judge what others do or say unless we are responsible for them.
We should not negatively comment publicly on doctrine of the Roman Catholic Church unless we belong to it; judgement is left to God. We should not concern ourselves on the sexual orientation of others unless we intend sharing their bed. In this way, we might actually come out of the Dark Ages and let people see Christ’s light.
I believe this unity is what Christ referred to when he said: “Where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am also.” We are to love our neighbour as ourselves, considering our neighbour to be one with us in Christ, despite differences.
The world needs this message to be heard and the Church is responsible for spreading it. At this time, the Church of Ireland is at crisis point; like someone with pneumonia, we will either die if we continue without change or we will turn the corner and get better.
Jonathan Pyle Crinkill House Birr Co. Offaly
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