“Where we have come from … where we wish to go”
“Where we have come from and where we wish to go” was a dominant theme in the Primate’s speech to the 2018 General Synod that took place in Armagh. Archbishop Clarke delivered his presidential speech on 10th May, at the beginning of Synod business.
Setting a framework for navigating the future, noting that 2019 will mark 150 years since the disestablishment of the Church of Ireland, the archbishop said: “It is certainly worth using this coming year to reflect on where we have come from, because it is only when we do this that we can map out where we wish to go.
“This is not a call for an extended history seminar, but rather the conviction that we need to be thoroughly honest about what we truly are.”
Setting this in context, he added: “… we cannot do this in isolation, either from the world around us or from the factors that have made the Church of Ireland, at the end of the second decade of the 21st century, the kind of community it is.”
BEYOND GENERAL SYNOD
“If we are going to reflect with integrity and courage (but hopefully not self-indulgently or self-obsessively) about what we are and where our next steps should be taking us, we surely need to look at markers that should be our points of reference. We are certainly to be a Church focused on mission, but we also need to get our bearings clear, even as we embark on that task.” These were the words of Archbishop Richard Clarke in his presidential speech to the General Synod 2018.
In February 2014, the Council for Mission gathered delegates from across the Church of Ireland for a special conference on mission, held at Dromantine. The purpose was to examine how to articulate mission in the range of contexts that exist across Ireland, so that all church traditions could embrace, support, enact and bring it to life.
To help delegates in their thinking, the Bishop of London (now retired), Rt Revd Dr Richard Chartres, and the then President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Revd Dr Heather Morris, were key contributors to the event.
Bishop Chartres made the following observations:
a. After the 1960s and ’70s, the Church of England had become “bewildered, confused and fragmented,” resulting in churches being abandoned, as well as in a prevailing sense that decline was the Church’s destiny;
b. At the core of change is the vital prioritising of a fresh engagement with “the symphony of Holy Scripture” – saying “there can be no renewal without that” – and developing a “deep and profound life of prayer;”
c. Engagement and action planning locally are essential;
d. Rather than producing large complex programmes, he said, “simplicity releases energy; leaders must point people on a clear direction of travel …”;
e. Being “utterly serious about our foundation” – a “diversity of styles can be tolerated” (‘generous orthodoxy’) but “whatever happens is based on our fundamental identity … the Church as part of the holy Catholic Church worshipping the one God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, proclaiming afresh.”
In short, the task was “to reduce clutter and create an educational framework for common action where all can work together.”
Dr Morris highlighted the essential first-step discipline of “standing back in order to put aside our many ideas and our many frustrations, and dare to ask for eyes to see what God is doing.”
The two-day conference allowed for preparation before further discussions on these matters and took place at the General Synod in May of that year. At the 2014 General Synod, the Council was given permission to run a ‘breakout’ session. Coming at the end of a long day of synod business, the statistics were encouraging. 31 discussion groups consisting of 192 – 45% out of a possible 432 – synod members took part.
Some of the points of interest arising from the groups included:
• An expression of hunger for spiritual renewal;
• A comment that it was “good to see money and mission coming together in the Representative Church Body report”;• An acknowledgement that engagement with mission
There was an emphatic response to the question “What
do you think the Spirit is saying to the Church of Ireland as regards our mission and purpose?” The response was that we need to focus outwards towards the community in which we live through social action and faith sharing.
Have a look at the Council for Mission reports to General Synod, from its establishment in 2004 to the present. They show two things. Firstly, that there are serious stirrings of commitment in the Church of Ireland towards mission. Thanks to the work of the Council for Mission, we now have more than anecdotal evidence of that growing interest – they show evidence that the Church of Ireland is becoming energised by the challenge of mission on this island.
It is interesting to see the tone and content of all this now being worked out at General Synod, diocesan and parish levels. Sometimes reports are worth the reading!
• Adapted from ‘The Church of Ireland – Apologetic for mission?’
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Letters to the Editor
Eighth Amendment referendum
TIMES ARE changing here on the island of Ireland and people are able to make more informed decisions with respect to moral and social issues in their daily lives.
So it came as quite a surprise/ shock to read of the two Church of Ireland primates issuing an “Encyclical” type document inThe Church of Ireland Gazette, encouraging/instructing/advising the laity/lay members to vote ‘No’, and reject the proposed changes to the Irish Constitution in the forthcoming referendum.
A number of aspects of this statement struck home most forcibly. Having only recently celebrated the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, which enshrined into our thinking the paramount place of individual conscience in the heart of our Christian faith, it seems curious to have archbishops – and other bishops – seeking to direct the decisions of the lay members of the Church, rather than allowing/
accepting that each member must be guided by their conscience, and not instructed to follow the edicts of the ecclesiastical authorities with respect to a matter of conscience.
Interestingly, the archbishops are both mature aged men instructing the women of Ireland as to what they do with their bodies with respect to this matter of termination and the health of their body, mind and spirit. So much for the acceptance of equality and respect.
As Anglicans and members of the Church of Ireland, from the earliest development of our Church during the Reformation, there have been three most important strands to our thinking with respect to doctrine and ethics (morality).
These three are: Scripture, tradition and reason. To quote Scripture, to the exclusion of tradition and reason – with respect to this moral issue and a particular slant or interpretation of Scripture at that – would mean not only a ‘No’ vote on this matter. It would
also mean the Church of Ireland must vote ‘No’ to birth control, divorce, women priests, gay rights and equality, and ‘Yes’ to slavery, as Scripture will support all these ‘moral’ decisions if you are a ‘biblical’ and ‘fundamentalist’ Christian.
Having worked in England for 27 years as a full-time hospital chaplain and chaplaincy coordinator in the NHS and pastorally cared for many Church/ Christian women undergoing terminations for many and varied reasons. To have rejected ministering to them because of a distorted fundamentalist understanding of Scripture would have been utterly unchristian and totally unacceptable in the world of reality.
The up and coming vote is a matter of conscience and not a matter of Church loyalty or allegiance.
Ronnie Clark (Canon)
Cloughey Co. Down
BISHOP KEN KEARON is quoted as saying that he believes it is “entirely consistent to support the removal” of the Eighth Amendment because the Church of Ireland was “generally opposed” to it when it was being introduced (Gazette, 11th May 2018).
It is more important, however, to remember that the Church of Ireland has also always opposed the idea of abortion on demand. There was no conflict between upholding the principle of the sacredness of human life in 1983 and opposing the amendment as the introduction of abortion, with or without it, was regarded as a remote possibility.
This is not the case today, as the removal of the Eighth Amendment would be for the specific purpose of introducing abortion on demand.
The general opposition of some years ago – while it may be a historical fact – has no bearing on the current debate; the sacredness of human life, on the other hand, remains an unchanging and unchangeable principle.
True consistency, therefore, lies in ensuring that the lives of unborn children continue to be protected in the Constitution by supporting the retention of the Eighth Amendment.Patrick Burke (Revd)
Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny
I WARMED to the editorial of 23rd March entitled ‘Imagine …’ until I read the last half of the final sentence. This seems to imply that if the Eighth Amendment is not repealed, others will not know what it is like to never have had the chance to have life.
For me that represents a subtle suggestion that if the Eighth Amendment is retained, there will be no abortions in Ireland. If that is the message, I am very much a doubting Thomas.
Athlone Co. Westmeath
I AM appalled at the Irish government and the Church of Ireland for treating my husband, Derek Linster, disgustingly.
He has been working so hard for the Bethany Home survivors, for well over 20 years, and I feel he has been treated dreadfully by a lot of government officials, Church of Ireland officials, some media, solicitors and many others.
A very good example was in a recent story in the Examiner.It cited that the Ombudsman was in talks with those concerned with the Magdalene Laundry, as well as the Taoiseach. The Ombudsman agreed that the Magdalene women were not treated in the right way. However, at the time this was happening, my husband had been in touch with the Ombudsman, who
came back saying he was now out of time, which would also have been the case with the Magdalene Laundry.
This feels like discrimination and it has been going on for the last 20 years, and I think it is wrong. I am English born and bred and it sticks out like a sore thumb to me.
I think I know why it is like this – because he is Protestant. They all say it is not, but you should take a step back and look at the situation.
My husband is a very ill man from the time he was in the Bethany Home. It is completely disgusting.
I love Ireland and have been over many times, but I am now very disillusioned.