Dublin and Glendalough inaugural Diocesan Growth Forum oversubscribed
There are no new ways to follow Jesus, but existing ways can be refreshed with new thinking and new initiatives, clergy from Dublin and Glendalough heard at an inaugural Diocesan Growth Forum which took place recently in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
The conference sought to provide an opportunity to discuss potential Church growth and development in the United Dioceses and to explore fresh ways of working and progressing new initiatives.
The event, which proved to be both inspiring and provocative, was organised by the Diocesan Growth Committee.
In the words of the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, in his opening comments, the conference was an “instant sell out”, with demand for places far outstripping supply.
CHURCH OF ENGLAND APPROACHES DECISION TIME ON WOMEN BISHOPS
The English House of Bishops last week introduced two amendments to the Draft Measure on women bishops to be considered by the General Synod when it meets in July in York. Not only has the General Synod been through the discussion but so too have diocesan synods, with 42 out of 44 approving the Draft Measure – as it was before the House of Bishops exercised its right and introduced the amendments. However, by due process, those amendments have been deemed not to have altered the substance of the Draft Measure and therefore it does not need to be reconsidered by the diocesan synods before returning to the General Synod. The two amendments go to the heart of the whole matter.
One of the two changes coming from the House of Bishops adds to the matters on which guidance will need to be given in a Code of Practice that the House of Bishops would be required to draw up. This includes guidance on the selection by the diocesan bishop of the male bishops and priests to minister in parishes where the Parochial Church Council has issued a Letter of Request under the Measure, ensuring that their exercise of ministry would be consistent with the theological convictions as to the consecration or ordination of women which prompted the issuing of the Letter of Request. In other words, it is more than simply supplying a male; that male would need to be like-minded with the parish on the matter.
The other amendment makes it clear that, when a diocesan bishop permits another bishop, who is acceptable to a parish that opposes women bishops, to perform episcopal ministry in that parish, the authority that the visiting bishop has remains the authority which a bishop possesses as a bishop (i.e. from Holy Orders) and is not derived from the diocesan bishop; nor does that delegation of authority detract from the diocesan bishop’s authority or ministerial functions.
The two amendments clearly have been introduced to make the Draft Measure as widely appealing as it can be. That means giving something more to those who have reservations without alienating those who are already in favour. Therein, however, lies a real danger. If those who are already in favour feel that the House of Bishops has in fact gone too far in adding reassurance to those opposing women bishops, things could come unstuck.
Indeed, a short time will tell.
EURO VISION DRAWS ATTENTION TO HUMAN RIGHTS IN AZERBAIJAN
In a recent Bloomberg opinion piece, Matthew Bryza – Director of the International Centre for Defence Studies in Tallinn, Estonia, and a former US Ambassador to Azerbaijan – stated that Arzerbaijan’s hosting of last weekend’s Eurovision Song Contest provided an opportunity to push for further progress on important and much-needed changes in the country. Mr Bryza said of Azerbaijan: “The country’s record on democracy and human rights is troubling. During my tenure as US Ambassador in Baku until January, I spent more time on these issues than on any other.”
Of course, the contest provided Azerbaijan with an opportunity to show itself off to the best advantage, but the 2012 report of Human Rights Watch stated that the EU, the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe and the United States’ Embassy in the Azerbaijan capital, Baku, all had expressed concern over the arrests of youth activists.
The report also pointed out that last May the European Parliament had adopted a resolution expressing “deep concern at the increasing number of incidents of harassment, attacks and violence against civil society and social network activists and journalists in Azerbaijan”.
While Mr Bryza could highlight the fact that the Azerbaijan government has recently built the Jewish Ashkenazi community’s main synagogue in the capital, following its earlier construction of the Roman Catholic community’s main church, he nonetheless stressed that there remained a need to keep pressing Azerbaijan to do more in terms of human rights.
According to the Institute for Reporters’ Freedom and Safety, a local media monitoring organization in Azerbaijan, more than 50 domestic and foreign journalists were harassed or attacked in 2011 and in October a court remanded the Khural newspaper editor-in-chief to pre-trial custody on dubious extortion charges; he denied the charges, claiming that they were trumped-up as a result of articles critical of the government. Human Rights Watch also reported, inter alia, that the Azerbaijan government has severely restricted freedom of assembly, that imprisonment on politically motivated charges is a continuing problem, and that the government has tightened restrictions on all religious groups, dramatically increasing fines for unauthorized religious activity and requiring all religious groups to seek prior authorization from the government to gather. A Baptist congregation in Sumgait was raided by police, resulting in a warning to the leader not to meet for worship without State permission.
The Eurovision Song Contest may be a rather ‘kitsch’ event, but on this occasion its venue has brought these human rights matters to very public attention, which is only a good thing.
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