Violence in name of religion is violence against religion, says WCC after terror attacks
Following last week’s Islamic State deadly terror attacks in Paris and Beirut, the World Council of Churches issued a statement in which it said: “Violence in the name of religion is violence against religion.”
In Paris on 13th November evening, at least 129 people, along with seven attackers, were killed and hundreds more were injured, many critically. On the previous day, in Beirut, 43 people were killed and 239 were wounded.
Strongly condemning the attacks, the WCC’s Executive Committee, which was meeting in Bossey, Switzerland, issued a statement, saying: “In the face of this brutality, the human family, all people of faith and of good will, must stand together to recommit to respecting and caring for one another, to protecting one another, and to preventing such violence.”
ST COLUMBANUS – COURAGE AND INDEPENDENCE
Columbanus, who died 1,400 years ago and is remembered on 23rd November, was a devout, independent and fearless Christian. His name means ‘little dove’ – a form adopted to distinguish him from the better known Columba – but that name may indeed be regarded as somewhat inappropriate for the immensely forceful and very argumentative personality that emerges not only from his biography by his near contemporary, Jonas, but also from his own writings.
Because of Columbanus’s mission to Europe, Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, described him as “the patron saint of all those who seek to construct a united Europe”. To what extent Columbanus would have been a champion of political integration in modern terms, however, remains an unknown quantity but he surely would have been to the fore in challenging those in authority when he felt it necessary to do so.
Little is known of his actual background, apart from his monastic training at Bangor, Co. Down, but it has been speculated that the confidence that enabled Columbanus to write to kings and even popes almost as if they were his equals may reflect an upbringing in one of the higher strata of Irish society, which by his time had become largely Christian – or perhaps that was just the kind of person he was.
The existence of such an effective leader, albeit with a fairly notable capacity for falling out with those who disagreed with him, is a valuable reminder that the wellbeing of the Church does not necessarily depend on people of a conformist character, although it is not at all surprising that bishops were among those who were the most disapproving of Columbanus’s activities.
Once the period of his educational and monastic formation was complete, we find Columbanus moving from place to place. The style of leadership he exercised was, above all, dynamic and he left a trail of monastic communities founded by him across much of western Europe.
A particular issue which engaged Columbanus’s argumentative capacity to the utmost may seem to us rather remote, namely, the dating of Easter, where the Celtic Christians differed profoundly from the general practice, including that at Rome. Whatever one’s views on the merits of his case – ultimately the Church in Ireland adopted the practice of the rest of western Christianity – one may draw from his example the conclusion that it is not the worst thing in the world for a person to be unselfconsciously and eloquently the odd one out. After all, it was said of the (much earlier) Athanasius, Bishop of Constantinople, that in defending the Nicene faith in the full divinity of Jesus, he stood throughout his life and ministry contra mundum, ‘against the world’.
However, we should not assume that because Columbanus took issue with many people, including the Pope, he in any way thought of himself as belonging to a separate Church from that which was designated as ‘catholic’ (universal). Nor, clearly, was the individualism we associate with Columbanus of such a kind as to inhibit a commitment to collective witness and worship, since he was himself a founder of forms of monastic life, concluding with his establishment of a monastery at Bobbio in northern Italy.
In the Church of today, there is surely room for more people of the stamp of a Columbanus, totally confident of the faith they profess, uninhibited by a cautious ecclesiasticism, putting forth the case for Christianity both effectively and memorably, and moving others to show forth the faith they profess both in worship and in life – and who also prove themselves to be incapable of letting things ‘get them down’.
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Letters to the Editor
The state of the Church of Ireland
TWO IMMEDIATE observations are prompted by recent correspondence on Canon Ronnie Clark’s expressed concern (Letters, 16th October).
One: simplistic North-South comparisons are unedifying and often misleading and serve only to obscure the more important issue.
Two: the availability and scheduling of Holy Communion does reflect underlying attitudes, as well as practical factors. Hence, the real issue is: what value does our contemporary Church ascribe to the Sacrament?
My personal testimony is very simple: my faith in Christ I owe fundamentally to meeting him at the Holy Table, as a young person in a not untypical early- 1960s northern parish.
I suspect this may also have been true for many churchmen and women, North and South, whose spirituality is essentially eucharistic. But how many of today’s ‘shepherds’ recognise the Eucharist (as did John Wesley) as “a converting ordinance” and prioritise accordingly?
This issue is not ultimately about geographical or generational differences but about whether our Church still takes seriously its authentic gifts and distinctive identity.
Recent correspondence (and personal anecdote) points to widespread unease and a sense among many good Church people that we’re losing our true focus.
A deeper engagement with eucharistic worship might be our greatest need at this time.
Richard Dadswell (The Ven.) Rathfriland Co. Down BT34
I AM a little concerned, as a result of some of the recent correspondence in these pages, that there is a growing attitude amongst some in the Church of Ireland that there are others who are not to be thought of as ‘real’ Anglicans.
Some are appalled at what they claim is the lack of orthodox practice in the conduct of Divine Services; others by how far some have strayed from the traditions of the Church in theological matters.
For my own part, I would wish to see all as orthodox in both liturgy and theology as possible; but I would not see this as entitling me to accuse anyone else of not being a ‘proper’ Anglican.
This is not because of disinterest or because I imagine myself to be more tolerant than others; far from it. It is simply because Anglicanism has always been characterised, as far as I am aware, by the diversity of its composition – particularly when it comes to the twin spectra of doctrinal beliefs and what constitutes reverent worship, although of course there are limits to this.
If diversity within acceptable limits ceases to be the case (although, of course, I realise that this debate is taking place because, for many, the limits of what is acceptable diversity have already been far exceeded), then I can only imagine that the Church of Ireland itself will cease to be Anglican.
Patrick G. Burke (The Revd) The Rectory Castlecomer Co. Kilkenny
Church of the Resurrection, QUB
WHILST MANY Gazette readers will be aware of the ministry of the (now joint) Church of Ireland and Methodist Chaplaincy at Queen’s University Belfast – and in fact, many lived among us during their student days – many may not realise that 2016 is due to be a very significant year for us.
Next year, the Church of the Resurrection marks the 50th anniversary of its dedication in October 1966.
Much may have changed in the last 50 years but our chapel remains at the heart of outreach among students in Belfast.
To celebrate the occasion, chaplaincy staff and volunteers are trying to track down as many former friends and residents as possible for a special reunion event in Spring/Summer 2016.
It promises to be a very special occasion and I’m pleased to say over 100 people have already made contact to register their interest.
I would encourage any former students, in particular, to get in contact with us, either by completing the short form available on our website (www.thehubbelfast. org), by emailing Peter Huey at firstname.lastname@example.org, or by telephoning the office on 028 9066 7754.
We hope to be sending out formal invitations in the New Year.
Barry Forde (The Revd) 22 Elmwood Avenue Belfast BT9 6AY
LIKE SO many of us, I have been appalled and horrified at what has happened not only in Paris but also in Tunisia and Sinai and other places where there have been terrorist attacks.
Is there not another way forward that brings about understanding and that destroys hatred? Or do we have to continue as a 21st century civilisation to drown ourselves not only in the blood but also in the tears of victims?
Can we not plant seeds in people’s hearts and minds that produce different plants other than those of continuing hatred and demonisation of the other?
I realise that the idea that I am sowing is too large for a single letter and requires thought, conversation and understanding that fertilises the ground with growing respect for one another.
Is there not another journey of conversations between different peoples of faith, probably along the line of the ‘Ecumenical Councils’ of the past?
Surely, we need to find a common place to talk and share ideas that divide us, without ignoring the complexities of our divisions. Surely, as human beings, even of differing faiths, we can discover a starting point without necessarily always agreeing. Surely we can begin with the way Islam and Muslims understand us and we them.
Horizons can be widened to involve all faith communities. If humanity can begin bridging and respecting the differences of one another, then maybe we can just begin the long journey wearing someone else’s moccasins.
I don’t have any answers but, as someone has said, we had al-Qaida and when we thought that they were defeated we had IS and if we defeat IS who will be the next ‘enemy’?
Sid Mourant (The Revd) 12 Breezemount Hamiltonsbawn Co. Armagh BT61 9SB
Church response to climate change
ON 30th NOVEMBER, world leaders will meet for one of the most crucial conferences ever – the UN Paris Climate Change Conference, ‘Paris 2015’, also known as the 21st Conference of Parties or ‘COP21’.
The aim of the conference is to reach international agreement to keep global warming below 2°C.
This is a good opportunity to reflect on why climate change is looming as a moral issue and to ask what actions we, the Church of Ireland, have taken.
Throughout 2015, Christian leaders have spoken out about the moral challenge of climate change.
Pope Francis, in his encyclical, said climate change “represents one of the principal challenges facing humanity in our day”.
The Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, said: “We are now – like never before – in a position to choose charity over greed, and frugality over wastefulness in order to affirm our moral commitment to our neighbour and our respect toward the earth.”
Furthermore, our own Archbishops wrote a joint ‘Climate Change Letter from Faith Leaders’ to The Irish Times and The Belfast Telegraph (25th September).
This letter stated: “Climate change is one of the most serious challenges facing our human family. Current impacts are already too much for poor countries to bear. In rich and poor countries alike women and men living in poverty are most vulnerable to the impacts of increasingly unpredictable weather and more intense storms, floods and drought. The opportunity to limit further warming to relatively safer levels and avoid even more devastating impacts will soon disappear. The continued inadequacy of the political response at all levels to this
urgent challenge is a common, moral concern.”
Climate change is a moral issue because of the serious impact on the poor.
So, what action needs to taken? The 190 countries at COP21 must agree actions to lower pollution from fossil fuels to keep global warming below 2°C. To do this, scientists estimate that between 60% to 80% of existing fossil fuel reserves must stay in the ground. If we continue to extract and burn them as we have done, we will face dire consequences: droughts, floods, storms, sea level rise, extreme temperatures, failed harvests, social unrest, conflict, persecution and even greater refugee crises.
Each individual and select vestry needs to take action. But I believe the Church of Ireland itself can take decisive action that will speak powerfully to society.
The Church of Ireland has at least 5% of its General Unit Trusts invested in fossil fuel companies.
Earlier this year, the Church of England divested from thermal coal and tar sands. Edward Mason, the Head of Responsible Investment, said: “Climate change is a key challenge of our time and it’s a moral imperative that we all take action as part of the transition to the low carbon economy.”
At synods this year, two dioceses passed motions calling on the Representative Body to develop a plan for divestment from fossil fuels, starting with the most polluting coal and tar sands companies. It is to be hoped that the Executive Committee of the RB is now drawing up plans to divest from fossil fuel companies.
Stephen Trew 85 Toberhewny Lodge Lurgan
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