COI Gazette – 21st October 2011

Archbishop Alan Harper at the Armagh Synod with a portrait of himself which was unveiled at the Synod, accompanied by the artist, Mark Shields (Photo: Gerald Macartney)

Front Page

Archbishop of Armagh elaborates on recent Pastoral Letter

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, devoted his entire presidential address at last week’s Armagh Diocesan Synod to commenting on the continuing debate in the Church about same- sex relationships and civil partnerships.

These issues, he said, had been “sharpened by the events and controversy surrounding the entry into a civil partnership of the Very Reverend Tom Gordon, Dean of Leighlin, during the summer”.

In his well-received address, the Archbishop warned that the variety of views on the subject “can find expression in the kind of emotive and trenchant language that can hinder meaningful dialogue”, and called for “a careful, rigorous and courteous discussion of all the issues”, such dialogue requiring “a great deal of preparation and consultation”.



Voters in the Republic of Ireland go to the polls in a presidential election next week. Never before have so many candidates stood for the office and never before has such an election generated so much interest and so much controversy. Seven candidates are standing for election and the PR system of transferrable votes means that the result of this contest may hang on transfers, possibly going not only to a second, but even to a third or fourth count. The result is therefore highly unpredictable, which may be encouraging for some of the candidates but disturbing for others.

Given the onerous but largely powerless duties imposed on a President, it is a healthy sign of democracy that able, politically agile candidates should go before the people, willing to face scrutiny in their efforts to win a post that is in danger of effectively gagging the winner, at worst, and, at best, forcing the new office-holder to remain detached from the crucial issues of the day. For an active politician, it inevitably means a change of mindset of considerable proportions.

The country needs and deserves a President who follows in the dignified and graceful paths already trod by President Mary Robinson and President Mary McAleese. Both have set a remarkably high standard. The voters next week face that choice. The choice is not made easy by the number of candidates, but now is a time for a President who can give the nation real ‘heart’ in the midst of especially difficult and testing times for the country and, indeed, for the wider european Union. It is also to be hoped that the new President will be a person who will play a role in furthering good relations between North and South, and will present a positive and hopeful image of Ireland on the international stage.

These are all qualities which, to a large extent, relate to the candidates’ personalities, as well as to their achievements in the past and their abilities. Now, as ever, a strong, trusted and highly regarded figure is needed to fulfil the ‘first citizen’ role of an Irish President, an office of great privilege and distinction.

Home News


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World News

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Letters to the Editor

Civil partnerships controversy

IT WAS heartening to read (Gazette, 7th October) that for his first official engagement, the bishop of Tuam, the Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, chose an ecumenical event.

The bishop described the event, on the site of the Achill Mission, as a healing service and he was joined there by the Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Neary. Like many persons with mixed Catholic- Protestant ancestry, I feel that it is appropriate that 19th century mission sites of Catholic-Protestant sectarian tension are both remembered and transformed.

However, we do not need to return to the 19th century to witness the pain caused by religious disagreement. earlier this month, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, warned that gay members of the Church of Ireland might feel demeaned and distressed by the current debate on civil partnership within the Church.

I look forward to future occasions when there will be healing services in the Church to acknowledge the religious divisions on the matter of human sexuality. These will allow for an acknowledgement of the (hopefully past) prejudice experienced by gay Christians from other Christians.

This month, a former Dean of Tuam, Ian Corbett, who courageously spoke up for gay persons at the Lambeth Conference in 1998, returns to Ireland to lecture on this topic. Indeed, the Diocese of Tuam would be a suitable location for a future healing event on this major contemporary issue for the Church.

Richard O’Leary (Dr), Holywood Co. Down


I WAS ‘saved’ when I was seven years of age. Even now, past middle age, I remember the sense of relief that I was not to be one of the billions who would spend eternity burning in hell. I recall the nature of the transaction. god created man; mankind proved to be fatally flawed, bearing in his soul the sin of Adam. God is just and righteous and justice and righteousness require satisfaction for sin and the satisfaction was eternal punishment. All our righteousness ‘was as filthy rags’; nothing that I could do would remove the stain of sin, not even living a life of total selflessness dedicated to my fellow-man.

However, God is a god of love and, whilst the quality of any sacrifice I might make was useless in his eyes, there was a solution to my predicament: a perfect sacrifice would suffice and this god would provide in the form of his own son dying to pay the penalty for the sin I had inherited at birth.

Yet, there was no joy in being ‘saved’ because I anguished at the potential fate of my ‘unredeemed’ loved ones. The consequent urgent purpose of the Christian mission had to be primarily the saving of souls, an impossible task. There were too many Muslims, Jews, Atheists, ne’er-do-wells, the indifferent and the ignorant.

I left the Church, recognizing in young adulthood that the definition of the faith I possessed then was an effort to believe that which my common sense told me was not true.

Some readers might think that the above is parody. I wish it were, but this repugnant perversion of Christianity, perhaps more hygienically nuanced, still has many in its thrall. why so? I think because a literal reading of the scriptures can be found to justify it.

Be clear about this. The current debate in the Church of Ireland is not essentially about human sexuality; it is about how one understands the scriptures. Our Church has only itself to blame. For too long, it has failed to condemn superstitious teaching for fear of causing offence to those who have reduced our Lord’s message to a paltry equation and made it seem irrelevant in the eyes of most.

Wes Holmes Belfast BT14


WITH REGARD to the bishops’ proposed conference on human sexuality, what arguments about same-sex relationships that we have not heard already will further discussion uncover?

Has anything new been revealed since Lambeth 1998, the only truly global Anglican conference ever? It’s not only discernment of the mind of Christ we need, but also the will to obey him. “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5: 39).

Homosexual activity arises from a disordered sexual inclination which can never be fulfilling for a Christian as it is contrary to god’s creative wisdom. ‘Reason’ and ‘Tradition’ are not equivalent in authority to scripture in true Anglicanism (see, e.g., the Homily on scripture in the first book of Homilies). even if they were, they do not justify a change in the traditional teaching of the Church.

It is naïve to downplay the divisiveness of the issue, as bishop burrows did at last May’s general synod when he was speaking on the Anglican Covenant. On the contrary, this matter has caused rifts in the Anglican Communion, as well as within other denominations, and has undermined conversations with the eastern and Oriental Orthodox Churches.

The American experience shows that the gay lobby is not content with being tolerated, but would exclude those who hold to biblical teaching on sexuality. (some 200 clergy and bishops have been declared to have abandoned orders.)

Can we not expect our leadership to abide by Lambeth I:10 and the decisions of those Primates’ Meetings which represented the whole Anglican Communion?

Bill Atkins (Canon), Mohill Rectory  Co. Leitrim


WHILE I appreciate Canon Stephen Neill’s attempt to slice through the gordian Knot, surely there is fundamental error in his article (‘Rethinking Church’, Gazette, 7th October).

The three strands that hold the Church together are, as he says, scripture, Tradition and Reason. However, Tradition is not the bringing of “our own perceptions (Tradition) and intellect (Reason)” to bear on scripture. To follow this line would mean that we bring two factors of the present to ‘interpret’ scripture.

The fundamental meaning of ‘Tradition’ is that which is handed on or passed on through the generations. It lies behind Paul’s comments in 1 Corinthians: “I passed on to you of first importance that which I also received” (1 Corinthians 15: 3).

The Church’s teaching is that Tradition comprises, in the main, the writings of the early Church Fathers and Councils to 451 AD. Thereafter, the Church (through her bishops who hold in their office the unity of the Church and the teaching of the Church) interprets those writings in the light of new understandings, but it does so in such a way as not to contradict the Traditions of the Faith.

The threefold traditional ministry of Bishops, Priests and Deacons safeguards that Tradition. The bishops are the guardians of the Faith.

Reason, then, is the servant of the Church, enabling the Church to present the Faith in a meaningful and faithful way in which primacy is given to scripture and Tradition in that order.
Sid Mourant (The Revd) Hamiltonsbawn Armagh


IT IS extremely difficult to avoid the danger of becoming involved in a ‘dialogue of the deaf ’ on this question, especially in regard to the witness of scripture on the subject.

So far, there has been no ‘dialogue’ worth talking about, at least in the correspondence pages of this paper. Instead, we have been treated to the usual lobbing of grenades into enemy trenches.

Following on from the Dean of Lismore’s letter (14th October), might I suggest that the editor invite people on either side of the divide, and in the ‘don’t know’ camp, whose knowledge of scripture is beyond dispute, to produce articles setting out their stall in some detail, and to respond in similar detail to what has been published on the other side?

At least this would help to establish a genuine dialogue which will undoubtedly go on for some time. Whether it is too soon for such a dialogue to make a significant contribution to the proposed conference next year remains to be seen, but something of this nature is still necessary.

As far as I know, the Gazette is the only organ of communication common to the whole spectrum of thought and is, therefore, the ideal forum for such a debate. At the moment, we haven’t moved much beyond the ‘ye did, ye didn’t’ shouting match of the primary school playground.

Michael Mayes (The Rt Revd),  Cork

Note – Bishop Mayes’ comments about the correspondence on this issue so far seem, with respect, somewhat exaggerated. There have been some highly reflective and informed letters, as well as some more ‘down to earth’ ones. Letters on this subject will continue to be considered for publication on condition that they are written in an appropriate tone. Naturally, however, deep feelings on either side of a debate can rightly be expressed and it is necessary for all concerned to be aware of such feelings. Moreover, discussion of biblical material, for example, cannot be reserved to scholarly experts who, it should be pointed out, frequently differ as much as anyone else; the Bible is there for everyone and the ‘person in the pew’ must be allowed his or her say. The gazette has, however, been considering the kind of ‘symposium’ approach suggested by Bishop Mayes. We are aware that the Bishops are planning a study process on this subject, leading to a conference, and the gazette will seek to complement that process in a suitable way. – Editor 


Forms of Worship

OVER THE past couple of years, correspondence in the Gazette from both clergy and laity indicates an unease with the direction in which the Church of Ireland is moving. such letters cover a variety of matters, e.g. the service dress by some clergy (bishops and archbishops), an increase in the number of services of Holy Communion, the shaking of hands at the latter, the omission of some hymns for political reasons, the use of Communion wafers and the lack of visiting by clergy.

These, together with concerns I have heard regarding the very infrequent use of the 1926 Prayer book form of Morning and evening Prayer and Holy Communion, the introduction of candles, blessings using the sign of the cross, etc., point towards the possibility of a high and low Church division within the Church of Ireland.

Recent correspondence in The Sunday Telegraph also indicates that, within the Church of England, some of its clergy and laity would have a preference for the previous form of Holy Communion as composed by the finest ever liturgist, Thomas Cranmer.

From observation, the majority of churchgoing members were brought up using the 1926 Prayer book form of Morning and Evening Prayer and Holy Communion. Surely, then, members of congregations should be consulted more directly on forms of worship used in their parishes.

J.D. Gray
Downpatrick, Co. Down


Secularism the ‘real enemy’?

AM I alone in noting the irony of your front page header (Gazette, 7th October), ‘Bishop of Tuam highlights secularism as the “real enemy” of society’, as you characterized the wonderful ecumenical service at st Thomas’, Achill, where newly-instituted bishop Patrick Rooke joined Roman Catholic Archbishop Michael Neary in blessing the Church of Ireland’s graveyard, now known to contain the remains of Catholics and Protestants buried without distinction during the great Famine?

I have had the great pleasure over my late-life ministry in Irish Anglicanism to do summer duties and hear the harrowing history, candidly acknowledged by the present incumbent, val Rogers, of st Thomas’ role as a “souper parish”.

Perhaps the passage of time allows trivialization of a practice of offering starving, simple people the chance to escape starvation only upon their coerced conversion to another denominational tribe. As a still-committed American Republican, whose mother was a student in that parish school, I feel relief that her Christian faith was not formed by access to a free lunch.

What more evidence do we need before we acknowledge that the institutional Churches, banks and builders all colluded in preaching a gospel of Prosperity and abuse of power? The arrogant hierarchical structures taken on by Taoiseach enda Kenny could be compared to the Us senate hearings held in the nineties, when at least 30 American ‘televangelists’ preaching a gospel of Prosperity were exposed as sex predators.

Here in Northern Ireland, in the face of Christian sectarian cowardice, it was an agnostic PUP leader, David ervine, who almost literally gave up his life in leading the Protestant underclass to form bonds of repentance and trust with the socially-rejected Catholic community.

Perhaps the message to all of us here is that the Holy spirit may well be out there in the marketplace building god’s Kingdom among secularists because the entrance to the banquet is too tightly controlled by those robed in sacred wedding garments.

Gordon Graham ( The Revd Dr) Newcastle Co. Down

Columns & Book Reviews

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Book Reviews

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  • JOURNEYING WITH MARK: LECTIONARY YEAR B Authors: James Woodward, Paula Gooder and Mark Pryce Publisher: SPCK
  • THE EDGE OF GLORY: PRAYERS IN THE CELTIC TRADITION Author: Canon David Adam Publisher: SPCK Classics (first published 1985)

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