Archbishop Harper speaks to the Gazette about his five and a half years as Primate
The Archbishop of Armagh has spoken to the Gazette, ahead of his retirement at the end of this month, about his five and a half years as Primate of All Ireland.
In the exclusive interview with the editor last Friday at Church House, Armagh, Archbishop Alan Harper identified two things that he particularly felt were advances in Church and State during his time in office – the visits of the Queen to the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and the establishment of the new Church of Ireland Theological Institute (CITI ). – Listen at www.gazette.ireland.anglican.org/audio (Interview 30).
A PRIMATE OF TRUE HOLINESS
The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd Alan Harper, will retire at the end of this month after five and a half years in office. Those years have been far from easy ones for the Church of Ireland or, for that matter, for the Anglican Communion.
When Archbishop Harper took up office in 2007 as Primate of All Ireland, devolved government in Northern Ireland held out hope for the future, but there was still much work to be done in terms of making the system work – and that is still ‘work in progress’, as the Archbishop has suggested in a Gazette interview (report, page 1 and audio link).
In his Enthronement address in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, the new Archbishop spoke about reconciliation and forgiveness, referring in particular to the parable of the prodigal son and the extent of the father’s love for both the elder son, who resented the welcome extended to his wayward younger brother, and for the prodigal son himself. The Archbishop aptly observed that the father had wanted both sons finally to find a “shared future” in their home.
The vision of a shared future must, indeed, be to the forefront of the consciousness of all the people of this island. Helping to make all of us brothers and sisters – and especially brothers and sisters in Christ – has been a mark of Archbishop Harper’s tenure in Armagh, not least by his own graciousness and example of personal devotion, by his openness to others and by his ability to articulate and point the Christian way.
However, certainly one of the main challenges for Archbishop Harper came in the form of leading the Church of Ireland at a time of much internal controversy over the human sexuality issue. As he indicated in our interview, the opportunity of a truly collaborative way forward for the Church has been created by the General Synod resolution of last May.
Yet, quite apart from all the controversies, challenges and achievements over recent times, now is a time for the Church to give thanks for the faithful ministry of Archbishop Harper. His pastoral heart has been matched by his liturgical instinct, his theological reflection by his clear preaching, his ecclesiastical heart by his administrative abilities, his prophetic heart by his timely words. We all have been fortunate indeed to have been led over these years by an unmistakably caring Archbishop of Armagh, a man of true holiness who has both well loved and well served the Church.
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Letters to the Editor
Clergy under criticism
The series of letters from senior retired clergy and others on the subject of clergy visiting has caused great hurt and annoyance to a number of the serving clergy in my diocese. The vast majority of the serving clergy of this diocese give great priority to parish visitation, especially to elderly parishioners, the sick and those confined to home.
To write off their efforts and commitment with such general statements causes great discouragement and in most cases is grossly unfair.
Many of the letters paint a picture of parochial pastoral life of some 40 or 50 years ago. Today’s scene is somewhat different, even if people and their needs have not changed.
We now live in a world where it is increasingly hard to find the most effective time to call on homes, because of working parents, a much more mobile population, the loss of much local networking and social interaction.
This means that the channels of necessary information and news to local clergy are very different from times past.
Often people have been to hospital and are home again before their close neighbours, never mind the parish clergy, know about it. Rural clergy cover much greater distances these days to maintain parish contact and pastoral care, with increasing travel expense and greater obstacles to overcome.
Security issues play a part and calling after dark is not always appropriate. Modern technology does help and phoning ahead on the mobile phone can often save valuable time. Making appointments when possible can avoid missing people at home.
There is nothing more discouraging to parish clergy than setting out on a series of visits and after finding nobody at home in the first four calls, giving up in frustration.
Ricky Rountree (The Ven.) Powerscourt Rectory Enniskerry, Co. Wicklow
I would like to congratulate those correspondents who have been writing about how much better things were in their day. Very wisely, they have not wasted their time going and criticising their own, no doubt lazy, rector. Instead, by using their time writing to the Gazette they have been able to ‘encourage’ hundreds of lazy clergy all at once.
No doubt these lazy men and women, like myself, will now realise how much better things were 50 years ago and, rightly ignoring the way society has changed over time, will return to a model of ministry which was so successful in the ’60s and ’70s that our churches were packed with faithful worshippers.
I am quite sure that the decline in attendance is a recent phenomenon, though that is not what they told me at training college.
I now look forward to some letters from clergy criticising the laity and retired clergy, pointing out that in the ’40s and ’50s no-one would have dared to criticise a rector or tell him how he should run his parish.
I am sure that if we continue throwing criticism back and forwards for long enough we can manage to turn back the clock and return to those golden days when everything was so much better. (Sent by email, which will be ‘first against the wall’ when we achieve that worthy goal).
Alan Barr (The Revd) 104 Cooley Road Sixmilecross, Co. Tyrone
I must say that I have read with interest the recent news regarding the RCB, your editorial and the letter from Ken Gibson (Gazette, 24th and 31st August and 7th September), all dealing with Church finances and mission. Each in its own way emphasised finance and the mission of the Church, which in turn always have to be linked with meaningful and attractive worship.
I have always been struck by the generosity of people in their giving to the local Church. Most parishes use the ‘envelope’ system for parishioners’ giving, but I have three questions: How many people receive teaching on giving money as part of their Christian stewardship?
If people understand the financial side of stewardship, then why do we have so many ‘retiring collections’ and money-raising events?
Do the Churches make full use of the tax benefits available when the retiring collections, etc. are ‘cash on the plate’?
Perhaps someone can answer these questions for me.
Sid Mourant (The Revd) 12 Breezemount Hamiltonsbawn Co. Armagh
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