COI Gazette – 22nd January 2016

Primates aim to ‘walk together’ but face challenge over restrictions for US Episcopal Church

The Primates at Canterbury Cathedral last week

The Primates at Canterbury Cathedral last week

Following last week’s meeting of the Primates of the Anglican Communion in Canterbury, at which the issue of same-sex relationships had been to the fore, a communiqué was issued by the Primates indicating their “unanimous desire to walk together”.

However, they also outlined adverse measures aimed at the US Episcopal Church on account of its changed teaching on marriage.

In their communiqué, the Primates stated: “Recent developments in the Episcopal Church with respect to a change in their Canon on marriage represent a fundamental departure from the faith and teaching held by the majority of our Provinces on the doctrine of marriage. Possible developments in other Provinces could further exacerbate this situation.”

They added: “The traditional doctrine of the Church in view of the teaching of Scripture, upholds marriage as between a man and a woman in faithful, lifelong union.”




The annual Week of Prayer for Christian Unity runs from 18th-25th January and, each year, Christians of different denominations in a particular country are charged with developing the theme. For this year, the task fell to a group in Latvia and the chosen theme is ‘Called to proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord’ (I Peter 2: 9). The official text of the ecumenical service was jointly published, as usual, by the Commission on Faith and Order of the World Council of Churches and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity.

As part of background information, we are told: “Latvia first existed as a state from 1918 until 1940, in the wake of World War I and the fall of the Russian and German empires. World War II and the decades that followed with their totalitarian anti-Christian ideologies – atheistic Nazism and Communism – brought devastation to the land and people of Latvia, right up to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991. During those years, Christians were united in common witness to the Gospel – even to the point of martyrdom.”

Given such a relatively recent history, one can see why this year’s theme was chosen. There is a sense of God’s remaining with his people throughout what was a traumatic course of events for the people of Latvia – and not only remaining with them but also leading them onwards as their pilgrimage, with its many travails, brought Christians together in their faith. While the period experienced under totalitarianism drew many away from the Latvian Churches, we are told not only of Christians coming together during
that time but also of how the post-Soviet period has been one of renewal of Church life.

It is good that, each year, our attention is drawn to the experience of the Church in different countries. There is a sharing of experience which builds up the wider Church. At the same time, the Week of Prayer is about much more than this. It is also about praying for that unity which is God’s will for the Church.

At this time, Anglicans are particularly concerned about unity among themselves, as has been only too evident in reports of last week’s Primates’ Meeting in Canterbury (report, page 1). The issue of unity is not simply an institutional concern, however, but goes to the heart of what it is simply to be the Church. Unity is always worth striving after in the Body of Christ because it is the call of Christ himself, expressed so clearly in his high-priestly prayer, that Christians would be one so that the world might believe ( John 17: 21).

The text of this Week of Prayer in I Peter speaks of Christians together as “a holy nation” with the calling to declare “the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light”. The theme truly comes as an inspiration to recollect how the Church is a sacred communion that has been brought wonderfully to the knowledge and love of God through the person of Jesus Christ. Rather than focusing on divisisons, Christians of all denominations – and within each denomination – should together show distinct joy in their fellowship, telling forth to all the world the magnificent transformation that comes through being in Christ. (World News, page 8)


Home News

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  • Youth Update – Exciting opportunities and new plans in Connor and Armagh
  • Down and Dromore MU President commissioned
  • Commemoration Decade events – Cork, Cloyne & Ross and Dublin
  • Mothers’ Union to celebrate 140 years of care for families
  • Irish Times ‘Methodist notes’ columnist retires
  • Ulster Rugby players to speak in Belfast Cathedral
  • Presentation of certificates in St Luke’s Home, Cork


  • In Perspective – Let me know the rules …
  • Insight – American Life: Three reasons why Christians should back religious freedom for all By Ed Stetzer


World News

  • Bible App brings Week of Prayer texts to smartphones
  • Church of England 2014 attendance statistics show continued decline, but with instances of growth
  • The Church must provide solutions as well as highlighting world’s problems, Dr Tveit tells Nordic theology conference


Letters to the Editor

Armenian Memorial in Dublin

WITH REFERENCE to the dedication of the Armenian Memorial in Dublin (Gazette report, 18th December), I was very pleased to see this item.

Two questions came to mind: How many people of Armenian descent are in Ireland? and, How many are within the Church of Ireland?

From my own research, I know that my mother was Armenian of the family of Toros Patrtsi through Walter Sidney Weskin, son of Weskin Theodore Weskin.

I have come to have an inquiring love for the Armenian Holy Church of Nazareth, Kolkata, where the family was part of this church and the Armenian Community of Kolkata.

I still have many questions. I have been informed that the name ‘Patrtsi’ means ‘from Basra’. How did my ancestors come to live in Basra and why did they eventually
settle in Kolkata? Am I the only member of the Church of Ireland who has such an Armenian ancestry?

Finally, can any reader let me know of a way of making contact with the Armenians mentioned in the item by Lynn Glanville?

Sid Mourant (Revd)
12 Breezemount Hamiltonsbawn Armagh BT61 9SB

Climate-change summit

IT WAS heartening to see the coverage (Gazette, 18th December) of COP21, the Global Climate Change Summit held in Paris last month.

As Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain came to appreciate from his 1938 ‘peace for our time’ meeting with Adolf Hitler, however, goodwill, implementation and common purpose are required if an agreement is to be meaningful. Words on paper are not sufficient of themselves.

Unlike during World War II, no country can remain neutral with regard to taking action to tackle climate change.

Already this island is being battered by unprecedented storms and consequent flooding, just as Professor John Sweeney of Maynooth University and many climate- change scientists have predicted.

Apart from that, the unseasonally warm winds which carry these downpours are reaching all the way up to the northern polar regions accelerating further the melting
icecaps. Melting icecaps cause rising sea levels.

Insurance companies sometimes call a flood ‘an act of God’. One could call the first flood ‘an act of God’ (Genesis 6: 13), but after that God cannot be blamed for current and future flooding (Genesis 9: 11).

Archaeological data indicates global sea level was virtually static for many thousands of years but, over the 20th century, the sea level has risen globally on average 1.8mm per year.

In the last two decades, the sea level has risen on average to 3.3mm per annum. Unless we became a low carbon society very quickly, the US National Research Council in 2010 predicted, during this century, our children would face the sea level rising by 56 to 200cm.

Noah showed us that faith, prayer and hard work can overcome a daunting obstacle. The miracle we need today is not an Ark, but action- based-faith in a sustainable future that meets our needs within the carrying capacity of God’s Creation.

As the Secretary of the CEC-related European Christian Environmental Network told the Gazette, the Paris Global Climate Agreement “had to be viewed as an invitation to further action”. The question for the Church is – will we take up this invitation? Will we lead by example, as Jesus did, during his ministry?

I pray that 2016 will be a turning point in which all parishes register with www. so that we can support one another to overcome this global threat of our time.

If we focus together on action and create a better quality of life in a low-carbon society, then we can genuinely say to our grandchildren that, in our day, we took action and did what was necessary to achieve, ‘peace for our time’.

Trevor Sargent, Student Church of Ireland Theological Institute Braemor Park Churchtown Dublin 14

Scripture and the debate on human sexuality

IT IS surprising to read (Gazette report, 8th January) that Archbishop Clarke thinks we have reached something of “an impasse” regarding Scripture’s teaching on the issue of human sexuality.

It seems that the Archbishop finds merit in two myths.

First, that the Bible is unclear or inconsistent or its meaning is disputable.

To the outsider, the presence of debate over interpretation may suggest a lack of clarity and, thus, an impasse. The existence of varying interpretations does not, in itself, validate each of those interpretations.

However, Scripture has been interpreted in the same way on this issue for the 2,000-year life of the Church.

Perhaps, those who seek a revision of this understanding of human sexuality are more driven by political considerations beyond the text, not its consistent and historical interpretation.

The second myth is that the background to the text of the Bible is of greater significance than the text itself.

This amounts to taking an impressionistic approach to the text, where the supposed ‘spirit of the words’ is determinative, not the ‘law’ of the actual meaning of the words used. Or, at the very least, the Archbishop
gives room to those who follow this view.

The obvious difficulties with giving biblical background a greater prominence in our interpretation of the text is that the background to which we have access is extremely limited, itself needing to be properly interpreted.

Historical scenarios need to be constructed in order to place or contextualise the clear teaching of Scripture but this, in itself, may induce a false method. It may also aid our avoidance of both hearing and obeying the eternal Word of God.

The Articles of Religion speak of the place of the Scriptures in the life of Christ’s Church, giving us a methodology for their interpretation and application: “ … it is not lawful for the Church to ordain any thing that is contrary to God’s Word written, neither may it so expound one place of Scripture, that it be repugnant to another” (Article 20).

Perhaps this might guide the Church of Ireland’s future approach to the issues of human sexuality?
Trevor Johnston (The Revd)

All Saints’ Rectory 171 Malone Road Belfast Co. Antrim BT9 6TA

Disciplinary proceedings against the Revd John Hemphill

I AM writing regarding the article stating that the Church of Ireland offered the Gazette no defence to report in connection with various very serious issues raised by the Revd John Hemphill (report, 8th January).

I would commend the Gazette for bringing these matters into the public domain.

If the Church has no defence to offer in public, can they
please explain why they don’t? In carrying out its disciplinary proceedings, the Church must adhere strictly to the Constitution. However, if that isn’t done, then surely all resulting actions become unsafe.

Loraine Bateman (Mrs)
6 Woodgrange Holywood, Co. Down BT18 OPQ


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