Royal visit to Drumcliffe ecumenical service a ‘milestone moment’ – Bishop Glenfield
In the course of a reflection delivered during an ecumenical service of peace and reconciliation in St Columba’s parish church, Drumcliffe, Diocese of Elphin, last Wednesday (20th May) and attended by the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall during their two- day visit to the Republic of Ireland, the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, the Rt Revd Ferran Glenfield, described the occasion as a “milestone moment … acknowledging the transformation in our relations … [and] the work of God, the Spirit, who brings healing out of hurts, reconcilation out of wreckage, trust out of turmoil”.
In his reflection, Bishop Glenfield said that the history of Ireland and the UK had been marked by trauma and trouble but, as Isaiah 32 showed, the spirit of God had the power to transform creation, the country and the community.
The Bishop added: “We remember and revisit the horror of the recent past … we savour the comfort of the present … we hope for a better future together, as we wait upon the Lord.”
TOWARDS AN ECUMENICAL, PASTORAL RESPONSE TO SAME-SEX MARRIAGE
The result of the 22nd May marriage referendum in the Republic of Ireland, showing a large majority in favour of same-sex marriage, inevitably raises the issue of the extent to which Church and society are drifting apart. In one sense, the fact that there is such a drift at all should not come as any surprise for, at least in the Church of Ireland, we have recently seen statistics revealing that only a relatively small percentage of people who claim to belong to the Church of Ireland actually attend church.
There is thus some distance between what people want of the Church and what the Church wants of people. In such circumstances, there has to be more listening to one another. For the Church, this will mean reaching out to a very secular society with both love and understanding. The Gospel which we proclaim does not destroy people’s lives, but really is to bring fullness of life, joy in living and peace in the heart.
In last week’s Gazette, Religion News Service’s Jonathan Merritt wrote about shifting evangelical attitudes in the same-sex relationships discussion in America. He wrote: “As the general public became more accepting of divorce, many conservative Christians followed suit, but others found ways to be more inclusive of divorced Christians in their congregations and communities without moral affirmation of divorce itself. It seems quite possible that a similar path may be carved on sexuality.” There is no doubt that in Irish parishes there will, in due course, be parishioners who are in same-sex marriages performed under the auspices of the State. Although it is not what the Church advocates, there will have to be an honouring of those who choose such a committed and loving path in life.
Discussion of same-sex marriage is undoubtedly set to continue both within the Church as well as in society at large in Northern Ireland. The Church must relate to the cultures in which it exists, with its own beliefs at times at variance with secular views. The Archbishops and Bishops, despite rather stark terminology in part, have nonetheless thus rightly stressed in a statement the need for “a spirit of public generosity” on both sides, as debate continues (full episcopal statement, page 5). The President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Revd Peter Murray, has issued a similar plea, “that grace be extended mutually between those who disagree on this issue”. Mr Murray went on strongly to urge “Methodist families, small groups and larger fellowships to be safe places where LGBT people feel accepted and loved, able to share their stories freely and be involved in the life of the Church”.
For the Churches, to live in Ireland as a distinctly minority voice is now a clear reality, and it is a humbling experience. A time for reflection is now needed within all the Churches. It would be good if this could be done by Churches together, and we do have the ecumenical structures in place in Ireland to do just that. An ecumenical, pastoral response to what has been a momentous change in the settled culture of the Republic would be a welcome development.
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Letters to the Editor
The Church’s teaching on marriage
1. It is now proved that sexual orientation is part of the infinite variety of human nature and is not usually a lifestyle choice.
2. Clergy en masse do not write letters protesting about what they consider inappropriate aspects of sexual relations between heterosexuals.
3. Heterosexual candidates for ordination are not asked to describe their own sexual behaviour.
4. Historically, traditions of Christian marriage are not that old and are not globally the same.
5 Old Testament family relationships were very different from today and largely dictated by economic and health considerations. Marriage in patriarchal communities used to emphasize the rearing of children, ordering society so that fathers would (usually) know which children were theirs. In recent times, with more reliable contraception and DNA testing, all this has
changed. Society is chaotic, but the old ways will not do.
6. So, our Churches and other institutions must consider all realities and respond wisely to changing conditions. Therefore, it is necessary to discern and distil, out the basic sound principles of justice, respect, rights and responsibilities, and to apply these to each new situation and ask God’s advice.
7. Perhaps we need to write in the sand and think for a while.
He went on to say that “ … a same-sex couple cannot experience marriage as it is found in creation – what they share cannot ever involve the relational, the unitive and the procreative”, and continued: “We need to speak to society in a way that preserves the language of marriage for what actually is marriage. Even the famous or infamous diocese of New Westminster in Canada is scrupulously careful to avoid the term marriage in relation to the same-sex partnerships it feels deserve prayer.”
That was then and this is now.
The now Bishop Burrows said that he would vote ‘Yes’ in the Republic’s referendum on same-sex marriage. He has told the Gazette (24th April) that his views are “developing”.
What he has not clarified, however, is whether he no longer believes that marriage is a creation ordinance, or now believes that this creation ordinance can be extended to permit same-sex couples to marry.
I can square neither of these alternatives with the Genesis text.
In discussing divorce (Matthew 19: 4), Jesus said, referring to Genesis 1: 27 and 2: 24 – “Have you not read that he who made them from the beginning made them male and female, and said, ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’? So they are no longer two but one flesh.”
Jesus’ exposition of marriage as a creation ordinance leaves no room for same-sex marriage.
Can Bishop Burrows please tell us if he still regards marriage as a creation ordinance and, if so, how “the march of Anglican moral theology” resolves the above contradiction?
Hillsborough Co. Down BT26
They quote a resolution of the General Synod in 2012 that marriage is “a permanent and lifelong union”. Do they know that there are a number of divorced clergy in the Church of Ireland?
(The Very Revd) Clonmel Co. Tipperary
The United Nations Association of Northern Ireland
The UNA-NI is keen to mark the UN’s 70th anniversary through the creation of an archive and hopes to document local reaction to the implementation of the UN Charter on 24th October 1945 through accounts, memories and photographs.
The UN Charter declared: “We the Peoples of the United Nations determined:
1. to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war, which twice in our lifetime has brought untold sorrow to mankind, and
2. to reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, in the equal rights of men and women and of nations large and small, and
3. to establish conditions under which justice and respect for the obligations arising from treaties and other sources of international law can be maintained, and
4. to promote social progress and better standards of life in larger freedom.”
Could we appeal to readers for help in creating such an archive by inviting them to contact UNA-NI through our email address: unassocni@ gmail.com ? Such help would be much appreciated.
In addition, UNA-NI is aware that its predecessor organisation, the Belfast Branch of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, was founded in Belfast on 13th November 1945 and held its first meeting in the Lombard Café. Any information or comment on this event or organisation would also be very welcome.
For further information, please visit the UNA-NI website: unani.weebly.com
Hon. Secretary UNA-NI
7 Victoria Street
Armagh BT61 9DS
Reflections on General Synod
When I walked through the entrance to the Armagh City Hotel conference centre, the first thing that struck me was the variety of clerical dress and hairstyles. Had I arrived at a Father Ted convention by mistake?
I batted that image from my mind and took in the variety of exhibition displays and saw a few familiar clerical faces. The place was buzzing. I found a seat in the main hall and soaked up the atmosphere.
First up was the Presidential Address by the Most Revd Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. I had not seen the Archbishop in the flesh before and he is a real gentleman.
The address started well, emphasising the importance of Church communities having good inter-relationships – very timely.
Then he threw in some statistics, the most interesting being that only 15% of those who wrote ‘Church of Ireland’
on the National Census actually attend church. The mission challenge is all around us.
Later, the Archbishop added something that really jumped out at me. He said that misuse of the environment, which is God’s creation, is “something close to sacrilege”. I began to like this Archbishop even more.
I was pleased to see a late motion on an environmental charter, which was easily passed. I also noticed an updated ethical investment policy in the Synod reports that now includes an environmental focus, but there was no restriction on investments in fossil fuel companies, only on arms and tobacco investments.
So, the next day, I gave a speech about the investment policy and fossil fuels. I pointed out that, recently, 17 archbishops and bishops had called the climate change crisis “the most urgent moral issue of our day”, and asked the executive committee to disinvest from fossil fuel companies. During the debate, the responses were surprising.
Two or three of the executive committee spoke, including the chair of the investment committee. They were thoughtful gentlemen who had actually listened. They said that the issue of disinvestment would be considered at a forthcoming executive meeting. I was very encouraged by this.
To my surprise, Synod felt very contemporary. The tweets, including from two bishops, were very interesting and helped fill the duller moments – there were some.
However, in general, the speeches and debates were interesting, informed and passionate.
So, all in all, a good first impression. The people who matter do listen to ordinary lay people. You could not ask for more than that.
I look forward to hearing news from the executive committee about the Church of Ireland divesting from fossil fuel companies. Please pray for them as they continue to work hard on our behalf.
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