Bishops rack up the miles on their joint ‘Walks of Witness’
The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Rt Revd Ken Good, and the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, have completed a series of ‘Walks of Witness’ together, on which they sought to promote reconciliation in their dioceses and highlight their shared Christian witness and heritage.
Just before setting out on their penultimate walk, on Thursday 14th September, the two men posed for a symbolic photograph beside a flood- damaged bridge which was under repair on the outskirts of Claudy. They said they, too, hoped to build bridges in the community.
The series of joint pilgrimages began in the last week in April, when the Gospel reading in both their traditions recalled the story of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. The bishops – who are very good friends – hoped that their example would be an encouragement to others throughout the North West and beyond, who were working to end division.
CHANGING THE MINDSET
I still remember a friend telling the story of how an established business was dealing with the harsh realities of the market. The story goes back many years.
Bemoaning the fact that people were not buying their products in the numbers they had hoped for, their analysis of the situation seemed to boil down to one thing – blame the customer!
There are some things we don’t need a census to tell us – we can see them for ourselves. One of those things is that life for the Church on this island is changing. Whether through the growing tides of secularism or the fact that busier lives mean that church members have more demands on their time – life for churches is more challenging.
Yet census figures provide useful evidence to help us see the way things are, rather than the way we think they are or wish them to be. In his article on chaplaincy in this week’s Gazette (see pages 6 & 7), Archbishop Richard Clarke makes a key observation when referring to the Church of Ireland Census of 2013. Those figures told us that the average attendance over three Sundays in both jurisdictions was 15 per cent. Of those attending some 13 per cent were between the ages of 12 and 30. He brings those statistics to life by stating that they show us “that a majority of those who self-identify as Church of Ireland, are not greatly engaged with their local parish”.
Talking of the most recent census held in the Church of Ireland he observes that “although the full analysis of the 2016 Census is not yet available, I would be surprised if many people anticipate a massive upswing in church-going trends”.
I suspect there are few of us who would disagree with this. To openly say this is not defeatist or a sign of panic. It is a willingness to look at things realistically. Only when we face a situation realistically and honestly can we hope to react appropriately.
Leadership in any context faces an ever-present challenge. It is summed up by Ron Heifetz who says: “In a crisis we tend to look for the wrong kind of leadership. We call for someone with answers, decision, strength and a map of the future, someone who knows where we ought to be going – in short, someone who can make hard problems simple.” You and I are no different – it is simply human nature for any of us to want simple and fast answers.
If there are no instant quick fixes then what is it we need? Heifetz goes on to say: “We should be calling for leadership that will challenge us to face problems for which there are no simple, painless solutions – problems that require us to learn new ways … Making progress on these problems requires not just someone who provides answers from on high but changes in our attitudes, behaviour and values.”
The Primate recognises the parish as a crucial base for the life and work of the Church. So, what is it that he suggests we do to respond to the challenge of “a majority of those who self-identify as Church of Ireland (who) are not greatly engaged with their local parish”? Refreshingly, he does not take the ‘I have ten easy steps to fill your church’ approach. Nor does he decide to ‘blame the customer’.
What he is advocating is more fundamental. He says: “I do suggest … that we place a new emphasis on our pastoral encounter with a world beyond the walls of the parish. People who need and want the care of Christ through his Church are not all to be found sitting in the pews of our churches.”
What he is suggesting is more than a change of doing this or that. He is asking for a change of mindset – that we go out beyond our walls with the message and the care of Christ.
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Letter to the Editor
Pope’s visit to Columbia
I WAS disappointed by the Gazette’s 22nd September coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to Columbia. The article focused on Pope Francis’ appearance – he had a black eye after his pope mobile stopped suddenly – rather than what he actually said at the time the photo was taken.
To put the record straight, Pope Francis said this: “Those who deny this have to go to the scientists and ask them. Scientists speak very clearly; they are precise.”
He continued, “We can see the effects of climate change and the scientists clearly indicate the road to take. All of us have a responsibility, each one of us. Everyone has a moral responsibility, whether large or small, in accepting, offering opinions or making decisions. We have to take this seriously.” For a full report see bit.ly/PopeClimate17
I think the Gazette stumbled and got a ‘black eye’ for such lightweight reporting. Stephen Trew
Lurgan Co. Armagh
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