US Presiding Bishop sets out Episcopal Church approach in post-Presidential election context
The Presiding Bishop of the US Episcopal Church, the Most Revd Michael Curry, has moved to stress the inclusive call of the Church in the wake of the election victory of Republican Donald Trump.
In a statement the Presiding Bishop recalled how he had already shared what he intended as a reconciling, post-election message to The Episcopal Church (TEC) as a reminder that “we will all live together as fellow Americans, as citizens”.
He then went on to remind members of the denomination that “during moments of transition, during moments of tension, it is important to affirm our core identity and values as followers of Jesus in the Episcopal Anglican way”.
Bishop Curry added: “Jesus once declared, in the language of the Hebrew prophets, that God’s ‘house shall be a house of prayer for all nations’ (Mark 11: 17). He invited and welcomed all who would follow saying: ‘Come to me all who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens’ (Matthew 11: 28).
In its report to this year’s General Synod, held in May, the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures (CEMS) indicated that the current annual cost of the Episcopate in the Church of Ireland is “close to €2 million”. Nonetheless, the Commission, which according to the Church of Ireland website was established in 2012 to bring to the General Synod “conclusions and recommendations on appropriate future arrangements for episcopal ministry and structures in the Church of Ireland”, also stated: “It has not been a priority of CEMS to attempt any detailed analysis of funding and financing issues.”
However, if one is thinking about episcopal provision, a key question is bound to be how many bishops are needed and a key question in turn is how much having bishops actually costs, or needs to cost. So, CEMS not having looked at finance in any detail is a surprising omission.
In light of this, on 10th June last the Gazette requested a meeting with the RCB in order to understand the financing situation better, but this was declined by Church House, Dublin. On 25th July, following a further enquiry to the central Church authorities in which we indicated that we understood that the Church was unwilling to provide details beyond what was already in the public domain, we were asked to submit our questions in writing. We did so on 27th July, forwarding a total of 26 questions (see page 10).
Our questions, which excluded any that was specific to any bishop, included a request for the totals of costs in each of seven areas identified in connection with episcopal costs in the 2016 General Synod Book of Reports (pp. 27f) but grouped there under only two headings, ‘Offices of the Sees expenses’ (€325,978 and £179,421) and ‘See Houses and other costs’ (€396,433 and £158,765). We also requested details of the accounts to which these payments were made and the arrangements for their auditing. We did not ask any questions regarding episcopal stipends, state insurance or pension costs as sufficient detail about these was included in the Book of Reports.
By 5th October, despite reminders, we had not received any answers to our 27th July questions and therefore, on that day, we requested an indication of a timeframe for a response, but none was returned to us. On 21st November, we again sought answers to our 27th July questions and last Friday (25th November) we received a statement of a general nature (also see page 10).
There can be no doubt that the relevant material in different parts of the Book of Reports (cf. RCB and CEMS reports) regarding episcopal costs bears further scrutiny, not least in light of developments in charity legislation in both jurisdictions in Ireland, and the nature of the central Church’s response poses important questions of governance, transparency and financial accountability.
Many parishioners give very generously to the Church of Ireland and they deserve straight answers to straight questions. While it is true that questions can be posed by General Synod members at General Synod meetings and answers will be given, the prevailing culture in the Church would make such a move far from easy for the individual concerned, especially in seeking information about episcopal costs. In any case, the in-Synod process does not lend itself to detailed discussion of individuals’ questions.
Church of Ireland House in Dublin can do better than stonewall a legitimate enquiry. The immediate issue here is not so much about whether circa €2m per annum is too much for the Church of Ireland to spend on episcopal ministry but is more about access to the information that is an important first step towards reaching a good judgement on the matter.
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Letters to the Editor
I AM getting a little tired of Stephen Neill and his self-righteousness.
Whilst I sympathise with his views on Mr Trump, I cannot accept his analysis of the motivation of those of us who voted to leave the EU (Gazette, 18th November).
The British are a most tolerant people. Why else would there be so many different people of every colour and creed living there and wanting to live there?
Many, many thousands of British lives were sacrificed in World War II fighting fascism. There is much to be learned from history, but once learned we should forgive and forget.
The EU is governed by unelected bureaucrats in Brussels who award themselves enormous salaries and even greater expenses of office allowances.
There are vast numbers of MEPs and their entourages, all costing billions of Euros.
EU funding has been misapplied and the system abused. In all the some 47 years of the EU, the auditors have never, I repeat never, signed off the accounts as the accounts are blighted by fraud and manipulation.
Some nations have abused fishing quotas and fish size regulations with the result that the seas around our coasts have seen fish stocks decimated. Talk to fishermen in any fishing port in Britain or Ireland.
David Cameron tried to negotiate a better way but the EU sent him home with his tail between his legs.
Every year a city the size of Coventry would need to be built to accommodate the net migration: houses, schools, hospitals, more doctors, dentists, social workers, admin. staff, roads and railways – the list is endless – and of course we would need more immigrant labour to provide all this and they would need schools, hospitals…
The EU elite wanted a single currency, a very good idea, but they then mischievously overlooked their own rules and allowed countries which did not meet the criteria for membership of the currency club to join.
Billions of taxpayers’ money is poured in to support a failing currency. One of the main architects of the Euro has come out to say it is in imminent danger of collapse.
I admire the citizens of the Republic. When the financial crash hit them they girded up their loins and faced austerity bravely; they got their house in order. What about Greece, Spain, Portugal, Italy, even France?
The European elite want to spread their wings to include parts of Asia (Turkey); they want to spread their power and influence far and wide.
The elite want power, position, wealth, kudos. They want a new European Army, Foreign Affairs Department – the list is endless.
Where does all the money come from for all this? Is it Greece, Spain, Portugal, the Eastern European bloc, France?
I don’t know God’s plan for our world but I am not sure a United States of Europe is the answer.
Richard Balmer Parkgate Co. Antrim
I take the strongest possible exception to Stephen Neill’s statement (‘Rethinking Church’, Gazette, 18th November) that any vote for Brexit was “rooted in fear and division, suspicion of the stranger, the foreigner and those who are different from us”.
How convenient it was for him to cast a slur on people who:
- object to being governed by unelected commissioners;
- object to the sovereign Parliament of the United Kingdom being subject to the diktats of European Members of the European Parliament whose manifestos were not put before the electorate;
- object to being governed by a Parliament whose annual accounts have not been certified by accountants for at least the last 20 years;
- object to their hard-earned money in the form of contributions to the European Union being squandered without being subject to even the most elementary form of accountability; and
- object to the monstrous expenditure of having to support not one but two Parliament Buildings, in Brussels and Strasbourg, merely to satisfy the whim of one of the member countries.
How many other reasons does Stephen Neill need to be made aware of the fact that not everybody who disagrees with him are the bigots he would make them out to be?
Robert S. Stinson Lisburn, Antrim
IF WE want to see the Church of Ireland survive, we need to train born-again believers in every parish to make disciples.
Jesus told us to make disciples, so we need to be intentional about this.
Let’s bring in trainers who can teach our people how to make disciples.
This approach is winning many to Christ across the world. It is based on Discovery Bible Study where the person writes out a verse, then writes it in his or her own words and then is obedient to what the verse requires.
In witnessing to Muslims, it is good to start with the Old Testament and the prophets as they accept the Torah, known in Arabic as the Tawrat.
In the Church of Ireland, parishioners in the different groups they meet with, can look for the man or woman of peace, i.e. the person God is calling. (See John 6: 44)
This way of winning the lost has been used in the Church of England – see Mike Breen’s Building a Discipling Culture and his other books.
Let’s get started and be intentional about this.
Gordon Burrell, Almaty Kazakhstan
I WAS saddened and somewhat surprised to read Bishop Kearon’s piece on abortion in the context of the 8th Amendment to the Constitution of the Republic of Ireland (Gazette, 28th October).
For an article that encouraged readers to “inform [them]selves” and to avoid an “emotional response”, it was sadly a misinformed and unhelpful opinion piece that, at times, relied on emotive examples to communicate its point.
Citing the traditional Church of Ireland statement of opposition to abortion (‘The Family in Contemporary Society’, Lambeth Conference, 1958), Bishop Kearon then alluded to advances in scientific knowledge of embryology as a reason why we should now change our thinking regarding this issue.
As a final year medical student, I have yet to come across the aforementioned research that shows that the human embryo is not a human life.
The redefinition of an “unborn child” as merely a “potential human being” is purely a philosophical redefinition driven by culture and has no basis in science whatsoever.
If anything, scientific and technological advances have allowed us to see just how ‘alive’ these unborn children really are.
The emergence of ultrasonography in the 1970s, for example, allowed us to see hearts beating and limbs moving from as early as seven/ eight weeks.
I could say much more but it is undoubtedly the lack of Biblical wisdom offered by the Bishop in this piece that I found most worrying.
The Psalmist in Psalm 139 speaks of God forming his inward parts and knitting him together in his mother’s womb (Psalm 139:13). The Psalmist does not speak of God forming “an organism on its way to becoming a person” (Archbishop Habgood, cited by Bishop Kearon).
Likewise, in the book of Jeremiah, God speaks of knowing Jeremiah before he was formed in the womb ( Jeremiah 1: 5).
If an unborn child is merely a potential human being, with no sense of personhood, then who is there for God to know?
The only view open to the believer is that life begins at conception. To state otherwise is to fly in the face not only of clear biblical teaching but also of our experience of the unborn through science.
As a Church, we should be focused on both teaching the whole counsel of God on this issue and on providing pastoral support for those who have been duped by the world into believing that abortion is anything but the taking of an innocent life.
We should not be joining with the world in lobbying for the legalisation and celebration of sin. And so I would respectfully ask that Bishop Kearon retract his misinformed and unbiblical opinion piece.
Thomas Dowling, Dundonald Co. Down
Clergy Pensions Fund
The Church of Ireland Clergy Pensions Fund has a serious problem – millions of euros from the 170.5m Pensions Fund are invested in equities that are directly harming human health through air pollution.
The Lancet medical journal reported that air pollution is a “silent killer” responsible for 6.5 million deaths globally – more than HIV, tuberculosis and serious road accidents combined. In the UK and Ireland air pollution causes more than 50,000 early deaths per year.
The Head of the World Health Organisation, Margaret Chan, said: “Air pollution is one of the most important health risk factors globally, comparable to tobacco smoking”.
The Church of Ireland’s ethical investment policy does not permit investments in tobacco products, but it does allow investments in fossil fuel companies. The leading cause of air pollution is burning
petrol and diesel fuels in vehicles. The ethical hole in the Clergy Pensions Fund is there because it invests directly in oil, gas, and petroleum infrastructure companies, and indirectly through grouped investments such as bonds that are not fossil free. The depth of this ethical hole is hard to determine because the RCB does not publish full investment portfolios that include carbon- intensity. Perhaps the RCB might consider publishing full investment portfolios for each fund in 2017.
I trust that participants in the Clergy Pensions Fund do not want their pension to cause harm to human health. The British Medical Association divested fully from fossil fuels in 2014. Is it not time that Church of Ireland investments were fossil free?
Stephen Trew, Lurgan
Church of Ireland Gazette enquiry to central Church re. financing the Episcopacy, 27th July 2016
Church response of 25th November
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- Release of Thanks & Praise CDs
- Standing Committee statement regarding Eighth Amendment