Bishop Tom Wright explores theme of ‘hope’ at Irish Inter-Church Meeting in Belfast
Official representatives of Irish Churches gathered last week at the Methodist Church’s Edgehill College in Belfast to explore the theme of ‘hope’. The keynote speaker at the day-long conference was the renowned New Testament scholar, Professor N.T. (Tom) Wright, formerly Bishop of Durham and now a professor at the University of St Andrews, Scotland.
The 25th session of the Irish Inter-Church Meeting – part of the Churches in Ireland Connecting in Christ grouping – took place against the backdrop of increased public disillusionment towards institutions, the challenges presented by the forthcoming decade of Irish centenaries (including the Ulster Covenant of 1912, the 1914 outbreak of the First World War and the Easter Rising of 1916), global economic uncertainty and concerns for the future of local communities and young people.
A NEW PRESIDENT
The election of Michael D. Higgins as the ninth President of Ireland marks the end of a most successful tenure of that office by Mary McAleese and the beginning of the presidency of a man who has fought an election campaign with consistent dignity. Rightly, the Archbishop of Dublin has said that a President “who stands alongside our people and identifies with our joys and sorrows, as well as presenting the best of Ireland internationally, is someone to whom people young and old across Ireland and beyond will warm with considerable affection”, and there is every reason to believe that Mr Higgins will meet that standard.
The new President takes on a largely ceremonial but nonetheless very significant role at an especially difficult time for the country’s economy, as well as a time at which the whole future of the EU and the Euro itself is far from certain. Mr Higgins has shown that he is very much aware of the personal costs to ordinary people of the economic crash and the real difficulties facing families. The Republic has made early progress in terms of economic recovery and there is a prudent determination to keep things moving in the right direction. Not least by virtue of his seniority as a national figure, Mr Higgins will add a sense of stability to the country in these turbulent times in national affairs. He has spoken of his sense of a positive mood among the people and a desire to move beyond recrimination; in highlighting that mood, Mr Higgins has made a welcome and encouraging observation.
By contrast, the Presidential election campaign was a less than inspiring episode. One can be thankful that it is now over. It was instructive to see the ferocity with which Martin McGuinness was subjected to the most probing criticism of his past, not least from our own straight-talking Canon Patrick Comerford. Sean Gallagher’s demise told the story of how the electorate wanted to leave certain things behind, and David Norris, while performing with his usual charm, was not able to recover ground that was lost earlier in the campaign. The other candidates’ campaigns were characteristically lacklustre.
Standing for the country, above party politics, Mr Higgins as Uachtarán na hÉireann will command a genuine respect among the people as they look to him in the years ahead as the ultimate guardian of their rights.
ANGLICAN CONCERNS IN ZIMBABWE
The Bishop of Harare, the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya’s recent visit to Ireland – organised by USPG Ireland – has highlighted the immense challenges facing Anglicans in Zimbabwe (report, pages 8-9, with audio). Bishop Gandiya impressed those who met him with his quiet but very strong spirituality.
The Archbishop of Canterbury’s meeting last month with Zimbabwe’s President Robert Mugabe was an opportunity for Dr Williams to confront the leader with the reality of the sufferings of Anglicans under his repressive and brutal régime – a reality spelt out for us by Bishop Gandiya. The opportunity was taken by the Archbishop, who had been well prepared for the encounter, personally handing over a dossier of abuses to Mr Mugabe.
The dossier, drawn up by the bishops in Zimbabwe, stated: “We respectfully ask that you as head of State put an end to this illegal harassment … and allow us once again to use the properties which are rightly ours so that we may worship God in peace and serve our communities and our country.” It included references to some clergy having received death threats at gunpoint and to a woman who was killed last February for refusing to renounce the Anglican congregation in Harare that is led by Bishop Gandiya. In addition, some priests have received death threats at gunpoint, the documents handed over by Dr Williams stated.
Some have said that by visiting Mr Mugabe, the Archbishop only gave him extra oxygen of publicity and that he therefore should not have had the meeting at all. On the contrary, the publicity that has been created as a result of the visit has in fact succeeded in highlighting, in a very public way and on the international stage, the abuses that have been taking place.
Bishop Gandiya was present at the Archbishop’s meeting with the President and has spoken of his impression that Mr Mugabe appeared to have been concerned by the contents of the dossier. However, only time will tell whether or not the Mugabe régime will take sufficient necessary steps to rectify the situation in a fundamental way. The international community, not least the Anglican Communion, will be looking for actions that meet any appearances of Mr Mugabe’s concern.
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Focus on Visit of Bishop Chad Gandiya
Christian, seek not yet repose’ … ‘Watch and pray’
The Revd Patrick Burke reports on a visit of the Rt Revd Chad Gandiya to Ireland.
Letters to the Editor
Civil partnerships controversy
I WONDER if, through the Gazette, I may thank the very kind gentleman, who signed himself only as Brendan, who sent material to my home address containing a book, leaflets and other paraphernalia that I was obviously meant to read in order to ‘save my soul’ from damnation and hell, doubtless as a result of my letter to the Gazette which you printed in your 23rd September edition.
Interestingly, I never mentioned anything to do with my own faith or sexuality – but obviously it was clear enough to Brendan who, cowardly, only had the courtesy to write me a note that said ‘Dear Mark, a small gift for you, Brendan’, without even explaining his reasons for sending them.
Needless to say, I do not need such nonsense sent to me by anyone. I am very comfortable with my faith and how it fits into the
scheme of things, both within and without the Church of Ireland.
I have no difficulty in accepting anyone else’s opinion or viewpoint. I do not, however, need to force them on anyone or for anyone else to force theirs on me.
Anyone who wishes to enter into useful dialogue on the subject is welcome to open such dialogue. I do not, however, respond to useless information about ‘48 hours in Hell’ or ‘The man without a soul’ or ‘Divine power – is it yours?’.
If you have something to say, Brendan, please just come out and say it.
I don’t need to be saved and certainly not by you, Brendan. I put the material where it belongs – in the (recycling) bin!
THE COMMENTS of Bishop Mayes in his letter (Gazette, 21st October) were, to put it mildly, astounding, especially from a spiritual leader.
His comments describing the correspondence in the Gazette on the civil partnerships controversy – such as “dialogue of the deaf’’, “no dialogue worth talking about”, and “shouting match of the primary school playground” – were truly a slap across the face of all those faithful souls who have, in deep faith and conviction, expressed their views on one side or the other of the debate.
To add insult to injury, Bishop Mayes further suggested that only those “whose knowledge of Scripture is beyond dispute” are worthwhile listening to.
Speaking of grenades being lobbed, etc., perhaps the Bishop missed his own point.
This was a letter devoid of humility, grace and Christian love.
Alan W. Millar (The Revd), Newtownabbey Co. Antrim BT37
MAY I take up a point which has been raised by several correspondents recently concerning the silence of Jesus on the issue of same- sex relations.
Though Jesus did not speak directly to the issue, there is significant inferential evidence that he maintained Scripture’s strong rejection of homosexual behaviour. Jesus’ alleged silence has to be set against the backdrop of unequivocal and univocal opposition throughout early Judaism.
In such a setting, silence means agreement with the only viewpoint that existed in the public discourse of early Judaism, especially since Jesus was not shy about disagreeing with the conventions of the day. Had he wanted the disciples to take a different viewpoint, he would have said so.
The case frequently cited of the woman caught in adultery often ignores the final remarks of Christ – “go and sin no more”. He reached out to the sexually lost with repentance in view. He did not promote a repentance- less inclusion in God’s Kingdom.
Further, the argument from Christ’s silence sets us on a very dangerous path. Although different issues, Christ said nothing about sexual relations between a brother and sister, or parent and child, nor did he mention paedophilia. No one, I am certain, within the Christian Church would advocate the acceptance of any such relations.
However, the exact same argument from the apparent silence of Christ Jesus could be put forward in these cases. Where then would that leave the exegetical argument of those advocating the acceptance of same-sex relations?
Finally, the Church of Ireland accepts all 66 books of the Bible as canonical. To raise the Gospels above the remaining 62 books is to deny the teaching and doctrinal understanding of the Church of Ireland concerning the authority of the whole Bible.
It is also very poor exegesis and we should expect better, at least from those who are ordained.
Alan McCann (The Revd)
Carrickfergus Co. Antrim BT38
IN KILLOWEN Parish, as more widely, there is a deep concern that the issue of homosexual persons being approved for ministry in the Church of Ireland has been poorly addressed – in particular by the Bishops, whose actions have added to the problem.
It is our view that Dean Tom Gordon’s actions and those of his appointing bishop (Michael Burrows of Cashel) have been, and remain, a “just cause of offence to others” (Canon 33) and, for that, correction and apology should ensue.
None is passing judgement on another. We are all guilty of failing and falling. Yet, corporately as the people of God, our chief aim must remain God’s glory.
In our reformed Church, if Bishops are the focal point of ‘truth and unity’, then here the Irish Bishops fail on both counts. They have not clarified the truth – and on this matter of ministerial conduct they remain divided, with ramifications of such deep division cascading through the Church in Ireland and beyond.
Donard Collins ( The Revd)
Coleraine Co. Londonderry BT51
Secularism the ‘real enemy’?
NO, DR GRAHAM, you are not alone in noting the irony of the front page header (Gazette, 7th october) where the Bishop of Tuam highlights secularism as the real enemy of society.
After all, all congregations are made up of people from the secular world.
The wages of Bishops, Priests and Deacons actually come from the hand of the secular world.
The church buildings are cleaned, painted and re-slated by the secular world. In fact, if it were not for the secular world, the druids would still have all power in a stone age society. Thank God for the secular world.
Killarney Co. Kerry
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