Dean of Leighlin demands formal separation of northern and southern Church ‘identities’
The Dean of Leighlin, the Very Revd Tom Gordon, referring to the ecclesiastical provinces of Armagh and Dublin, has told the Gazette that he believes it is “obvious that the distinctive theological cultures in both provinces are of such divergence that each must now be allowed latitude formally to develop separate theological and pastoral identities”.
In a letter (page 9), written in the context of the recent Republic of Ireland marriage referendum result and debate on the topic within the Church of Ireland, the Dean raises the issue of what he describes as the “seismic” differences of theological understanding which he says exist between North and South.
He states that in recent years the Church of Ireland “has been held captive by a conservative agenda”, adding that “the formal stance of the Church of Ireland and the majority of its bishops is that of an exclusively traditionalist view of human sexuality”.
Along with other correspondents (Letters, page 8), Dean Gordon echoes criticism of a statement issued by the Archbishops and Bishops following the referendum result, saying that many have regarded it as “crude and unfortunate” (Statement, Gazette, last week).
The Dean, whose entering into a civil partnership in 2011 caused considerable controversy across the Church of Ireland and led to the General Synod setting up a Select Committee to consider matters of sexuality, adds in his letter that “Church pronouncements on traditional morality – however forcefully maintained – are the ultimate turn-off in a now transformed Republic”.
Controversy over the Dean’s 2011 civil partnership gained momentum after he confirmed on Radio Ulster that he had entered into it with the prior knowledge of his bishop and without being asked for any assurances regarding lifestyle.
In addition, he said that he had initially declined to be considered for the post of Dean (to which he was appointed in 2010) but that, after being pressed to reconsider, had agreed to allow his name to go forward for interview on the understanding that “this is who I was and also that this would be what would be happening”.
However, in his letter to the Gazette, Dean Gordon does not restrict his comments to the sexuality issue. He also raises the matters of clergy training, non-stipendiary ministry and the Church of Ireland College of Education.
He concludes: “Put bluntly, many in the South feel disconnected and abandoned by the current direction and decision-making of their Church.”
Asked by the Gazette to comment further on the points he makes, Dean Gordon said: “What my correspondence underscores is a fundamental reality based on observations, as well as the comments of many others from both within and outside the Church of Ireland in the light of recent events.
“The outworking of the consequences of this situation in which we find ourselves cannot be addressed
impetuously or lightly but will warrant detailed and careful consideration in the near future.”
Alongside the controversy over same-sex relationships during recent years, there has been frequent public speculation about the possibility of a formal division within the Church of Ireland over the issue.
Addressing precisely this question at a press conference at last month’s General Synod, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke, said he considered that “schism is not in the mindset of the Church of Ireland”.
CHURCH LEADERS IN SOUTH SUDAN SPEAK OUT
A statement last week issued by the South Sudan Council of Churches (SSCC) resounded with a real sense of frustration at the country’s continuing and “deteriorating” conflict. The statement indicated that both the SSCC, as well as individual denominations, had made many statements calling for an end to the “senseless conflict”, the first statement having been on 17th December 2013, just two days after the crisis began.
The statement continued: “There is no moral justification for the killing to continue. It is unacceptable for negotiations about power and positions to take place in luxury hotels, while people are still killing and being killed. Many agreements have been signed, but none has been implemented. However, our words have not been heeded. We challenge the military and political leaders of all sides, most of whom call themselves Christians: why are you not listening to the voice of your Church leaders, who echo the voice of the ordinary citizens of South Sudan?”
Despite the fact that the signatories to the statement, including the Anglican Primate, the Most Revd Daniel Deng Bul, doubted that it would be heeded, they said they wanted it to be known that they were aware of what was happening and felt it was important for them “to speak truth to power, even if those in power ignore the truth”.
In their statement, the Church leaders also pointed to the rapidly deteriorating economic situation in the country and to the need to protect, not destroy, what
they described as “national assets” – the oil fields. Beyond that, the Church leaders listed numerous abuses of human rights, in terms of killings, torture and rape, the recruitment of children into armed groups, groundless arrests and a situation in which security personnel “appear to be acting as if they are above the law” and in which ordinary people and civil society groups are finding it increasingly difficult to speak out. They added: “The humanitarian situation is deteriorating. Once again, our rich and fertile land, which should be the bread basket of Africa, is relying on foreign aid.” Concluding that much of the country is now “without effective governance”, the representatives of SSCC said that the resulting situation, in which people felt they had to take the law into their own hands, had “disastrous consequences for everybody”.
South Sudan gained its independence from Sudan in 2011 following a six-year peace process and 22 years of civil war. Despite the fact that independence was the will of almost 99% of the people as expressed in a referendum, conflict continued and, clearly, is deepening. CMS Ireland and many parishes across the Church of Ireland have maintained links with the Church in South Sudan. That in itself can only have been a tremendous encouragement to the people in what is an extremely troubled country. It is clear that such links will continue to be vital in a situation that so obviously causes its Christian leaders very deep concern and anguish.
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Letters to the Editor
Episcopal statement following the marriage referendum result
I AM writing in relation to the statement from the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland following the result of the Marriage Referendum.
This statement was ill- timed and inappropriate in nature, especially the poorly chosen phrasing: “We would now sincerely urge a spirit of public generosity, both from those for whom the result of the referendum represents triumph, and from those for whom it signifies disaster.”
Currently in my diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, we are in the midst of church renewal, with the working group ‘Charting a Future With Confidence’ examining sustainability of models of church towards 2034, under the guidance of our foresighted and pragmatic Bishop Paul Colton, who, together with his colleague in Christ, Bishop Michael Burrows, has been the voice of reason and objectivity from the outset.
Bishop Colton’s tenure as bishop is marked by the core value of projecting a lived model of discipleship and displaying inclusiveness within our denomination.
However, any further ill- timed statements like this and the Church will damage any chance of renewal, especially amongst the key demographic of under 30s.
I welcome the statement by Dr Diarmuid Martin of the Roman Catholic Church which pragmatically stated that the Church is in need of a reality check.
To be clear, all denominations are on foot of the fact that we are on the cusp of a social revolution which has been brewing for decades. We cannot adopt an ostrich mentality and sweep items under the carpet, so to speak; to do so would be to alienate people of a key demographic and would signal the death knell of the Church of Ireland within the next 30 years.
We need to re-evaluate ourselves and not take two steps back. We need to live in the grace and the spirit of now.
We need to stop vilifying those with a liberal or pragmatic agenda. The day of the ostrich mentality of burying one’s head in the sand is no longer possible in the midst of the social revolution in which we find ourselves.
We need to be open, as a Church, to move forward in a spirit of inclusiveness on this issue.Weneedtokeepinmind the simple but poignant words of 1 John 4: 7, 12: “Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God … if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.”
We need to reflect upon ourselves and ask where the ‘love’ is in all of this. Have we all become blinkered by the shackles of the past and the unwavering ties of doctrine? God always has the power to make the impossible possible.
Síle hunt (Mrs), Curraghbinny Carrigaline Co. Cork
THE ARCHBISHOPS and Bishops of the Church of Ireland are, of course, entirely within their rights to reaffirm, in response to the equal marriage referendum result in the Republic of Ireland, the Church’s traditional and current teaching that a marriage solemnized in church can only be contracted between a man and a woman.
However, it must be pointed out that this was not the question. The availability of civil marriage, conducted by officials appointed by the relevant civil authority, was clearly the matter to be decided (and resoundingly answered) by the referendum. We regret greatly that our spiritual leaders could not display the spirit of generosity, which they call for in others, by some words of goodwill towards members of their flock who happen to be gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender, along with their supporters.
It would also have been appropriate to mention that the Church of Ireland, at the recent General Synod, extended the remit of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief for a further two years.
We believe that the Listening Process, in which members of the Committee have met with LGBT individuals and those who affirm them, is significant and we cherish the hope that it will move the Church to full acceptance of people of same-sex orientation within the life and ordained ministry of the Church. The matter of marriage is only one aspect of this.
Richard O’Leary (Dr), Chair
Ginnie Kennerley (Canon), Vice-Chair
Changing Attitude Ireland 9-13 waring Street Belfast BT1 2DX
THE STATEMENT from the Archbishops and Bishops in response to the marriage referendum affirms the present position, that a marriage is between a man and a woman.
This new situation in the Republic of Ireland presents the Church of Ireland with the challenge to respond to a new human and civic reality. Using the theological model of the incarnation, can we find a Good News (Gospel) solution?
After all, we found a humane and loving way to facilitate divorced people to marry each other.
May we find that Gospel solution.
David Godfrey (The Very Revd)
Lucan Co. Dublin
St Augustine and sexuality
THE SAME-SEX controversy has its origin in St Augustine’s teaching on original sin, transmitted, he maintained, from our first parents, Adam and Eve, by concupiscence in sexual intercourse from generation to generation: the sin of eating the forbidden fruit. How then escape the punishment for sin, eternal damnation?
1. By refraining from sexual activity – celibacy.
2. By marriage, as a release from sexual passion. “Better to marry than to burn with passion.” (I Corinthians 7: 9)
When the civil contract of marriage was taken over by the medieval Church and eventually made a sacrament, marriage was regarded first and foremost for procreation, to ensure population.
Advances in science and contemporary knowledge of such matters as human sexuality have led to a rethinking on sex. The secular world has often shown the way and Churches have had to play ‘catch up’, not only over, for example, Galileo but also over evolution, the divine right of the monarch as absolute ruler, blood transfusions, transplants, etc. – all originally condemned or frowned upon by the Churches.
God moves in a mysterious way and the guidance of the Holy Spirit is not confined to the institutional Churches or the sacred, but also is present in the secular.
The Churches have no monopoly of the Holy Spirit. Anglicanism recognises this in its threefold appeal
to Scripture, tradition and reason or contemporary knowledge. The Bible and tradition must always be understood and interpreted in the light of discoveries by modern science, “correcting what is amiss and supplying what is lacking”.
This has resulted in, for example, the emphasis, first and foremost in marriage on love, delight and tenderness, joy of bodily union, reflected in the present BCP Marriage 2 – no mention of avoidance of original sin or the role of procreation as primary. Rather, “that they may be blessed with the children they may have”.
Because of this emphasis on sexual union as primarily the expression and nurturing of a loving and tender relationship between two persons, the case for same-sex marriage has certainly been strengthened. Moreover, it is now accepted that each person is born with a particular orientation, whether heterosexual, homosexual or bi-sexual; therefore, also on the grounds of sexual equality, the case for same-sex marriage is further strengthened.
St Augustine said many wise things, but his rakish lifestyle before he became a Christian certainly influenced his extreme view of the pleasures of sex as inherently sinful, only atoned for by procreation.
Victor G. Griffin (The Very Revd)
Belfast churches and parishes
YOUR REPORT on the RCB debate at the General Synod quotes the Bishop of Connor as having said that in Belfast the Church could use its assets “to ‘re-imagine’ approaches in places where the Church’s witness was in danger of disappearing” (Gazette, 15th May)
This sounds to me rather like a convoluted way of saying that, in certain parts of Belfast, parochial amalgamations
church closures are being contemplated.
I am sure that it would be of interest to many people to know what parishes may be affected by such proposed amalgamations and closures. C.D.C. Armstrong
Donegall Road Belfast BT12
The Church of Ireland, North and South
THE RESULT of the Equal Marriage referendum presents the Church of Ireland in the Republic with a last-ditch opportunity for its own ‘reality check’.
Throughout the referendum campaign, the Bishops of Cashel and Cork stood alone in giving a Christian perspective to the ‘Yes’ argument. It was a stance which brought them under continuous attack from within their own Church, as well as obvious alienation on the part of their episcopal colleagues.
The formal stance of the Church of Ireland and the majority of its bishops is that of an exclusively traditionalist view of human sexuality. Indeed, obsessively so in recent times.
This was underlined in the 2012 Synod Resolution on Human Sexuality and has now been restated by the Archbishops and Bishops in what many regard as a crude and unfortunate press release in response to the referendum result.
In the light of the overwhelming ‘Yes’ vote, there can be no doubt that the Church of Ireland faces a crisis.
With dramatically declining numbers as reported in the latest census, its soul in recent years has been held captive by a conservative agenda which we now know – conclusively – to find little reference in this State. Indeed, perhaps even less so among its own adherents.
Whatever ‘reality check’ might emerge (and it is frankly doubtful whether the majority of the bishops have the capacity or will to initiate it), it should be seen as part of a much larger picture.
The conservatism which has taken hold of our Church impacts on key elements essential to our continued
functioning in this State. To cite but one example in this regard, its outworking in the new pattern and culture of clergy training has seen the almost total collapse of candidates from the Republic.
Similarly, the ending of the rich ministries of non- stipendiary clergy has severely disabled the maintenance of ordained ministry in rural parishes.
There is also the closure of the Church of Ireland College of Education which was executed with such meagre consultation that the effect has been one of considerable demoralisation.
Put bluntly, many in the South feel disconnected and abandoned by the current direction and decision-making of their Church.
If the Church of Ireland in the Republic is to survive, it may be time for us to reflect on the seismic differences which now exist between the Church’s Southern and Northern constituencies.
The Equal Marriage referendum demonstrates that Church pronouncements on traditional morality – however forcefully maintained – are the ultimate turn-off in a now transformed Republic.
It must surely be obvious that the distinctive theological cultures in both provinces are of such divergence that each must now be allowed latitude formally to develop separate theological and pastoral identities.
They must similarly be enabled to establish ministerial training – lay and ordained – as appropriate for their very differing needs and contexts.
To do otherwise is to hasten our demise, most certainly in the South.
Tom Gordon (The Very Revd) – The Deanery Old Leighlin Co. Carlow
IT IS not difficult to see a similarity between the Catholic Christians of the Republic who voted ‘Yes’ in the Equal Marriage referendum and were rebuked by Rome – “a defeat for humanity” – and the Anglican Christians of the Republic who voted ‘Yes’ and who are being rebuked by their Northern co-religionists.
The Catholic Christians of the Republic who voted ‘Yes’ to gay marriage probably have no intention of leaving their Church. This particular Anglican Christian of the Republic has no intention of leaving her Church either, and I am sure the same applies to all those other Anglicans, including bishops and clergy, who voted ‘Yes’.
Biblical values and Gospel values are not necessarily similar. It simply will not do to extract random verses from Scripture to use as ammunition to defeat opposing views.
During preliminary discussions, which took place over a period of two years, to become a parish that openly aligned itself with the Changing Attitude website and openly welcomed the presence and ministry of LGBT Christians (a decision that was unanimously passed by our Select Vestry), a parishioner remarked that she failed to see how the social mores of Bronze Age and Iron Age peoples could possibly have any relevance in the discussion.
Teasing out those mores from the good news of Jesus Christ has occupied Churches for centuries. It is chastening, once again, to realise that God’s Spirit was poured out on all people (Acts 2) and, despite all our well-meaning beliefs, God’s Spirit simply will not, cannot, be corralled within the structures, be they traditions or constitutions, of any Christian institution.
The Christians of the Republic of Ireland have together moved outside of their Church institutions to affirm and welcome their LGBT family. For all that it is proclaimed as a civil matter, I believe it to be actually a matter of God’s Kingdom, as in the Republic we have moved one step closer to becoming a real Christian land where all are truly honoured, all are truly cherished, all are truly welcome.
Marie Rowley-Brooke (Canon) holly Cottage Sallypark Latteragh Nenagh Co. Tipperary
FOLLOWING THE referendum on gay marriage in the Republic, I offer a few personal thoughts for further pondering, within the family of the Church of Ireland.
I am concerned about lists of clergy that were publicly posted before the Referendum, signalling their support for either a ‘Yes’ or a ‘No’ vote. I myself was never approached by either side. I am aware of many other clergy who tell me they, too, weren’t approached. They equally share my concern.
I do wish this clerical ‘party’ practice would stop and be replaced by mutually open, honest and trusted communication. I submit that thisemergenceofwhatImyself perceive to be selective cliques or inner circles in this particular way actually damages, rather than strengthens, the health and welfare of the whole Church.
Personally, I find it quite unedifying, bearing in mind that the Latin root of the word ‘edify’ means ‘building up’. It flew in the face of the official Church of Ireland pre- Referendum statement, which stated that “it does not direct its members how to vote – the Church encourages people to vote according to their conscience”.
This also raises the critical matter of how we actually ‘do’ ordained leadership, and particularly if mixed or conflicting messages are ever emitted by that leadership. Whither Collegiality, then? Whither “one Church, one Faith,oneLord”?
For me, the model for all the ordained is the Jesus who stated: “I am the good shepherd … I know my own and my own know me.”
The whole flock comes under the shepherd’s care and not just the parts of it where one has personal preferences or, indeed, prejudices. Is this not why, in the parable, the good shepherd goes to extreme lengths to find the one, lost sheep, so that the whole flock can again be reunited?
I am but a humble parish pastor. My own flock contains ‘sheep’ who are from different races and cultures, married, single, single-parent, deserted, gay, separated, divorced, widow, widower, and so on. However, I strenuously and even-handedly strive to ensure the provision of an umbrella forum whereby every point of view is able to be listened to, valued and heard.
Whether bishops or priests, the ordained need to remember that they are still but under- shepherds to Jesus, the Good Shepherd of the whole flock, in all its broad composition and wide diversity of opinion.
Let’s not forget, either, that the laity, the baptized people of God, and not the ordained, form by far the largest constituent sector of the body of Christ.
Horace McKinley (Canon) Whitechurch Vicarage Whitechurch Road Dublin 16.
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