A tale of two cathedrals
World Refugee Day was marked around the globe on 20th June. In Dublin, on that evening, 270 people who live in Direct Provision were welcomed to dine in St Patrick’s cathedral.
Direct Provision is a means of meeting the basic needs of food and shelter for asylum- seekers directly, while their claims for refugee status are being processed rather than through full cash payments.
Guests in the cathedral came from 32 different countries and are seeking refuge or asylum in Ireland for various reasons. The food was produced and served by the cathedral’s corporate partners, volunteers and staff.
POINTS WORTH SCORING
Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader, Arlene Foster, made an important statement when she attended a major Gaelic games match for the first time, on Sunday 24th June. Any sort of political leadership is difficult, no matter what part of this island we come from. In the paralysed atmosphere of Northern Ireland politics it is all the more so. That is why her attendance at the event is to be welcomed.
The BBC NI website notes: “The first page of the GAA’s official guide outlines that the organisation’s ‘basic aim is the strengthening of national identity in a 32-county Ireland through the preservation and promotion of Gaelic games and past times.’ It is a statement that underlines the nationalist ethos of the 134-year-old organisation – and has fuelled unionist mistrust.” Importantly, it goes on to say: “However, in recent years, moves by both unionist politicians and the GAA have become symbolic of a thawing relationship.”
Arlene Foster was accompanied by DUP MLA Christopher Stalford and Irish Enterprise Minister, Heather Humphreys, TD for Cavan – Monaghan. Councillor Howard Thornton, the Ulster Unionist chair of Fermanagh and Omagh Council, also attended the match. The last senior unionist politician to attend a GAA match was Peter Robinson, in 2012.
The GAA is an organisation that many in the Protestant community may be unfamiliar with, for cultural, sporting, political or historical reasons. Yet, there is no doubt it is making genuine efforts over recent years to be welcoming to members of the Protestant and unionist community.
That journey has included modifications to its own rules.
In 2001 the GAA abolished Rule 21, which had banned members of the security forces from being members of the GAA. In 2005 it modified Rule 42 to allow rugby and football to be played in Croke Park, the GAA’s headquarters, for the first time. The Queen has also symbolised a reaching out, when she visited Croke Park, during her visit to Ireland in 2001. With any such journey there will always be more to do, but we are glad for the steps that have been taken.
Arlene Foster is enough of a realist to know that not everyone will have welcomed her attendance at the Ulster Final. She said: “I do realise that there are some people that may be uncomfortable with me being here … on a Sunday, but let me say this, I am the leader of a political party that wants to have a shared society in Northern Ireland and, to do that, we have to take steps forward.
“To do that, we also have to build a respect and a tolerance and that is what I want to do. I hope that others will take the chance to step forward as well and to understand, appreciate and tolerate another culture perhaps that is not theirs.”
We welcome the fact that Arlene Foster and other unionist politicians made such a symbolic gesture to their neighbours. It is a gesture not just to the GAA community, but to all of us.
David Blevins, senior Ireland correspondent for Sky News, captured the mood of the moment when he tweeted: “The overwhelmingly positive response to this tells us that, despite 18 months of total frustration, people simply refuse to give up on the hope of normality.”
The establishment of GAFCON Ireland was viewed as provocative and unhelpful by a significant section of the Church of Ireland. No doubt there are others who feel quite differently. The issue has been brought into focus by the attendance of two serving bishops and other senior clergy at the recent GAFCON conference in Jerusalem.
For those who support GAFCON Ireland, there is a responsibility to demonstrate precisely, and respectfully, how it serves the unity and witness of the Church of Ireland, especially to those who see it as a provocative or disruptive initiative. To those who profoundly disagree with the concept of GAFCON Ireland, there is a responsibility to resist the temptation of caricaturing those involved.
Our responsibility is not complicated – it is Christ’s command to love our neighbour, even the one we disagree with. It is not to deny strongly held opinions, pretend they do not exist nor to have frank exchanges of views. It is to suggest that, whatever opinion we hold or exchange, that we do so honestly, respectfully and with a commitment to relationships.
Only then do we have any moral authority to preach a message of reconciliation to others on this island. Reconciliation is always easier when it is someone else who has to do it. It is difficult but not impossible – otherwise, what is it we believe?
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- GAFCON urges restrictions on Lambeth Conference invites
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- Be the face of Christ for the displaced
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Letters to the Gazette
RECENTLY, A new movement has appeared on the Irish church scene which needs to be recognised for what it is. GAFCON is a fundamentalist Anglican grouping, driven by a sect-like wish to take over and control worldwide Anglicanism. They wish to appear to be the true representatives of the branch of Christendom that we as Church of Ireland Christians aspire to belong to.
In reality, they are more akin to Brethren/Gospel Hall/Free Presbyterian or the present form of the Irish Presbyterian Church – being a narrow conservative expression of evangelicalism.
This is very different from the traditional Church of Ireland, which has been here
for centuries, and is a liberal, mainly evangelical, portrayal of the Christian faith, biblical interpretation, worship and practice which we all love and cherish.
There is no doubt that some people wish to practise their faith in the exclusive, narrow, literal biblical fashion of GAFCON and this is perfectly acceptable. What is not acceptable is this attempt to steal the clothes of Anglicanism and Trojan Horse style to attempt a ‘hostile takeover’, to borrow a phrase from the business world.
At present, GAFCON Ireland could better be described as GAFCON Northern Ireland/ Old Ulster/ the Northern Province of the Church of Ireland, as the ‘activists’
appear to be clergy based in those areas and led by two Church of Ireland bishops, namely the Bishop of Down and Dromore and the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.
What is most disturbing to read, on the web launch page for this organisation, is the dismissal, in such an arrogant and pharisaic manner, of the theological training that has been offered in Dublin over the last hundred years, and which we all valued and experienced, who had the great privilege to be ordinands training there for ministry in Christ’s Church and equipped as clergy to serve in parish, the armed forces, prison, hospital, education, missionary or theological college aspects
The words used are as
follows: “It was evident that faithfulness to the Gospel in Ireland has been diluted by almost a century of deteriorating theological education.”
Moreover, GAFCON as an organisation rejects the orders and ministry of female bishops throughout the Anglican Communion – including Ireland – and regards them as pretend bishops, invalid and unbiblical.
We realise we are living in a period of history where extremism is back on the agenda, but it seems extremely unwise to be introducing into Ireland, at this time of openness and development, an expression of Christianity
more akin to Jewish or Islamic fundamentalism, where the Bible understood in a literal fundamentalist interpretation is the yardstick of faith, with no awareness of our long and worthy practice of balancing the biblical Word with an awareness of Tradition and Reason, and our rich sacramental worship following the wishes of our blessed Lord and Saviour.
Introducing the GAFCON model of Christian belief will only further diminish the rich heritage of church life we still have to offer the people of our island, and consign the church to the status of an introvert sect.
Ronnie Clarke (Canon) Cloughey