All Gazette’s questions on episcopal costs must be answered in full – senior cleric
Canon Jonathan Barry, rector of Comber, Diocese of Down, is calling for the central Church of Ireland to answer in full all the Gazette’s questions posed on the subject of episcopal costs. His call comes in an article submitted to us and published in this week’s issue.
A response to a series of questions to the central Church sent by the Gazette on 27th July last year (published in full in the 2nd December Gazette) did not come until the following November, but it was of a general nature and did not answer the questions.
However, Canon Barry describes our questions as reported in the Gazette as “entirely reasonable”.
The central Church has also withheld basic information following an enquiry by us last December regarding both the cost and the purpose of a 28th-30th November residential bishops’ meeting at the ‘Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links’.
Last week, Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the process of the United Kingdom leaving the European Union. Her letter in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty immediately gave rise to certain controversy, but the letter’s spirit was surely that of seeking the best for all concerned and, happily, contained a specific reference to the importance of the relationship between the UK and the Republic of Ireland as well as the need to avoid a ‘hard’ EU external border with Northern Ireland. After Brexit, the UK will, of course – from geographical, cultural and religious perspectives – remain a European nation. The Church of Ireland is, and will remain, a member-Church of the Conference of European Churches (CEC), having joined at the ecumenical body’s foundation in 1959.
Ironically, the UK’s formal move to leave the EU came in the week following the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome by the original six member-states – Belgium, France, Italy, Luxembourg, the Netherlands and the then West Germany – establishing the EU’s forerunner, the European Economic Community. As CEC noted in a statement last week: “This was the first of major steps in implementing the Schuman Declaration of 1950, which called for the pooling of coal and steel production with the view of creating economic stability and preventing another great war … The Treaty sought to ‘lay the foundations of an ever-closer union among the peoples of Europe’.”
CEC General Secretary, the Revd Heikki Huttunen, while noting the many challenges facing the EU today, commented: “The era inaugurated by the Treaty of Rome has brought about freedom of travel, work and study, and contributed to the overcoming of dictatorships and the promotion of democracy throughout Europe.”
Nonetheless, the UK’s decision to relinquish its membership of the EU signals a moment of historic European change, not only because the relationship between the two will change in a fundamental way but also because the departure is bound to have a profound effect on other countries in terms of their relationships within the bloc.
What has the Church to say in all of this? No doubt, there are many points that could be made, but it is well to recall at this point that Christ’s kingdom is “not of this world” (John 18: 36). The Church, recognising that things do change in the temporal world, must remain focused on the eternal truths and on its mission to call all people to the faith of Christ. That is what the Church must be about, as well as promoting the values of Christ’s kingdom in the public square of the here and now.
Also from a Church perspective, the ministry of the sixth century St Columbanus may be called to mind. Indeed, in November 2015, Columbanus’s death 1,400 years previously was observed and special celebrations culminated over the weekend of 20th-22nd November, when Bangor, Co. Down, with which the saint is associated, hosted the ‘Columbanus 1400 Festival’. As we noted at the time, because of Columbanus’s mission to Europe, Robert Schuman, one of the founding fathers of the European Union, described him as “the patron saint of all those who seek to construct a united Europe”.
Columbanus was never slow to challenge those in authority when he felt it was necessary to do so. Precisely what his message to the Europe of today would be is difficult to say with any precision. However, he was first and foremost a man of Christian faith and, for that reason, his memory surely calls all Europeans to value, in a special way, the continent’s Christian heritage. Such a focus could only help UK and EU negotiators’ minds to rise to truly higher things.
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