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Bishop Mayes' Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod of Limerick and Killaloe

Diocesan News

Added on 17/06/2005



Welcome to this meeting of the Diocesan Synod. The past year has been an eventful one, and I just want to reflect on one or two of the more significant areas we have been dealing with.

In September 2004, the Mothers’ Union and the Diocesan Youth Council hosted a Family day here in Villiers School. While the principal object was to bring families together from all over the diocese, I found one of the most impressive aspects of it was that it turned out to be a very effective showcase of the abundance of talent that we have in this diocese. Because we are comparatively small in numbers and so very widely scattered, we seldom have such an opportunity to see just how wide-ranging those gifts are, and the dedication and enthusiasm of those who took part in the events was tangible. I personally found it one of the most encouraging events I have seen in a very long time. Far too often we give in to the temptation to sit around grumbling about what’s wrong with ourselves. It was a tonic to see what we have to celebrate.

Rt Revd MHG Mayes, Bishop of Limerick Later in the autumn we had two major diocesan consultations on ministry, and again it was a very positive experience to see and hear what is actually going on in all our parishes, and the projects that are in course of planning. We will be hearing more about that later on today, so all I want to say is this. Almost every day we read an obituary of the church in some journal or other. It’s on its last legs, and all that remains is to give it a decent funeral. That is simply not true. There is vitality, confidence and enthusiasm. There is also a much greater willingness to grapple with what it means to have faith in today’s world. That wrestling inevitably reveals itself in a degree of untidiness, sometimes bordering on chaos, because it means that people are not content with the simple repetition of pat answers from the past. They are prepared to examine the tradition we have inherited, to test it, not to accept something just because somebody says so, but to test it for themselves. This sharing of ideas and resources is essential – we can learn from, and support each other on the journey.

The Indian Ocean tsunami disaster evoked an immediate and generous worldwide response at every level. It just shows what can be done when people’s minds and hearts are stirred. But the continuing story of extreme poverty and underdevelopment does not catch the imagination in the same way. More and more one hears expressions such as “what can you do about it? There’s no point in sending money to places whose governments are corrupt, and it all goes into their Swiss bank accounts anyway.” That’s a very dangerous outlook. Of course there is corruption in some places, but it’s by no means a special characteristic of the poor. Nor is the huge imbalance of prosperity necessarily an indication that all rich countries are greedy, and get all their wealth from riding on the backs of the poor.

The story of poverty is much more complicated than that. A very good introduction to what is going on is Jeffrey Sachs’ book “The End of Poverty”. Up until about 1800, there was very little distinction between rich countries and poor. They were all at pretty much the same level all over the world. Most people had to feed, clothe and house themselves as best they could at a very basic subsistence level. They built their own houses, made their own clothes, grew their own food. A dramatic and rapid change came with the industrial revolution, and the invention of steam engines powered by fossil fuel. The old hand loom that took weeks, maybe months to make just enough to clothe one family was replaced by steam-driven machines that could turn out far more materials in a fraction of the time. There was a huge and rapid growth in output of food and materials. This began in England, a relatively small country with a moderate climate and very easy access to sea ports by canal and rail. It had plenty of mineral resources of its own, which could be much more easily accessed with the rapid growth in technology. This meant that it could produce far more than it needed to support its own population, and export the surplus to other parts of the world very easily indeed.

From that point on, the comparative wealth of the world’s countries began to diverge very sharply. Those countries with a good climate, plenty of fossil fuels, and easy access to the sea were the ones that developed rapidly . Those that had none of these in-built advantages continued where they were, and that is pretty much the way things remain today. However, there are varying degrees of poverty as well. There are places where no development has taken place at all, where nobody has been able even to get on to the bottom rung of the so-called development ladder. All their time and energy is devoted to producing enough to stay alive. There is nothing left over, no surplus whatever to begin even the most elementary trade. Their governments can do nothing for them because nobody earns enough money to pay any tax at all. They cannot buy machinery or fertiliser – they have nothing to buy it with. One season’s poor rainfall or even a broken wooden hand plough means starvation and death.

This does not mean that there is no hope. People do need basic assistance to begin to develop – machinery to develop proper irrigation methods and water storage so that they are not completely at the mercy of variations in the weather; equipment to enable them to produce a little more than they need to survive; basic education to enable them to have direct access to many ideas for bettering themselves, and so on. Once they have that very basic infrastructure, they can move on to the first rung of the development ladder and begin to buy and sell. The record shows that once that first step is taken, even the poorest countries can and do have more control over their own destinies.

It is people at that level of poverty who are most in need of outside aid, just to get started. The much-trumpeted “Millennium Project” of 0.7% of GNP promised by the world’s richest countries has still not got much further than the promise stage. In addition, it is the poorest countries which have been most damaged by debt that they simply cannot repay as it is presently structured.

Media reports suggest that we may hear something today from the meeting of finance ministers of the so-called G8 group of countries about a significant decision on debt cancellation. One of the reasons given for the reluctance to cancel debt repayments is that it would cost the developed nations so many billions of dollars. It is not made clear whether this means we will be that many billions of dollars worse off, or whether we will be getting so many billions less than we thought we were going to get. What is clear is that debt repayments, added to the interest due, are already greatly in excess of the original loans. Add to this the fact that in the developed countries, expenditure on armaments far outweighs expenditure on aid: a total of $753 billion against $56.7 billion last year.

But there is a wider Christian dimension to this as well. As the archbishop of Canterbury pointed out in a recent lecture in Sarajevo, it is not simply a question of “throwing money” at those in need. Whatever we do must be in response to the question “What does human community look like when it is in accord with God’s character and purpose?” In that context, the fundamental reason for giving, apart from the immediate relief of need, is to enable recipients in turn to be generous and therefore more God-like themselves. It is sowing the seed of growth towards the “measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ”. One of my heroes in the faith was John Watanabe, bishop of Hokkaido in Northern Japan when we went there thirty seven years ago. He was a giant of a man, of great moral and physical courage. He had been an officer in the Japanese navy during the war, and his ship was at anchor off Hiroshima when the atomic bomb went off. That was the beginning of a long and extraordinary pilgrimage that culminated in his election to the episcopate twenty-four years later. He presided over a diocese very small in numbers, living from hand to mouth, and heavily dependent on financial aid from outside to be able to function as a diocese at all. Despite his own domestic and frequently desperate needs, he insisted that 10% of everything they received be given away, so as well as helping his own people his diocese was able to contribute to a small development project in Nepal, to help people who were even worse off than they were.

The fallout from the election and consecration of Bishop Robinson rumbles on through the Anglican Communion. It has raised a number of important principles and dangers that we need to be aware of no matter what the subject of dispute may be. Sexuality is not the first divisive problem, nor will it be the last.

First of all, we have to avoid the danger of thinking that truth is determined by the decibel level of arguments for or against. Remember the story of Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb: the Lord was not to be found in the earthquake, wind or fire. It was only after they had done their worst that the still, small voice made itself heard, and Elijah could see what he had to do.

Secondly, when it is asserted that Scripture is for or against a particular act or moral principle, we need to ask whether the act or principle we have in mind is exactly the same as the one Scripture is talking about. Furthermore, it is reasonable to believe that God and/or Scripture are not completely arbitrary in commanding or prohibiting any given kind of conduct. It is not a case of having to do something just because God or Scripture says so, still less of God commanding something just because he feels like it. In principle, there is always a discernible reason for any particular commandment, even though the reason for giving it in the first place may not always be easily discernible. For example it is not immediately obvious why certain kinds of food were forbidden – it might have been to do with hygiene, or possibly because they were particularly associated with Gentile cults and so on. But if the original reason for the commandment no longer exists, then it becomes impossible to apply it, much less obey it, in any significant way. If certain kinds of food no longer have any religious significance, or if they no longer threaten public health, there’s no longer any point in avoiding them.

Thirdly, and following from this, if it is insisted that the original commandment must be obeyed “because God or Scripture have said so”, and for no other reason, the commandment takes on a dangerous character. It becomes little more than a badge of identity distinguishing between “us” and “them”. That is what lies behind Jesus’ overthrowing the tables of the money-changers in the Temple. The Law had become an instrument of the sanctification of boundaries between different categories of people – Jew, Gentile, male, female – and of careful control of access to God. Those boundaries had become incorporated into the architectural design and activities of the Temple itself, and the so-called Cleansing of the Temple was a deliberate protest against those things that divide human beings from each other in the name of God. In Christ, those divisions are abolished. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female: religious, social and gender boundaries have been transcended, and we are all one in Christ Jesus. The very notion of “us” against “them” has been undermined.

It has been strongly asserted that the Lambeth Conference Resolution on sexuality in 1998 represents “the settled mind of the Anglican Communion.” I honestly think that that is a claim too far. It does represent the majority view of the bishops who were at Lambeth in 1998, and we have to deal with it, but since the Anglican Communion as a whole, with a very few exceptions, had never even discussed the subject, despite having been asked to do so twenty years earlier, it cannot be held to represent the “settled” mind of the Anglican Communion as if no more remains to be said. It has not yet received the same level of Communion-wide discussion as the ordination of women. If there is ever going to be an Anglican Communion mind on the question it has yet to be worked out, and the process of listening and discernment must continue, as the Anglican Primates have asked. It is worth re-visiting successive Lambeth resolutions on the family, or on the place of women in the Church, to see how much Anglican thinking developed over the course of the twentieth century.

This is more than an academic exercise. When the Vatican document Homosexualitatis Persona, issued in 1986, described homosexual people as “intrinsically disordered”, there was a sharp increase in physical assaults on gay people. Society is sharply polarised, and great care is needed in the way the debate is carried out.

Since we last met, some changes have taken place in the parochial ministry of the diocese. We welcome the Revd Alan Nevin, who comes to us from the Diocese of Cashel and Ossory, as Rector of Clonfert Group of parishes, and next month we will be joined by the Revd Marie Rowley-Brooke, a native of Dublin but currently working in Gloucester, who has been nominated to the Incumbency of Nenagh Union.

The Revd Stan Evans took over as Priest in charge of Killarney in July last, following the retirement of Canon Brian Lougheed.

On the 1st of May, Captain Joe Hardy of the Church Army was ordained deacon in St John’s Church in Tralee. Joe has been working in this diocese for twenty-two years, and the huge congregation of people of all denominations who attended his ordination was eloquent testimony to the effect his ministry has had in that time.

The Revd Martin Hanley was ordained Priest, and the Revd Ruth Gill to the diaconate on the 27th of June 2004, and Mrs Gill will be ordained to the Priesthood on the 26th of June this year in St Kieran’s church, Cloughjordan.

The Revd Leonard Ruddock will be going to the Theological College in September to prepare for transfer to the stipendiary ministry. This means that he will in all probability serve elsewhere I the Church of Ireland at least to begin with, and we thank him for the service he has given within this diocese since he was ordained eleven years ago.

We wish all of these God’s blessing in their different spheres of ministry in the years ahead.

The Revd Sid Mourant retired as rector of Nenagh in September, and he and his wife Betty have gone to live in Hamiltonsbawn in the diocese of Armagh. We wish them well, and thank God for their ministry here since they came from the Isle of Man in 1996.

Bishop Edwin Owen, Rector of Birr, Dean of Killaloe, Bishop of Killaloe and first bishop of the united dioceses of Limerick and Killaloe, died in April this year. Renowned as a pastor, musician and preacher, Bishop Owen celebrated the 70th anniversary of his ordination a year ago. If it can sometimes be difficult to create new groups or unions of parishes, the marriage of two dioceses presents difficulties of a different order altogether, and Bishop Owen presided over this transition with great skill, diplomacy and sensitivity, laying the foundation for the eventual merging of the two administrative systems into one. I only met him once in my life, and very briefly indeed. However, it was a memorable meeting. It was in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin at a pre-Synod service where he was the preacher. I have heard thousands of sermons in my lifetime, and only four of them stand out above the rest. One made its mark because of its vitriolic anger and hatred; another impressed by its almost comical incoherence – a fifteen-minute sequence of words that had nothing to do with each other. The other two were models of clarity and depth, put across with the kind of simplicity that belongs only to the real expert. Bishop Owen’s was one of that kind, a perfect example of how things should be done, setting a standard that not many of us are able to reach.

I never knew Canon James Camier, who was ordained only a year after Edwin Owen, and who died also in April this year. A native of Cork, he served in this diocese for thirty-five years. Just looking at the names of the parishes where he was rector comes as something of a shock, because it shows just how things have changed within the Church of Ireland in the space of a single generation. From 1951 to 1961 he was rector of Kilnaboy with Kilkeedy in the diocese of Killaloe. That’s in the Corofin area, and the parish doesn’t exist as a distinct entity at all now. He then served as Rector of Borrisokane Union from 1961 until his retirement in 1986. As I say, I never had the privilege of knowing Canon Camier, but the length of his ministry in Borrisokane, and in this diocese, says something that we need to be reminded of from tie to time. In an age when we are bombarded with the cult of the glittering celebrity and domineering personality, it is easy to ignore those who get on with their work quietly, patiently and faithfully, wherever they are called and for however long they serve, but whose contribution to this life is invariably far more valuable and longer-lasting. That lovely phrase from the Prayer Book, “patient continuance in well doing” says it all.

We thank God for the long and faithful service of Edwin Owen and James Camier