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Day 2

Debate on Standing Committee focuses on racism, justice and gender based violence

The report of the Standing Committee and its various committees outlines significant work in the areas of child and adult safeguarding; charities registration; racial justice, the legacy of the Troubles and medical ethics; and encouraging members of the Church to think beyond disability and towards access for all in our church buildings and activities. The Standing Committee has established a new Board for Ministry with Children and Families and (jointly with the RCB) a working group concerning a co–ordinated response by the Church to historic institutional abuse.

Proposing the report at General Synod on Friday afternoon (October 1), the Ven Adrian Wilkinson highlighted the Church and Society Commission‘s statement on racism and injustice which states that ‘hidden history lies behind statues and monuments, some of which are in churches’.

He noted that today we might recognise that the fortune and status of some of those remembered in statues and monuments were built on the contribution or suffering of many other unnamed individuals. Where these memorials exist in our churches, he suggested that they should be used to highlight the issues of slavery, exploitation and injustice and our Christian response to this continuing problem in the world today.

Archdeacon Wilkinson commended the Act of Solidarity resources prepared by CASC and hoped they had been used in worship.

Continuing the theme of hidden history, he drew Synod’s attention to the ‘Working Group Concerning a Co–ordinated Response by the Church to Historic Institutional Abuse’. “In recent years we have all been horrified by the results of historic inquiries and archaeological surveys on properties run as institutional care settings. When these mother and baby homes, orphanages and industrial schools were filled with children and very vulnerable young mothers who were still children themselves, the attitude to birth outside marriage was very different to that which pertains today. Of course, we should not also lose sight of the fact that there were those who had positive experiences from their time in such institutions and that there were many good, caring and professional staff in such places. But for those not so fortunate, the fact that their names are coming into the public domain with their permission, that their personal stories are being heard and what was hidden before is now being brought into the light, is to be welcomed. It is the only way that some form of healing process can begin for the victims,” he said.

While the majority of these institutions were not connected to the Church of Ireland, the Archdeacon said the connections of past generations must be acknowledged and thanked the working group for their work.

Seconding the report, Kaye Nesbitt, commended the work that had carried on despite the difficulties. She focused on the Bishops’ Appeal Advisory Committee section of the report and praised the amount of money donated and the amount of projects supported. “We live in a privileged part of the world even though we probably didn’t feel that way for the past year, but our donations can make such a difference to the lives of our brothers and sisters who have much less than us,” she stated.

Mrs Nesbitt also commended the quality of the resources produced and shared to support children, their families and churches throughout the church by the Children’s Ministry Network. She said that all dioceses were able to avail of excellent resources.

Speaking to the report, Bishop Patrick Rooke (Tuam) said there had been a number of mentions of the word ‘justice’. Bishops’ Appeal with the Council for Mission put together a draft strategy on justice for the Church of Ireland, he said, appealing to Standing Committee not to lose sight of it.

Bishop George Davison spoke on the Board for Ministry with Children and Families which he said was a significant step for the Church of Ireland. The board sought to formalise and coordinate work in children’s ministry. He said that the board wanted to make sure that every parish was resourced and equipped to welcome children and families. It was encouraging to see parishes making use of the Muddy Church resource, he stated. There was progress since the report including the start of the process to recruit and children’s and families’ development officer.

Julie Currie spoke on the Children’s Ministry Network which has one representative from each diocese on it. Through lockdown the Network put together many resources which were available to all, she said. They sent out Back to Church packs and a Muddy Church pack. She highlighted the Children’s Ministry website for resources which could be used by all. She noted that the Building Blocks conference takes place on November 6 in Dublin.

Dr Patricia Barker (Dublin and Glendalough) works with the Rape Crisis Centre and victims of domestic abuse and drew the attention of Synod to the fact that the abuse of vulnerable people and the abuse of children had not gone away, particularly during the Covid period when they were exposed to their families. “As a Church we must be conscious of the fact that we should never stop working for vulnerable people and support organisations that work at the dark face of intimate relationship violence,” she stated.

Geoffrey McMaster (Dublin and Glendalough) commented on Charities Legislation regarding payments to trustees. He suggested that there may have to be increased training and indemnity insurance where a trustee is paid.

Bishop Kenneth Kearon addressed Synod on the Church and Society Commission which he said sought to respond to various consultations where the Church of Ireland might have something to say. The Commission also responded to the Black Lives Matter and Take the Knee campaigns. CASC had set climate change as a priority theme and would host an important conference on climate change in the coming year, he said. A second theme was that of violence against women and girls and gender justice. CASC held a consultation on gender justice three years ago and had partnered with Mothers’ Union on this.

Dr Lucy Michael (Dublin and Glendalough) thanked the Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe for raising the Black Lives Matter movement. She said that important resources were compiled by CASC and hoped they would be used and would prompt discussion on how the Church should take this forward. Looking at hidden histories and monuments, Dr Michael said that even during slavery times, slavery was opposed. These were not hidden histories but contested histories and she said it was the work of all of us to seek that truth honestly and as a collective. She asked: “Who would Jesus stand with today?”

Mothers’ Union on Gender Based Violence

June Butler, All Ireland President of Mothers’ Union, showed a video on gender justice and gender based violence which are of concern to everyone in the Church of Ireland. A member of CASC, she said domestic abuse was the most insidious crime in Ireland today. In Covid times the United Nations has termed it the ‘shadow pandemic’. Mothers’ Union was the largest women’s grass roots organisation in the Anglican Communion, she said, and in 2014 MU agreed to come together to highlight domestic abuse.

Mothers’ Union in Ireland has been working to highlight domestic abuse she said pointing to  prayer vigils which take place as part of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence along with other initiatives.

Jacqui Armstrong, who leads on gender justice for Mothers’ Union, spoke about domestic abuse and its impacts. Wherever abuse occurred it had a deeply damaging impact on those who experienced it, she said adding that it was never the fault of the victims. She said it was vital that our understanding led us to respond in a compassionate way.

Citing some statistics, Ms Armstrong noted that in 2020 the incidents of domestic abuse soared with a 70% increase in visits to support websites. Domestic abuse existed in every group of Irish society, even the church was not immune, she stated, but churches rarely spoke out on domestic abuse. “We have an opportunity to change the story. We are challenged by our faith to challenge unjust structures. How can we act?” she asked. She said churches must know where to signpost people experiencing abuse, alongside spiritual support.

She encouraged members of Synod to take two actions: Firstly, create a poster to place in the church toilet so survivors of domestic abuse know where to find help locally. Secondly, develop a relationship with your nearest refuge who will keep you in touch with their needs.

She asked members to contact their diocesan Mothers’ Union president to find out how they could support the 16 Days of Activism and encouraged all to take action during the 16 Days campaign in every parish. The 16 Days Prayer Diary is available to every parish in 2021, she said. Mothers’ Union had teamed up with Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund to highlight gender justice. This will be launched in advance of Lent 2022. The organisation, Restored, has suggested that churches introduce a domestic abuse charter. Ms Armstrong noted that in Northern Ireland there was an opportunity to achieve Safe Church Status. In 2019 MU took on the World Council of Churches Thursdays in Black initiative as a powerful way to highlight abuse in our communities.

Bishop Kearon said that every diocese now had an event as part of the campaign against gender based violence and encouraged all to join in. Gender justice was also an issue for men, and men must get involved, he added.

Archbishop John McDowell thanked Mothers’ Union for a very informative contribution.

Not taking from violence against women, Archdeacon Ruth Elmes (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) said she was concerned that the church didn’t give enough credibility to violence against men. Men were psychologically vulnerable through stereotyping, she said and encouraged the church to allow a space for men to speak out.

Phyllis Grothier (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) begged the Church to move forward on getting the Justice Charter up and running.

Scott Brown said that as a retired GP he was delighted that the point was made that men were also victims of abuse. He said that the presentation would mean nothing unless the materials developed got down to each diocese. Reaching the ears of those in trouble needed to be done carefully and people needed to be aware, he stated. He highlighted the role of alcohol and alcohol abuse in acts of violence. The use of pornography by male perpetrators was the seed of much of what was going on and a lot of what was going on with traumatised teenagers, he added urging the Church to acknowledge this.

June Butler welcomed the positive response and pledged that Mothers’ Union would continue to work on the matter. She asked that every parish to focus on the 16 Days of Activism and support the MU global day of activism on November 27.


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