Wide ranging work of Standing Committee highlighted at General Synod
The report of Standing Committee was received by General Synod meeting in Belfast this afternoon. Standing committee carries on the work of General Synod and acts on its decisions between sessions. The committee has members from every diocese of the Church of Ireland.
The report is the first of the current triennium and includes a report on women’s ministry from the House of Bishops and reviewed the possible future use of online technology for central church meetings. Also during the year it made subvention to Cumann Gaelach na hEaglaise (the Irish Guild of the Church) towards the reprinting and republishing of An Bi?obla Naofa (the Holy Bible) in the Irish language.
Reports from committees reporting to Standing Committee are also included in the Book of Reports. The Bishops’ Appeal for World Aid and Development is this year celebrating 50 years of standing in solidarity with people who live in poverty. The Church and Society Commission supported the Irish Churches Creation Care Conference and responded to public consultations on marriage law, organ donation, and the Northern Ireland Programme for Government.
Proposing the report Canon Ian Berry highlighted the report of the Board for Ministry with Children and Families which is establishing its role within the life of the Church. He said that the information on the Board’s Facebook page had been particularly helpful. He also pointed members of Synod to the report of the Working Group on Pioneer ministry which he said had been a topic for discussion and exploration for the last 10 years. In reading it members may have found themselves thinking of places and opportunities for this work to happen, he said.
Seconding the report, Hilda Connolly spoke of the work of the subgroup of Standing Committee which is exploring the possibility of the future use of video conferencing for meetings and looking into other options to make meetings more accessible for people across Ireland. She also highlighted the report of the Central Communications Board on its extensive broadcasting and news feeds via social media and TV, while not forgetting the Gazette. “In a time which we thought we would never see, the broadcasting and live streaming of services online were beneficial and needed by all. But also, the news that travels around Ireland through Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, to name but a few, is very popular and encouraging to read each week,” she said.
Ms Connolly drew attention to the report of the Safeguarding Board. As someone who works with minors she stressed the importance of the training and policies brought forward by the board for volunteers, staff and youth leaders. She commended the new system of online Safeguarding training as it was often impossible for some of the younger volunteers to get to a venue for training. She wished Margaret Yarr a happy retirement from her post as Safeguarding Officer for Northern Ireland and welcomed Gillian Taylor to the post.
Speaking to the report Bishop Michael Burrows (Tuam) made the point that the new Dioceses of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe came into being on the retirement of the previous bishops and he found himself in the position of entering a new phase in his ministry in cementing the merging of the dioceses. He paid tribute to the dioceses of Tuam and Limerick and Killaloe for the way they have engaged with this issue under the previous bishops. He recalled a solution being sought for this in the 1970s and acknowledged the hard work of the people of the dioceses over many years. “I think it is worth saying that episcopal ministry in itself can be a pioneering thing… Working out how to be the cement in a vast area is a pioneer task in itself in collaboration with others. It’s worth saying that this issue of the best model of sustainable episcopal ministry went around for years. In the end it was a local solution that cracked the nut,” he commented. He said there were many areas of the church’s life that the General Synod needed to give the local church an opportunity to consider what works for it.
Bishop Ferran Glenfield (Kilmore) said that Bishops’ Appeal was 50 this year which meant that there had been 50 years of the Church of Ireland engaging in a wide range of partnerships for good. A video was played which celebrated the work of Bishops’ Appeal which Bishop Glenfield said was inspiring and humbling in showing what the Church of Ireland had done in God’s name. You can watch the video here.
Iris Suitor (Armagh) is secretary of Bishops’ Appeal. She highlighted the vital work which had taken place over the last 50 years. “That generosity is down to the parishes all throughout Ireland,” she said. She said that recently £705,000 had been sent to the Ukraine appeal. But she stated that general funds had been going down in recent years and they were budgeting with a number of large legacies. On behalf of Bishops’ Appeal she thanked Lydia Monds for her work. She thanked the House of Bishops for their support and the various ways they had raised funds. She threw out a challenge to the Bishops to talk to Bishop Burrows to get fundraising ideas. She thanked Bishop Patrick Rooke who chaired Bishops’ Appeal for many years and welcomed Bishop Glenfield to the role. She asked members to pray for the work of Bishops’ Appeal and their partners.
John Key (Raphoe) commended the work of the Bishops’ Appeal Committee and said he appreciated the information showing what projects had been supported across the world.
Bishop Andrew Forster (Derry) thanked Bishops’ Appeal for their speedy response to the catastrophe in Ukraine. “As Christians we worship one who was a child refugee. The plight of refugees from Ukraine is incredible with 5.6 million leaving the country,” he said. Highlighting the numbers of refugees taken in by countries in Europe, including in excess of 25,000 by the Republic of Ireland, he said that out of 66,000 applications, 11,000 people had been settled in the UK. “Small countries like the Republic of Ireland have led the way in saying that for the moment we forget about visas because this is a crisis. The UK government’s response to the refugee crisis has been found wanting. As Christians, can I urge you to lobby your local MPs on this issue. We need to be speaking out because of the oppressed in this. The government needs to step up to the mark in this crisis,” he stated.
Ministry with Children and Families
Bishop George Davison (Connor) noted the appointment of Rachel Murphy’s as Children and Families Development Officer. He encouraged Synod members to make sure that within their own dioceses people were drawing on the resources being made available for children and families. The establishment of the board was a tribute to those who worked tirelessly for this including the Children’s Ministry Network and the Sunday School Society. “Children’s Ministry is vital to every parish and is the responsibility of us all. We owe it to our church and to the future of our church to make sure that every parish is a place where children have the opportunity to be nurtured in their faith,” she said.
David Bowles (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) welcomed Rachel Murphy and thanked Lydia Monds for all the work she put in to children’s ministry. He encouraged people to take up the resources that are on offer.
Julie Curry (Down) said our children were being prophetic and listening to God at the minute. She said children must be encouraged in their faith so that they could stand up and speak out. She said that the Children and Families Ministry was important and she encouraged people to look at the resources and talk to the people in each dioceses who support children’s ministry.
The Archbishop of Armagh paid tribute to the work of Janet Maxwell in assisting parishes with charities legislation. He said it was tireless and frustrating work at times.
Church and Society Commission (CASC)
June Butler said that the wide range of issues tackled by CASC resonated with Mothers’ Union. She said that she appreciated the support of the Church of Ireland and CASC. She recalled that MU had spoken about domestic abuse and gender justice at last year’s Synod. She thanked all who had supported MU’s events and work. The island was shocked by the murder of Ashling Murphy and she added that MU was driven by the statistic that one in three women on the island and in the world had been victim of gender violence and encouraged people to wear black in support the Thursdays in Black Campaign. She highlighted a new project by MU, Bishops’ Appeal and Tearfund which will be launched in autumn. The Engaged Churches programme will generate greater awareness and signposting for survivors of domestic abuse. There will be training and a manual for each parish team. “Domestic abuse, to men and women, is happening all around and we must wake up and smell the coffee. The project will advise and support survivors,” she said. She encouraged parishes which would like to join the programme please contact herself or Jacqui Armstrong. “For many domestic violence is prevalent daily in their homes. Please walk with MU to walk with those in these situations and the children living in these situations,” she concluded.
Canon Andrew Orr (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) draw attention on an issue on the climate change scene. One of the key issues was around micro generation electricity – electricity generated locally, he stated. Thanks to the orientation of churches he said there were many long south facing roofs which would be ideal to generate electricity through solar panels to be sold back into the grid. However, he said he had looked at this several times but heritage officers in councils ruled out the possibility. “We would like to see if we could do something nationally to approach heritage officers because this is something we could do across hundreds of churches but we are running up against this brick wall,” he said.
Consulting Group on Disability
Lucy Michael (Dublin) said she had been made uncomfortable by some of the ways that people have talked in terms of disability. Covid gave people with disabilities access to places they never had access to before. She encouraged the Church to ‘Build back better’ which meant that people who were disabled were able to have access to every part of the church. “We have balanced our comfort and community with the access of people with disability. We have an opportunity to do more,” she said adding that online meetings was one such opportunity. She said that the church needed to join up the questions of disability, gender, class and inclusion. “We need to have these conversations but why should people be excluded from these conversations?” she asked. She highlighted the balance of representation on gender. She urged people to think of inclusion as a joined up strategy.
James Boyd (Connor) said people in the North lived in a divided society which created pain and mental health issues amongst many parishioners. The church needed to create a facilitative voice to chart a way out of the legacy of the past, he said. The Presbyterian Church was leading a way out of this allowing the voices of the victims of the Troubles to have a voice and tell their story, he said and wondered if the Church of Ireland could provide a way to hear the voices of voiceless people to chart a way out of this.
Standing Committee Statement
George Goodman (Connor) said he had come to modify his views on abortion as a result of listening to women talking and women’s reactions. He stated that he felt that abortion was something that nobody would wish for but it which was fundamentally an issue for women – it is women who have to take the medical consequences and face the ethical issues. He felt that men should be reluctant to talk about the issue. He appealed for compassion on this issue and proper discussion and avoidance of judgement.
Subgroup on future use of videoconferencing
Canon Malcolm Kingston (Armagh) said that people wanted to come together for the benefit and well being of the church and thanked people who had made the effort to be at Synod. He thanked Gillian Purser and others who had taken time off work and clergy who would have a landslide of work when they returned to parishes. He said the subgroup was working on new ways to help make Synod more accessible to everyone.
Neville Bagnall (Kilmore) welcomed the work of those dealing with historical abuse. He welcomed the apology. He hoped when the recommendations came forward that a way could be found to provide practical support to survivors.