Commission on Ministry highlights a range of issues
The report of the Commission on Ministry was presented at General Synod this morning (Friday May 6). The presentation included discussion on rural ministry.
Proposing the report, Hazel Corrigan (Hon Sec) outlined the activities of the commission over the last year which included their fifth Advent retreat – ‘One Step Too Far Away – One Breath Too Near’ – which took place online.
The group has turned its focus to rural ministry and Ms Corrigan said that they were aware that the struggles of an aging congregation and a decline in volunteers were having an impact in rural parishes as well as urban areas.
“The challenges that parishes have faced over the last two years will also have financial ramifications that will be with be with us for some years to come,” she said. “And while we acknowledge there are challenges the Commission is also aware of the many positives of rural mission and ministry, the out–of–the–box thinking to ensure ministry was relayed to everyone’s homes during the most severe lockdown of our lives to the superb church buildings and associated graveyards located throughout the country, to the ministry of clergy, OLM and readers in rural areas who are from time to time invited to every local community event from ploughing championships to the opening of a supermarket.”
They are also seeking feedback on the Report on Women in Ministry. The group heard from Emma Purser who was carrying out research for her masters. She surveyed 50% of women in ministry and explored the experiences that they attributed to their gender.
The group has also had discussions on part time ministry and supporting women in training for ordained ministry. The group also met Eddie Hallissey from Church House who informed them of policies being drawn up by the RB on maternity leave, paternity leave and adoptive leave.
The group is also examining the burden of compliance and administration on parishes. She said that the commission was working on ways that clergy and parishes could receive support to cope with increasing administration. The commission recommends that this administrative burden cannot continue to be handed down to parishes or dioceses and suggests that greater assistance and expertise would be needed in the future.
The report was seconded by the Revd Rob Jones (Dublin and Glendalough) who said there had been plenty of discussion and diversity during the year. All meetings had been held online and this had been an interesting journey as members realised that online meetings were good for getting business done efficiently but not so good for building relationships. They agreed online gave innovative opportunities for outreach but also there was a desire for presence, he said.
He highlighted a number of topics including vocations and welcomed Dean Linda Peilow as Central Director of Ordinands and paid tribute to the work of Canon David Gillespie who has
stepped down from the role. He was sure Dean Peilow would build on this work and sustain the development around vocation ensuring the pathways to ministry were open to all.
He also mentioned Pioneer Ministry.
The commission had had a two day brainstorming event online focusing on areas including the challenges covid presented to those in ministry. There was a deep appreciation for all involved in ministry.
Canon Paul Arbuthnot (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said that the work of the commission on avenues to ministry threw up interesting points. He focused the process of appointing new incumbents and said the current process was not fit for purpose as the period of three months was not conducive to the discernment process. He asked the commission to consider streamlining the process which he said would serve the vocation of the priests better.
Emma Purser (Cashel, Ferns of Ossory) spoke of her Masters research which found that 70% of women reported a negative issue within the church which they attributed to their gender. She said that women faced issues as a result of the patriarchal construct of the church. She said there was institutionalised gender inequality within the church and added that granting formal equality did not lead to equal status. She said that until the Church of Ireland committed to breaking down barriers there would always be a lack of representation within the church.
Canon Kevin Graham (Connor) looked to Psalm 78 and said he loved his vocation but said it had not always been easy and spoke of taking time off for mental health issues. He welcomed the supports for ministry. As Diocesan Director of Ordinands for Connor, he said he enjoyed joining with people at the start of their exploration of God’s call. He pointed out that nurturing vocations did not stop at ordination or commission and asked the commission to look at ongoing nurturing of vocations.
The Revd Ken Rue (Glendalough) highlighted the way a person in part time ministry was paid. He said it was worked out by how many sessions a part time minister worked. He encouraged the commission to look at an equitable stipend for a part time minister.
Wilfred Baker (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said that he served on the bishop’s selection conference for those going forward for ministry. He was struck that everybody seemed to assume that they would serve and remain in the diocese from which they had come. He said this was understandable but it was a pity as people from outside the area were enriching. He asked ordinands to consider serving in other parts of the church than that from which they came.
Canon Gillian Wharton (Dublin) said that when any cleric felt they were being called to consider a move it was an unsettling process. Clergy did not just change their job but their homes and their entire networks. She said that those involved in this process were volunteers and she wanted that to be recognised by Synod. She explained that it was a process of discernment and it could not be rushed to the detriment of the clergy and those who were parochial and diocesan nominators.
George Woodman (Connor) spoke about online meetings and the protocols of virtual versus actual. He pointed out the advantages of virtual meetings in being beneficial to the environment and the level of involvement could be greater. However, he said it was hard to make a relationship with people online that you have never met before.
Canon Judy McGaffin spoke of the different difficulties women experienced in ministry and asked the Church to explore these difficulties.
The Revd Alison Calvin (Dromore) said that she was one of the 30% of women in the church who did not feel discriminated against due to her gender. She said she would not appreciate positive discrimination because she was a women but rather wished to be recognised for her own strengths.
Responding to the comments Ms Corrigan pledged to bring the issues back to the commission for discussion