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Who do people say we are?

Diocesan identity explored by Archbishop Jackson at Dublin & Glendalough Synods

Archbishop Michael Jackson delivering his Presidential address.
Archbishop Michael Jackson delivering his Presidential address.

The Diocesan Synods of Dublin & Glendalough took place on Tuesday evening (October 10) in Taney Parish Centre. Throughout the evening members of Synods who gathered from all corners of the United Dioceses heard what has been happening here over the past year and plans for the future.

They also heard from the Dean of Roskilde, Dean Ann–Sophie Olander, and the Dean of Copenhagen, Dean Anders Gadegaard, from the Church of Denmark who were both attending Synods to celebrate Denmark’s ancient links with Glendalough through the Vikings and with the dioceses as a whole through the Porvoo Communion. CEO of the Irish Refugee Council, Nick Henderson, was present to talk about the housing and integration project for people exiting Direct Provision which is being supported by the dioceses. And the new Third Level Chaplaincy Team was officially launched.

The Synod Service of Holy Communion took place in Christ Church Taney earlier. During the service Archbishop Michael Jackson gave his Presidential Address. He looked at who we are as dioceses in terms of what we do and our relationships with others.

He said the dioceses had a clear choice. We could confine ourselves to the membership of the Church of Ireland or we could take the maxim of John Wesley that the whole world is our parish.

“If we take the latter view, then our calling is to embrace a duty of care and a ministry of service to what is now a conurbation of at least 1.3 million people and a sprawling workplace into and out of which people from at least eleven nearby counties commute daily. It is a geographical area where new towns and new housing are planned and under way within the boundaries of historically existing parishes and I appeal to people in those parishes, as our response develops, to help with initiatives of response. It is also now a place where people who were promised housing two years ago can expect to die on the street in increasing numbers – and we were told two years ago that what happened to Jonathan Corrie would never happen again. This is a scandal of local and national proportions and a matter also of international scandal,” he said.

… our calling is to embrace a duty of care and a ministry of service to what is now a conurbation of at least 1.3 million people …

Ecumenical relations are good right across the United Dioceses and the Archbishop highlighted Dublin’s progressive and innovative Interfaith Charter, the first of its type to be developed by a European city. Within the dioceses the well–established Come&C programme of discipleship centred on the Five Marks of Mission has been taken up by a broad range of parishes, as well as being presented in the Dioceses of Spain and Portugal and the Diocese of Jerusalem. We have international mission through the Jerusalem Link and further links in the Church of Ireland with the Dioceses of Tuam and Connor through the new Gateway Project which has been developed by the House of Bishops. He also highlighted the Camino de Glendalough and the possibility of linking it with the Compostela.

Referring to the text “Jesus and his disciples set out for Caesarea Philippi, and on the way he asked his disciples: Who do people say I am?” [Mark 8:27] Archbishop Jackson said this question of identity continued to play out today for Christians in the Diocese of Jerusalem and the whole Middle Eastern region – that of taking a stand with Jesus Christ and for Jesus Christ. “They face annihilation daily, as many people closer to home sit and weigh up whether or not they will bother to go to church this Sunday and in a church such as ours where an averaged out regular church attendance has come to mean once a month or once in every six weeks. The moment at Caesarea Philippi is a moment that defines identity in a very tangible way. No wonder it was so explosive!” he commented.

[Middle Eastern Christians] face annihilation daily, as many people closer to home sit and weigh up whether or not they will bother to go to church this Sunday …

In today’s dioceses we need to focus on identity, on who we are, on what we do and why we do it, he said. “This is not, as many people might imagine, primarily about ourselves; identity is not nor should it be. Identity is about responsive and responsible relationship. The Come&C initiative has assisted greatly in this regard, not least in the more easily and instantly accessible ways in which we express The Five Marks: Tell: Proclaim God’s Kingdom; Teach: Teach, baptise and nurture; Tend: Respond to human need; Transform: Transform unjust structures; Treasure: safeguard creation. In fact, it could hardly be simpler to be honest, to take a lead in following Jesus Christ,” he said.

The Archbishop broke down the issue of identity, in the context of our discernment of the Spirit of God, into three areas: Please show me who you are; Please tell me what you do; Please ask me who I am. He encouraged members of Synods to go back to their parishes with the aim of meeting entirely new people and explore the meaning of these areas. He suggested that this would help us all move into further engagements and interactions and neighbourliness.

These could be further examined through three pairs of words: Hospitality and Curiosity; Human Interest and Commitment to Listen; and Vulnerability and Connection. For Hospitality and Curiosity to work together, the Archbishop said we need to develop a genuine interest in “The Other as someone other to us and we to them”. He said the challenge was to seek God and the self in the heart of the other. In the dioceses this is being played out through support for the Irish Refugee Council’s Housing Initiative and in Dublin City University which has become the first Irish University of Sanctuary. He added that the new Diocesan Youth Officer, Susie Keegan, would also be invaluable as a contribution to the support the dioceses offer to young people.

The Archbishop said that neighbourliness, if it is to be deepened to understanding, needs the active engagement of Human Interest and Commitment to Listen. This could be seen in action late last year when, through the Jerusalem Link, there was a meeting of Faith Leaders from across Ireland with the Archbishop of Jerusalem in the Glencree Centre for Peace and Reconciliation after which a Pledge for Peace was signed.

Finally, the Archbishop said that opening ourselves up to vulnerability was probably the hardest invitation and gift of the Holy Spirit. “Contrary to the perception of many people, vulnerability is not an expression of weakness or inability. Vulnerability is an expression of the need to give and to receive and an expression of openness to receiving and accepting a response as part of a developing relationship. Because identity is bound up with personality, relationship and interaction with others, such openness is the salvation of all of us in a world of change and of brutality. We need to be vigilant. The past is not sufficient for us, not because it is defective but because it is what it is – the past. Our duty is to put it to work in the present. In the local church, we have a wonderful opportunity to do this. This is the dynamic of tradition as tradition comes to meet us from living and lived situations. The delightful thing is that our communication systems in the dioceses show that we are doing this on a daily and a weekly basis. We need to continue and to do more with new people. We need to make new and fresh connections – all of us,” he stated.

… vulnerability is not an expression of weakness or inability

One area where vulnerability is played out is in hospital and university chaplaincy which have been developed significantly over the last two years. The Archbishop thanked all who had given tremendous commitment to developing this ministry.

Archbishop Jackson said that the values and characteristics he had outlined were not exclusive to Christianity but were applicable right across the spectrum of humanity. But they all had an expression and voice in the person of Christ and in the person of Christ reflected in our person. The initiatives he had outlined were wide open to all members of the dioceses to accept and enjoy or to set aside and do something else. But he urged members of synod to “do some thing and some things for others and for yourselves.”

“My thanks go to all of you for who you are. My congratulations go to all of you for what you have done. My encouragement goes to all of you for what you will yet do and for the people you are yet to become. So, what was the reply that the disciples gave to Jesus at Caesarea Philippi?

‘They answered, Some say John the Baptizer, others Elijah, others one of the prophets. And you, he asked, who do you say I am? Peter replied, You are the Messiah.’ [St Mark 8.29]

“And finally I say to you: You are the spiritual children of the same Messiah,” he concluded.

You can read the Archbishop’s address in full here.

The congregation at the Diocesan Synod Service in Christ Church Taney.
The congregation at the Diocesan Synod Service in Christ Church Taney.