Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Synod: Presidential Address
The following address was given at the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Synod, in Cork, by the Right Revd Dr Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, on 9th June 2018:
Although next March will mark the twentieth anniversary of my arrival as your bishop, and as I journey towards that personal landmark, this meeting today, is, in fact, the twentieth occasion on which I preside at the annual Diocesan Synod of Cork, Cloyne and Ross. At least this year we do not clash with the World Cup which kicks off next Thursday in Russia. Force of habit by now, it seems, today, again this year, is World Gin Day!
Twenty Synods! And by next March I shall, D.V., as I say, complete 20 full years as your bishop. Where do the years go?
If I were to be asked to select something of our world for each year of the last twenty years as we here have encountered it, things which in one way or another have affected us, sometimes traumatised us or tilted us on our axis, I choose the following (it is a personal selection; you would undoubtedly, in some cases choose differently)
1. 1999 – New Bishop
2. 2000: the IRA began decommissioning of weapons
3. 2001: 9/11
4. 2002: the EURO
5. 2003: the Special Olympics
6. 2004: Facebook. The smoking ban was introduced. This was a year of significant expansion of the European Union.
7. 2005: The first ever Youtube video was uploaded. Pope John Paul II died. The London Bombings. The HSE was founded.
8. 2006: Twitter! North Korea claims to have completed its first nuclear test.
9. 2007: The iPhone!
10. 2008: Lehman Brothers – the Celtic Tiger died. Ireland went into recession. Dustin did not qualify for the Eurovision final.
11. 2009: H1N1 – a global pandemic of swine flu. A Eurozone rescue package for Ireland. The Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse reported (the Ryan Report), followed soon afterwards by the Murphy Report. NAMA was set up, flooding around the country and Cork was hit very badly. And, on a lighter note, incandescent light bulbs were phased out.
12. 2010: the International Monetary Fund in Ireland.
13. 2011: The start of the Syrian Civil War. Queen Elizabeth II made a State visit to Ireland. The Civil Partnership Act came into effect. Unemployment levels in Ireland rose to 14%.
14. 2012: Savita Halappanavar.
15. 2013: Report into the Magdalene Laundries; Pope Francis was elected and Bishop Pat Storey was elected bishop.
16. 2014: ISIS or ISIL began an offensive through Northern Iraq. The President made a State visit to the United Kingdom. Water charges were announced.
17. 2015: The marriage equality referendum was passed.
18. 2016: Major flooding, the centenary of the Easter Rising, and the Brexit referendum in the United Kingdom.
19. 2017: Donald Trump; London Bridge and Borough Market;; the Citizens Assembly meets to discuss climate change; storm Ophelia.
20. 2018: Referendum on the Eighth Amendment.
You might, of course, make a different selection, and it might as easily be twenty of anything in the same period: 20 wars or conflicts, 20 scandals, 20 acts of terrorism, 20 natural disasters, 20 air crashes, 20 books … 20 things that happen in a bishop’s life or a parish’s life every year, or 20 words or phrases about our Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.
If I were asked to choose 20 people, I couldn’t and wouldn’t. Countless people, many still with us here, others in fellowship with us now in the Communion of Saints, offer their worship, prayers, talents and generosity to the work our Lord Jesus Christ entrusted to us: proclaiming and building the kingdom of God, and being and making disciples.
I give thanks to God for all of you, and I thank all of you as we gather here again on this Saint Columba’s Day. As I look around, I am profoundly grateful for you all, for the time you, and many, in our parishes and chaplaincies give faithfully to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the work of the Church in our time and place. As a Diocese we manifest that it is possible to live and work together for God with a diversity of outlook and opinion. It is time to reflect once again on our work as the local Church here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross.
Nearly twenty years in this place
I looked back on what I said to you twenty synods ago when we met in Jury’s Hotel, Western Road – now gone, and replaced by a changed landscape. I spoke about our strong sense of place; my love, and your love for this place, as well as the place of the Church in it.
I had flown in several days before from a visit to the Church of Finland and I said: ‘As I flew into Cork on Tuesday following my four days of work in Helsinki I was well placed to see the view from the aeroplane. In the dusk the churches of Cork could clearly be picked out: Saint Fin Barre’s, Shandon, the North Cathedral, Saint Luke’s, Holy Trinity, and Dennehy’s Cross. There they were at a glance, and others too, set in the midst of the people, life and concerns of this city, as all our churches are in their own place.’
Cork – strong sense of place
In Cork we like to think we are exceptional, and our exceptionalism knows no bounds. Why would it? However, with its strong sense of place it is, in truth, no different from other parts of our island or our world when people embrace their own place and call it ‘home’. Cork City and County are our place, not forgetting, of course, Ardmore, our treasured territory in County Waterford. Ardmore too has a strong sense of place.
‘Place’ is a hugely potent thing for humanity, in general – not just nation, land, and territory as the history of the world shows us only too well, but also our local place.
‘Place’ raises for us existential questions:
• Where am I from?
• Where do I fit in and belong?
• Who am I?
• What shapes me?
• Where do I feel safe and secure?
• Where will I survive and thrive?
These questions about ‘my place’ at one and the same time shape positively our desire to live in a better place, and to improve the place where we are, and to work to correct what is not right in our place; and, at the same time, it is a dynamic that in so many parts of the world, and for so many people become a common thread.
• ‘We are fighting for this place.’
• ‘You have taken my place.’
• ‘The place you are in is actually my place.’
• ‘I have had no choice but to leave my place, will you give me a place?’
• ‘I have no place.’
In his book Parish: An Anglican theology of place, Andrew Rumsey starts by referring to the encounter between the risen Christ and the disciples walking on the road to Emmaus. The outsider they do not recognise ‘asks to hear the news from Jerusalem, so they respond: “are you the only stranger who doesn’t know the things that have happened here?”’
The ‘parish’, far from being ‘a small unit of physical geography’ is called, in Christ, to be a particular type of place, with a particular calling.
Rumsey highlights that the Greek for ‘stranger’ used here is paroikeis from which we derive our English word ‘parish.’ He says:
In Graeco–Roman society, paroika described the community of people either living physically beyond the city boundaries (literally “those beside the house”) or as non–citizens within the walls. They were those who lived nearby, but didn’t belong … The Church was the fellowship of strangers, the community of non–belongers, who had found their place in Christ.’
This being the case, the consequences for our thinking and being and living as a Church in any place are far–reaching, to say the least. The ‘parish’, far from being ‘a small unit of physical geography’ is called, in Christ, to be a particular type of place, with a particular calling. As part of our Continuing Ministerial Education programme I hope to make this book available for reading and reflection in 2018.
Ministry in a place
This sense of place is crucial also to ministry. The only phrase I recall from my two ordination retreats, each of three days, six days in all, is of a retreat leader saying to us – ‘Ministry is presence.’ Ministry in time and place is inspired by the incarnation of the Word of God ‘who lived for a while among us’: the incarnation. Whoever we are and wherever we come from, when it comes to ministering in a place, our first task is to embrace that place, to seek to know and understand it, and to love it and its people, not uncritically, of course, and to call it home. Only then can ministry be truly presence. Once you call a place home it becomes ‘very central’ to everything.
All that said, our sense of place must never descend into isolationism or parochialism or congregationalism, or worse still the separatist, living apart heresies which categorise some as pure and others as impure, some as having the truth and others as not having it. That is not what it is to be an Episcopal Church, in the Anglican way.
The role of the Church in a place: Grenfell Tower disaster
Last January I was invited to preach at the Patronal Festival of the Church of Saint Mary, Harrow–on–the–Hill, London. As we drove out from the centre of London along the A40 I realised that we were passing the place of the Grenfell Tower fire, which happened a year ago this week: 14th June 2017. It was a spine–shivering and tragic sight: catastrophic for so many ordinary people in their place. It is only a short flight away in a neighbouring place.
A report published last month by the Theos Think–Tank reflected on the role churches and faith communities had played in the midst of that catastrophe: ‘In the chaos, the role of the diverse faith groups in the community stood out. Churches, mosques, synagogues, and gurdwaras all stepped up to the plate, responding practically, emotionally and spiritually to a moment of pain and confusion. At least fifteen separate centres run by faith communities responded. Aid included acting as evacuation areas, receiving, sorting and distributing donations, offering accommodation, drawing up lists of the missing, supporting emergency services, patrolling the cordon, providing counselling and supporting survivors seeking housing. In the first three days alone at least 6,000 people were fed by a range of faith communities. This is alongside the more expected provision of space for prayer and reflection and hosting interfaith services of memorial and lament.’
A recent edition of the Church Times noted that ‘… the four main ways that faith groups responded to the disaster were: opening the doors of faith centres — and sometimes homes — to people affected; groups helping to meet the immediate needs of clothes, food, and water; providing space for people to pray and reflect, and offering pastoral care; and offering long–term faith–sensitive support, including professional counselling, to victims and those affected.
An article in The Guardian reported that ‘faith groups were able to respond quickly and effectively to the Grenfell Tower fire because they were rooted in the community, had physical space to put at the disposal of local residents and were committed to long–term pastoral support …’
The Theos report identified nine distinct faith groups and denominations and at least 15 centres, such as places of worship and volunteer centres, in the immediate vicinity of Grenfell Tower. In the first three days after the fire, at least 6,000 people were fed by faith organisations.
I read the report in full and key things that stood out in relation to the faith communities were these:
• The faith communities were embedded in the communities they served.
• The faith communities had history and had a long–standing existence in the place; they were in it for the long haul.
• They were committed: dedicated to both their faith and to the community.
As a result, they were able to respond to the needs of the moment: not perfectly perhaps – as noted, there is no such thing as a ‘perfect’ response to such an event – but rapidly, compassionately and holistically.
Churches in our place
We are small and our resources are limited, but we have a strong diocese, together with good people of conviction and energy.
In what ways are we ‘visible in our community’? In what ways can we be flexible? What makes us angry in our place? What can we as local churches do about these things? In what ways do we stand out? What networks have we built up? What can we do in our place, as faith communities, in partnership with others?
Two separate groups from other churches in the Porvoo Communion, one from Sweden and one from Finland, visited us in 2016. Without collusion on their part, each of them separately, expressed admiration for the diversity of activities that the people of this Diocese are engaged in as the Church in this place, through voluntary commitment, with limited resources: Christianity in action in this place.
I see that I said something not unlike this in Jury’s Hotel in 1999 as well: ‘This is the annual business meeting of the diocese, but it is not self–absorbed. Remoteness and irrelevance were not the way of Jesus and are not the way either of the Judaeo–Christian tradition to which we belong. Christians do not remove themselves from society. It is our vocation to live out the living way of Jesus in the midst of things as we find them. … [T]he whole of life in all its comprehensiveness is the agenda for the Christian disciple and thinker.’
Much of our engagement with local issues happens through the involvement of people of faith, individually, bringing their Christian conviction, discipleship and energy to bear practically on locally concerns. I think of people from the Diocese who are involved in many agencies, charities, political parties and advocacy groups, as well as matters of vigorous public discourse such as the Save the Walls campaign, and, much in the news in recent days, the incinerator in Ringaskiddy.
Places change, people change, people and places are changed
Some of the twenty years of events and factors I highlighted at the outset of my address have changed us forever – some for good, some for bad, and many we are still wrestling with. Some tilted the world on its axis.
World War I
Throughout history there have been events or epochs that have tilted the known world on its axis and things have never been the same again. The First World War was one such. Little was the same ever again. Since 2014, in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, the visual memorial compiled and created by the Dean of Cork and myself, has been seen by tens of thousands of people from many nations. The weekend of the centenary of Armistice Day, 11th November will be your last chance to visit. The Cathedral will be open (as it is open every day for prayer) to pilgrims on Saturday 10th November when you may see it that memorial for the last time in that location before it is switched off the next day following a Diocesan Service of Remembrance on Sunday, 11th November at 3.30 p.m. when I hope the Cathedral will be full to overflowing as it was on the occasion of the centenary of the Battle of the Somme.
On 19th July 1919 there was a post–war victory parade in Dublin. 20,000 took part including 5,000 demobilised service men. The parade, did not go along Sackville Street, and the GPO, scene of the Easter Rising.
One hundred years after it ended, the armistice at the end of the so–called ‘war to end all wars’ is worthy of collective Diocesan commemoration, remembering those of all sides, nations, and places who suffered or died. There must hardly be a church or school in the Diocese which does not commemorate someone from each place who went, who served, who died, who was injured, who came home and lived with life, changed forever:
• 65 million people around the world fought
• 8.5 million troops killed
• 21 million troops wounded
• 2 million died from malnutrition, disease and other causes
• 13 million civilians were killed
• 12 million letters were delivered to the front every week.
1918 in general
Twenty years pass quickly, yet, in another way, it is one–fifth of the way back to 1918. One hundred years ago is, in fact, not that long ago.
Shortly before this time that year, 1918, the first cases of the Spanish flu were diagnosed. It abated during the summer months and returned with a vengeance in the autumn. Worldwide it is estimated that 40 million people died. In Ireland 800,000 people were infected and 23,000 died.
It was also the year of the Conscription Crisis and a consequent General Strike.
On 14th December a general election would be held and Sinn Féin would win 73 of the 105 Irish seats in the House of Commons, but did not take those seats. The first meeting of Dáil Éireann was held on 21st January 1919.
Women in our Place
1918 was also the year of the Representation of the People Act. Not only were 8.4 million women added to the electorate, so also were another 5.6 million men. The size of the electorate tripled from 7.7 million to 21.4 million. The Act came into force on 6th February.
Notably it allowed some women, still only some, to vote in general elections. It wasn’t full equality. The requirement that voters own property was removed for men and the age for men was 21. Women 30 and over could vote but either they themselves had to won property worth £5 or be married to a husband who had property worth £5. Not full equality, but nonetheless, this year is an important centenary for us all, and for women, in particular.
It is difficult to imagine that votes for women – something we now not only accept, but affirm, insist on and take to be a fundamental right, was so difficult to achieve.
One hundred years on, women and women’s rights are very much still an issue. Since we were here last year, in October last year, 2017, the #metoo movement spread virally as a hashtag on social media to help demonstrate the widespread prevalence of sexual assault and harassment, especially in the workplace. More recently, our former President, Mary McAleese, speaking at the Voices of Faith Conference in Rome to mark International Women’s Day, turned the spotlight on the place of women in her own Church; but we would do well not to be complacent in our own church, and to be vigilant about our inclusion of women. As I listened to her I felt challenged to ask if there are enduring inequalities in our own church.
In two years’ time, it will be the 30th anniversary of the church legislation that permitted women to be ordained as priests and bishops here. Thirty is the age at which a person may be elected a bishop. A woman born in 1990 will be eligible to be a bishop, yet, so far, we have only one woman bishop, and many still see her as a novelty. Of the 24 people who are Deans of Cathedrals in the Church of Ireland, one is a woman. All 20 Archdeacons are men. The numbers of women training for ministry are not as great as they perhaps ought to be; last year 2 women out of a total of 13 began training for ordination.
The State gave many women the vote in 1918, and, two years later, the General Synod passed a law permitting women to serve on Select Vestries. Where would we be without you now? Within in our own Diocese, 53% of the members of our Select Vestries are women.
The 1920 inclusion, like the State’s inclusion of 1918, was limited. Even in 1929, eleven years after women’s suffrage, the Standing Committee reported that it was divided about whether or not women should be members of Diocesan and General Synod, and, therefore, could not introduce legislation to bring about a change. In fact, it was 20 more years before our church made it possible for women to be members of synods (1949 c.viii), and the first woman, Mrs G A Ruth of Ardfert and Aghadoe, took her seat on General Synod only in 1952, 8 years before I was born.
Representation on church bodies, and representative membership are not, by any standards, the sole litmus of equality, but they are important ones. Of the 213 clergy on General Synod only 39 or 18.31% are women. As you’d expect, the lay people do better with just over 40.15% of the lay representatives being women. Only one Diocese – Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh – has one half or more of its lay representatives on General Synod who are women. Five dioceses have less than 40% and one less than 30%. Women make up 42.86% of our representation.
Central church committees are a more patchy story. Of the 60 members of the Representative Church Body, for example, only 16 are women. There is no woman on the Executive Committee. And so one could go on. Lay membership of this Diocesan Synod today comprises 70 men and 66 women, 136 lay people in all; 48.52%, therefore are women. However, representation is only one indicator; we must always remain vigilant about our attitudes, opportunities for participation, and creating a fully inclusive Church of equals.
History in our Place: the Coming Centenaries
The centenaries of women’s right to vote, Spanish flu, Conscription Crisis, Armistice are all being remembered this year, as is, as I mentioned, the centenary of the General Election of 1918 in which women first exercised that right to vote. On 21st January 1919 Dáil Éireann met for the first time.
As you have seen in the Appendix A to the report of our Diocesan Council and as I announced on St Patrick’s Day, with the support of Diocesan Council and the Church of Ireland Priorities’ Fund I have put in place a Cork, Cloyne and Ross Commemorations and Reconciliation Project. I have begun to engage with civic authorities, other churches and community groups and I commend it to you. The point of it all, to use the words of Pope John XXIII when announcing the 2nd Vatican Council, is this:
‘… We will not try to find out who was wrong, we will not try to find out who was right,
we will only say: Be reconciled…’
To us is entrusted, says Saint Paul, ‘the ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Cor. 5.18) The proposed project does not look only backwards to the commemorations, it involves engaging with differences here and now in our time.
Changed place: The Eighth Amendment
The recent referendum on the Eighth Amendment brought to the fore, for many of us, history in our own lifetime and living memory.
In the Summer of 1983, on the cusp of my final year of training before ordination I spent three and a half months in East Africa. I returned in time to vote in the Eighth Amendment on the Constitution of Ireland Referendum on 7th September 1983. In the exercise of personal conscience in the context of my Christian faith, I voted in 1983 against the inclusion of the Eighth amendment. In doing so, it appears I was in line with the arguments put forward by my Church, and have held those views ever since. In 1983 my personal vote was among the minority of 33.1% who did not ‘win’, as it were, the argument.
In the wake of the referendum we need to recognise that this is a deeply personal and conflicting issue for many people. For others on either side of the referendum debate, it was clear cut for one reason or another. We are all conscious that along with the common ground that those with a common cause had on both sides of the debate, very diverse views were also held within communities, within families and within friendships, as they were indeed within churches too. We need to be respectful of this and sensitive to one another.
Given the religious demography of our country, it is evident that many people with firm religious convictions found themselves on the opposite sides of the vote, and it does not take great deductive powers to conclude that many yes voters are believers of many shades and varieties and degrees of commitment.
Churches, as institutions are slower to change; however, judging by the majority outcome in the recent referendum, it is arguable that individual believers within churches are quicker to change than the institution to which they belong. In great numbers also, people who voted have moved on from institutional religion.
It is both naive and fallacious simply to dismiss shifts in opinion such as we have seen on this issue as some sort of apostasy – an abandonment of faith. Nor is it tenable to categorise the Christian no voters as the faithful, and the Christian yes voters as apostate sinners, or as having abandoned their faith.
I want to refer again, and to underscore something I said in my first diocesan synod address to you in 1999. In 1999 I said: ‘[This] place is changing and Irish society is clearly less religious than it once was in the way that it once was.
‘Society is religious now in a whole variety of ways. We still see all around us the evidence that people have religious needs of one sort or another. Some of those may indeed create a collision course with the traditional tenets of Christian belief. We cannot smugly close our eyes to all of this, however. We’ve got to ask ourselves:
‘What does it all mean for us?
‘How should the Church go about its work in the name of the Lord?’
Religion in our Place
So – what of – at times like this, in the wake of this Referendum, and indeed of decades of change in attitudes towards institutional religion – what of our attitudes to religion in Western Europe?
At the end of May in the wake of the referendum I picked up on the publication of a piece of research, and I tweeted about it. I am in the good company of Patsy McGarry of The Irish Times who also picked up on it. It emanated from the Pew Research Center, a nonpartisan American fact tank in Washington, D.C. which, among other things conducts demographic research. On 29th May they published research about being Christian in Western Europe which they acknowledged (as we ourselves know) that it has become ‘one of the world’s most secular regions.’
That does not mean it is Godless. ‘Most adults surveyed do consider themselves Christians, however, even if they seldom go to church.’ This group, it seems, constitutes the biggest share of the population across the region. In every country except Italy, they are more numerous than church–attending Christians (those who go to religious services at least once a month). In Ireland that group constitutes 46%, while 34% are church attenders. Seven of the key findings are:
1. Secularization is widespread in Western Europe, but most people in the region still identify as Christian.
2. Even though most people identify as Christian in the region, few regularly attend church.
3. Christians in Western Europe, including non–practising Christians, believe in a higher power.
4. Majorities in most countries across the region say they would be willing to accept Muslims in their families and in their neighborhoods.
5. Christian identity in Western Europe is associated with higher levels of nationalism and negative sentiment toward immigrants and religious minorities.
6. Majorities across the region, including most Christians, favor legal same–sex marriage and abortion.
7. The prevailing view in Western Europe is that religion should be kept separate from government policies.
The elusive inclusive Place
The version of Anglicanism, with its via media, with all of its diversity worldwide which nurtured me, and many of you too, in this place spoke of comprehensiveness, accommodating diversity, wide arms of Anglican embrace that made it possible to live together with difference, living and let live.
For several decades now we have lived in overwhelming times of disorientating and a seeming never–ending flow of revelations; the latest and most traumatic for many people, being the illegal adoption scandal. The horrific truth is that, alongside the immense good done, and in addition to the faithfulness of churches and individual Christians over the centuries, institutional religion has also been complicit in so much of the damage, hurt and injustice that has been done to ordinary people including the most vulnerable people in our society (often at a time of personal crisis, the very time when they actually needed Christian love and compassion).
Earlier I referred to the enduring challenges facing women in our time. I, and we all, need constantly to examine ourselves and to ask what injustices we as the Church are not only perpetuating, but inflicting in our time. What hurt are we continuing to cause? What inequalities and injustices are there still in our country and, more to the point, in our churches?
LGBTI people in our place
This summer 20 years ago I was happily working in my parish. The bishops were meeting at the Lambeth Conference 1998 and their Resolution – so–called Lambeth 1.10 – was being hotly debated. Since before my election as a bishop LGBT people have found themselves, their lives, loves and hopes as the subject of debate and scrutiny and division within the Church and churches. It must be like being caught as a human rope marker on a tug o’war rope, and being repeatedly pulled back and forth. It’s clear that some in the Church hope that LGBT people might go back into the closet and stay there. That’s not going to happen. None of us should be under any doubt about the turmoil and damage this causes, and I worry especially for the well–being of young gay people hearing and witnessing all of this.
Some time we are going to have to find a way forward, even if the situation in a variety of churches, not only ours, seems to be becoming more polarised, not less so.
I am conscious that that not everyone sees this as a matter of justice and injustice. Many of us do, and we are not ‘tilting at windmills’ in raising it. I believe it stands with the other major justice issues of our time, especially now within the churches, given that society has charted its course of equality. History will either prove me, and many others, wrong or right on this. So be it.
None of us should be in any doubt either that we in the churches are complicit in the hurt, and in perpetuating the injustice being cause to LGBT people, including the many fellow LGBT members of our churches. And I have to ask myself, as I think we all do, in what ways have I myself in this connection ‘left undone the things I ought to have done, and done those things which I ought not to have done’ (to use the phrase from the general confession in the Book of Common Prayer)?
I have been quite overwhelmed by the number of gay and lesbian church members – not solely from this Diocese or solely from within the Church of Ireland – who have made contact with me since our recent General Synod in response to the communication of the House of Bishops on sexuality. Many were magnanimous enough to listen to my explanation that the agreed communication was, as I saw it, simply a restatement of what we had said previously.
However, to you who got in touch, I say, you also challenged me to put myself in your shoes and to read the communication from your perspective. I realise that is only right; the way of Christ – loving God and loving our neighbour – requires us constantly to see the Christ in others and to try to see things from where they stand, and to love.
These are some of the things that were said to me, I give voice to just three of them, and I quote with permission.
One said: ‘I honestly was very disappointed. While I’m not sure what I really expected or wanted from the communication, it felt like a fob off as there was no timelines or actions mentioned. Just the facts of where we are as a church.’
Another person said to me: ‘As the archbishops and bishops have already made clear to the clergy of the Church of Ireland, it is not possible to proscribe the saying of prayers in personal and pastoral situations, but if clergy are invited to offer prayer after a same sex marriage, any such prayer must remain “consonant with the spirit and teaching of the Church of Ireland,” It reads as if the Bishops regret they can’t ban clergy from praying with those pesky gays, but implies they would do if they could. The ‘no appetite’ bit rankled too. It sounds as if the Bishops and Church are all just bored with the idea of treating gay people as equals. It’s very dismissive and reads as if the Church can’t be bothered with it anymore, so that’s that. Plus – LGBTI people aren’t an ‘issue’. We’re fellow Christians, human beings with lives, relationships, hopes and needs. None of that is covered. And there’s no recognition of the disappointment and hurt this statement caused to those LGBTI members of the Church. Trouble is – bad things happen when good people stop bothering and think it’s all safely wrapped up. As has happened here. People may have ‘moved on’ and think it’s all ok, but we still can’t get married in your churches, and presumably gay clergy and people are actively discriminated against officially.’
And a third example from among the many I received: ‘Firstly, I thought it wasn’t even necessary to have issued it. Secondly, it read as if we were just being reminded again of our place ie that marriage is between all man and a woman and that there was no appetite for further discussion. As if we needed reminding. I read it again and again feeling excluded from my own church. Maybe one day we will get something more positively worded that actually makes the many of us who are committed to our faith and our sexuality feel part of the church well love.’
Last year I referred to that fact that two days before our Synod our sister Church in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, had decided to alter its canon on marriage by removing the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman. Clergy who wish to conduct same–sex marriages will have to opt in, and no priest is to be compelled to do so. I suggested that the Scottish approach may represent a way forward for us too and that it is worth considering in our debate here in Ireland also. Some outside the Church of Ireland picked up on this suggestion but virtually no one of any outlook within the Church picked up on it, and so it gained no traction. I do hope as an option it might seriously be looked at, or that some will come forward with another option for moving ahead.
An innovative place on the move: Charting A Future with Confidence
During the year our own local process Charting a Future with Confidence steeped up a gear with the publication of one report, and with its publication and distribution around the Diocese. I want to thank sincerely the representatives from all parishes and communities who were involved in this and who served on the working groups. In particular I want to thank the steering group: the Dean of Cork, the Dean of Ross, Sandra Giles and Melvin Buttimer. The Dean of Cork and I recently completed six town hall type meetings where the report was presented to select vestry members and people from parishes who had not up to then had the opportunity to hear about it.
Looking back over the years we have journey through many things and addressed them. In the year ahead the outworking of Brexit looms closer. We will pilgrimage through that too.
The Charting a Future with Confidence process will continue. A summary has been prepared. The outcomes of a youth survey will be published. The Dean of Ross has prepared a study guide. Toolkit questions will be circulated for local discussion. The Diocesan Council will establish a steering group to carry it all forward.
Most of all, this is your conversation. This is God’s Church and you are a member of this part of it; in that sense it is yours. This is about how, in our time and place we are to be faithful, and practical, and realistic, and innovative and confident in our future in Cork, Cloyne and Ross.
A place that engages with challenges of the day
Reflecting on our era during his visit to UCC recently for the National Famine Commemoration, our President, Michael D. Higgins, said: ‘This century will be defined by three great global challenges, all products of the interaction of politics, economics and the natural world: anthropogenic climate change, the urgent requirement to welcome those fleeing famine, war, persecution and natural disaster; and the necessity for just and sustainable development, a new symmetry of ecological economics, capable of providing food security and robust rural communities throughout our world.
‘Given the catastrophic dimension of our history – a history with which we are still wrestling – we cannot be indifferent to these new challenges, we are called to demonstrate, drawing on the possibilities of science and technology, not only generosity but solidarity. We must deliver not only charity but justice.’
This can and will only be achieved if we collectively pursue new forms of thought, and imagine new possibilities for action.
In what ways might we as churches and as individual Christians contribute to the meeting of these great challenges?
Being Church in this Place: Conclusion
As I hope you will have gathered, the idea of ‘place’ has linked my thoughts which I offer to you today for your prayer and reflection as we continue our work together in the year ahead.
I want to end by simply repeating something else I said in 1999, about being the Church in our place: ‘For its part in Ireland today, the Church, inspired by the humanity of Jesus, has to become a much more human Church. “How on earth”, a woman asked me early in the summer, “do we get the Church to puts its arm around people? The Church has to learn to go where ordinary people are; to learn to cope better with the great variety of humanity and culture that is out there, a variety that doesn’t automatically sit comfortably with our ecclesial sub–culture or traditional ways.
Through us, God still wants to move into the neighbourhood. And he asks us to search out, in his name, the needs and concerns of the neighbourhood; to stand alongside the people; to tell them about him and to be for them, the means of his love
‘I’ve no doubt that because of the profile of the psyche of society today as I have described it, the driving theological enzyme for the work of the Church has to be the incarnation of Jesus. “God moved into the neighbourhood…” as one translation of the Bible puts it. Through us, God still wants to move into the neighbourhood. And he asks us to search out, in his name, the needs and concerns of the neighbourhood; to stand alongside the people; to tell them about him and to be for them, the means of his love.’
May God the Holy Spirit guide and bless us as we begin our work in this Synod today.