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Day 3

Commission on Ministry Report Highlights Vocations and Signs of Hope

The report of the Commission on Ministry was presented at General Synod in the Millennium Forum, Derry/Londonderry this morning. Presentation of the report included the launch of the Commission’s new video on vocations.

Proposing the report, Philip McKinley (Dublin) recalled the former Archdeacon of Tuam, the Ven Gary Hastings, who in proposing the report of Commission on Ministry eight years ago predicted that in 20 years’ time or less many small rural church would be gone or on their last legs.

Mr McKinley said that since then there had been one national Census in Northern Ireland and two in the Republic of Ireland along with two Church of Ireland Censuses and external analysis. All the data pointed towards a statistical and numeric decline in Church of Ireland practice and belonging.

However, he said there were signs of hope. “Rather than plunging the Church into a self–fulfilling doomsday prophecy; time has now shown that Archdeacon Hastings comments in fact proved somewhat of a catalyst, because they set in motion a series of responses, some of which are still being outworked in the Commission on Ministry today. Yes the issues are serious, but so too has been the response,” he stated.

He highlighted the Commission’s report which pointed to the Colloquium on Ministry organised by SEARCH which discussed a broad range of issues and pointed to a wider thirst in which to explore creatively and courageously dynamic expressions of ministry for the future.

The Commission had spent time this year exploring support for non–parochial posts, new expressions and chaplains, he said. It also continued to work on procedures for Boards of Nomination and organised retreats. The Commission plans to explore ways in which to sustain and energise rural ministry over the coming year, he said, as well as encouraging lay spirituality and diversity in leadership and service.

Mr McKinley noted the successful launch of Ordained Local Ministry. Twenty–six candidates from eight dioceses began training in September 2018 and a further 10 will start this coming September, all in addition to those training for the CITI Masters in Theology, he reported.

“Indeed if one word can summarise the key work of the Commission this year, it is ‘vocation’. Against the backdrop of such shifting dynamics between faith and culture, there is a vital importance to encourage a new generation of vocations, to respond in Christian service to God’s mission through the Church,” he commented.

He continued: “The challenges Archdeacon Hastings outlined eight years ago haven’t gone away, they are stark, but in proposing this Report of the Commission on Ministry for the adoption of this Synod, I believe that there is a growing determination both within the Commission and the wider Church to tackle these challenges head–on, with ‘honesty rather than denial’.”

The Commission launched the brand new video on Vocations which will be used widely on Vocation Sunday, September 15.

Seconding the report, Canon David Gillespie (Dublin and Glendalough) focussed on nurturing vocations. He said the video was a resource for Vocation Sunday – which has the tagline ‘It’s your call’. He hoped the video will have a shelf life well beyond and is streets ahead of anything we have done before giving a snapshot of the wide range of ministries available in the Church of Ireland.

He said the Church of Ireland needed to stop waiting for people to come to us with vocations and be more proactive in its approach. Last year there was a gathering in CITI discussions at which formed a report which has been presented to the House of Bishops. One of the ideas from this was Vocations Sunday which will take place on September 15. It is intended to be the revisiting of something we should be doing anyway. It is 10 years since the last similar event and we hope that it will be a prayerful day.

There will be an exploring vocation retreat in February next year in Dromantine, he said.

Resources will be made available on line – www.vocations.ireland.anglican.org will bring searchers to the relevant pages on the Church of Ireland website which will have a lot of information on help in exploring vocations.

“Calling is the work of the Holy Spirit but it is our responsibility as a church to do all we can to create the right atmosphere in which the call of God can be fostered, heard and responded to,” Canon Gillespie stated.

Speaking to the report Desmond Thorpe (Ferns) commended the video and said people had to bear in mind that there had been a move away from direct involvement in main stream churches. He said the reality had to be faced that in rural Ireland there were parishes which were struggling to pay for full time clergy. But he added we had to look to the future with imagination and positivity. People’s spirituality remained, he said, and the church must embrace and connect with that. He said there was an open mindedness to the Church of Ireland outside the Church of Ireland community with people not being bound as strictly to denomination. He said a new image of ministry had to be sought as the old model may not persist in rural Ireland. He encouraged exploration of team ministry and cluster minister.

Catherine Little (Connor) drew attention to the Commission’s terms of reference. She said she had taken the foundation course but had pursued her vocation in her role with the Bible Society in Northern Ireland. She suggested that the definition of vocation could be widened.

The Revd Terry Scott (Armagh) highlighted the Mid Ministry Clergy retreat had some spaces available in the next few weeks.

Ruth Gabraith (Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh) congratulated the Commission on their drive to nurture vocations. She urged all parishes to get on board with this initiative, particularly Vocation Sunday. She commended the resources on the website and the video.

Joan Bruton (Meath and Kildare) highlighted the importance of clergy visiting parishioners in their homes, if possible. She asked how clergy could preach to people they did not know. She added that by getting to know parishioners could also result in finding people who could help with ministry in the parish. She said that it was sad that if a priest’s first visit to a family home was at a time of crisis. “For me it would be a very sad day in the Church of Ireland if the handshake at the church door became a substitute for pastoral visiting,” she said.

The Revd Patricia McKee (Limerick and Killaloe) spoke of the ‘creaking at the seams’ in rural ministry. She said pastoral reflection needed to examine pastoral care and the ministry of the bishop for the care of his clergy. There was a need for training in spiritual direction, she stated, to help people who were searching for a way forward in their spiritual life. Another area she felt was not always picked up on was how we marry development of resources that don’t require money with the blocking of response that we don’t have money.

Bishop Ferran Glenfield (Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh) mentioned Fergal Keane’s latest book looking at his family history in Listowel in Kerry in which he noted the existence of an evangelical, self financing lay led church near Listowel. While he commended the Commission for looking at vocations, he said the Church of Ireland was missing the contributions of their lay people who wanted to start something new or resuscitate an old thing. He said that the church over clericalises everything and the laity needed to be mobilised for the ministry of the church which is not just confined to the clergy.

Rebecca Morris (Tuam, Killala and Achonry) said she was horrified by the amount of paper had been used in synod including the book of reports. She called on the honorary secretaries to reduce the amount of paper used in future synods. Archdeacon George Davison replied that Synod members can opt to receive their documents electronically.

Robert Neill (Glendalough) said he had recently participated in a Board of Nomination and addressed the Board of Nomination. He said his board had been extremely successful. In appointments to offices within Church House or in the wider world, candidates are invited to interview and if short listed may be invited to make a submission, enquiries about their health and references, he stated. He said none of this was available to Boards of Nomination. “The nomination process is not fit for purpose and I would urge the Commission on Ministry to seek a review of it,” he said.

Bishop Burrows, chair of the commission, expressed his appreciation to the commission and the sub groups. He added that they had to be sensitive to people who felt they were called to ordained ministry but were encouraged to wait or explore other directions.

In closing Mr McKinley thanked members for their warm comments and the report was accepted by Synod.