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Church of Ireland Notes from ‘The Irish Times’

Clergy and the Crisis

A couple of weeks ago The Irish Times printed a letter which gently but pertinently pointed out that while much publicity had been given, quite properly, to those who were working so hard to maintain essential services, little had been said about the role of the clergy. The letter was clearly written from a Roman Catholic perspective but might equally have applied to the Church of Ireland as a quick overview of the news pages on the Church of Ireland website reveals. There are, of course, statements and pastoral letters from archbishops and bishops but rather less about the initiatives of individual clergy.

Of course, much of this discourse, when it happens, is at local level, and is best apprehended through the diocesan magazines which are read avidly in the localities especially to discover what is happening in other parishes. And so, in  most dioceses there is, in normal times, a ready appreciation of clerical activity. Even so, because in many instances the clergy themselves compile the parish notes for the diocesan magazines, there is often an element of polite understatement about their role, while during the current crisis the magazines are not so readily available.

In the Church of Ireland, since disestablishment the structures of governance have been weighted in favour of the laity, yet the clergy remain pivotal to the life of the Church. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the Church of Ireland Directory which lists the clergy and their contact details, as the points of reference for each parish, but does not list the parish secretaries. This has been mitigated in recent years by the publication of a wider range of parish contacts in diocesan directories, an initiative of the Revd Nigel Waugh, but still it remains a truism that parish life revolves around the clergy. In some parishes, ministry is offered in a more collaborative fashion with laity taking responsibility for activities which were once a clerical preserve but often and on both sides, clerical and lay, there is some uneasiness about such developments. This was well captured in the last Search Colloquium on ministry, papers from which were published in vol. 42.2 of Search, which appeared last summer, and which can be read on–line at searchjournal.ireland.anglican.org

The current Covid–19 pandemic has again highlighted the importance of clergy both in providing pastoral support, particularly in the context of funerals and the care of those in residential settings, and in finding new and innovative ways to ensure the continuity of worship. The restrictions on movement and assembly have brought into sharp perspective how much the Church community depends on gathering together and have added emphasis to the realization that the most significant form of gathering is worship. And, of course, a principal duty of the clergy is the organization of worship.

A prime example of this is the directory of online church services available weekly on the Dublin & Glendalough diocesan website. The directory currently highlights details of Christ Church cathedral and 41 parishes that offer online services with links to where those services can be found. The website address is dublin.anglican.org and the Diocesan Communications Officer, the indefatigable Lynn Glanville, has made changes which it is hoped will make it obvious where to click to be brought directly to the services. There are similar initiatives in other dioceses.

For those looking for a wider perspective, the May issue of the Church of Ireland Gazette is available free of charge on the Gazette website – https://gazette.ireland.anglican.org

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Church of Ireland Notes

Published weekly in the Saturday edition of The Irish Times