Thursday, 10 May 2012

News from the Church of Ireland General Synod

Go here for recent updates to earlier press reports. Official news releases from the synod can be found here.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper delivered a Presidential Address.

…The other matter, along with clergy pensions, that may occupy us at this year’s synod is that of Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. I want to say something about the way in which we should address this sensitive subject and the interplay of different factors that impact upon the way we should respond as a church.

Arising out of the atmosphere created and the desire expressed at the Conference on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief that we should continue the journey of respectful and charitable listening in pursuit of deeper and clearer understanding of the will and purpose of God in these matters, the archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland, with the encouragement of the Standing Committee, will seek to present three motions offering a possible way forward.

The motions that the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Down and Dromore will seek to introduce belong together. The first sets out the doctrinal understanding of marriage and the appropriate context for sexual intercourse, as currently set forth in the formularies of the Church of Ireland. To set out the current position is not to pre–determine any future adjudication the General Synod may reach on such matters. Indeed, Canon 31, which is quoted in the first motion, actually takes the form that it does as a direct result of decisions taken by the General Synod permitting the re–marriage in church of divorced persons is itself witnesses to the fact that Canons may be added, altered, refined, replaced or abolished by the General Synod at its absolute discretion.

The second motion acknowledges openly the hurt and injury experienced at times by Lesbian and Gay people as a result of the words and actions of Church members. It articulates the commitment of the Church of Ireland to being sensitive to the pastoral needs of Gay and Lesbian people and a safe and welcoming place for everyone.

The third motion, if approved, directs the Standing Committee to bring to next year’s synod recommendations for the formation of a Select Committee to study the issue of Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief and to report progress to the General Synod on the basis of a specific timetable.

The additional work generated by the need to provide for the special conference for synod members that took place at the Slieve Russell Hotel in March, followed by the framing of motions to be brought to the synod, have made heavy demands on the time and energy of my fellow bishops. Therefore, I want to pay a particular and personal tribute to my colleagues in the House of Bishops, not only for their commitment to providing means by which the Church of Ireland may address what are experienced in all the churches as difficult and potentially divisive issues, but also for their commitment to modelling and sustaining a spirit of unity in the Church of Ireland.

Members of the General Synod, this is but ‘work in progress’, and it is work not for bishops alone but for the General Synod on behalf of the Church of Ireland as a whole. Leadership in the Church of Ireland, especially in the context of the role of bishops, consists not in telling the Church what to think but in assisting the Church in coming to a richer, deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the faith we have received.
The archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland guard and define the doctrine of the Church only to the extent that they may be called upon to declare whether or not a particular view is consonant with the current teaching of the Church as the Church of Ireland has received it. Ultimate sovereignty under God rests with the General Synod. Therefore, I want to say something about the character of the Church of Ireland, particularly in the context of the work of the General Synod and especially the role of the laity…

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Categorised as: Church of Ireland

I am deeply, deeply, fond of Alan Harper and think he is a fine Christian priest and bishop. But his speech this morning read like an Erich Honecker speech from October 1989. Who is going to be the Gorbachev to tell the House of Bishops that life punishes those who get left behind? Thankfully, the Church of Ireland is not East Germany, and if our leaders can't see what's in front of their face, the clergy and laity can and must.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 4:15pm BST

The motion has been withdrawn. Canon Nigel Dunne raised a point of order that it clashed with the Order Two marriage service in BCP 2004 and therefore sufficient doubt was raised that it was a change in doctrine, so the motions were withdrawn. All very Anglican.

Perhaps now we can find a way of keeping us all together that doesn't involve belting LGBT people over the head with a crozier, or the rest of us caving in to the most strident voices who not even reflect the breadth of opinion within Northern Evangelicalism.

I am very proud to be a member of the bloody old Church of Ireland this evening.

Posted by: Gerry Lynch on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 5:34pm BST

Gerry, I am glad you are proud to be a member of the bloody old Church of Ireland this evening. My native church. I remain proud of it - and proud now to be a member of the bloody old Church of England. There is decency here - and there. And, as I have said before, you do right to have confidence in Alan Harper.

Posted by: John on Thursday, 10 May 2012 at 7:05pm BST

The Episcopal Church in the US did all of this work beginning in the 1970s. As to the third motion, TEC published the work of a number of biblical and behavioral science scholars in a compendium preparatory to its General Convention's resolution recognizing that gay people have as much claim on the charisms of the church as anyone else; and its finding that a person seeking Holy Orders may not be barred from ordination simply on the basis of his or her being gay.

So--since so much fine work on these subjects was undertaken and published by and for the American church more than thirty years ago, perhaps our venerable brothers and sisters in the Church of Ireland and elsewhere might avail themselves of the work. You really *don't* have to reinvent the wheel. We've had solid scholars and conscientious priests on this side of the pond for a good long while now.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 12:40am BST

Funny an Irishman can be so enthusiastic about the creation of the Church of Ireland which of course is the invention of the English state in Ireland..who constituted it by forcing it through the puppet Irish parliament.Even at its peak it only had ten percent of the Irish population as adherents, and many of these were English officials and soldiers.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 6:53am BST

Oh come RIW - when did calling on the Irish to get stuck in the historical positions of the past produce any good result? When did it produce good results for any of us to become stuck in our history? And just how is becoming stuck in history in any way a Christian position???

Posted by: Rosemary Hannah on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 7:53am BST

Thank you Daniel for your comment. It makes good sense that the work done by our American family should be used by the rest of the Anglican Communion in their slow moving forward. Other facts are shared when it suits them!!!!

Posted by: Fr John E. Harris-White on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 8:38am BST

But you have to love RIW for missing the point in such a spectacular fashion.

This isn't about church politics, current or historical, this is about discernment, about a process of discovering God in the life of the church.
And it would be silly to say that because not everything structural is as pure as one would like it to be nothing this church now does can have any spiritual validity.

Posted by: Erika Baker on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 10:51am BST

For those who haven't read what this Irish bishop says, there are a few nuggets .....

While he gives us no view on the future standing of the Covenant following the English NO and the Welsh MAYBE, he does have this to say:
"The autonomy we exercise as individual provinces of a single family of churches –pioneered by the Church of Ireland as a result of the Irish Church Act – has not been and will not readily be surrendered even by those provinces, such as Ireland, that have actually agreed to subscribe the Covenant "

The speech ranges widely over many aspects of authority and for those presently waging a war based on Lambeth 1.10 he says definitively: "we recognize no overarching centralized teaching authority or magisterium." Not even the Standing Committee!

Set in the context of Irish church politics and social change - neatly referenced by Harper with his report of The Tablet poll - it's a fact that many of those in the northern province would find themselves voting fiercely in support of the minority Roman Catholic view.

They are a strong group and as TA has already reported Wallace Benn and others like FoCA see them as fertile ground for their cause.

Ireland and probably Mexico subscribed the Covenant hoping it might be a tool to prevent internal division, I suspect that they will not be able to dodge the inevitable but maybe by pushing the whole matter further and further away and hidden by decades of listening and committees - things may change .......

It's amusing to know that the CofI's new marriage service contradicts the adoption of these statements - we look forward to hearing just how!

Posted by: Martin Reynolds on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 12:42pm BST

Every patriotic Irishman knows that the Church of Ireland was founded by St Patrick and that it flourised Celtically until the gross Roman coup at Whitby. I have recalled before a 'mixed wedding' service we attended in Romaldkirk (Teesdale) where the priest put on St Patrick's Breastplate for the benefit of the Irish RC contingent (from Dublin) - none of whom knew it! Whereas all members of the Church of Ireland (and to do them justice, most members of the C of E) know it well.


Posted by: john on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 2:22pm BST

Fr Harris-White, thanks for your response. It's kind of silly, isn't it, that no one seems publicly willing to explore--still less validate--the possibility that we in the American church actually did our homework before proceeding as we have done. But we have proceeded painstakingly, steadily and conscientiously forward since the 1970s on a path that ultimately (and logically) resulted in the consecration now of two "out" gay bishops for the American church. We have not tried to tell others what they ought to do in their churches; but have steadfastly pursued this part of the Christian pilgrimage in our household and have consistently found ourselves unable, on the basis of the foundational work undertaken in the '70s and beyond, to retreat to the bad old days as Canterbury evidently would have had us do. Why cannot our brothers and sisters in other provinces assume our good faith (and sound scholarship) instead of buying into the infamous characterizations to which we've been subjected by some who have *not* done the work - including the soul-searching and scholarship--and who show no mind to do so?

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 3:45pm BST

The Church of St Patrick, belived in auricular confession, the sacrifice of the Mass, penances, stone altars, the intercession of the saints and prayers for the dead ,consecrated religious life etc All missing in the Church of the Anglo-Irish ascendency.

Just get a Cof I bishop to preach on one of these to an Orange congregation, and you have a real King Solomon test of Church of Ireland roots.

Posted by: robert ian williams on Friday, 11 May 2012 at 9:46pm BST

What a straw man, John

If every patriotic Irishman knew St Patrick founded the Church of Ireland, the Reformation would have triumphed. What utter balderdash. As for hymn singing, the Mormon Tabernacle Choir, sing Onward Christian soldiers with gusto, but that does not make them Christians.

Posted by: Robert ian williams on Saturday, 12 May 2012 at 12:54pm BST

And Patrick was probably a Welshman - like Robert!

Posted by: Father Ron Smith on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 2:54am BST

Mr Robert Ian Williams, If I were you, I wouldn't overplay assertions concerning the beliefs of "the Church of St Patrick" around, for example, auricular confession, the sacrifice of the Mass, penances, stone altars, the intercession of the saints and prayers for the dead, consecrated religious life and so forth. While Reformation discourse brought focus to the place occupied by those ideas and practices in High Medieval piety - and the abuses attaching them - attempting to define the catholic faith by them largely falls flat when examining belief and practice of the Western church of earlier centuries - or even of Eastern Orthodoxy of today.

Interestingly, all of the artifacts mentioned in your posting recall, perhaps, THE fundamental issue the Reformation fathers had with Medieval Roman catholicism: the clerical arrogance attending upon belief in the ability of the priestly caste to relieve the believer's anxiety about the hereafter by remitting punishment for sin. As we have tragically seen repeatedly through history, not a lot of room remains for preaching the Gospel once that argument gets up to full steam.

I don't know a single C of I bishop; but I'm willing to bet that, to a man, they believe the gospel and that, as bishops, they are commissioned to preach it. (That, btw, is precisely how Eastern Orthodoxy defines the vocation of bishops.) The world and all of who dwell therein hunger for the gospel. I don't know that the church need get into any further fist-fights about how proclaiming it may best be done. To me the Anglican genius lay in keeping our eyes on that imperative and generously allowing for the diverse ways this corporate vocation may be realized.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Sunday, 13 May 2012 at 11:30am BST

Interesting to read the comments about this. Daniel Berry suggests that the C of I has no need to re-invent the wheel, it simply needs to look to the good work done by ECUSA from the 70's onwards. What he doesn't mention is the spectacular way in which the wheel has fallen off ECUSA in the intervening years, with membership in free-fall and a church that would probably be bankrupt if it wasn't so busy litigating the congregations who have walked away from the chaos. The good news from that side of the pond is that Anglicanism is alive and well and growing outside ECUSA, but it is hard to see how this would pan out in Ireland.

Posted by: Rod on Monday, 14 May 2012 at 5:08pm BST

@ Rod:Chaos? if your posting proves anything it's that everything you know about the American church you've learned from what you've read. You're welcome to visit us and find out who we are rather than who our detractors tell you we are.

Posted by: Daniel Berry, NYC on Tuesday, 15 May 2012 at 1:21pm BST

Thanks, Daniel. I know the church at first hand - I was licensed in the Diocese of LA at one stage, so I do know a little of what I am talking about. And chaos is not an inappropriate word.

Posted by: Rod on Monday, 21 May 2012 at 4:54pm BST
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