The Presidential Address to the Cork, Cloyne & Ross Diocesan Synod by Bishop Paul Colton can be read in full here.
A press release also issued by the diocese contains the reasons why this is of more than local interest:Church of Ireland ought not respond to Anglican controversy by erecting walls of exclusion – Bishop of Cork
Some longer quotes from the full text:
Planning is also under way for the next Lambeth Conference of bishops which is to be held in 2008: not long now â€“ two summers away. I hope that the planners of that conference and that the Archbishop of Canterbury (who issues the invitation) will invite all Anglican bishops of the time and of all outlooks to that three week encounter as equal participants; otherwise it would be pointless.
I have never been to a Lambeth Conference, having been elected six months or so after the last one. However, what I want from that meeting is for it to be nothing other than a place of encounter and pilgrimage. To that end it would be impossibly impoverished unless all are invited in parity. Moreover, it would be uselessly compromised if it were to descend to a type of ecclesial and political world cup where resolutions are propounded and fought over; and which supplant discovering that friendship in faith with the trophies of sectional victory: golden cows won and lost and which consolidate or even catalyse division.
…It is stating the obvious to say that all is not well within our Anglican family. It is hard to escape the sense that, in this controversy, those who shout the loudest; or with the greatest determination; or with the most panache are being accorded the open ear of some of the international structures of Anglicanism. These happen also to be Anglicanismâ€™s instruments of unity: the Archbishop of Canterbury; the Anglican Consultative Council and the Primatesâ€™ Meeting. I deliberately omit two of the instruments of unity: the Lambeth Conference of Bishops because it has not met since the most recent spate of controversy began; and the emerging consciousness of Anglican Canon Law is omitted because, although the Primates Meeting and the ACC have acknowledged the possible role of canon law as an instrument of unity, there is by no means universal agreement among the autonomous churches of the Anglican family on this point yet…
…In other words – and lay people are best placed to tell me – do not most ordinary members of the Church think of themselves as simply being Church of Ireland; albeit with broadly similar, like-minded Christian friends in other parts of the world? (For clergy it is different, our livelihood throws us into the path of such things). And in the case of young Christians I meet, my sense is that they appear to have moved beyond this debate altogether and in the terms they express themselves we recognise post-denominational Christianity.
I also ask myself what it is that I find and have always found attractive, if also frustrating and challenging, about the Church of Ireland. It is exactly those things I mentioned last year in describing the Anglican way: our breadth; our smudgy-edged inclusiveness. What is inspiring is the fact that people who think so hugely differently about the things of God, can nonetheless belong together within the same church; journey side by side; worship, pray, work and announce the good news together; and discover across their differences a friendship in faith that they wouldnâ€™t probably otherwise have. Because of the present row which purports to be about human sexuality, Anglicanism runs the risk of becoming something wholly unattractive and unrecognisable to those who are drawn strongly to its sometimes exasperating breadth, untidiness and inclusiveness.
I remind you of that quotation of William Countryman:
â€œAnglicanism is notorious for its theological indeterminacy. â€¦[It] exists in a mode unlike that of most Western Christian traditions. It has never been a genuinely confessional church. It is the product of historical accident (and/or divine providence) as much as of theological intent, and its primary focus is not on defining itself but on turning a community towards God in worship.â€
In my view, any proposal for a way forward which undermines our inclusiveness or comprehensiveness ought to be subjected to rigorous and autonomous scrutiny. In the Church of Ireland, we must be careful not to jettison either our independence or autonomy on the one hand; or the friendship of faith we have nurtured already across significant differences. We do away such things at our peril. Impetuously erecting walls of exclusion on the fuzzy edges of Anglicanism would, to my mind, be a negation of the essence of Anglicanism and of the Church of Ireland itself.
And because the presenting issue of the controversy within Anglicanism appears to be human sexuality, one result is that gay people have become scapegoats in what is a more deep-seated constitutional crisis. Therefore, gay people in lay and ordained leadership as well as in voluntary work in our churches, or simply in our pews, or those who have been driven away by a sense of rejection, together with gay people in the community outside the church, need to know and to hear our apology. Gay people in the Church have been caught in the middle of a row which is not about them and their sexuality, but which instead is primarily about the way different Anglicans read, approach and understand the Holy Scriptures, the Bible. Had it not surfaced on the back of the sexuality debate, this dispute would have emerged sooner or later on an entirely different issue.
Ironically, a personâ€™s strongest point is frequently also their weakest. So it is with institutions. I, and I believe many others like me, are attracted to the disparate untidiness of Anglicanism: its comprehensive inclusiveness. Wide open arms that seem to stretch inconceivably far, drawing many in, and providing shade and shelter for the most unlikely fellow-pilgrims. This has always been my experience of the Church of Ireland. I believe we jeopardise or jettison this at our peril.
At the same time it would be naÃ¯ve not to acknowledge the challenging and uncomfortable diversity of approach to reading and interpreting and shaping our faith on the scriptures.