Thinking Anglicans

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…


Church of Ireland synod to discuss sexuality resolutions

Updated again Friday morning

The Church of Ireland General Synod 2012 which will take place in Christ Church Cathedral Dublin from Thursday 10th to Saturday 12th May. The official synod website is here.

One item of business is receiving a great deal of attention. The Archbishop of Dublin, Michael Jackson, and the Bishop of Down & Dromore, Harold Miller, have tabled three motions on the subject of Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief. The text of these motions can be found as a PDF file here.

Because these were submitted after the regular closing date for receipt of Motions, Tuesday 10 April, the synod has to agree by a two-thirds majority to accept them for debate. However, if that is achieved, then only a simple majority is required for approval.

Some Irish press reports:

Belfast Newsletter Gay backlash ahead of CoI debate on sexuality and earlier there was Unease in CoI at gay row motions.

An open letter has been published in several newspapers:

Belfast Telegraph Church motion on sexuality needs debate

Belfast Newsletter Group urges delay over gay debate.

And this letter: Serving clergy are afraid to ‘come out’

Irish Times (along with two more letters) Church of Ireland and same-sex relationships

Irish Independent Exclusive church

A website has been established at Say No to Resolution 8A.

Belfast Newsletter Church group’s petition opposes gay relationships

Belfast Telegraph Gay clergy could face witch-hunt if Church of Ireland synod backs motions, say campaigners

Church News Ireland General Synod Sketchbook – 10th May and then General Synod sketchbook – Day 1 and then this one. These reports are the most detailed and uptodate available.

Three motions in the area of human sexuality and Christian belief (Ref – 8 a,b,& c) are being brought before the synod by two members of the House of Bishops. A cursory examination of the C of I e-mail forum, the correspondence in yesterday’s Irish Times – see this site May 9 – and of an independent web site set up to rally opposition to the first of the motions (8a) indicate that a good number of clergy and laity regard the nature of the motion as being extremely contentious at worst and unhelpful at best…

From the comments below:

Motion 8A was ruled out of order and Motions 8B & 8C were then withdrawn by the bishops. Canon Nigel Dunne raised a point of order that 8A clashed with the Order Two marriage service in BCP 2004 and therefore sufficient doubt was raised that it was a change in doctrine.

From the Diocese of Down & Dromore:

Motions on Human Sexuality fail to come before Synod

The Bishops’ Motion 8A on Human Sexuality did not come before the General Synod on a point of order. After submissions from several speakers, it was ruled that there was doubt as to whether motion 8A constituted a change of doctrine which would necessitate bringing a bill before Synod.

Following this ruling by The Archbishop of Armagh, the proposer and seconder of motions 8B and 8C withdrew the motions altogether.

Friday’s Irish Times carries this report of yesterday: Motions run high as synod debate on same-sex marriage is called off on a technicality

…Raising the point of order, Dean of Cork Rev Nigel Dunne said that the church’s teaching on marriage “as expressed in Canon 31 stands in conflict with an understanding of same as expressed in Marriage Service Two in the Book of Common Prayer”.

He continued: “Canon 31 gives first place to the procreation and nurture of children. Marriage Service Two does not. Marriage Service Two is quite clear that sex and sexual intercourse is firstly to strengthen the relationship. The procreation of children comes second.” Motion 8A, he suggested, could “constitute a modification or alteration of doctrine” and ought not be considered as a motion but ought to be a Bill.

Following some debate on the matter the Church of Ireland primate and Synod president Archbishop Alan Harper, concerned with “the avoidance of doubt”, ruled that the motion not be taken. Related motions 8B and 8C were withdrawn by proposers Archbishop of Dublin Michael Jackson and the Bishop of Down and Dromore Harold Miller, who had also proposed motion 8A…

Belfast Telegraph Gay row: Church of Ireland’s resolutions withdrawn

The row over same-sex relationships in the Church of Ireland has ended after three motions opposed by gay rights campaigners were withdrawn from the General Synod without debate.

The issue may be raised again within the next two days at the synod in Dublin, although it is more likely that any major decision on the issue will be delayed for up to two years…


"Stay Together" says Bishop Greg Venables

The Church of Ireland Gazette has an audio interview this week with Bishop Greg Venables of Argentina.

The 22 minute interview can be heard via this page.

There is a major article based on this interview in this week’s Gazette, headlined Church of Ireland must stay together, Bishop Greg Venables tells Gazette. This is subscriber-only but here is an excerpt:

The Bishop of Argentina and former Primate of the Southern Cone, the Rt Revd Greg Venables, a leading theological conservative in global Anglicanism, told the Gazette last week that, should the General Synod adopt a liberal approach to the issue of same-sex relationships, those of a more conservative view should stand together but remain within the Church of Ireland, because their position was “the original Anglicanism – Prayer Book, Bible, original 39 Articles Anglicanism”.

Bishop Venables, who, along with Bishop Michael Nazir-Ali, was visiting Ireland to address a ‘First Things’ evangelical conference held last Saturday (21st April) at the Jethro Centre in Lurgan, Co. Armagh, was speaking to the Gazette editor before the conference.

Bishop Venables said in the interview that if the forthcoming General Synod, which it is widely expected will address the issue of same-sex relationships, were to take a less strict approach to the subject, then “those that don’t agree have to review their position and ask themselves how they are going to respond to that situation, but do it in a collegial, consultative, gracious, united way”.

However, he also stressed the need, in such circumstances, for dialogue with those of different views on the subject.

Bishop Venables said that, in the context of the current controversy in the Church of Ireland over samesex relationships, “there must be discipline, there must be consequences, and there must also be a way for things to be put right … That implies repentance, that implies recognizing that something is wrong and repenting of what is wrong and putting things right in that way.”

He also spoke about the need for the Church generally to focus on fundamental issues, especially because of cultural shifts that had taken place in recent times, and commented on current Anglican Communion affairs, in particular in relation to the proposed Anglican Covenant.

The Bishop noted how two distinct ways of being Anglican had now emerged. The first held to scriptural authority and the second saw Christianity as “an ongoing development which is related to the Scriptures, but which isn’t founded on the Scriptures”, he said.


Church press on the Anglican Covenant defeat in England

The Church of Ireland Gazette has this editorial opinion: Anglican Covenant, Anglicanism and The Church of Ireland.

It might well be said that the unthinkable happened last weekend, with the proposed Anglican Communion Covenant coming to grief in the Church of England of all places (report, page 1). Yet, that is precisely what happened, and it will surely go down in the annals of Anglican history. The Covenant had been intended as an agreement with procedures that would help keep the Anglican Communion in one piece when facing contentious issues. Undoubtedly, it arose as a result of the inter-Anglican same-sex relationships controversy that has now seen its own fraught manifestation in the Church of Ireland playing out since last autumn and occasioning, earlier this month, a unique Bishops’ Conference on the topic for General Synod members.

One aspect of the Church of England débâcle that no doubt will be the subject of careful consideration in the relevant quarters is the fact that in some of the diocesan synods the voting was very close. In theory, following reflection at the English General Synod on what has transpired, the Covenant could be put back on the table in the Church of England after a lapse of three years, but there are at least two reasons why this is unlikely: first, as the No Anglican Covenant Coalition has pointed out, the Covenant is facing difficulties in some other parts of the Communion and, second, in any case, the passage of time and considerable disagreements about it have left the Covenant unable really to deal with the differences in the Communion over same-sex relationships. Other divisive issues could, of course, arise, but it is difficult to see all the requisite superabundance of energy actually now being summoned to recover and progress the Covenant (perhaps).

The moral of the story has at least two dimensions. First, from a practical perspective, when faced with a divisive crisis, setting up a bureaucratic procedure that is going to take years to get anywhere, if it is to get anywhere at all, is hardly a good idea. If anyone thought that ‘buying time’ would allow the same-sex relationships imbroglio to subside, that was a very mistaken notion, and we in the Church of Ireland do need to take note of that as we face our own difficulties over the issue.

Second, from a more conceptual perspective, we now know, as surely as we can know, that Anglicanism is set to remain a Communion of wholly autonomous Churches, bound together by ‘bonds of affection’. It should be added, however, that such mutual affection is far from a weak ideal; it is, in fact, a considerable calling and it is surely true that at times we do have to work at loving one another. There has been talk about being in communion implying ‘interdependence’ and thus justifying central regulation, however light, but that interdependence argument is actually quite vague because everything in the world is interdependent and, from an ecclesiological perspective, all Christians of whatever denomination, in communion or out of communion, are interdependent. Thus, as Anglicans, we are all, across the globe, now challenged to ponder our affection for one another and, where it is waning, to seek to nurture it carefully and prayerfully….

The Church Times has this leader: After the Covenant.

ANYONE offered a welcoming doughnut and a seat near the projector on arrival at church on Sunday would probably have guessed that it was one of the growing number of Messy Church services. But even if things looked normal, they weren’t. After the diocesan votes on the previous day, it is all Messy Church. The Anglican Covenant — an attempt to introduce order to the Communion — was tipped into oblivion, at least as far as the Church of England goes.

Without the Covenant, it was argued, national Churches had no formal obligation to consider the “relational consequences” (a coinage of the Covenant text) of their actions on other Churches in the Communion. Dr Williams warned that, without the Covenant, he found it “hard at present to see another way forward that would avoid further disintegration”. One of the troubling aspect of the Covenant debates — such as they have been — is the impression given by critics that they can not only live with disintegration but positively welcome it, if it means not having to relate to people with whom they disagree fundamentally.
In the end, Anglicans have discovered what another ecclesial body might have told them from the start: in the present age, a text cannot hold Churches together in the way that a person can. Given that no text will be perfect, a degree of affection is needed to persuade people to subscribe. An individual can earn that affection; a text (poetry excepted), never — especially a text monitored by a standing committee that few understand and none recognise. Time and again in the General Synod, affection for Dr Williams carried members along; but he was absent in the diocesan synods, and the link was broken…

Giles Fraser writes Covenant is dead. Long live unity.

I WILL not disguise my joy at the death of the Anglican Covenant. And death it is — despite the fact that some people will inevitably try to give its corpse the kiss of life. The idea that the Church of England has given it so emphatic a thumbs-down, especially in the face of huge episcopal and archiepiscopal lobby­ing, is evidence of how un­popular the idea is in the pews.

Here, the majority of bishops have shown themselves to be completely out of touch with the centre of gravity of the Church of England. It is not that we do not care about our brothers and sisters in other parts of the Communion. It is simply that we want our Christian solidarity to be expressed through our Anglican heritage, our common baptism, and the development of friendships — and not through a treaty that can be haggled over by church politicians, the purpose of which was always to isolate those Churches that had a different view of sexual ethics…

And there is a news report by Ed Thornton Challenges remain, Primate warns, after dioceses block Anglican Covenant.

…Speaking on Monday, Dr Williams said: “This is, of course, a disap­pointing outcome for many of us in the Church of England and many more in the Communion. Unfor­tunately, the challenges the Covenant was meant to address will not go away just because people vote against it.

“We shall still have to work at vehicles for consultation and manag­ing disagreement. And nothing should lessen the priority of sus­taining relationships, especially with some of those smaller and vulner­able Churches for whom strong international links are so crucial.”

The Bishop of Oxford, the Rt Revd John Pritchard, a patron of the Yes to the Covenant Coalition, said on Tuesday that he was “disappointed”; but “we have to trust the mind of the Church. I simply hope that the Anglican Communion can flourish a different way, without what I thought was its best hope.”
The Bishop of Buckingham, Dr Alan Wilson, who voted against the Covenant in Oxford diocesan synod, said that its defeat in the C of E was an “opportunity to grow up, to take stock, and to get real. It’s very sad that a large number of bishops were out of touch on this one.”


Church of Ireland conference on human sexuality

Updated Sunday

As previously announced, a major conference was held last week at the Slieve Russell Hotel, Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.

There have been two official press releases about this event:

Update From Bishops’ Conference, ‘Human Sexuality In The Context Of Christian Belief’ (This includes summaries of the main presentations to conference seminars.)

Conference Statement By Archbishop Of Armagh And Archbishop Of Dublin

The Church of Ireland Gazette this week carries this front page news article: Slieve Russell conference showed Church of Ireland’s ‘instinct for unity’, says Archbishop of Armagh and scroll down on that page for a separate editorial comment on the conference.

Other press reports:

Irish Times Archbishop upbeat on same-sex forum
Gay Christians (editorial)

Belfast Telegraph
Respect key in gay ‘marriage’ debate (editorial)
Church of Ireland bishops back ‘traditional marriage’

Belfast Newsletter
Archbishop Alan Harper Human sexuality in the context of Christian belief

Another Belfast Newsletter item: Church hails ‘relaxed’ talks on homosexuality

A letter to the editor of the Irish Times from Gerry Lynch Church of Ireland gay conference and a longer blog article by the same author: Reflections on the Church of Ireland homosexuality conference, and praise for Archbishop Harper.

A statement by Changing Attitude Ireland is reproduced below the fold.



Report questions the freedom of Christians in the UK

Updated Tuesday evening

The All-Party Parliamentary Group named Christians in Parliament has published a report titled Clearing the Ground, and subtitled it: Preliminary report into the freedom of Christians in the UK.

This report and related documents can be found at the Evangelical Alliance website, here.

Writing in advance of the report’s publication, Jim Dobbin MP and Gary Streeter MP said in the Telegraph on Sunday that: We need reforms to protect the rights of Christians. There is an accompanying news story Britain failing to stand up for Christians, say MPs.

In the Mail on Sunday Jonathan Petre reported this story as Harriet Harman’s law on equality ‘is anti-Christian’ and unacceptable.

Today’s Independent has Committee claims rights laws leave out Christians by Nina Lakhani.

The BBC had Equality law ‘should be extended to cover faith’.

Today’s responses to the report so far include:

Ekklesia Report alleging discrimination against Christians ‘confused’

British Humanist Association British Humanist Association refutes findings of ‘Clearing the Ground’ report


More responses:

Andrew Brown Cif belief Are Christians being marginalised?

Are Christians their own worst enemies in Britain today? This question is raised with unusual frankness in a couple of paragraphs of an all-party parliamentary group’s report into Christians and discrimination, which was launched yesterday.

It contains a really quite startling attack on Christian campaign groups:

“The actions of some campaign groups can discredit the Church in the UK and result in perceptions that Christians are seeking unfair exemptions. By bringing highly emotive cases to the fore, they also can add to the feeling among Christians that they are more marginalised than they actually are.

“On some occasions we perceive that campaigning becomes inflammatory or even counterproductive to Christian freedoms. This is due to factors such as: the strategically unwise selection of cases; a distorted presentation of facts for manipulation of the media; and most alarmingly, the deliberate misinforming of the church constituency in order to motivate support.”

But the report also maintains that there have been cases in which Christians have been unfairly treated, usually as a result of ignorance in the wider culture, rather than malevolence; and it demands a reshaping of the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which evangelical Christians loathe…

National Secular Society Christian discrimination report is just another call for special privileges


Porvoo consultation on marriage

From 1 to 4 November, the Churches of the Porvoo Communion held a consultation in Turku, Finland on the Churches’ teaching on marriage. Delegates represented the Anglican Churches in England, Ireland and Scotland, and the Lutheran Churches in Iceland, Norway, Denmark, Sweden and Finland. Observers were present from the Evangelical Lutheran Church of Latvia, the Lutheran Church in Great Britain, and the Latvian Lutheran Church Abroad.

Read more about this:

Church of Ireland Gazette High-level Porvoo Communion consultation on marriage

…The Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Michael Jackson, and the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, attended from the Church of Ireland. Archbishop Jackson had been invited to give a series of Bible studies and Bishop Burrows acted as a Group Convener.

Each member-Church of the Porvoo Communion was invited to submit copies of its marriage liturgies and regulations. Dr Jackson told the Gazette that this material, together with lectures on the interpretation of biblical passages related to marriage, on theological arguments surrounding the issue of same- sex marriage, and on aspects of human genetics “gave scope and shape to the discussions”.

The Archbishop said that in a climate of “tension” relating to marriage practice across the Churches of the Porvoo Communion, the consultation had been conducted “in a spirit of attentive listening and courteous interchange of ideas and experiences”.

Bishop David Hamid Anglicans and Lutherans in Northern Europe meet to discuss the doctrine of marriage

…During the days together members from each Church shared their official teaching on marriage, as well as their pastoral experiences. There were also presentations covering aspects of the scriptural foundations for marriage, the development of doctrine, and human genetics.

The consultation concluded that differences over the introduction of same-sex marriage remain unresolved. The Churches hold a variety of views and pastoral practices along a theological spectrum. Some believe same sex marriage to be a legitimate development in the Christian tradition, whilst others see the potential for a serious departure from the received tradition. Nevertheless the consultation affirmed the benefits of “belonging to one another” and the value of honest encounter. The strong relationship of the Porvoo Communion, provides a “platform of sustained communication in the face of issues which raise difficulties for [the Churches]”

The full text of the communique issued can be found here (PDF).


more about the Church of Ireland and civil partnerships

See earlier reports via this link.

The four evangelical organisations, Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine Ireland and Reform Ireland have issued another letter.

Dear Archbishops and Bishops,

Thank you for your most recent Pastoral Letter to clergy of the Church of Ireland. We welcome its publication and thank you for the time spent with one another wrestling with the issues involved. Further, we look forward to the planned Spring conference of 2012 and wish to assure you of our prayers throughout this process.

The Pastoral letter states that the purpose of the Conference will be threefold. First, to discuss the content of the letter itself. Second, to assist the church in becoming more fully informed. Third, to explore wider issues in relation to human sexuality. Further, the letter commends study in biblical, theological and legal issues before and after the Conference, confirms that members of Synod and ‘some others’ will be invited to attend, and envisages that the Conference will not be an end in itself. We wish to assist this process by addressing each of these areas in as constructive a manner as possible, making observations, suggestions, and raising some questions…

Read the full letter: Joint Evangelical response to Bishops’ Letter.


Irish evangelicals oppose civil partnerships

The Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy has released some information about the meeting earlier this week which was attended by the Bishop of Lewes.

See Fellowship declares its opposition to civil unions from the Portadown Times.

The Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy (EFIC) said the civil partnership of Portadown-born Tom Gordon and New Zealander Mark Duley has made it “very difficult” for the CoI to stay united.

The Rev Trevor Johnston chaired a meeting in Belfast on Monday addressed by the Bishop of Lewes, the Rt Rev Wallace Benn, who last year caused a furore in the Church of England when he made a highly controversial comment about women bishops.

Mr Johnston told the Portadown Times, “There are usually around 40 clergy at our EFIC meetings, but Monday’s was attended by 80 from all over Ireland, with 80 per cent of them rectors and all strongly opposed to same sex partnerships. The main purpose of the meeting was Bible study, but this issue was discussed widely and clergy from all over Ireland are opposed.

“The Bible is unequivocal throughout, and the meeting took place in a very serious mood. There was a groundswell of distress by people who do not want to see their church divided over this issue, but it will be very difficult to hold the Church of Ireland together.”

He added that the bishops’ conference in the spring and then the General Synod could be a watershed for the church, “and this crisis will be very hard to resolve”.

There are letters on this subject in this week’s Church of Ireland Gazette (scroll down).


Church of Ireland sexuality row rumbles on

The Belfast Newsletter reports: CoE bishop at gay clergy row meeting.

A CONSERVATIVE Church of England bishop has attended a meeting of Church of Ireland clergy increasingly unhappy at their church’s response to a minister’s same-sex partnership.

There are few details about where Monday night’s meeting, which was first revealed by this newspaper last Thursday, was held, or how many were present.

However, the News Letter understands that the meeting included an address by Bishop Wallace Benn, a leading figure on the right of the Church of England…

The Newsletter also quotes an editorial in the forthcoming edition of the Church of Ireland Gazette. Full text of editorial below the fold.

“It is not an exaggeration to say that, as a result of this whole scenario, the Church of Ireland’s very unity is imperilled,” the editorial says.

“For that reason, it is somewhat concerning that the bishops refer to a need for yet further study and research on related biblical, theological and legal issues, because such could be a charter for years-long argumentation. We need to study such matters, but we also need to do so expeditiously.”

The editorial adds that in other Anglican churches the gay debate had seemed “interminable”. It says that the Windsor Report, which in an attempt to ease tensions led to the Anglican Covenant, had bought more time “but more time turns out to have been precisely not what was needed”.

“Now, the communion has reached breaking point and we have two primates’ meetings and a whole new Anglican church in north America. The dragging on has been because, of course, the Anglican Communion cannot legislate for the communion as a whole.

“However, the Church of Ireland can legislate for the Church of Ireland, and so a clear regulation of the issue before us is needed urgently if we are not to find ourselves in a situation resembling that of the Anglican Communion in all its woes.

“The Church of Ireland probably can contain itself for the process which the bishops have outlined, but it will be difficult.”

The Archbishop of Armagh, Alan Harper has commented further on the recent pastoral letter from the Irish bishops in his diocesan synod presidential address. See detailed report here. Text also available here.



Church of Ireland press reports on sexuality conference plan

The Irish Times in Dublin reports: C of I planning conference on sexuality for early 2012

A MAJOR conference on sexuality is being planned by the Church of Ireland for next spring and a pastoral letter will be issued by its archbishops and bishops in the next few days. The move follows a three-day meeting of the church’s House of Bishops this week.

It was precipitated by disclosure early last month that the Dean of Leighlin (Carlow) Rev Tom Gordon and his same-sex partner of 20 years had been married in a civil ceremony at a registry office last July. Formerly a lecturer at the Church of Ireland theological institute in Dublin and a co-ordinator of religious programmes at RTÉ, he was installed as Dean of Leighlin last year…

The Belfast News Letter reports: Archbishop had notice of cleric’s gay union plan

…Asked whether when he was first told of the same-sex union he realised that it would be a very difficult issue for the Church, the archbishop says: “Of course, of course.”

He adds: “There was nothing more that I could do. The civil partnership legislation is a freedom that he has and, technically, it’s not just not my diocese, it’s also not my province, it’s in the province of Dublin.

“But obviously then the urgent matter was to try and get an opportunity to begin to grapple with the issues as they have now presented themselves and that’s what we’re trying to do.”

So has he been surprised by the vocal opposition from evangelical and traditional Anglicans, many of them in Northern Ireland?

“I’m not surprised that it’s vocal,” he says. “I think probably the extent to which it has been sustained is interesting but this is a free country; this is a church which believes in people having the right to express themselves freely and I’ll defend that right if it is necessary to defend it.”

Asked whether the Church has a position on whether same-sex activity is sinful or normal, the archbishop says: “Sinful and normal are not alternatives. And so obviously, as you perfectly well know, there are different views within the Church as to whether or not a committed same-sex relationship is sinful.

“There has been a traditional view which has in effect not accepted the appropriateness of sexual relations between same-gender people. That is the traditional view.

“That view had come under question and that is where we find ourselves now and that’s why there’s a debate across the communion and that’s why we’ve got the present situation as it affects the Church of Ireland.

“The Church itself hasn’t thoroughly debated these new developments and the implications of these new developments. “That’s why it is necessary, it seems to me and to my fellow bishops, to put in train a way for the Church to address those matters.”

And earlier Church summit to address gay tensions

…last night the News Letter learned that disillusioned conservative and evangelical members of the Church of Ireland are planning their own meeting next week.

The meeting, to be held in Northern Ireland on Monday, is to be addressed by a visiting bishop from outside Ireland, as some parishes become increasingly unhappy at the Irish bishops’ leadership…


Church of Ireland statement on human sexuality

A Statement From The Archbishops And Bishops Of The Church Of Ireland.

We met over three days in an atmosphere of prayer and worship to reflect on current disquiet in the Church caused by disagreements on the matter of human sexuality. We acknowledge that this tension is a cause of distress to many.

Our discussions were frank and careful and, at times, painful. We committed ourselves to listen carefully to one another and speak openly about our differences within the context of a variety of reactions within the Church. Strengthened by our honest interchange of views, we corporately agreed a way forward.

A pastoral letter to the Church will be issued through the Clergy in the next few days. It will highlight key themes and outline a process by which the Church may move forward. This will involve a major conference in Spring 2012 to which members of the General Synod and others will be invited. The conference will provide an important opportunity to learn from and listen to one another as the Church strives to discern the mind of Christ.

As Bishops we commit ourselves to work together on these issues. In addition, we envisage that further study and research on biblical, theological and legal issues will be required.

The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland

  • The Most Revd Alan Harper, Archbishop of Armagh
  • The Most Revd Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin & Glendalough
  • The Most Revd Richard Clarke, Bishop of Meath & Kildare
  • The Rt Revd Harold Miller, Bishop of Down & Dromore
  • The Rt Revd Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork, Cloyne & Ross
  • The Rt Revd Ken Clarke, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh
  • The Rt Revd Ken Good, Bishop of Derry & Raphoe
  • The Rt Revd Michael Burrows, Bishop of Cashel & Ossory
  • The Rt Revd Alan Abernethy, Bishop of Connor
  • The Rt Revd Trevor Williams, Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe
  • The Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry
  • The Rt Revd John McDowell, Bishop of Clogher

Archbishop Harper issues statement on civil partnerships

Updated again Monday

The Church of Ireland has issued this press release: Statement To The Standing Committee Of The Church Of Ireland By The Archbishop Of Armagh On The Civil Partnership Situation.

The fact that the Very Reverend Thomas Gordon, Dean of Leighlin, entered a Civil Partnership on 29th July last has created a new situation for the Church of Ireland. In many parts of the Church, the matter is seen as controversial. In such a situation it is important that great care be taken in anything that may be said.

The Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland had planned to devote a significant amount of time in residential consultation on matters to do with same gender relationships in the autumn of 2011. This decision was taken in the light of changes in the membership of the House of Bishops since the bishops last discussed these matters in 2002/03, the introduction of Equality legislation and Civil Partnership legislation in both jurisdictions in Ireland, and the progress on the discussion of these issues within the Anglican Communion which led to the Anglican Covenant which the General Synod agreed to subscribe at the May session 2011. The new situation and reactions to that situation have added urgency to the work that the bishops are taking in hand. I am, therefore, requesting that general discussion of these matters in the Standing Committee should be curtailed to enable the bishops to begin their discussions and suggest a framework for future discussion at representative level.

I wish to reiterate what I have said publicly in these past days, that the Church of Ireland does not regard a civil partnership as matrimony and that there are no proposals for the provision of rites of blessing for same gender relationships. I also wish to say that, as fellow human beings, homosexual people are entitled to be accorded the same respect and dignity as others. Many are “members of the Church and are seeking the pastoral care, moral direction of the Church, and God’s transforming power for the living of their lives and the ordering of their relationships” (Lambeth 1.10) in exactly the same way as are all other members of the Church of God.

+Alan Armagh

News reports of this:

Belfast Telegraph Primate wants gay debate to be shelved

Belfast Newsletter Harper moves to end CoI split talk

Saturday update
Belfast Newsletter Archbishop plea fails to silence unhappy clergy

TWO Church of Ireland rectors have broken ranks to reject Archbishop Alan Harper’s appeal for an end to discussion of the church’s first same-sex union involving a minister.

Amid growing impatience in sections of the church which has not yet made clear whether it accepts the controversial civil partnership, three weeks after the News Letter revealed the move, there are emerging warnings that if the church does not act evangelicals may find their own bishops.

In separate statements, the Rev Neville Hughes from the rural parishes of Mullabrack and Kilcluney near Markethill and the Rev Alan McCann of the urban parish of Woodburn in Carrickfergus rejected the primate of all Ireland’s call to halt discussion about the Rev Tom Gordon’s civil partnership…

Monday update
Church of England Newspaper Broken communion for the Church of Ireland

The outcry over the Bishop of Cashel & Ossory’s support for an Irish dean’s gay civil union has forced the bishop to skip the consecration of the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.

Church leaders in Northern Ireland told The Church of England Newspaper that the Rt. Rev. Michael Burrows had been advised to stay away from the Sept 8 consecration of Bishop Patrick Rooke at St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh. The bishop had been told his support for clergy gay civil unions had broken the collegiality of the church and his presence would cause some participants in the ceremony to refrain from receiving the Eucharist with him…


Update on Irish civil partnership controversy

See earlier reports here, and then here.

The Church of Ireland Gazette last week published an editorial column, which can be read in full here (scroll down a little).


There has been concerned and very deep reaction to the recent revelation that the Dean of Leighlin, the Very Revd Tom Gordon, who is open about being a gay man and was appointed as Dean last year, has entered into a same-sex civil partnership. The situation gained added momentum after Dean Gordon confirmed on Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence programme on 4th September that this had been with the prior knowledge of his Bishop and without being asked for any assurances regarding lifestyle. In addition, he said that he had initially declined to be considered for the post of Dean but that, after being pressed to reconsider, had agreed to allow his name to go forward for interview on the understanding that “this is who I was and also that this would be what would be happening”.

While civil partnership is not marriage and does not necessarily involve same- sex sexual expression, there is a very wide perception that it is a form of gay marriage, and perceptions are, of course, often as important as facts. No doubt for this reason, and also because the Christian ethical aspect of same-sex expression is theologically highly contentious, Church of England bishops ask clergy entering civil partnerships to give an undertaking that their relationship is celibate. Differing views on this subject have co-existed in a relatively settled way in the Church of Ireland during the whole inter-Anglican debate over recent years, but what has now developed jeopardises that situation. While those on one side see an advance for gay rights in the Church, those on the other side feel that there has been an unacceptable, unilateral move on the subject. There is thus a sense of ‘log-jam’, and it is dangerous.

This is a time both for an honest speaking of minds and for action that displays Christian grace. Without openness, matters cannot really be confronted; without grace, the Church is untrue to itself.

Regular central meetings of the Church of Ireland are due to be held shortly and the Archbishop of Armagh has indicated that the subject in question will be considered by the Bishops in the near future. The Church now needs a breathing space and the relevant bodies should be allowed the opportunity to reflect, with urgency, leading to the best steps that can be taken to guard the Church of Ireland’s unity in truth and holiness.

The same link also contains (scroll down more) a number of letters to the editor on this topic.

Today, there are reports in the Portadown Times of a further statement from ten clergy: Clerics unite against civil partnership.


Civil Partnership: Changing Attitude Ireland responds

Updated Tuesday morning

Changing Attitude Ireland has published the following statement:

Changing Attitude Ireland Responds to Dean Gordon’s Civil Partnership and Resulting Statements in the Media

Firstly, Changing Attitude Ireland would like to extend its hearty congratulations to Dean Tom Gordon and his partner on their civil partnership, and wish them God’s continued blessing on their life together as it enters a new phase.

We would also like to commend them on their courage. It is never easy to be a path-breaker, and some of the reaction to the news of their partnership was singularly lacking in charity; it must have been quite bruising to be on the receiving end of it. We assure them of our gratitude and our prayers.

In the Church of Ireland, we have always lived with profound differences in our understanding of issues of significant theological weight, such as the nature of God’s revelation in Holy Scripture and our understanding of the Sacrament of Holy Communion. We have lived with significant differences in our approach to personal sexual morality, for example in our approach to divorce and remarriage. Despite these differences, relations within our Church have always been characterised by tolerance, charity and good humour.

The decision of a priest in the Church to enter into a civil partnership is certainly of no more theological significance, and arguably of considerably less, than other issues where the Church of Ireland has accommodated diversity with mutual generosity and grace.

We are therefore saddened and perplexed by the joint statements released by four Conservative Evangelical and Charismatic groups following the announcement of Dean Gordon’s civil partnership. These have only served to raise the temperature within the Church of Ireland, and have not contributed to reasoned discussion; and their content raises a number of other concerns.

Dean Gordon’s partnership of 20 years has been widely known in the Church of Ireland for almost that entire period. These statements have not been a consequence of a Church of Ireland clergyman living in a same-sex partnership per se, but of a Church of Ireland clergyman choosing to formalise that partnership in law.

The attitude of the four Conservative Evangelical and Charismatic groups seems, therefore, to be that it is alright to be in a same-sex relationship as long as one is not public about it. Previous generations of gay people in Ireland were forced to hide their love for fear of prison. When Irish society has become overwhelmingly tolerant of homosexuality, it is distressing that these groups seem primarily interested in perpetuating a culture of secrecy in the Church.

The intrusive, public, questioning of Dean Gordon’s private life in the two statements displayed incredible arrogance and poor taste. More seriously than that, it seems to violate the Scriptural command to turn judgement first on ourselves before we judge our neighbour. It also displayed un-Christlike double standards – it is inconceivable that the private life of any other clergyperson in the Church of Ireland would be subject to such impertinent prurience.

But this is only the tip of an iceberg of an unhealthy obsession with the subject of homosexuality from Conservative Evangelical groups in the Church of Ireland. Seven of the eight statements published on the homepage of the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, for example, concern the issue of homosexuality. As Christians, we worry that this elevates dogmatic legalism above spreading the good news of salvation in Christ. Those looking in from outside the Church are more likely to see a weird fixation on what gay men and women get up to in the privacy of their own homes.

The people of this island, especially our young people, are fearful of the future, cynical about church and state leaders who promised much but betrayed their promises, and unwilling to give credibility to anyone who has not earned it. Our people have seen church leaders who imposed their view of sexual morality on others and bullied and abused those who disagreed revealed to be corrupt and corrupting. Is an obsession with homosexuality really likely to bring them to Christ?

There are also issues of personal sexual morality where those on all wings of the Church could work together. The advertising industry sexualises our children at a frighteningly young age. In this internet age, the temptation to look at pornography is only a mouse-click away, and yet we do nothing to build up our people to resist. Indeed, these are issues where we could work with groups who are often deeply cynical about the Church, such as secular feminists, and break down misconceptions that frustrate mission. With so many areas where we could work together, it is all the more sad that some seem intent on driving people apart.


Changing Attitude Ireland is a Church of Ireland group with ecumenical friends, campaigning for the full acceptance of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgendered and intersex people in the Church.

updates Tuesday

Church News Ireland has published a report of the radio discussion on Sunday Sequence last Sunday, see BBC airing of clergy and civil partnerships issue.

The Belfast Telegraph has published Bishop under fire over cleric’s gay marriage.


Civil Partnerships in the Church of Ireland

Updated again Tuesday

The Church of Ireland has published Statement by the Archbishop of Armagh on Civil Partnerships and Serving Clergy.

Following media reports on the issue of civil partnerships and serving clergy, the following statement from the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, The Most Revd Alan Harper, was provided to the BBC NI ‘Talkback’ programme and the Belfast Newsletter today, 7 September 2011:

’The recent civil partnership of a serving ordained Church of Ireland clergyman presents a new situation within the Church of Ireland. It is true to say that within the Church there is a range of views on same–sex relationships and there will also be a range of views and reactions to civil partnerships concerning clergy. I acknowledge that this issue has caused strong feelings and concern. While there are acknowledged differences of opinion within the Church, suggestions that it might split are, I hope, premature. In 2003 the Bishops of the Church of Ireland issued a pastoral letter on human sexuality which reflected the varied spectrum of views within the Church. The General Synod of the Church of Ireland has not made any statement or decision in addition to that. The Bishops will be addressing the matter again shortly. I trust that the Church and its bishops will continue to address this subject with mutual respect. The state has provided a right in law for same gender persons to have their partnerships recognized and specific rights conferred through civil partnership, This is not recognized as marriage by the Church of Ireland or by the civil authorities in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Marriage is understood by the Church to comprise a lifelong and exclusive commitment by one man and one woman to each other. The Church has no provision or proposals for any liturgy for the blessing of civil partnerships and there are no authorized public rites of blessing for same–gender relationships.’

Some of the press reports:

Belfast Newsletter Cleric confirms gay partnership and ‘Dismay at CoI gay union’ and Gay row ‘may split church’

BBC Minister Rev Tom Gordon civil partnership ‘welcomed’

Irish Times Senior cleric in same-sex ceremony

Christian Today ‘Sorrow’ after senior Church of Ireland cleric confirms civil partnership

Friday morning updates

Changing Attitude Ireland has welcomed the news: CA Ireland congratulates Dean Tom Gordon and his civil partnership.

And this is the (later, fuller version of) the statement, jointly issued by the committees of the Church of Ireland Evangelical Fellowship, the Evangelical Fellowship of Irish Clergy, New Wine (Ireland) and Reform Ireland: Further joint statement by Evangelical groups in C of I.

In addition to that, Reform Ireland has published Civil partnership shame of the Church of Ireland.

Friday afternoon update

Belfast Telegraph Church of Ireland split fear over Irish cleric’s civil partnership

This story misquotes Canon Ian Ellis, editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette, as saying that the Dean had not informed his bishop beforehand, but according to the Gazette’s own report (available online only to subscribers):

The Dean said that he had told his Bishop, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, before proceeding with the civil partnership, and confirmed that no assurances were required of him regarding a celibate lifestyle, as is required in the Church of England. However, he also said that he did not regard civil partnership as equivalent to marriage.

update Tuesday

The Belfast Telegraph has, in effect, corrected this error, see Bishop under fire over cleric’s gay marriage.


Gazette interviews Philip Giddings

The Church of Ireland Gazette reports: Anglican Communion ‘quite close to being dysfunctional’, senior English layman tells the Gazette.

In an interview reported in the current issue of The Church of Ireland Gazette, the Chair of the Church of England General Synod’s House of Laity, Dr Philip Giddings, speaks to the Gazette editor, Canon Ian Ellis, about the Anglican Covenant and the issue of women bishops in the Church of England.

The text of the interview report can be found at the link above.

A 23-minute audio of the whole interview can be found here.

(In the audio, the subject of the Covenant runs from 03:00-13:45 and the women bishops issue, including comment on the Ordinariate, runs from 13:45 to the end)


Guidance for parents of gay children

William Crawley recently mentioned on his blog the new pastoral resource published by Changing Attitude Ireland which was launched during the recent CofI General Synod by Bishop Michael Burrows.

The booklet “I think my son or daughter is gay” by Gerry Lynch is available as a PDF here.

Or as a Google document here.


Ireland "subscribes" to the Anglican Covenant


The Church of Ireland has voted in favour of the Anglican Covenant. Here is what the official press release, issued last Friday, says:

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland meeting today in Armagh voted in favour of the following Motion on the Anglican Covenant:

‘Seeing that the Anglican Covenant is consonant with the doctrines and formularies of the Church of Ireland, the General Synod hereby subscribes the Covenant.’

The vote was passed by a large majority of the House of Representatives. The House of Bishops also voted as a separate House, approving the motion, also by a large majority.

The Motion was proposed by the Bishop of Cashel & Ossory, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, and seconded by the Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Rt Revd Harold Miller. In the course of the Synod debate it was stressed that the word ‘subscribe’ in relation to the Covenant, rather than ‘adopt’, was important. Subscribing the Covenant is an indication that the Church of Ireland has put its collective name to and aligned with it. The Covenant sits under the Preamble and Declaration of the Church and does not affect the sovereignty of the Church of Ireland or mean any change in doctrine.

So subscription is something different to adoption. And South East Asia used the term accession.

Confused? If so, then these three four blog articles may not help you.

Catholicity and Covenant has Quincy, SE Asia & Ireland: Covenant questions.

Bosco Peters at Liturgy has Anglican Covenant meaningless.

Tobias Haller at In a Godward Direction has The Anglican Covenant — Let’s be clear.

Alan Perry has What goes on in the Emerald Isle?


Irish Colloquium on The Proposed Anglican Covenant

The (slightly shortened) texts of the papers delivered at the recent event in Dublin are now online at the website of Search.

“The Proposed Anglican Covenant – a step forward or a step too far?”

The SEARCH Colloquium on “The Proposed Anglican Covenant – a step forward of a step too far?” took place in TCD on Saturday March 12th and has been judged a great success. Over 50 people attended the Thomas Davis Theatre to hear speakers from England, Wales and Ireland (both North and South) consider the decision on our response to the Covenant to be made at the General Synod in Armagh in May.

After a welcome from the TCD chaplain and secretary of the SEARCH editorial committee, the Revd Darren McCallig, and a brief introduction from the editor, Canon Ginnie Kennerley, the speakers and their subjects were as follows:

The panel discussion which followed was chaired by the Revd Professor John Bartlett, chairman of the SEARCH editorial committee.

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