Sunday, 25 May 2008

The Lure of Greece

Professor J.V. Luce (left) and Professor John Dillon (right) at the launch of The Lure of of Greece in the Classics Department, Trinity College Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

The Seminar Room of the Department of Classics at the top of the Arts Block in Trinity College Dublin was a splendid setting for the Dublin launch of The Lure of Greece on Friday evening (23 May 2008).

The Lure of Greece: Irish Involvement in Greek Culture, Literature, History and Politics, is published by Hinds on behalf of the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies in Athens (IIHSA). The book includes the papers and proceedings of the institute’s conference in the NUI Galway in 2003, and is edited by Professor John V. Luce, Dr Christine Morris, Dr Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood.

A wide range of people with an interest in Greece, the classics, archaeology and history, and many people from the Greek community in Ireland were present for the launch of the book – the first major publication of the Irish Institute for Hellenic Studies at Athens – by Dr Luce and Dr Dillon.

The Greek launch of The Lure of Greece took place in Athens earlier this month, when Professor Dillon launched the book on Wednesday 14 May at the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies. On the same evening, Dr Richard Witt, delivered his lecture, ‘Two battered heroes: modern Greece and modern Ireland.’

The Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens was established in 1996. It can be found at 51 Odos Notara, in the Exarchia area of Athens, close to Syntagma. The institute assists students with an interest in learning activities in Greece, and researchers who wish to develop archaeological projects there. It also runs a hostel in its premises in Athens, and organises study tours for third level students from Ireland.

This book is the first to examine the multi-faceted, intimate relationship between Greece and Ireland. Its twelve chapters derive from papers delivered by participants in a Conference organised by the Institute, and held in the National University of Ireland, Galway, in September 2003.

The papers in this volume are very wide-ranging, extending from museums to Marxism, and containing well-documented accounts of personalities as diverse as Sir Richard Church, Henry Browne, William Bedell Stanford and Oscar Wilde. The extensive bibliographies appended to each chapter constitute a valuable and essential resource for further research into the many and varied facets of Irish Philhellenism.

Philhellenism in Ireland had political and military, as well as academic, archaeological and even dilettante characteristics from the 18th century onwards. For example, Sir Richard Church, from Cork, argued for the independence of Greece at the Congress of Vienna in 1814-1815, and was later Commander-in-Chief of the Greek army in the War of Independence. His story and the stories of other Irish Philhellenes are told in my paper, which is the opening chapter of this book.

The contents of the book are:

Patrick Comerford, ‘Sir Richard Church and the Irish Philhellenes in the Greek War of Independence’
Jo Day, ‘Rev. Basil Zula and the Thermopylae Garden at Kilwarlin, Co Down’
William M. Dunlop, ‘K.T. Frost and the Archaeological Museum at The Queen’s University of Belfast’
Peter Gathercole, ‘Aeschylus, the Blaskets and Marxism: interconnecting influences on the writings of George Thomson’
Aideen M. Ireland, ‘A Gentle Luxury: Collectors and collecting in eighteenth and nineteenth century Ireland’
John V. Luce, ‘Robert Wood and Homer’
Michael McCarthy, ‘Drawings of Rome and Tivoli in 1750 by Giovanni Battista Borra’
Brian McGing, ‘How to become Higher Commander of the Order of the Phoenix: the academic career of W.B. Stanford, Philhellene’
Christine Morris, ‘An Ardent Lover of Cretan Freedom: J.D. Bourchier, 1850-1920’
Patrick Sammon, ‘Oscar Wilde and Greece’
Andrew Smith, ‘Two Dublin Classicists: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) and Henry Browne (1853-1941)’
Christina Souyoudzoglou-Haywood, ‘Henry Browne, Greek Archaeology and ‘The Museum Of Ancient History’

The Lure of Greece: Irish Involvement in Greek Culture, Literature, History and Politics (Dublin: Hinds, for the Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens ISBN 987-0-952836-6-7, €29); Order form available here.

The Irish Institute of Hellenic Studies at Athens is at:

Stewards of God’s mysteries

Saint Matthew’s Church, Irishtown: first built for Dublin Corproation in 1704-1706, and once known as Saint Matthew’s Royal Chapel.

Patrick Comerford

The First Sunday after Trinity: Isaiah 49: 8-16a; Psalm 131; I Corinthians 4: 1-5; Matthew 6: 24-34.

May all we think say and do be to the Glory of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Your rector, Ted Ardis, and Hilary are both away on retreat this weekend, and so I’m grateful to them both for the opportunity to return to this parish today. I remember your very warm welcome a few years ago, when I was in full-time mission work, and it is good to be back again this morning.

Since my last visit, I have moved to full-time work at the Church of Ireland Theological College, where I am the Director of Spiritual Formation.

The students at the theological college are preparing for ordination to full-time ministry in the Church of Ireland. The ordinations begin in the next few days, with the third year students being ordained to the diaconate, and last year’s graduates being ordained over the next few weeks to the priesthood.

Some of those students will spend a few days away on retreat, away from all their present anxieties, as they spend quiet time in prayer and reflection with their bishops in the days immediately before or after their ordination.

I’m sure that, like Hilary and Ted, during those quiet days they will have time to focus on those words of the Apostle Paul in this morning’s Epistle reading: to think of themselves as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”

Those who commit themselves to ordained ministry are committing themselves to an awesome and sacred task. And in this morning’s reading Paul warns those in ministry not to be too quick to rush to judgment or to rely too much on our own strengths and skills.

The real task of those who are ordained is summed up very succinctly in that description of us as “servants of Christ and stewards of God’s mysteries.”

But our reading from the Prophet Isaiah also reminds us of the task all of us share in the ministry and mission of the whole Church: At the heart of the mission and ministry of the Church is the call to proclaim release to captives, to feed the hungry, to quench those who thirst, to comfort those who suffer. It is reminder to us all that God does not neglect or forget our needs.

The time that is spent on retreat is not time wasted or spent idly. Time like that, to be with God, and for God to be with us, is necessary for us all. Not just for your rector or for ordinands, but for all of us. Rather than taking us out of the world, time on retreat re-equips us, re-charges us, re-empowers us as servants of Christ, as stewards of the mysteries of God, as heralds of the Kingdom of God.

Sometimes it is very difficult for us to give ourselves time to be with God. But how much time do you spend with the person or people you love the most?

One student told me recently of how in the time spent travelling between the theological college in Churchtown and Trinity College Dublin in the city centre, he regularly takes time out to have a coffee with God: no newspaper, no books, no other company. He just sits there with his coffee and takes time out with God.

But when we are most under pressure, when other people are making their greatest demands on us, it is easy to forego time spent in retreat, time spent in worship, time spent in prayer, time spent attending to the sacred mysteries, time just for me and God.

If we give time and attention to our spiritual formation – no matter how new to faith or how mature in the faith we are – we catch ourselves wondering whether others will think we are being indulgent, whether we are treating ourselves to spiritual luxuries when there are so many other pressing demands on our time and on our energies.

With all their worries and troubles at the moment, as they sit their exams, many of the students are finding these two weeks tough. And with those demands on their time and energy, they understand only too well those words of Jesus in our Gospel reading this morning: “Do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.”

Today’s troubles, with its exams and anxieties, are enough for them to deal with, without worrying about tomorrow’s parish placements or future paths in the ministry and in Church life. They need to keep their eyes on the ball: too much anxiety about tomorrow will detract from the task in hand today.

And yet, from the very beginning of setting out on the path towards ordination, those students in a very real way are striving first for the Kingdom of God, and his righteousness. And so their hope, their faith, their love allows them to imagine that all those other things we worry about – food, drink, clothes, housing – are of secondary importance. They trust that the church, the dioceses and the parishes, with God’s grace, will look after them and their families in the days and years ahead.

However, I sometimes think that these sayings of Jesus are too easy to turn on their head for too many of us.

It’s too easy when life is good, when the economy is booming, when money is plentiful, to say to ourselves, “Let’s not worry about tomorrow. Let’s live today for today.”

You can’t afford to take that attitude – an attitude of not worrying about food, clothes or shelter tomorrow – if you are among the two-thirds of the world’s population living in poverty, if you are one of the 16,000 children who will die today, not because of disease or illness, but because of hunger. In a country where weight-loss is a major profit-making business, we may not care for tomorrow. But there is no tomorrow for the one child who dies every five seconds today because of hunger.

Because we haven’t taken care of the world today, because we haven’t faced up to the fact that Jesus points to in our Gospel reading, that “today’s trouble is enough for today,” we have created so many troubles for our tomorrows. If we looked after those children’s needs today, what fewer worries we would have tomorrow.

Excessive borrowing when interest rates were low, a preference for lower taxes rather than spending on hospitals, health care and on eradicating poverty when the government’s coffers were full, have created problems for tomorrow.

Our failure throughout the rich world, when we had the money, to eradicate those factors that create poverty that could be eradicated when we had the money – eliminating malaria, providing cheap drugs for those who are HIV positive or with AIDS, taking clear stands against racism, oppression and discrimination – because we didn’t respect today’s trouble as being enough for today, we have created greater problems for tomorrow.

When we reduce our worries today to the point of not caring about other people’s tomorrows, we fail to seek first both the Kingdom of God and his righteousness. But if we make the Kingdom of God our priority, then we will want to be signs, sacraments, icons of that kingdom, seek ways of being examples of God’s righteousness, expressed in those visionary ideals of the Prophet Isaiah.

When our students go out into their parishes, into the Church, they also go out into the world. Their ministry and mission is not just about caring for their parishes today, but pointing to the faith and hope we have in the kingdom of God.

If, in their pastoral care, they neglect the poor, fail to visit the sick, fail to bring comfort to the prisoner, the lonely and the hopeless, they will be neglecting the great charge that has been committed to them as servants of Christ and stewards of the mysteries of God.

But when they ask why people are poor, why they are on trolleys in crowded A&E units or are left on lengthy waiting lists in our hospitals, when they ask why we cannot provide sufficient public housing for the poor or why we treat immigrants and asylum seekers so badly, will they still be supported by the Church in their ministry and mission? Will they be welcomed for pointing prophetically to the Kingdom of God, for seeking God’s righteousness?

Like Hilary and Ted, they will find their pre-ordination and post-ordination retreats time to be alone with God, time to be reminded of the great task that is entrusted to them, time to think about the sufficiency of the worries of today. And it will be time too remind to themselves of the need to give priority to the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.

In seeking these priorities, they will need to rely on the prayerful and active support of the whole Church. For these are priorities that should be the values of the whole Church, for all of us, both clergy and laity. Our worries for today should be sufficient for today, but they should reflect our values for tomorrow – values that symbolise the Kingdom of God and that begin to unfold his righteousness.

And now, may all praise, honour and glory be to the eternal Trinity, God Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. This sermon was preached on Sunday 25 May 2008 at Morning Prayer in Saint Mary's Church, Donnybrook, and at the Parish Eucharist in Saint Matthew's Church, Irishtown, Dublin

Thursday, 22 May 2008

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

Archbishop Alan Harper presents the Church of Ireland interfaith guidelines to the Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land, the Right Revd Dr Munib Younan, on the Temple Mount in Jerusalem (Photograph: Susan Hood)

Patrick Comerford

The Churches in Israel and Palestine have invited Christians around the world to pray with them “the Jerusalem Prayer” for a just peace on Sunday 8 June. Last week, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland unanimously passed a special motion urging every church and parish to use the prayer as part of their liturgy and worship on that day.

The Christians who live in the Holy Land have been reduced to a tiny minority of 2% of the people. Yet, they are “living stones” who continue to live, worship and preserve the holiest places for Christians.

The International Church Action for Peace in Palestine and Israel, running from 4 to 10 June is a joint advocacy initiative convened by the World Council of Churches.

As part of that ecumenical initiative, the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem have issued an invitation through the Jerusalem Inter-Church Centre, asking us to pray with them on Sunday 8 June using “The Jerusalem Prayer.”

The Jerusalem Prayer

Heavenly Father,
We give you thanks and praise for your gift to us of your only Son, Jesus –
His birth in Bethlehem,
His ministry throughout the Holy Land,
His death on the Cross
and His Resurrection and Ascension.
He came to redeem this land and the world.
He came as the Prince of Peace.
We give thanks to you for every church and parish around the world that is praying with us this day for peace.
Our Holy City and our land are much in need of peace.
In your unfathomable mystery and love for all, let the power of your Redemption and your Peace transcend all barriers of cultures and religions and fill the hearts of all who serve you here, of both peoples – Israeli and Palestinian – and of all religions.
Send us political leaders ready to dedicate their lives to a just peace for their peoples.
Make them courageous enough to sign a treaty of peace that puts an end to the occupation imposed by one people on another, granting freedom to Palestinians, giving security to Israelis and freeing us all from fear.
Give us leaders who understand the holiness of your city and will open it to all its inhabitants – Palestinian and Israeli – and to the world.
In the land you made holy, free all of us from the sin of hatred and killing.
Free the souls and hearts of Israelis and Palestinians from this sin.
Give liberation to the people of Gaza who live under unending trials and threats.
We trust in you, Heavenly Father.
We believe you are good and we believe that your goodness will prevail over the evils of war and hatred in our land.
We seek your blessing especially on the children and young people, that their fear and the anxiety of conflict may be replaced with the joy and happiness of peace.
We pray too for the elderly and the handicapped, for their well-being and for the contribution they can make to the future of this land.
We pray, finally, for the refugees in the various camps and abroad that they may reclaim their rights and return to their homeland.
All this we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.

The leaders of the four main Churches in Ireland – Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh (Church of Ireland), Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh (Roman Catholic), the Revd Roy Cooper (President of the Methodist Church) and the Dr John Finlay (Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church) – visited Palestine and Israel last month.

While the Church leaders were visiting the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, Archbishop Harper presented a copy of the Church of Ireland Guidelines for Interfaith Events and Dialogue to local Church leaders.

The interfaith guidelines, which were launched recently by the Minister for Integration, Mr Conor Lenihan, are available at:

The Church leaders also visited Bethlehem and Jerusalem and refugee camps. They met Israelis and Palestinians – Jews, Christians and Muslims – and took part in a Service for Hope at the Shepherd’s Field, near Bethlehem. That service in Bethlehem captures the essence of the Church leaders’ visit, and is available on the RTÉ website:

The Jerusalem Prayer is also available here.

Archbishop Alan Harper of Armagh presenting a Celtic Cross of Commitment to Bishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop in Jerusalem (Photograph: Susan Hood)

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College

Wednesday, 21 May 2008

Celebrating the Trinity

An image of the Trinity in Vatopedi Monastery on Mount Athos in Greece

Patrick Comerford

Genesis 1: 1 – 2: 4a; II Corinthians 13: 11-13; Matthew 28: 16-20.

May I speak to you in the name of Triune God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This evening we are celebrating the joys of our Trinitarian faith, using Sunday’s lectionary readings that reflect key Trinitarian teachings. In our Old Testament reading, we hear of God using the plural form to express God’s joy in creating the whole of creations: “Let us make Adam in our image, according to our likeness; and let them have dominion ... So God created Adam in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1: 26-27).

Thomas Hopko of Saint Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary argues that if God were not Trinity, God could not have loved prior to creating other beings on whom to bestow God’s love.

This love or communion of God as Trinity, which is extended to us in the communion of the Church, our koinonia (κοινωνία) or fellowship, is the climax to the Apostle Paul’s message to the Church in Corinth in our Epistle reading (II Corinthians 13: 13). It is not just the Trinitarian faith into which we are baptised, but the love or fellowship of the Trinity, and this is at the heart of our ministry and mission (Matthew 28: 19-20).

Yet many clergy tell me they are frightened of getting into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday and some will use any excuse to avoid preaching that day.

Perhaps their difficulties and fears were well explained by Dorothy Sayers, the playwright, translator of Dante, and author of the Lord Peter Wimsey detective novels, who was also a respected Anglican theologian and writer on spirituality in her own right.

Over 60 years ago, Dorothy Sayers came up with a whimsical definition of the Trinity: “The Father incomprehensible, the Son incomprehensible, the Holy Ghost incomprehensible – the whole thing incomprehensible. Something put in by theologians to make it more difficult.”

For many Christians, the Trinity is incomprehensible, and has nothing to do with daily life.

It appears that many Christians behave as Unitarians when it comes to their spiritual and prayer life:

There are those who see God in Christ but in Christ only, and address all their prayers to Jesus, even in the Eucharist, when they should be addressed to the Father through the Son.

Or there are those who reduce to the role of Christ to that of a super logos, who frustrates the plans of a vengeful but distant God. Their Christology owes more to Arius than the orthodox understanding of the Trinity.

And there are those who criticise – and rightly criticise – others for neglecting the Holy Spirit, but who are in danger of neglecting the other two persons of the Trinity.

And then, for many more, it appears, the Son and the Spirit are merely manifestations of – or masks for – the Father, a concept condemned in the early Church as Modalism or Sabellianism.

Each separate emphasis is fraught with danger and is symptomatic of a drift away from appreciating the centrality of the Trinity to faith and life.

A “Father-only” image of God is in danger of reflecting power-lust and a need to dominate on the right, reducing God to an idol or mere totem; or, on the left, of reducing God to a mere metaphor for goodness, however one decides to define “goodness”.

Similarly, “Jesus-only” images lead to moralistic action by Christians on the theological left or individualistic pietism on the theological right, and a “Spirit-only” emphasis brings real dangers of either introspective escapism or charismatic excesses.

Yet these images are real throughout the Church, because the concept of the Trinity often appears irrelevant, due to poor teaching in our churches and what I think is a prevailing anti-intellectual climate.

Those who do venture bravely into the pulpit on Trinity Sunday are often reduced to explaining away the Trinity as a “mystery” that they expect “mere” lay people not to grapple with.

As Christians, we are baptised in the name of the Trinity, with that formula we heard again in our Gospel reading this evening. But I fear there has been a visible and audible decline in Trinitarian emphases in worship and liturgy.

Many of our prayers, canticles and psalms should end with praise being given to the Trinity. But when they do, the Gloria often provides a liturgical but thoughtless full stop rather than a statement of faith.

Worship that becomes Unitarian in this way becomes a transaction between an external deity and an autonomous worshipper. And it is not possible for a collection of separated and disconnected individuals to become the community of faith, to enter into the life of the Trinity.

The general decline in the Trinitarian character of worship, theology and life in the Church today parallels a decline in rigorous intellectual thinking. This is typified in the decline in social emphasis in our time, typified in the infamous claim by one politician that there is no society, that there are only individuals.

But we can only be human through our relationships; we can only have self-respect when we know what it is to respect others.

The Church is primarily communion, a set of relationships, exactly as we find in the Trinitarian God. Christianity is not a private religion for individuals; personal piety is only truly pious and personal when it relates to others and to creation.

In today’s anti-intellectual climate, it is hard to imagine the passions raised by the earlier debates on the Trinity, which led to patriarchs being deposed, priests banished, and a Pope such as Honorius I being declared a heretic. Arguments about the Trinity evoked deep passions at Nicaea, Constantinople and Chalcedon, and they continue to be the most divisive issue separating the Eastern and Western Churches.

Today, the Church needs to recover a teaching of the Trinity that is not divisive and yet is relevant. There is a certain truth in the adage that man has created God in his own image and likeness. Our attitudes to the Trinity shape our models of God, and our models of God either shape or are shaped by our attitudes to the world: a unipolar God is an authoritarian model; the Trinity is a communitarian, inclusive, embracing, co-operative model.

Authoritarian or monist models have dominated the Church for centuries, providing male, authoritarian images of God. But in the New Testament and in the Early Church, the words used for the Spirit (pneuma, πνευμα), wisdom (Sophia, Σoφíα) and the Holy Trinity (Aghia Triadha, Αγία Τριάδα) are neuter and feminine nouns.

Monist models of God help to confirm men, particularly men with power in the Church, in their prejudices. The Trinity is inclusive rather than exclusive of human images.

During the Nazi era, the German theologian Erik Peterson (1890-1960), argued that monist theologies tend to legitimise absolutist and totalitarian political and social orders, while Trinitarian theologies challenge them.

The Trinity means that as humanity is created in the image and likeness of God, then it is not just as individuals that we reflect God’s image, but that when we are a community we are most human and most God-like. In the true community, each is valued, each takes account of the other, each has an equal place, contribution and voice. True community cannot concentrate sole authority, privilege and infallibility in one gender alone, let alone one member.

A recovery of the reality of the Trinity has radical implications for our models of the Church, for authority, service and inclusiveness in the Church. It implies respect for diversity and seeks a communal form of unity that respects, desires and even encourages diversity in the community of faith.

Compared with the great social and political challenges facing the Church, discussing the Trinity may seem to many to be as relevant as debating the number of angels on the head of a pin. Yet the Trinity is not only the archetype of all created reality, but without a fuller understanding of the nature of the Trinity, the Church will never be able to apprehend the truth of the infinite goodness of God.

The love and coinherence or perichoresis of the Trinity is a joyful dance that is at the heart of our understanding of God’s love for us and for creation, of our fellowship with God and one another, and of our understanding of our ministry and mission. Without a proper teaching on the Trinity, the Church will continue to provide answers to social and political questions that make God more like an idol than like our model for a loving community.

And now may all praise, honour and glory be to God the Eternal Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. This sermon was preached at the College Community Eucharist on Wednesday 21 May 2008

Sunday, 18 May 2008

Thoughts on Trinity Sunday

Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham.

Patrick Comerford

Throughout the Western Church, we are marking today in the Liturgical Calendar as Trinity Sunday. This is the festal day for Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin – which is dedicated to the Most Holy and Undivided Trinity.

As it was after the first great Pentecost that the doctrine of the Trinity was proclaimed to the world, it is fitting that the feast of the Trinity follows that of Pentecost. However, this tradition of observing the First Sunday after Pentecost as Trinity Sunday has unique roots in the Anglican tradition. Although this day is observed in all the Western liturgical traditions – Anglican, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Methodist – it is not observed in the Eastern Orthodox or Eastern Catholic traditions, and is not found in the history of the Early Church.

Observing Trinity Sunday

According to the Book of Common Prayer (2004), this Sunday is marked in the Church of Ireland as one of the “principal holy days which are to be observed.” On this day, according to the Book of Common Prayer (p. 18), “it is fitting that the Holy Communion be celebrated in every cathedral and parish church or in a church within a parochial union or group of parishes.” The liturgical provisions for this day “may not be displaced by any other observance.”

I wonder how many parish churches in the Church of Ireland respected these liturgical provisions today? A quick glance at the Church Notices in The Irish Times yesterday makes one wonder.

Following the pre-Reformation Sarum use, both the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, name the Sundays that follow as “Sundays after Trinity,” although in America the Episcopal Church (TEC) now follows Roman Catholic usage, and calls them “Sundays after Pentecost.”

Although liturgically we are now in Ordinary Time, the liturgical colours change from green to white. The Book of Common Prayer (pp 771-773) places “The Creed (commonly called) of Saint Athanasius, also known as the Quicunque Vult, between the Catechism and the Preamble to the Constitution, but makes no provision for its use. However, some churches in the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, especially those with a High Church tradition, use this creed on Trinity Sunday.

The history of Trinity Sunday

The early Church had no special Office or day to honour the Holy Trinity. However, with the spread of the Arian heresy, the Church Fathers prepared an Office with canticles, responses, a Preface, and hymns, to be recited on Sundays.

There are prayers and the Preface of the Trinity in the Sacramentary of Saint Gregory the Great. However, the Micrologies, written when Gregory VII was Pope, call the Sunday after Pentecost a Dominica vacans, or an ordinary Sunday, when there was no special office, although it did note that the Office of the Holy Trinity composed by Bishop Stephen or Liège (903-920) was recited in some places on this Sunday, and in other places on the Sunday before Advent.

Pope Alexander II (1061-1073), refused a petition for a special feast on his day. Although he did not forbid the celebration where it already existed, he pointed out that such a feast was not customary in the Roman Church, and that the Church honoured the Holy Trinity every day with the use of the Gloria Patri.

When Thomas a Becket (1118-1170) was consecrated Archbishop of Canterbury on the Sunday after Pentecost Day, his first act was to decree that the day of his consecration should be held as a new festival in honour of the Holy Trinity.

This observance spread from Canterbury throughout the Western Church. In the following century, a new Office for the Holy Trinity was written by the Franciscan friar, John Peckham (died 1292), who was a Canon of Lyons and later became Archbishop of Canterbury.

Pope John XXII (1316-1334) ordered the feast for the entire Church on the first Sunday after Pentecost, establishing Trinity Sunday as a Double of the Second Class. It was only raised to the dignity of a Double of the First Class by Pope Pius X on 24 July 1911.

Surprisingly, this feastday never spread to the Orthodox Church. In the Eastern Orthodox and Eastern Catholic Churches, the Sunday of Pentecost itself is called Trinity Sunday, and instead the Sunday after Pentecost is celebrated as All Saints’ Sunday. The Monday after Pentecost is called the Monday of the Holy Spirit, and the next day is called the Third Day of the Trinity. Although liturgical colours are not as fixed in Eastern practice, where normally there are simply “festive” colours and “sombre” or Lenten colours, in some churches green is used for Pentecost and its Afterfeast.

Andrei Rublev’s Trinity

One of the best-known presentations of the Trinity is found in Andrei Rublev’s icon, the Old Testament Trinity or the Hospitality of Abraham. This icon recalls the passage in Genesis 18, in which God visits Abraham and Sarah at Mamre. As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Abraham’s guests – now only a single guest – is God.

Rublev’s icon itself is a masterpiece of composition: The viewer is being invited to join the meal; the doctrine of the Trinity as a community of Love into which the believer is invited to enter is depicted with clarity and simplicity; the icon communicates the idea that basis of the divine life is hospitality. The vanishing point in the sacred space is placed in front of the icon, inviting the viewer to enter into the holy mystery.

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews picks up the theme of the Hospitality of Abraham at the end of his epistle when he advises Christians not to neglect hospitality: “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing that some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Hebrews 13: 2).

The Collect of Trinity Sunday:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you have given us your servants grace,
by the confession of a true faith,
to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity
and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity:
Keep us steadfast in this faith,
that we may evermore be defended from all adversities;
for you live and reign, one God, for ever and ever.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College

Thursday, 15 May 2008

Helping the cyclone victims in Burma through USPG

Patrick Comerford

The Bishops’ Appeal Fund announced a generous donation of €10,000 USPG – Anglicans in World Mission to help the emergency work of the Anglican Church in Burma with the victims of the recent cyclone. As a board member of USPG Ireland, I was pleased to thank the bishops for this important donation in the wake of the cyclone

Speaking during the debate on the report of the Council for Mission, I pointed out that USPG has a long-standing relationship with the Church in Burma as the main overseas funding partner of their work. Over the last 50 years, USPG has become the chief source of overseas finance for the Church of Myanmar (Burma). Through its Rapid Response Fund, USPG enables churches in the Anglican Communion to provide food, practical support and spiritual comfort in times of emergency.

A reported a communiqué this week from Archbishop Stephen on the plight in one parish that includes three villages; in one village, only three houses remain; in the second, 18 villagers have survived, but the other 70 have died; the third village has disappeared totally and the fate of the villagers is still not known.

The people of Burma are suffering under a brutal regime. There are practical ways to support the work of the Anglican Church in Burma through USPG:

● Donate directly through USPG Ireland;

● Sign up for the 300 Plus Club, a practical way of engaging with the work of USPG Ireland.

● Take a USPG collection obx, and place it in a prominent position in your church or at home;

● Take USPG donation envelopes and distribute them to your parishioners and friends.

The report of the Council for Mission was introduced by the Rev Geoff Wilson (Kilmore) and seconded by Miss Mavis Gibbons.

The report of the Methodist Covenant Council was introduced by Canon Adrian Empey and Bishop Harold Miller. The Rev Chris Matchett spoke of the conference on “mission-shaped church” at the Jethro Centre in Lurgan. Synod members also received a copy of a new publication, Working out the Covenant: Guidelines for the Journey, by Gillian Kingston.

During the late morning session of the synod received the report of the Church of Ireland Marriage Council, which was introduced by the Revd John McDowell. Canon Horace McKinley, reading Canon Jonathan Barry’s seconding speech, drew attention to the website of the Marriage Council, and urged all sections of the Church to develop their presence and resources on the web.

Just before lunch, the winners of competitions for the best websites, magazines and innovative use of modern media by individuals, parishes and dioceses were announced. This year also saw the introduction of two new awards in addition to the existing categories. Dublin and Glendalough’s Youth initiative, 3 Rock Youth won the award for most innovative use of newer technologies for its Crucial series of DVDs, designed for training young people for confirmation. Hollywood parish in Co. Down was runner up in the same category.

Canon Katharine Poulton collected the prize for the Revd Ian Poulton of Killiney-Ballybrack, Co Dublin,, who won the award for the best blog for his “For the Fainthearted” blog. How pleasant it was for this new and sometimes naïve blogger to find I was the runner-up in this category.

In the websites category there were joint winners for the best diocesan websites between the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross and the Diocese of Connor. The winning parish website was Christ Church Lisburn (Diocese of Connor) with CORE in Dublin as the runner-up.

In the magazines category, the best parish magazine prize was won by Willowfield parish (Down), while the runner-up was Together, the magazine of Holy Trinity with Saint Silas and Immanuel (Connor). N’Vision (Diocese of Derry and Raphoe) won in the Diocesan Magazine category, with the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) the runner-up in this category. In Mission, the magazine of CMS Ireland, was highly commended.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod.

‘The Church needs to be a voice for under-achievers’

The bishops of the Church of Ireland gathered in Galway

Patrick Comerford

In a clear and lucid presentation of the problems in education in Northern Ireland, the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, the Right Rev Ken Good, said there had been many good news stories, but problems and challenges that need to be addressed. These include: “empty desks” – there will be 48,000 surplus places in schools by 2012; academic selection and under-achievement, with too many boys de-motivated by failure – the Church needs to be a voice for a fair deal for “under-achievers”; the price of grammar school success; and the review of public administration, which is creating uncertainty at a crucial point in the planning of education.

The removal of Protestant (TRC) nominees from school boards is also a problem, he said. He warned about the danger of “Terminal-5-type planning.” He called for an equal opportunity for all to reach their potential. He called for informed parental choice on transfer. And he called for a healthy diversity in which schools could maintain their distinctive ethos. Specialist resources should be shared.

Referring to the role of religious faith in state education, he said children at faith-based schools, which are the most popular and are over-sized, learn the lessons of greatest worth. He warned against the dangers of the Churches being cut out of this partnership. “We are prepared to work as an educational partner with the Department,” he said.

Bishop Harold Miller (Down and Dromore) spoke of his own experiences in a primary school in working class North Belfast, where he was one of the few pupils to get through the 11 Plus system. He described the “iniquity of that system” and hoped every child would get an equal opportunity.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev Houston McKelvey, warned there could be no “one-size-fits-all” solution to the problems. Demographic changes in Belfast were unpredictable and volatile. “What kind of a world are we preparing our young people for?” he spoke of the increasing marginalisation of the Protestant Churches in education in Northern Ireland, and a secularism that is attacking mainly the Protestant community.

Archdeacon Philip Paterson of Down, referring to Bishop Good’s remarks on “empty desks,” said schools were being allowed to wither on the vine until they close. He said there was no area planning: “We knew this was coming, we knew this was problem.” The transferors would be a thing of the past, and there would be no transferors in the new schools. “We need to speak out, and we need to speak out cloud.”

Dean Henry Hull of Down spoke in defence of the grammar schools, academic selection and streaming. But he wondered how motivated many teachers are, and said every school had to become a good school.

Speaking as a parent and one of the “transfer reps,” Mrs Hilary McClay (Down and Dromore) encourage the Board of Education to be a “voice for the under-dog.” Smaller schools, which were best able to deal with children with autism or English as a second language, but they were the schools threatened with closure.

“I wish the Bishop of Derry were the Minister for Education,” said Canon John McKegney (Armagh). “But,” he quipped, “I’m not sure he’s a member of Sinn Fein.”

Speaking on education in the Republic of Ireland, Mr Adrian Oughton (Meath and Kildare) said our schools are not multi-denominational schools, despite their portrayal in the media. “Our schools are Church of Ireland schools.” He criticised the publication of league tables in newspapers.

The Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Dr Richard Clarke, said we are moving into uncharted territory and an uncertain future, and said we needed to be open about the issues that would have to be debated.

Mr Alan Gillis (Cashel and Ossory) said if wanted to protect the ethos of our schools, parents must get involved. Canon Ricky Rountree of Powerscourt, Co Wicklow, spoke of the struggles in getting permission to have a new school built. “A building constructed in 1819 … is a health and safety nightmare.”

The Rev Patricia Hanna, chaplain at the University of Limerick, said there was no formal training for college for chaplains, and no forum for the chaplains to get together. Canon Doris Clements (Tuam, Killala and Achonry Diocese), a former school principal, said the ethos of Church of Ireland schools was noticeable, and pleased with everyone to ensure that ethos was retained.

The Secretary of the Board of Education Northern Ireland, the Rev Ian Ellis, drew attention to the new editions of Safeguarding Trust available in the Republic and in Northern Ireland.

The first part of the morning’s work was taken up with formally wrapping up the legislation tabled earlier in the week, passing all four bills, and concluding the debate on the report of the Commission for Ministry.

The General Synod passed a motion this morning asking for a bill to be brought before next year’s General Synod in Armagh to allow for payment to be made to non-stipendiary ministers. Proposing the motion, Mr Wilfred Baker (Cork) said the “non-stipendiary ministry has been a victim of its own success.”

Archdeacon Robin Bantry White (Cork) spoke of the critical role played by NSMs. “There would be no hospital chaplaincy going on at all this week were it not for non-stipendiary ministry,” he said. “It would be best if the structures were adapted and adapted correctly.”

Archbishop John Neill of Dublin said that while he was keen to support the motion, there were problems relating to Social Welfare legislation. “In order to get that changed, it might require legislation through Dáil Eireann. It is not a canon law difficulty, it is a civil law difficulty, and we have to get that sorted out,” he said. Bishop Michael Burrows (Cashel and Ossory) told synod: “This motion addresses an injustice and a folly in how we structure our ministry.”

Late on Wednesday, Mr Andrew McNeile (Dublin) said “the commission recognises that in many parts of the country non-stipendiary ministers are carrying out roles that are much broader in scope than was possibly originally envisaged, sometimes even equivalent to a full-time incumbent.”

Earlier this morning, the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, the Rev Roy Cooper, was warmly received when he addressed Synod.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod.

Pray for the Peace of Jerusalem

The mediaeval quintet at the civic reception in Galway last night

Patrick Comerford

The general Synod of the Church of Ireland, in an act of solidarity with Christians in the Middle East, has agreed to support the day of prayer for peace in Israel and Palestine on Sunday 8 June.

An emergency motion, tabled by Bishop Michael Jackson of Clogher and seconded by me commended a prayer for peace in Palestine and Israel that had been prepared by Church leaders in Jerusalem.

Dr Jackson spoke of the “continuing events of tragic proportions in Israel and Palestine. These events impede and curtail the best efforts of many people to create and sustain a society of stability marked by peaceful co-existence, let alone enable that society to progress in a way which is cohesive and enriching of the many traditions which there are in the region. It is one of the ground-rules of encounter with those of a Faith other than one’s own that one does not point up the best in one’s own tradition while at the same time pointing to the worst in the tradition of another. But this particular mode of operation is all too tempting, as we have seen over decades in Ireland relating to both denomination and culture.

“In proposing this motion, I am conscious that the Four Church Leaders in Ireland have just returned from an historic joint pilgrimage to Israel and Palestine to give thanks for the progress made towards political peace in Ireland and to give thanks in the Land we call Holy for new understanding and sense of fellowship now emerging. I am conscious that Bishop Suheil Dawani, the Anglican Bishop of Jerusalem, has earlier this week completed a five-day visit to my own Diocese of Clogher, during which he spoke repeatedly of peace and justice in a climate of respect and in the absence of violence. It is his vision that religion be ‘a driving force for peace’ and he speaks regularly of the need of all people in the region ‘to focus afresh on the marks of our shared pain, upon those scars caused by the mutual suffering of both Palestinians and Israelis. These scars remind us of the cost of failure to love, to accept each other and to forgive …’

“The motion before the General Synod not only asks members … to express concern about what is happening and to act with shared hope for justice. It also asks members of the Church of Ireland to pray in their own churches alongside the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem using the words and the spirit of the enclosed Prayer on Sunday 8 June. In so doing you will add the voice of your personal and corporate prayer to the voice of fellow-Christians in Israel and Palestine.”

Support for the motion came too from Canon Walter Lewis (Connor), who talked movingly about the plight of a Middle Eastern Christian family in his parish in Belfast, and by Canon David Moynan (Dublin), who spoke as the honorary secretary of Sabeel Ireland, which works with Palestinian Christians.

Earlier, during the debate on the Report of the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue heard the Bishop of Meath, Dr Richard Clarke, spoke of different approaches to dialogue, involving other member churches of the Anglican Communion, the member churches of the Porvoo Communion, other Christian Churches, including Methodists, Presbyterians, Lutherans, Roman Catholics, the Eastern and Oriental Orthodox, and the other faith communities.

The Church of Ireland Guidelines on Interfaith Dialogue and Events are the first of their kind to have been published by a member church of the Anglican Communion.

On Wednesday afternoon, the General Synod also debated the report of the Liturgical Advisory Committee, the report of the Commission on Ministry. Mr George Woodman (Connor) hoped dialogue with the Jewish community would have a continuing priority for the Church of Ireland.

Perhaps Canon Horace McKinley (Dublin) was too generous in praising my work in the area of interfaith dialogue. But it was good to know this process has wide support throughout the whole Church.

Introducing the report of the Liturgical Advisory Committee, the Rev Gerald Field (Meath and Kildare) introduced the synod to Celebrating Communion, the first in a series of parish-based liturgical education programmes to be published in a series called Prism.

He said this programme of liturgical formation “is but a part of the on-going work of the LAC, as it has developed in recent years from the producing and revising of texts.” Much of the work of the LAC now focuses on making available wide-ranging resources, enabling the best use of those texts in the worshipping life and witness of the Church.

He drew attention to the worship pages of the Church of Ireland website and issues created by the laws of copyright, explaining why some texts were removed from the website. But he promised the collects, post communion prayers and readings for the full year should be available again shortly.

He expressed “immense appreciation” to the “devoted dedication” of Canon Ricky Rountree, acknowledging the volume of work he undertook during as Secretary of the LAC. “Many here will recall the regular appearance at General Synod for many years of that double-act of ‘Rountree & Burrows’ … returning this year in the re-formed ‘Canon and Bishop’ … as they guided synod through the crossed Ts and dotted Is of liturgical reform.

It was lengthy day, and we returned to the splendid mediaeval setting of the Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas for a warm and generous civic reception hosted by the Mayor of Galway, Councillor Tom Costello.

It was a balmy evening in Galway, with a Mediterranean atmosphere in Shop Street as we left the reception. Bishop Richard Henderson of Tuam and the Rector of Galway, the Very Rev Patrick Towers, can be truly proud of their diocese, this city and this parish.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Anglican Covenant identifies ‘the fundamentals we have in common’

Mr Sam Harper, Archbishop Alan Harper, President McAleese, and Dr Martin McAleese at the General Synod on Wednesday afternoon

Patrick Comerford

The place of the Church of Ireland within the Anglican Communion and the relationship of the Church of Ireland with the other constituent churches was a major concern of the Standing Committee over the past 12 months, the Rev Shane Forster (Diocese of Armagh) told the General Synod on Wednesday afternoon.

Mr Forster, who was proposing the report of the Standing Committee, spoke of the way the proposals for an Anglican Covenant, first mooted in the Windsor Report had been handled at Standing Committee.

Quoting the Archbishop of York speaking at the General Synod of the Church of England earlier this year, he said: “The Covenant is mot a new creed on Anglican-wide canon law, nor an eleventh commandment chiselled on Mount Kilimanjaro by the Anglican Primates.” The intention of the Covenant is to “identify the fundamentals that we have in common and to state the basics on which our mutual trust can be rebuilt.”

He reminded the General Synod that the debate on the Anglican Covenant continues and the response from the Lambeth Conference this summer will be passed on to the Provinces later this year, “and we will be asked for another response before March 2009 before a final text of the Anglican Covenant is circulated to each of the Provinces in April of next year.”

Mr Forster said that while the Hard Gospel Project comes to an end this year, the project had asked fundamental questions about our responsibilities. “We should not stop asking ourselves these sort of questions at the end of the year – instead they need to become part of how we do Church in the 21st century.”

“Let us not be lethargic or indifferent about the work of this project,” he said. “It may end formally this year but needs to be carried on at every level in the Church as we question ‘who is my neighbour?’.”

The report of the Bishops’ Appeal, included as an appendix to the report of the Standing Committee, showed an increase in giving in euros but a drop in sterling giving, which Mr Fielding described as “disappointing.”

“We cannot hide our lamp under a bushel,” he said. “We need to let the wider world know what we as a Church do and how we contribute to society at large.”

As a tribute to the late Dean Desmond Harman, “the Bishops’ Appeal is establishing a scholarship in memory of Dean Harman … This scholarship will be awarded on an annual basis to an African priest to study development or peace and reconciliation studies in Dublin.”

He described it as a “very appropriate memorial to the former Dean of Christ Church cathedral, Dublin.”

Mr Forster also said the Central Communications Board had lobbied RTÉ to ensure the future of religious programming, and welcomed the appointment of Mr Philip Harron as the new Church of Ireland Press Officer.

The Church of Ireland welcomes the Irish Government’s launch of a process of structured dialogue between the Government and the Church in the Republic of Ireland, the General Synod was told on Wednesday afternoon.

Proposing the report of the Standing Committee, Mr Michael Webb (Dublin) said one meeting had already been held with representatives of the Church of Ireland, and a further meeting is planned.

“The dialogue provides a structured and transparent way in which the Churches can express their current concerns to Government at the highest level. The process is in its infancy but, hopefully, it will develop into a useful process rather than an elaborate talking shop.”

Mr Webb spoke of the difficulties in encouraging volunteers, but said “the attitude of the government and its agencies to the voluntary hospitals and voluntary schools in the republic of Ireland is not a shining example of encouragement to volunteerism.”

Mr Webb said the Standing Committee had responded to the call of “those who find difficulty in getting leave from work or family commitments in mid-week” by agreeing the General Synod next year will be held in Armagh over the weekend of 8-10 May. “We trust that this experiment will be supported by all members of Synod and look forward to monitoring the result,” he said.

During the debate on the Standing Committee report, Mr Dermot O’Callaghan (Down) sought clarification on an article by Archbishop John Neill in the Church of Ireland Gazette on the Anglican Covenant.

The Bishop of Down and Dromore, the Right Rev Harold Miller, spoke of the difficult situations caused by the cyclone in Burma and the earthquake in China. He thanked the Bishops’ Appeal Fund for its partnership with Christian Aid and Tearfund on the project, “the Body of Christ has AIDS.”

Mr Adrian Oughton (Meath and Kildare) warned against blaming the poor for being poor. He said 35 of the 53 states in Africa had a life expectancy of less than 30 years, and the people of Burma are living on less than $1 every three days. He said it was difficult to get the message of the Bishops’ Appeal across in dioceses and parishes.

The Rev Colin Hall-Thompson (Down) made a strong plea for support for the Christian Aid Lenten Appeal, although details had arrived too late in his parish.

Canon John McKegney (Armagh) urged a greater identity for the Church of Ireland in communications. The logo was being used widely, “but after that we tend to fall flat.” He recommended attention to the use of common typefaces and the logo in communications. He repeated his appeal for the use of Christian names in synod reports, synod badges and other communications.

Mrs Joan Bruton (Meath) compared the branding of a hospital she recently visited with the lack of branding in Church of Ireland House, despite the warm welcome she received there. “There was no cross visible … We want people to know who we are and what we are about … A cross doesn’t cost a lot of money.”

Mrs Margaret Stephens wondered what arrangements would be made for Sunday morning services during next year’s General Synod, which is being held at a weekend in Armagh.

Mr O’Callaghan returned to the debate to challenge the permission given to Changing Attitudes to have an exhibition stand at the General Synod. Mr O’Callaghan, he denied he was speaking from a position of homophobia, referred to a Gay Pride parade in San Francisco, in which an Episcopalian bishop had taken part, but with images and slogans that made a mockery of the Church and Christian values. He urged the Church of Ireland bishops attending Lambeth to take a stand against pressure groups such as Changing Attitude.

Mr George Woodman (Connor) hoped the Synod would return to Dublin in the future and meet there more regularly.

Mr Oughton returned to the debate to express regrets that RTÉ had dropped its medium wave broadcasts, and that no religious broadcasts were available on FM on Sunday morning.

The Rev Andrew Forster (Elphin, now Armagh) commended the bishops for the new mission statement, and hoped it would become the “strapline” of the Church of Ireland. The Church of Ireland needed to emphasise growth, unity and service.

The Rev Adrian McCartney (Down) argued that the Church needed to be registered at national level in both jurisdiction as a legal entity, according to the latest charity legislation. He warned that incorporation at a diocesan level would leave open the possibility of dioceses affiliating with other provinces.

The Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Rev Alan Harper, agreed that this was an important issue. He assured the synod that developments in legislation were being monitored and the standing committee was being kept up to date. Diocesan secretaries had been consulted. He assured synod that the matter would be brought back to synod, and pointed out that it needed legislation.

Archdeacon John Scott (Dromore) asked about a motion on prayer for the Middle East to be used on 8 June, which had been referred to in the Archbishop of Armagh’s address on Tuesday.

Archbishop Harper said the prayer had been composed by the Churches in the Middle East and would be dealt with under Standing Order 33 with a motion to be tabled by the Bishop of Clogher, Dr Michael Jackson, and Canon Patrick Comerford (Dublin).

Replying to the debate, the Rev Shane Forster said planning for next year’s synod had not yet been finalised. He promised to pass on other specific points that had been made in the debate.

Mr Forster also proposed setting up a small implementation group to identify the priorities in the report Living with Difference – A Reality Check and to bring forward specific recommendations. The work of the Hard Gospel Project which comes to an end in January, he said, and this group would allow the recommendations of the report to be carried though. The membership of the sub-group would be proposed at Standing Committee.

The Dean of Armagh, the Very Rev Patrick Rooke, said the work of the project should not go on for ever, but a smaller focus group would allow the report’s recommendations to be implemented. Dean Rooke also paid tribute to the work on the Hard Gospel project of the Rev Earl Storey, Mr Stephen Dallas and Mr Philip McKinley.

Mr Alan Gilbert (Cashel and Ossory) praised the work of the Hard Gospel Project.. but said more work needed to be done on the differences between science and religion.

The Rev Robert Miller (Down and Dromore) hoped the work of the new group would be properly resourced.

During the debate, Canon Brian Courtney (Clogher) attacked the present balance of representation in the general Synod, and compared the Church of Ireland to Mugabe’s Zimbabwe.

The motion was passed without dissent.

As part of the process of synodical and structural reform, Mr Andrew McNeile (Dublin) proposed a motion endorsing and supporting “the honorary secretaries’ request of all committees and boards to submit their purpose and future aims and objectives as part of their submission to the Book of reports and requires that this should henceforwards be part of the standard reporting format.”

The motion was seconded by Mr Roy Totten (Connor) and passed without debate.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

President McAleese addresses General Synod

President Mary McAleese is greeted by Archbishop Alan Harper on her arrival at the General Synod (Photograph: Patrick Harvey)

Patrick Comerford

President Mary McAleese is the first Head of State ever to address the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, and she received a rapturous welcome and a standing ovation in Galway this afternoon.

These are days to relish, days to be very, very grateful for, she said. She praised the Churches for their role in leading the people of the island of Ireland to mutual respect. This is a pivotal or watershed moment in Irish life. She spoke of how we have been released from history’s vanities, and how the context has changed.

But she warned: “What we sow now we will also reap … the seeds of tomorrow’s Ireland are being sown right now by us.”

Recent changes mean old language and old perspectives have become redundant. But she reminded synod members of the riches in parish lives, and the importance of steady and strong leadership. And there is a challenge to find newer and better ways of relating to one another.

“For the first time ever in our history this island has the chance to feel the surging power that comes from working together hand-to-hand,” she said. She talked of the need for collegial and collaborative ways of working with one another. We now needed to use this hard-earned time for the benefit of history. She reminded us of the Gospel challenge to love one another, to forgive one another and to be charitable to one another.

She praised the role of the Churches in working for peace and building cross-border relationships, working as problem-solvers and reminding us that we are part of a bigger and deeper global family.

The things that once paralysed us are now behind us. Now we had to be a light to a world brought down by violence, poverty and disease. “Love does triumph,” she declared.

Ireland is neither Catholic nor Protestant, she reminded us. It is a homeland for all, with a multi-faith heritage in the making.

Earlier, in a humorous aside, she said that on her arrival at the Radisson SAS Hotel in Galway she saw a sign saying “Spirit One Spa” and had the immediate image of the bishops of the Church of Ireland in a hot tub.

“We share very many things,” Archbishop Alan Harper quipped later.

Welcoming the President, the Archbishop of Armagh said she needed to know with what respect she is held within the Church of Ireland. He praised her contribution to dialogue and to hearing disparate voices. Later, he said hoped her presence at the General Synod would be a kairos moment. The Lay Honorary Secretary, Mr Sam Harper, presented the President with a replica of Saint Patrick’s Bell.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is an elected representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

‘Challenging times’ in theological education

Philip McKinley and Stephen Dallas of the Hard Gospel Project at the general Synod this morning (Photograph: Patrick Harvey)

Patrick Comerford

The future of theological education and ministry formation came up for discussion at General Synod again this morning when we received the report of the Representative Church Body.

Introducing the report, Mr Sidney Gamble said “these are challenging times for the development of a new Theological Institute … The RCB will have to make available substantial additional funding as the changes now being undertaken in theological training take effect. These changes will have considerable cost implications for parishes and dioceses as well as central church. At this stage I should let you know that at the request of the House of Bishops the concept of situating in Dublin on a single site the functions of clergy training, the library and the administration of central church is currently being explored by the RB [Representative Body].”

He said “the views of various stakeholders have been obtained. Possibilities are now being explored, but this exercise is still at a very early stage.”

Seconding the report, the Archdeacon of Down, the Ven Philip Patterson, described the Ministry Formation Project and the plans for the new Church of Ireland Theological Institute as “one of the most exciting things to happen in the Church of Ireland in recent years.” But he was critical of the way the costs involved had been presented, and predicted they would continue rising.

“Last year we were presented with the vision and currently this vision is being transformed into a reality. Although many details still have to be worked out, one thing is quite clear there are to be cost implications attached to the new project. Page 19 of the report tells us that already in 2008 the allocation for training ordinands has risen from almost €1.3 million to just over €1.6 million a rise of 26%. The likelihood is that this cost is likely to continue to rise and that is quite apart from capital costs, which in a best-case scenario could be neutral, but may not be.

“Some aspects of the project – particularly the internships – still have to be finalised and decisions taken as to where the costs should be charged. The important thing in such a venture is that the ‘new ship’ should not be spoilt for a ha’peworth of tar. It may well be that the general fund cannot bear the full cost of the project. The bishops may have to come to General Synod to ask for an assessment on the wider church to meet the full cost. We should not shrink away from such action.”

He also described the regulations requiring No Smoking signs in churches, particularly churches that are Grade A listed buildings, as “a piece of overkill legislation.”

“Thank you archdeacon,” said the Archbishop of Armagh. “The synod notes the issue by which you are incensed.”

During the debate, Bishop Richard Henderson of Tuam repeated his plea for a “place apart,” which he said was necessary for the development of the spiritual life of the Church of Ireland and our life in the Trinity. It’s a plea he’s made so many times before. But it’s a plea I fear the Church is ignoring ... and ignoring at its peril.

Dr Alan Acheson wanted to know how much the bishops cost the Church. Even the bishops accepted (unanimously) that we should know from next year on.

This morning we also heard about the need to develop a spirituality that is appropriate to environmental change and global warming, about the need for the Church to invest in the young people and in youth work and about our failure in invest in children’s ministry, which the Revd Ted Woods (Rathfarnham, Dublin) described as the foundation for youth work.

“There is no-one doing children’s ministry, even on a part-time basis,” he said, adding that in many parishes Sunday Schools are non-existent while those that do exist are often under-resourced and badly resourced. “Why are we so blind?”

Yet there was ray of hope in that corner when Mr Billy Kingston spoke of the work of the Rev Isabel Jackson in children’s ministry in the Diocese of Cashel and Ossory.

Today in the church calendar we commemorate Saint Matthias in our opening worship and prayed the Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who in the place of the traitor Judas
chose your faithful servant Matthias
to be of the number of the Twelve:
Preserve your Church from false apostles
and, by the ministry of faithful pastors and teachers,
keep us steadfast in your truth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Our worship each morning is being led by the newest member of the House of Bishops, Bishop Alan Abernathy, but their number will be brought back up to 12 with the consecration of Canon Trevor Williams as Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe on Monday 8 September.

Canon Williams got caught in procedures this morning when he missed the opportunity to deliver a speech he had prepared as the seconder to one of the reports. But his voice will be a great addition to the House of Bishops. His work as a broadcaster, journalist and with the Corrymeela Community, and his frontline experience in a demanding Belfast parish, equip him well, in the words of the collect of today, for “the ministry of faithful pastor and teacher … steadfast in your truth.”

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is an elected representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

Helping the Church in China after the earthquake

The Church in China urghently needs our prayers, support and contribution in the aftermath of this week’s earthquake (Photograph © Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Friends of China are not alone in our horror as the situation in Sichuan unfolds. Chinese churches and Christian agencies, as well as the Chinese government and army, have begun responding to the tragedy after this week’s earthquake.

The quake measuring 7.9 on the Richter scale has devastated a region west of the provincial capital Chengdu. The first figures coming out of China said over 20,000 people are dead or wounded in Beichuan County. But those figures are rising rapidly every hour, and that figure could pass 100,000.

The epicentre of the earthquake was in Wenchuan County. With a population of about 110,000, over 60,000 people are still unaccounted for. In Du Jiangyan city, a school with over 1,000 students collapsed. Only 58 have been found alive, and the rest are still missing. Several more school buildings are reported to have collapsed in Wenchuan County. The priority at the moment is to clear roads to the stricken areas, and to provide food and shelter to families who have lost homes.

Caroline Fielder and the staff of the China Desk of CTBI (Churches Together in Britain and Ireland) have been in contact with all the Amity teachers in China. Those in Gansu had some effects from the earthquake, those in Guangxi also felt the earthquake, although the effects were less severe for them; all are safe.

Caroline has also been in contact with Canon Chyeann Soh, who visited Ireland a few years ago and met people from the Dublin University far Eastern Mission and CMS Ireland.

I accompanied Cheyann on a visit to the Churches in China some years ago. He is now studying in Chengdu. Caroline says he is also OK and is currently in Singapore. “Although he has not been able to contact all of his friends, those he has been in contact with are also safe.”

There are many ways to respond effectively to the situation in China at the moment:

1, Prayers:

Please pray for the relief effort, for the army who are working as the first line of defence, for those who have lost or are searching for friends and family, for those made homeless, and for the churches as they seek to minister to those in need.

2, Letters of solidarity to local Christians:

They can be sent to the local Catholic Church through Father Li Zhigang, Catholic Cathedral, 29, Pinganqiao, Chengdu, Sichuan, 610015, PR China. There is no bishop in this diocese at the moment, and Father Li is in charge.

They can be sent to the Protestant Church locally by writing to Sichuan Provincial Council of Church, Three-Self patriotic Movement, No. 19 Si Sheng Ci Street, North Chengdu 610017, Sichuan. Or email:

3, Consider writing to the Chinese Embassy in Dublin to offer condolences at this time of national disaster.

4, Financial support:

Both the Amity Foundation and the Jinde Charities are co-ordinating an emergency response to the disaster in conjunction with their local church networks, local partners and other Chinese NGOs. They both have experience working on emergency relief are initially focussing their efforts on the provision of food and water, medicines, sanitation, quilts and temporary shelters for earthquake victims. They will also offer on-going support as local communities try to rebuild their lives after the devastation that has hit them.

Sending help:

Donations for Amity can be transferred using the following details:

Account Holder: The Amity Foundation;
Address: Bank of China, Nanjing Center Branch, 29# Hongwu Road, Nanjing, Jiangsu 210005, China.
Account Numbers: 0440 0010 5171 2600 0 (for Chinese RMB); 9580 1148 2420 0600 9 (for US Dollar); Swift code: BKCHCNBJ940

Donations for Jinde charities can be transferred through to them using the following details:
Account holder: Beifang Jinde Catholic Social Service Center.
Name of bank: Hongqi Street Branch of the Bank of Communications, Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province.
Account number: 131080120018000846082
Address of bank: Hongqi Street Branch of the Bank of Communications, 98 Hongqi Street, Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province, PR China
Bank telephone number: +86-311-8303 1017

Address of Jinde Charities:

3, Xuefu Road, Shijiazhuang City, Hebei Province, PR China;
Telephone: +86-311-8723 1293; Fax: +86-311-8683 1829; e-mail:;

Prayer points

Some specific prayer points worth considering include:

Give thanks for Premier Wen Jiabao. A geologist by training Premier Wen flew to the scene only hours after the earthquake hit. He has encouraged openness in reporting about the scope of the quake, making it clear that it is far worse than originally thought.

Pray that this sense of openness will ensure that rescue efforts will be effective and will be a good model for neighbouring Myanmar/Burmese leaders to follow, allowing international aid to come in to support the efforts of local NGOs and churches trying to deliver a response to the victims of the cyclone.

Pray for the 1,000 students who were trapped in a collapsing school in Dujiang City. Only 58 have been recovered alive so far.

Pray that rescue teams will be encouraged by finding more students and staff alive and that families and the local community are supported at this devastating time.

The earthquake has happened near a number of chemical factories. Pray that these factories do not pollute the atmosphere as a result of structural damage, thereby exacerbating an already difficult situation.

The area most badly affected by the earthquake is now experiencing heavy rainfall. This is hampering any relief work as roads are impassable and army helicopters are unable to land. Please pray for the rain to stop, so emergency aid can get through.

Pray that the mayor’s request for air drops of tents, food and medicine will be effective and that the urgently needed medical workers will be able to get to the areas where they are most needed.

Canon Patrick Comerford is chair of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission

We cannot take Anglican unity for granted, says Archbishop Neill

The Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas, Galway, the largest mediaeval parish church still in constant use in Ireland (Photograph © Patrick Comerford 2008)

Patrick Comerford

Saint Nicholas’ Collegiate Church in Galway was a splendid setting on a perfect May evening for last night’s Synod Eucharist. We had a magnificent range of music and settings from the parish choir. Mark Duley gave us everything, from traditional Irish, through Russian Orthodox and monastic plainsong chants to the joys of Palestrina, ending with a joyous recessional with all singing and swaying to African rhythms as Tom Gordon beat the drums.

The careful and joyful choice of music was a good presentation of the unity and diversity that has been fostered and encouraged in his parish by the Rector of Galway, the Very Revd Patrick Towers.

Unity and diversity in parish life are easy to rejoice in. But do we take it for granted in the Church of Ireland? And are we concerned about maintaining the unity and diversity that has long been a hallmark of the Anglican Communion.

These themes were central to the synod sermon preached by the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill -- one of the finest synod sermons I have ever heard.

Archbishop Neill warned us that we must not take the unity of the Church of Ireland and the unity of the Anglican Communion for granted. “We must ensure that different theological emphases and differing judgments are not allowed to become matters for division,” he said.

He said the Anglican Communion is “going through a very difficult few years.” Referring to this year’s Lambeth Conference, he said: “It is easy to blame our lack oif formal structures to deal with a time of crisis – but this is, of course, part of what it is to belong to a communion of autonomous churches.

“Nevertheless, we are working on an Anglican Covenant which will spell out something of the implications of being both autonomous as churches and being in communion with each other,” he said.

Archbishop Neill also felt the crisis “can be viewed positively. It has enabled us to discover more of what it means to wrestle with the recognition of diversity and the call to unity which is of the very nature of the Church.”

The Collegiate Church of Saint Nicholas is the largest mediaeval parish church in Ireland still in constant use. It was built around 1320 on the site of an earlier church, and local tradition links it not only with Saint Nicholas of Myra – “Santa Claus” – but with Christopher Columbus, who said to have prayed here in 1477, and with Oliver Cromwell, who besieged the city in 1652.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is an elected representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Putting the 39 Articles in their context

Members of the General Synod gathering in Galway today. The photograph includes Mrs Averil Forrest and Dean Leslie Forest of Ferns, Archbishop John Neill, Mrs Betty Neill, and Lady Sheil

Patrick Comerford

I often wonder what strangers visiting our parish churches think when the open the Book of Common Prayer, pore over its pages, and read some of the words and language in the 39 Articles.

I’m happy that the Church of Ireland owns and enjoys its history. But is a prayer book the appropriate place to publish the words written in another age without explaining their original context?

The Dean of Armagh, the Very Rev Patrick Rooke, and Mr Dermot O’Callaghan, one of the leading lay members of the General Synod, tried to put things to right on Tuesday afternoon with a proposal that all future editions of the Book of Common Prayer should include a Declaration immediately preceding the Articles of Religion.

The declaration would put the 39 Articles in their historical context. The language used about Roman Catholics and Anabaptists were typical of the polemics of the day, but it sounds offensive today.

We cannot deny our historical past – indeed we can rejoice in it. But we should be able to explain ourselves, and accept that they do not “represent the spirit of [the Church of Ireland] today.”

The Rev Dr Eric Culbertson couldn’t accept that there had been any change in either the Church of Ireland or the Roman Catholic Church since the days of the Reformation. He did tell us he was speaking “the truth in love” … but then went on to misrepresent the Roman Catholic position, saying that Church “worships” the Virgin Mary. Eric wants us to use only the words of Cranmer, Latimer and Ridley, without any watering down.

Eric’s misrepresentation of Marian doctrine was challenged forcefully by the Bishop of Cashel and Ossory, the Right Rev Michael Burrows. He wondered how Anglican understandings of truth are best defended by being rude to others.

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, pointed out it was impossible to rewrite historic documents that have been important landmarks on the journey.

This declaration boldly states: “The Church of Ireland seeks the visible unity of the Church. In working towards that goal, this Church is committed to reaching out towards other Churches in a spirit of humility and love, that together all Christians may grow towards unity in life and mission to the glory of God.”

A two-thirds majority, voting by orders, was needed to allow the introduction of a bill in the General Synod next year. Resolution No 1 was passed with overwhelming majorities among both the clergy and the laity (Clergy: 102-7; Laity: 143-24).

The seven members of the house of clergy who opposed this move included the Archdeacon of Down, the Ven Philip Patterson, and Dr Culbertson.

Amendments to the Bill have to be lodged within 30 days, and we still have to debate any drafted legislation next year. But thank goodness we have taken the first long-needed steps towards making those strangers from other churches welcome when they visit our parishes and pore over the pages of the Book of Common Prayer.

Earlier in the afternoon, the Dean of Connor, the Very Revd John Bond, said he was delighted to be in Connacht and Galway for the General Synod. But commenting on the heat in the synod hall, he said he now understood why Cromwell had said: “To Hell or to Connacht.”

Dean Bond was introducing the bill that makes provision for the Archdeacon of Belfast to be the Precentor of Belfast Cathedral ex officio.

Pensions aren’t just for the old and boring

The lobby outside the General Synod in Galway today

Patrick Comerford

Tuesday afternoon of the General Synod was taken up with a lengthy discussion of a new bill to amend Chapter VI and Chapter XIV of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland.

This bill concerns clergy pensions, and involved detailed and difficult work on the part of Lady Sheil and many others. Normally scheduling debates of this sort after lunch leads to yawns and to much dozing.

I wonder whether it was an effort to stir us out of our dozy indifference when once again the Archdeacon of Down tried to block the bill getting even a polite first reading.

Clergy pensions are hardly the main concern and worry of the hundreds of people who have travelled to Galway for the General Synod. But Philip Patterson wanted them to throw out this bill before it even got an airing.

And he used his procedural opportunity to take the bill apart in detail … something that might have been reserved for the later stages in the debate.

The bill did get to be debated by the General Synod, and there were more analytical approaches to the detail later on, including those by the Dean of Cork, the Very Rev Nigel Dunne, who conceded the need for reform, but could still express his worries and concerns.

Archdeacon Patterson was supported by Canon Brian Courtney of Enniskillen Cathedral Parish (Diocese of Clogher) and Canon Roderic West (Dromore), who accepted that something had to be done, but didn’t tell us what.

The fact that lay members of the synod could be interested in this debate was demonstrated by Mr Niall Stratford (Rathfarnham, Dublin), who pointed out how good the provisions in the bill are.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

The Church of Ireland remains an Episcopal church

Archdeacon Philip Paterson … move on bishops and doctrine defeated

Patrick Comerford

The first heady debate at General Synod came this afternoon with an attempt to erode some of the Episcopal nature, principles and understanding of the Church of Ireland.

The Rev Adrian Wilkinson (Douglas, Cork) and Lady Sheil had introduced a bill to revise and amend and replace Chapter VII of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland. This bill seeks to shake up the whole procedure for clergy discipline in the Church of Ireland.

Archdeacon Philip Paterson (Down) moved an amendment to remove those provisions in Section 39 that provide for the House of Bishops to make a statement on “the current and orthodox position of the Church of Ireland on … doctrine and ritual.” He wondered what would happen when bishops got it wrong.

Archdeacon George Davison (Kilmore) asked what is meant by the collective understanding of the bishops. The house of bishops reflects the diverse nature of the church, and has a wide variety of theological and liturgical views and practices, he said.

Mrs Justice Catherine McGuinness, a former member of the Supreme Court, questioned the wisdom of leaving it to lawyers to decide the doctrine of the Church.

Canon Jonathan Barry (Down) said a previous generation of bishops had got it terribly wrong in the past when it came to divorce and remarriage. “This is serious,” he said. “This is desperately serious.”

The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, said the House of Bishops had never claimed infallibility and that while he opposed the bishops on divorce and remarriage in the 1980s, the House of Bishops and General Synod were of one mind. He said the provisions in Section 39 protected members of the Church against extreme views held by one bishop.

Replying to the debate, Archdeacon Patterson said he was worried about making the bishops a tribunal within a tribunal.

The amendment was roundly defeated, and the bill has moved on to the next stage. In an Episcopal church we should look to lawyers for law and to the bishops for doctrine.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod

As long as Palestinians suffer there will be no justice, peace, stability or hope

Archbishop Alan Harper: in his presidential address this morning drew attention to the plight of Palestinian Christians

Patrick Comerford

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland is meeting in Galway – and in Connacht – for the first time. General Synod has now met in all four provinces of Ireland. For the first time, a President of Ireland is to address the General Synod. President Mary McAleese is due to speak at General Synod on Wednesday.

In his visionary presidential address this morning, Archbishop Alan Harper, spoke strongly about turning vision into venture. He spoke passionately of the problems facing Palestinian Christians and the need for peace in Middle East. Archbishop Harper, and the other three main Church leaders, recently visited the Palestinian Territories and Israel. He hoped Jews, Christians and Muslims – as members of the three great monotheistic faiths – would see that religion, which is part of the problem, became part of the solution in Middle East.

“As long as Palestinians suffer what they experience as Israeli occupation, aggression and oppression, and as long as Israelis endure guerrilla attacks undertaken by militant Palestinians, (some of whom deny the right of the State of Israel to exist,) so long will there be no justice, no peace, no stability and no hope. And yet justice, peace, stability and hope are what all right minded Israelis and Palestinians long for, including the Christians of the Holy Land, most of whom are ethnic Palestinians.

“If the vision of peace and an interdependent future can take root in Ireland, aided by the patient commitment and enlightened self interest of the governments of the United Kingdom, the United States and the Republic of Ireland, may not a similar vision overtake the embattled peoples of Israel and Palestine?”

Archbishop Harper described his recent visit to the Holy Land in the company of Cardinal Brady, the Presbyterian Moderator, Dr Finlay, and the President of the Methodist Church, the Revd Roy Cooper, at the invitation of local church groups and with the support of Trocaire and Christian Aid, as “a harrowing but not hopeless experience.”

“I find myself deeply moved by the resilience of West Bank Palestinians in circumstances of intolerable hardship, denial of dignity and severe restriction of freedom of movement, he said. “I weep that the only Israelis encountered by Palestinians are either young conscript soldiers at innumerable checkpoints, or armed settlers who, in turn are guarded by the Israeli Defence Forces. The settlers continue to be permitted to occupy greater and greater tracts of what was Palestinian land and they are provided with infrastructure, including good roads and assured water and electricity supplies, far superior to that afforded to resident Palestinians.

“The denial of opportunity for ordinary Israelis to meet ordinary Palestinians, share their stories, their hopes and especially their fears, is a tragic consequence of the policy of separation symbolised most dramatically by the Separation Barrier. Israel rightly requires security for its citizens with freedom from attacks by militants. There is no doubt that the building of the Separation Barrier has significantly reduced the number of such attacks.

“Yet, in truth, security is never guaranteed by force of arms, but only by the creation of circumstances that disarm hostility. I believe that any country which takes upon itself the responsibility to annex additional territory also takes upon itself the responsibility to treat the inhabitants of the annexed territory with the same respect, care, justice and equality it accords to its own citizens. Not to do so is at the least discrimination and at worst may amount to collective punishment.”

He expressed concern that as the search for peace is delayed, there is a greater “likelihood that moderates will be supplanted by extremists. Meanwhile, the Christians of Israel and Palestine are steadily reducing, both in numbers and as a proportion of the population of both Israel and the West Bank. I should make it clear that Christians express no sense of any threat from Islam. Rather what threatens is the intolerable conditions in which they are forced to live together with opportunities for a peaceful and prosperous future elsewhere.”

He pointed out that “for 2,000 years the ancestors of Palestinian Christians have worshipped at and preserved the Holy Places. The places themselves, evocative though they be, are inanimate stones. It is the people who are the ‘Living Stones’ and who through living and worshipping there make the Holy Land much more than merely a museum. The Living Stones need our active support and solidarity. They need to know that they are not the forgotten people of the Middle East. We need to ensure that those who go on pilgrimage to the Holy Land are as committed to the Living Stones as they are to the Holy Places.

“Let us put Palestinian Christians at the heart of our continual prayers for peace and justice. As in Ireland so in Israel and Palestine, religion is a component of a conflict about land and identity. It seems to me important for people of faith to try to contribute positively to the resolution of such conflict. Three great faiths have the Holy Land as both meeting place and common ground. In these days of inter-faith dialogue might it be possible to pursue the search for peace and parity of esteem by an exploration and articulation of shared ethical values?”

Christians, Muslims and Jews already share a monotheistic faith and have shared spiritual roots in Old Testament scripture, he pointed out. “If religion is part of the problem it must become part of the solution. Only by working constructively towards it may religious people, with integrity, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.”

The need to engage passionately with the world as disciples and as people actively engaged in discipleship. The mission we are engaged in is not our mission, but God’s mission, he said. He used a video-clip on the work of the Jethro Centre in Shankhill Parish, Lurgan, as an example of the Church serving the whole community through seeking and sharing the right vision.

He spoke too of the need for synod reform. The first steps had been taken with a re-evaluation of the Church’s committee structures, and the decision to hold General Synod next year in Armagh over a weekend, and new ideas about focusing over a three-year synod period on one aspect of the life and work of the Church each year.

Looking at training for ministry, the archbishop spoke of the need to integrate training and practice and to develop a culture of life-long learning. He told synod members the distinction between NSM and stipendiary ministry needed to be seen only as a matter of deployment. While outlining some of the proposals for the new Church of Ireland Theological Institute, he apologised for the lack of communications to staff members at the Church of Ireland Theological College.

“I have … to accept that not everything has been handled as well as we should have liked. It would be untrue to say that we have made no mistakes in taking forward our proposals, particularly in managing the flow of information between the bishops and the staff of the Theological College. I want to express to the staff our regret that sometimes we could not, for reasons of confidentiality, keep them fully informed. I hope that Professor Empey and his colleagues will accept the genuineness of my expression of regret. This has been and remains a complicated and fast moving scenario throughout which we have learned important lessons. We remain genuinely grateful to the staff of the Theological College for their service to the Church of Ireland over the past years.”

Archbishop Harper paid “particular tribute to Canon Professor Adrian Empey, who has been Principal of the Church of Ireland Theological College for the past seven years. Adrian Empey is a scholar of international repute who also brought to his oversight of clergy training a wide experience in parochial ministry, both urban and rural. He took responsibility for the Theological College at a crucial time for the Church of Ireland, during a period of great change, which also included the first formal academic inspection of the College – an exercise he encouraged and supported throughout. In thanking him for all that he has contributed throughout his ministry, I take this opportunity to wish him and Mrs June Empey everything that is good for a long and rewarding retirement.”

In addition, the archbishop paid tribute to Bishop Michael Mayes, who retired at the end of March as Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, to Dean Desmond Harman, who died last December, including their work with the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal Fund.

The opening worship was led for the first time by the Bishop of Connor, the Right Rev Alan Abernathy. In the opening session, there were tributes to Canon Ian Ellis, clerical honorary secretary, who is still recovering from surgery, to Mr Derek Philips, who is retiring from the RCB staff after 45 years, and to Mr Michael Davey who is standing down as assessor after many years.

A sad task was the election of a clerical honorary secretary to replace Dean Harman. The Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, the Ven Robin Bantry White, was elected when he was proposed by the Dean of Ossory, the Very Revd Norman Lynas, and seconded by the Dean of Limerick, the Very Rev Maurice Sirr. Earlier in the morning, the House of Bishops met and confirmed and ratified the election of Canon Trevor Williams as Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe.

Professor Brendan Leahy also spoke warmly of Dean Harman, Bishop Mayes and Bishop-elect Williams when he spoke as the guest representative of the Roman Catholic Church.

Synod humour

“I was built more for comfort and speed” – Sam Harper.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological College. He is a representative of the Diocese of Dublin at the General Synod.