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

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