14 May 2008

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

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