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