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