Wednesday, 5 May 2010

General Synod meets for three days in Dublin

Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin ... the General Synod of the Church of Ireland takes place here for the next three days (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

The General Synod of the Church of Ireland opens in Dublin tomorrow [Thursday] morning, and the meeting continues until Saturday. This year, General Synod is meeting in Christ Church Cathedral, and this is the first time the nave of the cathedral has been used for the General Synod.

The General Synod Service takes place in the evening in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, where the preacher is the Bishop of Clogher, the Right Revd Dr Michael Jackson.

It will be interesting to see who is present and who is absent from Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, because the Irish Church Missions is hosting an evening reception for members of General Synod and others at 7.30 in the evening, when the guest speaker is the Dean of Sydney Cathedral, the Very Revd Phillip Jensen, who is speaking on: “Why I am an Anglican.”

Interesting to see, I say, because I have not been invited to this reception.

Dean Jensen has spoken publicly against what he describes and condemns as secularism, syncretism and intellectual relativism, as well as gambling, same-gender relationships and Roman Catholicism.

In the Sydney Morning Herald two years ago, Dean Jensen said it is the nature of Protestantism to protest against Roman Catholic claims to authority. “We object to the Pope claiming to be the Vicar of Christ. We reject all claims to authority that imply the insufficiency of scripture. We reject any implication that Jesus’ work on the cross was insufficient or is received by more than faith or requires some other mediator,” he said. “There is nothing in modern Roman Catholicism that reduces our need to protest. They have not repented of their Reformation errors.”

He was more outspoken in his views on ecumenism in a book he co-wrote in 1991, Have Evangelicals Lost Their Way? In that book, he described Roman Catholicism as “sub-Christian” in its doctrine and practice and an “unrepentant persecutor of the Gospel.”

He is also a vociferous opponent of the ordination of women as priests and bishops. He and other leading Sydney Anglicans advocate lay presidency at the Eucharist.

Under Dean Jensen, the liturgy in Saint Andrew’s Cathedral has undergone considerable change. Dean Jensen no longer wears the traditional Anglican cassock, surplice and scarf at cathedral services, but now uses the Geneva gown when he is preaching in his cathedral. Choral Evensong on Sundays has been replaced by what he calls “The Bible Talks.” His attitude to traditional Anglican styles of worship has led critics, including Peter Phillips, the director of the Tallis Scholars, to accuse him of “vandalising” Anglican culture.

So it may be interesting for those who have been invited to hear Dean Jensen try to explain that he is still an Anglican. Not having been invited to the reception or to hear him, I’ll be very happy to attend to my responsibilities of looking after our ecumenical guests at this evening’s service in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, including three guests from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Chapter House, Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The legislative programme for this year’s synod is light with Bills and resolutions relating to clergy pensions, the separation of the Saint Patrick’s Cathedral group of parishes from the cathedral and the restructuring of the board of Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Other issues for debate include education, inter-Church dialogue, the Anglican Covenant, a Bill of Rights for Northern Ireland, and the restructuring of the committees and boards of the General Synod.

The Liturgical Advisory Committee has produced a document on “Liturgical Space and Church Reordering” which it will seek leave to have published. Church of Ireland Publishing plans to publish this later in the year.

Of course, much of the discussion will really take place in the cathedral crypt over cups of coffee, and in the neighbouring cafés and bars.

The report of the Representative Church Body, which is being presented on Friday morning, reflects the financial turmoil that is besetting the country and the adjustments that have to be made by the Church of Ireland.

Just in time for the synod, Christ Church Cathedral has published a new and extended guide to its stained glass. The former short guide, by Lesley Whiteside, was produced over ten years ago and has been out of print for some time. The cathedral architect, George Edmund Street, viewed the stained glass as an integral part of his restoration of Christ Church as a 13th-century cathedral and gave detailed instructions on the choice of glass, the drawing and the painting.

This new booklet explains each window and points out features that are often missed. Take a look at these windows if you’re at General Synod this year on your way down to the crypt for that cup of coffee