Wednesday, 24 October 2012

The Church of Ireland and its identity in Ireland today

Saint Mogue’s Cottage, Ferns, Co Wexford, with Saint Edan’s Cathedral in the background

Patrick Comerford:

The Church of Ireland and its identity in Ireland today

Ferns Diocesan Ecumenical Society

Saint Mogue’s Cottage,

Ferns, Co Wexford,

8 p.m., 24 October 2012

Personal introduction

Saint Colman’s Church, Templeshanbo, Co Wexford … generations of Comerfords of Bunclody are buried in the this Church of Ireland churchyard and in Old Kilmyshall (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

It is a pleasure to be here this evening. I worked for some years in Wexford as a journalist with the local newspapers. But my links with Co Wexford go back many generations, through the Comerfords of Bunclody. The earliest family connection with Ferns itself is Bishop Edmond Comerford, the last pre-Reformation Bishop of Ferns, who died in 1509.

I still consider this my home county, I return regularly throughout the year, and thank you for invitation this evening.

To say a little about myself, I am a former journalist, I am a priest of the Church of Ireland, I lecture at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and I am a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Think Time

Just to allow me to place some of what I say in context – or, theologically, to be incarnational about what I say – could I ask some questions that might help as an opening discussion?

How many people here this evening are members of the Church of Ireland?

How many of you have been in a Church of Ireland parish church or cathedral?

How many have Church of Ireland family connections?

Can you name three famous members of the Church of Ireland, living or dead?

Introduction: who we are today

Saint Mary’s Church of Ireland parish church, Bunclody, Co Wexford … the backbone of many rural parishes is small shopkeepers and small farmers (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

A new analysis of last year’s census figures (2011) by the Central Statistics Office was described in The Irish Times last week [Friday, October 19, 2012] as providing us with a “Portrait of a population growing in diversity” in the Republic of Ireland.

Alison Healy’s report says that analysis paints a picture of “an increasingly diverse population with a significant growth in people who say they have no religion, while also recording the largest congregation of Catholics since records began.”

Just five religious affiliations were mentioned half a century ago in the 1961 census, but the 2011 Census refers to more than 20 religious affiliations, and also has a category for “other religions,” which was ticked by 56,558 people.

This latest census shows that the proportion of the population who are [Roman] Catholic reached its lowest point last year at 84.2 per cent, but the number of [Roman] Catholics, 3.86 million people, is the highest since records began.

This is partly explained because the number of [Roman] Catholic immigrants living in the Republic of Ireland: 8 per cent of the [Roman] Catholic population is non-Irish last year, with Polish people the biggest group at 110,410 Catholics, followed by those born in the UK, at 49,761 – which may include many people born in Northern Ireland.

Of the 3.8 million [Roman] Catholics in the state, 92 per cent are Irish, while the remaining 8 per cent belong to a range of nationalities. Among the non-Irish, Poles are the biggest group (110,410), followed by the UK (49,761) and between them they accounted for over half of all non-Irish [Roman] Catholics.

Interestingly, there are also 64,798 divorced [Roman] Catholics –27,468 males and 37,330 females.

So, now that we have the statistics, what about the Church of Ireland?

As for the Church of Ireland, there are 129,039 members of the Church of Ireland, or 2.89 per cent of the population, an increase of 6.4 per cent in the five years since 2006 (118,948). This includes 13,667 primary school aged children and 8,809 of secondary school age.

One in 10 Church of Ireland members in the workforce has an occupation in agriculture and related activities. The figures in analysis last week show The Church of Ireland population has a much higher proportion involved in “Farming, Fishing and Forestry” (7.1 per cent) than the population as a whole (3.6 per cent).

Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, is the town with the highest percentage of Church of Ireland residents (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Here in Co Wexford, the Church of Ireland population is 5,046 (3.5% of the total population), which is proportionately higher than the national percentage figure. Co Wicklow remains the county with the largest Church of Ireland percentage of the overall population (6.7 per cent). Co Cavan is the second largest (5.8 per cent). Greystones, Co Wicklow, with 8.5 per cent Church of Ireland population, has been overtaken by Enniskerry, Co Wicklow, at 9.1 per cent, as the town with the highest percentage of Church of Ireland residents.

The overall number of people employed in “religious occupations” has declined, from 6,618 in 2006 to 5,817 in 2011. But, interestingly, the numbers of Church of Ireland members employed in “religious occupations” has increased, from 308 in 2006 to 316 in 2011.

Saint Maelruain’s Church, Tallaght …. There are parishes with substantial working class backgrounds (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Despite the RTÉ soapbox image of the Church of Ireland, not all of us are plumy rectors or from the landed gentry. There are strong working class parishes in parts of Dublin, including Finglas, Irishtown and Tallaght. And the backbone of many rural parishes is the same as Roman Catholic parishes: small shopkeepers, small farmers ... people like your parents.

These census figures help to show that the popular perception of a Protestant decline has been arrested if not reversed. But, to be honest, we do not know why.

Among other Christians, there are now 45,223 Orthodox Christians in Ireland – more than double the number in 2006 (20,798) and more than four times the number recorded in 2002 (10,437).

The members of Apostolic and Pentecostal churches rose in numbers from 8,116 in 2006 to 14,043 in 2011. Over 60 per cent (8,486) have African ethnicity, while 18.1 per cent (2,546) are from “any other White background.”

There are 24,600 Presbyterians, up marginally on 2006 and continuing a pattern of increasing numbers since 2002 following long periods of decline up to 1991.

The other Christian groupings are the Methodists (6,842), Lutherans (5,683), Evangelicals (4,188), and Baptist (3,531). Other Christian groups include Quakers (925), Brethren (336), the Salvation Army, and so on.

On the fringes of Christianity, there are Jehovah’s Witness (6,149), Mormons (1,284), Christian Scientists, and so on.

In terms of ecumenical relations at an inter-church level, this is certainly challenging. In past, we have traditionally spoken of the four main churches, meaning the [Roman] Catholics, the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterians and the Methodists. But the combined total of Presbyterians and Methodists at 31,442 is now eclipsed by the total number of Orthodox, and the Methodists have slipped behind the Apostolic and Pentecostal churches in numerical terms.

As for the non-Christian religions, there are 49,204 Muslims, making them numerically the third religious grouping in the state after [Roman] Catholics and the Church of Ireland, and marginally ahead of the Orthodox Christians.

Other religions in total account for 98,643 persons (2.1 per cent). The largest single religion in this group is Buddhist (8,703), and over one-third (37.9%) are Irish by nationality. There are 1,984 Jewish people, up from 1,930 in 2006. The total of those with no religion, atheists and agnostics has increased more than four-fold in the 20-year period between 1991 and 2011 to 277,237 in 2011.

Some present pressing issues:

These census figures show that all churches and religious or faith groupings are living in a very different and a changing Ireland. We face new issues and challenges, changing social situations, and different expectations and demands.

For all religious groupings there is a change in understanding of authority. No longer are things accepted because the parish priest or the rector says so. But we share this change in the understanding of authority with many other institutions, including other past figures of authority such as politicians, the banks, teachers (less so), the BBC and even the GAA.

Some of the present pressing issues facing the Church of Ireland today include:

1, Ecumenical relations:
2, Political identity
3, Education
4, Immigration and cultural change
5, Organisational and structural changes
6, The future of ministry
7, Human sexuality

1, Ecumenical relations:

Fethard Castle reflected in a window in Saint Mogue’s Church, Fethard-on-Sea …. We have come a long way in the 60 years since the Fethard-on-Sea boycott (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The changes reflected in the statistics show we need to have a new relationship with both our Orthodox neighbours and our Presbyterian and Methodist neighbours. But I also think that while in the past members of the Church of Ireland once identified with a common Protestant identity shared with Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers, we are more likely to identify with our Roman Catholic neighbours today.

We have a special arrangement with the Methodist Church, a Covenant or agreement that commits us to seeking unity. Some of our bishops come from Methodist families and backgrounds, but an interesting number of priests in the parishes come from Roman Catholic backgrounds.

Like many of you, I grew up in the shadows of the Fethard-on-Sea boycott, listening to it being talked about it in hushed tones. Later in life I was blessed to get to know Sean and Sheila Cloney. But Inter-church marriage is no longer seen as the same threat to “Protestant identity” it was once perceived to be. The old matching making institutions like the Adelaide Hall and the YMCA have lost those functions in Dublin and most have disappeared. The weekend disco at Old Wesley means something very different today than it did in my teenage days over 40 years ago.

The Roman Catholic parish church in Bunclody … a symbol of hospitality and welcome (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the south, many Church of Ireland clergy will feel closest theologically and emotionally to their [Roman] Catholic neighbours. The comfort and closeness is reflected in the exchanges of sacred space and hospitality between the two parish churches in Buclody and in Wexford between Saint Iberius’ Church and the Friary Church.

Indeed, there are many doctrinal agreements over the last few decades between Anglicans and Roman Catholics, worked out through the process known as ARCIC. Every family in the Church of Ireland has an experience, usually a positive experience, of inter-Church marriage. And we all have our own preferences. I know some clergy will go on retreat to Catholic monasteries or convents: I have stayed in Benedictine and Augustinian houses for retreats, and I have preached in a convent chapel and in parish churches.

And so, the reasons used to defend separate educational and youth bodies are beginning to collapse. Indeed, in recent years, the two separate scouting organisations have merged to form one body.

Saint Iberius’ Church, Wexford … the Church of Ireland is comfortable about being heirs to the same Church of early Irish saints (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Church of Ireland, we too see ourselves as Catholic too. We are both Catholic and Protestant, we confess the same Creeds – the Nicene Creed and the Apostles’ Creed, we have the same faith, and we do not see ourselves as having “broken away” from Catholicism. We are comfortable about seeing ourselves as the heirs to and part of the same Church that dates back to those early Irish saints, Patrick, Brigid, Colmcille, Iberius and Aidan (Edan).

But for the Church of Ireland our ecumenical relations are more than how we get on with our fellow Christians on this island. We are in Communion with other Anglican Churches, such as the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the US.

Being in communion with those churches means, by and large (but not in all cases) that their priests and our priests can move from parishes in one church to the other.

But holding together the Anglican Communion proved to be one of the most difficult tasks for Rowan Williams during his time as Archbishop of Canterbury. And that is reflected in the different bilateral relations bishops and dioceses of the Church of Ireland have entered into.

For example, the Bishop of Kilmore and his diocese have a partnership with the Diocese of South Carolina. But the Diocese of South Carolina, at the urging of its bishop, recently voted to disaffiliate from the Episcopal Church and earlier this month Bishop Mark Lawrence of South Carolina was “certified for his abandonment of the Episcopal Church by an open renunciation of the discipline of the Church.”

The pull between the different “parties” in the wider Anglican Communion is reflected in the affections and affinities that have developed within the Church of Ireland.

As a Church, we are also in communion too in the same way with the Lutheran churches of Northern Europe that have bishops, such as the Churches of Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland, and the Lutheran churches in the Baltic member states of the EU.

But, while we have more members of the Church of Ireland from Lithuania (1,589), than from Nigeria (1,534), we have yet to appoint a priest for the Lithuanian community, which would be living up to our responsibilities under the Porvoo Agreement.

2, Political identity

The contribution of Irish Protestants to creating Irish identity was recognised fully in this county during the 1798 commemorations in 1998, but needs to be reaffirmed once again as we face a potentially contentious decade of commemorations from 2012 to 2022, marking a series of centenaries for events from 1912 to 1922.

Members of the Church of Ireland can be found in all political parties today, including TDs Jan O’Sullivan (Limerick) and Robert Dowds (Dublin Mid-West) of the Labour Party, Independent TD Shane Ross (Dublin South), Independent Senator David Norris. And, in social and cultural life, many of the members of U2 were brought up in Church of Ireland families on the north side of Dublin.

In the past, they have included: Lord Edward FitzGerald; Archibald Hamilton Rowan; Henry Monoroe and Betsy Grey, the Harveys, Grogans and Boxwells, Robert Emmet and Thomas Russell, William Smith O’Brien, Charles Stewart Parnell, Countess Markievicz, Sean O’Casey Ernest Blythe, Douglas Hyde, and Erskine Childers.

The Church of Ireland is also the Church of Jonathan Swift, the author of Gulliver’s Travels and Drapier’s Letters; George Berkeley, philosopher and bishop; and hymn writers such as Henry Lyte, of Taghmon, Co Wexford, and Cecil Frances Alexander.

The Church of Ireland and its members were intimately associated with the Gaelic revival and the literary renaissance of the late 19th and early 20th century. The Church Ireland is the Church of great poets, dramatists and literary figures, including Nobel Prize winners. Think of Sean O’Casey, George Bernard Shaw, WB Yeats and Samuel Beckett.

But I am concerned by the recent comments of Robert Ballagh at a Tom Barry commemoration. The 1916 centenary commemorations in four years time are in danger of being hijacked in a narrower and more divisive way than the commemorations in 1966.

3, Education:

Trinity College Dublin … the image of the Church of Ireland as a people set apart has disappeared (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

There are 26 post-primary or secondary schools and colleges under Protestant management, and at least 18 of these have direct Church of Ireland links. In addition, one is Methodist-managed (Wesley); one is Presbyterian (Saint Andrew’s); and two are Quaker-managed (Newtown and Drogheda).

Most parishes have their own primary schools. Primary school teachers are trained at the Church of Ireland College of Education, where they are students of Trinity College Dublin and receive TCD degrees.

Traditionally the clergy were trained at Trinity College Dublin, but they are now trained at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, where they study for a master’s degree (MTh) from TCD. In addition, one of the main ways of handing on the faith is through Sunday schools and confirmation classes, which are normally organised in the parish rather than in the schools.

The image from the past of Protestants in Ireland as a people set apart has disappeared in recent decades. The traditional system of separate education is collapsing within both groupings. For example, many of the pupils at Kilkenny College, which is the diocesan secondary school and boarding school for this diocese, and in similar schools such as the High School or Wesley College in Dublin, Wilson’s Hospital in Co Westmeath, or Villiers School in Limerick and Bandon and Middleton in Co Cork, have at least one [Roman] Catholic parent, and this is true in many Church of Ireland national schools here in Co Wexford too.

In many parts of provincial Ireland, an increasing number of Church of Ireland families, including clergy families, are sending their children to the nearest local schools, especially at National School level.

The threat to private fee-paying schools is seen as a threat to the “Protestant identity” in Ireland, where, without grants and state funding, many Church of Ireland parents would not be able to send their children to Protestant secondary schools. It is a threat that is further compounded by the danger of the Church being seen as running only schools for well-heeled parents.

Similar the proposals for the minimum size for national schools pose a threat first of all to the viability and survival of Church of Ireland schools in rural Ireland. But this is a battle that needs to be fought in partnership with our [Roman] Catholic neighbours who want to maintain the ethos and accessibility of many schools, including those with a more liberal ethos. It is as much a threat to the Gonzagas, Glenstals and Gormanstons as it is to Kilkenny College and Newtown School.

4, Immigration and cultural change

The Discovery programme and the Discovery Gospel Choir are part of the Church of Ireland’s work with immigrants in inner-city Dublin

In terms of cultural or ethnic background, 90,701 members of the Church of Ireland are of Irish nationality, and 30,464 are classified as non-Irish. The 14 largest minority backgrounds in this second group are:

UK, 21,474; Lithuania, 1,589; Nigeria, 1,534; Poland, 1,235; Other African, 590; Germany, 438; South Africa, 420; Latvia, 335; USA, 333; China, 303; India, 279; Australia, 239; Canada, 162; and Netherlands, 155. After that, it is down to double and single figures, but we even have one each from Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg and Malta.

Once again, the figures from the UK may represent many people born in Northern Ireland, and not just people from England.

There are more Lithuanians than Nigerians in the Church of Ireland, yet, while we have appointed a Nigerian priest to work with the African population, we have not appointed a priest to work with the large number from the Baltic and Nordic countries who are members of the Church of Ireland.

What has this to say about our mission priorities?

There are 976 Church of Ireland members of the Travelling Community (3.3% of the total) – interestingly this is a higher proportion within the Church of Ireland than the proportion of the Church of Ireland population in the population as a whole (2.75%), or the proportion of the Traveller community in Co Wexford as a whole (1,504, or 1.1 per cent), and more in number that the Travellers living in either Carlow, Kilkenny or Wicklow, for example.

But what has this to say to the Church of Ireland? Travellers are more likely to be unemployed, to live in poor housing conditions or in mobile or temporary accommodation, to have no sewerage facilities, to have ended their education at primary school, and to suffer from ill-health and disabilities. Yet the number of Travellers is as large as many a Church of Ireland, and our neglect of Travellers in the Church of Ireland is as much an indictment of our attitude to social justice as it is a test of our pastoral values.

5, Structural and organisational problems:

The Dioceses of the Church of Ireland

The Church of Ireland is organised in a similar way to the [Roman] Catholic Church, with bishops and dioceses that have the same names, with a few exceptions: Kerry is Ardfert and Aghadoe, the old name, in the Church of Ireland; there is no Diocese of Galway, which is anew creation in the Roman Catholic Church; and while the Pope is the Bishop of Kilmacduagh in the Roman Catholic and the diocese is administered for him by the Bishop of Galway, in the Church of Ireland the Bishop of Kilmacduagh is the Bishop of Limerick.

There are 12 bishops, including two Archbishops: the Archbishop of Armagh, soon to be Dr Richard Clarke, and the Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson.

The bishops remain independent in their own dioceses, so the archbishops’ positions are ones of honour rather than authority.

They meet as the House of Bishops, but the highest authority rests with the General Synod, which is composed of all the bishops, and representatives of the clergy and the laity, with the proportion laity:clergy 3:1.

Similarly, in the dioceses, each diocesan synod is chaired by the bishop, includes all the clergy, and three lay persons (men or women) for every member of the clergy.

The Diocese of Ferns is now part of a united diocese that includes Cashel, Waterford, Lismore, Ossory and Leighlin too. The Bishop, Bishop Michael Burrows, lives in Kilkenny, and there are six cathedrals, one for each of the old, historic named dioceses, and each with its own dean.

Many of the organisations that keep the Church going are effectively run by the lay members of the Church, including mission societies, social agencies, policy committees, school boards, and the parish vestries and committees. And, of course, the laity has a clear voice in the election of bishops in all the dioceses, except Armagh, where the Archbishop is elected by the other bishops of the Church.

But the structures are top heavy. All 12 bishops are expected to sit both on the Representative Church Body, which is the trustee body for the Church of Ireland, and on the Standing Committee, as well as sit on a number of central committees. The sizes of the dioceses are disproportionate, and diocesan structures are often top heavy: there are more cathedral dignitaries for both Waterford and Lismore than there are resident incumbents in the parts of the diocese associated with those cathedrals.

Indeed, it is meaningless to think of a bishop having more than one cathedra and the reason for maintaining these cumbersome structures is more fictional fantasy than historic affection.

6, The future of ministry:

The Very Katharine Poulton is Dean of Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny ... but do women face a glass ceiling in ministry in the Church of Ireland

Traditionally we have insisted that a bishop is consecrated by at least three other bishops. Our clergy are trained for three years in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and then spend one further post-graduate year as deacons before being ordained priest.

For over 20 years, we have agreed that women can become not only priests but also bishops. Although we have no women bishops yet, it could happen, and women occupy every other position among the clergy: cathedral deans and canons, parish rectors and curates, hospital and school chaplains, and all in this diocese.

A large proportion of the clergy work in secular employment. For two years after my ordination, I continued working as a journalist with The Irish Times. Others are teachers, vets, doctors, shopkeepers, schoolteachers, housewives and homemakers. About one-third of the clergy are what you might call “worker priests.”

We are beginning a debate about the fuure shape of diaconal ministry too ... an agenda that has been introduced to us by our partner churches in the Porvoo Communion, but one that is also there for [Roman] Catholics too.

We have increased the standard of training and education for the clergy, but there is still a problem about encouraging the voice of the working class, the immigrant, and even women’s voice to be heard in the pulpit and their presence to be seen at the altar.

There are two, perhaps even more, episcopal elections taking place over the next few months. It will be interesting to see if, at last, a woman breaks through the glass ceiling.

7, Human sexuality

When we talk about human sexuality in the Church of Ireland, we are no longer talking about marriage, divorce and remarriage or contraception.

The remarriage of in church of someone who has been divorced has been long accepted in the Church of Ireland, and there is provision too for the blessing of a wedding that has taken place in a non-church situation.

In the past, Anglicans had a similar attitude to contraception to that held by Roman Catholics. But that attitude has changed over the decades too.

In May, by a 2-1 majority, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland today passed a motion affirming what was described as the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage, but repeating its welcome to all people as members of the Church.

The motion also asks the Standing Committee of the Church to progress work on the issue of human sexuality in the context of Christian belief and to bring proposals to next year’s General Synod for the formation of a select committee with terms of reference and including reporting procedures.

The motion was proposed by Archbishop Michael Jackson of Dublin and Bishop Harold Miller of Down and Dromore. Those who voted against it included the bishop of this diocese, Bishop Michael Burrows of Cashel and Ossory, and Bishop Paul Colton of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

The voting was by division for the first time since voting in 1990 at the General Synod on women priests and bishops.

The debate in May followed a two-day conference in March on human sexuality at the Slieve Russell hotel in Co Cavan.

The trigger for this debate is said to have been the disclosure that the Dean of Leighlin (Carlow), the Very Rev Tom Gordon, and his male partner of 20 years had entered a civil partnership in July last year, despite the fact that there have always been – and always will be – gay clergy in the Church.

The reaction among gay members of the Church of Ireland – and among many others – was predictably strong, and they were hurt.

David McConnell of Changing Attitude Ireland said the motion had been presented with “unnecessary haste” and the decision by the General Synod to accept it in controversial circumstances had “added to, not reduced, the hurt and exclusion caused by the Church to its gay and lesbian members.”

Gerry Lynch said: “Both the way the motion on sexuality was submitted and the vote itself confirmed many LGBT persons’ experience of the Churches as the last bastion of homophobia.”

The debate continues in the current issue of Search (Autumn 2012), the Church of Ireland journal on theology and education. Bishop Michael Mayes charts his journey through the territory in relation to the biblical texts and the community issues; the Revd Ron Elsdon poses questions from the conservative side of the agenda; and Dean Gordon speaks from his own personal experience and provides a social analysis from recent surveys.

Saint Edan’s Cathedral, Ferns … Saint Mogue’s Cottage next door is this evening’s venue (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Closing comments:

So, what do I think is the future for the Church of Ireland?

Unfortunately, I think the future depends on how we handle this debate on human sexuality. There are some rectors who are hinting at wanting alternative episcopal oversight or “flying bishops” and trying to force the agenda on this item.

We are refusing to listen to each other. In a letter to the Church of Ireland Gazette last week [19 October 2012], Canon Charles Kenny points out that although one bishop offered himself as focal point for dialogue, Changing Attitude Ireland has been refused permission to have a stall at his diocesan synod.

The language we are using to one another, on both sides of this debate, becomes less than Christian when we accuse people of being homophobic bigots or of being unbiblical.

For standing on a principle enshrined in the 39 Articles during the General Synod debate, I was labelled in an apparently demeaning way for holding liberal views … in other words, I was not to be listened to.

There are bishops who refuse to receive Holy Communion from other bishops – I hasten to add that the Bishop of this diocese is a most generous bishop – and there are bishops who are happy to licence clergy from schismatic groups outside Ireland but not priests who have been ordained in the Church of Ireland.

Frankly, these divisions and fissures reflect the present state of the Anglican Communion. Things are no different in Australia or parts of the United States, for example.

But I am reminded of an old aphorism that is found in Patristic writings: Schism is worse than heresy.

Those who make the loudest claims about the truth of Scripture are least likely to have read the relevant passages in Biblical Greek or to be able to explain them within their cultural and social contexts. Indeed, any talk of “cultural and social contexts” is dismissed as relativism. Yet if these people believe Scripture is the inspired word of God, then they carry a serious obligation to understand what God is saying in Scripture and not reduce God’s message to shoddy translations or mistranslations and their own slipshod interpretations of those translation.

Similarly, people with a more accommodating view need too to show that they can accommodate, with a respect beyond tolerance, those whose views they do not agree with.

Perhaps I am being too dismal. In the past, the Anglican Communion has not only changed its attitude to contraception … it has done a complete volte face.

Perhaps the Holy Spirit is still waiting to surprise us in new ways.

Note: I am grateful to Garrett Casey, Synod Officer, the Representative Church Body, for drawing my attention to the latest analysis of the 2011 Census figures.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin. This lecture was delivered in Ferns, Co Wexford, on 24 October 2012, at a meeting of the Ferns Diocesan Ecumenical Society.

An ecumenical meeting in an old thatched cottage in Ferns

Saint Mogue’s Cottage, Ferns, Co Wexford, with Saint Edan’s Cathedral in the background

Patrick Comerford

I have been invited to speak this evening [Wednesday 24 October 2012] at a meeting organised by the Diocese of Ferns Ecumenical Committee in Ferns, Co Wexford.

The committee is a joint committee of the Church of Ireland and Roman Catholic Dioceses of Ferns, chaired by the Rector of Wexford, the Revd Arthur Minion.

I have been asked to speak on the present state of the Church of Ireland, and the meeting takes place in Saint Mogue’s Cottage, beside Saint Edan’s Cathedral.

Saint Mogue’s Cottage is in the cathedral grounds in Ferns and is largely of 18th century origin with a 19th century addition. The cottage may have been first used to house the curates of the cathedral curates, but in it later years it became a sexton’s house.

The cottage was thatched until 1938 when the thatch was replaced by a tiled roof.

After a major restoration project, including re-thatching, Saint Mogue’s Cottage was officially opened by President Mary McAleese in 2004.

This evening’s meeting begins at 8 p.m.