13 May 2016

A day in Dun Laoghaire
at the General Synod

In Saint Paul’s Church, Glenageary, at the Eucharist marking the opening of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I spent all day yesterday [12 May 2016] at the first day of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in the Royal Marine Hotel in Dun Laoghaire.

As a member of the chapter and the board of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, I had a special interest in a Bill that enables the cathedral board to be identified as the trustee body of the cathedral, in line with requirements of the Charities Act 2009.

The Dean and Chapter of the Cathedral have approved an amendment – of the Statute of General Synod, Chapter I of 1902 – which brings its regulation into line with other cathedrals of the Church of Ireland.

Proposing the Bill, Archdeacon Ricky Rountree explained that it seeks to deal with an anomaly in the governance statute of the General Synod regarding Christ Church Cathedral.

“The wording of the 1902 Statute would seem to suggest that the governing body of the Cathedral is the Dean and Chapter – while the day-to-day running of the cathedral by the board is a delegated task from the chapter. This has not caused any great difficulty up until now and the relationship between the Dean and Chapter and the Board of the Cathedral has not caused any practical difficulties. However, in the light of the new charity legislation of 2009 there is a need for clarity in the legal definition regarding these two bodies and their role in the governance of the Cathedral,” the Archdeacon of Glendalough explained.

The Bill passed its first and second stages yesterday and will come before Synod again tomorrow [14 May 2016] for its final stage. If it is passed then, the Bill means members of the board can become trustees of the cathedral in the same way as members of a Select Vestry are the trustees of a parish.

I was also asked to report for the Church of Ireland Gazette on the report of Standing Committee, which was presented to General Synod in the afternoon.

Presenting the report, Archdeacon Adrian Wilkinson of Cork spoke of the varied and many commemorations of the Easter 1916 Rising that have taken place throughout Ireland this year. He also spoke of the support the Bishops’ Appeal Fund has given to projects that help Syrian refugees in the Middle East and Europe and also responses to emergencies in Nepal and the Central African Republic.

Archdeacon Wilkinson also paid tribute to Mrs Ethne Harkness who stood down as one of the Honorary Secretaries of the General Synod last year.

During the debate on the report, Bishop Patrick Rooke, who chairs the Bishops’ Appeal, thanked parishes and dioceses across the Church for their contribution to Bishops’ Appeal. In the past year he said Bishops’ Appeal had been drawn into relief and support of issues closer to home with flooding and the refugee situation, he said.

Referring to the refugee situation in the Republic of Ireland, he said the Bishops’ Appeal education officer, Lydia Monds, has written two articles on how people can give practical help.

He gave information on what happens to refugees when they arrive in Ireland. He said the taskforce envisages that church groups and other community groups will be asked to get involved in welcoming refugees in coming months. We need to press the new government into doubling its efforts on behalf of migrants, refugees and those who have gained refugee status, he concluded.

Dean Catherine Poulton of Kilkenny, a member of the refugee working group, said that we often wondered what parishes could do. She said they found that people were coming from the camps to stay in an hotel in Co Waterford for about 12 weeks. She said over Lent they had sought donations to help the people who arrived in Waterford with nothing. The money goes to buy vouchers, to fund art therapy projects. They also sought donations of shoes and wellingtons. She urged people who find refugees are arriving in their areas to think small and locally and ask people on the ground what they can do to help.

Bishop Ken Good (Derry and Raphoe), who chairs the Northern Ireland sub-group, said the numbers arriving in Northern Ireland are small. He outlined the UK refugee process. He said that when they arrive their identity is protected and therefore it has been difficult for the church to find a way in to assist. He said that 2,000 refugees would come to Northern Ireland and he hoped it would then become apparent how churches can become involved.

My former rector, Canon Horace McKinley, said that the UNHCR website revealed that each day 42,500 new people in the world become refugees, asylum seekers or displaced persons. He said that good social researchers were saying that the refugee crisis and movement of people is a crisis that is here to stay.

One of my tasks at General Synod once again is to be one of the hosts to the Ecumenical Guests. This year they include the Very Revd Dr Norman Hamilton, a former Moderator of the Presbyterian Church and the Revd Brian Anderson, President of the Methodist Church.

I am a member of the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, so was happy to be present in the afternoon when the synod passed a motion endorsing the Church of Ireland’s response to the World Council of Churches Document The Church: Towards a Common Vision.

The motion in the name of the Honorary Secretaries asked General Synod to adopt the Church of Ireland’s response, as endorsed by the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue and received by Standing Committee. The document was produced by the World Council of Churches’ Faith and Order Commission (Faith and Order Paper No 214).

The Report of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the Context of Christian Belief was presented to General Synod by the Dean of Belfast, the Very Revd John Mann, who chairs the committee.

He outlined the work of the Select Committee over the past 2½ years and its plans for the next year and a half.

Earlier, the Revd Stephen Neill (Killaloe) spoke about the Select Committee’s report and the topics under its remit. He said he is concerned at the way equates further issues, including domestic abuse, human trafficking and violence, with same-sex issues. He urged the church not to recriminalise people who are same-sex attracted by associating them with sexual abuse and human trafficking and other criminal matters.

I am going to miss the General Synod debates today because of another appointment. The synod concludes tomorrow (Saturday).

With my former ‘Irish Times’ colleague, Patsy McGarry, at the General Synod in Dun Laoghaire (Photograph: David Wynne, 2016)