14 May 2008

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

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