Welcome to the Church of Ireland ... the West Door, Saint Canice’s Cathedral, Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Mater Dei Institute of Education,
Week 2, 29 October 2015, 1 p.m.
Introduction to the Church of Ireland and its place in Irish society today
1, The Church of Ireland and its place in Irish society today
2, Church, culture and being relevant:
Outline of module structure and content:
Introduction to this section of the module:
We visited Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, earlier this month [1 October 2015] as an introduction to Anglicanism.
Now, for two further sessions in the Anglicanism section of this module [today, 29 October 2015 and Thursday 19 November 2015], we are going to look at the story, traditions and theology of the Church of Ireland, which is the second largest church on this island, and to the story, traditions and theology of the wider Anglican Communion, of which the Church of Ireland is part, and which is the third largest Christian family of churches worldwide.
The Church of Ireland is the Church of Jonathan Swift, Lord Edward FitzGerald, Charles Stewart Parnell, Douglas Hyde and WB Yeats, and we shall look at that later this afternoon when we discuss the topic of Church, culture and identity.
We shall look at the history of the Church of Ireland, not merely as an exercise in gaining facts and figures for key events and personalities, but as a way of looking at the Church of Ireland’s sense of continuity with both the early church in Ireland and with the Anglican reformation, and in order to understand how Anglicanism sees itself as both Catholic and Reformed.
We shall explore the distinctive characteristics of Anglicanism, its liturgical and spiritual life, its history and culture, its unique emphasis in the way Anglicans do theology on ‘Scripture, Reason and Tradition,’ some of the present internal debates facing Anglicans, and the role of Anglicans in ecumenical dialogue, particularly through ARCIC (the Anglican Roman Catholic International Commission).
Please note that all the course material, including my lecture notes, is available each Thursday at the same time as these lectures on my website: www.patrickcomerford.com.
Handout: outline for these two weeks; with summary of October visit to Christ Church Cathedral, reading list; and note on the websites.
Why we are looking at Anglicanism and the Church of Ireland:
Let us discuss where this section of the module fits into your degree programme.
You have opportunities too to learn about Methodism and Islam.
What are your expectations from this section of the module?
What do you want to learn?
What questions do you bring?
How do you see this integrating with the rest of your learning?
The Church of Ireland and Protestants in Ireland today:
Think Time: Some questions to stimulate open discussion:
How many of you have been inside a Protestant Church?
How many of you have Protestant family connections?
How many of you have Protestant friends or neighbours you know well?
Can you name three famous Irish Protestants, living or dead?
A basic introduction to common ground and differences:
Many of you will have heard the phrase: “Protestant, Catholic and Dissenter”. It was used by politicians like Edmund Burke, and by the United Irishmen in 1795-1798 in the search for terminology that was inclusive.
Traditionally, the word Protestant was used at the time to describe the Church of Ireland and its members, while the word ‘Dissenter’ was used for Presbyterians, Baptists, Quakers and other Protestant groupings that stood outside the Church of Ireland.
Today, when we use the term Protestant, we normally use it to describe members of the Church of Ireland, and members of other smaller churches, including Presbyterians, Methodists, the Salvation Army and Baptists.
Does this term include Seventh-Day Adventists, Quakers and Unitarians?
There are questions about whether the term embraces some of the new Pentecostal or charismatic churches. It certainly does not include the Greek Orthodox, the Russian Orthodox, and so on.
But where do the Jehovah’s Witnesses, Mormons, Christian Scientists and other post-Christian religious groupings fit?
Some members of the Church of Ireland may have had slight difficulties with the term ‘Protestant’ on two grounds:
1, It has political associations in Northern Ireland since 1969.
2, It has catch-all implications, for it can imply that the Church of Ireland has more in common with, say, Presbyterians that Roman Catholics. This may be true socially in parts of the Republic of Ireland, but not in many parts of Northern Ireland; and its theological implications depend on where you stand in the theological spectrum.
But since my childhood I have also heard three other terms that make many members of the Church of Ireland bristle, albeit to differing degrees: these terms are “non-Catholics,” “different faiths” and “minority religions.”
These terms have been used officially in recent commentaries and analyses by the Central Statistics Office of the 2011 census statistics.
Yes, members of the Church of Ireland are an identifiable minority. But we have more in common with, for example, our Roman Catholic neighbours, than, say, our Muslim, Jewish or Buddhist neighbours. So there is no such thing as “minority religions” that share some common ground.
The word religion is also used inappropriately here too. We can define Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Hinduism and Buddhism as religions. But the Church of Ireland is part of the Christian religion.
We do not hold to a separate set of religious beliefs that puts us in a separate category from Christianity.
We share the essentials of faith and church structure with Roman Catholics. We have the same Bible (Old Testament and New Testament), the same faith as expressed in the ‘Catholic Creeds’ (Nicene, Apostolic and Athanasian Creeds), the same sacraments, especially Baptism and the Eucharist; and the same ecclesiology or theological understanding of the nature and organisation of the church, with three orders of ministry – bishops, priests and deacons.
In addition, we share the same Celtic heritage, the history of the same Church that was one on this island for longer than it has been divided, the same understanding of mission, and the same hope for the future unity of the Church, the whole Church, the Church Universal, the Church Catholic.
Facts and figures (1):
First of all, let us dispel some myths:
Not all Protestants, and not all members of the Church of Ireland are members of the Orange institutions, not all are Masons, we do not reserve the “good jobs” for our family members, nor do we retain a secret loyalty to the Queen and the British monarchy.
Hand out: fact-sheet with statistics from census returns
The statistics for the Church of Ireland
There were 129,039 members of the Church of Ireland in April 2011, an increase of 6.4 per cent on 2006. This includes 13,667 primary school aged children and 8,809 of secondary school age. One in 10 Church of Ireland workers had occupations in agriculture and related activities.
We can compare with other churches and other faith groupings.
What do these figures mean? Do they represent decline or growth?
An analysis of the census figures by the Central Statistics Office was described in The Irish Times [9 October 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 over 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 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).
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” increased marginally, from 308 in 2006 to 316 in 2011.
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 the 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 per cent) 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.
Facts and figures (2):
Compare these with the organisation and names of the Roman Catholic dioceses in Ireland.
How the Church of Ireland is organised at national (general synod), local (diocesan) and parish level.
Explain the role of cathedrals in the life of a diocese, and the role of the parish church in the life of the local parish.
Emphasise how the laity are involved at every level of Church government, from election of bishops, to general synod, to diocesan synods, to parish vestries and the nomination of local parish priests (rectors).
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.
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 the Church of Ireland even has one member each from Bulgaria, Greece, Luxembourg and Malta.
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 the Church of Ireland has appointed a Nigerian priest to work with the African population, the Church has not yet appointed a priest to work with the large number from the Baltic and Nordic countries who are members of the Church of Ireland and who are our pastoral responsibility under the Porvoo Agreement.
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 per cent), 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 Co Carlow, Co Kilkenny or Co 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.
The previous census in 2006 showed that in the Republic of Ireland, the Church of Ireland population had increased by over 46 per cent in recent years, but may be on the decline in Northern Ireland, according to a study of the census figures by the social statistician Malcolm Macourt of Manchester University.
In his book, Counting the People of God? The Census of Population and the Church of Ireland, Malcolm Macourt shows, through a comparison of the 1991 and 2006 census returns, that the Church of Ireland population in the Republic of Ireland had grown from 82,840 to 121,229 – an increase of 46 per cent over a 15-year period when the general population rose by only 20 per cent.
On the other hand, the Church of Ireland has seen a drop in members in Northern Ireland, along with many other churches, including the Methodist Church. The 2011 UK census shows the Church of Ireland in Northern Ireland has 257,788 members, or 15.3 per cent of the population – which is almost 17,000 less than the 275,000 on the website.
The largest denomination in Northern Ireland is the Roman Catholic Church with 678,462 members or 40.2 per cent of the population, followed by the Presbyterian Church with 348,742 or 20.7 per cent.
So, it appears, the Church of Ireland is growing in the Republic, while it may be in decline in Northern Ireland, although in both places to be a member of the Church of Ireland remains being a member of a minority.
The Church of Ireland suffered a major decline in numbers during the 20th century, both in Northern Ireland, where around 65 per cent of its members live, and in the Republic of Ireland which contains upwards of 35 per cent.
However, the Church of Ireland in the Republic has experienced substantial growth in the last three national censuses; its membership is now back to the level it was over 60 years ago – albeit with fewer churches and fewer clergy.
Church membership increased by 8.7 per cent in the period 2002–2006, during which the population as a whole increased by only 8.2 per cent.
Some cautionary comments
Of course, Church membership, counted according to Church affiliation entered after each name in the census returns, does not equate with Church attendance, or active participation in the life of the Church.
Do census questions of religious affiliation receive “cultural answers”?
The statistics and census categories do not try to distinguish between:
● “being” Church of Ireland;
● “behaving” in a Church of Ireland way;
● believing what the Church of Ireland teaches.
Are we talking about:
● cultural attachment?
● religious label?
● tribal identity?
Is it possible that some people think that belonging is hereditary? After all, in many parts of Ireland we still talk about “Church of Ireland families.”
Indeed, there is evidence that the figures for membership of the Church of Ireland may have been exaggerated until the second half of the 19th century because people thought in terms of “Church of Ireland households.”
Some the ways membership may be defined when it comes to revising the Easter Vestry lists include:
● Being baptised
● Living within the parish boundaries
● Contributing regularly to the finances of the church
● Being an “accustomed” member of the parish – going to church regularly in a particular church.
But what if you have been baptised in another tradition?
What if you have been baptised but not confirmed?
If membership is defined by practice, how often do you have to go to Church to be a member?
Once a week?
Once a month?
Once a year?
And if you stop going to church, how long should pass before you stop being considered a member?
How often should you contribute financially?
Is there a minimum subscription?
And, of course, many may not sign the forms to have their names entered on the vestry roll – because they think they may move to another parish later on; because they do not feel at home where they are; because they are reluctant to give more financially; because they fear being asked to sit on the Select Vestry or become a churchwarden; because, because, because ... who knows?
Decline in the past:
The figures show the Church of Ireland population in what is now the Republic of Ireland as follows:
Why did membership of the Church of Ireland go into decline from 1861, and in particular, in what is now the Republic of Ireland, from 1921 until the last two census counts?
Some of the reasons offered include:
● The impact of the Ne Temere decree from 1908 onwards on “inter-Church” marriages.
● The “Great War” or World War I.
● the migration of civil servants, military personnel and administrators after independence.
● The Civil War.
● Different fertility rates – in 1936, for example, the fertility rate for Church of Ireland couples was 54.7 per cent, barely half that for Roman Catholic couples.
Facts and figures (3):
Lambeth Palace, the official London residence of the Archbishops of Canterbury since the 13th century, also gives its name to the Lambeth Conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)
Let us place the Church of Ireland within the global Anglican Communion:
The Anglican Episcopal family consists of an estimated 80 million Christians who are members of 44 different churches. These make up 34 provinces, four United Churches, and six other churches, spread across the globe.
So, the Church of Ireland is what we might call a “middle-ranking” member church of the Anglican Communion, in terms of both membership and numbers of bishops and dioceses.
Not all these churches owe their origins to the Church of England. The Episcopal Church (USA) derives its episcopal succession from the Scottish Episcopal Church; the Spanish Reformed Episcopal Church derives its episcopal succession from the Church of Ireland, and the Church of Ireland, through its missionaries, has had considerable influence in shaping Anglicanism around the world, from Canada to South Africa, to Kenya, to Australia, for example.
Many of the dioceses in these churches are small compared with the dioceses of the Church of Ireland. Others are vast: the Diocese in Europe alone, which is part of the Church of England, stretches from Morocco in North Africa to Vladivostok in Siberian East Asia; the recently retired Bishop of Europe, Dr Geoffrey Rowell, preached in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, three years ago [9 December 2012].
These churches have a variety of styles of worship, from very evangelical (or ‘Protestant’) to very ‘High Church’ or ‘Catholic.’
Some ordain women, others do not. The most recent elections of women as Anglican bishops have been in South India and in the Church of Ireland.
Can you recognise these Anglicans or Episcopalians who have achieved some international fame or recognition in recent years?
At times it is envious to look at personalities. But at other times, it is interesting to recall how the divisions within Anglicanism are symbolised by key individuals, such as Barbara Harris, the first woman to be consecrated a bishop in the Anglican Communion, or Gene Robinson whose consecration as a bishop has come to symbolise the divisions within Anglicanism on the questions surrounding sexuality.
But all of this helps to show that the Anglican Communion is broad and diverse, and that the word Anglican is not equivalent to English.
The compass rose, the symbol of the Anglican Communion, signifying its worldwide membership and decentralised organisation. It is surmounted by a bishop’s mitre, in the centre is the cross of Saint George, and the Greek motto is Ἡ ἀλήθεια ἐλευθερώσει ὑμᾶς, The truth will set you free (John 8: 32). It was designed by Canon Edward Nason West of the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine, New York
Without a Pope, a curia or one central authority, how does a communion of churches as diverse as the Anglican Communion hold together?
The Anglican Communion is held together by what we call four instruments of communion, or four instruments of unity:
Traditionally there have been four instruments of unity, now known as the “Instruments of Communion”:
● The Archbishop of Canterbury, who calls and convenes the Lambeth Conference and the Primates’ meetings. He is often referred to as a “focus of unity.”
● The Lambeth Conference, first called in 1867 and now meeting every 10 years – the last meeting was in Canterbury in 2008.
● The Anglican Consultative Council, formed in 1968. Its last meeting, ACC-15, was in Christchurch, New Zealand, three years ago from 27 October to 7 November 2012. The Church of Ireland members are the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott (Director of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute) and Mr Wilfred Baker (Diocese of Cork). ACC-16 is due to meet in Malawi in May 2016.
● The Primates’ Meeting, which takes place every two or three years. The last four meetings were in Dromantine, near Newry (2006), Dar es Salaam, Tanzania (February 2007), Alexandria, Egypt (February 2009), and the Emmaus Retreat Centre in Swords, Co Dublin (January 2011), when I was the chaplain at the meeting, and the current Archbishop of Canterbury, Justin Welby, then Dean of Liverpool, was one of the facilitators. Archbishop Welby has called the next meeting for January 2016.
The Anglican Primates at their meeting in Swords, Co Dublin, early in 2011 (Photograph: Orla Ryan/ACNS, 2011)
In addition, roles in maintaining Anglican unity are played by:
● The Standing Committee of the Anglican Consultative Council, increasingly being referred to as the Standing Committee of the Anglican Communion. This is a 14-member group (15, if the Archbishop of Canterbury is present). Seven members are elected by the ACC; five are members of the Primates’ Standing Committee; and the elected Chair and Vice-Chair of the ACC. Its defined function is to assist the Churches of the Anglican Communion in advancing the work of their mission worldwide.
● The secretary of the Anglican Communion Office, Bishop Josiah Atkins Idowu-Fearon. He succeeded Canon Keneth Kearon, who became Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe earlier this year [24 January 2015].
● The Mothers’ Union.
● The mission agencies, although they have no instrument of unity that holds them together.
The debates aimed at dealing with diversity and tension within the Anglican Communion and on the Anglican Covenant now include discussions about the instruments of communion or unity and the discipline needed to hold together the Anglican Communion and to deal with any breaches of the Covenant should it ever be fully ratified.
Of course, there are major questions about the continuing place within the Anglican Communion of those provinces or dioceses that fail to, or refuse to, sign up for the covenant.
As Mark Chapman says in The Anglican Covenant (p 2):
“Anyone who travels across the world will soon realise that in some ways Anglicanism is a bit like Microsoft or any other global brand – in that it covers most of the inhabited world, and is the third largest Christian denomination after Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, with perhaps 80 million members. Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, may not be quite as well-known as Bill Gates, but I would guess that his beard and his eyebrows command a pretty high degree of international recognition.”
With Archbishop Rowan Williams at the Primates’ meeting in Dublin
The origins of the Anglican Communion
Mark Chapman says that in the days of the British Empire there was an obvious connection between Anglicanism and England … But while many of the member churches in the Anglican Communion claim a direct link with the Church of England, and see this as an important element in what defines them as Anglican, it is not always so, and has not always been so.
There are four Anglican churches on these islands:
● The Church of England,
● The Church of Ireland,
● The Scottish Episcopal Church; and
● The Church in Wales.
These four churches have distinctively different origins. The Church of Ireland, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church point out that the origins of Christianity in their countries predate the mission in England of Saint Augustine of Canterbury, who was sent from Rome in the year 597.
The Church of Ireland claims to be the successor to the ancient Celtic and Anglo-Norman churches. In the late mediaeval period, the churches in the dioceses in the ancient Viking cities of Ireland, including Dublin, Waterford, Cork and Limerick, sometimes continued to look to Canterbury for their episcopal orders and succession.
The reformation in Scotland was followed by turmoil over whether the reformed church should be episcopal or Presbyterian in its style of church government. After the Episcopal Church was disestablished in 1689, it suffered under penal laws in force from 1746-1792. This church developed its own (high) liturgy; it had strong links with the dissenting, high church Nonjurors of the Church of England, and did not adopt the 39 Articles until the end of the 18th century.
Historically, there have been strong links not only between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England, but there have also been strong links between the Church of Ireland and the Scottish Episcopal Church.
How do we explain this phenomenon of growth in the Republic of Ireland?
Indeed, some rectors may be asking whether the data reflect a genuine increase.
Is it correct to presume that after a long decline ever since 1861, Irish Anglicanism is undergoing a period of growth?
Some of this growth is explained by immigration, but some is also due to members of the Roman Catholic Church transferring their membership to the Church of Ireland.
The reasons suggested for this increase include:
● The relaxation of the Ne Temere regulations that stipulated that children of Roman Catholic-Protestant marriages should be brought up as Roman Catholics.
● The decline in the fertility rate for Roman Catholics.
● The inward migration of English-born Anglicans – they may account for up to 80 per cent of immigrants who now declare themselves Anglicans in the census.
● The number of Anglican immigrants who have moved to Ireland recently from countries with a considerable Anglican population, such as Nigeria.
For example, in the Western counties that I referred to, counties that form the greater parts of the Diocese of Tuam and the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe, migrants contributed just over half the increase noted in 2006 (4,800 out of 9,008), with three-quarters of those coming from the UK.
In the Midlands counties, two-thirds of the 39 per cent increase (3,620 out of 5,630) was attributed to immigrants, of whom two-thirds were from the United Kingdom.
What are the challenges?
Responding to the 2002 census figures, the then Archbishop of Dublin, Dr John Neill, said they did not come as a surprise. “When visiting parishes I have noticed an increase in many congregations, particularly in rural areas. I am very pleased to have it officially confirmed.”
However, he said the figures bring fresh challenges to the Church of Ireland.
He identified three important facts are reflected in the figures:
● In many parts of the Republic, and indeed overall, there are now many centres of growth in the Church of Ireland and the decline in the Church’s population has been halted.
● There are people claiming allegiance to the Church of Ireland who may not be in close touch with their local parishes. This reminds all members, clergy and lay alike, of our responsibility as a Church to minister to them.
● Fellow Anglicans from other Churches are making their home in Ireland, but while they are visible in local parishes, “we are not doing enough to make our churches more welcoming and open to cultures and worship other than our own.”
The Book of Common Prayer (Dublin: Columba, for the Church of Ireland, 2004).
Mark Chapman, Anglican Theology (London: T&T Clark, 2012).
Bruce Kaye, An Introduction to World Anglicanism (Cambridge: CUP, 2008).
William Marshall, Scripture, Tradition and Reason (Dublin: Columba, 2011).
Harold Miller, The Desire of our Soul (Dublin: Columba, 2004).
Samuel Wells, What Anglicans Believe (Norwich: Canterbury Press, 2011).
Heather Crawford, Outside the Glow: Protestants and Irishness in Independent Ireland (Dublin: UCD Press, 2010).
Patrick Comerford, Embracing Difference (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2007).
Guidelines for Interfaith Events & Dialogue (prepared by the Committee for Christian Unity and the House of Bishops of the Church of Ireland, Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2007).
Malcolm Macourt, Counting the People of God? The Census of Population and the Church of Ireland (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing, 2008).
A. McGrady (ed), Welcoming the Stranger: Practising hospitality in contemporary Ireland (Dublin: Veritas, 2006).
Richard O’Leary and Lan Li, Mainland Chinese Students and Immigrants in Ireland and their engagement with Christianity, Churches and Irish Society (Dublin: Agraphon Press, 2008).
Gordon Wynne, Pastoral Care in the Recession (Dublin: Church of Ireland Publishing: 2009).
4, Church, culture and being relevant:
(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism, Liturgy and Church History, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and an Adjunct Assistant Professor, Trinity College, Dublin. This lecture was delivered in the Mater Dei Institute of Education, Dublin, on 29 October 2015. Mater Dei Institute of Education (MDI) is a College of Dublin City University (DCU).
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