Diocesan Synod, Kildalton, 21 october 2015- an overview
‘…and what I say to you, I say to all – keep awake!’ – A sense of Urgency.
Eucharist and Bishop’s address
The lesson was read by the Revd Alessandra di Chiara and the Gospel by the Very Revd Paul Draper and the music was led on keyboard by the Very Revd Tom Gordon.
With a long agenda and several external presentations, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows restricted himself to a few well-chosen words in his address.
Taking his theme from the day’s Gospel, the Bishop referred to the early Christians gradually having to understand that they were in for the ‘long haul’ and that the end time was not nigh. He explained how Christians have nevertheless to ‘be ready’ at all times, not to lose their sense of urgency in decision-making and to ‘keep awake!
Yet they also needed to recognise that not all apparently urgent things are in fact important.
He commented on how cumbersome and slow the machinery of the Church of Ireland can be to effect change and face up to genuine problems whether climate change or refugee crises. Such matters as are tabled in the business of the meeting to come: millions of refugees are moving now across Europe, next year this country will take a hard look at itself, it values and visions in a series of commemorative event, the problem of carrying the burden of parochial structures working on a very traditional model and taking small but prophetic actions that turns one’s prayers into effective and costly witness to the world. It is vital to discern what urgent matters are important and what are not.
Synodical culture tempts one to sit back and move slowly, whereas the coming Advent season presents a somewhat counter-cultural challenge to wake up, look around one and renew one’s commitment to well-prioritised urgency.
Remembrance and apologies
Following the service the Bishop asked the members to recall those recently deceased: Mrs Margaret Stephens (Tinahely), Mrs Rita Carr (Templemore), Ms Bernie Hobbs (Lismore), the Revd Ann Wallace (Abbeyleix) and the Revd John Deacon (Gorey).
Apologies were tendered by those who could not be present.
Thanks was offered to Vice-principal of Kildalton College for all facilities provided, not least the meal to be enjoyed later in the evening.
Sodor & Man
The Bishop also welcomed the Revd Alexandra Die Tiara from the link Diocese of Sodor & Man. Ms Die Tiara thanked the Bishop and Synod for the gracious invitation to be present.
The Bishop welcomed the Diocesan Chancellor, Mr Charles Galloway, to the table for his good guidance and counsel as assessor to the synod.
Following the preliminaries, the business of the day got underway with the subsequent elections taking place: Mr William Galloway was elected as a lay member of the RCB for three years in succession to Mr Clifton-Browne and to whom the Bishop paid a special tribute for so expertly bringing all matter local for negotiation to the RCB and also his keen stewardship of the property of the wider church over the years. The Revd Canon Patrick Harvey was elected to continue as clerical member and Mrs Avril Forrest as lay member of the General Synod Board of Education for the following three years.
The Report to Synod from the Diocesan Council was proposed by Mr Richard Codd and seconded by the Revd Ruth Elmes.
Mr Codd thanked the two Diocesan Secretaries Mrs Georgina Rothwell and Mrs Denise Hughes who along with the Diocesan Council carry out the day-to-day running of the Diocese. He also thanked the Diocesan Accountant, Mr Leslie Moynan, who has to deal with a turnover of some two million euro each year and coax the sustentations from all the parishes. Mr Codd also paid tribute to the Bishop for his oversight of the Diocese, travelling the length and breadth of the Diocese with extraordinary and energetic regularity. He attends occasions both large and small and continually surprises with his imaginative endeavours – this year the ‘Stations in the Stations’ and it is largely due to his care that there are no vacancies at present. He thanked the Bishop for his continued care and guidance throughout the Diocese. Mr Codd went on to mention the question of census figures and how that can interpreted. By sitting on the Finance Committee he observes how much thought goes into the fair application of assessments and where possible the larger parishes helping out the smaller ones. All of this will be discussed at a special meeting of the Diocesan Synod in April 2016.
It is not easy to keep up the payment of sustentation.
Despite approaches to the RCB to have the Diocese regarded as one entity for the purpose of registration under new statutory charity regulation, it still maintains the parish as the preferred option with the expectation that the audit threshold limits will be raised to a suggested figure of €250,000. This presentation drew some debate on the worrying fall in numbers of those attending church on Sundays especially on a week by week as opposed to a casual basis. The figures are stark especially if their implications are projected forward for perhaps another twenty years.
Ferns and Cashel & Ossory North and Cashel & Ossory South. The Bishop thanked the chairs of the various committees and staff on their painstaking work in this.
Also included were the following additions to the Diocesan Rules and Regulations:
In the section dealing with the powers of the Diocesan Council the following clause be inserted:
‘The Diocesan Council shall from time to time determine the level above which expenditure by select vestries on churches, glebes and other parochial premises requires its consent.’ (This to bring the Rules into line with long-established diocesan practice).
Secondly that ‘the terms on which grants are made by the Diocesan Council from the Kathleen Day Bequest to churches in Ossory, Ferns and Leighlin Dioceses should be appended to the Diocesan Rules.’ (Such terms have been in use for some time).
The Report, including the additions, was adopted.
A number of motions touching urgent issues including the encouragement of Synod to welcome a ‘mature and reflective national commemoration of 1916, including appropriate input from the Church of Ireland’. The motion was proposed by Mr Richard Codd and seconded by the Ven. Andrew Orr. Mr Codd reminded members how active the Church of Ireland was at the 1966 occasion and that today it should be involved at parish level making a contribution to national life. There were references to those who had seen commemorations in Europe, 2016 was a chance to mend old wounds both near and far, it was not a time simply of celebration but rather one of regret and penitential reflection. It was also important that history should be correctly understood, especially the fact that many men from Ireland, both North and South died both at home and abroad in the cause of freedom between 1914 and 1923. Many civilians and children also perished in the crossfire.
This was proposed by the Revd Canon Ian Poulton and seconded by the Dean of Leighlin. Canon Poulton realised that some years ago when new ways of ‘doing’ church were under consideration that the best way of mission, particularly in rural communities was the traditional parish model.
He addressed the problem of today’s erratic church attendance not least in small parishes. The financial burden of the present number of incumbencies was becoming unsustainable and demographic trends within the diocese suggest no likely change in the situation.
The Christian Mission was never meant to be about stipend but about local Christian community.
The motion requested the Bishop and Diocesan Council to investigate which clusters of churches might be feasible locations for the deployment of some form of ordained local ministry – the consideration of all this to be reported back to the Diocesan Synod by 2017 so that ministry and mission and not fund-raising are the focus of the life of these small parishes – the parish being the corner-stone of the church.
It also encouraged the General Synod to give urgent consideration to the matter of renewing the provision of local self-supporting ministry.
In seconding the motion, the Dean of Leighlin gave an example of a once thriving set of four parishes in another diocese. Now there is no ministry, the school is gone and the rectory idle. Some kind of provision has to be found for such a case as this. The situation is urgent as other parishes will follow suit and a much more creative, flexible and imaginative response to the community being served is needed. The crossroads has been reached with the mindset still at a post- disestablishment stage.
There still is ministry: NSM, part-time, specialist ministry in hospitals, etc. So there is scope for some form of local ordained ministry. Persuading and affording full time ministry may be getting thin on the ground, but it is all still there encapsulated in Cashel, Ferns & Ossory.
The speakers that followed all endorsed the sentiments of the motion and that time was right for that newly coined acronym OLM. While this may be overcome, there is still the subject of the assessment. There are few curates – in future fewer perhaps may be afforded. Ideas should be paramount. Young people do not simply want full-time ministry – they will follow other paths in life unless the package offered is attractive. The way ‘church’ is done today is 19th Century sitting in a much different 21st Century.
While sport is very healthy for the young, it is not helping church attendance and interest when more and more sporting activities are taking place on Sunday mornings.
The motion did not seek to infer the closure of churches which immediately puts people on the defensive. It is up to the parish communities to make it all work in whatever way is best in mission and ministry – and not always rely or even blame the rectors
The Bishop commented that he hoped that some form of OLM would come through the RCB and the bishops next year. Already here there are several part-time ministries in operation and to bear in mind these are not old style rectors at half the price. It is also incumbent on dioceses outside Dublin and the North East to provide training ground for priests through curacies.
This was proposed by the Dean of Waterford and seconded by Mr John Galloway and concerned a response to the refugee crisis – from providing accommodation and practical assistance and to call on government to work with the voluntary sector to ensure that refugees are genuinely welcomed into local communities. The issue of the many people already in direct provision was also raised. For those in Western Europe there is a sense of ‘creeping powerlessness’. It was suggested that every parish welcome these damaged refugees out of their holocaust into the communities to provide safety, schooling and accommodation. This country has a capacity in its small communities to help these people integrate and feel welcome and Ireland be a living sanctuary and make the stranger welcome into this country. ‘Our Father, Who art in Heaven, Thy Kingdom come…’
In 1945 the Church of Ireland took its discipleship seriously and gave financial help to those suffering from the after effects of the Second World War – this has to be repeated on this occasion.
There are ‘refugees’ native to Ireland as is well known with homeless people living in hotels, etc., and so a final motion received from Mr John Thompson and Ms Cindy O’Shea emphasised the continuing homelessness crisis in Ireland and is the responsibilities of both church and government. It was recommended that parochial units in the Diocese offer personal and practical support to those families who have become homeless in their time of need.
Matters with ‘Standing Orders suspended’
A broader perspective on the Synod’s proceedings was offered by the guest speaker from our companion diocese of Sodor and Man who reminded members not to allow local problems to obscure the range and good effect of so much already going on in the diocese.
Ms Lydia Monds of Bishops’ Appeal brought both passion and perspective to proceedings by introducing projects concerned with the empowerment of women in the developing world which the diocese will be embracing in 2016/17. One in three women in the world have experienced gender-based violence – higher in Africa.
Lydia described that after the earthquake in Nepal, a man from the Philippines who had lost everything in a typhoon gave the equivalent of 30 cents because he so empathised with Nepalese’s devastation and that by so giving reached out and offered him that ‘glimmer of hope’. He gave from his absolute lack – a non-negotiable mandate of one’s faith. Lydia complimented the Diocese of CFO for their wonderful response in times of world need.
She talked of those who help with the literacy programmes: the Mothers’ Union, Feed the Minds and Us. Being literate has so many advantages to manages one’s life. There are 60 million refugees in the world, some forgotten because they are not moving and also remembering the impoverished communities who welcome them in.
The Bishop thanked Ms Monds and encouraged members to the demonstration of stands for reference and interest. Especially this year the Dean of Ferns recently returned from North Korea who brought back some stoles as fund-raisers coloured for all the times of the liturgical year. Proceeds go to the medicine for medical units in North Korea.
Dignity in Church Life Charter
Ms Kate Williams representing the RCB offered a presentation on ‘Dignity in Church Life.’ These policies were still in draft form and feedback was being actively encouraged.
The church has always expected people to behave in a rational, reasonable, fair and Christian way but in the real world this is not always so. When this happens there needs to be a consistent approach in dealing with issues using professionally developed policies for a timely response and clear action.
The four key principles of the Charter are (i) supporting dignified relationships, (ii) grounded in the Gospel, (iii) allowing issues to be addressed through policies and principles and (iv) all who participate in church life are expected to uphold the Charter. Ms Williams expanded on these.
There is already a policy in place on grievance with clergy but not policies to manage grievance from clergy. Most complaints (eg: bullying, discrimination and harassment) are dealt with locally but occasionally they need to be taken further if there is no resolution. It also deals with a consistent approach to clergy long-term illness. The draft policies booklet will be sent to all parishes in due course. Consultation has already taken place but feedback is earnestly requested with final draft being brought to Standing Committee this November. Send feedback through the Diocesan Secretaries.
This prompted some reporting of recent unsavoury phone calls being made to female clergy who were assumed to be living alone – a matter for concern, to make it more widely known and for clergy to be on their guard.
Mr Herbie Sharman presented his report in his own inimitable style, managing to thank all who had assisted with the production of the Diocesan Magazine and the various aspects of social media.
Other Diocesan Reports considered and adopted were:
The Ferns Diocesan Board of Education was proposed by the Ven. Bob Gray and seconded by Mrs Margaret Jacob. The Ven. Bob Gray paid tribute to his predecessor the Ven. Chris Long, a beacon of common sense everywhere that he served and will be sorely missed by all. He also thanked the Bishop for his support to the primary schools and for taking his role as patron so seriously. The revision of the retention rate of a second teacher by the Minister is much appreciated ensuring stability of the small schools for the foreseeable future. The election, said Mrs Jacob in seconding, of a suitable and effective Board of Management is so vital.
The Ossory & Leighlin Diocesan Board of Education was proposed by the Ven. Andrew Orr and seconded by Mr Richard Codd;
The Ossory Board & Leighlin Diocesan Board of Religious Education was proposed by the Revd Canon Susan Green seconded by Canon Patrick Harvey.
Canon Green spoke of an addition to the medal competitions. A new scheme for post confirmation second level students will be launched as a non-academic participatory competition on uniting faith and service. This is to be known as the FAST scheme – Faith And Service Together. Parish based the entrants will decide on two areas of practical discipleship and they will present for the award. It will take place over the school year and participation will be signed off each stage is completed – faith based and community service. In many cases this will include what young people are doing already, plus maybe singing in a choir, visiting the elderly, reading lessons, making tea after church, etc. Attending church on its own is not enough. Canon Harvey thanked Canon Green and Mrs Joy Bibby for this imaginative project. It will be piloted in the near future in a small number of parishes before being more widely introduced. The key objective is that participants will sense that committed practical discipleship is valued and celebrated at diocesan level.
He thanked the Ferns Board for their sponsorship of all the medal competitions. And also all those who involve themselves in the children’s choral festival services throughout the Diocese.
The Cashel Waterford & Lismore Diocesan Board of Education proposed by the Dean of Cashel who spoke of the six schools under patronage and nurtures not only the ‘grades’ but also the spirituality and wellbeing of the whole child.
The Report was received from Kilkenny College given by the Principal Mr Simon Thompson. He gave an illustrated guide of the progress of the school, especially with regard to the 5 year Development Plan now well underway. He acknowledged the generous donation given by the school patron body, the Incorporated Society. The new chapel was nearing dedication date and he thanked the Bishop for all his guidance. The Capital Project of a new music and arts centre was under active consideration.
The Report of the Children’s and Youth Ministry was proposed by Ms Gillian Purser and seconded by the Revd Nicola Halford. Ms Purser talked of the regular events that take place during the year and of an upcoming conference in Liverpool in the Autumn. She spoke of the importance of ‘family ministry’ with its modern pressures and this should be acknowledged under the aegis of youth.
The Revd Nicola Halford spoke of the limited support for paid youth workers and that ideas from CIYD, of which she is committee member was not always trickling down to parishes.
The Continuing Ministry and Adult Education was proposed by the Dean of Leighlin and he spoke on Cycle three just completed with much compliments by the external examiners. There are six modules in all and everyone is welcome to participate. The interest generated by CFO has drawn in people from other dioceses. He emphasized the importance of the training of ordained ministry being local and rural and not to be centralized which seemed to be becoming a trend.
The Report of the Diocesan Environmental Committee was proposed by the Revd Victor Fitzpatrick. He acknowledged the input given by Professor John Sweeney and Ms Lydia Monds in highlighting climate change which was becoming ever more acute and that would start to affect the type of farming in Ireland. The world must not reach the point where it is too late to reverse the damage caused by use of fossil fuels which have been employed by people since the Industrial Revolution. Pray and act.
All reports were adopted.
The Bishop invited the Revd Alessandra di Chiara to give her thoughts on the day. She took on board the theme of urgency and that people and mission being the driving force and not economics and structures. However, change is ‘messy’ and the way forward must be considered carefully and to be gentle with one another.
Finally the Bishop closed the Synod by announcing that there would be two meetings next year, one in April and the usual Diocesan Synod on Wednesday 19 October in the Ferns district. He thanked all who had helped in the organization of the day and for members for attending reminding all of the forthcoming Mothers’ Union ‘Vigil’ days and encouraged members to revisit the Book of Reports which encapsulates all the various activities of the Diocese. With that everyone joined in the final hymn of the Eucharist: ‘Go at the call of God.’