THE GENERAL SYNOD 2015 – ARMAGH – FROM A CFO VIEWPOINT!
THE BISHOP WITH THE BOUNCE!
It was standing room only for much of this year’s Synod in the vast function room of the City Hotel, Armagh, especially on the middle day when almost. 500 members attended.
It was on this day that Alan Gilbert, in truly flying form, spoke enthusiastically from the podium during the debate on Episcopal Ministry and Structures.
He said how lucky Cashel, Ferns and Ossory was to have the bounciest Bishop of the lot!
This brought the house down! How his Bishop interacts, for example, with his confirmation candidates.
More seriously Alan continued speaking of the need for alternatives to the institutionalised rector in the parish. He gave an example that once a week, a group of about 20 ordained and lay people should meet with the Dean to bring about some sort of collaborative ministry. Such people would have no distinct parish and utilise all the buildings they have. They might run major services in some churches and not in others and the rest having services but rotated around as best they can. Maybe on Easter Day or at Harvest Thanksgiving one big service might be held in one of the large churches or cathedrals and encourage all to come to that.
Looking at the demographics in the Church of Ireland, things are changing. Young people are not marrying into the ‘sect’ anymore, but marrying people of other denominations and religions and from other countries. The base where we started from is just not going to be there in 30 years’ time.
Episcopal Ministry and structures
There was much debate on the subject of how best to manage churches, dioceses and parishes and their boundaries in the years ahead as numbers of worshippers continue to become more erratic with the recent census underlining the challenge. A question of the need to face changing patterns and yet respecting the long traditions of families, especially in rural parishes. The country is becoming evermore urbanised and the stark situation of small numbers and potentially large distances to travel was demonstrated, especially in the west of Ireland.
Roger Boyd stated that he and his family and his forebears had lived in the same house and worshipped in the same church in rural Ireland for generations. His generations now passed on, are buried in the local churchyard. But Roger acknowledged the need for change. He encouraged the commission not be afraid, to grasp opportunities such as these for there is so much change needed if this church is to survive. He openly welcomed the intent as a start and that it move in the right direction even if the document is at the discussion stage – there is time to work on it and get it right.
There were seven Bills in total and all were presented for consideration and passed.
- Dignity in Church Life Charter
- Amendment of constitution on matters of medical infirmity
- Amendment of provisions relating to Severance Fund
- Statement of Charitable Purposes and Objects
- St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh
- Regulation of Chapter and Governance of Christ Church Cathedral. This bill was withdrawn
There 21 motions submitted for discussion.
Motions debated included a request to extend the tenure of the Select Committee on Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief and also a motion from the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures seeking endorsement of the direction of work undertaken to amend the procedures for episcopal election. This included the presentation of a motion for discussion on diocesan boundaries.
There was a motion on the interchangeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Moravian Church.
A motion on the long-standing concern and a wish to have removed VAT on remedial work on protected structures.
A motion proposing movement for the creation of a centre of community prayer, retreat, hospitality and study.
A motion drawing attention to the persecution of Christians across the world.
There were a number of reports including that from the RCB, from Standing Committee, from the Boards of Education and Mission and Ministry, etc.
Other topics discussed were Priorities, Human Sexuality, Marriage Council and Youth.
A change in the timetable
In a change to the normal arrangements, the Synod Eucharist took place on the first morning in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, designed to give an uplifting start to Synod business through collective worship. The preacher was the Right Revd Alan Abernethy.
Before the business of the day began Archbishop Richard Clarke delivered his presidential address in which he alluded to the church-wide survey, the persecutions in many parts of the world and the national and international commemorations that would be taking place next year, 2016.
A FLAVOUR OF OTHER DEBATES WITH CONTRIBUTIONS FROM CFO MEMBERS
A motion was proposed by Andrew Brannigan from Diocese of Down and Connor and seconded by Sam Harper on an Environmental Charter for the Church. The charter would help educate Church members towards stewardship of the earth, reducing waste, and being more environmentally aware.
Archdeacon Andrew Orr urged that, in line with the extension of the remit of the Ethical Investments Committee, the Church should seriously consider disinvestment in fossil fuels.
He welcomed this Green Charter for the Church, which is a major statement that the C of I is taking the issue of climate change seriously. It is based on The Cashel, Ferns and Ossory charter and will assist parishes, dioceses and individuals to play their part in reducing their carbon footprint. Already people across the developing world are being affected by climate change, as island communities are in real danger of disappearing, and farmers can no longer grow the crops they normally did in the past.
The Charter provides broad outlines for what everyone can do, and if a parish needs help in implementing the charter, Eco Congregation Ireland can give lots of helpful advice. Their website is ecocongregationireland.com
Trevor Sargent also requested that the list of investments be provided and suggested that in the light of the high value of fossil fuel investments it would be difficult for the Church to wean itself off them and that the Church would need seriously to resist the temptation to invest in these financially attractive companies.
Bishop Michael Burrows, in referring to the historical assets of the Church, regretted the loss of the emphasis on the essential connectedness of beauty and holiness in the contemporary
Church. He said that he saw very little artistic creativity being fostered or encouraged by the Church and said that in generations to come people would ask of the present generation in what specific way it had expressed its faith in terms of poetry, art, etc.
Mr Neill of the RCB assured Bishop Burrows that the contemporary Church was still contributing to the arts with new statues and contemporary music in the new ‘Thanks and Praise.’
Richard Codd addressing the new charities legislation in the Republic of Ireland, asked why the Church had requested parishes, as opposed to dioceses, to register with the Charities
Commission as the resulting audit requirements would be a heavy burden on any parish with a turnover above €100,000.
VAT should be removed on Remedial Work on Protected structures. This was proposed by Robbie Syme who said that often hard won grants from Government bodies were paid back to the government in VAT. He hoped that a reduced VAT rate could be applied by both governments.
Seconding the motion, Trevor Sargent said many churches were listed buildings and said it was a good opportunity to build ecumenical unity to strive to get something which would help us all preserve our heritage. Our country’s heritage of listed buildings, north and south, is a wonderful legacy in many ways, but the cost of maintaining these landmark buildings incurs higher than average costs for many of our local parishes. This motion also has relevance to those beyond the Church of Ireland in the fact that many of these buildings serve well the needs of the wider community and tourism, for example. The Revd Patrick Burke mentioned his previous experience as a Revenue official and offered his advice with regard to seeking a reduction or removal of VAT on such works. The motion was adopted.
Seconding the report, Hazel Corrigan highlighted the work of the Priorities Fund and the many projects supported by the fund.
She also spoke of the progress in talks between the Church of Ireland and the Moravian Church and, following the debate on the report, Bishop Burrows proposed a motion welcoming and affirming the conclusions and proposals in the report on the theological dialogue between the Church of Ireland and the Moravian Church.
Hazel added that General Synod in 2016 would meet in the Royal Marine Hotel, Dun Laoghaire, from 12th to 14th May.
The report of the Standing Committee and Bishop Burrows’ motion were adopted.
Bishop Michael Burrows, paid tribute to Sam Harper who has served as a lay honorary secretary for the twenty one years since 1994, offering ‘commitment time and integrity’.
Centre of community
A motion calling on General Synod to consider that the establishment of a centre of community prayer, retreat, hospitality and study might be one suitable means by which the Church of Ireland could mark the forthcoming 150th anniversary of Disestablishment and commends efforts by the Commission on Ministry and others to undertake a scoping study to examine the feasibility of such a project and present it as a priority for the Church.
The motion was proposed by Dean Katharine Poulton who said that no such facility existed for the Church of Ireland although they were welcomed by others communities.
Seconding the motion, Bishop Michael Burrows said this was an opportunity to create something visible of our time. He said that the motion didn’t involve spending money but that it sent a message to those who could spend money.
It was enthusiastically received by several speakers from the podium while caution was urged as costs might run high and the motion was passed by Synod. It could be a new build, possibly fully ecumenically. Clonfert was suggested as a place that could turned to such use.
The Motion was adopted.
‘Thanks and Praise’
The new hymnal supplement was widely publicised by the Liturgical Advisory Committee with order forms now available. It has been 20 years since the current ‘Irish Church Hymnal’ was published and this new edition contains many new hymns and tunes written over the intervening years.
The book was available not only in music and word editions, but there were also kindle,
e-publication, and braille versions.
Additionally, recordings had been made available by the Recorded Church Music
Committee, a Companion giving the background to the hymns had been produced, and
the book would be formally launched on 11th September in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.
This year, in a change to the annual communications competition, the Central
Communications Board (CCB) organised a photography competition designed to show
Church of Ireland Church life in action, sponsored by Ecclesiastical Insurance.
First prize: Lilian Webb from Celbridge and Straffan with Newcastle-Lyons,
Diocese of Glendalough – a photograph taken on Easter Sunday of the sunrise service.
Second Prize: Seán O’Brien from Portlaw, Co. Waterford – a photograph of parishioners from the Fiddown Union of parishes, arriving at Holy Trinity church, Portlaw, after a short parade through the town with donkeys on Palm Sunday.
Third Prize: Andrew Brannigan – parishioners attending morning service, Diocese of Connor.
Herbie Sharman, Diocesan Communications Officer for Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, for his photograph, ‘The Last Station,’ showing Bishop Michael Burrows offering a reflection with parishioners on Good Friday on the platform of Carlow Station towards the end of his ‘Stations of the Stations’ initiative.
Lynn Glanville, DCO for Dublin and Glendalough, for her photograph of the ordination of deacons at Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin,
Pauric McGroder, a freelance photographer, for his photograph of visitors to St Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin.