By the time you read this I will have attended the National Ploughing Championships held on this occasion at Ratheniska in County Laois. I look on such an event as an opportunity for me to engage with people who, in so many ways, are the backbone of the rural economy and many of our parish communities. We all know the that the weather this year posed significant challenges for tillage farmers in particular. Driving around the Diocese in the summer, I was aware that if there was any weather window of opportunity at all, machinery was to be seen in fields and moving about the roads at all times of the day and night. Bad weather also affects others in the community too, such as those who work in tourism. However, it is the farming community and those who work in food production that are the main focus of the National Ploughing Championships every year. We in Cashel, Ferns and Ossory have hosted a stand there on behalf of the Church of Ireland. Building on the work of others in previous years, Archdeacon Mark Hayden and a team of volunteers have worked to ensure that our stand will be in a high-profile location and had attractive displays and interesting information. I am grateful to Archdeacon Hayden and all those involved. Our presence is important and very much valued at such events.
One of my duties as Bishop is to summon meetings of the Diocesan Synod and also to set the date and place of those meetings. This year it will be held on St Luke’s Day (18th October) in the Tower Hotel in Waterford. I look forward to presiding at the Synod for the first time as your Bishop and meeting some of those who will be attending it too, for the first time as it is the start of a new triennium. There is a tradition in Cashel, Ferns and Ossory that we move this annual meeting around the Diocese and so on this occasion it will be convenient for those who live in the southern end of our Diocese. Such a location also means that we can begin with a service of Holy Communion in one of the most beautiful cathedrals in Ireland and a gem of Georgian architecture – Christ Church Cathedral in Waterford. It is a very short walking distance back to the hotel conference room and so is convenient. In anticipation, we thank Dean Bruce Hayes and all at the cathedral for their welcome and hospitality. This service is not limited to synod members but is open to anyone to attend and so I hope a few local parishioners may also join us in worship that day.
Synods were first held in the second century and originally were meetings attended only by bishops. However, even before that the first large meeting or council of the church was recorded in chapter 15 of the Acts of the Apostles. The background to this gathering is interesting. As so often happens, there was a controversy in the early Christian community. We are told that ‘the apostles and elders met together to consider this matter’ (verse 6) and that there ‘was much debate’ (verse 7). Nothing has changed since the first century! We also read that there was ‘silence’ (v. 12) and that they came to a ‘decision’ (v. 19). That seems a pretty good template for any church meeting, whether that of a vestry, a fundraising committee or a synod.
2000 years later, as we travel on our journey of faith as individual disciples, we also need to meet together, to assemble, discuss, pray and decide. I have always believed that annual meetings of the church, whether at parochial, diocesan or national level, are hugely important. We come from different backgrounds, places and outlooks. We may be at different stages in our faith journey but that is something positive to be celebrated. We believe that when we gather as Christians, the risen Christ is also present with us. Jesus is not just confined to church buildings and the hour on Sunday.
Worship and business in the church go hand in hand. The Constitution of the Church of Ireland gives the Diocesan Synod specific things to do. It is made up of the bishop, the beneficed and licensed clergy, as well as those lay people who have been elected from their parishes. Other lay members are subsequently elected by the lay members of the Diocesan Council. All beneficed and licensed clergy, by virtue of their ministry, are automatically members of the Diocesan Synod. The Constitution expects them to attend and to take part. It is seen as part of their job.
The Diocesan Synod is a key part of the decision-making process within the Church of Ireland. It is a vital link in the chain between the local parish and select vestry, and the wider church and General Synod. The people you elect have votes, they take part in the decision-making or elect the people who influence or make the decisions at national level. I look forward to meeting with those who are members of the Diocesan Synod as we gather under the guidance of the Holy Spirit, to pray, to debate, to listen, to choose and to decide, later this month in Waterford.
With every blessing