The sunny South-East lived up to its reputation as delegates from all 11 dioceses of the Church of Ireland gathered for the General Synod at Clayton White’s Hotel in Wexford. The General Synod met in person on Friday 12th and Saturday 13th May. On the eve of General Synod, Jacqui and I were delighted to host (on behalf of the Diocese) a dinner for 35 guests upstairs in Greenacres restaurant. These included all the bishops and some of their spouses, the members of the Executive Committee and senior staff of the Representative Church Body and the Honorary Secretaries, including Mrs Hazel Corrigan. Bishop John and Mrs Betty Neill were also special guests with us for the dinner.
The Eucharist at the General Synod was held in St Iberius’ Church. Friday morning shoppers were greeted by the unusual sight of a procession of some diocesan clergy and the bishops from nearby Rowe Street Church (where they robed) to the door of St Iberius’. The Archbishop of Dublin celebrated the Eucharist and I, as host Bishop, was privileged to preach the sermon. Great thanks must go to Canon Norman McCausland, the organist and the many parishioners who helped ensure that this service was such a joyous occasion and start to the General Synod.
Back in White’s Hotel the Archbishop of Armagh, as President of Synod, gave his opening address, mentioning many of the topics that would be debated over the coming days, including Climate Change, Pioneer Ministry, Reconciliation in Civic Society and Citizenship. Bishop Michael Burrows adeptly guided the Synod through a number of bills which received their first and second readings.
In the afternoon, the reports from the Board of Education were presented and in the speech from Canon Jennifer McWhirter there was much mention of the immense challenges schools have faced in their welcome of children from Ukraine, many of whom had limited English. The report of the Marriage Council set out their plans for the next three years and launched a promotional video highlighting their resources. We look forward to seeing this video at our next Diocesan Synod. The Commission of Ministry, in their report, focussed on the burden of compliance and administration on parishes. In its report it recommended that ‘Diocesan Councils put in place a Diocesan Compliance Officer, either in a paid or voluntary capacity, to support parishes in matters of compliance’. This is already newly in place in this Diocese.
That evening the Mayor of Wexford, Councillor Maura Bell hosted a reception in White’s Hotel for the bishops and other invited guests. At this event Archbishop John McDowell was presented with a gift to mark this historic occasion and all guests signed the Mayoral Visitors’ Book. A traditional music group played during the reception.
Our devotions were led each day by Canon Norman McCausland, who was Chaplain to the Synod. He took as his inspiration a famous artwork and drew out themes of faith and discipleship for all to reflect on. On the second day we welcomed Bishop Ger Nash (Bishop of Ferns) as one of the ecumenical representatives and he brought greetings to the Synod. We then turned to the report from the Standing Committee, and many contributed on pertinent topics from the report. A presentation on the new and exciting development of Pioneer Ministry in the Church of Ireland was very well received and there was great positivity towards seeing how this will progress in the years ahead.
At 12.15, the business of Synod was suspended temporarily for a fantastic presentation ‘Lighten our Darkness’ from All Saints Church Mullingar’s youth group. Through drama, music, poetry, reading, visual material and prayer, they explored the issues of Climate Change and our care of the environment and reminded us that ‘there is no Planet B’. At the end of their presentation, they received a standing ovation, a rare event at General Synod. Each bishop was presented with a memento from the group, and this gave me the opportunity to speak with the teenagers and to congratulate them on all the work they had put into the performance.
Our final afternoon at White’s Hotel included presentations from the Church of Ireland Youth Department and the Book of Reports contained the outline on what each Diocese has been doing over the past year. It is great to read the very full account of all that is happening in our Diocese in terms of youth ministry. Other reports were presented from the Council for Mission, the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue and the Covenant Council before the Synod ended about 4.30 and the delegates spilled out into the sunshine to travel home to their parishes for Sunday worship.
The General Synod resumed for its third day on Tuesday evening (16th May) online where the final stages of bills were voted on and the report of the Representative Body, which was seconded by Canon Nicola Halford, was presented.
Reflecting on the General Synod experience of 2023, I can highlight a number of positives. Wexford as a venue was excellent. Many spoke in glowing terms of the facilities in the town with its restaurants, quayside walk and shops all within easy walking distance. The hotel was a good venue and easily hosted all the delegates in its large function room. The rail link made it accessible for those who wished to use public transport. And of course, the sun shone and Wexford looked at its best!