BISHOP ASKS FOR ‘MOOD CHANGE’ AT SYNOD 2016
Bishop of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory Michael Burrows wasn’t mincing his words in his presidential address to the Synod held in Enniscorthy, County Wexford on October 20th last.
In a thought-provoking sermon based on the gospel of the day – Luke 12: 39-48 – about how much will be required of those to whom much is entrusted – he stated that this threw up the essential dilemma or paradox of discipleship and church membership.
Synod members may feel resentful of ‘keeping show on road’
After stripping away the first century talk of slaves (and who would get what kinds of beatings!) he talked of how much more is expected of those who are Christians but also of how members of Synod may feel resentful that they are the ones ‘keeping the show on the road, often, as they see it, for the benefit of others who want to get married and baptized.’
“They may also feel resentful,” he said, “about ‘paying sustentation, supporting ministry and coming to endless meetings’.
Done because we are Christians not out of tribal loyalty
His question then was ‘what are we at and why do we do it?’
The truth is simple, he stated, pointing out that we do all this work because we are Christians – not ‘because of historical tribal loyalty, or because we are a preservation society with an extraordinary love of mostly 19th century (and often relatively undistinguished) architecture.’
At least he hoped that was the case.
Stop wallowing in self-pity
“We should catch ourselves on, stop wallowing in self-pity,” he told the 200-strong crowd at the Riverside Park Hotel.
“Instead of feeling that being, for whatever reason, an active member of the church amounts to some sort of life sentence or burden thrust on us, we should liberate ourselves from being preoccupied with such questions at all.”
Nothing we do has value unless it passes a special test
He also pointed out that no decision of an individual, no resolution of a select vestry and no action at a Synod has any value unless it passes a particular test.
“That’s the litmus test of whether it assists us in telling the world that this Jesus cannot be simply ignored by those who wish to explore the meaning and potential of being truly human.”
Discipleship involves costs
He pointed out that we have to accept that discipleship involves various forms of costs but that we are lucky that, in this country, this is expressed in money rather than in persecution or in suffering.
“The stands around the room, many concerned with the witness of the church beyond these shores, show that this is not the case in many other places.”
Asked for a mood change
For this synod, he asked for a mood change, asking attendees to make sure that the words they utter that day radiated joy rather than weariness.
“The world outside will not be impressed by people who wearily do accounts and fear tomorrow,” he said, “and almost look like the slaves (in the gospel reading) who expect to get the worst beating!”
His dream for synods; that the stranger be drawn in
He spoke of a dream he has for synods – that routine business would be done quickly and ‘time used to talk together in such a way that that those looking in the window, who seek after holiness and joy and meaning, would love to be drawn into our conversation’.
Debate needed about societal issues too
He asked also for transformative debate in addressing issues concerning society now instead of there being an ‘invisible wall between our discussions and the realities of society’.
Choosing his words carefully he asked if there could be fresh, realistic, Biblically – based, compassionate and principled discussion of subjects like the repeal of the Eighth Amendment, for example, or the painful subject of ‘withholding from same-sex couples the opportunity to celebrate their love publicly and liturgically’.
Homeless take comfort from us agonising over church buildings?
He asked, too ‘if the homeless take comfort from us agonising over the cost of maintaining nearly 150 churches that are mostly locked, save for an hour a week.’
He pointed out that a Synod is a public event rather than an ‘in-house’ one, and asked members to remind themselves of the potential listener or onlooker who may judge the life of the church through the lens of such a gathering.
Christian party or AGM of pessimistic shareholders?
He asked that we not be like ‘Eeyore’ but that instead we radiate the joy – the sparkle of Christian life – that had been entrusted to us.
He finished by referring again to the stranger.
“Will the listener go away feeling that he or she has crashed a party of joyful Christians or an annual meeting of pessimistic shareholders?”
Stranger in the house is most important
His final words pointed out that drawing the attention of the stranger in the house is the most important component of the dynamic of a Synod.
Other topics discussed
In time permitted by Bishop Michael for discussion of societal issues Rev Brian O’Rourke of Portlaoise Union highlighted the work of Changing Attitude Ireland which is asking congregations to go beyond words and put up a poster in their churches welcoming those who are gay or lesbian.
For more information about this Church of Ireland body that is open to ecumenical friends see www.changingattitudeireland.org
Cindy O’Shea from Lismore Union spoke of practical help given to the Simon Community in Cork in the form of 25 baked apple crumbles a week, using up the bounty of harvest apples and helping the homeless also.
Dean Maria Jansson spoke about church as sanctuary and a magnet for many who seek a spiritual home.
The Synod passed the various Diocesan reports and thanked those involved for their hard work.
A motion was passed encouraging the RCB to stop investing in (coal) fossil fuel industries given our ‘green’ goals as Christians.
Topics raised later included how we can stop our young people feeling disconnected and how we should be planning for the challenge of our future as a church.
Gratitude was expressed for the ecumenical work of the late Canon Aidan Jones and also for the commitment of the late Georgina Rothwell and Herbie Sharman who died during the year.
Canon Susan Green spoke about a new, pro-active, Bishop’s Award for 13-16 year olds called FAST (Faith and Service Together).
On the world mission front, passionate stories were heard of the difference that support and learning to read can make to women in Ethiopia and the Congo from Josephine Carlson of Feed the Minds and Phyllis Grothier of the Mother’s Union.
How pilgrimage could be used by us as a Christian and Protestant community was spoken about by joint Bishop’s Medal Award (Adult) winner Grainne Duggan.
There was a presentation also by Wilfred Baker, a participant in the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Zambia (an international Anglican conference).
Environmental and other awards for parishes were also presented.
Important discussion about Garda vetting limitations
An important discussion also arose toward the end of Synod about the issue of Garda vetting related to Safeguarding Trust and whether or not the vetting received would in future only permit the person to work within the geographical area of his/her parish.