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The Church of Ireland

The Church Of Ireland
Press Release



Tuesday 12th May 1998, 11:00am

The following is the text of the Presidential Address delivered by The Most Rev Dr Robin Eames, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland at the opening of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland.



Your Grace, my lords, members of the General Synod, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen:

I welcome you to the General Synod of 1998 and I pray that Almighty God will bless and guide our work together this week.


As I reflect on my own years as a member of the General Synod I can recall the many occasions when we have gathered to transact the business of our Church and to discuss the needs of our communities in an atmosphere of sorrow, frustration and bewilderment. What was happening through those long years of violence and division cast its shadow on our work. We brought to our sessions a vivid reflection of suffering and bereavement and we sought under God the role our Church should play as our people, particularly in Northern Ireland, faced seemingly endless darkness. As we gather this year the people of Ireland prepare to vote on some of the most important issues which will affect not alone our own generation but generations to come. This is a time of decision. This is a time of unique importance for our people in both jurisdictions.

I recognise that there are many opinions being expressed throughout our island on what should or should not be the nature of those decisions. Within this General Synod those differing opinions are well represented. Yet, irrespective of our personal views, could any of us have imagined even a year ago that we would meet this year in such an atmosphere of change? Time and again this Synod has urged politicians to engage in dialogue. Time and again this Synod has emphasised that violence will solve nothing. Time and again this Synod has urged politicians to show courage. Time and again this Synod has prayed for hope and vision of a new way forward. Now we, the people of Ireland, have to make decisions. Irrespective of the results of the Referenda throughout the Church of Ireland and beyond while views cover a wide spectrum of opinion, north and south, there is a ground-swell of longing at present for stability, peace and greater understanding.

Members of Synod, as we express our different attitudes to the effort which produced the Agreement and as we share our different opinions on the questions in the Referenda let us try to place it all in perspective.

The Agreement was and is a political document produced by politicians. It represents years of arduous work. It represents political possibilities of immense significance. But it is a political document. It is an important step on the long road - but it is not the end of the road. It is not the final or complete solution to our problems. I have often felt that one of the great dangers in the peace process in Ireland is that political agreement alone would ever be considered all that is needed. The Agreement is a vital point in the Irish pilgrimage of peace. But what really matters lies in the hearts and minds, the wishes and the actions, the relationships and the attitudes of the people of Ireland. How we relate to each other, how we regard each other, how we deal with each other - above all how we build bridges between the traditions will be the ultimate yard-stick for the quality of our lives in Ireland in the days ahead.

The Standing Committee recently issued a statement on the coming Referenda. It spoke of the importance of prayerful consideration of the issues and the freedom to record a vote according to individual conscience. It is the view of the Standing Committee that such is the nature of the guidance to be offered to members of the Church of Ireland at this time and that a vote according to conscience which can be either 'yes' or 'no' is a personal matter.

I have to say that the recent attempts by some interests in Northern Ireland to categorise a 'yes' vote as non-Christian and a 'no' vote as Christian are deplorable. The casting of one's vote according to conscience has nothing to do with the calibre of one's Christian profession. A Christian can vote 'yes' or 'no' and remain a faithful follower of Christ.

I recognise that there are those who would wish the Church of Ireland to give categorical indication of how a person should vote. I share the view that that course would be wrong. What I believe are the key steps for any member of the Church of Ireland to take can be simply stated :

  • understand the issues and listen to the arguments for and against.
  • make those issues the subject of your prayers.
  • consider if the proposals are fair not just to ourselves but to the position of others.
  • record our vote.

It is a moment of decision. It is a moment when the whole of Ireland must express its view. It is not just a matter for the people of Northern Ireland. There are implications for everyone on this island in what is to be decided. No matter what our views may be - it is an historic moment. May God guide Ireland and bless her people...


Members of General Synod, the Referenda apart there are serious and wider issues to be considered by the Church at this time. Irrespective of what decisions will be made in the immediate future the real quality of life for us all will stem from personal attitudes, personal relationships and outlook.

High on this list must be he nature of our attitude to reconciliation. What does it mean? What does it involve? What is the Christian dimension to reconciliation at this stage of Irish history?

Reconciliation is a process - not a single fact. It involves attitudes not just to each other, but to the past, to experience, to memory - and to what we do with memories.

For the Christian reconciliation in society lies in the context of reconciliation with God. It is not just the present revelation of God's love and purpose but in the knowledge and memory of what God has already achieved that our spiritual expression of reconciliation must be placed. In the Biblical context the pilgrim gains strength for what lies ahead from what has occurred in the past.

I believe that fact has much to say to us about the nature of reconciliation today.


In this Address I want to deal with one aspect of the process of reconciliation - an aspect which has immense human dimensions.

Isn't it true that the most positive, the best, developments in human experience are believable mostly in retrospect, not in prospect. Only in retrospect do great dreams take on the colour of plausibility. In other words, it is much easier to look back to events in both public and private life and wonder why they proved difficult at the time than to look ahead and be the confident prophet on their outcome. Was it plausible to most of our world before it happened in April 1994 that a fiercely protective white minority holding supreme power in South Africa would grant political and racial equality to an overwhelming black majority, installing as President a black leader with a record of 27 years imprisonment? Who could have anticipated that in 1989 a seemingly invincible communism would take a week to collapse from the top and that 13 occupied nations of the former Soviet Union would have achieved their freedom?

Retrospect is the key to hope. Retrospect is the key to human courage. Retrospect is the key to how we look forward. Who would have thought that from the dead body of a condemned and brutalised woodworker and his little group of intimidated disciples there would arise generations of convinced believers seeking to continue his life and power, with hands of compassion and justice around the earth?

Looking back is often just as important as looking forward. When we consider the distance travelled it often helps us to put the way ahead into perspective. Recent months have produced approaches to historic differences unimaginable a short time ago. Future generations will look to our time and probably wonder at our difficulties.

At the heart of the process of reconciliation lies the issue of what we do with our memories for memory can hold the real key to the present and the future.

In our current situation a vast amount is being demanded of perhaps the most vulnerable section of society as we seek to move forward. For them memory and what they do with it is the centre of their being.


Throughout the years of our Troubles atrocities have provoked the widest spectrum of human reaction. Anger, disgust and resentment have walked hand-in-hand with suffering, bereavement and hurt which it is impossible for those who have mercifully escaped the actualities of tragedy in their own family circle to comprehend. As history moves on so do attitudes. Euphoria and hope can easily dull reaction to the sensitivities of the most vulnerable.

Within the Church of Ireland there are so many families and individuals who carry on their hearts, minds and bodies scars, memories and thoughts which only they can appreciate. I feel we have a duty as a Church which has attempted to minister to them pastorally so faithfully through the years to remember them during this Synod.

A few weeks ago I met with a group of people who have lived with those scars and will continue to do so probably for the rest of their lives. Some of them find it impossible to gain regular employment. Some cannot enjoy normal relationships with other human-beings. Some spoke to me of "having no hope for the future". If any of you had been with me on that occasion you would I am sure have been as moved as I was.

Among individuals and families who have been classified as the 'victims' by society it is not just those who have lost loved-ones. It is the wide circle of friends and relatives - and one cannot estimate a figure to describe such a wide circle. From within that sector of society we have marvelled at the levels of forgiveness, reconciliation and resilience at individual examples of courage and forbearance. Who could possibly ignore the pleas for no retaliation or no revenge from homes stricken by heartache? Such sentiments must always rank as supreme examples of Christian living which so outshine the reactions of those who too often captured the headlines with their own sentiments.

Society in general and the Church in particular cannot allow those who endure such burdens to become 'the forgotten people of Ireland'. In any changed circumstances there is so much being demanded of them. Too easily they become yesterday's names, yesterday's headlines and yesterday's problem.

Parish clergy in Northern Ireland know these people. Those close to them know them. Tragically society too easily forgets the price they have paid and continue to pay for our troubled history. Rightly it is said of all conflicts that time moves on - unfortunately for some in Ireland time does not necessarily heal the wounds.

I believe the current situation demands a great deal of 'the forgotten people'. They are being asked to accept much which will require degrees of courage, understanding and charity. While many of them do acknowledge the need to move forward there are those who find it impossible to come to terms with a situation which seems to speak as one person has said to me of "a convenient forgetting for the sake of peace". Those are words, very human words, which in all our discussions we must not ignore. Nor must we treat such sentiments lightly.

Last week's announcement by the British government of financial assistance for the victims of the troubles has of course to be welcomed. But I have to say that such recognition of those who have lost most would have had much greater significance if it had been produced a long time ago. 'The forgotten people' deserve to be recognised in much more tangible ways than in the run-up to the Referenda.

For a long time I have been among those calling on government to consider the needs of such cases. May I plead with government not to use any such word as 'compensation' in this regard. Such terms seem to me to be totally inappropriate and insensitive. No one can be compensated for the loss of a loved one. But at least this recent move can be welcomed as recognition of genuine need.

Soon the Bloomfield Report on a suitable memorial to the victims will be produced. In our submission the northern bishops have stressed the need for some form of remembrance which will look forward as well as back : that will speak to the needs of a new generation while recalling with dignity the tragedies of the past.


The whole issue of the release of prisoners is the cause of much debate at present. I find that question has provoked much heart-searching - and in particular to the 'forgotten people' and their relatives to whom I have already referred. Such releases demand so much from those who have lost most and suffered most. Beyond political questions and on purely moral grounds I wonder has sufficient consideration been given at any level of this issue to at the least a recognition by those who may be released that suffering has occurred and at the least a declaration of their regret for their part in that suffering? Such words will not immediately heal wounds - and many will be sceptical of such declarations. But if we are in fact to move into a new era when healing of wounds and memories is to take place such sentiments expressed in some way could play a role in the healing process. I make this suggestion purely in the light of my knowledge of the depth of suffering endured by so many within and without the Church of Ireland during the years of violence.

There has been much use of the word 'forgiveness' recently. That is a most emotive word. It calls for the greatly varying reactions. At times it demands of people something far and beyond their emotions. Forgiveness does not mean forgetting. But forgiveness from the lips of some who have lost so much has stunned the community during the past few years. No one has a right to demand another to show forgiveness. No one has the right to judge another for either showing forgiveness or withholding it. It is a very personal matter. But the process of peace involves reconciliation and there can be no real and lasting reconciliation without healing in which forgiveness plays a part. This is where the Church of Jesus Christ has such a role to play. The Churches were challenged and tested during the years of prolonged violence. The Churches face an even greater testing time and challenge now as we seek to speak, act and influence attitudes in the minefield of those many 'grey areas' of the search for permanent peace.

There are no easy answers to questions of reconciliation and forgiveness. There are no easy answers to what we do with our memories. The Church must struggle and go on struggling with these questions. But I feel that the sign-posts provided by the revelation of God in Christ, the revelation of God's forgiveness, and in a human sense, the distance our society has already travelled, hold one key to the way forward.


Since we last met the Episcopal Electoral College has elected a new bishop for Tuam, Killala and Achrony. On behalf of the General Synod I welcome Bishop Richard Henderson and wish him, Mrs Henderson and their family every blessing as they settle into their new life in the west. Within the House of Bishops we have already benefited from his gifts and wisdom.


During the summer the Archbishops and Bishops of the Church of Ireland will attend the Lambeth Conference at Canterbury. Each decade the Archbishop of Canterbury invites the Bishops of the Anglican Communion to join him in this Conference. This year's event will be the largest numerically and probably the most in-depth study of Anglicanism and how our Communion relates to the world we live in of any Lambeth Conference. All of our bishops will be fully involved in study, dialogue and fellowship which it produces in the worship and in the decisions to be reached. The agenda contains subjects of great importance - and to be realistic about it - some subjects which are divisive and prompt strong reaction. In the months after the Conference I am quite certain each of our dioceses will hear much of what will take place. I ask you all to remember the Lambeth Conference in your prayers.


Recently the Church of Ireland Youth Council made a memorable presentation of its work to the General Synod. This year that opportunity has been extended to the Central Communications Board of our Church.

Few departments of the Church in this day and age demands and deserves such attention and priority as communications. The Church is in the business of communicating. How we communicate is just as vital as what we communicate. This is the age of information technology. We are seeing a veritable revolution in communication. On Wednesday you will have the opportunity to learn of how our Board is facing up to the challenge of making the voice of the Church of Ireland known through the media, how we are sharing information about ourselves with others and how we are attempting to extend Christ's kingdom through modern communication methods. Radio, television, the Internet, E-mail, relations with the media, the training of clergy and laity to play a part in mass communication, Church publications, diocesan and parish magazines - all are a part of this vast developing world. More and more the voice of the Church as it proclaims the Gospel must take its competitive place beside a secular world in which the highest quality of production and presentation is rightly demanded. In many ways the pulpit is now the TV screen : the mystery of God tends to be explained in widely scrutinised radio and TV programmes : the opinion of the Church is expressed in the news interview : the Christian contribution to community life is in the newspaper article. No Church can afford to diminish either its interest or financial commitment to communications. We have come a long way as a Church from those days when someone was appointed in a part-time capacity to answer journalists queries about the parish fete. We are now in a highly sophisticated world of critical and often hostile attitude. We must face that world, be involved in that world and influence that world in the name of Christ.

I pay tribute to the work of the Communications Board, the Broadcasting and Literature Committees, the Press Officer and the diocesan communication officers for all their work on our behalf. Mr Mark Larmour has done excellent work for us on the technical side of communications, on a part-time basis. During the year Mrs Betty McLaughlin retired after 12 years as assistant to Mrs Elizabeth Gibson- Harries and we pay tribute to her long and devoted service to the Press Office. In her place we welcome Mrs Jennie Compston.


The book of reports which we will consider in this Synod contains a wealth of detail on many subjects. I pray we will give all these issues careful attention for they represent many hours of dedicated work by those who have acted on our behalf.

During the debate on the Role of the Church Committee report Dr Milne will be telling us something of the issues being addressed by the Working Party on Europe. I attach great importance to this work. Agriculture is a primary concern for many members of this Synod. Members of the Church of Ireland have made significant contributions to the development of farming policy. Legislation from Brussels on agriculture is of supreme importance to our farming community. Today the entire agriculture industry faces crisis. The question of survival for many farms is now of prime importance in Ireland. I feel it is essential that the Santer proposals in the recently published Agenda 2000 should give a clear indication that our rural population is afforded a reasonable opportunity to farm the land of their native island. Agriculture, as the Working Group reminds us, is the heartland of the Church of Ireland in the Republic. This Synod cannot ignore the concerns of our farming communities, north as well as south.


I know the General Synod will join with me in extending our very best wishes to the Very Reverend J T F Paterson, Dean of Christ Church, as he resumes his duties following his long and trying illness and major surgery. We were remembering him in our prayers and I know you will all share my admiration for the courage and patience John exhibited which were an example to us all.


It is our custom to refer during our prayers to those former members of the General Synod who have died since we last met. However there is one name which could easily be overlooked, but which will be remembered by senior members of the General Synod who recall the days of the 'old' Synod Hall at Christ Church. During the year Mrs Rhoda Neill, who was for many years responsible for catering at Synod and who worked in conditions unacceptable to many commercial caterers, passed away. She provided that service willingly, voluntarily and with the help of a team which included her own husband and family. Let us not be too busy with concerns of the present that we overlook those who have helped us so willingly in the years that are passed.


As the Bishop of Connor reminded us in his sermon at St Patrick's last night we need to address the demands of change. We face change in almost every department of our lives at this time. As a Church we are passing through a period of change : change in structures, change in personnel, change in the opportunities and demands made upon us by the attitudes of people to the things of God. We are surrounded by the possibilities of change in Ireland. To this picture of change we must seek to bring a Christian perspective. We cannot see into the future with certainty. But the future is in the hands of God - just as are our memories of the past. All this and more is reflected in this week's Agenda of the General Synod.

May I share with you some words I came across recently. They were written by a contemporary American poet, Susan Sherard. I take comfort from them. As we begin our work in this era of change let them remind us that human hope is never unaccompanied by the divine presence.

Heaven will not leave us alone.
Heaven will continue to come to earth
Until heaven and earth are one.
Heaven will not leave us alone until
Love's work is done.

   May God bless us all.

Return to General Synod 1998 Index

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