|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.
THE MOST REVEREND DR ROBIN EAMES
ARCHBISHOP OF ARMAGH, PRIMATE OF ALL 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.
TIME OF DECISION
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
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...
OUR PAST - A KEY TO THE FUTURE
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
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
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
A FORGOTTEN PEOPLE
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
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
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
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.
BISHOP OF TUAM
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
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
THE DEAN OF CHRIST CHURCH
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.
MRS RHODA NEILL
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
Heaven will not leave us alone.
May God bless us all.
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.