Central Church Structures
In 1997 the General Synod of the Church of Ireland adopted a motion that the Church was opposed to sectarianism. It started a process of self-examination with the intention of determining how “to promote, at all levels of church life tolerance, dialogue, co-operation and mutual respect between the churches and in society”.
A Church of Ireland Sectarianism Working Party was established and this led to the setting up of the Sectarianism Education Project in 2001. The aim of this initiative was to assist parishes throughout the island of Ireland to increase their capacity for dealing with sectarianism and difference and explore how dealing positively with these issues would have an impact on decision making within the Church.
This project commissioned a research project to ascertain the attitudes, needs and experiences of clergy and lay people throughout the Church of Ireland on these issues. The outcome of the research was a Scoping Study Report entitled “The Hard Gospel: Dealing Positively with Difference in the Church of Ireland”. This report was presented to and received by the General Synod in 2003.
As a result of the findings of the research the remit of the Sectarianism Education Project was widened to consider how to deal with difference in a range of areas including minority ethnic groups, people of other religions and issues of sexuality and gender while retaining a major emphasis on sectarianism. The expanded initiative was named ‘The Hard Gospel’ and a Hard Gospel Committee was convened to oversee the development of the project. A strategy for The Hard Gospel Project was developed with a vision statement and a set of strategic aims and objectives. The vision is for:
“A Church of Ireland which takes a positive leadership role in addressing the issues of sectarianism and dealing with difference that face the rapidly changing societies across the island of Ireland in the 21st century and a membership who contribute constructively to the development of transformed communities through reflecting and outworking Christ’s command to love God and their neighbour.”
The project has four strategic aims:
- To enable the Church, at all levels, to model in its own structures and ways of being, the relationships and values with regard to overcoming sectarianism, community conflict, and dealing with difference that it will promote in wider society.
- To develop and promote policies, practices and statements of the Church of Ireland that will encourage honest and constructive relationships in dealing with sectarianism and issues of difference in the church and wider society.
- To enhance the capability of the Church of Ireland at all levels to take initiatives to build peace and to transform communities.
- To implement initiatives, projects or programmes in collaboration with other Churches, agencies and groups in a manner that will create more open and inclusive local communities.
An Audit Process
To achieve the first of these strategic aims the project has set the following objectives:
- Examine and change central structures and representative bodies to achieve more balanced participation within the Church of Ireland.
- Enhance existing structures and, where needed, provide new structures of internal dialogue to promote openness and understanding of difference in the Church of Ireland.
- Identify and change areas where sectarianism and destructive patterns of relating to difference affect the witness and ministry of the Church of Ireland. This will involve dialogue with, among others, representatives of: Loyal Orders, ethnic minorities, women's groups, disability organisations and gender and sexuality groups.
To fulfil these objectives the Hard Gospel Project requires an external consultant to carry out a Diversity Audit.
The purpose of the research is to audit the level of diversity and examine approaches to diversity within the structures of the Church of Ireland and to produce an action plan for change.
The objectives of the study are:
- To prepare an audit instrument, appropriate to the Church of Ireland, which can assess the balance of composition of representative bodies according to gender, age, location etc
- To audit the current and recent past (3 years) composition of key structures and representative bodies including: General Synod, Standing Committee, RCB, the Theological College and diocesan synods
- To explore the experiences and views of a range of internal stakeholders regarding diversity and approaches to diversity
- To audit current structures of communication at central, diocesan and local levels with particular reference to how they support and promote internal dialogue on issues of sectarianism, racism and dealing positively with those who are different, both within levels and between levels.
- To audit current central level of interaction with diverse organisations including Loyal Orders, ethnic minorities, women's groups, disability organisations, and gender and sexuality groups. The audit should pay particular attention to how others experience the witness and ministry of the church.
- To prepare a report of the findings and recommendations of the audit. This will include:
- An analysis of the composition of each body with recommendations for action that will redress imbalances, where necessary
- An analysis of the current approaches to diversity and recommendations for change
- An outline of how current structures function in relation to their stated purpose, and recommendations on changes to current structures or possible new structures to improve internal dialogue on diversity issues
- An analysis of the level of interaction with diverse groups and their experience of the Church and recommendations for change
- To present the findings of the audit at a conference of bishops and Standing Committee
- To liaise with the Hard Gospel’s good relations policy development and proofing process that will feed into the same conference
- To facilitate the development of an action plan for change at the conference based on discussion of the recommendations
It is anticipated that the research phase will be completed by June 2007, with a final report completed by the end of November 2007.