Added on 16/10/2012
Address at the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synod by the Most Reverend Dr Michael Jackson, held in Taney Parish Hall, Tuesday 16 October 2012
… relationships and responsibilities – the road ahead …
SETTING THE SCENE
Much of life, not least in urban and suburban contexts, is built on the assumptions of choice. As we know, choice brings with it renewed opportunity – for those who already know how to use choice and to make choice work for themselves and for others – or even the other way round, that is for others and then for themselves, although this in my experience is somewhat rarer. Choice, therefore, at its worst, can heighten and highlight our confusion and selfishness. At its best it can give the combined focus and direction of clarity and generosity. For us, as disciples of Jesus Christ, it must always do a number of good things at once: deepen compassion; strengthen commitment; give joy and delight. Choice can also lead us into those most exciting and fulfilling areas of human life: the formation of relationships and the outworking of responsibilities. These will differ significantly as each of us brings our individuality of experience, depth of perception and range of personality to bear on the decisions which are the lifeblood of choice itself. I say this simply because the choices which we make form not only the backdrop – because we move from choice to choice – but also the foreground, of life itself – because the implications of our choices are there to stay, for us and for others, once we have walked on and made the next choice. Choices, therefore, are the weave of who we are and who we are to become. Hence, every choice is a human and a theological opportunity. The choice to remain and to stay is every bit as important as the choice to move and to leave. In many ways it can be twice as enriching. Choice well made connects us with the divine energy of creation and the human energy of service. That is why choices – whether in relation to a private or a public matter – are concerned not with what we can get out of them but with what we can put into them, for others even more than for ourselves.
ENGAGING WITH MISSION ABROAD
We finished the 2011 Diocesan Synod with a very open and honest session. The bishop of Harare, graciously responsible for the shepherding of one of the most persecuted dioceses in our Communion, took question after question and responded to them all. This left us with a sense of belonging within the worldwide Anglican Communion to those who witness in the most perilous and pernicious of circumstances. It also gave us a sense of realism about our own situation along with the encouragement to hold within the love of God everything which happens in the world to which we belong and for which we have a responsibility. We were able to consider once again the importance of relationships and responsibilities within a framework of mission. We saw mission as both an act of God and an activity of the church. It took us into the heart of justice for those who are marginalized, exploited and disempowered. This year, as part of our Synod, we hope to do something similar tomorrow evening with Dr Gareth Jones, Principal of Ming Hua Theological College, Province of Hong Kong and Macau. This is another tangible mission link through The Dublin University Far Eastern Mission. Dr Jones will not only be with us tomorrow evening but will give the prestigious Godfrey Day Lecture on: Multiculturalism and Christianity in East Asia in the Neill/Hoey Lecture Theatre, Long Room Hub in Trinity College at 7pm on Thursday evening of this week. I am encouraging all Members of Diocesan Synod to go, if you are interested and if you possibly can. This is an opportunity to engage publicly with someone who works closely with the Chinese Christian phenomenon. And I think phenomenon is the right word as China is a country where there are more than one hundred million Christian believers.
GROWTH AND NEW EXPRESSIONS AT HOME
It is just as important for us to be aware that, impressive though these statistics are, growth is not confined to the world outside. There are so many things which have happened in the life of our United Dioceses through the work of the Holy Spirit in the year past. These are an exciting combination of the coming to fruition of initiatives which were in place before I had the honour and privilege of becoming bishop of these Dioceses and fresh initiatives which you, the people of the Dioceses, have undertaken since we began to work together. For both of these I wish to thank you and give you the credit which is your due. The members of these Dioceses have the confidence and the commitment to travel in new directions quite fast. I had always hoped that this would be the case. Now I have so many examples of this that I am deeply proud to be the bishop of these Dioceses and to continue to be so. The energy for change, within the recognition of continuity, is a vital part of the character of these Dioceses as is the willingness to try new things for good and for others.
THE DIOCESAN BOARD OF SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY
One such example is the way in which, with considerable speed, the Diocesan Board of Social Responsibility has undertaken a thorough internal review, looking outwards for its future energy. Recently, the Board has had a role of providing pertinent information on a range of difficult social issues. It has carried this out in a significant way. A structured and carefully thought through shift in focus and emphasis has resulted in giving greater prominence to practical approaches. In light of this, the Board has decided to concentrate on the Solas Project, in the first instance, clustered in Dublin 8. In the same area we have CORE St Catherine’s. Solas will enable the addressing of social responsibility issues in the city and will also give permission to go wider in the future. I had the pleasure and the privilege to visit parts of the Solas Project on a day in spring of this year. Solas is a wonderful project for the BSR to adopt and develop precisely because it models the following principle: it is located in the community of the place where it is and responds in open generosity and practical concern. It reaches members of the community in a spirit of trust and action. It looks for neither reward nor recognition. It does and will, as it grows and flourishes, need the involvement of more and more appropriate volunteers and these people can, and in my mind ought, to come from right across the United Dioceses. It would be a great experience and a practical pathway for anyone who has not done this before and a great way to participate in the growing of seeds for others. It is a tremendous pleasure, as one goes up Thomas Street, to see St Catherine’s display confidently to the world who it is and what it is about. This puts the Church of Ireland on the map in ways which show our confidence to everyone who walks past and enables them to ask good questions. The wisdom of BSR in concentrating on Solas as a first port of call is to me abundantly clear. Children, for example, can enjoy doing the simplest of things with people they trust: homework, going swimming, learning to cook. Trust and creativity go together – and rightly. And CORE St Catherine’s is not alone in this. Numerous other city churches have been developing good relationships with the community to which we belong. All of this keeps us engaged in a city where, as members of the Church of Ireland, we feel very welcome.
FURTHER INITIATIVE INVOLVING THE PEOPLE OF THE UNITED DIOCESES – THE INTERNATIONAL EUCHARISTIC CONGRESS
Perhaps one of the most fascinating examples of this type of relationship has been the Camino Walk associated with the Fiftieth Eucharistic Congress in June of this year. The most energizing part of this for members of the Church of Ireland was, of course, the conscious and confident decision on the part of the Irish Roman Catholic Church to make the Congress ecumenical at its core. The Irish Roman Catholic Church is to be applauded for having the courage and conviction to make such a success of the Congress in the midst of all of its acknowledged difficulties and the distress caused to its people by parts of their church. And issues to do with child sex abuse were not shirked. Its primary purpose was to build up faith and understanding of the Eucharist in the Roman Catholic people. However, by the linking of communion with baptism, the discussion of communion as God’s relationship as the Trinity along with God’s relationship with us and our relationships with one another was opened up. The stage was set for the series of large open–air services and for the workshops which, very often, were packed out. The Congress helped us, as members of the Church of Ireland, through our participation, to get over the old and embedded tribal distrust which lingers today. That type of distrust has ill–equipped us for the contribution which we are able to make to the new diverse Ireland. It certainly does not serve us well as we seek to weave ourselves into tomorrow’s Ireland and it can backfire on us very quickly, leaving us stuck as the lights change.
I want to bring us back to the Camino Walk which of itself brought to the fore this precious connection between relationships and responsibilities. It did so precisely because those who participated over its two–week period met people whom they had never met before, talked with them and came to know them as they walked around a whole range of places they had often seen, knew about and had never gone into and others which were entirely new to them. For us in the Church of Ireland, the greatest joy was that the Walk began officially in St Ann’s Church, Dawson Street. The participants then streamed out across the city, incorporating seven churches. They genuinely released energy for good, for welcome, for hospitality in the walking itself. From what I understand over the two–week period, up to 20,000 pilgrims came to St Ann’s and I can only presume to the other six churches also. And so, the movement and the energy of the Conference were out on the streets and in the RDS, and so many Church of Ireland people from our Dioceses helped to make this happen. The question, of course, for us is: How do we as members of the Church of Ireland part of the community contribute to this on–going relationship so tangible during the Conference? It is all very well to be honoured guests – this flatters anyone. But how are we going to participate in the call of Archbishop Martin when he says: Tomorrow the work of evangelization begins again. We have a responsibility to do this and I am confident that we will.
This is the quality of relationship and the range of responsibility within the body of Christ which the unique occasion of the IEC in our time has given us. We need to take it as an opportunity of deep resonance and lasting possibilities for us to build relationships together as citizens and Christians, confident in who we are and ready to serve at a time when too much of our ecumenical activity has become tried and taken for granted. And service of others is always to be the instinctive response to a realization of being blessed in ourselves. What matters most is this: What relationships within a fractured and hurting Ireland do we build together and rebuild for the future on the back of it?
CONNOR–DUBLIN AND GLENDALOUGH PARTNERSHIP
The emerging links between Dublin and Glendalough and Connor Dioceses give us a unique opportunity to recognize the close relationships which we have across the Church of Ireland. In a time when there is now a generation of young people right across Ireland who have no knowledge of what The Troubles were, because they, mercifully, did not have to live through them, we are being called to live out our Lord’s command to love our neighbour and to test in public what this means. All of us are still rather positively taken by surprize by the fact that Queen Elizabeth ii and Mr Martin McGuinness shook hands. Each of these gestures and steps builds on the last and moves everyone forward in terms of good neighbourliness. The partnership has so many possibilities and I have every confidence that, as it develops, more and more people in the Dioceses will contribute to it and enjoy it. It will give us the permission to explore the grey areas which we would all rather hide and maybe blame on other people. It will enhance our capacity to talk about our faith openly and with others. But Dublin and Glendalough have the great advantage of being cosmopolitan in our membership and confident in who we are. This helps us to take up invitations and make them work for everyone concerned. Already we have had members of inner–city communities in Dublin and Belfast meet one another. Those most recently ordained have shared retreats for ordination to diaconate and priesthood and the bishop of Connor has preached at an ordination in Christ Church as have I at one in St Anne’s Belfast. The request and appeal has come to Diocesan Councils that we work together on fresh developments in church life and in youth work. The bishop of Connor is eager to do all of this with us, as am I. The bishop of Connor and I are fortunate that we both recognize the need for close collegial work in a position which often can be lonely and isolated and just too packed with commitments! This gives any bishop an insight into the loneliness which laity and clergy have in the life of the church and in everyday things also. There often is an idea that clergy generally can cope easily. The argument is that this is what they are for: to enable others to cope and therefore they must be able to cope themselves. Tragically we see, far more often than we would wish to, that this is not the case. And our heart goes out to those for whom the struggle is too much and to those who live with the sadness of the struggle after people have failed to cope. Lay people and clergy have a responsibility of compassion and care for one another and we always need to remember that this is a primary calling which too easily can get lost in the transmission of the priority of what is simple and effective. To this theme I will return in addressing the most successful recent Diocesan Growth Forum.
CAVAN CONFERENCE ON HUMAN SEXUALITY
When the bishops of the Church of Ireland decided to hold a Conference on Human Sexuality in the context of Christian Belief, there was considerable interest and commitment shown by people from these United Dioceses. People in large numbers expended their own resources to be there and I spoke with many who not only had high hopes of the Conference but genuinely felt that it had moved consideration of the issue forward in a way which was new to how we in the Church of Ireland do our work as a General Synod. The whole issue of sexuality is intensely private to people and always there is a fear and a risk that open exploration simply deepens the hurt of those who are struggling. There also, of course, is the anxiety that open honesty can lead to inappropriate invasion of such privacy by those who are ever in search of a cause. Many are impatient at the pace of change. Many others are frustrated by the incomprehension of the others – and there are always those whom we call: the others, whoever we are. The priority now is that people who need to talk of themselves in terms derived from their sexuality need to be afforded space by the churches to do so. Frankly, they do not need others talking on their behalf. There may have been a time for this. But we have to move past this log jam of communication to let people speak for themselves and to take ownership of an expression of membership and discipleship in the church.
Patience and understanding are both needed. Many I know to be upset and distressed, as indeed am I, by the outcomes particularly of General Synod. The structure and the mechanism of both gatherings were quite different from one another. In comparing, we are not in fact comparing like with like. The common factor, and rightly, was the people involved. The dividing factor was the sharp contrast between the conversational way of working in Cavan and the parliamentary way of working at General Synod. I have to say that the Conference showed me a quite different way of synodical life. I liked it. And the re–entry to the other way and style of synod was a real shock in relation to this issue. I hope we have learned that our public discourse in the Church of Ireland needs to be much more careful of others. I hope too that we will be able to find much better ways to address the many other complex issues which are on the horizon. We need urgently and rapidly to learn a much more sensitive way of dealing with matters to do with end of life, for example, which will, rightly, preoccupy us during the forthcoming decade. The relationship between these two different explorations of what are the one issue of human identity ought to alert us to the urgency of finding a way which gives space for understanding and for healing when the fracture is about the realities of human life and identity. Human sexuality is part and parcel of this need and we need to respect it as such.
During the year past I have had the opportunity to visit a number of schools across the United Dioceses, particularly National Schools. I have blessed brand new schools. I have seen extraordinary grants used to enhance the experience of pupils and teachers in other schools and I have had the greatest of pleasure in being part of this new life across the Dioceses. If I may single out one such School – it is the Model School in Athy. A number of aspects of what a school is in contemporary Ireland came clearly to the fore on the day I blessed the new school in Athy. First, of course, there is the sad recognition of the tragic loss of the historic old school which had served the community of Athy for so long. Then there was the generosity of the people of Athy who came to the aid of the Church of Ireland population in their need. The new Model School is a fine building, spacious and attractive, on a VEC campus where the pupils and the teachers have their own identity and their own space. They also have a shared life and shared facilities with all of the others who use that same educational site. I applaud the people of Athy for taking this step and for embracing this opportunity when it came their way. Another thing is striking about Athy. The people who compose the community there represent a coming together of all that is best about the contemporary Anglican Communion in contemporary Ireland. Pupils and parents and parishioners alike all combine to make a most vibrant community of Anglicans witnessing unselfconsciously to the love of God in building and sustaining generous community.
The other great joy is, of course, the grant by the Minister for Education of a new Secondary School in Greystones, to be called Temple Carrig School. This is once again a tremendous tribute to the people of the area of Bray and Greystones and to the clergy who have proved themselves to be true community leaders. The school is to be under the patronage of the archbishop of Dublin and will in fact draw its membership from pupils who come from at least four school sectors: a Gaelscoil, an Educate Together School, Roman Catholic National Schools and Church of Ireland National Schools. This is an exciting development because it draws pupils from a very diverse range of schools into a completely new type of school. My thanks and congratulations go to the people of the community in Bray and Greystones who have done such a successful job in making this successful bid.
Twice in the year past there has been a Commissioning of Lay Ministers in the United Dioceses before Christmas in Clontarf Parish Church and in the early autumn in Christ Church Cathedral. Significantly, the preachers at both services were themselves Lay Ministers. Both of these Services of Commissioning were joyful occasions and I continue to be most impressed by the willingness of people to commit to the service of God and of their neighbour in this way and in addition to the demands of their everyday lives. The theme of service in authorized ministry in the church – both lay and ordained – is a very strong theme which constantly comes to the surface in the Services of Commissioning of lay people and Ordination of clergy. It forms the bedrock of our response in thanksgiving to God for the gift of life and for the gift of discipleship which binds us all together. The work of all those who carry responsibility for the training and preparation and also for the support and encouragement of individuals who fulfil these ministries is an inspiration to me and to the communities in which the lay ministers work week after week in unselfish ways. Significant work is currently being done on developments in preparation for lay ministry and these will add new and exciting possibilities to the range of lay ministry offered to people who wish to serve.
DIOCESAN GROWTH FORUM
Relationships and responsibilities – building a community of togetherness and guiding and directing the shape of such communities locally – this vision came to fruition in a very tangible way at the Diocesan Growth Forum which was held only ten days ago in The High School, by kind permission of the Governors. Earlier in the year, Canon George Lings CA had addressed the diocesan clergy on the subject of development and growth in the life of parishes and new communities of faith. So significant was the enthusiasm for the matters which he raised and explored with us then that the clergy felt it would be good to have a forum which would enable as many lay people and their clergy to come together and share ideas and hopes around this area – a proposal which both the Growth Team and I warmly endorsed.
At the end of the day, around two hundred and fifty people came and there was tremendous energy for engagement in a structured process of rejuvenation in parochial life. I myself sensed a new confidence with which I am delighted to engage on the part of the lay people of the United Dioceses in particular. They found that they had a voice and that it contributed directly to forward thinking on my part and on the part of the Diocesan Growth Team – always with the best interests of the Dioceses at heart. The day was very well organized by Andrew McNeile, Geoffrey Perrin, Ted Woods and David Caird with Lucy Connolly along with a myriad of volunteers and – surely a rarity in church circles – we finished five minutes early. The spirit was good and the contributions made in groups and from the floor offered both mature reflection and excitement for the future. For my own part I am totally committed to the outworking and delivery of the initiatives which will flow from this. The last person to report to the whole Forum from one of the groups made a gentle request that there might be a resource person to help with the implementation of recommendations and further plans. In fact this is now in train with the support and help of the parish of Dun Laoghaire. It is my intention, in consultation with a number of their members, to make an appointment of a Diocesan Ministry Development Officer. Such a person will be able to work with and from the findings of the Forum. The reorganization of Rural Deaneries – which is before this Diocesan Synod for approval – will also facilitate the implementation of this and the other initiatives in the realm of lay ministry which are being planned. Please go to www.growthforum.net where you will find the events of the Forum in a form which is readily useable in parishes and Rural Deaneries. Feedback is streaming in – please keep it coming. Significant themes include: the desire to share the experiences more widely in the parish; the fact that the examples from within our Dioceses and the Church of Ireland are within our reach; the crying need for fresh ways to involve lay people and to enable, support, liberate those with gifts in church and community.
It is with great sadness that I record at this Diocesan Synod the deaths of the Reverend Canon Robin Armstrong, the Reverend Derek Sargent and the Very Reverend Cecil Faull. All of them served God and neighbour with faithfulness, integrity and compassion. For very particular reasons I trust that you will permit me to say that the thoughts of Members of this Synod are with Breda Sargent, her three children and all members of the respective families. At this late stage, I wish to thank all of you for your commitment to the life of the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough. I trust that from my own remarks you will have seen that I stand four–square with you in the years ahead. I need your help and enthusiasm to bring to fruition the seeds which we have sown together. Their careful nurture during the months of darkness – when the real growth happens, unseen – is the joint responsibility of you and me and of those appointed to the task to see that growth comes about. The most important component in this is, of course, prayer. The capacity of the people of this diocese has inspired me and I have every confidence that it will continue to do so in the years ahead when we travel this road of responsibilities and relationships together – with joy and fun as well as with hard work and careful planning. There are so many other things happening in the United Dioceses and for which you and others like you are responsible which I could have mentioned and highlighted. For all of them, and for anyone whom I have omitted to mention by name, I am particularly grateful and thankful. I do hold that the Growth Forum is a natural development in the life of these Dioceses and that it is both Godly and Biblical – it commends itself to me forcefully. I want to see the lay people of this diocese flourish every bit as much as the clergy. For this reason, I should love to see established a regular Conference for lay people to run in parallel with the Clergy Conference and for both to speak to and share with these Synods their explorations and outcomes. Inter Faith work among World Faiths in Dublin is a real growth area. I want Church of Ireland people to engage with all of this as a natural and easy extension of their Anglican identity. It may interest members that for the first time a major document entitled: ‘Land of Promise? An Anglican Exploration of Christian Zionism’ will be launched by me, as chairperson of NIFCON, in CICE later in this month. All of this is for another day.
My thanks go to the Diocesan Secretary and her Assistant, to the Honorary Secretaries of the Synods and to Taney Parish and its rector and parishioners for making these Diocesan Synods happen so smoothly here in Taney Parish Church and Centre. I wish to thank the people of the parishes and the clergy for their very warm welcome of Inez and me as we meet you, often at Services of Confirmation, throughout the year. The General Synod in Dublin this year succeeded in keeping everyone from lunch. Let it not be said that the Presidential Address at the Diocesan Synods kept everyone here from dinner!
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