Added on 18/10/2012
Below is the transcript of the Presidential Address given by the Rt Revd Ken Clarke, Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, at the Diocesan Synod held at the Bush Hotel in Carrick–on–Shannon on Saturday 13 October 2012.
Members of Synod, it is pleasure to welcome you to this Synod today. Thank you for coming and thank you for all you do in your local parish, community, and in the Diocese. We also welcome our guests today and all who are manning the stands.
The theme of my Synod address today is depth and going deeper. Going deeper as a church, a Diocese and as Christ followers.
It was Richard Foster, in his superb book Celebration of Discipline, who said,
‘The desperate need today is not for a greater number of intelligent people, or gifted people, but for deep people.’ I believe he is right. One of our top priorities is to move forward into greater depths of love, service, commitment and Christ–like character. Jesus Christ was a man of extraordinary depth. He calls us into depth of relationship with Himself. He sends us out to be a people of depth who deeply influence and impact our society country and culture. Just as salt can change the flavour and help preserve something good so we can be agents of truth, goodness, and grace in our communities and country. In a culture of trivia and superficiality only the substance of the Gospel offers depths of forgiveness and new life. The grace–filled Cross of Christ, the solid ground of faith in Christ, and the depths to be discovered in Him, are at the core of the Gospel we are called to live by and share. Today we will look at a few areas where we can move forward in depth.
Forward in Depth in Mission and Ministry
We are called to move forward in depth in mission and ministry. In our recent Strong Small Churches Conferences, Chuck Owens identified the following as some of the areas which can be areas of strength in small churches:
• Mission and service
• Compassion and shepherding
• Community and belonging
• Self–reliance and self–sufficiency
• Worship and hope
• Leaders and team
• Just enough space and facilities
• Giving and generosity
He gave wise counsel when he said that strong small churches can make progress when they realize that the strengths they have are God’s gifts. It is encouraging to hear of how many parish groups have met since the Conferences and the 4 steps forward suggested by Chuck are one way of going deeper and growing stronger.
1. Claim your strengths
2. Expand one current strength.
3. Add one new strength.
The Ireland we live in at the beginning of the 21st century needs to see and hear in the Church, a mission marked by compassion, ministry which is marked by humble loving service, worship which is inspiring and preaching which is life related.
Forward in Depth in Families
Another mark of the western world and western culture today is the emergence of new networks of relationships. In the midst of these developments some dismiss, as past tense, our traditional understanding of family. According to the Scriptures it was God’s idea from the beginning of creation that a man and a woman come together in a creative and distinctive covenant union. Jesus both affirmed and endorsed this model of relating. The relationship between husband and wife is to be marked by love, faithfulness, tenderness, selflessness and respect. The teaching of Scripture still holds true that husbands are to love their wives, children are to respect their parents and parents are not to exasperate their children. These are just some of the many principles given for the wellbeing of families.
In the Jewish tradition family devotions and traditions are an important part of normal family life. Just as in the Olympic Games the passing on of the baton is part and parcel of the relay races, so the passing on of the baton of faith is to be a normal part of the life of faith. Ways of passing on the faith are described in Deut. 6:
These are the commands, decrees and laws the LORD your God directed me to teach you to observe in the land that you are crossing the Jordan to possess, 2 so that you, your children and their children after them may fear the LORD your God as long as you live by keeping all his decrees and commands that I give you…,
4 Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. 5 Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up…
10 When the LORD your God brings you into the land he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, to give you—a land with large, flourishing cities you did not build, 11 houses filled with all kinds of good things you did not provide, wells you did not dig, and vineyards and olive groves you did not plant—then when you eat and are satisfied, 12 be careful that you do not forget the LORD, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.
What has always impressed me about this teaching is how natural it is. Faith is a normal part of our normal everyday lives. It is not compartmentalized into what happens in a church building or synagogue, nor is it just for a certain specific time. It is all encompassing. It pervades influences and impacts the whole of our lives. It is neither embarrassing nor private. It happens both indoors and outdoors. It is natural normal faith based living. It comes from the heart and is lived out in daily life, at home, out walking and whatever we are doing. This is the context of passing on the faith to our children.
In Christian families praying together can be a positive ingredient of expressing thanksgiving to God and sharing needs and concerns. However sometimes family devotions can become family commotions. Understandably we ask, ‘Is there anything out there which is a resource or a tool we could use? We don’t know what to do.’ Well here is one way forward. In recent months Andrew Brannigan, Youth Officer of Down and Dromore Diocese, published an excellent booklet to help family devotions be a time of teaching prayer and fun. [Mr Andrew Brannigan gave a presentation]
The words of the late Mother Teresa are particularly relevant.
‘What can you do to promote world peace? Go home and love your family.’
Loving God as a family, prioritizing worship, building–in family devotions, living by biblical principles, fostering healthy respectful relationships can be a real help in developing wholesome and life–releasing relationships.
As we go forward as a Diocese we want to strengthen family life. Equally we want to support those who are facing, or have faced, bereavement, unemployment, financial hardship, illness and tough times. We are called to care for those who have been widowed, orphaned, or whose marriages have broken down or are breaking down. At this time of recession and family breakdown I ask members of Synod to be on the lookout for those who need support and encouragement, practical help and sensitive care. In the Church of Christ we are called to love and serve, to be the most loving caring people in our local communities. A local church is called to be a magnet of love, a community of compassion.
Traditionally marriage has been understood as the foundation and context of family life. In both the UK and in Ireland there are plans to legalize same–sex marriages. Whilst I fully support the importance of rights and entitlements for all, there is a fundamental problem in calling a same–sex relationship marriage. By definition marriage is marked by difference. It is a celebration of difference. It is a lifelong covenant of difference. It is literally a union of difference. Biblically, historically, traditionally and in the church catholic, marriage has been and is understood as a lifelong union of a man and a woman. It is unique to a man and a woman. Jesus said,
‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’
He was quoting the first book of the Bible, Genesis, and the words are repeated by the Apostle Paul in Ephesians. This is God’s foundational pattern as taught in the Scriptures and in our Marriage Service where it is described ‘as part of God’s creation and a holy mystery in which man and woman become one flesh’. Of course other loving relationships exist and flourish but by definition they cannot be described as marriage. I hope our political leaders both North and South will reflect deeply before changing legislation. In the pursuit of rights we must not walk into the wrongs of throwing out one of the basic ingredients of marriage as traditionally understood and God’s clear creation pattern.
Forward in Depth of Partnership
I thank God for our growing and deepening links with South Carolina. Already we have seen the fruits of partnership and the mutual blessing which can ensue. The face of mission and ministry is changing and I believe our growing partnership can strengthen our ministry and sharpen our mission. This past summer the team of young people from South Carolina Diocese were of a remarkably high calibre. Their faith was real and their desire to serve was evident to all. Young people from our own Diocese served alongside them at the New Wine Sligo Conference and in holiday clubs in two of our Groups of Parishes. In September Fr. Chuck Owens and a team from his Parish of the Church of The Cross Bluffton, led us in two Strong Small Churches Conferences. We have received many expressions of appreciation from those who attended and since then groups have met in various parishes to talk through issues raised. This has the potential to help parishes think though God’s vision for both church and community. We are deeply grateful for the generosity of the Church of the Cross and their commitment to our Diocese. There is an exciting future ahead for this Diocesan partnership and I believe it can be of enormous blessing. Plans are already in place for future exchanges and times of teaching and training. We assure Bishop Mark Lawrence and the people of the Diocese of South Carolina that you are in our prayers. We realize that this is a difficult time for you. We thank God for your faithfulness to the Gospel and your vibrant and missional orthodoxy.
Forward in Depth of Relationship
Getting Closer–Growing Stronger–Going Deeper
Some years ago in the Diocese I spoke in different places and parishes about ‘Getting Closer’, ‘Growing Stronger’ and ‘Going Deeper’. They are the secrets of a Diocese which desires to be Christ–centred, character building and community transforming. As we look forward to the next few years in the Diocese I believe these aspirations can be inspirations. I have no doubt that these are part of God’s vision for the Church. His will is that we are a people who go deeper with Him and grow stronger in Him. That happens when we get closer to Him. The old saying is true, ‘we get like the people we live with!’ When we live with God and walk in His light then growth happens. Ireland needs to see a church which lives in integrity, walks with humility and is marked by consistency. These are some of the Gospel values of a Gospel people.
At a time of horrendous recession, and for some, frightening depression, there is an urgent need for a church which is marked by a depth of compassion and selfless loving service, sharing Christ’s love in practical thoughtful ways. We are not called to talk the talk but walk the talk. Important creeds are meaningless without loving deeds. Our love is to be expressed both locally and globally. Later in the synod we will hear of overseas links and across the Diocese there are local initiatives reaching out to people in tough times. I hope that the farmers know that we recognize the tough time you have been experiencing after one of the most difficult summers ever. I hope our schools and teachers know that they also are in our prayers as changes in education continue to be discussed and debated.
Going deeper in our understanding of God’s Word will lead to a deeper love for God’s world. Getting closer to the Lord will lead to being a more Christ–like person. Growing stronger in the Lord will result in greater consistency and fruitfulness. These priorities and marks of Christ–like living are what I pray for you, as I give my last Diocesan Synod address, and in the next few months move on to a new challenge. You will never know what a privilege it has been to serve the Lord and you in this Diocese. There are many issues to wrestle with, and tough decisions to make, but I pray that my time with you has in some way helped us to see that in Christ there is a hope and a future. He WILL build His church and we are called to be His fellow workers. Helen and I have been blessed to be fellow workers with you for these past twelve years.
Changes and Welcome
During the past year we have said farewell to Naomi Quinn, who is now serving a curacy in Castlederg in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and to Steve and Hilary Clark who are serving in Crowhurst Healing Centre in the south of England. Jim Stevenson has retired after many years in the Manorhamilton Group. Liz McElhinney from the Ballyjamesduff Group and Canon Billy Stafford retired from the Cootehill Group. Tom and Kathleen Conway finished in the Drung Group. To all we say a sincere thank you for all you have given.
We welcome to the Diocese Christiaan and Karen Snell in the Ballyjamesduff Group, Stephanie Woods in the Drung Group and John Woods in the Sligo area. We are grateful to all the retired clergy who serve so faithfully and without the steady ministry of our Diocesan and Parish Readers we would be greatly impoverished.
Sylvia Quin has been elected All Ireland President of GFS and Violet Morton the Diocesan President and we congratulate them. We also congratulate our new Archdeacon Ian Linton and our two new Canons Patrick Bamber and Ronnie Bourke, our new Parish Readers and 4 new Diocesan Readers.
Bishop Richard Clarke from our neighbouring Diocese of Meath and Kildare has been elected by the Bishops as the new Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. We warmly congratulate him and assure him of our prayers.
I say a very sincere thank you to our Diocesan Team of Treasurers and Secretaries. John Davis, Billy Stafford, Des Lowry and Willie Foster give an unbelievable number of hours to looking after our finances. Thank you. In Brigid Barrett and Maud Cunningham we have two highly dedicated and totally committed Secretaries who consistently go the extra mile. Thank you. To all our Clergy Team, Readers both Parish and Diocesan, and to all who serve on Diocesan and Parish Committees: Thank you.
I began with depth and I finish with depth. Paul’s words to the Colossians…2:6,7:
‘6 So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.’
Or as The Message expresses these words:
‘My counsel for you is simple and straightforward: Just go ahead with what you’ve been given. You received Christ Jesus, the Master; now live him. You’re deeply rooted in him. You’re well constructed upon him. You know your way around the faith. Now do what you’ve been taught. School’s out; quit just studying the subject and start living it! And let your living spill over into thanksgiving.’
Bishop Ken Clarke