The Archbishop Of Dublin’s Presidential Address To Dublin And Glendalough Diocesan Synods 2013
Added on 15/10/2013
… change and consolidation …
harvesting the fruits of the Spirit
Change and consolidation and harvesting the fruits of the Spirit were the focus of the Presidential address to the Diocesan Synods of Dublin and Glendalough this evening. Delivering his address on the first night of Synods Archbishop Michael Jackson said there was a point in the life of any institution when it had to face the question of change and consolidation.
The Archbishop said the conventional church was often an institution which closed down change and prevented consolidation and added that he would rather this were less the norm for the future.
He acknowledged that churches generally found change difficult and pointed out that change did not explain itself readily. It needed to be processed and worked through so that the fruits of change could be harvested. Those who were affected by change were entitled to an explanation of its benefits irrespective of whether they ultimately agreed with it or not, he stated. But, Archbishop Jackson said change made consolidation possible and delightful.
The United Dioceses had shown and taken the lead in a number of areas he said. He congratulated the dioceses on this adding: “This is very exciting and it makes me proud to serve as your pastor, as shepherd and bishop of these dioceses and to build on such inheritance with you”.
He highlighted the recent celebrations of 20 years of CORE St Catherine’s, the achievements of 3Rock Youth and the groundbreaking work regarding immigrants as evidence of the dioceses’ ability to take the lead.
The Archbishop spoke of the spirit of inclusion. He said that this asked that we know who we are as Anglicans, develop this knowledge and understanding by living it out and that we make it available to others as a free gift. He suggested that this could be done in these United Dioceses – in practical, human, theological and structural ways – set within a total population of 1.5 million and where there were good relationships with secular agencies and ecumenical partners. The Discovery Gospel Choir was a shining example of hospitality and human integration, he explained.
In the area of Inter Faith engagement he felt that knowing and sharing who we are and being hospitable as a host people was vital if we were to create a future Irish society which is not to be fragmented and fossilized around old and new histories of exclusion.
Archbishop Jackson proposed three principles he wanted members of the dioceses to own: Hospitality, Ministry from and with Children and Social Action. “All three of these already speak well of what a diocesan Agenda might look like and it is my intention to work this through, starting with the full–time clergy… My intention would then be to have each and every parish own this and enjoy it across the length and the breadth of the United Dioceses,” he stated.
The full transcript follows below:
There is surely a point in the life of any institution when it has to face the question about: change and consolidation. The stark alternative, which is much more unpleasant, and yet to many who carry no real responsibility much more attractive, is: inertia and disintegration. And, in fact, an institution reaches the point where it welcomes such a question because it enables a cloud to burst and, after the rain clears, everyone can get out and about again and enjoy life. At its heart, this is a question about maturity, about coming of age and about going forward in the knowledge of why and of how. All of this depth of thinking and commitment is vital if Christianity, the institution to which I personally have a specific belonging and for which I have a specific affection, is to make the contribution in faith, hope and love which is our calling and our delight – that is, all of us – in the world of today for the world of tomorrow.
Question and Illustration
This question can indeed come at us from any angle and in any number of forms. It can catch us unawares or, as disciples of Jesus Christ and as children of the Holy Spirit, loved by God and redeemed in faith through Baptism and Eucharist, we can in fact prepare in faith for something which will happen in fact. A large part of the preparation is a readiness to let it happen under God and, in happening, to release enemies and friends who were dormant or suppressed or, simply, never needed to be named until now. We do this primarily by prayer and openness to God. We will be surprized, but not alarmed, if our preparation for one thing results in the harvesting of something quite different; because in our personal lives we know that this is how God works.
Is this not, dare I suggest, the message of the woman with the haemorrhage of blood, as told by St Matthew when Jesus is intent on other things, hastening on to heal the daughter of Jairus? It is what I find when I explore this painful and beautiful story of Jesus’ encounter with a woman deemed to be un–clean and un–Godly, in a faithful and spiritual sense? Inconceivable though it may seem to a generation which has used Biblical criticism as a battering ram to rubbish simple faith, we are told that she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment in the belief that she would be healed; that she was healed; and that Jesus instantly sensed the power as it left him.
A ruthless and a mechanistic world, such as we have constructed and such as is all too often our contemporary lot, encouraged along its path by shallow intellectualism at its most illiberal, would seek to deprive us of this possibility of the imagination. It would deride our directness and our naivety as well as our trustfulness and our hopefulness in the application in today’s world of the faith once delivered. Today’s Ireland is a subtly threatening place in which to witness to God. Religious people are sucked into a black market of cynicism and disbelief in order to find camouflage for what they hold dear. And yet each one of us Synodically gathered here can, if we have the humility and the urgency, live in that wonderful moment of grace where we actually sense and know that our touching God means instantly and by return that God has touched us and will touch us again and again out of love. Today we might well consider the fact that the woman is anonymous as an insult to her. Yet, the combination of her need and her trust in such an anonymity mean that, in fact, she is a parable for all time of what we are talking about: change and consolidation.
But: Why her? And: How is she a parable of change and consolidation? She believed that something had changed through the presence of Jesus Christ in the world and she urgently wanted it for herself; Jesus believed that something had changed because, once she had touched him, power had gone out from him; the relationship was consolidated when they interacted in a new way as disciple and Master, when they turned and talked to one another, when they met as persons and as individuals. The encounter consolidates the change as something good and for the good of both. The impatient crowd simply had to stand still, tapping the equivalent of their watches, poking at the equivalent of their iPhones, watching and wondering in individual cynicism and personal superiority – and, I hope, they were changed and consolidated in their own way in this harvesting of the Spirit and swept up into the free flow and acceptance of grace.
From this miracle of healing, which I am inviting us to understand also as a parable of trust, we can see this happening before our very eyes. The change is two–fold, in both directions. The consolidation, however, is exactly the same; both parties are changed and the relationship between them is consolidated and cemented by the one being able to give what the other has the nerve to ask. The environment in which they stand likewise is changed and consolidated; it is crowded and pushy; it is undoubtedly impatient and confused; but let us not be too hard on it: it is life as it is lived and always it is into such contexts that parables speak. The real problem today is that the conventional church, in all its self–selecting expressions (fresh or stale, and we have both in these United Dioceses), is regularly the institution which closes down the change and prevents the consolidation, on both sides. I should rather this were less the norm in our life in the Body of Christ for the future.
Ladies and gentlemen, Members of these Diocesan Synods, you will surely already be asking yourselves: Why has the church as an institution squandered this inheritance of grace? You may even, in your heart of hearts, have gone further and asked: Why do these Synods, alone in the Church of Ireland, insist without any cogent or good reason on meeting over two days to discuss matters which, on the surface, contribute almost nothing tangible to the in–breaking of the Kingdom of God in the world which God has created? What does this institutional routine say to the children of God, irrespective of creed or class, who may well be unimpressed by our on–going and unacknowledged fear and our often instinctive rejection of difference; by our complexes of superiority and exclusivity around churchpersonship; and, last but not least, that continuing widespread Church of Ireland perception held by many of us that we are those who ‘punch above our weight’? The miracle of healing encourages us to connect human need with personal humility and the grace of God and not to aerate our personal and individual vuvuzelas.
Change at its heart usually means that some thing rather different from the things to which we have become accustomed has happened. To be honest most people would probably never get round to doing it if they were left to make the decisions around change themselves. Change can be diverse or sudden or indeed both at the same time. It can seem to affect a wide range of things all at once and, when it happens and it works, there seems really to be no need to argue against it as we once thought we needed to do. But we genuinely spend so little time getting ready for change. I will offer you two examples of change in our country which, in my opinion, were well handled. One was the actual change from the Punt to the Euro as the regular and standard currency. There was a time of overlap which was also the time of gathering in of what would by a stated date become obsolete. But there still is the facility in The Central Bank, in Dame Street, Dublin, to which you or I can bring any Punts we find at home for transfer to Euro. The second was the actual change from Miles to Kilometres in terms of legal speed limit on our roads. At that stage, I was working in a rural diocese so I was out and about a great deal on different types of roads. I could see people painstakingly putting up signs with the appropriate numbers: 50 60 80 100 120 on specific stretches of road and then covering them in black sacks. Presumably at some stage when I was asleep these black sacks were taken down and the new designation of speed became apparent and instantly effective. I use the word: actual because, in both of these instances, there was an actualité, a point at which something did have to change and when the old simply was no longer sufficient.
Churches generally find such change difficult. Most prefer a psychology of institutional bereavement – about almost anything anyone cares to mention. I genuinely don’t know why this is the case and, throughout my work, people repeatedly have sought to make me and others feel very guilty and very beholden to them for ushering in change which resulted in the saving, rather than the losing, of what genuinely mattered most to them. The problem with this attitude is not only that it makes a full and a fulfilled life in the church very difficult; it is that it makes church life itself a very negative experience, not least for those who are new to ‘us’ and who ‘do not yet quite know our ways’. The Anglican tradition and the Church of Ireland have both an identity and a generosity. Both are highly complex and yet both have always worked together with total simplicity to welcome those who wish to live their lives as Anglicans and as Anglicans within the Church of Ireland. In our United Dioceses, we have a great deal of work done and a great deal more to do in order to extend a structural welcome to two groups of people in particular: those who are Anglican by conviction, having been members of other religious traditions, and those who are what we call immigrants. I shall return to aspects of hospitality a little later.
Change does not, however, explain itself readily. It needs to be processed and worked through so that we harvest the fruits of such change. Those who are affected by change are entitled to an explanation of change and its benefits irrespective of whether they ultimately agree with it or not. This processing of it takes many forms. The first of these is: engagement. The second is: ownership. The third is: enactment. Engagement asks of us that we play our part in the reasons which have brought the need for change to the forefront. It also asks for a willingness on our part both to stand back and to make room for ways of thinking and acting of which we had never before thought. Ownership asks of us that we take responsibility for what is to happen and that we go further and engage in advocacy of it. Enactment asks of us that we give others who have been waiting for us to give a lead the joy and fulfilment of something that they can own as it is happening. In this way, change embraces decision and decision embraces transition to a future. Such a future offers and promises more than we could ever have and be part of were we to remain in the present. It is such a definition of change as transitioning which rapidly makes consolidation possible and delightful.
Some examples of Diocesan Changes
CORE St Catherine’s
At a number of points in our recent history, the United Dioceses have not only shown a lead but taken a lead. I congratulate all of you on this publicly in these Synods. This is very exciting and it makes me proud to serve as your pastor, as shepherd and bishop of these dioceses and to build on such inheritance with you. So much of this you, as long–standing members of the United Dioceses, take for granted – and entirely honourably. However, my request is simple, that with your gracious permission I review them with you and allow you to harvest the fruits of what they have given to the church and to the community. It is also vitally important that we recognize the ways in which they have helped and healed so many individuals in this process.
CORE St Catherine’s marked twenty years of its life. Everyone is aware that CORE has gone through stormy periods, including painful and flagrant immaturities. Indeed, on the evening of the celebration: 20 YEARS OF CORE, it was made honestly clear that at certain points CORE had been as much the author of its own problems as had been anyone else and was increasingly well aware of this. This is a spiritual maturity and I thank the Reverend Craig Cooney for this. Freedom to express ourselves in worship, in action and in prayer brings its own deep challenges and demands. I think back to the strapline of the former archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams at Lambeth 2008:
Don’t ask: Is it Anglican, make it Anglican!
It is much harder to live out than it sounds in its superficial attractiveness. It does not mean: Anything you happen to like is Anglican and anything you decide to do we can anoint as Anglican. It simply cannot mean this! In fact it requires a broad range of components. The first is information about what Anglicanism is as a theological and ecclesiological way of thinking. The second is a nuanced respect across the various Anglicanisms which are lived out worldwide and locally within Ireland and in the service of the world and the ecumenical theologies of other traditions to which we are bound. The third is a willingness to with–hold in the self–denying ordinance of charity (almost impossible for a media–hungry post–Modern generation) what we ourselves hold dearest for the sake of our neighbour, while both of us learn accommodation and move away from antagonism and triumphalism and the use of the rhetorical battering ram. The activity of Anglicanism needs to be carried through in such a climate of understanding as this. In my experience, the various strands of Anglicanism can readily become dismissive of each other and rather enjoy it. This is, in my mind, something which we need to address courteously in the life of our own United Dioceses if we are not simply to become neighbours with zappers for electrical gates while we live neatly in parallel.
CORE St Catherine’s has enables us to learn this and I am very grateful.
3 Rock Youth
Long before I came to Dublin and Glendalough, I was well aware of the work of 3 Rock. From what I understand, since being your bishop, 3 Rock has for some time worked alongside a number of other initiatives. In undertaking a review of this whole area of diocesan life, it would seem to me that the time is right. There is always the temptation that any one expression of the tradition might become the only point of reference and the sole anchor point for the future. If this becomes the case, then we are facing into a house of cards situation. What I said above about the many traditions of contemporary Anglicanism which form the rich tapestry of these United Dioceses, the response to young people and, separately, to children needs to reflect and live the diversity of who we are. And diversity is a discipline. A sophisticated society simply will not settle for: one size fits all; nor should it. If we are preparing children for a confident Christianity as well as for a life of service and contribution to society, we need to model respect and difference in ways which engender the same generous principles as enacted practices. And we as adults need to show our genuine willingness to engage with young people and with children in disclosing this.
Both Greg and Susie have moved to other work and I am delighted publicly in these Diocesan Synods to thank and congratulate them on all that they have done. A number of us has done so in other fora and we have delighted to do so. I congratulate 3ROCK on undertaking a thorough review of all its activities now that we have had the full benefit of the work of Greg and Susie, along with all of those who have helped them from right across the Dioceses and those whom they have swept up into their work by their integrity and their enthusiasm. It is surely impossible to underestimate the workload and commitment which they and their Oversight Team have shouldered together with their liveliness and joyfulness and their unique capacity to engage with young people. These number hundreds of thousands as things stand. If you are looking for achievement, ladies and gentlemen Members of Synods, this is it.
It is a great delight to us to see Greg channelling his significant energies into work with people aged 18–35 with overt diocesan blessing. My advice to him is to concentrate on the post–student generation in the first instance; shamefully we have thus far under–engaged with them. They experience the cynicism of an austerity–driven society in particular and painful ways which only they can tell and voice. Such experience transcends denominational affiliation yet it is a human complexity into which generous Anglicanism must speak with urgency and confidence. I should also like to give our thanks to the dean of Dublin and Glendalough for affording Greg physical space to work from the cathedral. The vitally important thing is that the review currently under way listens to the voices coming from across the range of the parishes and the traditions to which they bear witness and proclamation. I am delighted that it is the stated desire of the diocesan cathedral to engage with and to embrace individuals and communities who may be on the margins. This is an essential and life–giving witness at the hearth of these United Dioceses and will add depth and body to Greg’s work.
The voices of the young people are important as are the voices of their clergy and, dare I say it, their parents. This is a wonderful opportunity to use research to fashion for different times something totally comprehensive for all shades and streams of opinion. I stick to my earlier assertion that: one size does not fit all. However, I am convinced in this and in all other aspects of what we are looking at that there are Anglican core components. We need to explore these and to give them voice. And we need to do all of this together. Too readily have different streams within Anglicanism settled for the different definitions of themselves which they see in the mirror before them, like Snow White’s stepmother until …. Too often have Anglicans picked some definition from another Province and sought to make it fit the shape of our own; and sought in the process to tyrannize others with exclusivity as a definition of identity. I have worked in three dioceses in the Church of Ireland and this approach causes untold damage. I work across the Anglican Communion and the damage is equally untold. It is selfish; it is selective; it is elitist. Self–styled liberals look down their noses at so–called conservatives; self–styled traditionalists sneer at so–called progressives. This is something we need to fix. It is as rife in these United Dioceses as it is anywhere else in the Church of Ireland. It is as rife in the Church of Ireland as it is in the deepest recesses of these United Dioceses.
3 ROCK has taught us this; we are pledged and committed to further exploration of these issues. My prayer would be that such exploration would engender both change and consolidation.
Immigrants – I even shudder at the use of the term like this….
Another ground–breaking initiative in the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough has been the sustained and structured work regarding immigrants, or as I prefer to call people in this context: ‘those whom we insist on calling immigrants.’ The reality is that many of these people came to Ireland from places and peoples of danger, defilement, exploitation and corruption as well as being driven by economic necessity or personal choice. Many of them never wanted to be here or to remain here; now they are our neighbours; they have significantly enriched our society at large. Not only has there been considerable committee work in terms of practicality and advocacy. There has been significant intricate work with secular agencies and a dedicated priest in our own Anglican tradition along with the internationally acclaimed Discovery Gospel Choir. These people have risen outstandingly to the challenge of lived and living neighbourliness.
Although we no longer have a designated office devoted to this, the work continues and the belonging deepens. Not only am I myself regularly approached by members of other Christian traditions internationally to offer space for liturgy and worship, but already there are communities who are very much at home in our churches as members–in–partnership of the Church of Ireland. The outworking of the International Agreements and the implementation of the International Dialogues of which we are signatories are very important when it happens in these ways. So also is the international membership of our own Church of Ireland – the great thing is that it is not any longer composed of: our own in the exclusionary sense, but is already shared by God and in God with many, many others.
Now … this is where it bites. If it is not the spirit of exclusion, it is either the spirit of inertia or the spirit of inclusion; and it has to be the latter. It is the spirit of inclusion which asks of us that we know who we are as Anglicans, that we develop this knowledge and understanding by living it out; and that we make it available to others as a free gift. We cannot hide behind the fact that we know all too little what Anglicanism is to justify our own inertia. My conviction is that if this can be done anywhere it can surely be done in these United Dioceses – in practical, human, theological and structural ways – set as we are within a total population of 1.5 million, many of them eager to know us and to understand how Anglicans tick. We need to be confident. We need not to get lost and find ourselves perpetually bumping our heads against the brick–wall of self–pity. We have enough people; we have, by and large, good relationships with secular agencies and ecumenical partners. In fact I think our ecumenical partners are waiting all the time very patiently for us to commit to them within the love of God and to take the plunge. It is an exciting way of being Anglican and I really do look forward to these Dioceses doing this in ways which are energizing in the years which lie ahead. The Discovery Choir itself is a shining example of hospitality and human integration. Furthermore it extends the grace of God to others through its commitment to social action and living diversity.
Inter Faith engagement is another matter and another area and for many people it is much more problematic. I am not naïve about this even though much of my personal theological commitment is in this area. The more I come to know people who worship and live in another World Faith tradition, the more I sense that they grapple not only with issues and complexities which we hold in common and also with realities of which we can know nothing. I have never subscribed to the idea that people of faith are all the same and simply have to prove to the rest of us that they can get on with it better than we internally in Christianity get on with it. I have, however, the deeply held conviction that knowing and sharing who we are and being hospitable as a host people is vital if we are to create together a society in Ireland for the future which is not to be fragmented and fossilized around old and new histories of exclusion. One of the truly terrifying modern realities is the international and virtual character of terrorism; it is interesting until it kills people and until it involves specific people in the Irish diaspora, as we have learned over the past year in Syria and in Egypt. Then it becomes truly tragic.
Opportunities for Wider Ownership
I fully realize that many of you will say: We have been doing all of this for ever and a day! I reply simply: I am delighted to hear it; but let us share it with one another; let us learn from one another and let us make the connections which this level of understanding readily make possible. There are so many ways in which already we are blended as communities. However, I am firmly convinced that such blending must not swallow our identity. My own work of personal conviction internationally and at home, particularly in the area of Inter Faith encounter, leads me to understand that sustainable engagement is not possible if we do not know our identity, hold it and share it.
My positive concern is that we harvest the fruits of our Anglicanism and share these fruits with one another and with others beyond ourselves. It will require effort – but that is much better than letting the fruit rot on the trees or on the ground. It will require engagement – but that is much better than watching others pick it and wilfully depriving ourselves of the enjoyment of it. It will require emotional buy–in – but that is much better than a dry and sad existence which all too often is what defines an unshared Church of Ireland life. My further concern is – and indeed always will be – that this in no way is confined to one stream or strand of who we are as members of the Church of Ireland in these dioceses. For this to happen we need actively to work together and I have every confidence that we can and will do so.
Other things which are happening which make this possible
As part of the evolving self–confidence of Christian people in Dublin, the Good Friday Walk of Witness now attracts substantial numbers of people who are able to fill both Christ Church Cathedral and St Mary’s Pro–cathedral with a walk in peace and love on the part of people of every denomination through the heart of the city of Dublin in the early evening of Good Friday. The Inter Faith Peace Walk likewise takes us to the heart of shared witness in an ever–changing Dublin where our definition of neighbourliness is always being encouraged to go wider.
The work of National Schools is very important and I single out for particular reasons Blessington NS for its co–operative work with Khanaberia Primary in Dhappa Dump in Calcutta. I had the pleasure of dedicating from a distance what is in effect a toilet block, after the Blessington pupils had raised in excess of Euro 10,000 for this work. Please don’t mock a toilet block. The sheer practicality and simplicity of it are worth dwelling on and honouring. Toilets on site were the key components to facilitate an enhanced educational experience and achievement on the part of the pupils. Before the generosity of Blessington NS, the children were forced to leave school to go to the toilet at home ten miles away and were effectively never returned. Now – more of us can do things like this; school to school; parish to parish; community to community.
Three Principles which I want us to own
Hospitality: the work and ministry which I have outlined above make up something which is at the heart of the life of the United Dioceses. We have begun to harvest from the work of specialist officers both vision and inspiration in the areas of youth work, work among immigrant people, broad–ranging ecumenical encounter. So what next? This work is largely instinctive to us as disciples of Jesus Christ. It is as much as anything else a question of making sure that it is owned and celebrated by the people we are and in the parishes and communities to which we belong and which we shape in the present for the future. My hope is that it is now the opportunity of Church of Ireland people in the dioceses to take this further specifically through Rural Deaneries where people can work together and enjoy together in their locality what it is to be generous in the name of the Lord. The Dioceses have carefully restructured the Rural Deaneries in such a way that they are all now roughly of the same size. This is a tremendous help and I should like to thank both current archdeacons in particular and the administrative staff in all the detailed work which they have done in this regard. I should also like to thank the Rural Deans for all they have already done around working with the ideas of Hospitality, Children and Social Action. This has been so very encouraging.
Children: And the same holds with children. I am increasingly convinced of the need for the church to receive ministry from children every bit as much as to offer safety, welcome, belonging and ministry to children. Safety remains the priority. As our youth and children’s work develops, I am more and more conscious as I listen to people that there are so many generations in the years to 18. We need to be well aware of the educational reality of imagination and learning and the needs of serving the needs of people who may share the same birth year but who are genuinely and for good reason quite different in their spirituality and their comparative educational capacity. By and large, we have not even begun to explore and enjoy the spiritual perspective and the contribution of people with disabilities to our understanding of God, whether they be older or younger. In fact, recently at a meeting in St Patrick’s College Maynooth, I suggested to the Roman Catholic co–chair of ARCIC 3, and on the next day to his Anglican co–chair when I met him at a church service, that they test their developing theology on three groups of people across the Anglican Provinces: women, older people and people with disabilities. They were excited. I think we here in Dublin and Glendalough could add: children. And I really think we ought to, precisely because we have significant numbers of children in our parishes; they are a resource for one if not two generations of adults who seem now actually to be too frightened to ask spiritual questions.
Social Action: Already, and we shall hear more of it as we move into the body of the Synods from those who are involved in this work, there are significant moves in this area. My visits around schools and parishes over the year past have shown me the resilience of people who make neither song nor dance about it when they do wonderful things with very few means. Last year I encouraged Members of Synod to participate in The Solas Project in Dublin 8. Alongside this there is a wonderful Report from the Rural Social Action group who have gone in significant detail into what it is to shift the culture from the reality of rural exclusion towards the agenda of rural inclusion. This has great potential and is very exciting.
All three of these already speak well of what a diocesan Agenda might look like and it is my intention to work this through, starting with the full–time clergy who are, as The Hard Gospel told us, the gatekeepers of change. My intention would then be to have each and every parish own this and enjoy it across the length and the breadth of the United Dioceses.
Diversity of Similarity – Human Sexuality a Metaphor
We speak far too much of the diversity of difference. We need to be much more humble than this and – frankly – a lot less arrogant. I saw it work itself out at another Synod, the General Synod of 2012 held in Christ Church Cathedral, and I really should rather not have to witness such a sustained display on many sides of the Church of Ireland of competing triumphalisms and impacted despair ever again. In many ways, the trench warfare of human sexuality has become the place where we have both contrived and fed ‘the clash of civilizations’ among ourselves. Incredibly, we have been content to deChristianize one another in the cause of truth as we obsessively define and refine it. Time after time, we neither listen nor learn. Time after time, we are content to diminish the silent people in the middle ground whose compassionate common sense consists in their principled concern that people be not dehumanized, that those who are different are not in fact put into the stocks because of their difference. In earlier times, I described the situation rather basically as follows: those who are about to fall off either side of the tin need the friendship of those who stand in the middle and who are still willing to hold their hands rather than abandon them to their preferred fate.
In the context of this Synod, I express it rather differently. When I came here in 2011, my impression would have been of two dioceses which saw themselves as: all tolerant, all liberal, all inclusive. I have learned through much bitter experience that exclusionary attitudes, and indeed sectarianism itself, is alive not least in the Church of Ireland community; to me this has been a deep and shattering sadness. And I am sure you will agree with me when I find myself forced to express it in such terms. I have learned also that many people still crave a moral monopoly rather than taking the daily opportunities to make decisions for themselves and for others in accordance with the most elementary of Anglican principles. I have learned also that, in many contexts, there is a deeply dug in antagonism to difference on the part of those who trumpet pluralism. In some ways this has been the most alarming of all and the most devastating personally.
I say this out of genuine personal experience. I did not have the luxury of a childhood where I was able to dismiss sectarianism as ‘the sort of thing those dreadful Northerners get up to,’ a phrase I have heard more than once trip off the tongue in these United Dioceses. I am one of those aforementioned ‘dreadful Northerners.’ I grew up in the midst of sectarianism and division in County Fermanagh; such a mindset I realized even then was as much a cynical manipulation as anything else of fearful people who had no active desire to dehumanize their neighbours. It was exercised by those with clinical brilliance who sought to eat such people up in a power game of politics and dominance – and to divide the spoils among them and start again. I have also witnessed from an early age how deeply felt religious convictions have become the playthings of such powerbrokers and how the language of ‘the other side’ becomes a settled norm in identifying children and adult as less than human. And I have also seen people changed and consolidated for good by these very tragic and destructive experiences, in itself a miracle of human life and personal grace. This has given me a commitment to peace, ecumenism and dialogue with those whose views and beliefs are different from my own. Lazy liberalism cut no ice in the Borderlands of my youth; and it cuts no ice in the Dublin and Glendalough of today. It has also given me a sense of urgency about the reality that if we, in our relative comfort, do not engage with the tripartite process of reconciliation in these islands we are walking out on our democratic responsibility and our Christian commitment to our neighbours seen and unseen. I have no intention of so doing.
It is for this reason that I offer you now a phrase of my own: the diversity of similarity. Had I never come to work in these Dioceses, with the continuing realities and painfulnesses which I have outlined above, I should probably never have been forced to chisel out the phrase: the diversity of similarity. To me it is very important for the future, as we are not entitled to diminish each other, we are not entitled to deChristianize each other and we are not entitled to exclude the stranger, the immigrant, those who are ‘not one of us and who do not know our ways.’ Too many, in my opinion, entitle themselves to do this by a sideways glance, by casting eyes to the ceiling, by closing invisible doors on the enthusiastic and unsuspecting who, in all honesty, could not see the doors because they never thought that being an Anglican meant living like this.
We have much work to do – I trust we can do it together. We have in fact boundless resources – I hope we can share them generously. We have good times ahead of us – I believe we can enjoy them together.
Harvest fruits Advent new life and birth
We are at a unique intersection in the life of the church. Many parishes have at this time marked the gathering of the harvest of land and sea and we today have gathered and celebrated the harvest of the Holy Spirit in our United Dioceses. Ahead of us lies the Season of Advent when we celebrate anticipation of new birth and then new birth itself. As we journey together, let us remember the woman with the issue of blood who has guided our thoughts this afternoon, as we begin to deal with change and consolidation. She may be an unexpected point of departure. However she has helped to change our perspective. Being humble and direct enough to express a genuine need, as did that anonymous woman, is important. Being open to being stopped and doing something different when you are in full flow of preoccupation with someone else, as did Jesus, is equally important. Both she and Jesus were changed in their encounter one with the other. The consolidation of her need and of his grace resulted in a second healing where only one was expected and anticipated. Do not underestimate God.
This is the journey which lies before us. This is the path which we must need to take as disciples of Jesus Christ and as ourselves are fruits of the Spirit. I said as much on Sunday in two delightful Services of Confirmation in the Diocese of Glendalough. The Holy Spirit frames every synodical gathering, as we seek to be touched by the tongues of fire and the breath of God. And ahead of us lies the Season of Advent in which we look forward with anticipation to new life and new birth. Let us grasp it with joy in believing.
For further information please contact:
Diocesan Communications Officer
Dublin & Glendalough