The Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Most Rev Pat Storey, has told the General Synod that If we allow the Church of Ireland Census 2016 – whose results are not yet available – to encourage us to be missional, “it will have been a worthwhile exercise”. Bishop Storey was speaking during discussion of the Report of the Standing Committee. The session was chaired by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Ken Good.
The report outlines the work of the commissions and committees that operate under the remit of Standing Committee. It highlights the second Church of Ireland Census and the establishment of the Safeguarding Trust Board as some of the most significant issues since the last General Synod.
The report disclosed that the Bishops’ Appeal funded grants totalling €457,243 over the last year. The Central Communications Board’s review of the Church’s communications structures and strategic objectives was also mentioned. A report from the Historical Centenaries Working Group focused on its symposium on the Battle of the Somme and support for the late Dr Valerie Jones’ popular book, Rebel Prods. The plans of the Pioneer Ministry Working Group to invite members of General Synod to share experiences of new forms of outreach that are seeking to engage with our communities were also presented.
The report was proposed by Bishop Storey who highlighted the large number of good news stories contained within its pages. Looking at the work of Bishops’ Appeal and the money raised for humanitarian aid, Bishop Storey thanked all who supported the charity. She said the setting up of the Refugee Working Groups, North and South, meant that the Church could try to put into practice what the governments had said they needed: ‘Welcome refugees in your area, offer practical support and speak out against xenophobia’.
Turning to the Church of Ireland Census 2016, Bishop Storey said that while the results were not yet available, it was a crucial gauge of where we were as an island–wide church. “It is not a flawless system by any means, but it does give us an idea of where we are at. Why? So that we can aim for better. The census can actually focus us on mission, which is the very kernel of Long Term Church. There will be some good news in the census but, for many of us, it will highlight the need to act and to have a vision for the future before it is too late. If we allow the census to encourage us to be missional, it will have been a worthwhile exercise,” she stated.
As chairperson of the Central Communications Board Bishop Storey commended the new Church of Ireland website and the work of those who helped bring it to fruition and the communications staff and diocesan communications officers in disseminating information. She said that the Parish Development Working Group continued to offer encouragement and support to parishes around the island.
Seconding the report, Richard Codd highlighted the work of the Priorities Fund which allocated almost €508,000 for ministry, education, communities, areas of need and outreach initiatives in the past year.
Speaking to the report, the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh Rt Rev Ferran Glenfield, drew Synod’s attention to the report of the Bishops’ Appeal Advisory Committee and said that change was impacting upon Bishops’ Appeal. He said that members of Bishops’ Appeal would appeal that we would reach out to our brothers and sisters in the developing world.
The Bishop of Tuam, Rt Rev Patrick Rooke, chair of Bishops’ Appeal, acknowledged the support received from across the Church of Ireland. Disasters were just one aspect of their work, he said, highlighting the development work carried out which linked with local churches. To ensure this continued, he stated, funding needed to continue. Two thirds of our funding comes from one third of churches in the Republic of Ireland but he said if Bishops’ Appeal was to continue to be the channel of the Church of Ireland then all parishes in all dioceses needed to contribute. He recognised that there were more demands on people’s money – last year there was €15,000 less to dispense on development projects. There was a crisis in East Africa, Bishop Rooke said, but because the media was not highlighting it, funds were not coming in. Some time ago it was suggested that each adult be asked to donate one day’s income; “what a difference that would make,” Bishop Rooke said.
The Archdeacon of Derry, Ven Robert Miller, spoke to the communications section of the report and said that staff centrally were working effectively and hard, and said perhaps the resourcing of the staff should be examined.
Dean Alistair Grimason (Tuam, Killala and Achonry) said that communication was at the heart of what we did as a church. He said that communication was under-resourced and under-valued. He thanked Canon Ian Ellis for all his work as the editor of the Church of Ireland Gazette and wished him well in his retirement from that post.
Martin Montgomery (Derry and Raphoe) told Synod that people were looking for parishes online and said it was important for them to have a presence online. He commended Charlotte Howard in the RB for her work in helping with the IT, and urged delegates to look into developing parish websites.
The Bishop of Connor commended the work of the Children’s Ministry Network and focused on the welcome that children received in church. He acknowledged that church can be an adult place which can be unwelcoming. Julie Curry (Down and Dromore) said children were vital to the future of the church. She said the Children’s Ministry Network was there to resource the whole Church of Ireland and suggested that Children’s Ministry needed to be invested.
Speaking to the Church and Society Commission, Archdeacon Andrew Forster (Armagh) said the church needed to be greatly concerned about the political situation in Northern Ireland where, he said, there was complete political deadlock, no programme for government and no budget, and politicians were focusing on the next election. Political deadlocks had always been dangerous times in the province, he said. Urging people to pray for Northern Ireland, Archdeacon Forster said the word reconciliation had disappeared from discourse over the last 12 months, community relations had taken a back seat and the community seemed more divided. He said members of the church on the island had to be people who sought the common good, sought reconciliation and sought common ground so that future generations would not seek division.
The Bishop of Cashel, Rt Rev Michael Burrows, spoke of his submission to the Citizens’ Assembly. He referred back to the referendum in 1983 when the Church of Ireland also said that the Constitution was not the best place to deal with abortion. Bishop Burrows said legislation was the best place to deal with it. He hoped that – in the event of a referendum on abortion – the electorate would handle it with respect, prayer and intelligence.
Canon Paul Willoughby (Cork) addressed the issue of centenaries and said the Church, through the Historical Centenaries Committee, had given dioceses and parishes a tremendous opportunity which had enabled people to tell their own stories. He said that the silence was over and people had been given permission to tell their stories, and that this was a sign of the country ‘growing up’.
Speaking on Safeguarding, Neville Bagnall (Tuam, Killala and Achonry) said it was with great sadness that the work of the Safeguarding Trust Board was needed, but it was. He said he was sad to read of cases of historical abuse relating to the Church. He asked if the church was too weak to act in this area to bring comfort and redress to what we had failed to do.
Dr Tim Jackson (Cork) spoke on the Disability Working Group. He said one of the challenges that had arisen recently was the challenge of inclusivity. He said the real challenge was how to include people. Nicky Wadsworth (Down and Dromore) suggested that parishes be encouraged to print large print copies of service sheets for those who are visually impaired so that they are included.
In response to the debate the Bishop of Meath and Kildare thanked the contributors and said their comments had been noted.
(Photograph: By Church of Ireland)