The Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett, was among the many delegates, both clerical and lay, who took part in the debate during the second stage of a Bill which — if passed — will provide for the Service of Prayer and Naming and the Funeral Service in cases of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.
A resolution granting leave for the introduction of Bill No 2 was passed by members of General Synod last year and presented at General Synod 2019 in the Millennium Forum for its second stage.
The Liturgical Advisory Committee’s attention had been drawn to the scarcity of liturgical resources available to help parents, clergy and pastors in situations of miscarriage, stillbirth and neonatal death.
Proposing Bill No 2, Dean Nigel Dunne (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said that the Liturgical Advisory Committee (LAC) had devoted much care and attention to detail when shaping these services, not least in response to input from those with particular experience and skills relevant to this field of care.
The committee were mindful of the scarcity of resources of this kind both within the Anglican tradition and beyond, he said, and it was important that “we make such provision in a way that allows both sensitive and flexible responses to what are so often deeply traumatic experiences”.
Discussion about the Bill was remarkable for the number of women who shared their own deeply personal – and often harrowing – experiences.
The Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Most Rev Pat Storey, said she entirely supported what she called the “excellent Bill” but warned that some of the amendments could bring disunity to the pastoral spirit of this Bill.
The Rev Mark Harvey said that he supported the pastoral nature of the Bill because there was no formal liturgy to enable people to grieve. From a pastoral point of view, he pointed out that it was important to offer something to parents.
The Rev Susan Green (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) was conscious that the debate which affected women’s reproductive lives was being conducted for the most part by men and urged people to be aware of their unconscious biases. For women who had experienced loss, this liturgical development was a “caring and pastoral offering”, she said, and it was important that women’s voices were heard.
The Rev Daniel Nuzum (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said he was proud that the church had brought this Bill. Clergy struggled to find resources when met with tragedy and he said it was important when discussing the Bill that opinions were shaped by experience and an awareness of what other disciplines were saying. The impact of this loss was immense, Rev Nuzum said. Pregnancy was a deeply theological experience, he said, and the Bill was a word of encouragement to the church.
Joan Bruton (Meath and Kildare) spoke of her own experiences and said she was delighted that this proposed liturgical resource would bring comfort to people at a dreadfully sensitive time in their lives.
Commending the Bill, Dean Maria Jannson (Waterford) said this area was a minefield of pain. The Church of Ireland at its best was gentle and loving, she said, and met people in prayer where they were.
Dean Arthur Barrett said he was pleased to see the optional language in the new liturgy because it would allow clergy to minister to the situation and use the most appropriate parts of the service. He was among those who spoke of his own experience and admitted he would possibly have been very clumsy in what he would have said in the past, until it happened to him and his wife.
Dean Barrett was “astounded” at how it affected him. “I think it’s important that we do also hear men’s voices in this situation. My experience has been that men sometimes are excluded from the caring of others around neonatal death and miscarriage and that is something that I have learned through experience – that men’s voices do also need to be heard.”
Dean Barrett said he had used the service some weeks ago and it was extremely useful and the parents appreciated it.
In a very powerful contribution to the debate, Canon Barbara Fryday (Cashel, Ferns and Ossory) also shared her experience of losing a baby shortly after birth. As a chaplain in the local hospital, too, she had encountered a range of situations and said the new service was absolutely necessary. It was about Christian pastoral care, she suggested, and if parents and families got help immediately, it did help them. What was on offer was good, Canon Fryday said, and added that every situation was different.
The Revd Anne Skuse (Cork, Cloyne and Ross) said the liturgy would help people in bereavement and recovery, and it would also help them deal with their faith to know that the church met them at their need.
Ruth Galbraith (Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh) thanked the LAC for bring the proposed liturgy forward. At long last there was something where previously there had been a lack. She said she was thankful that there was no more need for women to be let down.
A large number of amendments to the Bill were tabled and discussed, and Synod agreed that the Bill would pass Stage 2 and go to its final stage on Saturday morning.