The Archbishop’s wide-ranging address speaks to issues of the relationship between individual and institution, and about the creation of a constructive society – ‘one which sets at the heart of its agenda the wellbeing and the flourishing of its members’ – and active participation in it.
The Archbishop goes on to say: ‘Society, as it constantly and critically constructs itself afresh in each generation, needs to explore and to enact opportunities for living in ways which give hope to those whose experience of life gives them little ground for hope … Seismic flaws have led to societal bankruptcy. The new society needs to be built on mature explorations which construct communities of collective inclusion as well as communities of opportunity. We have lived through a period of unprecedented opportunity for a very small proportion of our society. It has resulted in profound alienation. A constructive society has to look very different for the future.’ The Archbishop’s address also covers salient issues related to education and healthcare.
Individual and Institution
Much of the tension in ourselves and in our society stems from the need which will not go away, that is: the need to resolve the relationship between individual and institution. We instinctively speak of individual freedom and institutional responsibility. Both of these phrases, along with the ideas which they carry deep within them, are essential. However, they must also work the other way around, as individual responsibility and institutional freedom, if we are to be members of a coherent and a constructive society. Without the mature and generous interchange of the attitudes and the activities which these words sustain, human beings find it difficult to flourish. Flourishing, without a doubt, is the purpose of human life. Openness and communication, courtesy and firmness are vital and life-giving in this whole process, as are understanding and compassion, derivation and direction.
A CONSTRUCTIVE SOCIETY
You may be surprised by my use of the phrase: constructive society. Society is something which we take for granted; society has always been there in some shape or form. We are, of course, part of it yet often feel that the present shape and the future shaping of it lie in the hands of others and are beyond us. We feel entitled to grumble about it and to assert that it has gone to the dogs… without doing much about it. For us as citizens and as Christians, such an attitude is a waste of our opportunities and a setting aside of our responsibilities. We have a voice; we have an entitlement to be heard respectfully; we have a duty to contribute. We are deeply embedded in a fast-moving and a fast-changing society. It is ours and the shaping of it is every bit as much ours. We make our varied contributions country-wide to the well-being and flourishing of local communities. We also have the opportunity to do so on a bigger scale and on a wider canvas – and that opportunity too we need to grasp. By our presence and by our engagement, we proclaim Christ Jesus present in society, whether or not that society is hostile or welcoming, or, as is often the case, a mixture of both.
A constructive society is one which sets at the heart of its agenda the wellbeing and the flourishing of its members, most particularly those who are suffering from and experiencing disadvantage, exclusion and exploitation. Not only is this a rebalancing of privilege in the context of the good of the greatest number, but it is central to the proper understanding of those whom we call ‘the poor’ as being at the heart of Jesus and of the Gospel. This today includes those who are disabled, the elderly and all others whose essential support services have been cut, withdrawn or reduced to the point where they cease adequately to fulfil the purpose for which they were brought into being in the first place. Society, as it constantly and critically constructs itself afresh in each generation, needs to explore and to enact opportunities for living in ways which give hope to those whose experience of life gives them little ground for hope. It has to do so also with encouragement built into its DNA. It means that individuals, who by their contribution make this way of living possible, have a clear sense of participation and involvement in the better experience of shared life – and also somehow feel that their contribution to this is honoured and valued by those who make the decisions which shape our society as an institution. Such a constructive society needs the participation of those who follow Jesus Christ and those who do not. It is surely one of the greatest challenges to those who think of mission in church-based terms to partner and to network with those who do the same things with no discernible church perspective. This is letting go and it is letting God be God wherever and in whomsoever. It seems to me that such connected thinking happens too rarely. In many ways, church people are frightened of it in a society where the secular ethic has made us more than tentative abut saying anything at all from a Faith perspective. Yet this is a time of real need in our society – the need of solidarity. The national economy is shaky and crisis-ridden; the economic and commercial model of what a society is remains dominant and flawed. Everyone seems to be searching for the holy grail, the magic formula which will turn our society round and stimulate economic recovery. Of course, we need economic recovery and we need it fast if we are to move beyond the palliative rhetoric of the word-chisellers. However, we simply cannot contemplate a future where we congratulate ourselves on creating a better version of our old selves, but on the same economic model. Seismic flaws have led to societal bankruptcy. The new society needs to be built on mature explorations which construct communities of collective inclusion as well as communities of opportunity. We have lived through a period of unprecedented opportunity for a very small proportion of our society. It has resulted in profound alienation. A constructive society has to look very different for the future.
On a daily basis we become more and more aware of the consequences of economic downturn. We have no option but to sense and to experience the hard and brutal truths of what this does and the devastation it causes in the lives of individuals and families. This happens in basic terms – hunger and thirst, unemployment and collapse of business, rising prices for goods and services, homelessness and the negative equity of those who thought that, in making provision for their future, they were doing the right thing in the right way. Few find themselves unaffected. Societal anger can quickly turn to cynical resignation and rank disengagement on the part of those who feel they have no point of reference and who experience personal worthlessness in a land of leprechaun’s gold. The Presidential Election may well prove to be a de facto referendum on political performance by individuals and party machines all in one.
The experience is always more raw and real for those who are in any case suffering and without voice or privilege. The wider question always to be asked is: How does this shape the mission of the church as an institution and how does it mould the discipleship of people as individuals today? Rather than being seen to pass by on the other side, Christian people are asked to make a constructive contribution which is always to be focused on the neighbour, your neighbour, my neighbour. For parochialized communities of faith this is a steep learning curve and a sharp shock. Many of our neighbours differ from us quite considerably. Many of them have their own communities of belonging and may not engage readily with our communities of belonging. Many of them, I suspect, we have never even got round to talking to, so they do not know us and we do not know them. Some may even find us somewhat unfriendly. This too is a recipe for alienation on a massive scale, if we are not careful. We always have room for improvement and for enlargement.
WHAT MIGHT WE DO? …
As members of the Church of Ireland, we are small in number and our presence across these dioceses and indeed the whole country is far from uniform in distribution. Numerical size need not deprive us of the opportunity to engage with others and of making a contribution which itself makes a difference. The first thing which is asked of us is: to keep looking for our neighbour in our community as well as in our parish. The second thing is: to be humble enough to discover and to celebrate the reality that the best parts of our relationships, new and old alike, are free. The third thing is: to continue to be generous, widening our understanding of mission as a way of being and as a way of doing at home every bit as much as abroad. More immediately, we need to remain supportive of the agencies which urgently require contributions from people of principle and from parishes of vision. Only in this way can agencies of care continue to give the necessities to those whose need is now alarming to them and ought to be alarming to us.
The recognition of our neighbour as a person of dignity; the realization that good relationships cost nothing financial and the plea to sustain a level of generosity at home and abroad: all of this will make a powerful impact and it is beyond the scope of none of us here. The power of simplicity and the strength of consistency turn a gesture into an activity of real transformation. We have gathered as the United Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough for these Diocesan Synods from across the length and the breadth of our dioceses. The strength of our parochial system is that it covers the whole area where we are situated and to which we belong. Parishes need the diocese, the diocese needs the parishes and the parishes and the diocese needs the wider community – to remind us that our lifeblood is those beyond every bit as much as it is those within. As an island nation, we ought to know well what is meant by insularity. And insularity takes the form of withdrawal, the fashion of concern primarily about ourselves. It becomes an attractive possibility, particularly when individuals or institutions are under pressure from any quarter. And sometimes our confidence is no more than skin-deep, however assertive our rhetoric. My plea would be that in difficult economic times, turning inward would not emerge as the more attractive option. For us in the Church of Ireland, it would be disastrous. There is no earthly or heavenly reason for us to abandon the best of ourselves and the best of others in times and in situations of difficulty – or to cease to engage in a transformative way with the very worst of ourselves. God invites us to become who we are yet to be. God invites others to do the same. As there is room for us, so there is room for others. We are called to make space for them where there always will be space.
WITHIN THE DIOCESES AND PARTNERSHIP WITH THE DIOCESE OF CONNOR
The Book of Reports for these Diocesan Synods provides good reading for anyone who picks it up. It gives a clear and expanding picture of groups of people who are prepared to think imaginatively, to engage critically with issues and attitudes and to plan for the future in ways which are missional. All of this has repercussions for the life of the church as an institution and its people as individuals, if only we seize it. I really do want to see this grow and flourish and I want it to happen with a properly thought-through missional intention. I want the Boards and Commissions to engage actively with those who in other spheres do similar work: ecumenically and in civil society. Networks and partnerships are what make the world today what it is and we, within the church, need this sort of collaboration if we are to be part of bringing to those whom God already loves the finest and the best of the experiences and expectations of the Kingdom. It is not enough to talk of God and not to do God’s work; it is not enough to do God’s work and fail to talk of God. Once again, every individual here can do this. I want to applaud the creativity and the energy of so many people and I want more and more people in our dioceses to be part of this experience. We are uniquely placed to do so, with a broad range of urban, suburban and rural presence and engagement. I have already seen strong evidence of this, as I have found myself in various parts of the dioceses at many different types of event. There is always scope for the sharing of the experiences, for the integration of practice and for the cross-fertilization of ideas. The wheel must turn but it does not always require re-invention. It does nonetheless need a sense of movement and direction.
At their last Meeting, the Diocesan Councils have responded unanimously and enthusiastically to a Dublin-Belfast Partnership between us in these two dioceses and the diocese of Connor. It will centre on our coming to know one another better in a church which can all too readily foster and develop emphases which can accentuate difference rather than embracing difference. It will develop around partnership in mission and the discernment of signs of the Kingdom of God in two capital cities. It will share engagement at a sustained level with broad sectors of wider society. And it will be fun. The Diocesan Council of Connor and Bishop Abernethy are fully behind this and have also embraced this project enthusiastically. We will all hear a great deal more about it in the months ahead.
WHO ARE WE? …
In the society to which we belong there is always an opportunity for us to make a contribution as members of the Church of Ireland. We have no need or desire to trumpet but I think it is good to try to understand something of why we do it. Many treasure and even more take for granted what we call the Church of Ireland ethos. Many have no idea what it is. Ethos, then, is one of those words we understand all too little and one of those ways of being and doing things which we will recognize only when it is deeply eroded by our neglect of it. Our particular ethos is one which makes space for others, for those whose contribution to the totality of life is essential for its equilibrium and for its energy. It is neither a laissez faire nor a ‘one size fits all.’ In many respects, it is quite the opposite. As a minority, we are always open to misunderstanding and it is our duty to this tradition of openness to speak up for it. Many will argue that this is not always how we have been. I would rather argue that it is how we have been but it is not always how we have acted. Our ethos is not a badge or a brand of superiority. Rather, it is an expression of our faith, mostly in a worldly context, as we live from week to week in our communities in the spirit of Acts chapter 10. The application of this text from the early Biblical church enables us to hold together the secular and the sacred, the everyday and the Sunday – every day of the week. Its principles are rooted in a respect for a lived and often quite unselfconscious intentionality for goodness; in a deep respect for the Scriptures imaginatively understood and lived obediently; in a critical engagement with the tradition from which we emerge and which we share, as we always have done, with many others who live it differently; in a willingness to be challenged by reason as a gift of God and as something which seeks and finds God in human creativity, in experimental science and in the most Godly understanding of the human person and the created world. All of this, the combined features of Scripture, tradition and reason lie at the heart of a way of living which can be shared with others without losing anything of ourselves; which does not fear the world but which is far from uncritical of it; which does not dread the future which is already of God and is also of our shaping and of our belonging.
There are two particular areas of life where the expression of this ethos of openness is at its most urgent and in many ways at its most undervalued and misunderstood. It will be no surprize to any of you that I refer to education and healthcare. Our eyes are open to the realities of recession, our ears are constantly bombarded by the rhetoric of recovery; we fully accept the need for relevance in education – yet many of us bemoan the turning of the educational experience of young people into a commodity, the definition of the worth of which is its capacity to deliver for the professional labour market. This is all the more ironical when we have fully embraced the essential nature of lifelong learning in the philosophy of education. The contribution made by teachers and by parents and by members of Boards of Management through National Schools and Secondary Schools is impossible to quantify and is selflessly given. I am sure that I speak for all Members of this Synod when I express deep gratitude to all those who commit themselves to the work of education and who wish the warm air of freedom and tolerance to breathe through the educational experience of all pupils. A recent Survey in June of this year should give us and others heart. There is overwhelming support for Church of Ireland National Schools. Among the features which are most appreciated are: the educational provision, the care for children, the welcoming of parents, the inclusion of all and the opportunities provided for children to learn about Christianity. We are also fortunate in having the Church of Ireland College of Education situated within our dioceses and also the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.
But, as Professor Moody of Hogwarts is wont to say: Constant vigilance! There is deep concern in parts of the country about long-term commitment on the part of the Department of Education and Skills to sustained provision of school transport in rural areas. Were this to be withdrawn, a very real possibility would be school closures by parental decision to have their children educated at schools geographically closer to home beyond and without our particular system. Throughout the summer period, there was considerable chaos caused in relation to teacher redeployment with a further follow-through of anxiety to students emerging from CICE at that time seeking to secure jobs. The reasons for both anxiety and vigilance are clear. The Department’s stated objective is one of finding significant further savings, in the region of 1 billion euro over the next four years. The Department’s proposals to raise again the pupil/teacher ratio at primary and secondary level accelerate the risk of the reduction of pupils’ educational experience. Into this equation we need to throw the Department’s own projection that primary school numbers are due to rise by 6% over the above four year period. The implications of these considerations, to name but a few, are significant. We are regularly in contact with the Department and appreciate deeply the level of communication afforded us. Yet, in the words of Professor Moody what is needed is: Constant vigilance!
Equally important is the contribution made by our hospitals, healthcare and residential centres. We have, as members of the Church of Ireland, inherited some of these from our former selves; we are refashioning some of them for appropriate use in the twenty-first century not least in terms of governance; we have created some of them anew and we are committed to them as places, as people, as communities where our ethos is not to be ‘for our own alone’ but is shared, expanded and enriched by being open to all and being proofed by the highest realistic expectation of service and care. We embrace the need for contemporary governance arrangements expected in modern healthcare, balanced with honouring past traditions. An example of our commitment to give assurance on the delivery of patient-centred care in the contemporary healthcare service is demonstrated by our willingness to implement change in the areas of governance and change at Tallaght Hospital. Having met with the Foundations of the Hospital, I trust that under the direction of the new Board, chaired by the archdeacon of Dublin, such changes will enhance the already existing level of excellence for which Tallaght is known. It is not the Church of Ireland way to be exclusive, nor is it our instinct to withdraw from engagement with society. In a whole range of areas, this means that we find ourselves in the vanguard of ethical and moral issues, questions and dilemmas; we find ourselves as principled advocates of things which others do not readily envisage. This is what it is to have Scripture and tradition engage with reason as a gift of God interacting critically with the world of which we are part. Hospitals and healthcare have an immediacy about them which demand public access to the best available; public accountability for the best expected; public funding for the best possible. Within this expectation we seek to keep open to all who cross the threshold the best of medical and nursing care.
I should like to thank all those who have helped Inez, Camilla and me to settle in so readily to Dublin. I should like also to thank all of those who have helped me to settle in so quickly into work in the Dioceses of Dublin and Glendalough. My thanks first and foremost are to the Electors from the United Dioceses and the Southern Province who were the Members of the Electoral College for Dublin and Glendalough whose will it was, under God, that I come to Dublin and Glendalough; 3.50 pm on February 2nd is a time and a date I shall always remember. But my thanks go also to the dean - and more widely to cathedral and chapter - for the Service of Enthronement in the diocesan cathedral which so many have spoken of with great delight and vivid memory. My thanks also go to Mr Keith Dungan, Mr Scott Hayes and Mrs Sylvia Heggie who seem to have effected a seamless transition in the life of the Diocesan Office and to Mrs Jennifer Byrne whose movement along the corridors of Church House in the direction of Dublin and Glendalough means that we in the dioceses have access to a person of considerable wisdom and significant expertise. I should not like to let this occasion pass without publicly paying tribute to a lifetime of service on the part of Mr Dungan for his majestic grasp of the diocese and his willingness throughout his time of bearing office to put such encyclopaedic knowledge at the service of God and the church. The archdeacons of Dublin and Glendalough have been extremely helpful and I hope that I haven’t given them more sleepless nights than is their normal pattern of insomnia. Ms Lucy Connolly is tireless in her commitment to the work of the United Dioceses as it comes across her desk and through my study. Throughout the year past, Ms Orla Ryan has fulfilled the work of Diocesan Communications Officer with thoroughness and distinction. Orla took up the baton of Mr Garrett Casey who, on resuming the baton, promptly laid it aside and was appointed Synod Officer in Church House, Dublin. We wish both Orla and Garrett well and they go with our considerable thanks.
THE MOST REVD DR JOHN NEILL
My immediate predecessor Dr Neill was held in very high esteem and warm affection. He served these dioceses as bishop with considerable personal selflessness for almost a decade. In every aspect, Dr Neill sought fervently to make God known in the Trinitarian presence and operation of that same God. Nothing was a chore to him. Pastoral concern for clergy and people along with a distinctive liturgical style enabled everyone to recognize him wherever he found himself. We wish both him and Mrs Betty Neill all that is good in retirement in Bennetsbridge, County Kilkenny. I am sure that everyone would like good wishes to be conveyed to the Neills from these Diocesan Synods today.
We remember with sadness the deaths of the Reverend John Gordon, the Reverend Margaret Gilbert and the Reverend Canon Eric Despard. We wish all that is best to those who have retired: The Reverend Canon Cecil Mills, the Reverend Declan Smith, the Reverend Canon Desmond Sinnamon and to those whose work has taken them beyond the Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough: the Reverend Neal Phair, the Reverend Ed Vaughan, the Reverend Jonathan Kissell, the Reverend Tim Silk, the Reverend Tim Irvine and soon to depart the Reverend JP Kavanagh. We welcome to the Dioceses the Reverend Craig Cooney as chaplain of CORE St Catherine’s and the Reverend Dr William Olhausen as rector of Killiney Ballybrack, and in new capacities the familiar faces of the Reverend Stephen Farrell as rector of Zion and the Reverend Trevor Stevenson as chaplain of Crinken St James. We are delighted that four priests and six deacons have been ordained in Christ Church Cathedral this year and wish the newly ordained everything that is best in their ministry among us. We remain indebted to the many retired clergy and Readers who so willingly undertake duties in the United Dioceses. We continue to have a very healthy number of ordinands in training and rich engagement with them on the part of our parishes through placements.
Most of all my thanks are due to the people of Dublin and Glendalough. As individuals you find yourselves part of a complex institution. The Church of Ireland is a fast-moving place and it is a most interesting place to be. New questions are always on the table. Experiments of great interest and integrity are always taking place. Traditions are maintained and enriched by fresh expressions and by fresh experiences. This is how it is meant to be. Mission is what holds together the individual and the institution. As the Father sent the Son, so the Father and the Son send the Spirit; and God in God’s infinite totality sends the people of God to bring God to the people of the world. Without individuals of commitment and courage, the institution withers; without the institution, the individual loses context, bearings and direction – even if the life of that individual is a battle with the institution.
My hope is that as together in Ireland we face into an uncertain, volatile and precarious future, we in the Church of Ireland will make a real contribution to a new type of community. For too many years the individual has triumphed over any sense of community cohesion in Ireland. It will demand of us a level of endurance and imagination to which many of us are unaccustomed. But it will bring us back to our ethos, to our principles of tradition and tolerance, of experimentation and engagement with those whom we know all too well – the hard part – and those whom we do not know at all – the difficult part. In God’s hands and together it is an exciting journey.
Today is the Feast of St Luke. It is simply a happy chance of the secular calendar that we meet on this day. The chance is however worth honouring. Luke gives us a version of the life of Jesus; he also gives us an account of the early years of the young church, stormy, creative, passionate, combative, missional – we are still grappling with individual and institutional stories of faith and response and our contemporary church context has shifted firmly to the imperative of mission. Luke gives us the perspective of a healer, an historian and a painter – all of these elements and perspectives we need if we are to rise above the lethargy of repetition to do and to become a new creation. The Ministry of Healing is centred on our diocesan cathedral; that same Church of Christ, dedicated to the life of the Trinity, also seeks in its daily living to do the work of an evangelist and physician of the soul. Finally, let us listen to the words of the Collect for St Luke’s Day as they speak into our synodical life now to unfold over these next two days:
Almighty God, you called Luke the physician, whose praise is in the gospel to be an evangelist and physician of the soul: By the grace of the Spirit, and through the wholesome medicine of the gospel, give your Church the same love and power to heal; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
+Michael Dublin and Glendalough
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