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Irish Primate throws down a challenge to society

16 May 2014

Gregg Ryan reports from the Church of Ireland General Synod in Dublin

PAUL HARRON/CHURCH OF IRELAND

IN HIS presidential address to the General Synod in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, the Archbishop of Armagh, Dr Richard Clarke (right), challenged the political establishment and Irish society generally to measure up to the expectations of those on the margins.He called on the Church to do likewise by living out its mission as demanded by Christ in St Matthew's Gospel: "Freely you have received: freely give."

He asked "what the outsider would see if they looked at the Church objectively; but, more particularly, what the outsider should see as characteristics of the organism that is the Church of Ireland.

"We could produce a long list: outward-looking, mission-orientated, lively, committed, faithful. The list could go on and on. I want to suggest a word that might well encapsulate virtually anything we would want to say about theChurch and its characteristics. It is the word 'giving'. The Church as an organism that is characterised byits giving nature; its people, whoare characterised by being giving people."

The Archbishop questioned society's priorities, especially in the areas of poverty, and funding for hospice provision, and demanded a fresh approach by politicians.

"We must be a Church which looks beyond itself, and looks beyond the present, and also encourages others to do so." He challenged politicians "to tell us what they wish to offer - to give - to the future, to our children and grandchildren. It surely cannot simply be 'more of the same' that we wish to offer. . .

"There is continuing political paralysis in Northern Ireland; a culture of entitlement for those who, in the Republic, already have plenty; and an austerity which assaultsthe poor more than the wealthy in both our jurisdictions. . .

"Around us we see that it is the poorer who are becoming poorer, and, in some cases, genuinely destitute, right before our eyes. . . The generosity of so many people in supporting foodbanks is, of course, wonderful - a fine example of giving - and must be encouraged; but should this particular form of individual giving actually be necessary? Surely not in a functional humane society that looked after its weakest as a matter of course."

Turning to end-of-life care, he related: "A hospice I visited recently, on the edge of Armagh diocese, has to raise two-thirds of its financial requirements through its own fund-raising operations. We simply have to ask, as Christians living in modern society, where public priorities are."

Dr Clarke also spoke of the Synod legislation concerning the Covenant between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland, and interchangeability in ministries.

"It would be easy to see the legislation for an interchangeability in ministries to be regarded simply as an ecumenical structural arrangement. This would, I believe, be a very limited view of the matter. There will, of course, be wholly practical outworkings of a new arrangement if this were to pass through the General Synod, but I would like us to take a broader view of the matter.

"This is also about the mission of the Church, and it is about the gifts that each tradition might give to the other, and hence to the wider world. We have gifts to bring; we have gifts to receive."

He cautioned against being overly preoccupied with the problems of the present, to the exclusion of the long-term legacy of the Church.

"What of us as the Church of Ireland? We cannot ask of others, if we will not look at ourselves and what our hopes might be for the future. I am not, I believe, alone in fearing that the Church of Ireland has become so concerned with dealing with present concerns under our noses - all of which are, indeed, pressing, and critically important - that we have somehow lost the vision and hope to look further into the future, and to ask what we as a church community might propose to give as a legacy to future genera-tions.

"In partnership with others already mentioned above, I am asking that the Church of Ireland as a whole takes a deep collective breath, and looks to the long-term future, and begins to work collaboratively towards what we might wish to be - let us say, in 20 years' time, 2034 - being a Church for the long term, being in word and deed a long-term Church.

"This might be our gift to the future. Not for us, but for our children and grandchildren."

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