A PROPOSAL to reduce the number of Irish dioceses from 12 to 11 had been withdrawn, it was announced at the Church of Ireland’s General Synod on Thursday of last week.
The Bill, drafted by the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures, proposed a cross-border merging of the large western diocese of Tuam & Killala with the diocese of Limerick & Killaloe under one bishop, to take effect on the next vacancy in either see after 2017.
The Bill would effect the transfer of Tuam & Killala from the province of Armagh to that of Dublin; Achonry, part of the proposed Tuam & Killala merger, would remain in Armagh to merge with the cross-border diocese of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh. This would also have meant the transfer of six cures.
After the withdrawal of the Bill, Ethne Harkness (Armagh), who chaired the commission, tabled a late motion that requested the Standing Committee, “at an opportune time, to set up a committee . . . to support and work with the dioceses concerned and assist a process of change”.
On the matter of diocesan boundaries, Mrs Harkness said that the commission had published a booklet of guidelines at the General Synod 2015. “Last year, Synod approved our thinking and asked us to bring proposals forward this year,” she said.
”We consulted, and invited feedback. In some places, that was forthcoming, and we felt warmly welcomed. In other places, there was not full engagement. We met some apathy, some complacency, and some nimbyism, and some church politics.” A ten-diocese scheme was not acceptable to the two Archbishops, she said; so an alternative was put forward in the Bill.
The members of the commission were divided about the best way ahead: “We felt a real obligation to bring our final scheme to General Synod because we were told to do that. . . We felt that the outcome of our work should not be about success or failure for the commission, but better episcopal ministry for the Church. So, for this reason, we put forward our resolution.”
The report was seconded by Edward Hardy, who was “disappointed at the withdrawal of the Bill. . . Is there really an appetite for change within our Church?”
The commission also brought a Bill to the Synod allowing for either a member of the House of Bishops or a bishop of another province of the Anglican Communion to be elected Archbishop of Armagh.
It provides for the appointment of facilitators to work alongside diocesan episcopal electors to provide a statement of needs for each diocese, in the event of a vacancy. It also allows for the number of bishops in an electoral college to be reduced from three to two alongside the archbishop of the province where the vacancy occurs.
At the first meeting of an electoral college, nominations and advice to the shortlisting committee will be provided, in order to select a shortlist of three to five persons; the second meeting will consider the report of the committee.
The electoral college may then move to an election. A name that attracts a simple majority of the votes of members will go forward alone to the college to test whether it achieves the two-thirds majority in each order needed for election.
The Bill passed its final stage, with one amendment.
'Unity is hallmark'
THE problems of coming to terms with the Christian faith and its call for unity, especially in the current refugee crisis in Europe, confronted believers with the demands that were the hallmarks of the faith, the Bishop of Tuam, Killala & Achonry, the Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, said in his sermon at the General Synod eucharist in St Paul’s, Glenageary, Co. Dublin, on Thursday.
The Bishop said that the Church was meant to reflect a unity, a coming together in fellowship, harmony, and love, but that this was not easily achieved. “We live in the real world, with real humanity, and we invariably confront people with their perspective, their vulnerability, their preoccupations — and thank God for it. What, then, do we mean by the rather portentous phrase ‘The unity of the Church and its oneness under God?’”
The Christian response to the European refugee crisis, he said, brought the challenge of unity into sharp focus as one of the greatest challenges confronting the practising Christian.
“If we are all to be one, as we have been commanded, then we must be prepared to do what we can, despite the machinations of governments and the prejudice of those who would seek to spread fear and laugh at our naïvety.”