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Church of Ireland Synod responds to childbearing grief

24 May 2019

Gregg Ryan reports from the Church of Ireland’s General Synod in Derry

Church of Ireland

The Generaly Synod in session at Millennium Forum, Derry

The Generaly Synod in session at Millennium Forum, Derry

A BILL that will make provision for a service of prayer and naming, and the funeral service, in cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death received final approval at the General Synod, on Thursday of last week.

At the beginning of the debate, the Bishop of Cashel, the Rt Revd Michael Burrows, said that the lives of many of those present had been touched by the subject, and so all who contributed to the discussion should be mindful of the need for sympathy and care in how they spoke.

Proposing the Bill, the Dean of Cork, the Very Revd Nigel Dunne (Cork, Cloyne & Ross), said that its purpose was to make provision for “a carefully crafted and pastorally sensitive liturgical response to cases of miscarriage, stillbirth, and neonatal death”. Given that that resources were scarce in Anglican and other traditions, he said, “it is important that we make such provision in a way that allows both sensitive and flexible responses to what are so often deeply traumatic experiences.”

The Synod listened in silence as speakers supported the Bill, among them both clergy and laity who had personal experience of miscarriage and other causes of neonatal death — which, the Synod was reminded, did not fade away with the passing years.

The Bishop of Meath & Kildare, the Most Revd Pat Storey, said that she supported the Bill, but cautioned that some amendments could cause disunity.

Prebendary Mark Harvey (Down & Dromore)said that it was clearly necessary to offer parents pastoral support. He supported the pastoral nature of the Bill, because there was no formal liturgy to support people in their grief.

The Revd Susan Green (Cashel, Ferns & Ossory) said that the Bill provided a wonderful pastoral response to a need, especially since so much legislative debate on womens’ reproductive lives was conducted by men. “Often, women and men look to the Church for a framework to express their feelings,” she said. It was important that women’s voices were heard. “For women who have experienced loss, this liturgical development is a caring and pastoral offering.”

The Revd Daniel Nuzum (Cork, Cloyne & Ross), who had conducted research on the subject, felt that clergy struggled, when met with tragedy, to find resources, and the impact of such a loss on parents was immense. The Bill presented a word of encouragement to the Church.

Joan Bruton (Meath & Kildare) spoke of her own experiences, and said that she was delighted that this would bring comfort to people at a sensitive time in their lives.

The Dean of Waterford, the Very Revd Maria Jansson, spoke of “a minefield of pain”, and said that it “showed the Church of Ireland at its best in being gentle and loving, and meets people in prayer where they are”.

Canon Barbara Fryday (Cashel, Ferns & Ossory) said that, as a chaplain to a hospital, she had experienced a range of situations. The new service was about Christian pastoral care, and, if parents and families got help immediately, it was beneficial for them. What was on offer was good, she said.

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