THE parish church is the backbone of the Church of Ireland and represents the Church’s enduring presence in communities in Ireland, the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin & Ardagh, the Rt Revd Ferran Glenfield, told the Synod.
He was proposing a motion on pioneer ministry. “As in most Western countries, church membership and attendance has declined in the Church of Ireland. The majority of Anglicans in Ireland are nominal: they self-identify as being Church of Ireland, without a committed application of faith, including attending church on a regular basis,” he said.
“Commentators locate choice as a key element in understanding the present religious landscape in Ireland. Clearly, most Irish Anglicans, north and south, east and west, choose not to attend their local parish church on a regular basis.”
Pioneer ministry was not a replacement for pastoral ministry in its current forms, he emphasised. “Traditional church and new models of church should complement each other, offering choice.” The report’s recommendations build on a range of church-plants and outreach initiatives already in place, and the proposals draw heavily on the experience in other Anglican Churches.
The first pioneer ministers were expected to be starting training or being deployed in 2024. “Pioneer ministry is an idea whose time is come to renew the life and witness of the Church of Ireland,” he concluded.
The Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven. Terry Scott (Armagh), seconded the motion. “Existing structures and pathways don’t enable some skills to be affirmed. We’ve been dipping our toe in pioneer ministry for the last ten years: it now needs to become part of the core of the Church,” he said.
The Archdeacon of Belfast, the Ven. Barry Forde (Connor), said this was a moment of encouragement. He had witnessed the emergence of centres of mission with the Church Army, reaching those with little or no connection to the Church. “Grow as broad a base as possible,” he urged. “Bring everything together with all the energy we can muster. It will take the whole Church.”
The Archbishop of Dublin, Dr Michael Jackson (Dublin & Glendalough), described the proposed programme as “concrete, coherent, and collaborative”. Synod members must talk about this locally: “It is not something separate . . . it’s for the totality of us as the Church of Ireland.”
Canon Chris Matchetts (Down & Dromore), the rector of a parish that had planted two community churches on estates where the church had little or few members, said that he had been “head-scratching” about the relationship of a new plant with the established, recognisable church presence in a 400-year-old building. It was a two-way street, he said: the parish had so much to offer, with things in place already. “We’ve had amazing stories of people coming to faith. Consider the relationship with the parish,” he urged.
As a former vice-president of Church Army, Roy Totten (Connor), knew well the value of partnership with the organisation, in the work led by George Lings in the Church of England. “The Church of Ireland will benefit from all that experience,” he said. The Revd Robert Jones (Dublin & Glendalough) urged that it be seen as an all-Ireland movement, and not just “a project”.
“The real emphasis is to empower the laity in the own setting,” he said. “Contextualise, contextualise, contextualise . . . to be a movement that gathers strength and focus. It will be a movement ordained to be about mobilising laity in their context.”
Read other reports from the Church of Ireland General Synod