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Church of Ireland Synod: Archbishop of Armagh calls for ‘patience and humility’

24 May 2024

Tim Wyatt reports from the Church of Ireland Synod in Armagh

Church of Ireland

A view of Armagh from the Hill

A view of Armagh from the Hill

PATIENCE and humility will be required as the Church in Ireland navigates the choppy waters of Irish and global politics in 2024, the Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, has told the General Synod.

In his first synodical address, in 2020, the Archbishop said that he had committed himself to a path of reconciliation: with one another in the Church, with creation, and in wider society. “Reconciliation is a gift given to us by God, and it is also a vocation, as we work out what it means in every aspects of our lives.”

He lamented that the world was not at peace or reconciled. Many regions were experiencing darkness, including Yemen, Ukraine, Israel, Gaza, and Sudan. The Church must not forget these people and places, even when they slipped from the headlines in the media.

Church leaders were not political representatives, and nor should they be, he said said. The political affiliation of Church of Ireland people was “none of my business”. There was a sad history of church entanglement with politics in the history of Ireland which had “cheapened the gospel” and made people suspicious of the Church.

The way for the Church must be the call to self-sacrificial love: not a “vague warm feeling, or an intense romantic passion”, but good will towards neighbours and courageous opposition to hatred. When faced with complex moral or theological matters, the Church should be slow to intervene at all. If it was right to speak into it, then the approach had been to research, debate, and discuss it carefully and collectively across the island.

CHURCH OF IRELANDThe Archbishop of Armagh, the Most Revd John McDowell, chairs proceedings from Armagh online

“The cohesion and unity of the Church of Ireland since disestablishment has only been achieved through this patient wrestling over time, avoiding simplistic answers to difficult questions,” he said. This was how the Church had come to permit women’s ordination, and how it had been unable to find consensus on other issues, such as communion for children.

“What we have learned in our parishes and this General Synod should provide us with the antennae to detect language which demeans or diminishes human beings,” especially when it came to fearful or divisive politics beyond the Church, the Archbishop said. This kind of “playing with paranoia” was the work of populists, whether of the Left or Right; but the Church could also become infected by it

Populist politicians, activists, and commentators exploited the complexity of the challenges for Ireland, offering nothing but slogans such as “Ireland is full.” “North and south, we have been right to welcome asylum-seekers and migrants,” he insisted, although perhaps more thought should have been given to how to integrate these newcomers.

“We are at an important moment, not just in Irish history, but in world history,” he suggested. History was not something solely to be endured, but how people could conscientiously make the world a better place. Many things would have to change, but church people must seek to preserve their values through it in this “hinge point in history”.

Who could carry this moment alone? No one, the Archbishop said; but, thankfully, Christians were not called to do this alone. The gift of the Holy Spirit came when the Early Church was gathered together in one place, all together, just as the Church of Ireland was now gathered at the Synod. He reported how he had joined other Anglican Primates in a meeting with Pope Francis in Rome a few weeks ago. The Pope had spoken of the primacy of the Spirit and the call to pray together. “May we find full communion with one another, as we seek closer communion with God.”

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