From the Church of Ireland
The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, delivered his Presidential Synod Address this morning at the 2013 Armagh Diocesan Synod in the Alexander Synod Hall, Church House, Armagh. In his first presidential address to the Armagh Synod since becoming Archbishop of Armagh late last year, he spoke of how ‘As Christian disciples we need to be aware of what should be the most important aspects of what we are, and what we most clearly are, to ourselves and to others … and to God.’
Archbishop Clarke said: ‘The first and most important identity for any of us is that each of us is a child of God, created by him and made in his image and likeness. This is crucially important in the way we live, in how we respond to God and in how we treat each and every other person. If we get this wrong, and regard any of our other identities as of more significance, we are simply a danger to ourselves and other people. If we believe that we are each made in God’s image and likeness we can never treat any other person with anything less than dignity.’
He continued, ‘A second primary identity for us is that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. We are disciples which means “learners”, never smug, never totally satisfied with ourselves, never judgmental of others, sometimes falling but nevertheless being picked up and gently placed on our feet again by a loving Lord. An identity that could be summed up as “following, learning, growing, and telling of Christ”.’
Finally, as Christians of the Church of Ireland tradition, Archbishop Clarke said, ‘If we choose to be Church of Ireland, rather than are Church of Ireland simply because we didn’t have the imagination or energy to think of being anything else, we do need to have confidence in what we are, and the confidence to do it well for the sake of the Kingdom’, demonstrating ‘…the marks of the Church of Ireland tradition … liturgical, biblical, pastoral to all, sacramental, synodical and episcopal. And all of this is for the cause of the mission of the Church. “Mission”, properly understood, means the sending out of the Gospel into the world or, even better, the releasing of the Gospel into the world.’
The full transcript follows below:
Last week a friend sent me an email with a delightful extract from the writings of Saint Ignatius of Antioch that he had just found. Ignatius was one of the great saints and martyrs of the very early Christian Church who was Bishop of Antioch at the end of the first century and beginning of the second century. My friend tells me that Ignatius in one of his letters wrote that “it is the duty of everyone, particularly the clergy, to ensure that the bishop has peace of mind”.
“Peace of mind” may be going a little too far (and might not even be entirely desirable), but I do want to begin by thanking all of you for your warm and generous welcome to the Diocese of Armagh. You have made me feel very much at home, and have gone out of your way to show me kindness and friendship. As I have said from the outset, I cannot expect to be here with you for more than a few years although I genuinely have no idea how long or short that time may be. It will depend on many things, not least – from my side – levels of energy, general health and, indeed, mortality itself. But what I do want us all to feel that these next few years are years that together you and I should make count for the Kingdom of God. We will not achieve everything we might wish to achieve. But let us seek to make our time together years that will count for the Diocese of Armagh, for God’s Kingdom and, although truly very much in third place, I hope for me as well. When I arrived at the entrance to the Cathedral last December – having just smashed my crozier on the door! – my opening words were the request that you would pray for me that I might be a faithful pastor, teacher and servant. Please continue those prayers for all our sakes.
I would like to begin, and in no sense as a formality, by thanking many people. Some I may thank in more detail in the course of our reports but there are a number of people I want to mention at this stage. First of all, I am grateful to the corps of clergy in this diocese for their dedication and the commitment that they give to their responsibilities in caring for, and leading the people of God in the parishes of Armagh. We are all greatly helped by their work, by those of the non-stipendiary clergy and by retired clergy for maintaining both pastoral and liturgical ministry throughout the diocese. I would wish to include also the diocesan layreaders who also give sacrificially of their time and energy for the liturgical life of the diocese. From a day-to-day perspective, I rely in particular on a number of individuals among the clergy – the dean, the archdeacon, the rural deans and my senior chaplain. My thanks to you all.
There are of course others to whom I would also wish to pay a tribute in giving me peace of mind. My secretary and personal assistant, Mrs Pamela Hutton, ensures that – despite me! – the administration of the archbishop’s office works efficiently, effectively and graciously. I also want to express my thanks (and, I know, the gratitude of the diocese) to the Diocesan Office staff, Mrs Jane Leighton and Mrs Jennifer Kirkland, for their efficient and exacting work on behalf of us all.
There are many, many others who give very generously of their time and expertise on the boards and committees of the diocese and we, as the diocesan synod, thank all of you. Within the life of parishes, many people give quietly, selflessly and very often self-effacingly, in doing the work of the Kingdom. You count. You are essential for the ongoing life of the Church in this diocese.
Over the past year, there have inevitably been changes among the ranks of the diocesan clergy. We said a farewell to Revd Brian Harper, Revd John McClenaghan and Revd William Long as they embarked on ministries in other dioceses. We thank them and wish them and their families every blessing in the future. Revd Canon John McKegney retired after long and faithful service to the Parish of St Mark’s Armagh, and also to the life of this diocese and to the wider Church. We wish him every happiness in his retirement. Although I am naturally aware of the many warm tributes that were paid last year on behalf of the diocese to my predecessor, Archbishop Alan Harper, I would of course wish to add my own voice to these now, and to wish him, his wife Helen, and their family every blessing in the years ahead.
There are those to whom we have bid the most profound farewell of all. Over the past few months, Dean Herbert Cassidy, Revd Mervyn Kingston and (very recently) Canon Tom McGonigle have died. We thank God for their ministries here in the diocese, commend them to the tender love of God, and pray for those whom they have left behind to grieve their passing from this earth.
We have, happily, many to welcome to the diocesan family. I have had the privilege since my arrival here, of welcoming - on behalf of us all - Revd Ian Cruikshank, Revd Bill Atkins and Revd David Somerville to incumbencies in the diocese. In addition, it has been a delight also to institute Revd Matthew Hagan and Revd Elizabeth Cairns to parishes, both of them of course already much respected members of our “home team”. We wish all of them, and their families, great happiness, fulfillment and the richest blessing of God in the ministries on which they have each embarked. I add one other name – we wish Geoffrey Haugh true satisfaction, growth in learning and real joy as he works as a deacon-intern in the Parish of Ballymore over the next year, and we pray for him, for the Rector and people of the parish.
Moving to my main motif for today’s address, I know that many of you will know the story by Robert Louis Stevenson of ‘Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde’. It is a familiar story of one individual with two identities; Dr Jekyll is a respectable and essentially kind doctor. Mr Hyde is a dangerous and violent psychopath. I am not going to digress into the nature of what is technically called dissociative identity disorder, but I do want to suggest that, in much less dramatic and pathological mode, each of us carries different identities within the totality of our existence and that it can not only be valuable but probably essential that we seek to articulate and categorise the relative importance of the different identities we each carry. We are composite beings and so we will inevitably display carry than one identity. There are many identities by which others will recognise us and categorise us – by the way we live, by what we clearly (by our behaviour) see as of huge importance or of little importance, by how we prioritise our lives. As Christian disciples we need to be aware of what should be the most important aspects of what we are, and what we most clearly are, to ourselves and to others … and to God.
Let me give a few examples in what you see before you! I am male, I am a cleric, I am (from my accent and no doubt other aspects of my culture) clearly from another part of this island, I am a parent and grandparent though sadly no longer a spouse, I definitely belong in what is delicately referred to as “the third age of life” (and sometimes need to remind myself of the fact). If you didn’t know these things already, they would quickly become apparent after a few minutes conversation with me. But how really important are they as identities or as part of what I am? Where should I place them in order on a list of identities? I want to suggest to all of us is that there are three more crucial and more central identities that should be apparent in all of us – in the way we live and in what others can see of us. Two are at the very top of the list and the third is important if we are to be effective in our day-to day discipleship.
The first and most important identity for any of us is that each of us is a child of God, created by him and made in his image and likeness. This is crucially important in the way we live, in how we respond to God and in how we treat each and every other person. If we get this wrong, and regard any of our other identities as of more significance, we are simply a danger to ourselves and other people. If we believe that we are each made in God’s image and likeness we can never treat any other person with anything less than dignity. If we do not get this right, everything else will be wrong in our lives. Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the former Chief Rabbi of Britain, once wrote that it is indeed difficult to see the image of God in those who are not in our image. Yet it is essential that we should do it.
A second primary identity for us is that we are disciples of Jesus Christ. We are disciples which means “learners”, never smug, never totally satisfied with ourselves, never judgmental of others, sometimes falling but nevertheless being picked up and gently placed on our feet again by a loving Lord. An identity that could be summed up as “following, learning, growing, and telling of Christ”. It is to this area that I will be devoting much of the content of my “roadshows” around the diocese next month.
These are the two identities that we should place above all else – made in God’s image and likeness, and our discipleship of Jesus Christ. Anything that takes their place is simply idolatrous.
There is a third identity which should never be confused with those of which I have spoken but which nevertheless should mould how we live in the service of Jesus Christ. We are members of a particular Christian tradition and we should feel confidence although never arrogance in this identity. The Church of Ireland is not the only authentic Christian tradition. We have never claimed that for ourselves. There are other Christian traditions in which men, women and children find their pathway in following Christ. If, however, we choose to be Church of Ireland, rather than are Church of Ireland simply because we didn’t have the imagination or energy to think of being anything else, we do need to have confidence in what we are, and the confidence to do it well for the sake of the Kingdom. As so, in what I am now going to suggest as distinguishing marks of the Church of Ireland, I would like everyone to be fully clear that I am not suggesting that the Church of Ireland way is the only way – or, for some people, even the best way – of being a Christian disciple. I am saying that if we are choosing this way, we should do it well, without looking over our shoulders or half trying to be what we are not designed to be. Secondly, I am not making putting these ideas forward from the perspective of any kind of so-called “churchmanship”. Those who know me well will know that I not only have no interest in labels, but that I actively dislike them. We are surely “big” enough to accept that not everyone does things exactly the way that we do, and that this does not make them inferior to us, even less does it make them suspect as not being truly Christian. I have quoted before (and will no doubt quote again) that wonderful epigram of the Chinese communist leader of an earlier generation, Deng Xiao Ping, who countered the demands of people that everyone should talk precisely the same talk if they were to be regarded as acceptable members of the Party by saying, “I don’t care if a cat is a black cat or a white cat. It’s a good cat if it catches mice.” So for us.
And so, the marks of the Anglican tradition - in our case Church of Ireland tradition - I would summarise under five headings – liturgical, biblical, pastoral to all, sacramental, synodical and episcopal. And all of this is for the cause of the mission of the Church. “Mission”, properly understood, means the sending out of the Gospel into the world or, even better, the releasing of the Gospel into the world. This is what we are all here for, and let us not narrow down the meaning of that word “mission” and turn it into a party slogan.
We are a Church which uses liturgy. Having been for many years a member of the Liturgical Advisory Committee, I can say with confidence that the liturgy is only a straitjacket if we wish it to be so and do not have the imagination or the energy to allow it to be otherwise. The value of liturgy (and there is much freedom and huge flexibility built in to our modern liturgies) is that men, women and children can concentrate better on the content of their worship instead of wondering what is going to happen next. I sometimes hear it said that we should not expect too much of people in worship nowadays. I do not entirely agree. I think that we often expect far too little of people of every age today when it comes to how we worship. Worship should make demands on us, if we are truly worshipping. We should not only be inspired and refreshed but also, to an extent, tired by the human effort aspect of our worship. As some of you know, I have a significant involvement with the Orthodox Churches as a member of the International Anglican-Orthodox Commission. I find this of huge value within my own spiritual pilgrimage. And, whenever I am present at Orthodox liturgies, I am always deeply moved and impressed by the level of concentration of so many in the congregation throughout some extremely long liturgies, and the fact the congregation will often include a far higher average of younger people than we might always be able to claim for our churches. We should always do liturgy creatively and well, but never forget that liturgical worship is not something for which we need to apologise. It is core to the spirituality of many of our people.
We are a biblical church. Our liturgies are, from first to last, biblical in content and in language, and good Anglican preaching should always be fully biblical and hence varied. If I were also to make a plea to parishes today, it is that we would, for the most part, use all the lectionary readings in full at our worship. I know that there are times when this is difficult to do (if, for example, there are several services on a Sunday morning in a group of parishes) but, even if the three readings cannot always be used, a time of quiet reflection after even two readings is often very much appreciated by a congregation. And never forget that the psalms are, probably uniquely among Christian traditions today, a core part of our Anglican heritage. I believe also that our people should be encouraged to read through the following Sunday’s lectionary readings so that they will be better prepared to get the most from their worship and to give the most to their worship.
Pastoral for all
We have a truly precious tradition of being pastoral, not only to our flock but also being pastorally open to any who need our help and care, regardless of who or what they are. We should never take this for granted or let it become diminished. We are not simply a club for those who pay in. We are to be at the disposal of any and all. If this means we are – to use a dreadful expression – being “taken advantage of” by some who only want the Church when they suddenly need it, so be it. We are following in the footsteps of a Master who was most readily there for the outsider, for the less than respectable, and for absolutely anyone who cried for his help. I admire clergy and parishes who won’t write people off, and even remove them from the parish registers, because they are reckoned to be “no use to us”. Who are we to judge who is of use to Christ, and who might not become so with our love and encouragement?
I am aware that these remarks may seem to belong to one particular tradition within the Church of Ireland but I can assure you that this is not so. Thomas Cranmer, the architect of our “old” Book of Common Prayer was extremely anxious at the time of the Reformation that people would have more sense of the sacraments, not less. Although one of the exhortations in the old Communion service warns us to prepare ourselves properly for Holy Communion and never to be casual about it, another of the exhortations reminds us that we should be regular and dutiful in our coming to Holy Communion and should certainly not neglect that aspect of our spiritual lives. And similarly with Holy Baptism. Cranmer would also insist that Baptism is to be taken very seriously but never neglected, degraded or postponed. We need to have confidence in our own heritage. It has immensely deep spiritual meaning and relevance. We do not need to look to see what other religious traditions around us do too often (in our estimation) or, on the other hand, do only very rarely. Let us be ourselves with confidence, under God’s direction and love.
Synodical and Episcopal
This is why we are here today. In the Church of Ireland, we try to strike a careful and godly balance between the collaborative involvement of all the people of God in the decision-making processes of the Church and the tradition of episcopal leadership. I take very seriously my duties as your Father in God. But I also know (as some of you will have heard me say at my enthronement) that we are in this together. We need each other. We need the wisdom, love, support and care that we can give one another. We are here in Diocesan Synod for the good of the Church, as fellow members of the Body of Christ. We work together with Christian courtesy for one another, and always and only under the guidance of the Holy Spirit of God.
Finally, you will be aware of suggestions being made to Synod by the Diocesan Council, following from a paper I prepared for the Council a couple of months ago. This is that we should re-energise the Commission set up some time ago to look at our parochial structures, and that we should also look at some of our other central structures. I am not going to trespass into the speeches of our honorary secretaries on these suggestions, other than to say that all that is there must be understood in the context of the future mission of the Church in this diocese.
At the end of the First World War, the General Synod of the Church of Ireland set up what was termed a Committee for “Retrenchment and Reform”. Whatever for reform, this is not to be about retrenchment, battening down the hatches, digging ourselves in deeper. This is to be about preparing ourselves for the future. Streamlining our structures if necessary, but always and only with one end in view – making ourselves better equipped to be a diocesan community and a series of local parish communities which will be so magnetic in their fellowship, worship and outreach, that many others will be drawn to the Light of Christ. In this way we will be faithful to our calling as His disciples.
May God in Christ now bless us in all that we undertake in his service.