Facing up to failings in Church of Ireland’s view of the other
Opinion: As Christians, we are called to put love into action among our neighbours, no matter who they are
The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin. Photograph: Brenda Fitzsimons/The Irish Times
In the course of a broad-ranging address to the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synods on October 15th, 2013, my overall theme was: change and consolidation, harvesting the fruits of the Spirit. In addressing change and consolidation, I identified areas in the dioceses where clergy and people have done groundbreaking work and also areas where there is a need to do considerably more work.
One such focus is the structured involvement and intentional engagement in the local parochial life of the Church of Ireland, as a pervasive norm, on the part of those who are Anglicans in two particular definitions: (a) those whom we still call immigrants and who are now our neighbours and have been Anglicans in their countries of origin; and (b) those who are Anglicans by conviction having formerly been members of other Christian traditions or other world faiths.
Both are our fellow-worshippers. They witness to the saving and redeeming work of God in Jesus Christ. They live this life of faith with us in the here and now through the Holy Spirit. I applaud and support the courageous work of mission of many lay people and clergy across these united dioceses who have sought such spiritual and ecclesiological integration of people who are our equals before God and who, like each of us, are made in the image and likeness of God.
Worry over inclusion
Such was the worry that newcomers were not experiencing welcome and inclusion in parishes across these united dioceses that Archbishop John Neill, formerly archbishop of Dublin and bishop of Glendalough, set up a working group, which reported in 2005. The report produced by the group, Welcoming Angels, acknowledged that it was responding to a root problem that “seems to be a lack of proper welcome from the Church of Ireland” .
My concern in 2013 is that the inclusive attitudes and behaviours that I support and applaud are still not a universal phenomenon in these united dioceses (of Dublin and Glendalough). The problems acknowledged in Welcoming Angels appear to persist. I have been told by concerned clergy that some of them experience resistance to change in their parishes when they engage in work to welcome and integrate new people. That resistance often comes from small groups of assertive lay people who are, perhaps, fearful of change and of the challenge to their comfort zones. The first scoping study report of the Hard Gospel project, published in 2003, told us that clergy all across this island tend to be more open to ecumenism and more positively oriented to change than are some lay people.
Dr Neill, formerly archbishop of Dublin and bishop of Glendalough, spoke pertinently of tribalism at the launch of Malcolm Macourt’s book Counting the People of God? The Census of Population and the Church of Ireland in February 2009. He believed this phenomenon was confined to rural areas, and spoke of new members of the Church of Ireland as those who share “none of the prejudices, customs, memories of the ‘tribe’”. Significantly, he made no reference in his launch to the cast of mind of historic, or even perhaps genetic, members of the Church of Ireland or to the urban areas in this movement towards effective openness and freshness. This has to be the other side of this numerological coin, regarding the influx into the contemporary Church of Ireland of those who were not previously “members” in any sense of that word. It is entitled to its own analysis, in all its richness and complexity combined.
Dr Richard Clarke, archbishop of Armagh, speaks with characteristic nuance of a childhood in a Dublin parish as manifesting a form of apartheid in the following terms: “The word ‘apartheid’ has unpleasant overtones, and yet it is hard to think of a Church of Ireland childhood in the 1950s … as anything other than a form of denominational apartheid … it was apartheid by mutual consent.” (Hard Gospel Untold Stories 2002) This, to my mind, opens up again the debate with honesty and, I feel, gives permission to ask the question of contemporary Dublin and Wicklow about the manifestation of such a mindset, if indeed such there be.