‘Polyester Protestants’ and sectarianism


Sir, – It is interesting to see Archbishop Michael Jackson and others stick their heads above the parapet on such non-issues as supposedly-called “Polyester Protestants”. I have never heard that phrase in my parish.

I grew up in the Church of Ireland, but ironically, came to Christian faith outside it, thanks to the wishy-washy, endomorphic beliefs that pervade most of Anglicanism, in Southern Ireland. I tentatively re-entered the Church of Ireland seven years ago. The parish that I joined actually preaches, believes, and tries to live out, the gospel.

Which Church of Ireland parishes, in Southern Ireland, actually try to carry out Christ’s command to “go and make disciples of all nations . . .”? Perhaps, if the focus was more on the Bible, and less on past privileges and petty storms in vicarage tea-cups, we might have a more vigorous and dynamic church to offer to a hurting world. – Yours, etc,


Newtownpark Avenue,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – Perhaps Archbishop Jackson could reveal the names of the parishes with sectarian members, so that my “Polyester Protestant” wife and I can avoid them (Front page & Opinion, October 22nd). These parishes seem to be of a different church to that which we attend, which provided a warm welcome. I would also venture to say that my fellow parishioners most likely hold a representative range of national attitudes, including a small intolerant minority. – Yours, etc,


Brighton Terrace,


Co Dublin.

Sir, – At the Synod of the United Diocese of Dublin and Glendalough (Home News, October 16th), Archbishop Michael Jackson spoke of “exclusionary attitudes” and “sectarianism” within the Church of Ireland. Such alarming revelations prompt all members of the Church of Ireland in the Republic to reflect deeply, including myself.

Where do these “exclusionary” and “sectarian” attitudes subsist? Are they “alive” in the culturally and religiously diverse Church of Ireland ethos schools? Or at Holy Communion services where all are welcome to take communion? Or in the Church of Ireland parishes which allow their church buildings to be used for services by non-Reformed denominations? Or is it in the day-to-day interactions of members of the Church of Ireland with people from all backgrounds here in the Republic of Ireland? I think not.

Thankfully, it would appear that the belief that these attitudes hold any sway in the Church of Ireland, may only be found within the confines of the mind of the Archbishop of Dublin and Glendalough, and hopefully they shall stay there, very far from reality, while the rest of us get on with it! – Yours, etc,


Upper Rathmines Road,

Dublin 6.

Sir, – I am really upset by his stirring up of sectarian hatred by repeating the alleged comments of a few people in such a public manner. Perhaps he should have preached and addressed this subject from the pulpit in the churches of the afflicted people first. If this is the best he can do I suggest that he return from whence he came and rejoin those clerics who share such righteous views and enjoy the divided community that thankfully we do not have in the Republic.

I had to read his article (Opinion, October 22nd) at least twice to try to get the drift: I failed, and I see it as a load of gobbledegook, again stirring it up. I see him as a Polyester Archbishop. – Yours, etc,


Castleside Drive,


Dublin 14.

Sir, – Archbishop Michael Jackson’s observations on “Facing up to Failings in Church of Ireland’s View of the other” (Opinion, October 22nd) come as no surprise to me, as they confirm many of the findings of survey research I conducted in 2009 as part of the Irish School of Ecumenics’ Visioning 21st Century Ecumenism research project.

The surveys, one of clergy and one of laypeople, revealed that such views are not limited to the Church of Ireland in the Republic, but rather remain endemic in most of our Christian denominations island-wide.

For example, one conclusion that could be drawn from the surveys is that most Christians on this island either overlook or deny sectarianism. While we did not ask specifically about sectarianism, we included questions about “reconciliation”. As many Christians on this island are aware, “reconciliation” work has often been advanced as a mechanism to overcome sectarianism.

But overwhelmingly, both clergy and laity thought of reconciliation in very individual terms (between individuals and God or between individuals), with most failing to see “social” forms of reconciliation (between Catholics and Protestants, between people of other religions, and between people of different ethnicities) as important.

Further, while most churches (especially in the Republic) reported ethnic minorities and immigrants in their congregations, 44 per cent of clergy said that they had never done something to accommodate them.

There are of course sterling exceptions to these trends in individual parishes and congregations. But I agree with Jackson that there are underlying patterns of exclusion and (at best) a systematic failure to see diversity as a gift rather than a burden.

Towards the end of his reflections, Jackson recommends that the Church of Ireland return to its “Hard Gospel” project. The Hard Gospel, which wound down around 2009, focused on overcoming sectarianism and approaching diversity positively. In terms of its quality of content and its reach, the Hard Gospel is the most impressive such programme ever attempted by a denomination on this island.

But since the initiative has ended, it is unclear that champions of anti-sectarianism and embracing diversity have emerged among clergy and laypeople in local parishes to carry the vision forward. From informal conversations, I have also gathered that some people think the project unintentionally replicated the stereotypical view that sectarianism is a “Northern problem” and diversity is a “Southern Problem”.

Even more concerning, in our surveys, we asked clergy whether their denomination or wider religious community had provided them with adequate training or resources for promoting reconciliation.

While 52 per cent of clergy overall said that they had received adequate training for promoting reconciliation, the least likely to say that they had were from the Church of Ireland, at just 31 per cent. While this finding requires further investigation, I wonder did the Hard Gospel alert Church of Ireland clergy to just how challenging it is to overcome sectarianism and handle diversity positively – making them realise that they need more help?

If so, a sequel to the Hard Gospel would not be a bad place to start. – yours, etc,


Assistant Prof in Conflict

Resolution & Reconciliation,

Irish School of Ecumenics,

Trinity College Dublin,

Antrim Road,


Sir, – Archbishop Michael Jackson bemoans the fact that members of the Anglican communion who lived in what is now the Republic of Ireland who fought for Britain in both world wars were “shunned as ‘disloyalists’ ”, going on to live “lives of public and private shame”. Those who fought in the first World War, and who were not of the nationalist tradition, fought for king and country as they saw it and had nothing for which to be ashamed.

However the situation of those who fought for Britain during the second World War was entirely different. The Irish Free State had been in existence for nearly 20 years at the start of that conflict. All people living in that area owed their allegiance to Ireland, and Ireland only.

We had our own Defence Force and, to their credit, many Protestants chose to serve Ireland and some suffered for so doing. A brother officer of mine in later years, a farmer’s son and staunch Anglican all his life, was thrown out of the house and disinherited for joining the Irish Army.

I grew up among Protestants on the Hill of Howth. Finer, more decent people you could not hope to meet. The problem was that, despite being Irish born and bred, their allegiance was to England. At the start of the war the Anglican congregation asked their minister, Canon Armstrong, to have the national anthem played every Sunday after service. The following Sunday, to their horror, the strains of Amhrán na bhFiann sounded from the organ. Enraged, most of the congregation decamped to another parish and stayed away for many years.

If such people “lived lives of shame” they had only themselves to blame. – Yours, etc,


Essenwood Road,


South Africa.