I write on the day following this year’s Diocesan Synod in Ennis, a gathering which I for one found fruitful as well as congenial.
There are many aspects of the event concerning which I might write. However I thought, for the information of the wider diocese, it might be worth offering some comments concerning a Private Members’ motion which was passed by a very substantial majority. It addressed the issue of same sex marriages already recognised by law, and the undoubtedly sensitive question of whether such committed relationships could be acknowledged in a prayerful liturgical context. In many years attending and chairing Diocesan Synods I do not think I have ever heard such a moving debate – people told their stories with courage and candour, differing views were expressed, and all was done in an atmosphere of quiet attentiveness uninterrupted by any sounds of applause or other audible reaction. At the end of the discussion a vote was taken using ballot papers; how people voted was known only to God and to their own consciences . It is worth noting that the motion laid before our synod, and which I know was originally drafted in this diocese, also appeared in identical form some days previously at the Dublin and Glendalough synod, where again it was endorsed by a very large majority. As I pen this letter I understand that the same words will also be laid before at least one other diocesan synod in the near future .
The motion in question read as follows
“This Synod, while acknowledging the Church’s traditional teaching on marriage as set out in the Book of Common Prayer, believes that pastoral and liturgical provision should be made for those persons of the same sex, whose marriages have been previously recognised by law, and who wish to have an appropriate service of prayer and dedication. This Synod therefore requests that the General Synod and House of Bishops allow some measure of diocesan discretion in the provision of suitable prayers for use where such services are locally desired and acceptable, and where no priest or minister would be required to act against their conscience”.
It was pointed out in debate that the Church of Ireland will shortly become the only Anglican province in these islands which currently makes no such provision .
In many ways the motion speaks more than adequately for itself, but there are just a few points which I would wish to emphasise.
- 100 people voted for the motion and 16 against . The votes of the minority are every bit as important as those of the majority . I would never wish to preside over a diocese which did not cherish differing and honourably held views . We all need one another in order to be whole ourselves . Anglicanism always understands the Church to be a large and spacious room, in which it is our duty to work hard always to disagree agreeably. The moment we become a cosy gathering of the like- minded we do a disservice to our identity .
- The motion is cautious in its aspiration… for some it simply does not go far enough. However, it poses no threat to the Church’s traditional understanding of Holy Matrimony, and in my view it is inconceivable that certainly in my life time the General Synod would seek to change our marriage doctrine . It is within the security of that knowledge that some pathway towards liturgical recognition is being sought for same sex couples .
- The proposal involves acknowledgement of marriages recognised by law; this is about committed relationships where the intention of lifelong faithfulness has already been articulated . And it is very hard to argue that the recognition of same sex marriages by law for several years now has been other than a contributor to the public good.
- The word ‘Blessing’ has been deliberately and carefully avoided as this is acknowledged to be a particular area of sensitivity. Instead couples would be offered an opportunity for ‘prayer and dedication’ after civil marriage, and this is consonant with phraseology already used in the Prayer Book when opposite sex couples already civilly married seek an opportunity for liturgical prayer.
- In all of this, the motion emphasises that any services of this sort involving same sex couples should be locally acceptable and that no priest should ever be under pressure to act against their conscience.
- Finally, the motion envisages a way forward being dependent on some measure of suitable diocesan discretion and flexibility . No change to the Church’s essential doctrines or formularies is proposed, and at least some bishops (I readily acknowledge that I am one of them) would wish to have the capacity to offer locally options that are sensitive, modest and genuinely pastoral in situations such as the motion envisages . What may be appropriate in one part of the Church of Ireland may not necessarily be appropriate in another, and no one who supported this motion at the synod would I believe consider its future outworking as in any wise impairing the unity in communion of the whole Church.
Who knows what will ensue over time? The General Synod is a very different body to our diocesan synod, and motions that are widely endorsed at one level may meet a very different response at another . Yet it is surely the duty of the Church to offer care and prayer to its conscientious members as they seek to make choices for their lives in a way that strengthens their experience of discipleship . This is undoubtedly a fraught issue, but a myriad of same sex couples, some well known to me, have waited a very long time and shown great patience in their hope of liturgical recognition . Many parishes do their utmost to embrace them in an inclusive and affirming way, yet at present clergy have nothing to offer when a request for some simple and sensitive public prayer comes. The fact that this diocese, with others, are beginning to make their voices heard may yet make a difference . And meanwhile this diocese commits itself to being indeed ‘ a large room’, where all honourable views are respected and are always heard with gratitude.
I have written a lot, and possibly incurred the ire of the editor!! But I wanted to mention as I close
- On October 15 in Mountshannon we said farewell to Grania Weir, who has died full of years . She was someone also full of talents, and in particular made a distinguished contribution as a Diocesan Reader
- On Friday November 3 at 1930 in Killala Cathedral the Revd Alex Morahan will be instituted to the cathedral group of parishes
- On Saturday November 4 in Killorglin at 1730 there will be a memorial service commemorating the late Archdeacon Malcolm Shannon, whose work associated with the building of the new St Michael’s Church was so remarkable
- During the months of November , December and January we welcome to Rathkeale / Kilnaughtin the Revd Dr Denis Kezar from the US who with his wife Becky will be staying in Askeaton Rectory and looking after the liturgical and pastoral needs of the parishes including over the Christmas period
- As I write we are following the prescribed process to identify members of new primary school Boards of Management, which take office for four years on December 1. This is an opportunity to acknowledge the immense work of the members of the outgoing Boards and especially their Chairs – our debt to them is beyond measure.
- I of course look forward to your company , support and encouragement during my PEREGRINATIONS all over the diocese starting on November 12… and there is ample publicity concerning this adventure now in widespread circulation .
MICHAEL TUAM LIMERICK & KILLALOE
SOME THEMES FOR PRAYER ACROSS THE DIOCESE IN THE COMING WEEKS
Sunday, November 12. The Third Sunday before Advent
All those who have served in war and continue to bear its scars; the present arenas of warfare in our troubled world. The beginning of the diocesan ‘Peregrinations’ and for a blessing on all our efforts to empower women through literacy, and to combat endemic poverty in Burundi and Madagascar . The work of Bishops’ Appeal, Mothers’ Union and Feed the Minds
Sunday November 19. The Second Sunday before Advent
This is a week when many central church committees meet, for example those concerned with Christian Unity, Education, the Standing Committee, the House of Bishops … and many more . We remember all from this diocese who offer their time and skills to the counsels of the wider church, and all those who serve the Church ably in the often unsung tasks of administration … in Church House in Dublin and in the individual dioceses including our own
Sunday November 26. The Feast of Christ the King
As we come to the end of another Christian Year, we give thanks for how we have grown in understanding and insight during its course . We pray for those who teach and preach, we seek forgiveness for any lukewarmness and complacency that lurk within us. We pray that the reign of Christ in our lives and in our world may be our greatest goal at all times
Sunday December 3. Advent 1
We pray for a holy Advent of unrushed expectancy and preparation ; we give thanks for life’s journey into light of which Advent is a microcosm . In this season across the diocese our Readers will be receiving new licences and permits for the next three years . We give thanks for their utterly invaluable ministry, and pray for new candidate Readers shortly to embark upon their training programmes