A Bill seeking to unite the dioceses of Tuam, Killala and Achonry and Limerick and Killaloe was presented and passed at General Synod in Derry/Londonderry.
Proposing the Bill, Dean Alistair Grimason said that the conversations between the two dioceses had reached a significant point where they had come before General Synod seeking approval to enact a Bill to allow for the creation of a new diocese. He said the process had been ongoing for a number of years with a steering group made up of representatives of both diocesan synods talking, discussing and debating in a spirit of cooperation, respect and unity of purpose.
However, pointed out that it had not been an easy task and thanked all who had worked hard to get to this point. In relation to Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Dean Grimmason said it was with a heavy heart that they marked the fact that in the event of the new diocese coming into effect, the parish of Ballisodare would move from Tuam to Kilmore. But he said they understood and respected their wishes.
He also spoke of the geography and identity of the new diocese. “It’s a long way from the but–end of Kerry to South Sligo. A huge track of land for one bishop to cover. Similarly, in a purely territorial sense, Tuam will not have a resident bishop post–amalgamation. This caused concern that Tuam might lose its feeling of distinctive identity. However, both of these anxieties have been overcome by the undertaking of the RCB to provide accommodation and meeting facilities in the north end of Tuam diocese for the bishop of TLK. This will match accommodation Limerick currently has in Tralee for the use of the Bishop in the southern end of the new United Diocese,” he commented.
Seconding the Bill, Jock Sanders (Limerick and Killaloe) focussed on the processes followed in the discussions which led to an agreed Bill. He said that the Bill introduced in 2016 would have forced a decision on Tuam, Killala and Achonry and Limerick and Killaloe without taking the views of the stakeholders fully into account.
Following the withdrawal of the Bill, the two Bishops set up a working group to explore avenues the two dioceses might agree together. During the discussions it became clear that the two dioceses faced similar issues, Mr Sanders said. The working group was able to work effectively by consensus. The dioceses held joint events to build trust and respect. The working group reported regularly to the two diocesan councils.
They addressed the geographic size of a united dioceses; the two dioceses financial schemes are substantially different so it was decided to retain them until the dioceses decide otherwise; it was decided that the Bishop should reside in or near Limerick but that there should be residential and meeting accommodation in Tuam; they looked at a second part time bishop but decided this was unsustainable, he reported.
Both synods passed identical resolutions affirming their desire to unite under a single bishop. They then, with the help of Eithne Harkness, drafted a Bill. Mr Sanders said the Bill would require the consent of both diocesan synods.
Archdeacon Simon J Lumby (Ardfert and Aghadoe) commended the Bill. He said that the process had been a spectacular experience of generosity, community, compassion and of placing ourselves in the other’s shoes. He said the area covered in the dioceses was large but that a motorway had been provided all the way up to Tuam. Because this proposal had come from the ground up and was energised by the Holy Spirit and the church has engaged with that, there was the feeling this is the work of the spirit, he concluded.
The Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Bishop Patrick Rooke, said that the Bill that you have before you represented eight years of deliberations and debates across the whole of the Church of Ireland and particularly in the dioceses of Tuam, Killala and Achonry and Limerick and Killaloe.
The work of Eithne Harkness paved the way for this bottom up approach, the Bishop said. He paid tribute to all who have assisted in this process but not least to Bishop Kenneth and the clergy of the west and south west. Thanks to the joint working group there was a solution that few would have dreamed possible three years ago, he added. More importantly there is the spirit of good will that we have discovered, he said. The distances have not gone away, he said so there would be a degree of autonomy.
Bishop Kenneth Kearon of Limerick and Killaloe also asked synod to support the Bill. The Dioceses of Tuam, Killala and Achonry had lived with the process longer than anyone and particular Bishop Rooke, he said. He said the discussions had been framed in the context of commitment to find what is best for the church in the west and south west. While congregations might be small and remote they were otherwise strong and vibrant, Bishop Kearon said but by trusting the people they had found a way forward that they believed was for the good of the church.
Lady Brenda Shiel said the Bill was a positive step forward but asked that the old names of the dioceses be retained. Eithne Harkness (Armagh) shared Lady Shiel’s affection for the beautiful names of the dioceses and said the full names would be retained in the Constitution.
Peter White (Limerick and Killaloe) said he had experienced the generosity in the discussions. He said he believed that the people who initiated the sense of generosity were the members of Synod. It was Synod that withdrew the motion in 2016 and gave the dioceses the freedom to go away in search of a solution, he recalled.
The Bill will now be referred back to the two diocesan synods. The union will come into effect when there is an episcopal vacancy in either diocese. The remaining bishop will assume responsibility for the new United Dioceses of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe.