The Diocesan Synod of Tuam, Killala and Achonry met on Saturday 23rd September in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Tuam. After the Eucharist, Bishop Patrick opened the session with a wide-ranging address.
He began by thanking outgoing Diocesan Secretary and Treasurer, Heather Sherlock and Paul Ryan respectively, for their years of service and by welcoming Heather Pope to the new post of Diocesan Administrator. He also announced the appointment of Rev. Stephen McWhirter as Archdeacon of Killala and Achonry, replacing Rev Alan Synnott ( to whom best wishes were extended ) on foot of the latter’s move to Armagh Diocese. Bishop Patrick also welcomed Canon Noel Reegan who will assume liturgical and pastoral responsibilities in Skreen Parish during at least some of the vacancy there.
On education, the Bishop reflected upon concerns that some parents had raised concerning the SEC grants in the year past. ‘Some feared their present choice of school could no longer be afforded with serious implications both for pupils and for schools. Thanks to concerns raised by parents, schools and others, that situation was averted. Nonetheless, some grants to pupils already attending secondary school have been reduced or cut altogether.’ While recognising the legal constraints under which the SEC works, Bishop Patrick went on to say, ‘I do, however, have a responsibility to the parents and young people of this Diocese. Therefore, I have highlighted a couple of issues to the SEC Review Group. The first concerns the financial disadvantage some parents face simply because they live at a non-commutable distance from a school under Protestant management. Secondly, the upset caused by constant changing of band levels that parents are being confronted with’.
The Bishop spoke to the concerns that some have expressed in relation to their responibilities as Select Vestry members:
‘The new Charity Legislation regards select vestry members as trustees, with the same responsibilities and expectations. This in fact has always been the case but seeing it in print has scared some vestry members that they might be liable should a contentious issue arise. The fact is that all select vestries are already indemnified for up to 100k euro and from 1st January this will rise to 250K. If this is considered too little, then for an extra fee of some 3-400euro, a select vestry can cover itself for a million euro. It is my intention to consult with the Diocesan Council on the advise we might give to select vestries concerning this matter.’
Turning to the issue of Diocesan Structures, the Bishop reminded Synod that it had debated this matter, and most recently TKA’s potential relationship with Limerick and Killaloe, for almost 6 years. He felt that now, given the debate at General Synod last May ‘ encouraging us to enter into ‘bottom up’ conversations about the future structures of our two dioceses’ is the time for TKA to move the matter forward. ‘ This is an important decision for our Diocese’ said bishop Rooke. It is ‘…. our opportunity after six years of debate to decide what is the best long-term solution for us.’
Bishop Patrick also gave attention to emerging trends in ministry and how they might impact upon TKA.
He spoke about Ordained Local Ministry, training for which will commence in September 2018: ‘ My prediction, for what it’s worth, is that within 10 years there may well be as few as three groups in our Diocese – perhaps based on Galway, Westport and Ballina with one stipendiary cleric in each but working alongside a team of Ordained Local Ministers’.
Fresh Expressions of Church and Pioneer Ministry is something that TKA, along with Dublin and Connor Dioceses, have been in the vanguard of exploring – what the Bishop described as a move from ‘Monuments to Movement’. He said, ‘One of the most encouraging 24 hours I spent in the last year was with six others from the Diocese at an inter-diocesan learning experience ( with Dublin and Connor )…….to look at what we are doing, what we might do and could do in terms of Fresh Expressions of ministry in our respective dioceses.’ At an inter-diocesan ‘think tank’, we in TKA came up with three intentions that we hope to fulfill in the next 3 years:
First, to make a short film on some of the positive things happening in our Diocese – and let me assure you there is much to celebrate and I hope at next year’s Diocesan Synod that film will be available and perhaps be premiered at Synod.
Secondly, to set up a Centre of Spirituality in the Diocese that will provide a programme of additional events for those who wish to deepen their spiritual experience. The hope is that Quiet Days, Prayer Walks, Guided Retreats and visits to Spiritual Centres would be available in an organised way, acknowledging that there are those both within and without our congregations who are looking for this form of spiritual nurture.
Thirdly, we have committed to encouraging every church congregation across Tuam, Killala and Achonry to start one fresh expression of church in their parish – and that may simply be something as small as a monthly coffee morning or meeting or planned walk or messy church type event for children – anything that would bring people together and involve others who are not presently involved in our normal activities. Multiply this by 30 across the Diocese and we will suddenly be creating all sorts of new opportunities to be church – which doesn’t necessarily mean praying or worshipping together – simply being together in fellowship and relationship – ‘where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them’.
Bishop Patrick went on suggest, ‘ that we begin to think seriously about the possibility of appointing someone with pioneering gifts who might co-ordinate new expressions of church across the Diocese that will draw out some of the potential that is undoubtedly on our doorsteps’.
Having addressed inward diocesan affairs, so to speak, the Bishop then turned his eyes outward and spoke about our Kenyan Mission Link:
‘ An area of ministry we have been supporting as a Diocese has been the Magi Water Project at Oltisika, in Kajiado Diocese, Kenya and a Diocesan Team of nine people will be visiting it in November. Over the past couple of years we have sent 30,000 euro via Bishops’ Appeal to this Project which is under the auspices of CMSI…..Many of you have worked tirelessly to support these important projects and I thank you for all your efforts…..I would encourage you to consider organising a small fund-raising effort in your parish, as each Group or Union has been asked to raise a final 1,000euro to help complete this project over the next year.’
The Bishop also asked us to think kindly on those who now live in The West as refugees, saying:
‘…..if you know of people who are from another country living in your community, talk to them, at least smile at them and if possible, befriend them – they are all God’s children. See if they need anything that you might assist them with. I’m delighted that Canon Andrea Wills has connections with the Direct Provision Accommodation Centre in Ballyhaunis where some 200 of the country’s five thousand asylum seekers are housed and I have been encouraging Dr Andrew Ison in whose parish is Ballaghaderreen, to explore how we might assist those who are housed there.’
Introducing the matter of Diocesan Structures, the following motion was proposed by Archdeacon Gary Hastings and seconded by Dean Alistair Grimason:
‘ That this Synod asks the Joint Working Group to further the objectives of Option ‘C’ and to bring a resolution to General Synod 2018 in order to implement the provisions thereof.’
( Option ‘C’ would lead to TKA and Limerick having an amalgamated Diocese with the Diocesan bishop living in Limerick but with an area bishop, who would also have parochial responsibilities, living in TKA.)
A lively debate followed with several contributions from the floor. Concern was expressed by Carl Kilroy who argued that the Working Group on Diocesan Structures had brought the matter to General Synod before it was laid before Diocesan Synod: the role of an Area Bishop was not defined and may lead to legal uncertainty regarding his or her status and that there had been no discussion at parish level while any decision will effect parishes. He suggested an amendment to the motion to change the date of referal to General Synod to 2019 in order to allow more consultation at parish level.
A small number of representatives agreed with Carl’s view and asked that the original motion be rejected and more discussion initiated. One Synod member expressed concern that TKA might end up with a ‘second rate’ Bishop. However, leave to take the ammendment was not granted under the provisions of Standing Orders, the Dean of TKA objecting on the grounds that notice was not given for the amendment and that the amendment substantially altered the substance of the motion.
Clarification on several matters was given by Bishop Patrick who pointed out that any motion passed by General Synod would have to be ratified by Diocesan Synod. He further added that an Area Bishop is no less a Bishop and can represent us to ourselves and to the wider community.
Several representatives then supported the motion by saying we must move forward and that this is the best way for us to retain our identity. One member offered the opinion that General Synod and/or the House of Bishops may not support the diocese when the next episcopal vacancy occurs and may well attempt to ‘fix’ the ‘Tuam problem’ as they see it without refering back to the wishes of TKA.
Synod was reminded by another member that as Representatives (and not delegates) the Diocesan Synod is charged with making decisions and should not try to put this responsibility back onto parishes. He also argued that TKA is better with a ‘part-time’ Bishop based among us, representing us in the community and retaining our identity, than being an ‘add-on’ to another diocese that does not want us and in which we would be the very poor relation.
Archdeacon Hastings, the proposer of the motion, pointed out that Synod was making decisions for 10-12 years down the road but that nothing will be set in stone and that alterations and/or amendments can be made as we go forward. He added that the only reason the current discussion was happening at all is to prevent something worse taking place without our input.
At the end of the debate, after a period of quiet reflection called for by the Bishop, the motion was put to the House and was passed by Synod by a large majority.