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Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 at St John’s Parish Centre, Moira

Pictured at the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 at St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June is L to R: (back row) Rev Canon Roderic West, Archdeacon John Scott, Rt Rev Harold Miller - Bishop of Down & Dromore, Rev Canon Rajkumar Sathyaraj, Archdeacon Gregor McCamley and Rev Joanne Megarrell. (seated at front) Rev Alan Millar, Rev Canon Robert Howard and the Very Rev Stephen Lowry.

Pictured at the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 at St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June is L to R: (back row) Rev Canon Roderic West, Archdeacon John Scott, Rt Rev Harold Miller - Bishop of Down & Dromore, Rev Canon Rajkumar Sathyaraj, Archdeacon Gregor McCamley and Rev Joanne Megarrell. (seated at front) Rev Alan Millar, Rev Canon Robert Howard and the Very Rev Stephen Lowry.

280 delegates attended the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June from 2.15pm to 9.45pm.  The Synod began with a Holy Communion service; the preacher was the Reverend Canon Rajkumar Sathyaraj.  In his Presidential address, the Bishop of Down & Dromore, the Right Reverend Harold Miller said that the theme for this his tenth Synod in the Diocese of Down and Dromore could be summed up in one word: RESPECT.  The following is a summary of Bishop Miller’s address:

Don’t get worried, I’m not going to major on respect for bishops, though St Paul does say to all of us ‘Respect those who are over you in the Lord’!  That kind of respect has to be earned these days, and I have to say that I believe there is a strong mutual respect – and a sense of joy and privilege in ministry – in the diocese at this time, for which I am truly grateful.

But there are several areas of our common life in this province where, it seems to me, that respect and valuing of other human beings is at a low ebb.  And it is these on which I want to focus, because if we do not face these issues as a society, and speak into these issues as churches, our future is very bleak indeed.

The Very Rev. John Dinnen - Dean of Down, Rev Canon Roderic West and David Cromie pictured at the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June.

The Very Rev. John Dinnen - Dean of Down, Rev Canon Roderic West and David Cromie pictured at the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June.

Respect for other races

The first, highlighted by Canon Raj’s address at the opening Eucharist and his report to CMS Ireland is, quite simply, RACISM.  I was appalled, when I returned from the Albany Diocesan Convention to hear a report of a touring under 19’s Indian cricket team chased by youths through Belfast and experiencing their accommodation being stoned.  Brothers and sisters, we know this kind of thing is going on at regular intervals.  The myth of our so-called Ulster hospitality and warmth has been blown open.  It was such a joy to welcome people from a whole range of nationalities to Down Cathedral on St Patrick’s Day this year – and to see how much those who came valued the invitation.  We said to them “If you are not Irish come into the parlour”.  But I have to say that this really must get down to local parish level, not simply in terms of not cold-shouldering people of other cultures, but in terms of positive outgoing welcome and action, valuing of those who are marginalized, and embracing the wonderful faith and gifts which so many of our new neighbours bring to us.

I was recently at the annual meeting of ‘Embrace’, which focuses in on these issues from a church perspective.  We were told there that unemployment in Northern Ireland is at an all-time low (only 4%) and we, along with the rest of this island are actually dependent on people coming to live here from other cultures.  We cannot develop economically without them.  As churches, we also need to say that we, in our sometimes traumatised introversion after the troubles, need the gifts and faith of ordinary people from other backgrounds to bring new life to our congregations.  Respect of people from other cultures is vital.

Barry Harrison - Parish Reader, Bertie Logan - Lay Reader, Rev Liz Hewitt and the Very Rev. Fr Brian Brown PP pictured at the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira  on Thursday 22nd June.

Barry Harrison - Parish Reader, Bertie Logan - Lay Reader, Rev Liz Hewitt and the Very Rev. Fr Brian Brown PP pictured at the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira  on Thursday 22nd June.

Respect for the two communities

The second aspect of RESPECT, which we need to focus on is RESPECT for the two indigenous communities which inhabit this province alongside those from other cultures.  That theme is nothing new.  It has often been noted (not least by the Croatian theologian, Miroslav Wolf) that there is a kind of trajectory of lack of respect.  It develops through different stages, all of which we have seen and experienced in Northern Ireland.  There is first of all the devaluing of the humanity of others because they are different; then we begin to distance ourselves from them, to pass on negative stories about them, to create a society in which they have no voice and rights, to airbrush them out; and finally in the worst scenarios it can lead to ethnic cleansing.  This was focussed for me on one occasion when driving around the ring road and seeing the graffiti: ‘Keep Ulster tidy: Kill all Taigs’.  We have all been guilty of this lack of respect for and valuing of ‘the other’!  Thankfully, I believe the church, and not least our own Diocese, has given a (perhaps inadequate) lead in helping to build bridges across the divide, not least through the work of Charlie Leeke.  And the Church of Ireland continues this ministry through the ‘Hard Gospel’ programme.

I have some degree of concern at the moment, which I expressed at this year’s General Synod, that this lack of respect is being felt now in reverse – by the Protestant Community itself.  For me, and I think for Bishop Alan, who joins us today, the events of the late summer of 2005 were a glimpse into this particular abyss.  A community, - indeed the community, which has historically identified with the Church of Ireland – which feels itself to be disrespected, devalued, rudderless and indeed leaderless, (exacerbated of course by the political vacuum at Stormont).  I saw this on my visitation of the inner city areas, and I also saw a community looking to the churches to take a new lead.  I want to say firmly that no one has the right to disrespect protestant culture, sincerely felt Britishness and appropriately expressed traditions, so long as those traditions do not dominate or diminish others.  Last September I sensed a working-class protestant community with such a poor self-image that it was prepared in a lemming-like manner to jump over the cliff rather than embrace the future.  We must not allow this to continue, and need to support our churches in working-class areas which are seeking to build up confidence and lead the community to a healthy Christian future.  May I also say how sadden I was to hear last night of the death of Monsignor Denis Faul, who in is own outspoken way was much loved and valued for his honesty and fairness in both communities.

Respect for human value

Area number three is RESPECT FOR HUMAN VALUE AND LIFE.  There is a whole ‘package’ of issues here.  I mention only a few of them.  For example, we live in a society where it would be easy to respect only those whose lives appear to be productive.  I have always had a particular abhorrence of abortion, while realizing that there are some very extreme cases where there is no other option.  But the very idea that it is becoming increasingly possible to choose to abort a foetus simply for social reasons or because of abnormalities (the extreme case which gained publicity recently was a ‘club foot’) is so utterly anti-Christian that there are hardly words to describe it.  May I also say how pleased I was yesterday to hear Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor raise the issue of reviewing the Abortion Law in England, especially in regard to a new upper time limit for the period in which abortion is permitted.  At the other end of the life –spectrum, it was a joy to see not only all the churches working together, but indeed faith groups working together, to ensure the rejection of Lord Joffe’s Assisted Suicide Bill in the House of Lords; which I gather would not immediately have applied to Northern Ireland, but would no doubt eventually have had an impact here.  My only shock was that the votes were only 148-100.

Christians must always show respect for the inherent value of human life as God-given, for the vulnerable unborn child in the womb, the disabled or mentally weak person,  (may I, on your behalf, welcome the Special Olympics Ireland Games to the Diocese over the next five days), and the aged and infirm who can so easily persuaded that they no longer have value and that life is not worth living.  And in my experience, the church is one of the places where this human respect is most fully found.

I could go on to speak of so many other areas of crisis in our society, in which our valuing and respect of others is key to a way forward: 

  • Domestic violence – women and men
  • Physical and sexual abuse
  • Drug and alcohol problems
  • Bullying of children
  • Dehumanizing of people because of their sexuality.

The list is endless – the clergy will be looking in detail at many of these pastoral areas at their conference in October.

Brothers and sisters in the Gospel, the call on us as Christ-people is to give the value and respect to others, which Christ in his grace has given to us.  To recognise that in serving others we serve him.  To understand that no sinfulness, difference or wrong stamps out the essential image of God in which we are created, and to continue to grow a church in which all are welcome, all are received in Christ’s name, and all are enabled by the power of the Holy Spirit to become aware of how greatly and perfectly they are loved and valued by God.  Then, together, we will grow to be disciples, more and more like Jesus our Master and our example.

Ladies from Moira Parish, who catered for the members of the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June. L to R: Bina Brown, Margaret Purdy, Joan West, Hope Henderson, Betty Derby, Valerie Little, Phyllis Kennedy, Heather Dillon and Jacquie Simpson.

Ladies from Moira Parish, who catered for the members of the Down & Dromore Diocesan Synod 2006 in St John’s Parish Centre, Moira on Thursday 22nd June. L to R: Bina Brown, Margaret Purdy, Joan West, Hope Henderson, Betty Derby, Valerie Little, Phyllis Kennedy, Heather Dillon and Jacquie Simpson.

Retirements

The General Synod last month was saddened by the news that the primate has announced his retirement for the end of the year.  This is not the time for long eulogies, but we do recognise not only that he has ministered (in all three orders of ministries in Down and Dromore), and that he will be returning to Down and Dromore when he retires.  We wish Robin and Christine God’s richest blessings in the years to come and thank them for the way they have poured themselves out not only for the Church of Ireland, but for the whole Anglican Communion and indeed the wider church of God.

This is the last Diocesan Synod for the Archdeacon of Down, Gregor McCamley, who is to retire at the end of February 2007.  Gregor was really the person who looked after me when I arrived from Cork, green behind the ears, in 1997.  He and Rosemary took me into their home for weeks while the See House was being made ready.  He has always been a loyal, loving, likeable and blunt colleague; I will miss him greatly, as will all of us.  But again, he will not be far away, but will be living in the diocese and will become Chaplain to the Retired Clergy when Bishop Ned Darling (whom I would like to thank for his dedication to the task) lays it down in February.  Ned has had a very special place in the lives of the retired clergy and widows – 111 households of them, and worked alongside the parochial clergy in caring for them and valuing them as co-workers in the Vineyard.

I do not usually name names of those who are celebrating ordination anniversaries at the Synod, but as this is the very day on which David Brown, Tom Conway, Sam Jones, Paul Hewitt, David Humphries and Roderic West are celebrating, we specially mention them.  And join with them many whose anniversary is at this time.

My own 30th anniversary of Ordination to the Diaconate is in two day’s time, on St John the Baptist Day and along with the other clergy here I simply marvel that God has chosen me to serve him in this way at such a time as this.  He has also chosen and redeemed each one here and we are privileged to be the people of His Kingdom.  Glory to God who is always able to do far more than we could, ask, think or imagine.

Other presentations were:

  • ‘Confirmation - Not a Passing Out Parade’ (Andrew Brannigan)
  • ‘Church, not as you have known it’ (Colin Corbridge & Jasper Rutherford)
  • ‘The work of the Mothers’ Union in the Diocese’ (Anne Neill & Roberta Rogers)
  • ‘Fairtrade’ (Margaret McNulty)