According to a gleeful report in the latest edition of the Irish Catholic, the Church of Ireland has made ecumenical history - in more ways than one!
The Synod’s annual eucharistic service on May 10th was addressed for the first time by the leader of Irish Roman Catholicism. Moreover, Archbishop Sean Brady, being a Cardinal, became the first ‘Red Hat’ to speak at the Church of Ireland Parliament. Sean Brady was full of praise for the church’s attempts at healing divisions, combating sectarianism, and particularly in its implementation of their Hard Gospel project. He also said, “The last millennium saw great divisions in the unity of the Church - the body of Christ. Many now dare to hope, and I am one of them, that this millennium will see the great healing of those wounds.”
Abp Harper annoyed
As I wrote last time the original plans for the service envisaged various groups, including the Church of Ireland’s own gay rights lobbyists, Changing Attitude Ireland, taking part. This controversial service of inclusivity was dropped after opposition (see last BCN). In a radio interview Archbishop Harper was unable to hide his annoyance at being thwarted in this way. A more traditional service was then promised. Now we see what that meant - Rome to the fore!
Disclaimer on 39 Articles
The second bit of ecumenical history was in the passing of a special Bill, together with an amendment, stating that in any further printing of the Book of Common Prayer, a declaration by the Church would be inserted immediately preceding the 39 Articles. Part of the Declaration reads, “The Church of Ireland now acknowledges that historic documents often stem from periods of deep separation between Christian Churches ... It regrets words written in another age and in another context should be used in a manner hurtful to, or antagonistic towards, other Christians.” The amendment states. “the tone and tenor of the language of the negative statements towards other Christians should not be seen as representing the spirit of this Church today”.
Although, during the debate, the Church tried to persuade itself that the Bill was about language and not doctrine, the insertion is in effect a disclaimer, and strikes at the heart of Reformation truth.
HM the Queen not invited
Although a three day visit to the Province by Her Majesty the Queen and Prince Philip coincided with the start of this year’s Synod at Armagh, and rumours circulated among the delegates that there might be a surprise Royal visit - it did not happen.
Last year Irish President Mary McAleese was invited to address the Synod in Galway, and many northern Church of Ireland members were pressing for an invitation for a senior member of the Royal Family to visit this year’s Synod at Armagh - as a sign of ‘fair and just treatment in respect of both jurisdictions’ (Gazette). However it seems no such invitation went out. Following a statement from the church hierarchy that a future royal visit to the General Synod “has not been ruled in or out for the future and it remains a possibility,” an editorial in the C of I Gazette commented, ‘It is unfortunate that there is a certain ambiguity about the Church’s intentions in that official comment’.
One suspects that Archbishop Harper and Co. are far more interested in pursuing their policies of inclusivity and ecumenism than heeding the justifiable concerns of their members north of the border.