Bishop Paul Colton’s Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod 2014

Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

Diocesan Synod Address given in Cork

by The Right Rev. Dr Paul Colton,

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

7th June 2014

Note to readers: the Bishop’s address was accompanied by a visual presentation. 

Hence the references to pictures and images being displayed.

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton delivering his presidential address to Diocesan Synod in the Rochestown Park Hotel on Saturday, 7th June, 2014

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton delivering his presidential address to Diocesan Synod in the Rochestown Park Hotel on Saturday, 7th June, 2014


Dear friends in Christ, we meet as a Diocesan Synod in the name of God the Holy Trinity to reflect again on the work of the local Church here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

New Synod

I welcome each of you to this Synod, long-standing members and especially new members.  Thank you to each one of you for the time, devotion and energy you commit to the work of the Church.  Thank you also to your families.

This is a new Synod.  By dint of the democratic process of our elections, and the thoughtfulness with which our people apply themselves responsibly to exercising their votes, I am pleased to note two things about the membership of our new Diocesan Synod:

  • First of all, 47% – not far off half – are women.  It was only in 1949 that the General Synod altered the teaching and discipline of the Church of Ireland to make it possible for women to be elected to lay offices in this church.  That seems a world away now.  The first woman elected to Synod took her seat only in 1952, in many of your lifetime; she was Mrs G.A. Ruth from our neighbouring Diocese of Ardfert and Aghadoe.  Moreover she was the only woman on the General Synod.  1952, incidentally, was the same year that our own J.L.B. Deane first took his seat.
  • The second thing I notice is that 33% – one third – are entirely new members to Diocesan Synod. Fifteen of you joined in our breakfast last November with Mark Russell of the Church Army when he encouraged people to step up and to start taking a lead.  All this is encouraging.  Alongside continuity there must always be succession, as well as openness to newcomers, to difference and to including the richness and diversity of new insights and gifts from others journey with us on the path of Christian discipleship.

Methodist Church in Ireland

On that journey, ours is the first Diocesan Synod within the Church of Ireland to be held since the recent General Synod at which a new Canon – Canon 10A – was enacted providing for full interchangeability of ministry between the Church of Ireland and the Methodist Church in Ireland.  This has emerged from the covenant process signed in 2002 and which was embraced by our two churches.

Our own Dean of Cork, the Very Reverend Nigel Dunne, has been to the fore in bringing about this legislation, and I pay tribute to him.  It is a particular pleasure, therefore, to welcome, in this new light of full communion, our Methodist colleagues to this Diocesan Synod today.  (As an a aside, I might add, there are a number of vacant parishes in the Diocese, and you may now be eligible to fill them!).

I count it an honour that, by invitation of the Archbishop of Armagh, I was chairing the General Synod and guiding it through the legislative process that brought about this historic ecumenical development. I ask the Reverend Bill Mullally to bring our special greetings from this Synod in Cork, Cloyne and Ross as you head to your Methodist Conference 2014 next Wednesday.

Please would you mark this moment and give a renewed and special greeting to our Methodist brothers and sisters here today, and to the Methodist Church in Ireland.

First Woman Church of Ireland Bishop

The recent General Synod was also the first at which a session was chaired by a bishop who is a woman.  The Bishop of Derry and I had the honour, on yet another historic occasion in the Church of Ireland in the past year, of being co-consecrators, with the Archbishop of Dublin, of Bishop Pat Storey in Christ Church Cathedral, on the Feast of Saint Andrew, 30th November: the first Anglican woman bishop in these islands.

I’m sure you will join with me in heralding this development in the ministry of the Church of Ireland, that began with the admission of women to lay office in 1949, and which is the logical consummation of a further change in the Church’s teaching through legislation by the General Synod in 1990 making provision for the ordination of women as priests and bishops.

Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures

Talking of bishops, in 2012, the General Synod established a Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures.  Mrs Ethne Harkness was elected chairperson.  The Commission was set up to prepare proposals on the provision of episcopal ministry and structures adequate for the needs, and compatible with the resources, of the Church of Ireland.  It was given two years in which to do its work, which proved too little, and so, at the recent General Synod, its mandate was renewed for a further two years.   This Commission is very important.

Ordinarily, a diocese itself affected by the recommendations of such a commission has, through its diocesan synod, a power of acceptance or rejection of any proposal affecting it.  In this case, that power has been removed from diocesan synods and given to the General Synod as a whole.  It is important, therefore, that, locally, we show interest in and engage with the work of this body.  Today, therefore, we welcome two members of the Commission to our Diocesan Synod and we look forward to hearing more from them about their work.

What is a bishop?

Foundational to all this is the prior question, ‘what is a bishop?’

Last year in my fifteenth year as your bishop, I reflected on the answer to that question. I am still reflecting and still learning.  Most of all, as I said then, I am ever more conscious that no one person has all the charisms and qualifications to exercise episcopal ministry, but yet God calls.

In my personal submission to the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures I referred to the description of the role of a bishop set out by the Lambeth Conference 1998 and to which I am constantly attracted for the aspirations of my own charter.

Please permit me to remind you what I quoted last year. The bishop is:

(a)   a symbol of the Unity of the Church in its mission;

(b)  a teacher and defender of the faith;

(c)   a pastor of the pastors and of the laity;

(d)  an enabler in the preaching of the Word, and in the administration of the Sacraments;

(e)   a leader in mission and an initiator of outreach to the world surrounding the community of the faithful;

(f)   a shepherd who nurtures and cares for the flock of God;

(g)   a physician to whom are brought the wounds of society;

(h)  a voice of conscience with the society in which the local church is placed;

(i)    a prophet who proclaims the Justice of God in the context of the Gospel of loving redemption;

(j)    a head to the family in its wholeness, its misery and its joy.  The bishop is the family’s centre of life and love.[1]

One thing of which I am convinced is that our foremost focus must not solely be on geography, amalgamations, the inherited historical patter, or indeed on saving money, but rather on getting  the theology and ecclesiology about bishops right:  what we believe they are and what they are to do within the Church.

What is a Diocese?

Allied to the question ‘what is a bishop?’ is the related issue of ‘what is a diocese?’  Yes, it has a dictionary meaning:  a district under the pastoral care of a bishop in the Christian Church.  We pride ourselves on being a family diocese.

Often, however, many use the term ‘diocese’ in a more remote and disconnected way.  Faced with many of the dilemmas of recent years I often hear people asking ‘what’s the Diocese going to do about it?’ or saying “The Diocese will have to do something.’  And I ask myself who or what do people think ‘the Diocese’ is?

We speak as if it is not me; it’s someone else, never ourselves; as if it some shadowy stranger: those people there, rather than I myself or we ourselves here.  It is not ‘them’ and ‘us’.  It is you and I. It is you and the people at the table with you and at the next table.  It is even people from parishes other than your own!  It is each of us asking the question of ourselves.

Annual Emphasis

In my address last year I trawled back through my fifteen years of previous addresses and, in every single one, there was some element of reflection and challenge along these lines:

  • Why are we here?
  • What is our task?
  • What are we trying to sustain?
  • What are our priorities?
  • Are we prioritising ministry and, through it, mission?
  • Is that priority seen in the way we spend our money, the balance we keep between what we spend on Ministry/mission on one hand, and on buildings and maintenance on the other?

Keeping ministry and mission as the main thing has been one of the key themes every year of my addresses.  Earlier in the week as I prepared the visual presentations for today, I asked Google images ‘What is the Church of Ireland?’  This bank of photos came up: not one person in any of them!

I then keyed in ‘What is the ministry and mission of Christians?’  In contrast, every single image has a person or people in them.  The exercise is, of course, starkly naïve and the contrast is hyperbolic, but the message is true.  Ministry and mission with, alongside and to people is our core task.  If we lose that we have nothing.  Those here last year may remember this:  words from Stephen Covey –  ‘The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing.’

Ministry and Mission, with all their many dimensions, are the main thing.

The Confirmation Jigsaw

Again and again in my presidential addresses at diocesan synods I speak of how important it is that we all try to lift ourselves out of our immediate parochial concerns to see the big picture, and also of the need for us to have an overview.

As we reflect on our role, on our strategy and on what it means to be the church here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross, the work done by this year’s confirmation candidates at the Confirmation morning last March has a lot to teach us.

They made a jigsaw.  So strong and multi-faceted in its simplicity is its message that I have been bringing the jigsaw around to each Confirmation Service and I commissioned postcards of it for everyone being confirmed this year.

It speaks to us of:

  • the unique identity and giftedness of each piece;
  • of the rich diversity of pieces;
  • of the space still within for those not yet there – the gaps;
  • the connectedness, and interdependence – communion – between pieces;
  • no piece is alone;
  • the richness of the whole picture;
  • some pieces are nearer the edge than others;
  • and most important of all, the edges are incomplete – open and ready to invite and to attract others in, and to engage with them.

When we meet and decide and reflect on the meaning and role of the Diocese in our individual, family or parochial setting, I ask, as your Bishop, that we constantly keep this image before us – the bigger picture of our connectedness with and dependence on one another; and our core activity of going out to draw others in.

Opportune Time

In order that we are best placed to do this, a number of factors make it necessary, I believe, once again in our Diocese, to look afresh at our priorities in Cork, Cloyne and Ross, and, in particular, at the pattern of parochial ministry and any other ministries and activities being resourced by our own voluntary subscription within the Diocese.  These factors are:

  • the changed social and economic climate in which we live, including factors, for example, such as the economy, emigration, immigration, altered perspectives on and changed patterns of allegiance to the institutions of society, including churches.
  • our own recent financial situation in the diocese.
  • the articulated fears and anxieties of a number of parishes about meeting their existing obligations within the current Diocesan structures.
  • voices within and without the Diocesan Council suggesting that such a discussion is necessary.
  • wider discussions within the Church of Ireland about models of Church and patterns of ministry including from within:
        • the Commission on Ministry
        • the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures
        • the Council for Mission
        • the House of Bishops
        • the RCB
        • the Archbishop of Armagh’s 2034 proposals (copies of the Archbishop’s ten point action plan have been distributed to you).

Charting A Future with Confidence

It is for these reasons, following reflection and prayer over a considerable time, I proposed to Diocesan Council, and Diocesan Council unanimously agreed, that a Council be set up here with a specific task over the coming two years.

The full details are appended to the Diocesan Council Report in your Book of Reports.   I have outlined it also in my monthly letter in the current issue of our Diocesan Magazine.

I have called it ‘Charting A Future with Confidence.’

Inherent in the idea of ‘charting’ are a number of elements:

  • the gathering of information;
  • learning from the journey so far;
  • outlining a route, and drawing a way forward.

I have been careful to call it ‘A Future’.  None of us can know ‘the future’.  To decide now inflexibly what we will do in ‘the’ future delimits our readiness to respond to what we do not yet know about what lies ahead.  ‘A future’ embraces the idea of openness to what is to come and to what we do not yet know.

We do so with confidence.  As Christians, under God and because of our faith, we refuse resolutely to succumb to the narrative of despair, cynicism, negativity and helplessness that characterises much around us today. Long before Barack Obama’s campaign trail made the slogan ‘Yes we can!’ popular, staff in hotels I often stay in for work, were wearing a badge, with the words ‘Yes, I can.’  Even before them, fans of Bob the Builder had been used to the call ‘Can we fix it?  Yes we can!’

Intelligence, reason, pragmatism and senses attuned prayerfully to all that is around us we have confidence in what we are and in what we shall become. Why confidence?  Because we are the people of God, a people of faith and of hope, guided by the Spirit, nourished by Jesus, the living Word of God, and by the sacraments of his presence. Strengthened by each other, the community of the baptised, we are on a pilgrimage of discipleship together.

The task of the Council of Charting A Future, which will include representatives from every parish and sector ministry in the Diocese, will be the following: 

  1. to conduct a summary and assessment of previous such reviews in the Diocese.
  2. to endeavour to assess what the current situation actually is in the Diocese, other than based on anecdote or the most vocal.
  3. to examine the sustainability of the current pattern of parochial ministry, including (again) numbers of incumbencies and church buildings.
  4. to consider what ‘model of Church’ or ‘models of Church’ work, may work and are sustainable into the future in the Diocese.
  5. to keep abreast of proposals and discussions emerging from the national bodies of the Church of Ireland (named above).
  6. to work with and advise the people and parishes of the Diocese, through the Diocesan Council and Diocesan Synod in relation to charting a future for these things in the Diocese.

No generation can opt out of the challenges and realities of its own time. We must also face up to the act that we do not live either in a Harry Potter world of magic wands where leaders and heroes can magic-up instant change, comfort or well-being.

It is all about faithful discipleship, prayerful patience, and down-to-earth practical getting on with it.  As St Paul said to the Galatians: ‘ Let us not grow weary in doing what is right, for we will reap at harvest time, if we do not give up.’ (Galatians 6.9)


Last year I took the 1950s  – the ‘lost decade’ – as an historical reference point to illustrate how the Irish people in general and our Diocese in particular had had to face up to a time of economic turmoil, uncertainty, hardship and emigration in the midst of the Cold War

If such a reference point is needed this year, it must surely be 1914.  The old Bishop of Cork, Bishop Meade, very ill in his later years, had, as he expressly wished, ‘died in harness’ in October 1912.  In the days before he had dedicated a memorial window in Brinny Church, and visited St Luke’s Home (as it now is).

Dr Charles Benjamin Dowse who had been elected Bishop of Killaloe and translated to Cork all in the one year – 1912.  He was enthroned in St Fin Barre’s on 7th March 1913. His first Diocesan Synod here was on 22nd October 1913.  He would not have another Diocesan Synod until 28th October 1914.  Can you imagine the change in mood and preoccupations within the Diocese between those two dates?

Imagine for a moment, in your mind’s eye, that we are a Diocesan Synod of 1914, meeting on the first Saturday of June that year: 6th June it was. Had you and I been there what might I, as Bishop, have been talking about in my address to Diocesan Synod, and what would you have been listening to?

Would I have been prophetic and far-seeing enough to call into question the rejection of the vote for women in the House of Lords the month before (6th May)? As a product of my time I might not have, who knows.  The passing of the Irish Home Rule Bill only 12 days before might have been more in our minds

And that against the backdrop of the Larne gun-running and the arming of the Ulster Volunteers at the end of that April.  Hot topics of conversation would surely have been the fallout from the Great Lockout in Dublin, the founding of the Irish Citizen Army and the Irish Volunteers in November of the previous year. It was a time of political turmoil. Even closer to home, and affecting many in the room, might have been the fact that last March there had been three confirmed outbreaks of Foot and Mouth Disease in County Cork.

No one sitting in that imaginary Synod that day was to know that in three weeks time, with the assassination, in Sarajevo, of the Archduke Franz Ferdinand of Austria and his wife Sophie, Duchess of Hohenberg.   Five minutes after this very photo was taken, a fuse would be lit on the complex bonfire of catalysts that had accumulated since the ending of the Franco-Prussian War in 1871.

By the following 4th August this country, as it then was, would be at war with the German Empire.  A four-year war on a great scale would follow that changed people, families, communities, societies and international realities forever.  The historian, Sir Martin Gilbert, describing his own researches throughout Europe in the twentieth century said, ‘My travels taught me that there was no area of Europe free from the memories and monuments of the First World War.’  He refers to a review of two First World War books in the Jerusalem Post in 1993, in which the reviewer, Meir Ronnen, makes this sobering observation: ‘Millions died in the mud of Flanders between 1914-18.  Who remembers them?  Even those with names on their graves are by now unknown soldiers.’

Here in County Cork, even before war was declared, over 1000 soldiers ‘had been deployed to patrol the coast from Templebreedy to Myrtleville – much to the annoyance of holidaymakers.’ Sentries were posted at both ends of the railway tunnel into Cork. Two foreign looking people were arrested in Crosshaven and accused of espionage.  On 5th August, the compulsory purchase of horses was the first thing to impact on the ordinary people of Cork. (White and O’Shea: A Great Sacrifice).

The names of people from Cork who died in that war are recorded in this book – A Great Sacrifice – a project undertaken by the City and County Vocational Education Committees of Cork. Here are recorded the names of the 3,774 (at least) Cork people who died in that War.  I encourage all parishes to find a way in the coming years solemnly to remember this great human tragedy and those who died.  Their memorials are in most churches throughout the Diocese, as well as in nine public memorials in the city and towns of our county.  In St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork are recorded the names of those from these Dioceses who died.

Charles Webster, in his history of the Diocese of Cork published in 192o, attests that these years of Bishop Dowse’s episcopate were ‘strenuous’:  ‘[h]is episcopate has not only covered the years of the Great War, but within it  are also falling still more anxious days for Church and native land.”

The memorial events yesterday – 70th Anniversary of the D-Day landings –  of another war which entered a new phase on this Normandy beach, and others, attest to new realities and new relationships.  We now live in a greatly changed world; old enemies are allies and friends, living and working together in a European and international context.

Our remembering of all of the events to be commemorated in the centenaries that lie ahead as a church (through the lens of faith), and as a society (through the prism of contemporary reality) needs to be realistic and sensitive, and honed by historical research undertaken in the years since.

This year I wish to underscore the primary point that I have made in each Synod of recent years:  people, communities, societies and, indeed, churches, have lived through much in the past and, in spite of all that they suffered, they bore witness to Christ; maintained ministry and mission; and, in some instances, they still managed to do exciting and new things in spite of the times.  Above all they remained faithful in worship, mission and service.  Had they not, we would not be still here today doing what we do.


This determination to see things through in our ministry and mission, is summed up well in the concluding pages of Charles Webster’s history of the Diocese of Cork.  Looking back on the ups and downs of the history of the Diocese from the start he says:

It is not for nought that God has led the Church in this diocese through all the devious paths of which this book has tried to trace the outlines.  It is not in vain that the Church’s sons and daughters have been taught to say their Creed and lift up holy hands to God.  It is not without purpose that the best and brightest of her children have made the supreme sacrifice at the call of God or Empire.  For one living and working on the banks of the ancient Sabhrann which rises far away in lone Gougane Barra and flows onward to the ocean outside, there is ever present a parable of higher thighs.  The truth of God over which St Fin Barre pondered in his island retreat, has made its way into every parish from Carn Ui Neid to Cork; and the ocean of eternity still draws it onward and outward.  The churchmen of the diocese of Cork will never fail to keep in view the eternal purpose which God hath purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

In our time, facing our own challenges, this is still our purpose here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

In this Diocesan Synod we commit ourselves afresh to be faithful, energetic and creative disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ as we set out to Chart a Future with Confidence.

May God the Holy Spirit guide and bless us as we begin our work in this Synod today.

+Paul Cork:

7th June, 2014

[1] The Truth shall make you Free – Report of the Lambeth Conference of 1998 (1988, London) at 61

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