Bishop Paul Colton sets out challenges and questions in 2016 Diocesan Synod Address

The Diocesan Synod of the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross met in the Rochestown Park Hotel, Douglas, Cork on Saturday, 11th June 2016.  The Eucharist of the Feast of Saint Barnabas was celebrated by members beforehand in the nearby parish church: Saint Luke’s, Douglas.  One hundred and forty synod members – clergy and lay people from all over the Diocese – were joined by visitors from the Diocese of Borgå (Porvoo) in Finland led by their Bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Björn Vikström, and also ecumenical guests, including Father Christy Fitzgerald (representing Bishop John Buckley), the Rev. Bill Mullally (President Designate of the Methodist Church in Ireland), and the Reverend John Faris (Cork Presbyterian Church).  A group of adults and young people – a Mission Experience Team Abroad – who are travelling from the Diocese to the Diocese of Northern Zambia in the summer were present and were commissioned.

The Diocesan Synod of Cork, Cloyne and Ross assembles for the opening Eucharist Picture: Jim Coughlan.

The Diocesan Synod of Cork, Cloyne and Ross assembles for the opening Eucharist Picture: Jim Coughlan.

In his presidential address the Bishop, the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton, took the theme  ‘outward-looking Church’ this year.  He said:

A Christianity that hides from the realities of the city – of society, of real people in real places – is a denial of the incarnate Jesus who stood alongside people and offered them ‘life in all its fullness’.

Christianity cannot solely be worked out, therefore, within the walls of our sacred spaces, physical or metaphorical.  I don’t like walls.  The ministry of reconciliation calls for walls to be bridged or taken down.  It’s for that reason that I keep a fragment – yes, a genuine one – of the Berlin wall in front of my eyes on my desk.

Referring to the refugee crisis in Europe he asked:

Is this the catastrophe of our generation that people in the future will look back on and ask ‘did they not know?’

The Bishop set out five challenges in his address and posed questions on foot of those:

  1. Rural decline in Ireland.
  2. Responding to the needs of a developing Cork Metropolitan Area.
  3. Churches with a small ‘c’ – diversifying the use of our church buildings.
  4. Exploring and responding to the needs of the age group known as ‘millennials’.
  5. The new Cork, Cloyne and Ross project in partnership with Bishop’s Appeal and Christian Aid to improve maize production in Burundi.

In responding to many of these challenges, the Bishop, referring to his recent dialogue at the Colloquium of Anglican and Roman Catholic Lawyers, suggested we might learn from others and, for example, from the model of ‘extra-territorial parishes’ in the Code of Canon Law in the Roman Catholic Church.  He point out that the Diocese of Porvoo/Borgå, for example, is, itself, an extra-territorial unit.

Here is the Bishop’s Address in full:

United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

Diocesan Synod Address given in Cork

by The Right Rev. Dr Paul Colton,

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

11th June 2016


Dear friends in Christ, we meet once again 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.

In each of the last eighteen years as your Bishop, from a variety of standpoints, I have endeavoured to get us all thinking about our calling and work as a Church.  My hope is that you will bring back to the parishes, and spheres of ministry in which you are involved, my message of  gratitude and encouragement, as well as the overview, challenges, questions and opportunities I highlight.

As your Bishop I am inspired by the commitment and faithfulness of so many throughout the Diocese, for which, in God’s name, I thank you all, and your co-workers in Christ, most sincerely.   

Last Year

At last year’s Synod I devoted much of my address, and you focussed your discussions, on the unfolding work of the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures.  No doubt our initial instinct was to sigh in relief when the final proposals emerged and our unit within the totality was to be unchanged.  The proposals, and their subsequent withdrawal, and indeed the resolution passed at the recent General Synod let no one off the hook.

I have consistently argued, as I did last year, for a more radical overhaul of Church structures, one that has the courage to move away from the 12th Century framework, to focus on population centres and one which harnesses, for example, the insights of other disciplines and work including the National Spatial Strategy.  Others argue that is simply not realistic.

Either way we are, as I say, not off the hook.  We still have to take a good look at ourselves, ask hard questions of ourselves and of God, to pray and reflect and to gather it all up, mindful of our place in the wider household of the Church of Ireland, in our programme Charting A Future with Confidence.

The call to be an outward-looking Church

So much of what is happening in our Diocese impels us to be outward looking.

Our visit earlier this year from the Bishop of Strängnäs and members of his Diocesan Council was a time of mutual enrichment and insight within the community.  Today, we are honoured by the presence of the Bishop and people of the place that give the Porvoo Communion its name:  the Bishop of Porvoo, or Borgå as it is in Swedish, and his group representatives of the Diocesan staff.  In the same way, the presence of our ecumenical guests from the wider Christian household  helps to push back the curtains and to let in more light on our local perspective.  It is for this reason also that I have asked Wilfred Baker to speak to us later about his recent visit to Zambia for the meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council.   It is why I have invited the Mission Experience Team Abroad here today to be commissioned.  It is why the presence of our visitors and stallholders is so important.  

The Feast of Saint Barnabas: A Calling for Today

The scriptures speak to us of Saint Barnabas – whose day this is – simply, as one who dedicated his life to the Lord. As we heard at our Eucharist earlier ‘… he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith.’

‘[T]he apostles gave [him] the name Barnabas (which means ‘son of encouragement’). He sold a field that belonged to him, then brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.’ (Acts 4.36-7)  As I have come to know you in this Diocese throughout my life, growing up and living in this Diocese, even in my years away from it, and particularly in my years as your Bishop, I see similar goodness, faithfulness, dedication and generosity to the Lord and to the work of the Church.

The first reading this morning points us beyond our own concerns.  

It described graphically a people in need and Job’s striving for justice for them:  ‘the poor who cried’, ‘the orphan who had no helper’, ‘the wretched/destitute’, ‘the widow’s heart’, … the writer was moved to respond with righteousness and to strive for justice, to become ‘eyes to the blind and feet to the lame’, and ‘father to the needy’.    The justice he was striving for was so close to him that it became ‘like a robe and a turban’ he was wearing.  He championed or investigated (as another translation puts it) ‘the cause of the stranger’ – setting prejudice aside, he gathered the facts, to come to a just decision, and to defend the stranger. (Job 29.11-16)  

As can so easily happen in lectionary choices, an important next verse is left out – verse 17 – ‘I broke the fangs of the unrighteous, and made them drop their prey from their teeth.’  Job not only helped the oppressed; he also sought to break the power of the oppressors.

In our day, we are called to respond to such things, and more.  Why?  We have the words of Jesus himself in today’s Gospel reading to call us, to motivate us, and to shape our mission and ministry:

‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.  …  You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name. I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.  (John 15.12-17)

These words of Christ bind us, who have been chosen, to the one who chooses us and appoints us.  His words call us to a life of Christian love, received from him and one another, and generously given to others, including such as those Job was concerned about.  It is outward looking and calls us forward and onwards on our journey.  These words, like so many others should infuse our programme Charting A Future with Confidence.

Archbishop of Armagh at General Synod

They also tie in well with what the Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Reverend Dr Richard Clarke has in mind for the Church of Ireland nationally.  Speaking at the General Synod last month he, said:

‘…  the Church of Ireland must look beyond its own self–interest and its own survival. It must reach upwards to God in trust. It must look beyond itself in every way. Not least, it must look beyond the present into the future to which we believe God is calling us.’

Zanobi Strozzi – The Annunciation

This resonated with me, and I sat up.  It brought me back to the first sermon I preached among you as bishop, on that day in April 1999 when you welcomed me into Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral in Cork.  I’ve tried to allow the text I chose that day to shape my oversight and pilgrimage with you as your bishop:  

‘As God has called you: live up to your calling.’ (Ephesians 4.1)

Some of you may recall that a month earlier I had been consecrated bishop on the Feast of the Annunciation.  Time spent in front of a painting of that very event in the days beforehand  shaped what I said in that first episcopal sermon.

In his only signed painting the 15th Century artist Zanobi Strozzi’s – one he painted for the Church of San Miniato al Monte, Florence, now in the National Gallery in London –  the Angel of the Annunciation confronts Mary with the call from God.   All the classic ingredients of an Annunciation painting are there:  intense religious action, the dove of the Holy Spirit, the lily of Mary’s purity, and the hesitant looking obedience on her face.  “Who me? Why?” she seems to ask.  They stare into one another’s eyes openly in dialogue. Mary contemplates obedience to the message “I’m ready to serve.  Let it be with me just as the Lord says.”  The angel understands her fear and reticence: “Mary you have nothing to fear.”

As I said in 1999, if I have one dislike of Strozzi’s adorable painting of the Annunciation it’s this: the unfolding of the religious moment is walled in.  The religious activity seems remote from what is going on.  A Christianity that hides from the realities of the city – of society, of real people in real places – is a denial of the incarnate Jesus who stood alongside people and offered them ‘life in all its fullness’.  The countryside and city are outside the walls – on the surrounding hills.  There is an orange grove, a place of daily work, and beyond that even more communities on other hills: a world beyond  The painting draws my eye and imagination from the religious moment: outwards, beyond the wall, to life outside.

Of course our life of faith is directed foremost in worship – liturgy – towards God, creator, redeemer and giver of life.  We are nourished in worship – Word and Sacrament –  and in spiritual disciplines that strengthen us within.  To this end we do take time aside, on pilgrimage, in solitude, in study and reflection, in learning and in so many other ways.  All this Godward movement has one other inescapable trajectory, as we approach God, we are sent out again and again, in his name.  ‘Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.’

Christianity cannot solely be worked out, therefore, within the walls of our sacred spaces, physical or metaphorical.  I don’t like walls.  The ministry of reconciliation calls for walls to be bridged or taken down.  It’s for that reason that I keep a fragment – yes, a genuine one – of the Berlin wall in front of my eyes on my desk.

It is in this looking upwards to God and outwards to all else that we discover our vocation as individual Christians, as parishes, in all our spheres of ministry and as a Diocese as a whole.

A Diocesan tradition of engagement

Our forebears in this Diocese have, over the centuries, been faithful in their day in responding to the world around them.  Some of their Christian responses to the world around them as they saw it are still part of our work today:

  • Saint Luke’s Home and it’s care for the elderly and dementia sufferers founded in 1872.
  • The South-Infirmary Victoria Hospital – two denominational voluntary hospitals, one Roman Catholic and the other Protestant, which amalgamated in the 1980s to become one new ecumenical entity in service of the people of Cork and this region.
  • Lapp’s Court and Kingston College.
  • St Stephen’s Protestant Orphan Society
  • The Cork Indigent Roomkeepers’ Association

These, to name a few, I cite as examples of initiatives taken over the centuries by our forebears;   looking around and seeing what needs to be done in God’s name is not an instinct foreign to the people of Cork, Cloyne and Ross.  

All that work continues in our day and has been developed.  Sometimes I think that people in  parishes are too hard on themselves, even pessimistic at times; even in the midst of recession I could see wonderful things happening around the Diocese.  I would encourage people in parishes to sit down together every so often and consciously to write down and celebrate the positive things happening for God in your midst.  On a broader canvass I acknowledge and salute the initiatives and faithfulness in our day in our schools, in our healthcare work, in care for the elderly, in children’s and youth work, in reaching out to the city and county, in standing alongside the marginalised, in the work at Northridge House, the education centre.

Looking outwards

In our baptism, God calls us out of darkness into his marvellous light.  We often pass a candle to the newly baptised with the words:

You have received the light of Christ; walk in this light all the days of your life.

Shine as a light in the world to the glory of God the Father.

Where in our part of the world does God want us, his people in this part of his Church, to shine?

With all this in mind, I want to come to some firm examples: challenges that pose questions.

Challenge 1:  Being a rural Diocese

So much of our Diocese is rural; few of our parishes have no rural connection.  We know only too well that rural Ireland faces challenges.  The magnets of the greater Dublin area in the east and its commuter belt  – once ‘the Pale’ – and of the North-East – since the Industrial Revolution – gaining ever stronger traction in our time.

There has been so much change in rural infrastructure – banks, post offices, reconfiguring of approaches to healthcare and other infrastructure such as  coastal vigilance and rescue.  Rural communities have taken about as much as they can take.  According to reports:

  • in 2015 Bus Éireann announced that it was dropping 100 routes, many of them rural;
  • The Value for Money Review of School Transport has adversely affected many of our rural schools;
  • a similar review of rural primary schools has left many feeling vulnerable.
  • more than 130 bank branches have been closed since 2008;
  • over 200 local Post Offices have been closed since 2006;
  • in the last 16 years, 162 District Court buildings have been closed;
  • by 2015 139 Garda Stations had closed.

Of course it’s true that rural population is in decline, but there are still communities and human beings in these areas.  However, they and we are ill-served by a centrist and centralising view that colludes with the ‘suck everyone to the east’ mindset.  One forecast predicts that by the year 2030, 60% of the Irish population will live within 25 miles of the east coast.  

I was startled therefore, to read an article in the Sunday Independent on 8th May last headed: ‘State can’t afford rural Ireland … ’.  I, as much as anyone else in the public space, am more than aware of the perils of sub-editors and the headlines they put on things one says.  Moreover, clearly the former Secretary General at the Department of Finance,  was clearly trying to stimulate debate; one that is important and vital.  It is worrying, however,  when he is reported as having warned that ‘… the country can no longer afford to subsidise the personal choices that people make, when they elect to live in the countryside.’  

According to the report the suggestion is that the State’s future investment should be concentrated on the growth of regional cities – as opposed to the preservation of rural living. He laid out a plan for the recreation of Ireland as a ‘global city’. I quote the speaker being reported:  ‘This is not an easy message for rural Ireland, and there will be casualties in terms of life as we have known it.’

I have no doubt that there are important realities to be engaged with in what Mr Moran was saying, but equally, many people do not ‘elect to live in the countryside’ – they are of the countryside.  The countryside will not go away and it is naive to think that people will never live in country areas.  Moreover, I do not like automatic acquiescence in the concept of ‘casualties in terms of life as we have known it.’

While the numerical strength of the Church of Ireland is also in the north-east and east, it is the equal focus on and concern for church members, ministry and mission throughout the less populous areas also that  warrants for this church its name truly as a Church of Ireland. However small the numbers in any place our responsibility for worship and outreach, for strong solidarity and pastoral care endure with the people in rural Ireland.   

From a Christian perspective, where two or three are gathered, where there may be one lost sheep, or a struggling child who is not yet prodigal, wherever there are labourers in the vineyards and sowers sowing and praying that the seed will find some good ground, where the lilies are growing, where some child is still offering loaves and fish, and the widow her mite, there must is the Church and there must the Church be.

I was pleased, therefore, that no sooner had I finished writing this this address on Thursday afternoon than I received this document by email from the Church and Society Commission of our Church:  Discussion Paper on Rural Isolation.

That brings me to the questions arising from this first challenge: What are the needs of rural Ireland and how can we be a part of meeting those needs?  And, in particular, how can we utilise, diversify the use and expand the use of church buildings to be a part of the meeting of those needs?

Challenge 2:  Metropolitan Cork

Last December I made a presentation, on your behalf to the Commission on Episcopal Ministry and Structures; it also served well in talking about our Diocese to our Swedish guests in February and to our Finnish guests on Thursday.

As I said last year, if we are serious about opportunities for mission and ministry, we need to see beyond the numbers in our preachers books, to the reality in which we are set.  

Cork:  second city of the State; primary city of the recently established southern  region; gateway city in the National Spatial Strategy; we need to think, not of a city population of c. 119k but of a Cork metropolitan area of c. 399k and a County population of c. 518k.

  • We are already making significant and, in some instances, unique contributions, to the healthcare infrastructure of our region. Can we do it in other ways also?
  • The port of Cork is relocating, developing and expanding.  Add to that the National Maritime College, the Naval Service and all the coastal ports and villages, as well as coastal tourism and recreation.
  • This is a centre of industry and commerce, international companies and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
  • Between them, University College Cork and the Cork Institute of Technology, including the School of Music, the College of Art and the National Maritime College have a student and staff population of approaching 50,000.
  • Each of our secondary schools is, in its own right, a ‘parish’ of a kind.
  • The Cork docklands development will present a new sphere of activity.
  • The new 6000-seat Cork Events Centre at the heart of the new Brewery Quarter adjacent to St Fin Barre’s Cathedral will bring new opportunities.
  • The metropolitan towns of Midleton, Carrigaline and Ballincollig all call out to us.
  • There’s tourism; and, of course,
  • The many festivals which bring 100s of 1000s of people to Cork throughout the year.

Our parochial structures, and our dependence on them, come to bear on all of this.  I believe in parishes, and I do not believe, as some do,  that the parochial model – territorial and geographical – is no longer fit for purpose; that is said all too readily and carelessly, in my view.

Last month I took part in the International Colloquium of Anglican and Roman Catholic Canon Lawyers, and I was very interested in what the Code of Canon Law – Canon 518 says about parishes – Can. 518:

‘As a general rule a parish is to be territorial, that is, one which includes all the Christian faithful of a certain territory. When it is expedient, however, personal parishes are to be established determined by reason of the rite, language, or nationality of the Christian faithful of some territory, or even for some other reason.’

An example might be a community gathered around language and national identity, such as the Polish community.  Perhaps it is true to say that with us today are guests from a diocese in Finland that might itself be described as an extra-territorial diocese.  Unlike other dioceses in FInland it is not formed on a geographical basis, rather it is the Swedish-speaking parishes regardless of their location, mostly along the coast, in addition to the Swedish parish in Tampere.

It strikes me that we might learn from this and adapt it, being careful not to allow it to become a device to fracture the church or to create artificial or prejudicial differences.  Is it not implied in some undeveloped way in the idea of ‘accustomed members’ of parishes that we already have in any case?  People move around; people gravitate to one another and to ideas and to preferences; people need to be ministered to in certain settings; the concept is not foreign to us.  We already have embraced the concept of wholetime healthcare chaplains, and chaplains in education are familiar examples.  Could we use such an approach to engage more fully as a Diocese with the challenges around us:  the port of Cork and the ports of County Cork and the coastline of Cork, for example.  As we come to near the end of our protracted negotiations about chaplaincy at UCC and move towards recruitment, our service to students at the Cork Institute of Technology also poses a question.   

There are so many opportunities for us to serve; but they are about going out, rather than presuming that people will want to come in.

Question 2 in response to challenge 2:  What part can we play in the Cork of today as it develops and how can we respond in diverse, or extra-territorial forms of parish and ministry?

Challenge 3: churches with a small ‘c’

Caught up with the question of our parochial structures is church buildings.  The tangled web of heritage buildings and legacy issues from the spree of church building in the past are burden to many Select Vestries.

Church-building was a popular enterprise in the Nineteenth Century – it was all part of the Victorian expansion of the British Empire where churches were being built by the 100s.  This spilled over into Ireland.  The Ecclesiastical Commissioners, the successors of the Board of First Fruits, had the money, to weigh in with grant aid.  We do need to be conscious too that the source of funds for the Board of First Fruits from when it was founded in 1711 until it handed over to the Ecclesiastical Commissioners in 1833 was the tithes being levied on all the population, most of whom were not Church of Ireland.

Building churches on the Irish landscape was, probably subconsciously, as much about laying claim politically and socially to the spiritual territory and, in the run up to and wake of disestablishment in 1871, of trying to hang on to it, a statement ‘we are here and we are not going away.’  our Diocesan Cathedral, Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and the restorations of Christ Church Cathedral and Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in Dublin can all be seen, to some extent, in that light.  The legal framework was in place to encourage this strategy of building churches; a church every three miles was considered the ideal (Church of Ireland Act 1851, s. 10).  We live with that legacy today, in a very different ecclesiastical, political, economic and social landscape.

Therefore, I’d like to say something about churches with a small ‘c’ – some challenging, perhaps even provocative things, but before I do so let me emphasise that I have no plans to put in motion a scheme of church closures.  Neither is that part of the inevitable destiny and strategy of Charting A Future with Confidence.  I can say that, with confidence, because I believe that if churches are going to close, they close themselves; they die.  I am more interested in avoiding that.

When I was rector of Dublin 15 (and part of Dublin 7) we started to develop further the role of the little country church at Mulhuddart.  The catalyst that spurred me into action on that front was a phone call from the County Council one day to ask me if I was responsible for ‘the closed and abandoned’ church up at Hollywood Rath.  Thtw as a jolt and it set a new strategy in motion.

Let me ask a few provocative questions, therefore:

  • Do our churches look closed or do they look open for business?
  • What use is a church that is only open for one hour a week, and for occasional special events?
  • Can we find additional and alternative uses for some of our churches?
  • Are churches open, and what are they open for?
  • Working in partnership with local communities could our parishes and our church buildings serve areas in some way?
  • As part of our being and looking open are our churches easy to find and well sign-posted?
  • Is it obvious what times Services are at – or is your pattern of Sunday Services so complicated as to warrant the  use of something akin to an ecclesiastical slide rule?

Now I know that all these things need to be worked out in reality and in context, but sometimes we do not help ourselves. Hardly a month passes that somebody doesn’t tell me about turning up to a church and they find a church closed at an advertised time.  We gear everything predominantly for insiders.

Let me take an example of how we might enlarge our imaginations, and I hope the people of Little Island, won’t mind.  I was delighted to preach their recent on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of the building of their church in what was once rural farmland.  That little church on its hill no longer overlooks that nineteenth rural landscape.  That was then.  Indeed, when I rode out there on my motorbike in the mid-1970s to play the harmonium in the church, it was still rural, but PepsiCo had just moved in.  

I’m told that now Little Island still has a residential community of about 1,100 people, and as anyone knows who drives there any morning, about 16,000 people go there every day to work in one of about 1,000 companies and businesses, ranging from global brands (Pepsi, Janssen, Lilly) and SMEs

Could that building be of service to those people?  

In partnership with the Little Island Business Association or some other agencies could it provide a service or be a place where a service is provided that is not currently being met?  Might it be open every business day to provide a quiet space?  What use is a closed building (and I say this to everyone in the Diocese)?  Are there some needs that this parish could be meeting in this locality?

Shouldn’t many more of our parishes and much of our ministry  – not all, of course – be amenable to some degree of lateral thinking and re-imagination in this way?

Question 3 in response to challenge 3:  Can we open our churches up, actually, and also to new possibilities of use and partnership?

Challenge 4: Millennials

Let me turn to another exciting prospect.  In the Charting A Future with Confidence meetings in parishes many of you have asked the question ‘where are the young ones?’  ‘Who will take over from us?’  You have identified the issues instinctively:  the generation is more mobile; many have emigrated; many are travelling; and many have migrated to cities from our rural parishes.

They are tagged ‘Millennials’.

Churches are not alone in trying to figure this generation out, so are businesses, marketing companies and other institutions.  We know that they are, among other things, a diverse group, suspicious of institutional affiliation, and when religious do not always align themselves to churches.  

Large numbers of them do not have a positive view of religion.   They are known for delaying rites of passage later into adulthood than previous generations.

If you are bewildered by it all, let me say to you, the changing face of humanity is not a new thing; we have had the so-called Greatest Generation (those who experienced World War II in adulthood and fought it), the Silent Generation (those born between the two world wars and who were children during World War II,  baby boomers – Boomer I and then Boomers II, or Baby Busters (Vietnam and the Cold War) – then Generation X, Generation Y (Echo Boomers), Millennials and, let me tell you, they are already talking about Generation Z or ‘Boomlets’ – born after 2001.

Recently our Diocesan Youth Council undertook an initiative in relation to this age group; I congratulate them on that.  This is a fundamental challenge that all of us, must engage with, however.  We would be naive to think that engaging with this age group is about jollying things up in Church Services, in fact, for some millennials that may be the very thing not to do.  

It is complex, and the Church as a whole will need to engage with the issues.  It is a worldwide sociological phenomenon and clearly, therefore, it is something where we need the insights of other disciplines as well, alongside our theological and pastoral perspectives.   It’s all going to happen so not engaging is not an option, and we can allow it to excite and inspire us, or weigh us down.  

Retreating behind the wall in the Strozzi painting is not an option.

Question 4 in response to Challenge 4: are we up for engagement with the millennial age group?

Challenge 5: Burundi

Turning from these challenges and questions, I want to reflect for a few moments now on one of our activities that is indeed about looking outwards,  beyond ourselves.   Last year, we completed our three year partnership with the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal and Christian Aid.

That project was about channeling our Bishops’ Appeal and Christian Aid giving to build houses for people in Haiti in the wake of the destruction there.  It was our first such partnership in recent years.  It went well, for a first time, but I believe with greater human interest and engagement throughout our parishes our next partnership can  go even better.

The Diocesan Council recently agreed to a new project.  It is centred in Burundi.  Even last weekend the BBC reported that Burundi, one of the world’s poorest nations is struggling to emerge from a 12-year ethnic based civil war.

On the United Nations Scale known as the Human Development Index (HDI) which takes into account many facets to assess standard of living, Burundi scores .4 out of 1; we in Ireland, in contrast score .916.   Out of 188 countries measured by the United Nations Development Fund Ireland comes sixth in the world; Burundi comes five from the bottom at 184.

Putting it in perspective also is the fact that life expectancy there is 50 years of age for both men and women (ours is nearly 81).  As if, chillingly, to bear this out, one of my classmates from school days in Canada, who was from Burundi, the same age as me, died in the past week. The new project has a simple objective – to work with our sister Anglican Dioceses of Matana and Makamba, through Bishops’ Appeal and Christian Aid.  The goal is to provide farmers there with the financial capital they require to invest in modern farming technologies to improve maize production.

Here you see Christian Aid programme officer  Immaculee Mukampabuka (left) speaking to a farming association near Rutana. As well as organising the farmers into associations to help them cultivate in greater quantities, the Anglican Church of Burundi, in Matana Diocese, have supported the community with tools, seeds and new farming techniques to help them get the most from their land. Previously shortages of food were common in the community, due to poor farming techniques and unpredictable weather. Now, with the new techniques, the farmers are achieving bumper harvests of maize, sweet potatoes, beans and manioc.

Kayamara Pascasie (40) is seen here working with members of her cooperative in a field in Nyankanda. The community have been cultivating soya, sweet potatoes and maize for three years but were given training and organised into cooperatives as part of the Anglican Church value chain development project in 2011.

Our aid will help to put the cooperatives in contact with large-scale buyers to agree a competitive price for their produce. These crops are more resilient to long periods of dryness and intense rain – than the crops they previously cultivated.  

We can help, and even small efforts make a great difference.  Kayamara Pascasie who I’ve already mentioned is 40.  She has 5 children aged 3-14. If it helps to put a face on our Burundi project and the difference our partnership can make let it perhaps be hers.  Here is something she has said:

If God gives me good health, I hope I can buy livestock so that I can continue to take care of the children. I could buy a parcel of land for the children. I have an old house so I could make improvements to that. I am very positive; I’ll have enough to pay for my children to go to secondary school. It’s important that children go to school and I’ll do all I can to make sure that they do. I am determined when it comes to education. If I had gone to school it would be better.

Question 5 in response to challenge 5: Can we respond generously to this Burundi project

A Concluding Example: Issues of our Time

Issues of our time throw down the gauntlet to us to be outward looking in our engagement with society, in the outworking of our Christian faith and in our partnership with others in society of other faiths and none:;  homelessness, mental health, suicide, poverty, climate change are but a few that I know concern many of you.  The Dean of Cork and I have had some tentative discussions about setting up a Food Bank.  Would others be interested in getting involved?  In what other challenges could people from the Diocese and parishes be involved?  

On Thursday I received a letter from the HSE Mental Health Services in this area asking our Diocese, clergy and parishioners to become involved in supporting the ‘Connecting for Life – Ireland’s National Strategy to reduce suicide 2015-20’.    People are looking for our partnership beyond our own walls; are we ready and willing to give it?

On Tuesday, the United Nations reported that since 2014, 10,085 people have died trying to cross the Mediterranean Sea to Europe.  Colm O’Gorman of Amnesty International put it in perspective when he said that that’s the equivalent of a plane crash every 2.6 weeks.  

Is this the catastrophe of our generation that people in the future will look back on and ask ‘did they not know?’

An Long Éireannach Róisín set sail from the Irish Naval Base in Cork Harbour on 1st May, just over a month ago, to assist with the refugee crisis.   ‘Trauma’ or ‘Comfort Teddies or Toys’ are now a worldwide and widely-reported phenomenon which provide psychological support for children in such situations.   Our Mothers’ Union President, Patsy Devoy, visited L.E. Róisín  before the departure with Robert and Leila, to present 200 ‘Trauma or Comfort Teddies’ knitted by members of the M.U. here.

In photos spotted since of the work being done by the shop in recent days we see this simple but powerful gesture making a difference to the vulnerable at a traumatic time.  I find this profoundly moving.  It speaks of our human bonds and our connectedness with each other.  

teddies 2

I think of hands somewhere in our diocese last winter – in a city home or country farm – knitting – and that offering bringing consolation and therapy in the midst of ghastly trauma to a stranger; ‘he championed the cause of the stranger.’ (Job 29.16)


As I conclude, I want to make a plea in relation to our programme – Charting A Future with Confidence – which continues apace and is entering the second half of its work; it is not about survival.  It is not about picking out buildings for closure.  It is not about money.  It is about figuring out what we are meant to be and called to become and do for God here in our time.  

We know what problems we face, we can work through those and chip away at them, but they must not become our vision.  We have to lift our eyes through and beyond those to take the opportunity to address the wider issues, to engage, and to be an ‘outward looking church’.

That is why I have chosen this year, at this Synod, to take this theme of being outward-looking in our faithfulness and highlighting some of the opportunities to you.   For me, and I hope for you also, the call from God remains as vital and as exciting as ever:

‘As God has called you: live up to your calling.’ (Ephesians 4.1)

As we come here today to this Diocesan Synod we commit ourselves afresh to be faithful, energetic and creative disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ.

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

+Paul Cork:

11th June, 2016








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