Bishop Paul Colton’s Diocesan Synod Address 2017

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

on 10th June 2017


Dear friends in Christ, we assemble as a Diocesan Synod, in the name of God the Holy Trinity, on the eve of tomorrow’s Feast of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, to reflect once again on our work as the local Church here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross.  

As I look around, I am profoundly grateful for you all, for the time you, and many, in our parishes and chaplaincies give faithfully to the proclamation of the Gospel and to the work of the Church in our time and place.  I particularly welcome you as a newly elected Diocesan Synod for this triennium.  Succession as well as continuity are important in your election processes.  In terms of gender, I note that our new Synod is comprises 62 men and 67 women. Of the lay membership of the Synod it is encouraging to see that 58 members were not here last time around, representing 45% of the membership: succession as well as continuity!

This is the nineteenth presidential address that I give to you in Diocesan Synod as your Bishop.   As ever, my overriding concern is to reflect on our times and to set alongside those reflections some aspirations of what sort of Church, what sort of Christians, we are called to be.  My hope is that, as clergy leaders and lay leaders in the Diocese alike, you will draw some encouragement, inspiration and motivation for our on-going work with Jesus Christ towards his kingdom.

A Nobel Starting Point

Earlier this week, on 5th June, Bob Dylan, the 2016 Nobel Laureate in Literature, submitted, as required by the rules, his Nobel Lecture. Had he not done so by the today, 10th June, he would have had to hand back the prize-money.  His award was for ‘having created new poetic expressions within the great American song tradition’.  In his lecture he set out his reflections on on how his songs, written in the great vernacular tradition of American songwriting, relate to literature.  “I had all the vernacular all down,” Dylan says. “I could make it all connect and move with the current of the day.”  

This ‘connecting and moving with the current of the day’  is why I refer to Dylan at all today.  In our life and ministry as a church, in our daily pilgrimage as individual Christians, we find ourselves called, through the lens of faith, and as Anglicans through the lenses of Scripture, Tradition and Reason, ‘connecting and moving with the current of the day.’  More than that, we live in a fragile and vulnerable world that creates connections way beyond our own backyard, which, like a riptide, catch us up helplessly, at times, ‘with the current of the day.’

Dylan wrote his song – ‘The times they are a-changin’ –   in October 1963 ‘as a deliberate attempt to create an anthem of change for the time.’  As one critic said, it has echoes of the Book of Ecclesiastes, Chapter 3; everything has its time.  Also, Mark 10.31 – ‘But many who are first will be last, and the last will be first.’

And the first one now

Will later be last

For the times they are a-changin’.

John F. Kennedy, who was born on 29th May 100 years ago in 1917, had visited Cork in June of the year of that song: 1963 (My own first memory was of being brought by my parents to see him.  JFK patted me on the head, apparently as he walked through the crowd to his helicopter.  On 22nd November 1963, less than a month after Dylan recorded the song, JFK was assassinated in Dallas, Texas.

That was 1963 – a decade that started with the sense of ‘the dawn of a golden age’.  With JFK’s presidency there was a confidence that the Government, as one historian put it, ‘possessed big answers to big problems.’  JFK’s ‘New Frontier’ promised opportunities and perils, including the end to inequality and injustice.   The golden age never materialised and, by the end of the decade things seemed to be falling apart as much as ever: the assassination of JFK himself, Vietnam, and in 1968 the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr., and Bobby Kennedy.

The dynamics and mood of that period resonate with our own times.  Now fifty years later the sense of living in a crucible of transformative events – most of humanity’s own making, vulnerable and uncertain – is as persistent as ever.  Many are perplexed and fearful.  Dylan’s song seems to transcend time and catches the Zeitgeist of the ages since.  

Another Literary Reference point: Jane Austen

In this 200th anniversary year of Jane Austen’s death, her literature provides a very different reference point for how things have changed in many ways, or perhaps not changed, for parochial clergy and their parishes.   I quote the Reverend Mr Collins in Pride and Prejudice:

“If I,” said Mr. Collins, “were so fortunate as to be able to sing, I should have great pleasure, I am sure, in obliging the company with an air; for I consider music as a very innocent diversion, and perfectly compatible with the profession of a clergyman. …. The rector of a parish has much to do. In the first place, he must make such an agreement for tithes as a may be beneficial to himself and not offensive to his patron. He must write his own sermons; and the time that remains will not be too much for his parish duties, and the care and improvement of his dwelling, which he cannot be excused from making as comfortable as possible. And I do not think it of light importance that he should have an attentive and conciliatory manner towards everybody, ..’

Singing is still very compatible ‘with the profession of a clergyman’, indeed, of the Church as a whole, and I look forward to the launch, later this year, of our new Diocesan Church Music Scheme devised for us at St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, and supported by the Diocesan Board of Education and the City of Cork Church School Board.

Our Challenging and A-changin’ Times

I digress, so back to our ‘a-changin’ times.  About a month before last year’s Synod, on 6th May 2016, after three failed attempts to elect a Taoiseach, Dáil Éireann elected a Taoiseach on the fourth attempt, following our General Election of the previous February.  By that afternoon we had our first minority Government since 1989.  Now, a year on, we await the election in the Dáil of a new Taoiseach.  Fine Gael has a new leader – the young lad from my old west Dublin stomping ground of Castleknock, where he and his family were well known to us all. Leo Varadkar was at secondary school when I was there; I feel old!

Thirteen days after last year’s Synod, the outcome of the BREXIT referendum in the United Kingdom was announced. This has catapulted us all into the unknown, into a period of uncertainty. How will it affect us here, directly and indirectly? What changes will it bring about? The General Election in the United Kingdom in recent days has done nothing to clarify matters.  Instead of strength and stability, it appears there may be uncertain political days aheads, no less perilous as the BREXIT clock ticks.  The outcome of the election in the U.K. is not without significance or implications for us in this State, or indeed, for Europe as a whole.

On 8th November, Donald Trump was elected to serve as the 45th President of the United States of America, and was inaugurated on 20th January last. Writing on 10th November, Dr Leslie Vinjamuri, Council member of Chatham House, The Royal Institute of International Affairs, said:

The US presidential election, the nastiest in its history, is finally over. The next president of the United States, Donald Trump, faces a daunting challenge to restore America’s moral authority as a global leader. … The tenor of the debate in the US has cast a shadow over the country, and that shadow is visible far beyond America’s shores. This shadow is one marked by uncertainty and fear about the implications of a Trump presidency, especially in Europe and Asia.

Of themselves, these three examples alone, illustrate the uncertainty and, at times,  bewilderment that affect all of us, and that is before we begin to consider the many other issues that preoccupy us at home: homelessness, the health service, suicide, mental health issues, the care of the most vulnerable in our society generally, the prospect of another Irish housing bubble, and a vigorous debate about our education system, to name but a few.


Undoubtedly, foremost in our minds, are the recent terrorist attacks in London and Manchester.  Since we last met, many attacks have hit our headlines and horrified us:   Orlando, Nice, New York and New Jersey, Berlin, St Petersburg, Stockholm, Paris, Westminster, Manchester and, this week, Londonbridge. Our prayers and hearts go out to the victims.  These places are close to home; we change our Facebook profiles to reflect our horror and fear.

On the Bank Holiday Monday last I set out to research the scale of terrorism globally since we last met.  I resolved to do a tally of the number of incidents in countries around the world.  Working backwards I started with the month of May.  The printout of that month alone ran to 38 pages.  Very quickly my efforts were overwhelmed and I knew I would not have time to complete the tally for 12 months.

Since we last met there have been 1,820 terrorist incidents around the world, affecting countries on most continents:

  • North America (2 countries)
  • South America (6 countries)
  • Europe (17 countries)
  • Middle East (11 countries)
  • Africa (20 countries)
  • Asia (10 countries)
  • Australia

How many do we remember or could we name?  How many of those did we change our FB profile picture for?  I do not say this in any way at all to diminish our sense of abhorrence and identification with those closer to home, or our solidarity and fellow-feeling with the victims.

The Global Terrorism Index (GTI), produced by the Institute for Economics and Peace –  a global think-tank based in Sydney, Australia – sets out the bigger picture.  Since we last met there have been multiple terrorist incidents in 162 countries around the world, the preponderance in Iraq, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Syria, Egypt, Yemen, Sudan, Somalia, Libya and Thailand (the top ten in that order).

The global scale of terrorism makes its own point, but for human beings who are suffering, in a certain respect, is a singular experience; one act of terrorism anywhere ruining lives is a personal, family and community catastrophe.   In the wake of it all we, no doubt, feel helpless, angry, determined, fretful, or afraid.

Global Displacement Crisis

Meanwhile we are in the midst of a global displacement crisis: the worst displacement crisis since the Second World War.  At the end of 2015 there were 65.3 million forcibly displaced people. They included 21.3 million refugees, 40.8 million internally displaced and 3.2 million asylum seekers.  2016 has been described by the UNHCR the “deadliest year yet” for migrants and refugees.

Deaths and drownings in the Mediterranean have climbed, even though fewer people are crossing to reach Europe. While in 2015, 1,015,078 people crossed the sea, only 327,800 did so in 2016. But, according to UN refugee agency UNHCR, ‘from one death for every 269 arrivals last year, in 2016 the likelihood of dying has spiralled to one in 88.’    The sea journey is dangerous; 4,699 have died or gone missing.  Tighter European borders have forced migrants to use more dangerous migratory routes and left them even more at the mercy of human smugglers and migration brokers.

More than half of refugees come from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.   Turkey hosts by far the largest number with more than 3 million refugees and asylum-seekers, including 2.7 million Syrians.  Lebanon has the highest concentration relative to its own population with nearly one in five people a refugee.  

Globally, nearly one in 200 children is a refugee. The number of child refugees has more than doubled in the last decade. Growing numbers of children are crossing borders alone. Last year, more than 100,000 unaccompanied minors applied for asylum in 78 countries – triple the number in 2014.  Of the 4,810,216 people who fled Syria in 2016 47.6%, nearly half, are children.  33.6% are under 12 years of age. The vast majority are fleeing war, violence and persecution in their own country.

Climate Change

Focussing, this year, as I am on, changing times, something altogether different which arises are  environmental issues.   The plastic bag was invented in the 1960s and I, and many of you, grew up with it.  The disposable age of consumerism sucked us in and fascinated us; we saw it as progress,  When it came to the earth, many of us grew up with a theology of creation that had at its pinnacle the scriptural text:

‘God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.’ (Genesis 1.28)

Taking texts like this in isolation from the rest of the divine revelation, has resulted in environmental disaster. In his recent Encyclical – Laudato Si  (On Care for our Common Home) – a copy of which was presented to President Trump recently at the Vatican,  Pope Francis begins by quoting the Canticle of the Creatures of St Francis of Assisi:  

‘Praise be to you, my Lord, through our Sister, Mother Earth, who sustains and governs us, and who produces various fruit with coloured flowers and herbs.’

Then Pope Francis says:

This sister now cries out to us because of the harm we have inflicted on her by our irresponsible use and abuse of the goods with which God has endowed her. We have come to see ourselves as her lords and masters, entitled to plunder her at will.

In 1988, on a return visit to Canada where I had lived in the 1970s for two years, Susan and I took a trip to the Columbia Icefield on the border between Alberta and British Columbia. The Athabasca Glacier, one of the six ‘toes’ of the icefield, is easily accessible and so is a popular tourist attraction.  You can go down onto the glacier in massive, snow coaches, a type of snow cat.  Twenty three years later, in 2011 we returned as a family.  We drove northwards on the Icefields Parkway, and as we drove into the car park at the visitor centre, I got a shock.  At first I thought the glacier wasn’t there any more.  I looked around and said ‘Gosh.  It’s much further away from the road than before.’  

And so it is.  It is visible evidence of climate change and of global warming.  Since our previous visit it had retreated from the Parkway.  I wasn’t imagining things. This photograph shows where the glacier was in 1992, the  year of the Rio Summit.  It has retreated more than 200 metres since then and a steady rate every year.

This glacier is not unique; there are hundreds like it around the world.  According to the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), which is the international body for assessing the science related to climate change set up in 1988, melting glaciers will make up about a quarter of the increased volume of the rising oceans over the rest of this century, and about half of the increase in ocean mass.

In its 2014 Report the IPCC stated:

‘Human influence on the climate system is clear, and recent anthropogenic emissions of greenhouse gases are the highest in history. Recent climate changes have had widespread impacts on human and natural systems.’

‘The urgent challenge’, says Pope Francis:

‘… to protect our common home includes a concern to bring the whole human family together to seek a sustainable and integral development, for we know that things can change. The Creator does not abandon us; he never forsakes his loving plan or repents of having created us. Humanity still has the ability to work together in building our common home’

Our times are not unique

All these changes and concerns, and many others, affect us all, from Allihies to Ardmore; and from Kilbehenny to Kinsale.  The tide of globalisation, aided by instantaneous communication, and a newsfeed that is eyewitness and on the spot, makes for an unstoppable momentum  There is no getting off.  As in the 12th century legend of King Canute and the waves, there is no holding back of the incoming tide.  As Dylan sang:

Come gather ’round people

Wherever you roam

And admit that the waters

Around you have grown

And accept it that soon

You’ll be drenched to the bone.

If your time to you

Is worth savin’

Then you better start swimmin’

Or you’ll sink like a stone

For the times they are a-changin’.

Our times do call for different responses and strategies, new stretches of our imagination and creativities. However as I have so often pointed out before, we are not alone in history in having distressing and dangerous demands placed upon us.    

The Church of Ireland in Cork 1812-1844

Seven years ago, in 2010, in my address to you I took you on Bishop Dive Downes’ episcopal visitation journey around the Diocese in the wake of the Rebellion of 1641.  His reports  revealed the poor state of repair and dilapidations of the Diocese at that time as well as underpopulation and political upheaval. The past was not an idyll when all was well.   

Recently I have been reading Dr Ian d’Alton’s work Protestant Society and Politics in Cork 1814~1844.  Ian d’Alton is the son in law of the late Canon Gordon Watts of this Diocese.  (More important, Ian d’Alton lived two doors down from our family in Douglas, and was, at times, my babysitter).

His research shows that in the early 19th Century the Diocese was not in a perfect place either. He points out that ‘[t]he scarcity of Protestants in southern parts of Ireland was well known before the first censuses in the 1820s and 1830s.’ (d’Alton, 7)  Apart from Bandon, the population was largely situated in the south-west and in what Dr d’Alton calls ‘urban distortions, of Kinsale, Skibbereen, Mallow, Fermoy and Youghal.

As to the Church of Ireland in those days, while it was an important political phenomenon, it was, nonetheless vulnerable.  He writes:

‘The archaic, and in many cases corrupt administration and structure of the Church just stood there, waiting passively to the attacked  …  To reforming opinion, the crimes of religious intolerance, absenteeism, pluralism, nepotism, grasping and heartless landlordism and political jobbery were all compounded in the clergy and institutional structure of the Irish Church.’

In 1832 there were 264 parishes in the Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, combined into 174 benefices (d’Alton 57): 85 in Cork and Ross and 89 in Cloyne.  It sounds great, doesn’t it?  However, the reality was different.  Most were small parishes.  An 1835 return showed that twelve of the benefices in Cloyne had no population; nine parishes less than ten parishioners, fifteen with less than twenty, fourteen with less than thirty,  eight less than forty, and another four with less than fifty (d’Alton, 57).  Add to all that the fact that income from tithes ‘fluctuated notoriously’.  Many clergy were not well off.  The level of non-residence was ‘a scandal’.

Against that less than ideal ecclesiastical background in that period before the Great Famine, there was, nonetheless, in Cork, Cloyne and Ross, as in the era of Bishop Downes before,  faithfulness and ministry (d’Alton 72).

World War I Remembrance

Deliberately throughout these four centenary years (1914-18) of World War I, I allude to that period as a time also of great trial and uncertainty, when, tested sorely, the faithful of Cork, Cloyne and Ross pressed on faithfully.  In the month of June 100 years ago, from this Diocese, eight died.  We have a memorial photo of only one of them: William Butler from Clonakilty (on the right here).  The others and their times should not be forgotten: Richard Bolster, John Hancock, Toby Caulfield, Andrew Cunningham, Alfred Corrigan, James Manlay (from Centenary Row on the Old Youghal Road), and Samuel Boyd (from Victoria Road).

Religion in Ireland

From Census 2016 we know that changes are afoot for religion and religious observance in Ireland.  Yes, Ireland remains a predominantly ‘religious’ country.  What that in itself means is, of course, open to vigorous debate and analysis.  The total number of Church of Ireland people slipped back slightly since 2011.  The fastest growing religious groupings were Orthodox, Hindu and Muslim. Closely connected to all of this is the profile of nationalities that makes up the various religious groupings.  Once more we are seeing religious and cultural diversity on a scale unknown in Ireland before the 1990s.

The number of people with no religion has increased significantly, perhaps aided by a concerted campaign, and now accounts for just under 10 per cent of the population (9.8%; that’s 468,421 people (not far off half a million).  45% of those with no religion fall into the age bracket of 20 to 39 years.

These census figures have implications for us as a Church, they call for further reflection on our part.  We will look forward to seeing the full detail for our area when it eventually is published.

Religion in the Diocese: Episcopal Visitation 2016

Last year was also the year of a Quinquennial Episcopal Visitation in the Diocese.  In terms of our own population, numbers of parishioners and age profile of members, it showed that broadly, things are much the same: a slight drop in the number of households and of individuals, drops accounted for substantially by changes in two parishes.  What is encouraging to see is that, of our people, unlike so many other places, the percentage of people attending worship, on three or more Sundays or principal feasts each year is, on average, 47.5%.

All that said, I know from listening to you, that many in our Diocese are concerned about the ageing profile of those who participate and who actively support what we are doing day by day, week by week and year by year.  The time is now here when I have to ask the successor age group what sort of involvement and support they are prepared to offer.  Again, we face change, I imagine.

Scottish Episcopal Church

Change is signalled also by the decision two days ago, on Thursday, 8th June, of our sister Church in Scotland, the Scottish Episcopal Church, to alter its canon on marriage by removing the doctrinal clause which states that marriage is between a man and a woman. Clergy who wish to conduct same-sex marriages will have to opt in, and no priest is to be compelled to do so.

As we saw at our own General Synod recently arising from a private members motion, there are many in the Church of Ireland who are anxious to debate such issues here too.  Equally many  are determined that this is not a matter which is up for debate at all.  There is a debate, and, however tentatively, it has, in fact, started.

That such things are open to debate in this Church has always been the case.  If there had been no questioning or discourse, the Reformation itself would not have happened, nor would many other developments have unfolded over the centuries, in ministry, in liturgy and in belief, the most recent examples being our change in approach to suicide, to the marriage in church of divorcees, and also the ordination of women, and there are many others.  

The Most Reverend David Chillingworth, Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church, who is from Ireland and ministered for most of his life here, said:

‘The new Canon itself affirms that there are differing views of marriage in our church.  Nobody will be compelled to do anything against their conscience.  We affirm that we are a church of diversity and difference, bound together by our oneness in Christ …’

The reality is that there is such diversity and difference throughout the Church of Ireland too.  Those differences and that diversity cannot be ignored.   We will have to engage with one another to find a way forward.  There are in the Church of Ireland ‘differing views of marriage’, and ‘…we are a church of diversity and difference, bound together by our oneness in Christ.’  It may well be the Scottish approach represents a way forward for us too that recognises all integrities. It is worth considering in our debate here in Ireland.

Responding to Changing Times

All of the changes I have referred to this morning impact on each of us and our communities, directly or indirectly.  They affect our environment and livelihoods, our economy and commerce, and they cultivate public sentiment and personal mood. Engaging with them realistically, scientifically, rationally, and in faith is the proper course for Christians.  Jesus, the Word made flesh, God who ‘lived among us for a while’, embraced and was caught up in the ordinary demands of life and he calls us to do the same, for him and his Kingdom.

We, as Christians, have our own part to play. We bring our Christian outlook and the way of Jesus Christ – the way of the Good news, the way  of compassion and healing, of faith, hope and love,  to bear on the conversation locally, and in the public space.  Modern media can be an instrument of engagement, but it must go beyond ‘clicking Like’.  Clicking like or being a taciturn keyboard warrior is not same as active, engagement.  Having an opinion, however vigorously declaimed, is not the same as getting stuck in. As I say nearly every year, our local churches and people should be engaged locally or, as Mark Russell of the Church Army challenged us when he was with us ‘We must scratch where people itch.’

Populist rhetoric and politics that purvey simplistic (what I sometimes call ‘magic wand’) solutions, promising easy answers of a cheap salvific variety, of the type we have heard much in the past year, may seem attractive, compelling even, but ultimately, shallow as they are, offer nothing enduring. Vacuous and ill-defined phrases, platitudes,  are, to my mind, little help: ‘Brexit means Brexit’ or ‘Make America great again.’

Religion, personally, locally and institutionally, can and must be an instrument of peace-building.  This is the flipside of the tragic role religion often plays in fostering and exacerbating conflict.  Religion as an instrument of peace-building, necessitates scrutiny of every aspect of our life, conversation, work and proclamation.  The Hard Gospel,now sadly a mere memory in our Church of Ireland consciousness, was an important beginning in this type of introspection towards change for the sake of the common good.  

As to some of the particular challenges I have described, of this, I am convinced, building walls and closing doors is not the Christian way. Inherent in our Christian calling to be prophetic in our own times, is our responsibility to set out what is and what is not consistent with Christianity.

What has been entrusted to us is a ‘ministry of reconciliation’ (2 Corinthians 5.18), of bridge-building, of dialogue, of reaching out, of making peace. Rolling back on human rights carefully honed in the wake of humanity’s insights and horrific experience that was the Second World War, or a quasi-medieval crusading spirit are not answers to the immense challenges we face.  None of this is easy, and of course, we cannot be naive and unrealistic either, and certainly we must not diminish our empathy with those who have suffered and are suffering.

In our faith, as witnessed in the Scriptures,  there is a special place for the stranger and foreigner, the person who seeks hospitality, the hungry and thirsty, the naked, those who are sick or in prison.

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” (Matthew 25.40-43)

‘A Time for Confidence’

Faced with changing times, our faith gives us confidence.  This continues to be ‘A Time for Confidence’, to use the phrase I have been relying on for the last ten years, since the economic crash.  Our confidence, rooted in pragmatic strategies, has served us well.

Under God, and because of the promises of God, we need to manifest a confident and positive determination in our mission and ministry, rooted, as I say, in pragmatism and realism, but ready to go where the Lord is leading us on our journey.   In Proverbs (3.26) we read that ‘…the Lord will be your confidence…’  Saint Paul talks about ‘the confidence that we have through Christ towards God.’ (2 Corinthians 2.4).  The writer of the letter to the Hebrews says that ‘we have become partners of Christ, but only if we hold our first confidence firm to the end.’  (Hebrews 3.14), and later the writer (in Hebrews 13.6) says:

‘ … we can say with confidence,

‘The Lord is my helper;

  I will not be afraid.

What can anyone do to me?’

The demands and opportunities of these times call out for precisely such  confidence. Let us encourage one another, build one another up, with confidence and hope, for it is certain too that negativity and defeatism risk making failure certain, and demotivating others around us.

Confident in our Christianity

In my letter in this month’s Diocesan Magazine, I wrote of my recent visit to Rome where the sense of confidence and joy in the Christian faith was evident, manifest and palpable. In an age when we hear the clutter of anti-religious voices in our society, and the clamour of people opposing the religious way, we might think that believing is the odd thing to do or to be.  It is not – many billions of people in the world are believers like we are; pilgrims on a journey through the mystery of life with Jesus who is ‘the way’.

That day I was sitting next to a Bishop from Assyria – Ancient Mesopotamia – where Iraq, Iran, Syria and Turkey meet.  I thought of the chances and challenges that are involved in being a Christian in such a place.  

I thought too of the Coptic Church in Egypt which Susan and I came to know when we worked in Egypt in 1985 for a time living in this school for the deaf in Old Cairo. The horrific bombing of Coptic Christians during worship on Palm Sunday, and the attack on a bus travelling to a monastery are but two of the onslaughts that are creating martyrs in our own day.  Our own vicissitudes and challenges fade into insignificance by comparison.

Confidence in being Anglican

We should be confident in the branch of the Christian family to which we belong as members of the Church of Ireland: Anglican-Episcopal. A formative little book of my youth, written by a Corkman and past-pupil of Cork Grammar School, the late Henry McAdoo, Archbishop of Dublin, was called Being an Anglican.

He looked to the affirmations in the Preamble and Declaration and continued:

‘It has been characteristic too of the Anglican tradition that it has consistently combined this appeal to Scripture and to the faith of the Primitive Church with the appeal to reason.  This has been the explicit Anglican theological method for centuries … This element in its ethos has helped to preserve the insistence on “the faith once for all delivered” from becoming an immobilist stance frozen in the mould of a particular period.  Freedom of theological and philosophical thought may have exacted a price at times but it is an element which has enabled succeeding generations to understand and to express “the common faith” in the idiom and context of their own times…. “The fullness of Anglicanism will be utterly catholic and uncompromisingly evangelical at the same time.”’  (McAdoo, 6-7)

The future of the Church will be different; that is certain.  We will have to adapt.  We will have to change.  Deep down we all know that.  Reason tells us that.  Tradition is the story of evolving faithfulness. The scriptures, in all their rich diversity, are themselves the stories of journeys that are made with God, changed by God, and transformed by God.

Confident in Believing into the Future

Looking to the future, the renowned Harvey Cox, Hollis Professor of Divinity Emeritus at Harvard, where he has taught since 1965, marked his retirement by writing a book The Future of Faith.  In it he asks: ‘what does the future hold for religion, and for Christianity in particular?’  He identifies three qualities which, he says ‘ mark the world’s spiritual profile, all tracing trajectories that will reach into the coming decades.’  The three are (i) an unanticipated resurgence of religion in both public and private life around the globe; (ii) fundamentalism, the bane of the twentieth century, is dying; and (iii) (the one I am most interested in) which he says is the ‘most important though often unnoticed: ‘a profound change in the elemental nature of religiousness.’

It is this third one that we are beginning to encounter, and which are finding it hard, in institutional churches, to get used to:

‘Scholars of religion refer to the current metamorphosis in religiousness with phrases like the “move to horizontal transcendence”  or the ‘turn to the immanent” But it would be more accurate to think of it as the rediscovery of the sacred in the immanent, the spiritual within the secular.  More people seem to recognize that it is our everyday world, not some other one, that, in the words of the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins, “is charged with the grandeur of God.” … People turn to religion more for support in their efforts to live in this world and make it better, and less to prepare for the next.  The pragmatic and experiential elements of faith as a way of life are displacing the previous emphasis on institutions and beliefs.’ (Cox 18-19)

He describes Christianity as moving “awkwardly but irreversibly into a new phase in its history.’  It is our privilege, joy and opportunity to be called by God to serve in these times.

Reformation 500

This 500th anniversary year of the Reformation on the continent gives us an opportunity as a Church, Catholic and Reformed, to reflect on the impulses from that context that began to influence our history and development as a Church.  Commemorations such as these hold up a mirror in which we scrutinize ourselves.  The Reformation, or rather ‘the many Reformations’, that followed the nailing by Martin Luther of his 95 theses to the door of the Church in Wittenberg (if that’s what he in fact did) set in motion a chain of events.  Zwingli, Bucer, Calvin and many others followed suit in the decades that followed, and then Counter-Reformation.  What followed was the ‘confessionalization’ of Europe; nations became either ‘Protestant’ or ‘Catholic’ leading in turn to conflict, rivalries, and decades of war.

The English Reformation followed, but, as we know that Reformation never took hold here in Ireland, for all sorts of reasons.  This was, as historian Alan Ford points out, not least because the Reformation ‘…was conceived in England and imposed upon Ireland as an exercise in dynastic politics.’  This Reformation 500 year does give us an opportunity to recall and reflect, however, on our Anglican inheritance, Catholic and Reformed.  I can still hear Bishop Samuel Poyntz explaining  to us as ordinands: ‘Our Church is not a product of the Reformation; it is a Catholic Church that passed through the Reformation and was influenced by it.’ Anglicanism in Ireland has been impoverished, damaged even, by the lazy and unthinking reliance on a syntax that over the centuries has reduced far too much to a simplistic dichotomy between catholic and protestant.’

Here in the Diocese, in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, on Sunday afternoon, 22nd October we will hold our own Diocesan celebration of Reformation 500.  It is to be recorded by RTE.  It is hoped that all clergy and readers will be present, together with a full congregation from around the Diocese, as well as civic and ecumenical guests.

Engaging Locally:  Ireland 2040 Our Plan

In coming weeks, the Minister for Housing, Planning, Community and Local Government, Simon Coveney T.D. will announce the National Planning Framework document ‘Ireland 2040 Our Plan.’  Minister Coveney, who leads a high-level cross-Departmental team in developing the Ireland 2040 Plan, has set out the issues to be addressed:  

  • A national population increase of around 1 million people;
  • More than one-fifth of Ireland’s total population being over 65;
  • More than 500,000 additional people at work;
  • 500,000 homes needing locations much closer to services and amenities; and
  • Rebuilding community and commercial life in the hearts of our cities and towns and protecting the many qualities of our rural communities.

These challenges are important to us too here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross and we need to be alert and prepared to engage positively with the opportunities presented and to respond to changes as they unfold.  ‘The times they are a-changin’

Engaging Locally:  Mackinnon Report

Yesterday the report of the Mackinnon group was published.  It recommends that there continue to be two local authorities – city and county – here in Cork, and also that the city boundaries be extended to include Ballincollig, Blarney, Carrigtwohill, Little Island, and the airport regions within the city boundary.  Is this of significance to us?

Charting A Future with Confidence

In such changes lie, in part, the on-going importance of Charting a Future with Confidence.  I know some think that the report will provide an instant recipe for a future, or be a panacea for all our anxieties.  It won’t.  It will be a toolkit to help us develop our confidence; to assist us in engaging with our task of being the Church today and in the days and years to come.  It will lead us in each place, within the Diocese, to translate our reflection into action.  Rather than a manifesto, it is a process, to facilitate what we are and will become, under God.

The Steering Group met with me earlier this week.  The group reports are now in their final stages of preparation; final editing and updating will take place in the coming six week period, and any gaps that have been identified will be addressed.  We plan to go to print at the end of August for circulation to members of the new Diocesan Council and the Council of Charting a Future with Confidence.  A joint meeting of both those bodies, tasked with setting out the next phases and implementation of the process throughout the Diocese, will take place on Saturday, 7th October.

My next 10 or 12 years

If the good Lord spares me, I will have eleven or twelve years or more years before I retire.  I cannot believe that I am entering the final quarter of my stipendiary ministry. Naturally this gives me pause for thought and, in the episcopal leadership entrusted to me, cause for prayer and introspection.  Eleven or twelve years is, for many, an entire episcopate, and I have no intention of coasting through towards a soft landing.  The times are changing and challenging.  There is much to be done, and I look forward to working with you to do it.


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:

10th June, 2017

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