Bishop Paul Colton’s 21st Presidential Address to Diocesan Synod in Cork, Cloyne and Ross

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 8th June 2019


Earlier in this Synod I alluded to the cumulative 470 years of faithful ministry of clergy and readers who, in great numbers, are celebrating anniversaries of ordination or licensing this year.  That amassment of years, of course, is only a miniscule part of the full picture. From east to west, north to south, in ways public and private, visible and unnoticed, Christians in this Diocese are committed and energetic, imaginative and creative, thoughtful and responsive, generous and self-offering in their work for Jesus Christ and his Church.  

That in turn is only part of a long history of faithfulness.  Emblematic of that history:

  • St Senan’s, Inniscarra is celebrating 200 years this year; as is St Matthew’s, Baltimore;
  • Next year, St Fin Barre’s Cathedral will mark 150 years of the laying of the foundation stone;
  • In 2022, St Anne’s Parish, Shandon, will being its 300th anniversary celebrations;
  • That year too, Saint Luke’s Charity and Home will mark 150 years; and
  • Later this year, 14th November will mark the 25th anniversary of the move of Saint Luke’s Home from Military Hill to Mahon.

We thank God for centuries of faithful witness, often in difficult times.  I thank God for all of you today. I ask you to go back to your parishes and communities and to thank everyone, from me, for their faithfulness, energy and generosity in the work of the Church that we do together.

Twenty-First Diocesan Synod

Somehow this year, with this, my 21st presidential address to you in Diocesan Synod, I feel, like young adults in former times, and that I am beginning to earn ‘the keys’.  Truth be told, time has flown. A lot has been done. Much remains to be done, and great are the opportunities we have together for the kingdom of God.

The last 12 months have been especially busy with the roll out of all sorts of new legislative and compliance developments:  

  • new legislation governing admissions to schools has meant that all schools have had to review and rewrite, with my approval as patron, their policies policies in schools;
  • GDPR has involved significant changes in practices for all of us, and, in the case of the Diocese, reconfiguring our databases;
  • A new Adult Safeguarding policy has been introduced and the training that involves has been completed;
  • A new and much revised edition of Safeguarding Trust has involved update training for all our workers, ordained and lay, in the Diocese;
  • The commencement of certain sections of the Children First Act 2015 has introduced ‘mandatory reporting’; and
  • the processing of re-vetting of all workers has begun in order to comply with legislation too.

All this is part and parcel of the discipline and routine of being an organisation – in our case, a church – in the world of today.

Recurring themes:

In these presidential addresses of the last 20 years there have been recurring themes:

  • Our communion with each other and with me as your bishop
  • Encouraging everyone to have a big picture, an overview, of what we are as the Church in this place;
  • Holding up a vision of being the best that we can be as a Church together in response to God’s love for us and his call to us: in worship, ministry and mission;
  • Engaging with the rapid changes around us in this part of Ireland,; and
  • Not living out our Christianity behind secure barricades, remote from the issues of the wider world; rather. going out there, instead of expecting everyone to come in.

Times have changed

As I was sitting down to write this address last Wednesday evening, a good friend from Belfast, sent me this photograph.  It was taken 30 years ago. Bishop Poyntz had moved the year before from Cork to Connor. His predecessor Bishop William McCappin had appointed appointed me as Chairperson of the Connor Youth Council.  In those days, effectively, as well as being a curate in the Diocese, I was also the Diocesan Youth Officer, and I took on that role following in the footsteps of someone who I’ve known since those days: Christopher Peters.  

The photo shows Bishop Poyntz presenting the trophy at a Diocesan Football Competition to the winning team – from my own youth club made up mainly of choir members at Saint Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast.

Think of how much the world has changed in those 30 years, not least for young people, and indeed for all of us.   In the years since, the economy here has bounced between extremes; the social values and mores of Irish society have shifted; the population has risen and is rising; the younger generation are now largely a highly educated, mobile, flexible and adaptable workforce; politics has shifted from the exclusive dominance of either of two political groupings; Irish culture has gained global popularity; following the brain drain of the 1980s employment standards have improved; from the 1990s onwards we have been enriched by inward migration to our country, with pluralism and diversity that brings; house prices have soared; and infrastructure has changed beyond recognition.  Much more could be added, including about continuing shortcomings, but all of that is before we take account of technological and social developments that have turned our lives on their head.

Much as we know that there has been population decline in some parts of rural Ireland, there has, in fact been growth too.  In West Cork, overall, for example, has increased by 3.5%.


I find all of this exhilarating.  Yes, it is demanding, and at times worrying and perplexing.  We know that institutional religion faces existential questions about its future, but lots of the questions which arise, have emerged more widely also for other institutions and communities in society.  We need, therefore, to explore them, not in isolation, but in partnership with other churches, other faiths, and by engaging with other agencies and disciplines. We do not live and believe in isolation or insulated from all this around us.

How are we to respond?

How are we to respond?  One of the greatest risks (among many) is that we assume that our calling is to keep things as they always have been without change.  Of course, many things are at the core of the Gospel tradition that we cherish and pass on: the love of God, the message of salvation, the presence of the Holy Spirit with us, the community of faith, the proclamation of the Word, the celebration of the sacraments, faithful ministry, and the response we each make to God’s call.   All of these, at the heart of our vocation as Christians, ought not to be displaced by other concerns such as the structure and organisation of our church locally; our love of our buildings; the present model and pattern of ministry, for example, all of which risk leading us down the road of being more preoccupied with ‘keeping the show on the road’ than responding to God’s call and the exhilarating world of opportunities around us.

20 Year Retreat

At the end of March, I went away for three days to be quiet and to pray; a retreat to mark my 20 years as your bishop.  I went to stare at the mountains, at the lake and at the sea. As I reflected and prayed, I kept a big Pukka pad beside me and jotted things down; things I hope to bring to my work with you as your bishop in the years ahead.  

One overriding question kept recurring.  Again and again I found myself wondering, ‘important as the practical issues are in our parishes and places of ministry, how do we deal with those, get beyond them even, so that we can truly focus on what God calls us to be: a community of faithful believers, of disciples?  How do we get beyond seeing the church as patches of territory or clutches of buildings we are determined to keep open, to seeing that what is really important, and that will actually attract people, is a community of believers that we are becoming?

It occurs to me that our answer to that question, indeed, our response to it, is what will shape, under God, our responses to the current times, and which will fashion our future in this place together.

We live in times when loyalty to institutions, simply because they are fine institutions with an established past, are over.  People want to know today what we stand for and what we do as a result of what we stand for. This is especially true of young people, I believe.  It is surely dawning on most of us, that the next generation, by and large, are not interested in being handed over the ‘baton of keeping things going’ as they always have before.  They (and they are not alone in this – millennials and many adults are in the same boat) want to know what we believe, how that is important, how it changes us and affects things, and what difference it makes.    

If organized religion wants to bridge the credibility gap between itself and many people who have moved on, or who are no longer engaging, including many young people, it, rather we need to take a good hard look at what our main focus is.  Focussing exclusively on keeping churches open, and maintaining things as they are will, on their own, in the long run, paradoxically, I fear, result in the opposite.


We are not the first generation to face such existential questions.  Most years, in these addresses, I hold out from our past, examples of how our predecessors have lived through what were seen as earth-shattering challenges, and yet they were faithful and creative in their response to their times.  

An example I take this year is from 150 years ago: 1869.  In the years before many in the Church of Ireland campaigned and fought politically to hold on to the Church of Ireland’s treasured status as the Established Church.  Gladstone and parliament thought otherwise, and, on 26th July 1869, the Irish Church Act was given the Royal Assent. From 1st January 1871 the Church of Ireland would be disestablished.  The Church had under 18 months in which to get organised and to get its act together for its own organisation and self-governance. From then on much, in huge measure, would depend on the voluntary engagement and the voluntary subscriptions of lay people such as yourselves.  A lot of people feared at the time that it would be the end; but it wasn’t.

A former Dean of Cork, William Magee, was so strong in his oratory opposing disestablishment on the grounds of what a disaster it would be, that he was noticed and was appointed Bishop of Peterborough. He left Cork before the Act was passed in 1869.   

As an aside, something he said as Bishop of Peterborough has stood the test of time and is worth remembering:

“The man who makes no mistakes does not usually make anything.”

– W. C. Magee, 1868

(Others who quoted him later have been attributed with it, but it was he who said it)

So here we are today, 150 years on.  Their immediate focus then was continuity and organisation; what is our focus now?

An Anglican Way

Later in this Synod we will hear from Wilfred Baker about the recent meeting of the Anglican Consultative Council in Hong Kong – ACC 17.  He was also at the meeting in Lusaka – ACC16.

At that Lusaka meeting, in its First Resolution, the ACC called for a ‘Season of Intentional Discipleship’ – ‘that every province, diocese and parish in the Anglican Communion to adopt a clear focus on intentional discipleship and to produce resources to equip and enable the whole church to be effective in making new disciples of Jesus Christ’  The season of ‘Intentional Discipleship’ runs until 2025. That said, is it not our calling, in every generation, every day, to be disciples? Being intentional as a disciple means doing something deliberately, consciously, and on purpose, in a planned way.  

So what is our plan?

How intentional – how deliberate and purposeful – are we in our Christianity? What framework might we adopt?

Five Marks of Mission

Over a number of years, starting in Nigeria in 1984 at ACC-6 the Anglican Communion Five Marks of Mission as a framework used to describe and encourage ministry throughout the worldwide Anglican Communion.  1984 – 35 years ago – is the year I was ordained Deacon, and yet, it is only in recent years that we have really begun to latch on to  this schema and to realise that there is potential here to be harnessed, not least when it comes to prioritising what we need to be doing as the Church today.

These Marks of Mission were adopted by the Bishops at the Lambeth Conference in 1988, and in In 2012, the fourth mark was revised to reflect the need for the Church to challenge violence and work for peace.  Not long afterwards, in the context of our work beginning in 2014 on Charting a Future with Confidence I began to table the Five Marks of Mission to nurture our reflection here in Cork, Cloyne and Ross..  

We printed them on the back of our Charting a Future with Confidence prayer card as a daily reminder to those at prayer.  I spoke about them in detail at Diocesan Synod in June 2015.  They have been described as ‘as a quick reference to remind Christians of the many ways we can be Church following Jesus’ Way and that they serve as a means for different countries and cultures to have a common focus.

Within Anglicanism, the world over, it seems that the Five Marks of Mission are to shape, for years to come, the way we go about our work.  They are already embraced within our own programme of Charting a Future with Confidence.  In that connection, I am delighted to announce today that the Reverend Robert Ferris has agreed to be convenor of the steering group for the next phase of our work together on this, as we put more shape and intentionality on that programme.   What I didn’t know when I approached Robert and asked him to take this on was that he was just finishing research on ‘Implementation Deficit Disorder in the Church of Ireland.’

The Five Marks of Mission:

We need to remind ourselves that the mission of the Church is the mission of Christ.  I remind you that the Five Marks of Mission are these:

  1. To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom
  2. To teach, baptise and nurture new believers
  3. To respond to human need by loving service
  4. To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation
  5. To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

If we are honest, all too easily, we adopt one or some of these as our own favourites.  That, to a point, is understandable. Insofar as people have ‘varieties of gifts’, experience and wisdom, it may also be strategic in terms of the implementation of the Marks of Mission.  What we really need, as Stephen Trew from Lurgan said at General Synod in Derry recently, is ‘to set a course, with all of the Five Marks of Mission as our guide.’  It is important that everyone , all of us, embraces all five of these, as a whole; they cannot be separated each from the other.

Can we do this here in our parishes and chaplaincies in Cork, Cloyne and Ross in order to answer our own questions about priorities for the future?

Mark I ~ Tell

The first mark is ‘To proclaim the Good News of the Kingdom’

At the General Synod a video clip was played about this first mark of mission, and a number of parishes and clergy told of what they are doing.  If we were to make such a video of our own here (and there’s not a bad idea) what would we each highlight in our own place as the ways in which we are already proclaiming the Good News of the Kingdom?  What stories would we tell?

That would be a good exercise for everyone to undertake not least because I fear that, all too often, we short change ourselves and do not affirm for ourselves the good and worthwhile things we are already doing.  

In addition to equipping lay people to do this, we do well to ask ourselves, where will our next generation of ordained people come from?  What are we doing intentionally to nurture vocations to ordained ministry among people, especially young adults in our Diocese? Nationally, the Commission on Ministry is taking a lead on this, and every parish is being asked to designate the weekend of Sunday 15th September, or another suitable time near that date as a time to focus on vocations.

Mark II ~ Teach

The second mark is: To teach, baptise and nurture new believers

Much of our work in these areas we have left, over the years, to parents themselves, to our schools, Sunday schools, and parish study groups.  Work of immense value has been done in these ways. Our Boards of Management, our teachers, the school chaplains, the clergy who visit schools, those who teach children on Sunday or in other parish groups, in confirmation classes all do work of immense importance. It is worth reflecting on the fact, however, that not all our children are in our primary schools – only 63% of the Church of Ireland children of primary school age attend one of the schools in the Diocese.  So what are we doing in our parishes to reach out to the children and young people?

Our Children’s Ministry Group has been breaking new ground in the Diocese. Our Youth Council is as creative as ever.  For a number of years now we have a wholetime chaplain in University College Cork. Limited resources mean that Cork Institute of Technology, where many students go, does not receive the ministry it warrants.

Have we been as good, however, in nurturing and teaching adult believers?   We have made tentative exploratory steps over the last 18 months with our new Certificate in Christian Studies Course.  The participants are very much the pioneers in this new beginning for us.

It strikes me that we need to be more intentional about adult education in general and, to do that, we need to consider appointing someone, at least part time, to guide us with this.

Mark III ~ Tend

The third mark is: To respond to human need by loving service

Our words are not enough; we must show people the love of God in action.  In the first instance, the pastoral work of our clergy and lay church workers, and the pastoral care we instinctively offer as good neighbours falls into this one.   So too does our prioritising of the ministry of chaplaincy in hospitals and nursing homes, and training for those ministries.

Again, we mustn’t lose sight of the valuable work we are doing and have been doing for a long time:  Saint Luke’s Charity and Saint Luke’s Home, The Victoria Trust, Kingston College and the Lapps’ Charity,  The Cork Indigent Roomkeepers, The Saint Stephen’s Protestant Orphan Society, and The Southwell Charity, to name the main ones.

Or the other danger of thinking that the work being done by the few to keep some of these places of ‘tending’ going lets most of us off the hook.  It doesn’t. All of these bodies need your support, and nearly all are looking for people to volunteer to be involved in their governance, or in other roles.  

People often give me large sums of money and ask me to use it, at my discretion, to help people in need.  With the support of the Diocesan Council I have decided, therefore, to establish one more charity, as a conduit for those funds, and I am looking for ideas of a new and clear name for such a charity that will capture everyone’s imagination. (I am thinking of asking the children!

Of course, these are not the only conduits of responding to human need by loving service.  Many people in our Diocese give expression to their Christian discipleship through involvement in a host of other organisations and groups.  We support and partner many of the organisations that are visitors here today with their displays of their voluntary work.

In terms of shaping our own work, we do need each Parish to look around – and I see so much of that happening as it is – to ask what are the needs of this area in which God has called us to show his love?  Famously, when he visited the Diocese a number of years ago now, Mark Russell of Church Army, challenged us to look at our communities and, of the Church he said: ‘We need to scratch where our local people and communities are itching.’

Mark IV ~ Transform

The fourth mark is: To transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.

This mark speaks for itself but, so often, we leave it to individuals to take up a particular cause.  Transforming unjust structures is more than being a keyboard warrior, although social media does have it place in telling as well as in transforming.  What does your parish care about? What do you and the people around you see in your community that you want to speak up about? What solidarity can we offer one another and others?  What small steps can we take to make a difference and to change something. Our own Diocesan Centenaries Commemoration and Reconciliation Project, very much on our current agenda, might be seen in the context of pursuing ‘peace and reconciliation’ also.

We should never underestimate our capacity to bring about change.  As the African proverb says ‘If you think you are too small to make a difference, you haven’t spent a night in a closed room with a mosquito.’  Jesus told stories on those lines also – about the difference salt, light and leaven can make.

Last month Penguin Books published No one is too small to make a difference.  She, as a 16 year old Swedish schoolgirl has shown us the truth of this.  She gave a Tedx talk in November 2018.

At the age of 15, on 20th August last, instead of going to school, she protested outside the Swedish Parliament about the need for immediate action to combat climate change.  The media started to notice. Last March (15th) an estimated 1.4 million students in 112 countries joined her call in striking and protesting. 125 countries were involved on 24th May last.  Few of us can fail to have seen news items of her subsequent speaking engagements: the COP24 CLimate change summit, Davos, the European Economic and Social Committee, the European Commission, in front of 25000 people at the Brandenburg Gate in Berlin, and the European Parliament in April.  As much as anyone else recently she has done much to make us all conscious of our Fifth Mark of Mission.

Mark V ~ Treasure

The fifth mark is: To strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth

Born in 1960, I am a product of the plastic bag generation.   The modern lightweight plastic bag was, it seems, ironically, the invention of a Swedish engineer Sten Gustaf Thulin in 1965.   I was 5. Yes there were earlier versions, but not in the form he invented. We loved them; they were cheap, convenient and cheap.  By 1979, these bags controlled 80% of the bag market in Europe. In 1997 the oceanographer and sailor, Charles Moore discovered the Great Pacific Garbage Pack. By 2011, 1 million single use plastic bags were being consumed worldwide every minute.   In 2002 Bangladesh was the first country to ban light plastic single use plastic bags.

Now we know that plastic bags start out as fossil fuels and end up as deadly waste in landfills and oceans.

Every second 160,000 plastic bags are used around the world.  A plastic bag is used for an average of 12 minutes. If we joined all the plastic bags in the world together, they would circumnavigate the globe 4,200 times. If just one person used recycled plastic bags over their lifetime, they would be removing 22,000 plastic bags from the environment.

I choose plastic bags, not especially to be specific, but to be illustrative of what some have been actively engaged in for some time.  Although I mentioned global warming as a result of my visit to the Athabasca Glacier in 2011 after an interval of 22 years, I am one of those who is a ‘johnny come lately’ to this very real challenge.  I am not alone. I am typical of the generation that needs to be re-educated about such things, and that needs to learn to live in new ways, or in old ways once again. More and more of us have been woken up to the realities of climate change, the climate emergency, and the crisis.  The fifth mark of mission is indeed very real and very tangible, not least for those of us who sing ‘the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it…’ (Psalm 24.1)

As a token of  this Mark of Mission, and to inspire your reflection, I am giving each parish a gift, as a you go home today of a Beebomb for an area in your churchyard or parish land.. Some of you are already well ahead of me and the curve on this one.

The Five Marks of Mission : Reprise

The Five Marks of Mission give us plenty to do, in a way that calls us to fulfil the call of Christ, and, as the visible congregation of faithful people, to proclaim the Word, to celebrate the sacraments (Article XIX) in a way that shows that we are truly engaged in the proclamation, in word and deed, of the Kingdom of God.

Overview: Infographic

As I mentioned, one of the constant challenges of a bishop is to get people to have a big picture, an overview, of the work of the Church in their place, and of the contributions they are already making to it or to help them see that there is still plenty to be done.

That is why, in part, in order to develop our self-understanding as a community in Cork, Cloyne and Ross, I set about commissioning our new Infographic which I am delighted to launch now today.  I say, launched, but in launching it here in front of 150 or so people today, it is worth noting that I already launched it on social media, where, on one platform alone, Facebook, 13,570 have engaged with it.  

It gives a picture through imagery of who we are and what we do; of the broad scope of the main aspects (not all of) our ministry and mission.  We could use the elements of this to provide a framework for two weeks of daily prayer. We could use it as a basis for reflection about what we are doing, what is needed, and where the gaps are.  In taking hold of the Five Marks of Mission this infographic should give us confidence that we are already doing a lot.


Returning finally to my days of staring at the mountains, the lake and the ocean – days of retreat and renewal – one of the books I read was by the American Pastor, Brian McClaren The Great Spiritual Migration: How the world’s largest religion is seeking a better way to be Christian.  I picked it up because I,  and I hope we all, as disciples,  are trying to be the best Christians we can be.  

‘As I see it’, he said

religion is as its best when it leads us forward, when it guides us in our spiritual growth as individuals and in our cultural evolution as a species… Within each tradition, unsettling but needed voices are arising – prophetic voices, we might call them, voices of change, hope, imagination and new beginnings … They claim that the Spirit is calling us, not to dig in our heels, but rather to pack up out tents and get moving again. They invite us on a great spiritual migration – not out of our religion, but out of our cages and ruts, not as jaded ex-members, but as hopeful pilgrims moving forward in the journey of faith.

And he admits that it took him ‘…almost give decades to understand that the call to Christian discipleship is a call to get going, to move forward.’

May God the Holy Spirit guide and bless us as we begin our work in this Synod today, and as, once more, we ‘pack up our [metaphorical] tents and get moving again’ and on this journey of faith.

+Paul Cork:

8th June, 2019

The Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, Dr Paul Colton, addressing the Diocesan Synod of the United Dioceses for the 21st time.

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