Church and Society Commission seminar in Dublin focuses on mental health awareness

The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin, introduces the seminar.  

The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, Archbishop of Dublin, introduces the seminar.


Over 30 clergy and other church leaders from the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church, Quakers and Salvation Army recently attended a seminar on issues surrounding mental health, hosted by the Church of Ireland’s Church and Society Commission (CASC) in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin. The morning seminar had contributions from three speakers focusing on different aspects of mental health.

The first speaker was Professor Eilis Hennessy, senior lecturer in developmental psychology in UCD’s School of Psychology, who spoke on ‘challenging stigma to improve young people’s mental health’. We learned that young people are particularly vulnerable to mental health problems and young people with mental health problems are stigmatised. However, lower levels of stigma are related to higher levels of help–seeking. Education can reduce stigma and increase a person’s intentions to seek help. Adolescents who are taught about mental health problems and who meet someone with a mental health problem generally have more positive attitudes as a result.

The second speaker was Dr Regina McQuillan, palliative medicine consultant in St Francis Hospice and Beaumont Hospital, who spoke on ‘supporting the mental health of people living with a life–limiting illness’. Dr McQuillan spoke about how living with a life–limiting illness can affect the emotional and mental well–being of the person with the illness and those close to them and also considered how people with pre–existing mental health problems may be affected. She emphasised the importance of minding your mental health by maintaining good practices, maintaining links with support services, managing medication, informing new healthcare teams of previous diagnoses, being alert to your own warning signs, and using information technology wisely.

The third speaker was the Revd James Mulhall, a social worker, career guidance counsellor and Church of Ireland curate in the Lismore Union of Parishes, as well as being the Safeguarding Trust Child Protection Officer for the Cashel, Ferns and Ossory Dioceses. Mr Mulhall spoke on ‘faith and mental health’. He described how in his work with people, conversations would never start about God but with hidden feelings, loneliness, anxiety, family conflict or bereavement. However, by listening, being attentive and attending to the person, they would both unearth ‘hidden treasure’, the good news behind the bad.  

The seminar was opened by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, who said: ”We need to speak of people and of humanity at the heart of mental care matters. Our instinct within the Church is to say: ‘What can I do to help?’ We need to ask: ‘What can I do to listen and what can I do to learn?’”

The Revd Martin O’Connor, a member of CASC, closed the meeting. He said that the seminar was very informative and thought–provoking and would help those engaged in the pastoral care of people living with mental health issues. He thanked the speakers for their contributions.

A version of this article was first published in the Church of Ireland Gazette.  The presentations by the speakers are available via the Church of Ireland website ( [Church of Ireland Press Office]

Three Christians in Iran given long jail terms

Photo Credit: M.E. Concern  

Photo Credit: M.E. Concern


Two Iranian Christians, Pastor Victor Bet Tamraz and Hadi Asgari have been sentenced to 10 years in jail and a third, Amin Afshar Naderi, has been jailed for 15 years. Pastor Victor was verbally charged with "conducting evangelism," "illegal house church activities" and "Bible printing and distribution" among other charges. Amin Afshar Naderi, a convert from Islam, was charged with "acting against national security" and "insulting the sacred" (blasphemy).

The jail terms were imposed by a judge in Tehran following a hearing in June. The men were not in court when the sentences were read out. Their lawyer will appeal against the court's decision.

Pastor Victor, who is of Assyrian background, was seized at his home along with Naderi at a Christmas celebration in 2014. They were subsequently released on bail but Naderi was then re-arrested during a picnic last August along with Hadi Asgari and three others, including Pastor Victor’s son. Hadi Asgari, also a convert, was charged with "acting against national security" and "organising and creating house churches".

Pastor Victor’s son, Ramiel Bet Tamraz, was charged with "acting against national security" and "organising and creating house churches" as well as charges relating to his father's ministry. Pastor Victor's wife, Shamiran Issavi, was summoned by the authorities last month to Evin Detention Centre in Tehran and charged with "participating in foreign seminars" and "acting against Iranian national security" as a church member. She was released after one day on bail of approximately $30,000.

Iranian Christians have requested prayers that the appeal judge will overturn the jail sentences and also acquit Pastor Victor’s wife and son. [ACNS/Middle East Concern]

WCC urges end to escalation in Korea

Demonstrating for peace (Photo: WCC)

Demonstrating for peace (Photo: WCC)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has reiterated the urgent appeal issued by its Executive Committee last month for “all states engaged in the perilously escalating military confrontation in the [Korean] region to refrain from further escalation and to pursue instead initiatives to reduce tensions and to create a window for new dialogue initiatives”.

The reportedly successful intercontinental ballistic missile test by North Korea on 4th July, and the joint US-South Korean ballistic missile drills it provoked, have raised tensions in the region to a dangerously new high, according to Peter Prove, director of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs.

"As the WCC Executive Committee has recently observed,” noted Prove, “confrontation by military or other means carries far higher risks of conflict – with catastrophic consequences for all people of the peninsula and the region – than prospects of leading to peace. A sustainable peace, and the peaceful denuclearization of the region, cannot be achieved through mutual provocation, but only through dialogue. In this particularly dangerous moment, self-restraint is indeed all that separates armistice and war. We call on all parties to beware of this perilous threshold." [WCC News]

"Heartbroken" bishops back South Sudan peace move

Archbishop Albert Chama (Photo: ENS)

Archbishop Albert Chama (Photo: ACNS)

By Adrian Butcher, ACNS

Anglican leaders in Africa are sponsoring a church-led initiative to end the conflict in South Sudan. The Council of Anglican Provinces of Africa (CAPA) has invited South Sudanese church leaders to Zambia next month to press for the guns to be silenced.

The move comes after a group including leaders from CAPA and the ecumenical Council of Churches of South Sudan visited refugee camps in northern Uganda to hear first-hand the stories of those who have fled the fighting. They were joined by church leaders in Uganda which has taken in 1.25 million South Sudanese refugees.

One camp – Bidi Bidi – has more than 226,000 refugees. CAPA chair, Archbishop Albert Chama, said many of the delegation had been left in tears by what they encountered there.

“We heard from women, men, young girls, young boys, child soldiers who had been rescued – it really broke our hearts. We could not resist asking the question ‘what can the church do?’  The children are crying for school, they are crying for health.”

Archbishop Albert said the huge influx of refugees had put a big strain on the Ugandan authorities. Bidi Bidi camp has been forced to halve the daily rations given to refugees to ensure everyone is fed.

“This was really, really difficult for us to comprehend. You can imagine when you have got young people they need food to grow and maintain health,” he said. “But we sympathise with the authorities – when you plan for, say, 50,000 people and you get 100,000 what else can you do? You have to share. But seeing this was really something else for us – we could not hold back our tears.”

Archbishop Albert said the camp visits were an opportunity for church leaders to listen to the refugees and see the difficulties they are facing. And he said the message they heard was loud and clear.

“The people were saying ‘go back and speak to the people involved in the conflict...the government and the diaspora outside South Sudan. Tell them we are suffering and we don’t know why we are suffering. Tell them to stop the guns, tell them we need peace, we need peace, we need peace.”

The civil war in South Sudan erupted in December 2013 after the president, Silva Kiir, accused the vice president, Riek Marchar, of plotting against him. Attempts at mediation since have repeatedly broken down. But church leaders have been in dialogue with both men amid signs of hope.

Now CAPA is working with the Council of Churches of South Sudan to bring peace. CCSS leaders have been invited to the Zambian capital, Lusaka, next month to seek God, pray and discuss the situation and then formulate a united response. Archbishop Albert is optimistic.

“People (in the camps) were saying to us ‘you are the only hope we have’.  If the church speaks, the people will listen,” he said. “So if the churches are united in one voice, they can stop the war. When they work with their denominations, their pastors, things will change on the ground. That is our hope.

“We hope the outcome of the retreat in Lusaka will be that church leaders go ‘full throttle’ telling the warring factions to silence the guns so that negotiations can begin.”

After visiting the camps, the delegation continued its discussions with other leaders at a summit meeting near Entebbe. In a communiqué issued afterwards, there was praise for Uganda for the way it was helping the refugees.

It said: “Despite the challenges being faced in the resettlement camps, the South Sudanese refugees expressed profound gratitude to the government and people of Uganda... for receiving and setting aside land for resettlement.”

The sentiments were echoed in a statement by the United Nations Secretary General, Antonio Guterres, who has been visiting northern Uganda this week.

“In a world where so many people are selfishly closing their doors, closing their borders, not allowing people to come, this example deserves praise (and) admiration from the whole international community,” he said.

Church of England parish at heart of relief efforts following London inferno

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In the hours since a massive blaze ripped through a tower block in west London early last Wednesday, nearby St Clement's Church has been rapidly turned into an emergency relief centre. It sheltered more than 100 residents as the blaze raged and has subsequently been overwhelmed with donations. People have given clothes, bedding and toiletries for the residents of the tower, many of whom fled the block in their nightwear and have lost everything. Volunteers from churches throughout the area are running the relief operation.

Revd Alan Everett described how events unfolded in the hours after the devastating blaze: “I opened the church at half three in the morning and within minutes the local community started bringing in supplies – the tables are now completely overflowing. The response has been overwhelming” he said. St Clement's has now reached saturation point and has simply run out of room to store any more supplies.

Revd Alan says St Clement's has always had a strong emphasis on community outreach work and this tragic event has brought people together in a very strong bond: “Because of this church’s longstanding community outreach work, it is a highly trusted place. We are trusted by people of all faiths. This response is the social gospel. In the wake of the tragedy people might ask where is God? God is present in the hands that are reaching out to help.”

Area Dean, Revd Mark O’Donoghue, has been at St Clement’s since dawn yesterday: “I have spent the time sitting with and listening to people who are desperately looking for friends and relatives. This is a church showing Christ like compassion and care.” Revd James Heard from a neighbouring parish has been spending time in prayer with those in distress: "I was here most of yesterday. People have been coming in too shocked to speak." [ACNS]

Designated spaces have been created within the church grounds for prayer and clergy from throughout the area have come to offer support to grieving relatives. St Clement’s is providing registration for missing persons.

It’s a highly multicultural area with many nationalities represented; there’s a high population of Moroccans, Filipinos and Eastern Europeans as well as many people from Ethiopia, Eritrea and Somalia.

The Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said the response from the community had been an “extraordinary sight.” Local Bishop, Graham Tomlin, says it’s crucial the clergy are visible: “It’s important to open the doors of our churches and of our hearts and to offer whatever help we can. This church is at the heart of the local community and we have here with us families anxiously awaiting news of relatives. There’s an Ethiopian family here who can’t find their five year old son. Our local Filipino Chaplain is also very involved as there are a number of Filipinos in the tower block missing.”

St Clement's is a four minute walk from the tower block. [ACNS]

Climate Change - Comment by Canon Ian Ellis

In a statement issued on 11th June, the World Council of Churches – of which the Church of Ireland is a member-Church - expressed its “ deep disappointment” at the United States' withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change action.

The US withdrawal was announced by President Trump on 1st June, but swiftly after that announcement, the Governors of the a number of states – including California, New York and Washington - established the 'United States Climate Alliance' nonetheless to press ahead with the goals of the Paris Agreement. They were joined by a range of city mayors and business leaders. However, the Paris Agreement itself stipulates that this withdrawal cannot take effect before November 2020 – in fact, one day after the US presidential election of that year. So, quite how this all works out remains to be seen.

The Paris Agreement is also known as 'COP21' - the 21st 'Conference of Parties' to the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). There were 195 participating countries, along with the European Union.

Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary UNFCCC, commented of the Paris Agreement at the time of its passing by international consensus: “It is an agreement of conviction. It is an agreement of solidarity with the most vulnerable. It is an agreement of long-term vision, because it is an agreement of commitment to turn this new, legal framework into the engine of safe growth for all for the rest of this century. It is an unequivocal clarion call to the world."

The WCC's 11th June statement says that the US withdrawal would have “grave consequences for the impoverished and vulnerable, for our children's children, and for the entire planet, putting at risk people's access to clean water, food, shelter and secure livelihoods, and undermining efforts for environmental sustainability and for peace”.

The Met Office points out that the planet faces a range of scenarios depending on the level of continuing emissions of greenhouse gases - gases that trap heat in the atmosphere - and that the severity of long-term climate disruption depends on future emissions. It is recognised that urgent action is needed for the wellbeing of future generations as the heating of the planet is causing sea levels to rise and many areas face drought.

It is good to see that there are so many people in positions of leadership across the United States who remain committed to the Paris Agreement goals and, while President Trump has expressed a willingness to re-negotiate the terms of the Agreement, this seems most unlikely to happen. The Agreement that was reached in Paris in 2015 allows flexibility – in fact, that was the key to its success. Professor David Victor, of the University of California at San Diego, has commented that the Paris Agreement's “pledge-and-review system helped transform climate diplomacy", making it easier for national governments to tailor their commitments to what they know they can deliver at home.

There does not appear to be either the scope or the opportunity for a re-negotiation of Paris 2015. Also, crucially, there really isn't the international will.

At last month's General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the ongoing development of the Representative Church Body’s environmental policy was highlighted, along with the RCB's newly revised policy on climate change. The RCB also accepted a motion on climate change proposed by Stephen Trew, of the Diocese of Dromore, as part of the RCB’s commitment to investing in funds to help the transition to a low carbon economy - that is, an economy based on minimum greenhouse gas output. The Church of Ireland's investment arm is clearly aware of the critical issues surrounding climate change and has shown itself to be proactive in the right way.

Archbishop of Canterbury's statement on the General Election

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Archbishop Justin Welby's 9th June statement in response to the result of the UK General Election:

“In recent weeks we have seen acts of terror and violence committed against innocent people in London, Manchester and around the world by those fundamentally opposed to our shared common values. Set against that, yesterday’s election was a powerful and vivid testimony of our enduring faith in the values of peace, freedom and democracy, and a rejection of the forces of fear, hatred and division. It is heartening to see voter turnout increase at this election and I offer my prayers and good wishes to all those elected to Parliament, to all who put themselves forward as candidates and to the countless many who make our democratic process work so well.

“I encourage all Christians, and people of all faiths and no faith, to hold our political leaders in their thoughts and prayers at this time. My prayer is that they may know the love and presence of God, made known through Jesus Christ, as they continue their discussions and prepare to take on the weighty responsibility of leadership.”

Fate of quake damaged NZ Cathedral to be decided in September

The Anglican Church in New Zealand has said the future of ChristChurch Cathedral, which has been derelict since an earthquake six years ago, will be decided this September. The Synod of the Diocese of Christchurch will rule on whether the Cathedral should be restored – or demolished and replaced with a contemporary building. Local officials involved with the city's regeneration have been pressing for a resolution and campaigners have called for immediate government intervention to restore the iconic Cathedral. The diocesan property division has defended itself over allegations that it has dragged its feet. 

Bishop Victoria Mathews said, “We are very aware that the city and beyond is very frustrated with the amount of time it has taken to reach a decision on the future of our beloved Cathedral. Church Property Trustees (CPT) and the entire Diocese share that frustration. After much thought and prayer I have decided to reserve the question on the future of the Cathedral in the Square to September 2017 for our diocesan Synod’s decision” she said.

“As the ChristChurch Cathedral is a church building above all else, and a place of worship, the decision on its future should be made by the membership of the Synod comprising the gathered clergy and laity of the Diocese who will be using the Cathedral forever......To date the view of the Church has been that we should proceed with a contemporary Cathedral. In 2013 our Synod voted for an inspirational Cathedral. Recently the Standing Committee expressed its view that a new Cathedral, costing no more than the insurance proceeds received for the Cathedral building in the Square, is its preferred option.”

“For the past six and a half years Church Property Trustees and its staff have done extraordinary due diligence on different options regarding the future of the Cathedral.  This includes engineering investigations, quantity surveying and research into fundraising options.  Along the way there has been active and passionate debate on what should be done" said Bishop Mathews.

“We recently undertook a scientific survey of public preferences among residents from Greater Christchurch on the future of the ChristChurch Cathedral. The results of the research were clear. People’s preferences change when they are fully informed, but there is still no overwhelming preference. People are still divided over whether to reinstate the Cathedral building in the Square or to commit to building a contemporary Cathedral that is inspirational and fit for purpose. We will soon release the survey results." [ACNS]

Prayers and Candles for the Victims of the Manchester Bomb


Candles are burning in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit in St Anne’s Cathedral, Belfast, for those killed and injured in the Manchester Arena terror attack on May 22.

Special prayers are being said, and people wishing to take time out to pray and light a candle are welcome to call into the Cathedral today and over the next few days.

The Dean of Belfast, the Very Rev John Mann, said: “It is with deep sadness that we awoke this morning to the news from Manchester. So many lives lost and injured, the likelihood being that many are children.

“Our hearts go out to all the families involved and our prayers are with them today, and will be in the coming days as this devastating attack brings such sorrow to so many.”

Dean Mann continued: “We also remember in our prayers the members of the emergency services and all whose trauma at these events must be acute, even as they seek to assist others.

“In the communities, schools, churches and other faith centres, whose prayers and concern for those of their members will be deeply felt, may they know the support that is being prayed for by those across the country and around the world who seek to uphold them, as best we can, in this time of such distress.

“As we pray daily for the evil of this world to be abated and human beings of all races, nations, creeds and religions to find the common goals of peace and justice, we pray for the perpetrators of violence, that their hearts may be turned to healing and building up and life, rather than destruction and death.

“Lord, in your mercy, hear our prayers.”


CMS missionaries complete 28-year project to publish whole Bible in Kurdish Sorani language

Paul Thaxter, CMS international director

Paul Thaxter, CMS international director

A team of Bible translators in Kurdistan, northern Iraq, working against the backdrop of civil unrest and religious persecution, has completed the first ever translation of the whole Bible into the Central Kurdish Sorani language.

For the last eight years, Church Mission Society (CMS) mission partners, Joel and Ruth Hammond* have worked alongside indigenous Kurds and other foreign nationals drafting text, checking names, terminology and style, and finally checking both the Old and New Testaments so that they could be published together for the first time as the complete Bible.

The whole translation of Old and New Testaments took 28 years to complete and will enable six million native speakers of the Sorani language to hear and read the Bible in their own language for the first time. As well as physical copies, the new translation is available digitally, both through the YouVersion app and a newly-designed Kurdish app called Pertukekem (‘My Book’).

The new translation, which has been a joint initiative between Church Mission Society, Biblica and several other linguistics services, was launched at a special ceremony earlier this month by Dr Carl Moeller, CEO of Biblica.  Dr Nawzad, General Director of public libraries in the Kurdistan region, received the translated Bible and welcomed its contribution to Kurdish culture and mutual understanding between the faiths of Kurdistan.

Following the project’s completion, Joel is now training in linguistics and undertaking language studies: “It has been a privilege to be a part of this project. Kurds have known healings, dreams and visions from Christ but having the whole Word of God available in written form will crystallise their faith and allow them to pass it on more effectively.”

Already, the team have begun to receive feedback from Sorani speakers revelling in the impact the new translation is having. One said he felt “empowered” by being able to use the new version on his mobile phone while another related how he had been able to give the text to a local Mullah.

Paul Thaxter, international director at CMS, recently travelled to the region and was delighted to see the completion of the translation project. He said:  “Trying to live as a Christian while being denied the chance to read the Bible in your own language is unimaginable. However, now through the application and commitment of people like Joel and Ruth, and the team around them, millions of people will now have the ‘Gift of Life’ in their own hands.”

  * name changed for security reasons [ACNS]

Put people first post-Brexit, urge Welsh bishops

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Welsh bishops are calling on the UK Government to put people first as it negotiates the country’s exit from the European Union.

Following Prime Minister Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 to begin the process of leaving the EU, the bishops of the Church in Wales have said that inequality and disadvantage need to be addressed in order to build a better Wales, post-Brexit.

They said: “The vote to leave the European Union exposed deep divisions in society. Whilst some have benefitted from economic prosperity and the opportunities to travel, work, study and trade freely across European boundaries, for others, these things have been irrelevant. The causes of division and disaffection do not all lie with our membership of the EU, and if we are to build a better Wales post-Brexit, it is essential that we recognise and address each and every inequality and disadvantage which damage our sense of solidarity and of belonging to one another in our community.

“With this in mind, we urge those responsible for negotiations to prioritise the protection of human rights; to offer pro-actively security to individuals and families who have come to live within our borders; and to maintain the employment rights, safety standards, and environmental protections which have developed in common with our European partners over the past 40 years. It is equally important to continue support to those areas of Wales which are most affected by economic disadvantage, to promote the rural economy, and to support sectors which rely on European markets

“As Christians we recognise our common identity as children of God. Political differences will not marr our relationships with fellow-Christians in Europe and beyond, particularly through the worldwide Anglican Communion. We pray that Europe will continue to be a beacon of peace, hope and mutual endeavour across national boundaries; and that these will be qualities and endeavours in which we can continue to play a part.”

The Welsh bishops are:

Bishop of Swansea & Brecon, John Davies
Bishop of Bangor, Andrew John
Bishop of St Asaph, Gregory Cameron
Bishop of Monmouth, Richard Pain
Bishop of St Davids, Joanna Penberthy

[Church in Wales News]

WCC offers prayers for victims of ‘heinous’ bomb attack on St Petersburg commuters

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(Photo: Albin Hillert/WCC)

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has condemned as “cruel and despicable” the actions of those responsible for the 3rd April lethal blast on the St Petersburg metro that killed 14 people and injured at least 49, calling for prayers for the victims and their close ones.

“Once again innocent people are victims of a heinous, cruel and despicable act that targeted train commuters in the underground system going about their normal daily lives in Russia’s second city,” said WCC general secretary, Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit in a statement issued the following day.

“We express our condolences and let us pray for the victims, their families and close ones as well as the people of St Petersburg and Russia in this tragic time.”

The head of Russia's National Anti-Terrorist Committee said the blast hit a train between Sennaya Ploshchad and Tekhnologichesky Institut stations, Russia Today reported.

President Vladimir Putin was in St Petersburg at the time of the attack to meet with Belarusian President Alexander Lukashenko. (WCC News)

Biblical faith and journalism

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Biblical faith and journalism - A talk by Canon Ian Ellis at St Mary's church, Macosquin, Diocese of Derry, on Wednesday 15th March 2017.


In the Church, the Bible is of course very much to the fore, and in the world around us there is journalism everywhere – newspapers, radio and television, the Internet. We are very fortunate indeed to live in the free world where, providing one does not defame another person or publish obscenities, there is freedom of expression. It is a vital freedom if human beings are to flourish.

I often think, when I see rows of newspapers lining a newsagent's shelf or in a stand outside a shop on a sunny day, how great it is to live in a society in which people are allowed to write their views freely and to have them published so openly.

I remember many years ago, when I was a student, visiting the former East Germany, then under communist rule as a satellite state of the then Soviet Union. It was at the time when the Warsaw Pact nations invaded the then Czechoslovakia because its government was becoming too freedom-loving. That was August 1969, and the previous Spring came to be known as the Prague Spring, a time of liberalisation in Czechoslovakia under the new leader Alexander Dubcek. The freedoms which Dubcek wanted to introduce included travel, speech in general and the media.

On my visit to East Berlin that August, just as the invasion was taking place, the page 1 headline in the communist controlled East German newspaper, Neues Deutschland, was 'Prague citizens welcome Russian troops'. It was pure spin, as it is called - propaganda. But our society is not like that and much though we may at times find things in the media unwelcome, or irritating, it's good to be free.

This is perhaps the first point of interconnection between the Bible and journalism. Freedom is an essential part of the Biblical witness. God has made us as free individuals and the purpose of that freedom is surely so that we can grow fully as people before him.

If we were not free, we would grow as people in a kind of straitjacket. No, we need to be free if we are to be fully human beings, even though that freedom will mean that we will make mistakes. Yet, even our mistakes in life can be important learning and growing points. Indeed, the motto of the Anglican Communion is 'The truth shall set you free'.

I'm sure you have heard, in recent months, what has become a familiar but actually new term: 'fake news'. As a new term it has been catapulted into our common vocabulary by the new President of the United States, Donald Trump.

According to Mr Trump, the media fabricate news stories and therefore aren't to be trusted. Instead, we are asked to embrace what an adviser to Mr Trump press has referred to as "alternative facts". It is a kind of upside down world, in which those who try to convey the truth, often after lengthy journalistic investigations, are frequently vilified, while the people at large are expected to buy into an 'alternative reality' that is presented precisely by those being investigated by journalists.

But who is conveying the fake news in America? The newspapers or the White House? How are we to know?

At any rate, the concept of 'fake news' is eroding trust all round. Is the media to be trusted? Is government to be trusted? Such questions are a catastrophic consequence of the whole concept of 'fake news' – loss of trust. But freedom demands responsibility if trust is to be guarded.

Perhaps here is another connection between Biblical faith and journalism – recognising the truth, recognising the authentic. In the Bible we come across references to “false prophets”. In Isaiah (44: 25), we are told that the Lord “foils the signs of false prophets”, and in St Matthew's Gospel (7: 15-20), Jesus says: “Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” (7: 15) The false prophets, the people who peddle lies, are extremely dangerous people - “ferocious wolves”. You can't get much more dangerous than that!

Yet, Jesus indicates that there is a way of knowing who is who: He says: “By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them.” (7: 16-20)

By their fruits you will recognise them. There has to be a discerning of that which is right and true, and in order to discern properly we need to have grown in spirit and in wisdom. Another interconnection between Biblical faith and journalism is precisely the emphasis that both place on reflection and discerning.

It is one of the drawbacks of the modern communication of news via the Internet that people are more and more inclined to read headlines only, or headlines and a few paragraphs. The traditional newspaper allows for much more reflection and gives greater opportunity for that all-important process of discernment of the truth.

Of course, we do know that some branches of the media have behaved very badly indeed, as was illustrated in the whole phone hacking scandal a while ago. The media is not all innocent, and nor is the political class. There are faults all round, but what is important in the media, in political life, or in our own everyday life, is what we take as our guiding light. And for us as Christian people that guiding light is Christ himself.

Biblical faith, from a Christian perspective, is faith in God the Father who created us, God the Son who redeemed us, and God the Holy Spirit who brings us life. For us, that sums up the essence of biblical faith.

However, the Bible requires much study and reflection. Delving deeper into the message of the Bible is not an entirely straightforward matter. There's a lot to think about. For example, just what do we mean when we say scripture is inspired by God? Do we mean that there was some kind of supernatural dictation going on, or do we mean that scripture is inspired rather like we might say after reading a really good book that seemed to speak right into our situation with a remarkable aptness, "Well, that was certainly inspired!" We often speak of an “inspired choice” as someone makes a really good judgement call. Is the inspiration of scripture somehow along those lines, although of course recognising that the Bible is so much more than just any other book, in a category of its own as Holy Scripture?

There's a lot to think about when it cones to the Bible. Another issue is that of context – something that is also vital in good journalism. What did the words of the Bible mean to those who wrote them all those centuries ago, and to those who read them all those centuries ago? When scripture refers in the Commandment at Exodus 20: 4 to the heaven above, the earth beneath and the waters under the earth, we see an understanding of the geography of the universe as a three-tiered affair, as oppose to the kind of universe we have come to know with planets orbiting in space.

Biblical faith can be seen as actually a very diverse kind of faith, with different people understanding it in different ways. There is a whole process of interpretation that has to go on when we read holy scripture. But at heart, and from a Christian perspective, the Bible is about the actions of the Trinity, although it took the church a while to develop its understanding of the Trinity. And actually, at the heart of the Trinity is truth itself. Jesus is the way, the truth and the life; the Spirit leads us into all truth; the Father is true to the Son, wonderfully raising him on the third day.

There are many ways in which biblical faith and journalism come together, but it is perhaps most clearly in terms of freedom and truth – both immensely important themes in both theology and philosophy.

More Prayer Books to be printed

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A Working Group has been established by the General Synod's Standing Committee to arrange a reprint of the Book of Common Prayer, which is now completely out of stock.

A revised edition of the Book of Common Prayer will be going to press in 2018, and will include the various changes and additions that have been approved by meetings of the General Synod since 2005. It is intended that the pagination will remain unchanged (as far as this is possible).

However, the Working Group is hearing from parishes of an urgent need for copies of the Book of Common Prayer at the present time, and so is asking members of the clergy to tell them of this need, in order that the desired number of copies can be made available by the short–term reprint.

This will be a reprint of the basic pew edition. It is hoped to keep the euro price as it currently stands (c. €20), depending on the number of copies printed; fluctuations in the exchange rate may affect the sterling price.

Church of Ireland Parish Handbook launched

The Church of Ireland's Representative Church Body had made available a new Parish Handbook which aims to connect the foundations of our Church to today’s members and to make the role of service on a select vestry enjoyable and rewarding. 

The Parish Handbook is a manual to support select vestries, parish officers and all members of the Church in the administration and organisation of parish life. It explains how requirements of the Constitution relate to today’s parishes, offers solutions to typical parish issues, and provides clear guidance to select vestry members on what is expected of them and tools to help them in their role. The last time the Church published a guide with a similar purpose was in 1982 so it is hoped that an update will be of value to today’s Church members.   

The Handbook is currently available online, organised by topic and available on a new section of the main Church of Ireland website, called Parish Resources. The guidance notes can be found under the relevant topic areas – e.g. Select Vestry, Parish Finance and Generous Giving – at–resources

Welcoming the Handbook on the website, The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, remarked: “I believe that the new Parish Handbook is a superb resource, fulfilling a dual function of showing – in a very readable form – how the different components of the Church of Ireland’s structures mesh together, and also outlining clearly the duties and privileges that attach to all leadership in the local parish community.”

The Handbook will be a ‘living’ project; additions and amendments will be made to ensure the content continues to be relevant and useful. Digital content can easily be updated in line with changes in civil law, Church governance and best practice guidelines. All documents can be printed and select vestries and Church members are encouraged make use of them in their own parishes. The Parish Resources section of the website is a very new ‘work in progress’ and, just like the Handbook, will continue to be added to and updated to meet the needs of Church members.

Those with parish leadership responsibilities should be well–informed and feel confident in their governance roles. The Parish Handbook serves to support them as they uphold Christian values, act in accordance with the Constitution, and strengthen their parishes into the future. In today’s ever–changing society with increasing legislative pressure and compliance requirements, the Parish Handbook provides an effective way for every parish to be supported by the central Church.

Allchurches Trust supports Church of Ireland’s Long Term Church initiative with grant to enable greater connections

Sir Philip Mawer, Chairman of Allchurches Trust

Sir Philip Mawer, Chairman of Allchurches Trust

The Church of Ireland has been awarded a generous grant by Allchurches Trust Ltd to support its ‘Long Term Church’ initiative. The emphasis of Long Term Church is on the wellbeing and sustainability of the Church of Ireland. The specific focus of the first tranche of the Allchurches Trust grant of £60,000 (from an overall grant of £90,000 over three years) is on the development of technological structures which will serve to better connect people with the Church. Allchurches Trust is a charity which promotes the Christian faith, and may be known to many Church of Ireland members as the owner of the Ecclesiastical Insurance Group.

The work supported by the grant will share resource materials and provide central support to all parish communities across the island of Ireland via a ‘Parish Resources’ section on the main Church of Ireland website. It will also allow the Representative Church Body (RCB) to develop a database to more easily connect with Church members, such as parish treasurers, select vestries, diocesan contacts and clergy, and for these people to identify and contact each other. Fundamentally, the project will help the Church to respond to the changing requirements of its membership, reduce the risk of people, especially young people, feeling disconnected to the Church and encourage the growth of the Church’s people–network across distance, generations and differences in lifestyle through the use of online meeting facilities.

Both the Archbishop of Armagh, The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, and the Archbishop of Dublin, The Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson, have welcomed the grant to enable this project, saying: ‘We are delighted that the Church has received this support from Allchurches Trust. As the Church faces an increasingly secular society, the RCB needs to be equipped to support the work of the Church as it readies itself for a challenging future. This grant will greatly assist the RCB in more effectively serving the wider life, outreach and witness of the Church into the long term.’

Chairman of Allchurches Trust, Sir Philip Mawer, said, ‘Allchurches has a long and proud tradition of support for the Church of Ireland and we are delighted that our latest grant will help its people network go digital. Online communities can work for Christians too and we are fortunate to be living in an age where the spiritual as well as the physical distances between people can be shrunk with the aid of digital communications.’

Mr David Ritchie, Chief Officer and Secretary General of the RCB, says, ‘It is envisaged that the benefits of this project will be far–reaching, facilitating the RCB to develop and deliver parish resources and to improve communication within our Church community. I am also pleased that this collaboration further strengthens the relationship between the Church of Ireland and the Allchurches Trust.’

Episcopal leaders address concern over Church’s part in Donald Trump’s inauguration

Donald Trump (Photo: G. Skidmore)

Donald Trump (Photo: G. Skidmore)

By Mary Frances Schjonberg

The involvement of Washington National Cathedral and its choir in the upcoming inauguration of President-elect Donald Trump has stirred concern in parts of the US-based Episcopal Church. The Cathedral Choir accepted an invitation to perform during the musical prelude to next Friday’s (20th January) inauguration ceremony.

The cathedral confirmed three weeks ago that it would once again play out one of its traditional roles in US life by offering Mr Trump and the nation a chance to come together in prayer. The invitation-only 58th Presidential Inaugural Prayer Service will take place at 10am next Saturday (21st January), the day after Donald Trump is sworn in as the 45th president.

After news of the choir’s participation prompted a deluge of comments on social media as well as emails to officials involved, Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, Diocese of Washington Bishop Mariann Budde and Cathedral Dean Randolph Hollerith all issued statements addressing those concerns.

“We all know this election has been contentious and there are deep feelings being felt by Episcopalians on all sides of the issues,” Bishop Curry said in his statement. “We recognize that this election has been contentious, and the Episcopal Church, like our nation, has expressed a diversity of views, some of which have been born in deep pain.”

Acknowledging that there has been “much discussion, and some controversy” about the appropriateness of the cathedral hosting the traditional prayer service, and of one of its choirs singing at the inauguration, Bishop Curry said that those issues raise “some basic Christian questions about prayer.

“When I pray for our leaders, why am I doing so? Should I pray for a leader I disagree with? When I pray, what do I think I am accomplishing?” is how the Presiding Bishop described the questions.

He said the practice of prayer for leaders is “deep in our biblical and Anglican / Episcopalian traditions”, adding that that tradition of prayer means Episcopalians are praying that “their leadership will truly serve not partisan interest, but the common good”. [ENS/ACNS]

2017 Irish Church Leaders’ New Year Message

Hope in Christ in uncertain times
“As with all people, none of us are immune from standing at the gate of the New Year and reflecting on what the last 12 months have brought - and wondering what 2017 might bring.
“The world is an uncertain place. As we enter this New Year we are mindful of people who continue to suffer as a result of conflict, especially in the Middle East, and the humanitarian crisis that continues to unfold in Syria.
“As we pray for these situations, we also remember and lift in prayer those in our own communities who are affected by homelessness and those struggling to make ends meet. As the Psalmist reminds us, “God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear...” (Psalm 46:1). It is our prayer that people will look to Him for that comfort and help and see Him move in those who offer much needed practical support.
“As church leaders, last year we remembered together the events of 1916, events that shaped relationships and the future of these islands. A century on, new events of a different kind have the potential to alter political and economic relationships here, as the UK prepares to leave the European Union. It is our united prayer that our political leaders in Belfast, Dublin and London will have wisdom, grace and patience during this process that will have implications for the whole of Ireland.
“As we begin our journey through this coming year, we are reminded of the Greatest Commandment that our Lord Jesus Christ gave us: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength…” He continued, by giving us a second, “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Mark 12:30-31).
“Let us commit to living out His words in these uncertain days as we also remember that our eternal hope is in Christ, at this time and always, we fix our eyes upon Him."
Archbishop Richard Clarke, Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh
Archbishop Eamon Martin, Catholic Archbishop of Armagh
Rt. Rev. John McDowell, President, Irish Council of Churches
Rev. Bill Mullally, President of the Methodist Church in Ireland
Rt. Rev. Dr. Frank Sellar, Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

Berlin Christmas market attack

After the attack (Photo: A. Trojak)

After the attack (Photo: A. Trojak)

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (Photo: EKD)

Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm (Photo: EKD)

The Leader of the German Protestant Church, Bishop Heinrich Bedford-Strohm, issued the following statement shortly after the 19th December terrorist lorry attack in Berlin's city centre, which left 12 dead and 56 injured:

We are all shaken by the attack in Berlin, which took so many innocent lives. Our thoughts now go out to the relatives of the victims and to those in hospital. We can only try to imagine their sense of horror and despair.

The attack took place at a Christmas market. A place where people buy gifts for their nearest and dearest. This stands for a culture of life, a culture of shared humanity, of mutual attention and for confidence.

I want to be clear: We will not allow this confidence, this culture of shared humanity to be destroyed by these acts of brutality. We will not allow an atmosphere of fear, of hate, of distrust to spread in our country. We will not do violent criminals this favour.

Perhaps we will listen particularly intently to the Christmas message... It tells of a child in a manger, who as an adult - Jesus of Nazareth - dies on the cross as a victim of violence. And is raised from the dead. Violence does not have the last word. Life is triumphant. And that is why we will sing our Christmas carols all the more heartily this year, perhaps defiantly as well.

Our confidence will not be taken away, for we know that "the light shines in the darkness" - and "the darkness will not overcome it". [EKD News]

Advent to Christmas

Article by the rector, Canon Ian Ellis

How does Christ come to you?

Advent speaks of the coming of Jesus as the infant of Bethlehem and also of his coming again to be our judge.

We do not know how Jesus will appear to us but it is a fundamental teaching of the Church that, in the end, there will be a judgement.

Christ, of course, is a figure of mercy, not retribution, and Christians believe that in facing Christ's judgement they can rely on his mercy and on the fact that Christ died for our salvation, in a sacred and mysterious way putting things right between us and God, reconciling us to God.

Heaven is rightly seen as characterised by harmony, reflecting the harmony that is at the heart of the life of God himself as Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In the Incarnation, God began his great work of peacemaking and reconciliation.

Christmas, the birth of Jesus, marks the beginning of that inbreaking of God into the world, to work his great reconciliation. The joy of Christmas is both the natural joy at the birth of an infant but it is yet deeper than that because it is also joy at what this Jesus has come to do for us and for all humanity.

Christ comes to us again and again in the course of our lives. We are to watch out for him speaking to us through the words and actions of other people, or through the reading of Holy Scripture, or through a striking piece of art or music, or in any of a host of different ways.

Perhaps we find that our encounter with Christ comes most often in one particular way. How does Christ come to you?