WCC reiterates calls for immediate ceasefire in Syria

 Photo: Peter Williams/WCC

Photo: Peter Williams/WCC

In a 16 April statement, the World Council of Churches (WCC) urged the international community to find a way to break the cycle of violence in Syria. The statement comes two days after the USA, France and the UK carried out missile strikes following a suspected Syrian government chemical weapons attack.


“A just and sustainable peace for all Syrians can only be brought about through a political solution,” the WCC statement reads. “It is intolerable that atrocities are still being perpetrated against civilians. The UN Security Council has repeatedly failed to adopt sufficiently strong and consistent measures to put an end to these atrocities, to implement a durable ceasefire, to ensure respect for international law and accountability for all those who have committed war crimes and crimes against humanity, including the use of chemical weapons.”


With the escalation of conflict, the WCC reiterated its previous calls for an immediate ceasefire, unconditional humanitarian access to all regions in Syria, the commitment of all parties to respecting international law and to seeking peace through dialogue and a political process rather than by armed force, the resumption of the UN-led Geneva peace process, and the prompt return in safety and dignity for all civilians who have been forcibly displaced from their homes and lands.


“WCC member churches in Syria and the region will have an important role to play in healing wounded memories and in bringing all Syrians together in a common narrative, for the preservation of Syria's rich diversity and the restoration of social cohesion,” the statement concluded. “In this, the WCC assures the churches in Syria that the ecumenical family will accompany them together with the whole people of Syria on this path, in working for a just peace and for human dignity.” [WCC News]

GDPR: What is it all about?

 www.freeimages.com

www.freeimages.com

The General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) is a new regulation which aims to harmonise data privacy and protection laws across Europe. It is coming into effect on 25th May and will impact us all; it will also continue to apply in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland following Brexit.

GDPR aims to ensure that our personal data is used in a lawful, transparent and fair way. Personal data is any information about a living individual that can identify them such as their name, address, date of birth, PPS or National Insurance number, and phone number. Sensitive personal data includes very private and confidential information about an individual and must be treated with the utmost respect. It includes information about a person’s racial or ethnic origin, political opinions, religious belief, and physical or mental health, and also data relating to children aged under 16.

Each organisation within the Church of Ireland, including every parish unit, will need to:

1. agree who is in charge of managing data protection;
2. become accountable by reviewing all the personal information held;
3. develop policies, processes and notices; and
4. communicate – be informed and talk to staff, parishioners and other contacts.

The Representative Church Body is currently holding a number of seminars on GDPR and parish accounts. [Church of Ireland Press Office]

Bishop of Cashel in favour of Republic of Ireland abortion law change

 Bishop Michael Burrows

Bishop Michael Burrows

In a letter to his diocese, the Bishop of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory, the Rt Rev Michael Burrows, has said that he will be voting for the repeal of the Republic of Ireland Constitution's 8th Amendment (on abortion) because he believes that "the text of the Eighth is incorrigibly flawed". 

He adds: "While I may be anxious about what may happen next, I believe sufficiently in parliamentary democracy to hand the matter to legislators and indeed to trust them – that is their duty and their vocation. 

"As I said at the Citizens’ Assembly, it would be tragic if the cynicism that often seems (largely unfairly) to surround politicians made us less than mindful of the privilege of living in a parliamentary democracy. 

"It has always been the practice of the Church of Ireland to pray unceasingly for our legislators – in the coming months they may need that prayer perhaps more than ever."

Archbishops oppose Dublin government propoals for abortion law

 Leinster House, Dublin

Leinster House, Dublin

The following statement has been issued by the Church of Ireland Archbishops of Armagh and Dublin, Drs Richard Clarke and Michael Jackson:


‘We offer the following remarks for the consideration of members of the Church of Ireland:

‘We have previously expressed our concern that the forthcoming Constitutional referendum is being understood as something akin to an opinion poll on the complex issue of abortion. However, now that the Government has made known the general scheme of a Bill which it would introduce should the referendum on the repeal of Article 40.3.3 of the Constitution of Ireland be passed, voters face a stark decision.


‘Although it is true that the present provision under the Constitution has proved less than satisfactory in some respects, and we suggested the possibility of a modification to the present Constitutional position, what is now being proposed by the Government – if the Article is repealed – is unrestricted access to abortion up to twelve weeks of pregnancy.


‘As we have said before (in our statement of 5th February – and we also refer to the wider comments made in that statement about the need for pastoral care for women, their partners and their families, and for improved support services and greater investment in medical and mental health services), unrestricted access to abortion in the first twelve weeks of pregnancy, or indeed at any stage, is not an ethical position we can accept. There is, for Christians, a very clear witness in the Scriptures that all human life, including before physical birth, has a sacred dignity in the eyes of God.


‘We therefore ask Church members to think through the issues involved carefully and with prayer over these coming weeks.’ [Church of Ireland Press Office]

Anglican Churches in sub-Saharan Africa praised for anti-Malaria fight

 Community health volunteers are helping to tackle the spread of Malaria (Photo: Anglican Alliance)

Community health volunteers are helping to tackle the spread of Malaria (Photo: Anglican Alliance)

Anglican bishops from Zimbabwe, Zambia, Namibia and Angola have taken part in a round-table discussion with health ministers, scientists and field-staff to discuss ways of curbing malaria, a preventable disease which kills more than 400,000 people a year.

The two-day meeting in Victoria Falls was organised by the Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative, which has been working for almost a decade to support malaria control and elimination programs in “last mile” communities.

Its co-founder, J C Flowers, the US-based investment manager and philanthropist, stressed the important role of Anglican Churches in eliminating malaria from hard to reach communities, saying: “There is still much work to do, but the extensive focus on community engagement and ownership by the Anglican Church here in sub-Saharan Africa has contributed to significant advances in the fight against malaria.”

The Director of Zimbabwe’s National Malaria Control Programme, Dr Joseph Mberikunashi, urged the round-table participants to curb the recent resurgence of malaria in the region. “There is great need to develop new tools and more importantly make use of the new technologies as they becomes available,” he said.

The Bishop of Lusaka, David Njovu, said that the Church was able to mobilise people around malaria prevention and treatment because of its active presence in communities most affected by the disease.

Anglican Churches have been effective in engaging thousands of malaria volunteers who are responsible for delivering malaria education, testing and treatment services, he said, adding: “The Church is found in most communities of Zambia. This gives it a comparative advantage in the fight against malaria in the sense that people who volunteer to participate in the fight do so because they are motivated by love but also to protect their own community.”

The round-table was attended by Bev Jullien, chief executive of the Mothers’ Union, and Rachel Carnegie, co-executive director of the Anglican Alliance. After the meeting, Rachel Carnegie said: “It was profoundly impressive to see how the volunteers in this malaria programme were extending the reach of the health services to eradicate malaria.”

The Isdell:Flowers Cross Border Malaria Initiative focuses its efforts on border communities in Namibia, Angola, Zimbabwe and Zambia in partnership with community and traditional leaders, Anglican Churches and faith-based communities, national governments and multilateral donors. [ACNS]

Korean church leaders welcome news of US-North Korea summit

  Candle-light vigil for peace in the Korean peninsula. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/WCC, December 2017

Candle-light vigil for peace in the Korean peninsula. Photo by Paul Jeffrey/WCC, December 2017

On 9 March the National Council of Churches of Korea (NCCK) commented on the news that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), while agreeing to cease missile tests, has requested a summit meeting with the United States, and that President Trump has agreed to a meeting with the DPRK by May.


Rev. Haekjib Ra, chair of the NCCK Reconciliation and Reunification Committee, said the NCCK remains convinced that dialogue is the only way to resolve military conflict on the Korean Peninsula peacefully.


“Therefore, we request that the two countries, US and North Korea, use this summit meeting to find the correct path to reconciliation and peace,” Ra commented. “Furthermore, we truly hope that the two sides will build trust with each other without threat of invasion and that this might become an opportunity to conclude a peace treaty that guarantees mutual peaceful coexistence.” [WCC News]

Billy Graham had 'important role for many people'

 Billy Graham visits the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, in June 1955.  

Billy Graham visits the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey, in June 1955.
 

The death of the Rev. Dr Billy Graham marks a milestone in the landscape of churches worldwide, as he was a highly respected church leader and preacher of the gospel in the USA and around the world, reflected Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, general secretary the World Council of Churches (WCC).


Dr Graham died on 21 February at age 99.


“He has played an important role for many people in their encounters with the gospel and with Christian faith,” said Dr Tveit. “He was an evangelist at heart.”


While Dr Tveit never met Billy Graham personally, Dr Tveit’s predecessor former WCC general secretarythe  Rev. Dr Konrad Raiser, did. So did former WCC general secretary Willem Visser ‘t Hooft, as Dr Graham visited the Ecumenical Institute at Bossey in the mid-1950s.


Dr Tveit continued: “The World Council of Churches and Billy Graham were not always in agreement on questions of how Christianity should contribute to work for peace and justice in the world, but he respected a clear position and worked sincerely on a wide range of issues.”


Evangelical Christians in particular have much to thank Graham for, Dr Tveit said. “He gave Biblical depth and weight to the evangelical context – something that is dearly needed, not least in our time today – in the US and elsewhere.” [WCC News]

Visiting WCC, Archbishop of Canterbury speaks on “ecumenism of action”

 (Photo: Peter Williams/WCC)

(Photo: Peter Williams/WCC)

During a visit to the World Council of Churches (WCC) in Geneva on 16 February, Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby spoke on an “ecumenism of action” as he also congratulated the WCC on its 70th anniversary.


“Bi- and multi-lateral theological dialogue over the course of the twentieth century bore much fruit but at times it could be appear to be akin to diplomatic renegotiation of borders: the barriers to communion still exist but not where we thought they did,” said Archbishop Welby.

“The underlying problem with these discussions, however, is that they are what I would call negotiation of the frontiers.”


The negotiation of the ways in which frontiers are set down, and in which they are crossed, is one of the most difficult aspects of international relations at times of tension, he continued.


“Frontiers imply difference,” he explained. “They say that on one side of the frontier there is the ‘other’.”


Ecumenism that looks as though it is about the negotiation of frontiers is an ecumenism that is based on theological foundations of sand, he said. “Indeed, one might argue that it is not based on foundations at all,” he said. “Negotiated frontiers start with barriers.”


One of the great gifts of the ecumenical movement is that it has allowed Christians from different denominations, who might once have kept separate from one another, to get to know one another, the Archbishop reflected.


“There were times before, say, the 1960s, when people of one denomination might never have entered the church building of another,” he said. “In England today, and I am sure it is similar in other parts of the world, many congregations are made up of people who started their Christian life in other denominations.”


The result of this is that traditions, ideas and worship styles from one church are brought into the other, he noted. “The wind of the spirit which has brought such movements into reality, is blowing ever more powerfully,” he said. “In many places it is becoming a hurricane.”


He added that an ecumenism of action says that faced with evil, we come together in love and show that we are one.


“There is a great danger that the ecumenism of action turns into the ecumenism of being useful,” Archbishop Welby  cautioned. “We can easily fall into the trap of believing that if we cannot agree, then we can at least do something together that is nice and useful.”


But this is massively to understate and to misrepresent the nature of the ecumenism of action, he said. “The world is crying out in need,” he said. “We can become too pragmatic about this, forgetting its theological foundations.”


The ecumenism of action is also based in this reality that need does not wait for theological agreement, but for the compassion of Christ, he added. “When non-believers meet missionaries who do not agree among themselves, even though they all appeal to Christ, will they be in a position to receive the true message?” he asked. “It is not the case that an ecumenism of action leaves theology outside the room.”


One of the genius characteristics of the WCC was, from very early on, to hold together the theological, diaconal and evangelistic ecumenical movements, the Archbishop concluded.


“Theological dialogue and discussion brings people closer together and sets up the framework for joint action,” he said. “Joint action brings people closer together, and sets up the relationship that enables theological dialogue and discussion.” [WCC News]

Network of Christian entrepreneurs commits to faith in business

 WCC programme executive Athena Peralta addresses the conference (Photo:  Geneva Agape Foundation)  

WCC programme executive Athena Peralta addresses the conference (Photo:  Geneva Agape Foundation)
 

Leaders from more than 20 international and national associations of Christian entrepreneurs from 60 countries and diverse Christian traditions gathered at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva from 22-23 January for a conference titled, “Faith-based Entrepreneurs: Stronger Together.”
They were accompanied by representatives from churches, faith-based development organisations and research institutions. Organised by the Geneva Agape Foundation (GAF) in cooperation with the World Council of Churches (WCC), the conference reflected on two important questions: How can we as Christian entrepreneurs and business people live out our faith? How can businesses contribute to building a fairer and more sustainable planet?
In the face of tremendous global challenges, namely widespread poverty, deepening socio-economic inequalities and a warming climate, “there is an urgent need to build a different economy – a decarbonised economy that provides for the needs of all people,” observed Prof. Isabel Apawo Phiri, deputy general secretary of the WCC, in her opening address.  Here, “businesses and start-ups – working together with communities and governments – could make a difference,” Phiri said.
For Rolando Medeiros, president of UNIAPAC International, a federation of Christian business associations in over 40 countries inspired by Catholic social thought, business ought to be viewed as a noble vocation. In his keynote address, Medeiros called for “a corporate culture where the purpose of a business firm is not simply to make a profit, but is to be found in its very existence as a community who offer their talents, skills, and knowledge to help build and fulfil a purpose of common good.”
“Profit is a regulator of the life of a business, but it is not the only one; other human and moral factors must also be considered which, in the long term, are at least equally important for the life of a business and at the core of turning business into a noble vocation,” Medeiros added.
Pastor John Enelamah, founder and director of Apostles in the Marketplace based in Nigeria, observed that practising faith in business can have a transformative impact on society.
Prof. Yu Bin from Minzu University in China spoke of Christian entrepreneurship in the Chinese context. “There is much in common between Protestant teachings, which see work as prayer and the workplace as a space to glorify God, and ancient Chinese wisdom,” he said.
The international conference, moderated by Prof. Christoph Stückelberger, director of GAF, adopted the “Faith in Business Geneva Declaration” with 12 commitments across denominations, stating among others:
“We are committed to serve through creating dignified jobs and quality products, innovating, ensuring just working conditions, paying taxes, protecting the environment, investing in communities and in ecological sustainability, and supporting philanthropic and diaconal projects, among others.”
On finance, “we are committed to make business finances and especially investment policies and practices consistent with our faith-based values and virtues (Luke 16:13). We commit to divesting from activities that destroy the social and ecological fabric of life and to investing in activities that contribute to social and ecological wellbeing.”
Further, “we are committed to support the implementation of the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). They concretise the works of love (Matt. 25: 35-36).”
Participants agreed to continue cooperation and networking among associations of Christian entrepreneurs. Prof. Cui Wantian from China, founder and president of the GAF, closed the conference by announcing the 2nd International Conference on “Faith in Business: Stronger Together” on 21-22 January 2019 in Geneva. [WCC News]

In visit to China, WCC focuses on unity

  Photo: Peniel Rajkumar/WCC

Photo: Peniel Rajkumar/WCC

Christian unity was the overarching theme of a visit from a World Council of Churches (WCC)  delegation with the China Christian Council (CCC) and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) in Shanghai on 9 January.


“How can Christians realise and respond to Christ’s call to be one in our time and context?” asked WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit during his meeting with CCC and TSPM leaders.

Tveit and his delegation were received by a delegation led by Rev. Feng Gao, CCC president, and Rev. Baoping Kan, CCC vice president and general secretary.


“We are called to raise and revitalize our work on the unity of the churches for the sake of the unity of humankind,” Tveit said. “The example and experience of post-denominational Christianity in China offers a significant entry point to explore questions of unity further as the WCC reflects on how churches across the world can move forward towards a unity which is not self-serving but which can be shared for the wellbeing of others”.


Welcoming the delegation, Gao expressed his joy and gratitude for the consistent support and inspiration that the CCC has received from the WCC. “As a developing church faced with its own challenges the CCC remains committed to its Christian call and witness in accordance with biblical teaching and through its various ministries. We thank the WCC for this visit, which is an encouraging sign and assure you of our contribution to the cause of Christian unity”.


Kan outlined the historical association of the CCC with the WCC, since resuming its full membership in the WCC in 1991 and its contributions to the theme of unity. “The CCC has strived to live out a life of common witness in the Chinese post-denominational context by emphasising the commonalities while holding in proper balance the respect for differences and the common striving for united witness” said Kan.


On 10 January, the WCC delegation also visited the East China Theological seminary, one of the five regional seminaries of the CCC, where they were welcomed by the vice president of the seminary Rev. Xu Yulan and other members of the faculty. Rev Yulan introduced the seminary which was started in 1985 to the delegation and outlined the development of the seminary and its curriculum as an attempt to respond to the needs of the growing church in China.


“Through its various courses the seminary is committed to the training of candidates to both lay and ordained ministries of the church.” Yulan also explained how the seminary seeks to ensure that its theological education is deeply rooted in context especially through its programme on sacred theology and music where students are encouraged to develop lyrics and liturgy which reflect the Chinese context and make use of Chinese musical resources in developing their theologies. The seminary also places high emphasis on personal formation.


“The cultivation of spirituality, morality, wisdom, physical performance, fellowship and personal merits are also considered important in the process of ministerial formation,” said Yulan.


Rev. Sang Chang, Asia president of the WCC and a member of the WCC delegation expressed her happiness about the high proportion of women students as well as female leadership in the seminary and in Chinese churches in general. “As a former theological education and a strong proponent of women’s leadership I am encouraged to see women in positions of leadership in the Chinese churches”, said Chang, former president of the EWHA women’s university in Seoul. “This is a clear sign of the discipleship of equals”.


Commenting in general on her visit to China, Dr Chang said, “I came here with an openness of mind and readiness to learn. The experience so far has been deeply inspiring. The story of the Chinese churches will make a great contribution to the goal of full unity of the ecumenical movement”.


Tveit also reflected on the visit in the context of the 70th anniversary celebrations of the WCC. “The context of the 70th anniversary of the WCC is fortuitous for us to explore further what the call to be one means for Christians across the world in the midst of the changing political, economic and historical dynamics of the world order. The experience that the Chinese churches provide have the potential to address questions about the shape that Christian mission, diakonia and witness should take in our world today as living expressions of our  common  call to unity in a fresh manner,” Tveit said.  [WCC News]

WCC says future of Jerusalem must be a shared one

future of Jerusalem.jpg

World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit addressed the status of Jerusalem at the international "World Conference in Support of Jerusalem" on 17-18 January in Cairo, Egypt, organized by the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar, Sheikh al-Tayyib, under the auspices of President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi.


In his address, Tveit stressed in particular how “The future of Jerusalem must be a shared one. It cannot be the exclusive possession of one faith over against the others, or of one people over against the other. Jerusalem is, and must continue to be, a city of three religions and two peoples.”


“Jerusalem is regarded as a holy city and loved, genuinely and deeply loved, by all three Abrahamic faiths – Jews, Christians and Muslims,” Tveit said. “That love and profound attachment must be respected and affirmed in any solution that might be envisaged, if it is to be viable.”


“In the New Testament, we read of how Jesus Christ wept over this city with love and longing. “If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!” Tveit reflected quoting Luke 19:42, and continued “Following Jesus’ word and example means to speak truth, to seek justice, and to be peacemakers in the world’s conflicts and controversies.”


But, said Tveit, “Alongside this we must recognize the extraordinarily complex layering of Jerusalem’s history and culture. History shows that the involvement in this region of these three religions has not brought just peace for all. That, unfortunately, is still true today.”


“As believers in one almighty God, we should explore together what it means to express the love of God in this conflict in which the three monotheistic religions and their communities are involved and affected. There will be no peace in Jerusalem unless all three religions are respected and involved in the solution,” Tveit added.


“Let us together be contributors to a just peace, not to a perpetual conflict”.


The conference gathers prominent national, regional and international representatives such as Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, Pope of Alexandria and Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church  Tawadros II, Arab Parliament chief Meshaal bin Fahm al-Salmi and President of the Kuwait National Assembly  Marzouq Al-Ghanim and Ambassador Ahmed Aboul Gheit, secretary general of the Arab League. [WCC News]

WCC delegation visits China

 "It’s a historic journey in many ways, and comes as a follow up to the meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016", said Rev. Dr Tveit.  (Photo: Marianne Ejdersten/WCC )  

"It’s a historic journey in many ways, and comes as a follow up to the meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016", said Rev. Dr Tveit. (Photo: Marianne Ejdersten/WCC)
 

World Council of Churches (WCC) general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit and a WCC delegation will visit member churches in China 7-16 January. The historic visit will begin the celebration of the WCC’s 70thanniversary. The WCC delegation, in addition to Tveit, includes WCC Asia president Dr Sang Chang and Rev. Dr Peniel Rajumkar, WCC programme executive for Interreligious Dialogue.


The delegation will visit Shanghai and meet with the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement, as well as with the leadership and students at the East China Theological Seminary. They will also travel to Xi’an and visit Shaanxi Bible School and Jing Xin Church.
The Three-Self Patriotic Movement is a Protestant church in the People's Republic of China, as well as one of the largest Protestant bodies in the world.


In Beijing, the general secretary is going to preach in Chongwenmen Church, on 7 January on the theme “Jesus Christ, the joy of the World.” Dr Chang  will preach on 14 January in Gangwashi Church.


The WCC delegation will also meet with Chinese religious leaders and representatives from the State Administration for Religious Affairs.


Tveit emphasized the significance of this visit: “This invitation to visit our member churches in China is highly appreciated and received with great joy widely in the WCC and the ecumenical family. It’s a historic journey in many ways, and comes as a follow up to the meeting of the Executive Committee in 2016. I am eager to meet more representatives from churches, particularly students and youth who represent the church of the future. “


Tveit added: “As we are staring our year of the WCC’s 70th Anniversary in China, we show that the WCC is a living fellowship with a rich legacy now active and open for the calling of the ecumenical movement in the 21st century.”


He said also: “China has the world’s largest population and is very significant partner in addressing the global challenges of our time. The church in China has a very significant role in shaping the Christian witness and service in our time, both in China and in the global fellowship.”
The WCC Executive Committee visited China 17-24 November 2016. The visit was hosted by the China Christian Council and the Three-Self Patriotic Movement. This was the first meeting of a WCC governing body in China. Since the 7th assembly of the WCC in Canberra in 1991, the China Christian Council has been a full member of the fellowship of the WCC.


Within three decades, China may be home to the largest Christian population in the world. Since China opened up to the world in the late 1970s, tolerance for religion has gradually increased, and religious life prevails in China and the numbers of baptized Christians in China have grown significantly.  WCC leaders acknowledged at the executive committee meeting evidence that China has experienced enormous economic growth over the last decades of peace and stability in the country.


“Millions have been lifted out of poverty by this growth, raising renewed hope of the possibility of eradicating the most extreme forms of poverty globally,” said Tveit. “In addition, we noted with appreciation China’s example and leadership in ratifying the Paris Agreement on climate change and in scaling up its investment in developing renewable energy.”


Tveit and the rest of the Executive Committee expressed their gratitude at seeing and hearing about the witness and diakonia of the churches in China.


“We have been greatly impressed by the churches’ outreach to people of all ages, the commitment to ecumenical and interfaith relations and cooperation, and the scale and breadth of the social services provided by the churches and their institutions,” Tveit said in 2016.
Now he expresses the expectation for this visit: “We will be inspired by seeing and hearing what the church is doing in this country, and we aim at an even stronger cooperation from the worldwide fellowship with the church here.” [WCC News]

Recognizing Jerusalem as Israeli capital threatens peace - global church leaders

 Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

Christians from throughout the world want it known that they believe the decision of US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of the State of Israel is a serious blow to efforts for a just and sustainable peace in the Holy Land, and risks provoking further conflict in the region.

The World Council of Churches (WCC) has long viewed Jerusalem as a city shared by two peoples and holy to three religions. This position was reaffirmed in a statement issued on 6 December by WCC general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit expressing grave concern over President Trump’s announcement.

“Such a step breaks with the longstanding international consensus, and almost seven decades of established American policy, that the status of Jerusalem remains to be settled,” stated Tveit.

“It also pre-empts a negotiated resolution of this most difficult issue in any final peace agreement, which must be achieved between Israelis and Palestinians themselves.”

On the same date, the heads of local churches representing Anglican, Lutheran, Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians in Jerusalem and the Holy Land wrote an open letter to President Trump.

In this letter they said that “we have been following, with concern, the reports about the possibility of changing how the United States understands and deals with the status of Jerusalem.

“We are certain that such steps will yield increased hatred, conflict, violence and suffering in Jerusalem and the Holy Land, moving us farther from the goal of unity and deeper toward destructive division.”

The “solemn advice” and plea of the Jerusalem church leaders to the U.S. president is “for the United States to continue recognizing the present international status of Jerusalem”.

They said any sudden changes would cause irreparable harm.

“The Holy City can be shared and fully enjoyed once a political process helps ...liberate the hearts of all people, that live within it, from the conditions of conflict and destructiveness that they are experiencing,” they asserted.

The church leaders also appealed to President Trump in the spirit of Christmas, the “feast of peace…for Jerusalem not to be deprived from peace”, asking him to “listen to the song of the angels”.

The National Council of Churches of Christ in the USA (NCC) has also affirmed their opposition to the U.S. decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.

They reminded the president that in 1980 the NCC adopted a policy statement on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In that statement, the NCC said, “Unilateral actions by any one group in relation to Jerusalem will only perpetuate antagonisms that will threaten the peace of the city and possibly of the region.” And in 2007, the NCC again affirmed the vision of a shared Jerusalem.

“We reiterate those statements today. For decades, U.S. presidents have acted with prudence and caution regarding Jerusalem. President Trump’s actions threaten to unleash violence throughout the region and severely damage any remaining U.S. diplomatic credibility to act as a broker for a peace agreement.”

The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) also sent to an open letter to President Trump.

The LWF president, Archbishop Dr Panti Filibus Musa of Nigeria, and general secretary, Rev. Dr Martin Junge, expressed “deep dismay over the news” that the U.S. is considering relocating its embassy from Tel Aviv.

“This unilateral action contravenes the long-held position of the international community according to which Jerusalem is a city shared by two people and three religions,” the LWF leaders said.

They express deep concern that “such a move will thwart the prospects for Israeli-Palestinian Peace and trigger widespread violence in the Middle East and the rest of the world. The Middle East and the world need peace, not more violence.”

Pope Francis appeared for wisdom and prudence to prevail over Jerusalem. “I pray to the Lord that its identity is preserved and strengthened for the benefit of the Holy Land, the Middle East and the whole world and that wisdom and prudence prevail to prevent new elements of tension from being added to a global context already convulsed by so many cruel conflicts” he said.

In South Africa, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu also condemned President Trump's decision regarding the status of Jerusalem.

“God is weeping over President Donald Trump's inflammatory and discriminatory recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. It is our responsibility to tell Mr Trump that he is wrong,” said Tutu.

The Catholic peace movement Pax Christi International said it is “appalled” by Trump’s decision, due to “the devastating consequences it will have for reaching a just resolution to the long-standing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” [WCC News]

 

Archbishop calls for tolerance, harmony and mutual respect in the Holy City of Jerusalem

Archbishop Suheil Dawani.jpg

The Anglican Archbishop in Jerusalem, Archbishop Suheil Dawani (pictured), has called for tolerance, harmony and mutual respect for all in the Holy City of Jerusalem. He made his comments in a sermon preached at St George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem on the second Sunday in Advent.

Reflecting on the Gospel story of John the Baptist, he said that his voice “echoes in the wilderness”, calling the people “into ways of justice and peace.” The prophet’s message today, he said, might be difficult to hear or digest. “Its message may require us to sacrifice some of the things we hold dear,” he said. “We know that the prophets throughout the ages asked difficult questions – Isaiah, Elijah, Amos, Micah. They had messages that were delivered to people who did not like the message.”


Archbishop Suheil said: “We do not know what the future of this land is. For many centuries people have suffered here under different regimes; and they are suffering again today. The young and the old are fearful of the future. Many say – ‘what shall we do?’ or ‘what can we do?’

“We can do much – we can keep heart, we can be strong, we can keep our faith alive, knowing tome-what-may, God is with us and he is the Prince of Peace revealed in the manger as a humble and beautiful child.

“We can . . . prepare ourselves this advent for this Prince of Peace, by ensuring we live in peace. We can remedy the disputes we have with our neighbours; we can ensure we care for the poor in our communities. We can, through our actions day-by-day, work for a better place.

“In doing this, we do prepare the way for the Prince of Peace, and through our very actions we become God’s prophets in this world. We are steadfast in his love and his faithfulness, confident that through the very love of Christ, righteousness and peace will indeed kiss each other.”

He continued: “The voice that cries in the wilderness is addressed to us at these difficult times. We hear it especially during the time of advent – when as a community, we are called to a change of heart. During this week we have heard of a change.


“We need to listen to a different voice that speaks deep into our understanding of what justice is for this Holy City, a place recognised as sacred to all – to Jew, to Christian, to Muslim; to Israeli and to Palestinian. A City that by its existence speaks of peace and of harmony, and of respect to all humanity; a place that can be marked in some way as a capital not just for one nation, but for two, for Israel and for Palestine.


“This could help create a place of tolerance, of respect, and for all to flourish.”


Archbishop Suheil has a long history of involvement in peace negotiations between Israelis and the Palestinians. When he was vicar of Ramallah, he hosted peace-talks between the then-Israeli Prime Minister, Shimon Peres, and the leader of the Palestinian Authority, Yasser Arafat in St Andrew’s Church Hall. [ACNS]

Irish Council of Churches visit to European institutions

A delegation from the Irish Council of Churches made a study visit to the EU institutions from 28–30 November 2017. The visit included meetings with officials from the European Commission, Members of the European Parliament, the Northern Ireland Executive Office, representatives of the Task Force on Article 50 negotiations with the UK, and the Irish Permanent Representation. The visit was organised and facilitated by the EU Commission office in Belfast.

Speaking at the conclusion of the visit ICC President Bishop John McDowell said: “Following meetings with MEPs and EU officials in both jurisdictions on the island of Ireland, the Irish Council of Churches was encouraged to make a visit to the EU institutions to explore issues that are of particular concern to our member churches in an EU context. Under Article 17 of the Lisbon Treaty the European Union made a commitment to “an open, transparent and regular dialogue” with churches and non–confessional organisations. This provides a valuable opportunity for faith communities to share concerns with policy makers, and outline the values they believe should shape and inform policy decisions at EU level.

“Our agenda for the visit was wide–ranging, shaped by the many different forms of social outreach being undertaken by our member churches across the island of Ireland. We were keen to learn more about efforts to ensure that the most vulnerable members of society are protected through initiatives such as the Charter of Fundamental Rights, the Social Pillar and the work of the Rights of the Child unit. In the wider global context we discussed the efforts of the EU to promote freedom of religion and belief through its External Action Service and the responsibility of member states to ensure refugees are protected in accordance with the Geneva Convention.

“We were acutely conscious that our visit was taking place during a critical phase in the Article 50 negotiation process. We were encouraged by the level of interest in, and awareness of, the unique needs and circumstances of Northern Ireland. Those involved in the negotiations from the different EU institutions have clearly devoted considerable time to the study of these questions, and that concern was greatly appreciated by our delegation. What we heard underlined the considerable investment made by the EU in the Peace Process. Not only has there been a significant financial investment through the creation of a unique peace funding model for Northern Ireland, but great attention has been devoted to creating the context in which new relationships can develop, bringing communities together.

“We should not allow these achievements to be undermined by the current political challenges, notwithstanding the complexity of the issues currently being negotiated. Our local church communities have experienced first hand the effort that has been required build new relationships of trust in a post–conflict society. Considerable care must be taken to avoid language that threatens to weaken social cohesion and exacerbate divisions. Regardless of our political allegiances and national identity, we can all acknowledge that the protection of peace and stability in Northern Ireland is in the best interests of the UK, Ireland and the rest of the European Union.”

The Irish Council of Churches would like to thank Ms Colette Fitzgerald and her team in the EU Commission Office in Belfast, Ms Isabelle Van Keirsbilick and her team in DG Communication, Vice–President Mairead McGuinness and her staff in the European Parliament, and all those who shared their time and expertise with our delegation. [C of I Press Office]

Zimbabwe church leaders issue statement

  The Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.(Photo: ZCC)

The Revd Dr Kenneth Mtata, General Secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches.(Photo: ZCC)

On 15 November, the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations issued a statement entitled “Zimbabwe Between a Crisis and a Kairos (Opportunity): The Pastoral Message of the Churches on the Current Situation.”

Zimbabwe has been facing political and military unrest that continues to develop and unfold this week. “Many Zimbabweans are confused and anxious about what has transpired and continues to unfold in our nation,” reads the statement, delivered on video by Rev. Dr Kenneth Mtata, general secretary of the Zimbabwe Council of Churches. “While the changes have been rapid in the last few days, the real deterioration has been visible for everyone to see for a long time, especially during the potential political rallies of the ruling party, coupled with the deteriorating socio-economic situation.”

The heads of churches call for prayer, peace, respect for human dignity, a transitional government of national unity, and national dialogue. “The church derives its mandate from its calling as a sign of hope,” the statement reads. “We are the people of God who are being called to champion the spirit of reconciliation.”

Abrasive and exclusionary politics threaten the already weak cohesion of society, the statement continues. “We see the current crisis not just as a crisis in which we are helpless,” continues the statement. “We see the current arrangement as an opportunity for the birth of a new nation.”

The nation’s challenge is one of a lost of trust in the legitimacy of national processes and institutions. “There is a strong sense that our hard-earned constitution is not being taken seriously,” the statement reads. “There is a general feeling that the wheels of democracy have become stuck in the mud of personalized politics where the generality of the citizenry plays an insignificant role.”

World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, who last visited the churches in Zimbabwe in May this year, encourages churches around the world to pray for peace and justice in Zimbabwe. “We are thankful and encouraged by the way churches in Zimbabwe stand together in solidarity in this difficult situation, and we join them in praying for peaceful developments in the country,” said Tveit. [WCC News]

Presiding Bishop speaks on Texas church shooting

 Bishop Michael Curry

Bishop Michael Curry

“I offer this prayer for those who have died, for those who are suffering, for those who are still healing from physical wounds, and the emotional, spiritual and mental scar,” Presiding Bishop Michael B. Curry stated following the 5th November shooting at the First Baptist Church, Sutherland Springs, Texas. “We pray for those who suffer and for those who have died. Will you pray with me?”

Bishop Curry offered his comments during a visit to the Scottish Episcopal Church in Aberdeen, Scotland. The text follows:

“I’m in Aberdeen, Scotland, where last night we had a service at St. Andrew’s Cathedral, giving God thanks for the deep roots of the Episcopal Church here in the Scottish Episcopal Church. The Scottish Episcopal Church is indeed the mother church of the Episcopal Church, and we give thanks for the ties that bind us together.

“But even as we gave thanks last evening, we received word that in Sutherland Springs, Texas, a gunman entered the First Baptist Church, and now some 26 people have been killed and many more wounded and afflicted. I offer this prayer for those who have died, for those who are suffering, for those who are still healing from physical wounds, and the emotional, spiritual and mental scars. As I pray and invite you to pray the prayer the Lord taught us. I invite you to pray that God’s will might be done, that God might guide us to find a better way, to find concrete steps so that this kind of thing doesn’t happen anymore. But above all, we pray for those who suffer and for those who have died. Will you pray with me?

“Our Father, Who art in heaven
Hallowed be Thy Name,
Thy kingdom come,
Thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread,
and forgive us our trespasses,
as we forgive those who trespass against us;
and lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
The power and the glory,
For ever and ever. Amen.

“The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face to shine upon you and be gracious to you. The Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you and give us all his peace this day and forevermore. Amen.” [Episcopal Church Office of Public Affairs]

Reformation 500 - Archbishop Welby's sermon

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The sermon from Archbishop Justin Welby during a service at Westminster Abbey on Tuesday 31 October 2017, to mark 500 years since the start of the Reformation.


‘O God, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts. Amen.’

First I would like to thank the churches who are here today for the invitation to speak, and the Dean for kindly agreeing to that. Thank you, Mr Dean.

The gift that came through Martin Luther was first a moment of hope, then of controversy, then of politics and finally of war. Yet in the providence and grace of God it brought afresh to every Christian disciple the possibility of saying, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God to salvation.”

Through the Reformation we learned that we are saved entirely, confidently and unfailingly by grace alone, through faith, and not by our own works. From the poorest to the richest all will come at the end to stand before God, only with the words of the hymn, “Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to your cross I cling.”

Through the Reformation the church found itself again confronted with its need to be weak and powerless; to come with nothing to the Cross and to admit that, in the words of the Collect in the Book of Common Prayer for the 19th Sunday after Trinity, “without thee we are not able to please thee”.

Through the Reformation the church found again a love for the scriptures, and seizing the opportunity of printing, gave them afresh to the world – telling every person that they themselves should read them and seek the wisdom of God to understand them. In doing so the church released not only reformation but revolution, as confidence grew amongst the poor and oppressed that they too were the recipients of the promise of God of freedom and hope.

Through the Reformation the vast mass of people across Europe and then around the world were drawn to receive the fruits of a missionary movement that did not indefinitely suffer tyranny, and that would not unquestioningly bow the knee to authorities and hierarchies.

Through the Reformation the world changed; the gospel spread; counter-reformation renewed the places that the reformation had not reached; there was a competitive drive in missionary endeavour. What is not to celebrate?

Well, said Eeyore to Tigger, or the historian to the enthusiast. For each of the things that came through the Reformation – good as they are, precious beyond compare even – for each there is also a dark side.

With new vigour came conflict.

With individual understanding of grace came individualism and division.

With the knowledge that “without thee we are not able to please thee” came, through our sin and weakness, what so often we add under our breath: “But actually, I’m a lot more able to please thee than those heretics over there.”

With literacy and freedom came new ways of cruelty refined by science.

With missionaries bearing the faith came soldiers bearing the flag.

We could go on batting the ball to and fro, as historians and theologians have done for centuries. The point is that the Reformation reopened to the whole church eternal truths that are indispensable, and to which we must all continue to hold, and not only to hold but to present afresh addressing the life of today.

In this very pulpit in November 2015, at the opening service for the General Synod of the Church of England, the preacher to the Papal household, Fr de Cantalamessa, said:

“Justification by faith, for example, ought to be preached by the whole Church – and with more vigour than ever. Not in opposition to good works – the issue is already settled – but rather in opposition to the claim of people today that they can save themselves thanks to their science, technology or their man-made spirituality, without the need for a redeemer coming from outside humanity. Self-justification! I am convinced that if they were alive today this is the way Martin Luther and Thomas Cranmer would preach justification through faith!”

De Cantalamessa was wisely not making points about the rights and wrongs of the Reformation, which is the temptation at times like this. His key point is that in every age the church lives its experience of the current work of God in a historical context. We live amidst political pressures, diverted by the heat of argument and the ferocity of sinful power-seeking and gathering. That was true 500 years ago as the 95 Theses spread across Europe – as did Luther’s bible – at a speed impossible before printing, and feeding on the fuel of the intellectual ferment of the Renaissance.

The good news of Jesus, the gospel, so beautifully and powerfully renewed in the Reformation, is eternal. But its application, as Cantalamessa says, is different at different times. The gospel always speaks to the needs of our times; it is always the word of God. It always speaks prophetically to human pride and sinfulness, of Popes and Archbishops and emperors in the 16th century. Today the gospel speaks to the inequalities of a 21st century world of inequality: of refugees and human trafficking; human arrogance and materialism; in the use of technology as a saviour, rather than as a gift. Our speaking and living of the gospel must, like Martin Luther, be speaking to our world as it is.

The gospel always says that we can add nothing to the work of Christ, and that in Christ God has spoken definitively. That the scriptures witness reliably to the word God has spoken, and that when liberated and trusted they bring human flourishing. At the same time our witness is impeded by our divisions – especially as we live in a world of ever-present competing philosophies, faiths, and approaches to faith or rejections of faith.

So what’s the problem? The problem, as in every age, is us.

In John 17 Jesus prays for unity among the people of God so that the world may know he came from the Father. The gospel is not an idea: it is life, love and transformation – and if the bearers of good news are not transformed into a united and loving life, then they will be unable to convince anyone else that what they say is true. Luther set the gospel free, and as human beings we seek continually to imprison it behind ritual and authority – or to make it serve politics or causes. When we seek to use the gospel for our own ends, rather than to proclaim it as the word of God, then the gospel is not preached and the church divides.

We are called to be united. In our cultures the realities of difference of self-identity formation, of politics, of language, of our history as both oppressors and oppressed, all drive us, today, into self-reinforcing bubbles of mutual indignation and antagonism. Unity is a witness that, through grace received by faith alone, the cosmos has truly changed, because Jesus came from the Father, and because all has changed that we may as human beings find unity and purpose.

The Reformation was a gift of God, not only in itself but as a sign of the faithfulness of God to His work of revealing the good news of Jesus to a world in need, and the faithfulness of God in using His church despite our failings.

What do we do with the gift today? Will we be willing ourselves to be reformed again and always, setting aside our differences because we are caught up in the grace that is found through faith?

Will we find from God alone the strength and grace to be a united blessing to His world, so that our witness of unity in diversity overcomes our fears of each other?

Will we seize afresh in confidence the hope that God who never abandons His church will again reform us, so that the world may see that Jesus came from the Father?

It is already happening in so many ways, and so much has been accomplished. But we have not yet allowed ourselves sufficiently to be captured by the radicality of the gospel that we may bless the world as we should. As we surrender to the God who rescues us sinners, we will most surely find our vocation as the messengers of good news to the world.

“O GOD, forasmuch as without thee we are not able to please thee; Mercifully grant, that thy Holy Spirit may in all things direct and rule our hearts.”

Amen. [ACNS]

The Church in a secularising society

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Address (abbreviated) by Canon Ian Ellis to Affirming Catholicism Ireland, an organisation  founded in 1994 to “uphold the integrity of the Church of Ireland as a Catholic and Reformed Church, affirming Catholic faith and order within the Church of Ireland”.

Church of Ireland Theological Institute, Dublin, 21st October 2017

Last July, Barnabas Fund, an organisation which focuses its work on bringing hope and aid to persecuted Christians around the world, reported happily that two Christian street preachers had been found not guilty at Bristol Crown Court of inciting public disorder. I suppose such reports are somewhat familiar, but there is no doubt that, more often than not, they try our patience because so often they seem to display, quite simply, an aggressive intolerance of religion. Religious people often tend to see such episodes as evidence of not simply a creeping but actually a galloping secularism.

The meaning of 'secular'

However, we must 'hold our horses' here for a moment. It is important to be aware of the more strict meaning of the terms 'secular' and 'secularising' because they are easily misunderstood. Secularism is perhaps typically seen as hostile to religion, or hostile to the Church but it is more accurate to see secularism as hostile to religious privilege in society as opposed to religion per se.

The UK National Secular Society states: “Secularism is a principle that involves two basic propositions. The first is the strict separation of the state from religious institutions. The second is that people of different religions and beliefs are equal before the law.”

As well as promoting the separation of religion from the state, the National Secular Society says it seeks the protection of freedom of religious belief and practice and clearly distinguishes itself from atheism.

This does seem rather benign in that secularism is not presented as a threat to religion, only as seeking to separate religion and the state, a principle that is perhaps most celebrated in the French secular doctrine of laïcité.

However, more loosely used, the terms 'secular' and 'secularism' and 'secularising' are understandable as referring to a drift away from religious influence in society at large. Indeed, explaining 'secularisation' in The Encyclopedia of Ireland (General editor Brian Lalor. Gill & Macmillan, 2003), Michael Hornsby-Smith, emeritus professor of sociology at the University of Surrey and editor of Catholics in England, 1950-2000, describes it as the supposed declining power and influence of religion in the modern world”.

But is growing secularism the cause of a decline in religious adherence and influence or is a growing secular environment simply the result of religious decline?

In the Republic of Ireland, however, the decline of religious influence in national affairs sits somewhat surprisingly against a continued relatively high level of personal religious identification.

In a nutshell, taking Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland together, the 2016 census showed that those so identifying amounted to a total 81% of the overall population, although this was a decline for the two denominations from 87% in 2011. In fact, widening the religious scope, with a large increase in the number of Muslim people, just over that same figure, 87%, of people identified in 2016 as religious.

Recent secularist development in Ireland

In the Republic of Ireland, the 5th Amendment of the Constitution, following a December 1972 referendum, removed – by a considerable 84-16% of the vote - the Constitution's special position of the Roman Catholic Church and recognition of other religious denominations, including the Church of Ireland. At that time, the Church was of course still socially very dominant in Ireland and the change in the Constitution may have been considerably influenced not so much by a secularising trend as by a desire for better relations between the Republic and Northern Ireland at a time when the Troubles were escalating. But, nonetheless, there was a secularising trend also at play.

Colin Barr and Daithí Ó Corráin, of the University of Aberdeen and Dublin City University respectively, write in a chapter in The Cambridge Social History of Modern Ireland (ed. E.F. Biagini & M.E. Daly), 'Catholic Ireland, 1740-2016': "Change and modernisation were the zeitgeist of the 1960s and they gradually dissolved the defensive walls surrounding Irish Catholicism. Over the past half-century a variety of factors combined to transform Irish society and the place of religion within it.” (p. 82) They point to the state's prioritising of economic growth, the establishment of RTE television in December 1961 - with programmes such as the Late Late Show facilitating the questioning of traditional structures of authority and, over time, reducing clerical influence - and the relaxation of the laws on censorship.

The 5th Amendment, enacted in January 1973, came towards the start of a clear trend away from Church dominance in social affairs in Ireland. But one can go back earlier. As Christine Kinealy has pointed out in her War and Peace: Ireland since the 1960s, “The liberalizing intentions of Vatican Two did not extend to birth control.” She recalls how, against a background of considerable moral and legislative influence, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland had faced opposition to the 1968 encyclical Humanae Vitae by dedicated feminists who formed themselves into the Irish Women's Liberation Movement in 1970; the organization decided to challenge the legislative ban on contraception. The law was eventually changed in 1993.

The secularising trend, in the sense of society moving away from church dominance, has of course resulted most recently in the 2015 referendum on same-sex marriage. Indeed, the gradual separation of sex from marriage had led to a situation in which the traditional Christian view of sexual relations being reserved to one man and one woman in marriage was largely redundant in wider society. With marriage being widely seen as less about sex (if at all) and more about romantic love, the stage was set for a redefinition of marriage in the secular realm, as took place in the referendum.

Indeed, the General Synod's 2012 resolution, moved by Archbishop Jackson and Bishop Miller, reaffirming the traditional Church view of sex and marriage, refers to the Church of Ireland's understanding of marriage at Canon 31 as its understanding “for itself and of itself”, thus leaving the door open for the integrity of other understandings in society at large.

Secular influences in the Church

There are of course those who want marriage to be allowed between people of the same sex not only in the civil context, but also in church - as clear an example as one can possibly get of the secular influencing the religious. There are many ways in which this has happened in the past because the Church is not insulated from the world. It is therefore the Church's task, such as was recognised by Pope John XXIII when he called the Second Vatican Council, to discern the direction in which the Spirit wants to lead the Church. That is precisely the process in which the Church of Ireland, along with other Anglican Churches across the world, is engaging in the matter of the marriage to each other of people of the same sex.

Can the Church of Ireland hold within itself two opposing understandings of marriage? In a letter to the Gazette published in the 5th June 2015 issue, in the wake of the same-sex marriage referendum result, Dean Tom Gordon raised the prospect of some structural differentiation within the Church of Ireland, stating: “If the Church of Ireland in the Republic is to survive, it may be time for us to reflect on the seismic differences which now exist between the Church’s Southern and Northern constituencies. The Equal Marriage referendum demonstrates that Church pronouncements on traditional morality - however forcefully maintained - are the ultimate turn-off in a now transformed Republic. It must surely be obvious that the distinctive theological cultures in both provinces are of such divergence that each must now be allowed latitude formally to develop separate theological and pastoral identities.”

Is such a scenario possible? Over the summer, the Archbishops of the Anglican Church in Aotearoa, New Zealand and Polynesia, released the report of a working group set up explore how different strands of thinking on sexuality could be kept together in the denomination – the Motion 29 Working Group. Among its recommendations is the proposal that there should be no alteration to the formularies of the Church but that decisions on blessing same-sex relationships should be devolved to diocesan level. It remains to be seen how that proposal fares.

The Way Forward - Authenticity

There is no doubt that there has been a significant decline in religious influence in Ireland and further afield and a concomitant rise in secularism in its broadest sense. What is to be done, as far as the Church is concerned?

As I draw to a conclusion, I must refer to a recent lecture given by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, on 'The Challenge for the Church in the 21st Century'. The Archbishop warned that the separation of Church and State in Ireland “is not a hostile one, but [that] it could turn into one”. He acknowledged that the sexual abuse scandals of recent years have affected the faith of many people and described them as having been “an indication of an underlying crisis of faith where the self-protective institution had become in many ways decoupled from the horror which ordinary people rightly felt”.

I suppose this prioritizing of the institution over actual people amounts to a lack of authenticity, and therefore a lack of precisely what is needed in the Church today – placing people before institution because the earthly Jesus showed himself supremely as a person for others.

We are well aware of the negative statistics of church attendance. However a particular parish or denomination responds to this situation of decline, the approach will have to be a demonstration of authenticity - and to be authentic requires consistency of words and actions, of faith and works. We are good with words, but it is by our authenticity, not our words alone, that the Church is being judged both by the world and by God.

New bells dedicated at Ypres Memorial Church

 Nearly 90 years after it was built, the bell tower at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres, Belgium, has its first ring of bells. (Photo: St George’s Memorial Church)   

Nearly 90 years after it was built, the bell tower at St George’s Memorial Church in Ypres, Belgium, has its first ring of bells. (Photo: St George’s Memorial Church)

 

A church built in the 1920s in memory of the 500,000 British and Commonwealth troops who died during the battles for Ypres during the first World War has finally been completed with the installation and dedication of a ring of eight bells. St George’s Memorial Church was built in the Belgium town of Ypres, which was all-but flattened during the war. The church’s bell tower was given by the Knott family in memory of their two sons who were killed in the war, but there was insufficient funds to buy bells. On Sunday 22 October, the Bishop in Europe, Robert Innes, dedicated the new ring of eight bells.

In the intervening years, the bell tower had been used as storage space. A fund-raising campaign to pay for new bells was launched last year as part of events to mark the centenary of the war.

The bell wheels were made by David Town of Northallerton, Yorkshire, and were delivered to the foundry of John Taylor & Co in the Leicestershire town of Loughborough. Taylor’s foundry is the largest bell foundry in the world and the last surviving bell foundry in England.

Once complete, the bells went on a journey which began in August with a civic send-off from the War Memorial Tower in Loughborough, took in the Great Dorset Steam Fair near Blandford, before being taken to the Tyne Cot Cemetery – the largest burial ground managed by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, with almost 12,000 burials.

They left Tyne Cot, near Passchendale, on the back of two vintage lorries: a Thornycroft and a Dennis, which were both built in 1915 and saw service in the Great War. Before arriving at the St George’s Memorial Church, they were taken to the Menin Gate – a memorial arch built in the centre of Ypres. The dead of the war are commemorated here every night with the sounding of the Last Post and a minute’s silence.

More than 200 people gathered at St George’s for the dedication of the bells, which, the church says, will “launch a new perspective to the remembrance of the sacrifice given by so many in [Ypres] during the Great War.”

The church “was packed with local people, members of veterans organisations, and bell ringers from all over the United Kingdom,” the Bishop Innes, said. “The service included some stirring traditional hymns, and a reading from the Book of Numbers 10:1-10 – ‘the silver trumpets’. I had not previously noticed that Moses’s silver trumpets had two uses, just like English church bells have had – to summon people to assembly and also to warn of impending war.”

During the service, a set of 16 hand bells that had been cast in the 1800s were rung. They have been presented to St George’s by the grandson of former owner Charles Coles. They will be storied in the new ringing chamber to be used by local and visiting ringers.

Before the new ring of eight bells were rung for the first time, Bishop Robert prayed: “In the faith of Jesus Christ, we dedicate these bells. May they proclaim Christ’s message of love and salvation to this parish; May they warn the heedless, comfort the sorrowing And call all willing hearts to prayer and praise.”

As the bells rang, the bishop continued: “May the ringing of these bells awaken in the hearts of all who hear them the desire to worship God in spirit and in truth; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.” [ACNS]