The General Synod of the Church of Ireland 2011  

General Synod, which is a meeting of representatives of all dioceses in the Church of Ireland, meets annually over a three day period to enact legislation for the Church through a formal three stage reading of Bills, which if passed become Acts or Statutes. Less formal proposals if accepted become resolutions. It also receives reports from various Committees and Boards.

On 5 March a special meeting was called in Dublin to vote on a proposal by the House of Bishops to delay the appointment of a Bishop to the small diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry. Democracy in the Church was proven when after much passionate debate the Bishops’ proposal was defeated by a large majority.

General Synod met in Armagh last month. In his Presidential Address Archbishop Alan Harper referred to the passion of the debate at the Special Meeting, a “passion that has been lacking in successive meetings of General Synods for many years. Many of our debates seem bloodless and to lack sustained engagement.” He referred to a three page report entitled “The Future of the Church of Ireland” by the Archdeacon of Tuam, enclosed as an appendix to the Commission on Ministry Report, which sounded the death knell of the Church. The intention was to identify challenges which the Church must address.

Archbishop Harper said it was a “wake up and smell the coffee moment”, and change needed to start with the General Synod itself. Certainly the legislative process, as we experienced on the first day of synod, was unlikely to arouse passion, but he said “discussion of the mission of the Church in society surely should”. He went on to propose ways in which more time could be devoted at future meetings to discuss our mission.

At the Synod Service in Armagh Cathedral that evening the Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, Ken Clarke, preached about priorities for the Church as seen by Haggai in the Old Testament reading. God’s temple is no longer a building but, as St Paul says, is the body of people. God’s temple is in ruins when people say "we cannot trust even the church to tell the truth any more". It is in ruins when people fight rather than love one another, when our own selfish needs become more important than those of the church and the community and we resist any inconveniencing of ourselves for the sake of the Gospel. It is in ruins when people do not see in the Church, Christ the friend of sinners ... when we hear phrases like, "oh they may be here but they are not ours or one of us." It is in ruins when we are selfishly selective about whom we really welcome in our parishes.

The Presidential Address and the Bishop of Kilmore’s sermon certainly identify the challenge to us as the Church today. The Bishop of Connor said that for many parishes so much time and energy were spent in maintaining churches, halls and rectories and other parochial needs that little is left for mission. He said an initiative is planned in our Diocese to address this issue.

The other main event of the synod was the approval of synod to “subscribe” to the Anglican Covenant. This is a document arising from the disagreements in the Anglican Communion, and Provinces of the Anglican Communion have been asked to “adopt” the Covenant. There was a lot of discussion with some disagreement mainly related to Section Four. The first three sections define “Our Inheritance of Faith”(what we believe), “The Life We Share with Others: Our Anglican Vocation” and “Our Unity and Common Life”. The fourth section relates to “Our Covenanted Life Together” dealing with how the Covenant is to be adopted by Provinces, and more controversially with dispute resolution through a Standing Committee with possible “relational consequences” (possibly excommunication). After passionate debate the Archbishop allowed a time of silent reflection and prayer before voting took place. The Church of Ireland agreed to “subscribe to” rather than “adopt” the Covenant recognising that “the Anglican Covenant is consonant with the doctrine and formularies of the Church of Ireland” but would not affect the independence of the Church of Ireland, it would not become part of its formularies nor would it change its self-understanding.    

Three days – tiring, but challenging as to the future of the Church of Ireland.