General Synod sketchbook – Presidential address

A Presidential address.

It was what some Scots-Irish folk might call a “dreecht” morning in Dublin as members of the General Synod gathered at Christ Church Cathedral. Following the introductory prayers conducted by the Bishops of Clogher and Tuam – the most recent arrivistas in the House of Bishops – the Archbishop of Armagh, as is customary, gave his presidential address.

Such addresses rightly require that acknowledgement be made of the service given by those members of the General Synod who have gone to their eternal reward. This year the service of Dr Joan Turner and Canon JLB Deane was rightly outlined by Archbishop Harper.  So too was the contribution of the, soon to retire, Chief Officer of the RB, Mr Dennis Reardon and tribute was paid at length to the staff of Church House who are having to cope with fewer human resources whilst they continue to serve an administration whose work load is not diminishing. The Archbishop said, “staffing levels have been pared to the bone”. The Chief Officer elect , Mr Adrian Clements was offered prayerful good wishes for the future.

The Archbishop then turned to the business of the Synod and he gave a most comprehensive address, not only reviewing the motions on church teaching and sexuality being brought by the bishops, but also outlining the historical development of the Church’s way of doing business in response to the guidance of the Holy Spirit in Synod. In what was a masterful review combined with spiritual direction, the Archbishop commended to synod above all else, the exercise of charity.

The address was well received by synod and will repay future study. The Archbishop said the work on human sexuality is “‘work in progress’, and it is work not for bishops alone but for the General Synod on behalf of the Church of Ireland as a whole.

He continued, stating that “leadership in the Church of Ireland, especially in the context of the role of bishops, consists not in telling the Church what to think but in assisting the Church in coming to a richer, deeper and more comprehensive understanding of the faith we have received. The archbishops and bishops of the Church of Ireland guard and define the doctrine of the Church only to the extent that they may be called upon to declare whether or not a particular view is consonant with the current teaching of the Church as the Church of Ireland has received it. Ultimate sovereignty under God rests with the General Synod.” This led the Primate to the context of the work of General Synod and especially the role of the laity.

The Archbishop of Dublin at the conclusion of the address led the Synod in prayer in what he described as “the spirit of the primate’s address”.

Time alone could tell whether or not the President’s address and the Archbishop’s prayers would affect the subsequent contributions.

But let this be stated clearly – the Archbishop of Armagh was not lacking in scholarship, empathy, or spiritual direction in the manner in which he communicated to synod. This was leadership of a nature and style which without being prescriptive nevertheless gave a fair direction to anyone in Synod who was prepared to be open to the guidance of the Holy Spirit.