Reflections on General Synod


Church of Ireland Gazette - 29th May 2015.

I WAS very encouraged by my first Church of Ireland General Synod and will explain why, as I share some first impressions.

When I walked through the entrance to the Armagh City Hotel conference centre, the first thing that struck me was the variety of clerical dress and hairstyles. Had I arrived at a Father Ted convention by mistake?

I batted that image from my mind and took in the variety of exhibition displays and saw a few familiar clerical faces. The place was buzzing. I found a seat in the main hall and soaked up the atmosphere.

First up was the Presidential Address by the Most Revd Richard Clarke, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland. I had not seen the Archbishop in the flesh before and he is a real gentleman.

The address started well, emphasising the importance of Church communities having good inter-relationships – very timely.

Then he threw in some statistics, the most interesting being that only 15% of those who wrote ‘Church of Ireland’ on the National Census actually attend church. The mission challenge is all around us.

Later, the Archbishop added something that really jumped out at me. He said that misuse of the environment, which is God’s creation, is “something close to sacrilege”. I began to like this Archbishop even more.

I was pleased to see a late motion on an environmental charter, which was easily passed. I also noticed an updated ethical investment policy in the Synod reports that now includes an environmental focus, but there was no restriction on investments in fossil fuel companies, only on arms and tobacco investments.

So, the next day, I gave a speech about the investment policy and fossil fuels. I pointed out that, recently, 17 archbishops and bishops had called the climate change crisis “the most urgent moral issue of our day”, and asked the executive committee to disinvest from fossil fuel companies. During the debate, the responses were surprising.

Two or three of the executive committee spoke, including the chair of the investment committee. They were thoughtful gentlemen who had actually listened. They said that the issue of disinvestment would be considered at a forthcoming executive meeting. I was very encouraged by this.

To my surprise, Synod felt very contemporary. The tweets, including from two bishops, were very interesting and helped fill the duller moments – there were some.

However, in general, the speeches and debates were interesting, informed and passionate.

So, all in all, a good first impression. The people who matter do listen to ordinary lay people. You could not ask for more than that.

I look forward to hearing news from the executive committee about the Church of Ireland divesting from fossil fuel companies. Please pray for them as they continue to work hard on our behalf.

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