Members of Meath and Kildare gathered at The Oaks Centre, in Dunboyne, for their annual synod on Saturday 29th September.
The refrain from a Bob Dylan song, ‘The times they are a changing’, happened to provide a theme for a range of speakers. Speeches throughout the synod recognised the deep changes that have taken place in Ireland. Whilst recognising this, one speaker reminded synod members summed up the risk of faith – that “boats are not made for harbour but for taking to the sea.” There was a sense of this being a moment, not just of challenge, but opportunity for the Christian message.
Imagining the future
Over the previous nine months Church Army UK has conducted a diocesan consultation. This included meeting all clergy and groups of parishioners from every parish. In her address to members of synod Bishop Pat Storey talked of what the dioceses hoped to achieve when they commissioned the consultation. She said, “Church Army UK has been helping us to assess our state of play at (this) present moment of our church history … (it will help us) plan a future which will strengthen the things that bring us joy, and face up to the things which make us nervous.”
Dr Tim Ling and Mark Russell from Church Army UK were invited to present the findings of the diocesan review to synod members, for discussion. Members then had an opportunity to discuss and reflect on the findings, including:
- That the dioceses has shared the experience of falling church attendance over the past decade.
- That out of a total population of 669,000, in the diocesan area, 51,500 identify as having no religion – five times as many as the Church of Ireland population. Church-going, practically everywhere, is declining – and yet very often people still claim to be spiritually open to God, but simply not to the church as an institution.
- That a culture of ‘keeping our head down’ is now beginning to change.
- There is an awareness of being in an era of profound change.
- There is a willingness to respond to the need for change, and move outside of our comfort zone.
- That there is a need to take responsibility for discipleship.
Three young people were invited to respond to the presentation of the report findings, including the question ‘How can we reach the missing generations?’ – giving valuable insights. Mark Russell (CEO of Church Army) reminded those present that “the world is changed by hope-filled people.” He also reinforced a sense of possibilities for the future.
In her speech, Bishop Storey also talked of the new Ordained Local Ministry initiative beginning across the Church of Ireland, with several people across the dioceses now in training for it. She also expressed her gratitude to many people who serve in various ways to further the work of the dioceses. Exhibitors were also given a warm welcome. A range of speakers, speaking to reports, through the day recognised the service of volunteers, such as readers, retired clergy, diocesan committees.
Moment of opportunity
Bishop Storey concluded her address by saying: “As we see Irish society changing dramatically, we could bury our heads in the sand and lick our wounds – or we could recognise the opportunity that there is out there to shine brighter.”