A summary of the seven thanksgivings and seven challenges from Bishop Harold’s address at the Diocesan Synod on 20 June 2019.
1. I give thanks that the Gospel is transforming lives.
Remember that Jesus, in the great commission, calls us, not just to make converts, but to make disciples. That is a longer, harder, more challenging process but without it, we will fail our new believers, and leave them as immature infants, rather than mature followers.
2. I give thanks that we have experienced some recent growth.
The challenge is threefold:
- Can we help believers to see the value of regular weekly worship as part of their rule of life? If all those who were regular weekly worshippers became regular fortnightly worshippers, our worshipping numbers would halve. But worse, we would find it harder and harder to build meaningful Christian community and commitment.
- Keep planting!
- Let’s work together to help declining churches which are really serious about change, to be able to learn the skills they need to bring it about.
3. I give thanks for the number of people who have been ordained and commissioned.
There are many of those younger Christians, as many as 30 in this diocese, who have already gained theological qualifications, but who don’t necessarily want to be ordained. Andrew Brannigan has done a chart of the age profile of clergy in the Church of Ireland, and it is frightening. I ask myself why so many younger people, passionate for Christ, are not seeking ordination. Thought needs to be given or we will lose the imaginative gifts of a new generation.
In September, before I leave, I will (DV) ordain some of the first Ordained Local Ministers in the Church of Ireland. I decided (my successor may decide differently) that, at this stage, I would reserve OLM for people engaging in new, fresh, on–the–edge ministries. I want to assure young leaders that there will be an honoured place for them in the ministry of the Church of Ireland. We desperately need them for the future, not least in ministering to their peers.
4. I give thanks for the Lord’s generous provision.
I would encourage every church in the diocese not just to promote tithing among its members, but to seek to give a tithe of its own income away.
5. I give thanks for our engagement with the needs around us.
My only challenge is: ‘More, Lord!’. Let’s take all the centripetal energy which focusses on churchy things like pews and fine liturgical detail (the latter of which I can do with great gusto myself!), and invite the Lord to redirect that energy and make us centrifugal – driven out into the world in the power of the Holy Spirit to transform people and society, like the church after Pentecost. The other things will take care of themselves. Can you imagine if all 80 of our units in this diocese were like that?
6. I give thanks for our worldwide interest and involvement.
Never lose that missional instinct. It is a special gift particularly seen in Ireland, and our missionary societies need to engage a new generation of believers as we give and receive from the Church worldwide.
7. I give thanks for faithfulness to the scriptures.
And that is my last challenge. A challenge I have been supremely aware of as I stand in Saul Church each St Patrick’s Day, in the words of the Breastplate :‘ I bind unto myself today the strong name of the Trinity…’, with the declaration as its highlight ‘Salvation is of Christ the Lord!’.
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