Church of Ireland General Synod debate on sexuality – Contributors and voting

A review of speeches to synod

The Church of Ireland web site carries a report on Saturday’s debate and voting. Prior to discussion by synod members, and in accord with the standing orders, the four amendments to the motion were placed before synod. Copies were provided to synod members and the proposers and seconders of each amendment were permitted to outline the thrust of their amendments prior to the general discussion of the motion by synod.

An ecumenical guest, Fr Iraeneus of the Antiochian Orthodox Church addressed synod at some considerable length. He highlighted the difference between things which may be lawful in the state not being expedient for the church. A safe place needed also to be a holy place. The people of God were a holy priesthood.

The house debate commenced with the Bishop of Meath. He said a safe place and a holy place must be one and the same. A safe place reflects and is derived from and based on an understanding of “salvation”.

He had been asked by the bishops to expand on one aspect of the motion. It is known that bishops come from different places. He and the Bishop of Down did not agree on Lambeth Resolution 1:10. Down had voted or it, and he had voted against it. But their difference on the resolution had not changed relationships between them . He hoped that the church could go forward in a similar manner.

Bishop Clark said the word ‘normative’ in the motion had been carefully chosen. It came from the Latin word ‘norma’ – the set square of the builder. It is an instrument from which we begin to build… to explore and to continue our exploration. It is not “normal”… see it as a creative word, a fine word. We have lost the world of image. He pleaded for people to pilgrimage together. “If Harold and I can do it, I think the rest of us can do so as well”.

Rev Andrew Forster said, “The motion helps us as a people of God to live out our unity.” He felt the motion enabled clarity, was presented in a spirit of charity, and requested synod to support it.

Rev Gillian Wharton had qualms about the use of the word “normative” as had the Reverend Ted Ardis. Miss Wharton said that in 19 years of ministry she had conducted 122 marriages in which only 5 of the couples had not been cohabiting before the ceremony. Bishop Cameron at Cavan said if you want to travel quickly, you travel alone. That you needed time to travel together. Amendments to the motion enabled more of us to agree and to move forward together.

The Bishop of Cork said that he hoped that if the motion went through that sex doesn’t occupy our every waking hour. He wanted the dialogue but “not to the exclusion of the other ongoing priorities of the church”. He was concerned that “for the first time in our history that we are using a motion” to progress such a matter of immense import. He was “not convinced that this was the right way”, and that “by affirming formularies we are in fact weakening them”.

Bishop Colton said that in circulation were fears that this motion if passed would be used to hold clergy to account retrospectively. He hope the motion would really create a safe place and not a witch hunt.

The Reverend Ethne Lynch said it was only two months since Cavan and that the aspirations in the feed back from the conference on page 222 of the report to “continue to dialogue” and “don’t rush”. She said, “We are rushing now, we need more time. We don’t want this to come in as quickly as this”.

“Ordinary people in the pews need to hear that this Church of Ireland is standing where it always has stood,” said a woman member from Dromore. A new lay representative from Killala said he felt the Holy Spirit was leading us into a new understanding of marriage. He feared that passing the motion with its reaffirmation of Canon 31, would be used to constrain the scope of the working party suggested. He sought reassurance from the bishops that it would not be.
The Dean of Ross, the Very Reverend Chris Peters, said that the synod should be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit and to the possibility that we may be wrong. The value of amendments is only when they clarify the situation. He had reservations about some of the amendments.

Dean Henry Hull of Down felt that the amendments complicated the situation but looked to the bishops to guide synod on their relevance.

After considerable debate a proposal that “the question be now put” – in effect a guillotine to conclude the debate and to enable the substantive motion to be discussed – was put to the synod and passed by 243 to 87 votes.

Votes on amendments

There were then votes by orders on the four proposed amendments which involved members passing though tellers and in accord with standing orders a five minute interval was required before each vote was taken. The process in all took over 45 minutes.

A proposal by Canon Patrick Comerford and the Reverend Stephen Fielding which inter alii sought to include reference to the BCP pp 405 − 438 was lost. Clergy for 58, against 73 – Laity for 84, against 122.

A proposal by Mr Andrew McNeile and the Dean of Cork, the Very Reverend Nigel Dunn, to replace the fourth paragraph of the motion was lost. Clergy for 54, against 75 – Laity for 84, against 126.

A proposal by Neville Bagnell and AG Oughton to remove a word and insert the word bigotry was lost. Clergy for 56, against 73 – Laity for 89, against 121.

A proposal by the Reverend Darren McCallig and Mrs Joan Bruton extending the definition of marriage and referring to “the normative context for sexual intercourse” was lost. Clergy for 48, against 81- Laity for 60, against 148.

Vote on substantive motion

The motion in the names of the Archbishop of Dublin and the Bishop of Down was passed. Clergy for 81 , against 53 – Laity for 154 , against 60 .
The House of Bishops then voted in public. Two against.

Archbishop of Armagh’s concluding remarks

The Archbishop said the matters discussed have to do about the life and worship of the church and they also impact upon ordinary men and women. At next year’s synod we may be able to take forward the process which had started at the Cavan conference. He was grateful to all who had spoken and to his colleagues in the House of Bishops. His prayer was that when the emotion and adrenalin of today had drained away we would have respect for one another and that it would contribute to dealing with these difficult matters. We do not have a monopoly of wisdom. He hoped we would be open to the interventions of the Holy Spirit.

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