The Church of Ireland’s General Synod opened in Wexford this morning [12 May 2023] with Archbishop John McDowell delivering his Presidential Address shortly after the start of business.

Archbishop McDowell recalled the themes of reconciliation and gratitude on which he chose to focus in his first General Synod as Primate of All Ireland in 2020.  “There is much on our island that needs to be reconciled and much to give thanks for,” he remarked.

The Primate drew on the example of the humility or sacrifice of Senator George Mitchell in chairing the multi–party talks which led to Northern Ireland’s peace agreement in 1998.

“The spirit in which we do such things is so important because sacrifice is at the heart of the nature of God, and is therefore at the heart of all things,” he added.  “Sacrifice is the ultimate reality. At the heart of the new city, the heavenly Jerusalem, a King sits on a throne – and that king is the Lamb that was slain to bring reconciliation and peace; to put back together things that were broken apart.”

Sacrifice, he continued, is the inner structure of love – “the yielding up of something so as to possess it more deeply” – and brings a peace which is “a mighty confidence that equips us for every task we have been given at the hand of the Prince of Peace.”

Archbishop McDowell also reflected on the meaning of being a citizen.  “Part of the purpose of Christian community,” he said, “is to learn to treat people as capable of civic dignity and freedom; as people capable of contributing to their nearer and wider social and political environment by free decision taken in consultation.”

He highlighted the modern revival of pilgrimage as an opportunity for local churches to re–engage with people who may be distant from church life but who may also be receptive to what the Church has to say.  He also welcomed discussions to reflect the ethnic diversity of today’s Ireland more fully in the life of the Church, and the consistent, nuanced and pastoral work of the Centenaries Working Group over the island’s Decade of Centenaries, and recognised the efforts being made to welcome people fleeing the war in Ukraine into communities across our island.

In outlining the Church’s developing commitment to looking after the environment, Archbishop McDowell encouraged dioceses and parishes to create projects which find more ways to care for creation, following the example of the Lighten Our Darkness youth group, from Mullingar Union of Parishes, which will make a presentation on this theme tomorrow afternoon at General Synod.