Archbishop of Armagh’s ‘outside the box’ thinking
The Archbishop of Armagh, Richard Clarke, is to be commended for his call to the Church of Ireland General Synod to address the pressing issue of decline, revealed in the November 2013 census of church attendance. He reminded General Synod that the average attendance over those three Sundays in November revealed that only 15% of those who declared themselves Church of Ireland in most recent censuses in N.Ireland and the Republic of Ireland actually attended a C of I church. This amounts to around 58,000 people actually attending the Church of Ireland on any one Sunday - and out of an Irish population of about 6 million, this represents 0.97% attending an Anglican Church on any given Sunday. Furthermore, of that 15%, the Church of Ireland internal census showed that only 13% (7,500) were between the ages of 12 and 30.
This is a quite a devastation that makes the Labour and Lib Dem meltdowns in the recent UK election look trivial! Archbishop Clarke is absolutely right to view this as a ‘missional challenge’ that we can embrace with confidence and hope as we trust in Christ. He refers to the fact that the House of Bishops and the General Synod Commission on Ministry are discussing possible strategies for new pioneer ministry that will be ‘outside the box’ in trying to reach a country and generation that effectively sees the Church of Ireland as irrelevant.
The Church of Ireland might well follow the example of the Church of England in appointing an episcopal post simply to promote Church planting . The problem with commissions and General Synod committees is that they are quite often unwieldy, slow and hesitant to advocate change, especially in such uncertain times. However, it is a ‘breath of fresh air’ that the Church of Ireland is talking about evangelism at all! Not only that, it is refreshing to see an Archbishop attempting to drive such change.
Certainly, Evangelicals within the Church of Ireland welcome such an emphasis and would want to support endeavours that faithfully promote the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. It makes a welcome change from the liberal theological agenda that so often seeks to influence the direction of the Church of Ireland. To actually have an operational theology that is Gospel minded, outward looking, and seeking to relate people to Christ, would not only be in line with our foundational theology, but would encourage a whole new generation of young church planters to join us for the task of reaching a new generation in Ireland.
So, please, Archbishop, keep up the encouragement and challenge for pioneer and ‘outside the box’ thinking!