Wednesday, 28 September 2011
Celtic bishops conference 2011: more than delegates
Unlike England, the religious cultures of each of the Celtic nations has been predominantly shaped by other traditions: Roman Catholicism in Ireland, Presbyterianism in Scotland, Dissent in Wales. Ireland and Wales had Anglican establishments: Scottish Anglicans faced penal laws throughout the 18th century. All minister in nations fundamentally defined by difficult historical relationships with England - but Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland (where the majority of Irish Anglican live) continue to be part of the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland (with a not insignificant Anglican minority) a separate sovereign state. Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have found the transition to post-industrial economies incredibly difficult, and are notoriously reliant on the public sector. The economy of the Republic of Ireland experienced the 'Celtic Tiger' of the '90s and early '00s, only to become categorised by Greece, Spain, Italy and Portugal as the EU economic danger-zone.
The Celtic heritage (itself a historically dubious concept) which the three churches share is of considerably less significance than the contemporary political, economic and social realities faced by each in their respective societies. It seems that this is being reflected in the purpose of the meeting, according to the official communique:
The topics for discussion will include faith and identity – an opportunity for each of the provinces to share their experiences in identity and political change as a result of devolution and explore the issues of sectarianism in Scotland and Ireland ... They will also explore religion and culture in its contemporary context and the response to new spirituality and current competing sociological analyses of the state of religion in western society.
And in stark contrast to the TEC's recent House of Bishops' meeting with its seminars on liberation theology, the Celtic bishops realise that it is no longer the 1980s:
Throughout the four day meeting, the Bishops will be lead in bible study and discussions by the Rev Professor David Brown, Professor of Theology, Aesthetics and Culture at St Andrews University.
Brown's work is not without its critics, but as this review by John Macquarrie indicates, he is a serious theologian committed to a pattern of theological reflection defined by Trinitarian and Christological orthodoxy. Macquarrie contends (rightly) that Anglican theology in England has gone through something of a renaissance in recent times and that "David Brown is among the foremost in its revival". The contrast with TEC's bishop spending their time discussing liberation theology is painfully obvious.
At the very least, the Celtic Bishops conference indicates how episcopates from neighbouring jurisdictions should pray, reflect, converse and celebrate the eucharist together. It is one expression of being in communion and it contributes to the deepening of our communion. And contrary to some ongoing debates in TEC, this is what bishops are meant to be about. They are not delegates of their dioceses. They are shepherds who lead, guardians who safeguard. In the words of the CofI Ordinal:
As chief pastors they share with their fellow bishops a special responsibility to maintain and further the unity of the Church, to uphold its discipline, to guard its faith and to promote its mission.
On the subject of communion ... on the margins of the meeting there might also be some interesting conversations on the Covenant. Scotland and Wales are, at best, lukewarm on the Covenant. Only 1 of Ireland's 12 bishops, however, voted against the Covenant at May's General Synod.
(The photograph is of the Celtic primates - l/r Scotland, Wales, Ireland.)
Posted by BC at 16:31