Archbishop warns churches not to expect a special place in public life

By staff writers
September 1, 2007

Following an earlier comment about the unravelling of the culture of ecclesial establishment, the Church of Ireland's new primate, Archbishop Alan Harper, has warned churches that they can no longer base their mission on the idea of having “a place as of right” to exert influence in the public arena.

Echoing those who are speaking about the end of the Christendom era, when the church sought security in alliance with government, Archbishop Harper declared that the changing role of Christianity in society means that historic precedent and the weight of numbers is no longer sufficient to ensure the churches' voices will be heeded.

The power, credibility and quality of the churches' actions and pronouncements, not reliance on privilege, should be the litmus test for authentic mission today, he suggested.

The Archbishop's church is part of the Anglican Communion, and exists across two national jurisdictions - the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland - the latter still being a (disputed) part of the UK.

The primate was speaking at a meeting concerned with the 'Hard Gospel Project', an initiative founded by the Church of Ireland following the Drumcree crisis in the North.

The project is seeking to address the issues of sectarianism and community divisions, and to find ways of creating a shared future in Ireland.

Archbishop Harper said: “We (the Churches) can no longer rely on having a place as of right in terms of public affairs, or the influence that the church used to exert simply by being the Churches. We have now to command that, as a result of delivery and providing a critique of society that others can take with a degree of respect...persuading people by the power and quality of our argument and the genuine strength of our analysis, rather than merely by weight of numbers.”

In addition to a focus on living with “historic neighbours” (a reference to Catholics, Presbyerians and others), Harper spoke about the challenge of living with new neighbours resulting from “the social changes of the Celtic Tiger and record inward migration”.

Though there has been a decrease in sectarian sentiment in the North, following the peace process and the establishment of a bi-partisan political process, community relations advisors and churches are concerned about racism and anti-migrant sentiment in some quarters.

The primate also called for “an honest but generous conversation” within the Church of Ireland about how its institutions are serving both its members and those outside it.

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