CANON Harry Gilmore (Derry & Raphoe) brought encouraging news for small primary schools to Synod when it proposed the report of the Board of Education. Despite the support of the Ministry of Education, there had nevertheless been a desire to close many schools with four or fewer teachers, he told the Synod.
“These schools are often the backbone of our parishes in the Republic,” he said. “I’m not talking about the notion of larger schools at all, just saying that small schools are often very important in the local parish and community.
“A new initiative has just been launched – the Small Schools Initiative – and we, the Protestant community, have had the opportunity to take part in the two-year project in Donegal. We are starting anytime now.
In what will likely be called The Columba Project, four faith-based schools in a cluster in the northwest of the county – Dunfanaghy, Creeslough, Ballymore and Gartan – will receive a coordinator for two years to help them work out ways to share administration and help them function better.
The project was well supported and the Ministry of Education “actually got a budget for it; so once they put the money on the table, you know they mean business,” Canon Gilmore said. “We hope that everything we learn [this initiative] could be useful to other small schools in the years to come.
Supporting the report, Reverend Catherine Simpson (Down & Dromore) paid tribute to the “dedication, tenacity and determination” of all schools during these unprecedented and difficult times. “The Board of Education [Northern Ireland] continues to have representatives at all levels of education, and we continue to advocate for the influence of the Christian faith on education,” she said. “There is a greater tendency in society to call for minimizing Christian influence and, indeed, many wish to remove the influence of churches from schools.
“The council is working tirelessly to combat this and asks for your support to protect the Christian ethos of controlled schools in Northern Ireland and in doing so ensure a quality education for all.”
The Bishop of Clogher, Dr. Ian Ellis, reminded synod members of the Church’s direct influence on education and, in a call for more governors for controlled high schools, described the responsibility of serving on a school board as “more greater than just filling a right and sitting the seat”.
Racism, injustice and gender-based violence
The Archdeacon of Cork, Cloyne & Ross, Ven. Adrian Wilkinson, drew particular attention in his report from the Standing Committee on Racism and Injustice Statement in the Church and Society Commission (CASC) report: “Hidden history lies behind statues and monuments , some of which are in churches”.
The scourge of racism was “always with us”, he told the Synod. “I’m sure we can all think of elaborate memorials, built to extol the virtues of the great, the good and the wealthy of past generations.
“However, today we might recognize that for some of these people, their fortunes or status were, in part, built on the contribution, and even the suffering, of many other anonymous people. We cannot change the History, though it is constantly being rewritten, as new evidence, heightened awareness, and changed context offer new insights.
“We wouldn’t want to tear down the Georgian mansions of the aristocracy, but where the wealth to fund these impressive buildings came from slavery on the sugar cane plantations or child labor in the coal mines, documentation of the tourist guides and audio-visual presentations can become powerful vectors of education on such a checkered past.
“Similarly, where these memorials exist in our churches, they should be used to highlight the issues of slavery, exploitation and injustice, and our Christian response to this persistent problem in the world of ‘today.”
Violence against women and girls and gender justice were also at the center of the CASSC report, which partnered with the Mothers Union (MU) on the issue. june butler (Down & Dromore), MU All-Ireland Chairperson, described domestic violence as the most insidious crime in Ireland today: “The fear and destruction it has caused is as the UN has called it of a ‘phantom epidemic,'” she said.
She highlighted the many opportunities for activism: the ongoing World Council of Churches Black Thursday protest; UM’s Global Day of Activism on November 27 and UN Women’s 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which runs from November 25 to December 10.
Jacqui Armstrong (Derry), who leads gender justice for MU, said domestic violence existed in all groups in Irish society. The Church was not immune, but churches rarely spoke out about domestic violence. “We have the opportunity to change history. We are challenged by our faith to challenge unjust structures,” she said.
The Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe, the Very Reverend Kenneth Kearon, said: “Gender is not a woman’s issue. This is a problem mainly for men. Men should support these protest actions and show where they stand.
retired general practitioner, Scott Brown (Connor), said that by the time the women appeared in a doctor’s office, they were already out of breath. “A patriarchal and conservative Church wishes to hide all these shameful acts,” he said, urging the Church to recognize this.
YOUTH needed to be ‘reintroduced, reintegrated and reinvigorated’ as youth activities continued to reopen, said the Bishop of Meath & Kildare, the Very Reverend Pat Storey, who has a place in history as the first female bishop of Ireland and the United Kingdom (News, September 13, 2020).
The last 18 months have been particularly difficult for young people, she said. “They felt isolated without the company of their friends, deprived of the first years of university and deprived of the camaraderie of their churches and youth groups.
“As chairman of the youth department, I have also witnessed the isolation and helplessness of staff, diocesan youth leaders and volunteer youth leaders across the island. The Ministry of youth, due to government regulations, has effectively ceased. While we have all found the pandemic difficult, some young people have found it unbearable, and we will be dealing with residual mental health issues for years to come.
But staff and youth workers had persevered, reinvented the way they communicated with their young people and went virtual, she said. This had left them in need of rest and recuperation, but they had been exemplary in their ministry to young people in difficult circumstances: “It has not gone unnoticed and it is not taken for granted,” said she declared. “Young people will remember that you virtually waved the flag of youth.”
The bishop particularly drew attention to a new resource, A welcoming church, which addressed ways in which youth ministry could include those with special challenges, “including those with anxiety, those who are hard of hearing or visually impaired, those with mobility challenges, those with chronic pain, dyslexia and many others. The pack gives us tips on how to be more inclusive with those who don’t fit into our often thoughtless routines.