Sunday 26 May 2024

Trinity Sunday Sermon in response to the shameful defeat of the motion on Open Baptism at our recent General Synod

 See Video HERE

Sermon for Trinity Sunday 2024

Trinity Sunday – It’s a funny sort of feast – It doesn’t celebrate any particular event in our faith story – It’s a celebration of a theological doctrine and immediately that makes a lot of people want to switch off!

It is however a very important doctrine – the heart of our faith  - which is implied throughout the biblical narrative and is intrinsic to our understanding of God and our relationship with God and indeed the whole of Creation.

I was looking for a fresh angle on the Trinity for my sermon today and I did a bit of reading of some commentaries on the theme and came across this from a contemporary theologian, Gerald Darring – The theology he articulates is completely orthodox but the way in which he presents it provoked a sort of lightbulb moment for me. This quotation is quite lengthy but I think quite helpful:
‘There is absolute individuality within the Trinity, for we believe that the Father is neither the Son nor the Spirit, nor is the Son the Father or the Spirit, nor is the Spirit the Father or the Son. Each person is distinct from the other two; none loses his personhood within the Trinity.
There is absolute equality within the Trinity. No person has something that the others lack, for each is God and each is all being. None is more God; all are absolutely equal.
There is absolute unity within the Trinity. God is one; the three persons are one. Father, Son and Spirit are three distinct persons, but they are persons in one God.
Ours is a Trinitarian religion. The Trinity is the source of our faith as well as the goal of our lives. We long to live for all eternity the life of the Trinity. Meanwhile, the Trinity is for us the model towards which we strive as a community: free individuals with total equality in complete unity.’

That last paragraph really hit home for me:

It hit home because I suddenly realised it addresses head on an issue which has caused huge hurt and damage within our own Church of Ireland and beyond in recent weeks. I’m referring to the defeated motion brought to General Synod which sought to encourage clergy not to refuse baptism to children based on the marital status of their parents. The motion was passed by the laity but narrowly defeated by the clergy, some of whom, for whatever reason seemed to want to be the gatekeepers to the sacrament of Baptism.

Lets look again at the last line of Gerald Darring’s commentary on the Trinity.

The Trinity is the source of our faith as well as the goal of our lives. …….the Trinity is for us the model towards which we strive as a community: free individuals with total equality in complete unity.’

How does that square with what happened at General Synod? It doesn’t I would suggest! The latter says we are a church with walls and barriers to keep out certain people – a church not of equality but one which likes to put people into categories of exclusion – a church which does not seek Unity but division – withdrawing itself onto an island of purity and rigorous and unforgiving rules which take away all freedom. It is a vision of Hell!

The Trinity on the other hand is a vision of Divine relationship which draws us in and welcomes us – What happened at Synod was the antithesis of this and flies in the face of who and what we are called to be.

I am not one for quoting huge tracts of Scripture out of context but I do make an exception for the words of Jesus which have a way of cutting across and through our prejudices and our hangups (and I think that is what was at play at Synod – some people far too wrapped up in their own theological systems and hangups that they could not see the fundamental principle at stake.)

These words of Jesus from Matthew 18: 1-5 are I think particularly relevant and instructive:

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, ‘Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?’ He called a child, whom he put among them, and said, ‘Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Whoever becomes humble like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me.

I would defy anybody to interpret those words of Jesus in a way that could possibly justify turning away a child presented for baptism by its parent or parents regardless of their marital arrangements, their sex or sexuality or any other defining characteristic of their personhood.

If we are truly to reflect the vision of the Trinity in our church and in our lives then rather than creating a theological obstacle course for those who are seeking we should be the kind of community that reflects and extends the divine embrace and welcome to all who show up. We need to get over ourselves and realise its not about us but about a God who seeks to draw all people to himself and it is not for us to get in the way.

Infact the very next verse following those words of Jesus I just quoted from Matthew 18 says this – again the words of Jesus:

‘'If any of you put a stumbling-block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were fastened around your neck and you were drowned in the depth of the sea.’

Strong stuff – I think the message essentially is – Get out of the way and let God be God!

God doesn’t need gatekeepers – The Church doesn’t need gatekeepers – I don’t know if you have noticed but people aren’t exactly knocking down the door to get in to our churches these days…….perhaps because we are perceived to be exclusive and inward looking – I know that’s not true in this parish or this church but can we continue to assume that those outside the doors don’t think differently. The public commentary following the General Synod made it quite clear that a lot of people had their opinions and prejudices confirmed. There is a lot of cynicism out there and its hard to say it isn’t justified! We cannot deny that the majority of clergy want to be gatekeepers and some laity as well – We have a problem and if we don’t address it our church will not be here in another generation.

I think this is a wake up call for us – Somehow we have to leave people in no doubt as to who we are and what we stand for because no matter what and who we think we are perception is reality. People have to know they are Welcome – No strings attached!

Some years ago at a vestry meeting we discussed  joining the Changing Attitude list of Open and Welcoming Churches in Ireland to LGBT+ people - Many of the parishes in this diocese (including some of our neighbours) are signed up to it but without consensus we didn’t pursue it further – I no longer believe it is a option – Yes I know that people of diverse sexuality are welcome in our churches but do those who might be outside the door and wondering will they be welcome know? Why can’t we make it easier for them? Why force them to guess or to make themselves more vulnerable by taking a risk? Why not be unambiguous and get out of the way of a God who doesn’t want or need gatekeepers. Sometimes by our inaction we make great gatekeepers!

That is just one example – Others spring to mind. Obviously the current issue of open Baptism is something that we need to make explicit.

We have an annual pet service in our parish and there is one four legged regular attender all year around but do we need to say more publicly that we are pet friendly all year around…. Its not just pets but support dogs – I wonder is there somebody who would like to be a part of this community of faith but is not sure if their pet or companion dog is welcome…..

I could probably go on but that’s probably enough to consider for one day. I never thought a consideration of the Trinity would lead me down this road but I do really feel there is an urgency for us as a church if we wish to thrive and continue to live the vision of the Trinity as a welcoming and open community of faith to be much more explicit about what we stand for and indeed what we do not wish to see said and done in our name.













Wednesday 20 September 2023

Locked out and Locked in the Setanta Q Park Dawson Street

Update - Have had a written apology and an undertaking to give retraining to staff concerned from Q Park and offer of some free parking.

Pleasantly surprised to get a prompt and positive response :)

So tonight I headed into the city for the first time in many months for a meeting and parked in the Setanta Q Park on Dawson Street – I have a toll tag which includes parking which saves the trip to the ticket machine when exiting. All went well on entering the carpark but leaving was a different matter! I arrived back at the pedestrian entrance to the carpark at about 7.40pm only to find the door locked. The only way to enter was to enter the last four digits of your parking ticket but as I had entered via toll tag I had no ticket! But there was an intercom which I pressed a number of times and nobody answered! But all was not lost – there was an emergency number which I dialled and a man answered and was bemused when I explained my predicament – However a few moments later another pedestrian exited the door and I was able to get in so all was well! Little did I know the worst was yet to come!

So I drove up to the barrier and expected it to lift as my tag beeped as usual but nothing happened – I reversed and tried again, and again, and again but no joy! So then I looked for the help button on the exit terminal but where it should have been was an empty hole and no sign of a button! At this point I reversed and drove back into the carpark and reparked and decided to search for a staff member. But there no joy either – Nobody was in the staff office! So I went back to the barrier and saw another motorist having the same issue – In his case he had prebooked parking and the machine would not recognise his ticket – He suggested we went back to the ticket machines and tried the intercom there which we both did and we both reported the missing help button on the exit terminal. Neither operator would accept our word and insisted multiple times that  the button was there as they had had calls earlier in the evening from it. We both persisted but they effectively said we were either liars or idiots! So we went back to the exit terminal and the other motorist managed to with great difficulty reach the call button which had fallen into the machine but he said it was gone out of reach – however miraculously it activated and he managed to get out and I then spoke to the operator and she asked for my reg which I gave and she told me to drive back up to the barrier – I did this but nothing happened and the button was beyond reach and so I reversed again and reparked yet again and then once again rang the intercom on the ticket machine. I got the same operator who again refused to accept my explanation that the call button on the exit terminal was gone and then accused me of being abusive – I was certainly exasperated at this stage and apologised not because it was warranted but because I did not want to spend the night in the carpark and she said she would dial into the exit terminal if I drove up to it again – I did this and as I was leaving I asked that she would report the issue with the missing call button but no reply except to lift the barrier – I can forgive technical issues but the dismissive and patronising attitude towards paying customers is not acceptable – Get your act together Q Park – This was an example of the worst of customer service!

Thursday 18 May 2023

In the wake of the Navan Bullying/Assault case - A Personal Perspective

 My heart aches for that young man in Navan so brutally assaulted - Bullying seems somehow an inadequate word to describe it and yet that is what it is and it needs to be taken much more seriously in all our schools. I speak as one who was bullied relentlessly for a period of 6 years in a very well known private Protestant Dublin school (4th class Primary to 4th Year Secondary) and where it was not taken seriously by those who had the responsibility of care for us the pupils. I was the new boy, the fat kid, the vicar's son and I became a target for the bullies - Every day I faced beatings, being spat on, a wedgie every time we had PE or sport and constant mockery - It was soul destroying and I did consider suicide more than once. They were the most miserable years of my life and only for a few good friends I would not be here today. It took me years to get over it and two years of intensive counselling right into my mid twenties before I was truly able to move on. That may all be ahead of this young man from Navan and I pray he has the support he needs to get through this nightmare. I changed schools twice more before finishing secondary school due to my father moving posts. Both (The first a Quaker school and the second a Roman Catholic Co-ed convent) were wonderful and so different. In neither case was bullying tolerated or was it allowed to flourish - It didn't and doesn't have to be this way!

Funnily enough I was invited back to my old school to talk about bullying by one of the teachers who knew my story and thankfully the culture had changed and I believe bullying was finally recognised for what it is: Potentially life threatening and definitely life affecting mental and physical abuse.
I have over the years met many of my former bullies and most have never said anything about their former actions - Maybe they don't remember - Maybe they choose to ignore it - Or maybe they are so ashamed they can't bring themselves to mention it - I hope it is the latter not because I bear them any ill will - One of the things counselling taught me was that I couldn't let them live in my head - but because it is utterly shameful and damages and sometimes destroys lives. I do hope this is a tipping point and that bullying will no longer be tolerated in our schools where our children have the right to presume that they are safe.

Friday 13 January 2023

Overcoming Negativity

 The recent wave of vile and senseless racist protests against the refugee community in Ireland is profoundly disturbing but in the last 24 hours there are signs of hope and an alternative and more representative narrative emerging as the newly formed Ballymun for All and Ballyfermot for All among others reclaim the recently hijacked voice of the citizens of this land and affirm that this is still 'Ireland of the Welcomes'.

It is so important that the wider local community in these and other places are fighting back against a small group of hate filled individuals who are misrepresenting the people of Ireland and spreading fear and hatred though zenophobic propaganda and misinformation.

Although those who promote this hatred are in a minority the power of negativity (The Negativity Bias) has long been recognised scientifically as much more enduring than its opposite of possitivity and in order to overcome this negativity we have to make a significant and disproportionate effort to overcome it.

I first saw this demonstrated some 20 years ago when I was a guest at the consecation of the first openly gay Anglican bishop in Durham, New Hampshire, USA. Bishop Gene Robinson who is a personal friend of mine and who faced death threats on the day and had to wear a bulletproof vest during the ceremony and bravely faced a very dangerous situation throughout the liturgy. His consecration was heavily protested by the notorious Westboro Baptist Church and I and all who attended had to walk through their vile and hateful protest but it was entirely mitigated by a counter and much larger positive protest by students from the University of New Hampshire who quite literally demonstrated how Love triumphs over fear and hatred.

This is what I was reminded of when I saw the local communities in Ballyfermot and Ballymun rising up to reclaim their voice and with it the priority of Love. They have set us all an example and we must follow by refusing to let hate win and to give overwhelming voice to the Love that is at the heart of true community. Otherwise if we leave a void it will be filled by hatred and negativity – We cannot be passive and assume that the greater good will prevail. Let us protest for Love and against Hate!