Thursday 16 December 2021

The Church of Ireland as an Ecumenical Church

The fourth and final talk in a series for Advent entitled 'The Church of Ireland - who are we', given in St Flannan's Cathedral, Killaloe on Wednesday 15th December 2021

As an ecumenical symbol, the church is portrayed as a boat 
afloat on the sea of the world 
with the mast in the form of a cross. 

Good evening to you all,

whether you are present here in beautiful St Flannan’s cathedral tonight, or watching warm and comfy on a screen at home. There’s a lot to be said for the latter!

Thank you, Dean Rod, for inviting me to talk on the Church of Ireland as an Ecumenical Church. I confess my first reaction was surprise. ‘Whoa, hold on a minute: what qualification do I have to talk about ecumenical matters?’ I am a layman, without formal theological training, and I haven’t followed at all closely the theological ducking and weaving of those deeply involved in the modern ecumenical movement.

But then, on reflection, I felt that perhaps I do have something to contribute, so I gratefully accepted Rod’s kind invitation. I feel passionately that in these times of crisis the Holy Spirit is calling Christians of all traditions to work together in unity for the good of God’s kingdom. But I do not think the Spirit is calling us all to believe exactly the same things, nor to worship in the same way. God loves diversity, I believe. If he didn’t, he would not have created the glorious diversity we see all around us in the natural world. And we should too.

What I hope to do this evening is to look at what we mean by ‘ecumenical’, then outline the history of the modern ecumenical movement as I see it - what has been achieved, and what has not been achieved – and the part that the Church of Ireland has played in it. I will go on to reflect on the failures, and then draw on my personal experience of engagement with other Christians to illuminate what I think is the most promising way forward, which is sometimes called ‘Receptive Ecumenism’.

What do we mean by being ‘an ecumenical church’?

Our starting place, I believe, must be the passage from John’s Gospel in which Jesus prays to the Father for his disciples:

The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. (John 17:22-23)

Jesus calls his disciples – you and me - to be completely one as witnesses in the world to God’s love.

The OED defines ‘ecumenical’ firstly as

‘Of or belonging to the whole Christian world or the universal Church’.

It is used in this sense when we speak of the ‘Ecumenical Councils’ or give the leader of the Eastern Orthodox communion his title of ‘Ecumenical Patriarch’. The OED goes on to gloss it as

‘In recent use: marked by ecumenism; seeking (worldwide) Christian unity that transcends doctrinal differences; of or representing Christians of several denominations; interdenominational’

It is in these senses that I am using the word tonight.

Different people understand and respond to the word ‘ecumenical’ in different ways:

·         I suspect the first thing many people think of when they hear the word ‘ecumenical’ is Fr Ted, in Dermot Morgan’s hilarious TV sitcom, especially those with little or no contact with church. In a famous episode Fr Ted attempts to rehearse Fr Jack for a meeting with 3 bishops. He teaches him to say, ‘That would be an ecumenical matter’, as a device to shut down awkward questions. Ecumenical as a way of stopping the conversation. I hope that’s not what we feel tonight!

·         For some, ‘ecumenical’ is an insult, because for them it implies compromise or the watering down of what they see as essential truth, things necessary for salvation.

·         Others use it to mean a hope for visible, structural unity in the Universal Church, where all agree on essentials – ‘One church, one Faith, one Lord’, as Hymn 59 from the Church Hymnal puts it.

·         For yet others, of which I am one, to be ecumenical is to commit to work for a different type of visible unity - a unity between Christians that is more like a multi-coloured tweed, in which different denominations and traditions are woven into one fine cloth, through a common commitment to God and to each other.


Let me try to sketch out the development of the modern Ecumenical Movement, as I understand it.

But before I begin, a warning. We will canter our way through a bewildering landscape of Councils and Commissions, and a veritable alphabet soup of acronyms!

Protestants often trace its origin back to the World Missionary Conference held in Edinburgh in 1910. This brought 1,200 delegates together from major protestant denominations and missionary societies, including Anglicans, but no Roman Catholic or Orthodox organisations were invited. Those present saw clearly that denominational divisions were hampering evangelisation, and they issued a call for unity among protestant missionaries.

Another key moment came in 1920, when Ecumenical Patriarch Germanus V of the Eastern Orthodox communion wrote ‘to all the Churches of Christ, wherever they may be’, urging closer cooperation and suggesting a ‘League of Churches’, by analogy to the newly founded League of Nations.

In 1937 church leaders agreed to establish the World Council of Churches, or WCC, to work for Christian unity, though WW2 delayed the first meeting until 1948 – so the WCC is the same age I am! Member churches today include, as well as Anglican Churches, Oriental Orthodox Churches; Eastern Orthodox Churches; Lutheran Churches; Methodist Churches; Reformed Churches, including Presbyterians; and some Baptist and Pentecostal churches.

The Roman Catholic Church is not a member, but it works closely with the WCC through the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity, and RC theologians are full members of the WCC Faith and Order Commission. This, over many years, has been exploring the growing agreement - and remaining differences - in fundamental areas of member churches' faith and life.

In 1952 the Faith and Order Commission affirmed what is called the Lund Principle, that churches should act together in all matters except those in which deep differences of conviction compel them to act separately. From this principle flow such initiatives as:

·         The ‘Week of Prayer for Christian Unity’, for which the WCC and the Roman Catholic Church prepare materials collaboratively. Most if not all CofI parishes join in this with their neighbouring traditions.

·         And also a plethora of regional and local forums of which the CofI is a member, such as the Irish Council of Churches (ICC), the Irish Inter Church Meeting (IICM), Churches Together in Britain & Ireland (CTBI), the European Council of Churches (ECC), and many parish based ‘churches together’ groups.

These aim to bring churches together in common action, while acknowledging their different traditions and theologies.

In 1982 the WCC Faith and Order Commission agreed a document entitled ‘Baptism, Eucharist & Ministry’, known as the Lima Text. In it they write:

() the Faith and Order Commission now presents this Lima text (1982) to the churches. We do so with deep conviction, for we have become increasingly aware of our unity in the body of Christ. We have found reason to rejoice in the rediscovery of the richness of our common inheritance in the Gospel. We believe that the Holy Spirit has led us to this time, a kairos (meaning a critical or opportune moment) of the ecumenical movement when sadly divided churches have been enabled to arrive at substantial theological agreements. We believe that many significant advances are possible if in our churches we are sufficiently courageous and imaginative to embrace God’s gift of Church unity.

The then Archbishop of Dublin Henry McAdoo was one of the co-chairs of the Commission.

In parallel with the work of the WCC, individual churches and communions of churches have held discussions aimed at exploring moves to unity. Some have been successful, in the sense that they have led to mutual communion between the churches. Others have been less so. Let me list a few of these.

·         Discussion between the Anglican churches in Britain and Ireland, and the Nordic and Baltic Lutheran churches led in 1992 to the formation of the Porvoo Communion. All member churches, including the Church of Ireland, recognise the validity of each other’s ministries and sacraments, and as a symbol of their unity, bishops from elsewhere in the Communion participate in the ordination of bishops in each member church. This is a real ecumenical success.

·         Dialogue between the Methodist Church in Ireland and the Church of Ireland led to both churches agreeing a Covenant, which includes mutual recognition of ministry and sacraments, and interchangeability of ministers. Methodist Presidents are seen as equivalent to bishops, and as such participate in the consecration of Church of Ireland bishops, and vice versa. Again, a real ecumenical success. The Covenant has enabled the Rev Vicki Lynch, ordained in the Church of Ireland in this diocese, to minister in the Limerick City joint Methodist and Presbyterian church, and then move to the Church of Ireland Fiddown Union of parishes in the Diocese of Cashel, Ferns & Ossory.

·         In March 1966, following Vatican II, Pope Paul VI and Archbishop of Canterbury Michael Ramsey agreed to start ecumenical discussions between the Anglican Communion and the Roman Catholic Church. These have been taking place under the authority of the Anglican-Roman Catholic International Commission (ARCIC). The first round of discussions, ARCIC1, co-chaired by the Archbishop of Dublin Henry McAdoo, produced an agreed statement in 1981 on Eucharistic Doctrine, Ministry and Ordination, and Authority in the Church. Further discussions continued in ARCIC2, looking at such matters as Salvation, Communion, Teaching Authority and the role of Mary. The ARCIC work continues today with ARCIC3, looking at The Church as Communion – Local & Universal.

·         ARCIC2 spun out another body, the International Anglican-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity and Mission (IARCCUM) – we really are getting into alphabet soup territory here, aren’t we! IARCCUM is not about reaching theological agreements, but about finding ways to put into practice the agreements that ARCIC has reached and that have been accepted by the two communions. One way they seek to do so is by pairing local Anglican and Roman Catholic bishops in localities around the world. In 2016 Pope Francis and the Archbishop of Canterbury in a joint ceremony paired our former Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe, Kenneth Kearon and Roman Catholic Bishop of Limerick Brendan Leahy.

·         The Anglican Communion has also been talking to the Eastern Orthodox Church, and the Oriental Orthodox Churches. 

·        And of course, other churches have similarly been talking to each other without us.

In this extraordinary explosion of ecumenical activity over 70 years, the Church of Ireland has made significant contributions. Our participation has been coordinated through bodies appointed by General Synod, the highest authority in the Church of Ireland - the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, and the Covenant Council in the case of the Methodists.

This shows us that the Church of Ireland is indeed ecumenical, in the sense that as part of the universal Church we are committed to the pursuit of Christian unity. And so, of course, are all the other major denominations with which we have been engaged. I feel certain that we are seeing the Holy Spirit at work, patiently and deliberately, if painfully slowly, leading Christians toward the unity that Christ prays for.

Yet the divisions remain

Despite all these high-level ecumenical engagements between our churches, and despite some successes along the way, the divisions between churches remain. In some respects they have even become deeper. Among the divisive issues are these:

1.       The ordination of women. The general Anglican agreement to ordain women as priests and bishops has been a real blessing to us in the Church of Ireland. But it is a real barrier to ecumenical relations and formal unity with the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. They maintain that it is ontologically impossible – a woman is simply incapable of being a priest. And of course, it also divides Anglicans. For instance the Church of England has permitted parallel structures to develop for those who cannot in conscience accept female priests.

2.       Equal marriage. Both Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches see same-sex relations as sinful, and refuse to countenance same-sex religious marriages. Some Anglican provinces, such the Episcopal Church in America and the Episcopal Church of Scotland now allow it. Our Church of Ireland still holds to the traditional conservative line, but increasing numbers of clergy and laity, including me, long for the day when our LGBT brothers and sisters in Christ can be married and blessed in church. Other communions are suspicious of the direction the Anglican Communion may be travelling.

3.       The validity of the priestly orders of bishop, priest and deacon. Ever since the Reformation the Roman Catholic Church has considered that Anglican and other protestant ordinations are illegitimate, since they believe the line of Apostolic succession was broken. This, for them, is a real barrier to sharing communion with us.

4.       There are also deep differences over divorce and contraception, which I don’t need to elaborate.

5.       And Church traditions, rules, which are not of principle, also place limits on unity. These include the marriage of clergy, and mismatched procedures that make it difficult for Methodist clergy to move to CofI parishes, and vice versa.

Many observers have drawn the conclusion that the ecumenical process is running or has run out of steam. I think this is in large measure true. No wonder so many question whether it is worth continuing. But it is undeniably true that at the parish level in Ireland and elsewhere, relations between clergy and laity of different traditions have become close and warm – what a change from my young days when they could barely bring themselves to enter each other’s churches.

I think the problems lie firstly in the top-down approach to unity focussed on uniformity, and secondly in the rigidity and reluctance to change of churches as institutions – they areas much human as divine constructs, in my view, with a very human dislike of change, and instinct to self-preservation.

If I am right, how can we break the logjam and make further progress toward the unity that Christ prays to the Father for his disciples?

How many of you have heard the phrase ‘Receptive Ecumenism’?

I have only recently come across it, but when I did, I immediately recognised that it describes my own experience sharing with Christians of other traditions over many years.

The idea of receptive ecumenism is essentially very simple. Instead of asking what other Church traditions need to learn from us – how they must change to fit in with us - we ask what our tradition needs to learn from them – what we can receive from them which is of God.

Receptive ecumenism recognises that our own tradition does not have all the answers, and respects the traditions of others. It seeks to engage Christians of different traditions from the bottom up, starting in our parishes, our local communities, and other communities of interest. So long as together we show the love of God for each other and for his creation, and work together for his kingdom, surely God rejoices in the diversity of our churches, as he clearly rejoices in the diversity of life on this living planet. I suggest that receptive ecumenism has the potential to transform how we listen and relate as churches, valuing each other, learning from each other, and recognising that we all have gifts to share.

My own bottom-up ecumenical encounters have been a great blessing. Let me tell you about a couple of them.

First, there was Nenagh Churches Together, a lay group, which led ecumenical prayer and worship in different churches and in the public square in Nenagh between 2009 and 2014.

·         Its origin lay in a multi-denominational group, which came together after a Lenten climate change course. In 2019 we organised a day of prayer for climate change, inviting people on the street to join us in a community hall. We followed this up with a Vigil for the UN Copenhagen Climate Change conference in the CofI church, at the invitation of the Rector. The RC parish then invited us to lead prayers in their church to celebrate the different nations represented in Nenagh, and later to lead the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity.

·         And so it went on - in total we held 8 well-attended public ecumenical events up to 2014, alternating churches and other venues. At different times the group brought together volunteers from the CofI, the RC Church, Methodists, Baptists, charismatic groups, and the Romanian Orthodox and Lutheran communities.

·         I think we all felt blessed by the work we did together, as I certainly did. I was truly impressed by the scriptural knowledge and spirituality of this group of lay folk from such varied traditions, by their willingness to work together, and by their gifts in planning and leading worship. I enjoyed the gift of exploring other traditions, and of growing closer together in the faith we shared, and it was fun!

·         But after about 4 years the group began to tire. We felt we had shown the way, that now more engagement was needed from clergy and ministers, but that was not forthcoming – I’m still not quite sure why. So sadly the initiative withered and died.

Then there have been the annual week-long Summer Schools I have enjoyed, run by the Columban Ecological Institute, as part of their MA programme in Theology and Ecology.

·         These were led for many years in pre-Covid times by Columban Fr Sean McDonagh, from Nenagh originally. John Feehan from Birr introduced attendees to the geology, botany, biology and history of a different area each year. John is a true polymath, and a thoughtful theologian, able to relate the science to his Christian faith, which he has done in several books, including the brilliant ‘The Singing Heart of the World’, on creation spirituality

·         I remember particularly one Summer School in the Burren, staying together in a hostel, where I was the only non-Roman Catholic. We prayed each morning. We walked the flower-rich pastures and examined the intricate mechanisms of pollination under the microscope. We pond-dipped and tried to identify the minute creatures we captured. We visited St Colman MacDuagh’s cave and holy well, reflecting on the legends surrounding him. And we walked in pilgrimage for miles across the Burren hills to arrive at Corcomroe Abbey, where Fr Sean celebrated an open-air mass, at which I was invited to contribute a prayer, and to receive Communion with the others.

·         For me, these opportunities to explore prayerfully the wonderful diversity of life with others has been the most wonderful gift. It is so sad that while our CofI welcomes all baptised Christians to receive the Eucharist, Roman Catholics and Orthodox do not, except in special circumstances. Some CofI folk I know go up to receive at mass, but I do not, out of respect for their discipline, unless invited to do so. But when I am, it is a great joy and a blessing.

To finish, let me throw out a few questions to think about:

·         Is the Holy Spirit acting to bring churches of all traditions together, as social change and falling numbers make the churches poorer and humbler?

·         Is ‘Receptive Ecumenism’ a good way forward? Can we grow together at the local level, until the institutional churches catch up?

That will mean actively welcoming Christians of other traditions, worshiping and working together with them, sharing their traditions and our own respectfully, listening to each other even when we disagree. And then bringing back the gifts we receive from one another to our home traditions and churches.

·         Can we in our parishes ask our brothers and sisters in Christ in other traditions, to affirm with us the Lund principle, that we should do as much as possible together, unless deep differences compel us to act separately? Surely we are better together than we are apart!

·         Should we in our local areas get together with those who are willing in other traditions, to establish or re-establish formal ‘Churches Together’ organisations? Through these we can aim to give concrete expression to our essential unity in diversity, and act together to build Christ’s kingdom.

From my experience, I think that will require a commitment not just from laity – who I feel sure will welcome it – but from clergy.

I will be happy to take any questions, but even more I would welcome discussion, both about the questions I have thrown out to you, and how we may make more ecumenical progress.

Joc Sanders

15 December 2021

Tuesday 14 December 2021


 A reflection for Morning Prayer with the Community of Brendan the Navigator on Tuesday 14the December 2021

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’

Paul wrote these words to the new Christians in Philippi, a city in Macedonia on the main road from the East to Rome. They come from the reading from Philippians (4:4-7) set for last Sunday, the 3rd Sunday of Advent, often called ‘Gaudete Sunday’ – ‘Gaudete’ means ‘Rejoice’ in Greek. In his letter he seeks to encourage them at a time when they are suffering opposition, even persecution.

The Lord is near’, says Paul. ‘Do not worry about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.’

Paul’s words echo down the centuries to us. But let us be very clear just what a hard thing Paul is asking. To rejoice, pray and give thanks when all is well is one thing. But always? No matter how dire the circumstances? What of the man who has just lost his job in the Covid lockdown? What of the single mother who cannot pay the fuel bill? What of the husband or wife whose life’s partner has just died of Covid, died alone? Isn’t Paul asking the impossible of them?

When everything seems to go against us it is very easy to become obsessed with our own misery, to fall into clinical depression. For those who have been there - as I have been - life is very bleak, at least for a time. To be told to pull your socks up is worse than useless – it makes you feel worse. Medication helps many people, but at its root depression is a spiritual disease, I think. It is about feeling cut off from the goodness and love of God – as Jesus said on the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Depression starts to be cured when, for all our troubles, we begin to see things to rejoice over, things to pray for, things to be thankful about.

When we rejoice, ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard (our) hearts and (our) minds’. Paul’s words are wise advice, both for the Christians in Philippi, and for all of us who believe in the goodness and love of God. Quite apart from the theology, they are a tool to help us resist depression.

‘Rejoice in the Lord always; again I will say, Rejoice.’

It is different, of course, for those who cannot, for depression, despair or whatever reason, experience God’s goodness and love. Paul’s words won’t help them directly. But we can help them, you and I can help them, by showing through our love and care for them, that there are things to rejoice at, things to look forward to, things to be thankful for.

The coming Christmas season will be psychologically difficult for many people. Society demands that everyone should feel jolly, when many don’t feel jolly at all. And this year for many it is made even worse by a second Christmas of Covid restrictions, and fear of rising infections. Let us make a special point of letting those who have lost a loved one in the last year know that we are thinking of them. Let us keep an eye out for our neighbours who are lonely, old, or finding life difficult, and show them love and support if they need it. And let us give as generously as we can to those agencies who are trying to relieve the shocking poverty too many are living with.

Echoing Paul, may ‘the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guard (our) hearts and (our) minds in Christ Jesus’, this year as every year.


Sunday 5 December 2021

John the Baptist

 An address given at Templederry and St Mary's Nenagh on Sunday 5th December 2021, the 2nd Sunday of Advent

As I dodge the potholes on North Tipperary boreens, I often pray that the County Council would take to heart the words of Isaiah we’ve just heard Luke quote in his Gospel (Luke 3:1-6):

"Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight. Every valley shall be filled, and every mountain and hill shall be made low, and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough ways made smooth;”

Joking aside, today I want to focus on John the son of Zechariah, the subject of today’s gospel reading. There are 3 questions I shall try to answer:

                 i.    Who was he?

               ii.    What was his teaching? and

             iii.    How is it relevant for us today?

So, firstly, what do we know about John the son of Zechariah?

Quite a bit, in fact - and not just from the Gospels. Josephus the 1st Cent Jewish historian is an independent source, who says more about John than he does about Jesus. John was a real person, not just a character in the gospel story. Notice how firmly Luke places John in his historical context.

He is the person we familiarly call John the Baptist. But Orthodox Christians call him John the Forerunner. This is quite as it should be, because the gospel writers and the early church saw him as the forerunner of the Messiah, foretold by Old Testament prophets including Isaiah.

Within the gospels, Luke tells us the most. He weaves the story of John’s birth in with that of Jesus. At the very beginning of his gospel, he tells us about John’s parents, a priest called Zechariah and Elizabeth his wife: both good, pious people, but getting on in years and childless. The angel Gabriel appears to Zechariah to tell him that Elizabeth will bear a son to be named John, who will be a great spiritual leader. Zechariah doesn’t believe Gabriel and is struck dumb, but Elizabeth does indeed conceive.

Elizabeth is a relative of Mary the mother of Jesus. Six months later, after Gabriel appears to Mary to tell her she will give birth to Jesus, Mary rushes off to visit Elizabeth. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s voice, the baby John leaps for joy in her womb, and Mary responds in the words of the canticle we know as the Magnificat.

In due course, Elizabeth bears her son, whom Elizabeth and Zechariah duly name John. Zechariah’s speech returns, and he gives thanks in the beautiful canticle we know as the Benedictus, which we used as our psalm today. It echoes the OT prophesies:

And thou, child, shalt be called the Prophet of the Highest,
for thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to prepare his ways,
to give knowledge of salvation unto his people,
for the remission of their sins.

All 4 of the gospel writers tell us how John, now grown up, goes out into the barren desert country by the Jordan, calling on the crowds who followed him to repent, and baptising them as a sign of their repentance. The background to all this was a great popular religious revival: many people were convinced that the Messiah of prophesy was about to appear, and they were urgently looking for signs that this was so. As we all know, Jesus went to John to be baptised, and John recognised him - not surprisingly since they were cousins.

John was just as blunt and bold a preacher as any of the Old Testament prophets before him. He was bound to run into trouble with the authorities. And he did. He upset Herod Antipas, the Tetrarch or King of Galilee, who ordered him to be arrested, and later beheaded. Josephus says he had John killed ‘to prevent any mischief he might cause’.

Let’s now turn to examine John the Baptist’s teaching.

In today’s gospel passage, Luke says that John proclaimed a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins’. In the following passage, which we will hear next Sunday, he goes on to outline John’s teaching. Three points stand out for me:

 i.    All the gospel writers are clear that John never claims to be the Messiah, but believes that he is the forerunner. Luke puts these words in his mouth: I baptise you with water; but one who is more powerful than I is coming: I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandals. He will baptise you with the Holy Spirit and fire.

ii.    John is what we might call a hellfire preacher. Luke quotes him saying: You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruits worthy of repentance. () Even now the axe is lying at the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire’. John seeks to shock the crowds into repentance by terrifying them with the consequences if they don’t. Then he seals their repentance by immersing them in water to symbolise that they are washed clean of sin. His preaching must have been very effective, judging by the crowds he gathered.

iii.    But John’s message is about much more than just hell fire. He calls for social justice. Quoting Luke again, he says: Whoever has two coats must share with anyone who has none; and whoever has food must do likewise. And he calls for people, even tax collectors and soldiers, to do whatever work they do fairly and not extort more than their due. No price gouging!

So what relevance does John the Baptist and his teaching have for us today?

Luke saw John the Baptist as the hinge on which salvation history turns, the forerunner promised by the prophets, making straight the way for Jesus the Messiah. It is difficult for us to see the world as Luke and his contemporaries did, through the prism of scriptural prophecy. And we deeply distrust fundamentalists who see it that way today.

But that world view empowered the early church to respond to Jesus’s message, no matter what the cost. Without it, the church would never have survived, and we would not be Christians today. The mysterious working of the Holy Spirit through prophecy is something we should celebrate.

Few Christian preachers nowadays stir up hellfire in their sermons, as they once did - and not so very long ago. We have become uncomfortable with the idea of the wrath of God. Instead it is ecologists and scientists who have been leading denunciations of our foolish and wicked trashing of this beautiful, God-given planet from secular pulpits, as David Attenborough did only a month ago at the COP26 Climate Conference in Glasgow – you probably saw him on the TV.

Now more and more people are hearing the call to protect our planet, and are starting to act upon it. Christians are to the forefront. Our Anglican Communion has adopted as the 5th mark of mission, ‘to strive to safeguard the integrity of creation, and sustain and renew the life of the earth’. Pope Francis has given us a clarion call in his encyclical Laudato ‘Si. In the run up to COP26, Pope Francis, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew and Archbishop Justin Welby, in an unprecedented joint statement, have warned of the urgency of environmental sustainability. And here in Ireland, Eco Congregation Ireland is spearheading the movement.

I hazard a prophecy, that we will hear more and more John-like hellfire from our Christian pulpits, as the ecological catastrophe of climate change intensifies. Why? Because we should be terrified of the wrath to come predicted by the scientists. That should bring us to repentance. And we should seal that repentance by mending our ways!

And as we mend our ways, we must also try to live out John’s social gospel, to share the good things we have received with our neighbours of every faith and race, at home and abroad. Mé féin is a road to perdition in our shrinking, globalised world. We must do so because this is not only the gospel of John, but the Gospel of Jesus, who empowers us by baptism not with water, but with the Holy Spirit and with fire!

Let me finish in prayer with a Collect of the Word

God of our salvation,
you straighten the winding ways of our hearts
and smooth the paths made rough by sin:
keep our hearts watchful in holiness,
and bring to perfection the good you have begun in us.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose Day draws near,
your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,
who lives and reigns with you
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, for ever and ever. Amen