CHURCH of Ireland primate the Rev Dr Richard Clarke says that if the different Christian traditions in Ireland wish to be of help rather than a hindrance to a common good throughout the island, they must recognise the cultural differences that exist within the churches.
Archbishop Clarke said one of his “foibles” has been to avoid writing or speaking of different Christian churches, but instead to think of different traditions within the Christian Church.
“This is partly based on my own theological understanding of how I believe the Church in its wholeness should be conceived– as One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic, encompassing different traditions rather than as a series of squabbling fiefdoms each imagining that it possesses the totality of what the true Church is. But there is more to it than this.
“The use of the word tradition suggests far fuzzier edges than the walls that seem to be implied by the words ‘church’ or ‘denomination’. A tradition may indeed assert distinctive core teachings or spiritual emphases that will distinguish it from other traditions, but each also has its own broader culture, which will of its nature represent far more than the precise delineation of a particular community.
“It is not casual relativism to suggest that any and every religious tradition is set in a wider context than itself with social and political aspects to that context which will change with the particularity of circumstances, and that these external factors will inevitably modify some aspects of the religious tradition itself in the process.
“And there will be local cultural differences even within traditions,” he said.
Dr Clarke added: “I can say with absolute certainty that in many respects Irish Anglicanism and English Anglicanism are culturally very different, although they belong together within an Anglican family. I cannot be as confident in any ideas I might suggest about other Christian traditions, but observation would suggest to me – for example – that French Roman Catholicism and Irish Roman Catholicism are dissimilar in many respects, as would also be Scottish and Irish Presbyterianism.
“Recognising cultural differences is not an easy thing to do; most of our traditions cherish the fact that we are ‘all-Ireland’ communities and, totally regardless of the part of the island from which we hail, we value the internal unity we represent and rightly so.
“Speaking for my own tradition– the Church of Ireland – we constantly accentuate the fact that we are a single entity. Because provincial, diocesan and parochial boundaries obviously pre-date partition by centuries, several of our dioceses and a number of parishes are cross-border.
“The general synod of the Church of Ireland now meets in alternate years in Dublin and in Armagh; there is a long tradition of clergy ‘crossing the border’ to take up appointments in the other political jurisdiction and, on a personal note, I have done precisely this, having recently been appointed as archbishop of Armagh, although a southerner by birth and upbringing who has served almost all his ministry in different parts of the Republic.”