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Why winter of our discontent is right time to tackle our problems

By Alf McCreary

Published 05/09/2015

Uncertain outlook: same-sex marriage is just one of the big issues facing our Churches in the coming year
Uncertain outlook: same-sex marriage is just one of the big issues facing our Churches in the coming year

The first week in September is traditionally the time for everyone, including the Churches, to get back to real business after the long summer break.

A "summer" break is perhaps an optimistic term for our weather, though surprisingly I have fond memories of a few glorious days, and a dip in the Atlantic Ocean at Rossnowlagh, amid the rain.

Now that most people are back from their breaks, the activities will increase among individual congregations as societies and Church groups plan for the autumn and winter season.

This should also apply to the Churches at leadership level, after a summer of relative quietness on the marching routes and barricades, but latterly of serious violence and important political implications.

The Churches have been quiet, partly because many of the leaders and ministers have gone away, but the same cannot be said for some of the problems and challenges that have remained unresolved over the summer.

One of the big issues facing the Churches in the next year will still be same-sex marriages.

Thus far the Churches have firmly withstood any moves to legalise same-sex marriage, but the unwise diktat from the Alliance Party forcing its candidates to accept this measure would almost certainly bring a 'Yes' result in the next Assembly election.

The trouble now is that there might not be an Assembly election if all the parties are unable to solve their deep differences as quickly as possible, and the outlook remains extremely uncertain.

If the Assembly ceases to function, it is likely that the moves to legalise same-sex will increase under pressure from London and Dublin, where there is no sympathy for the conservative views of the DUP and others.

Against such a background, the Presbyterians will continue to face division. Certainly, it will take more clever management from the centre to deal intelligently with the issue, rather than allowing the Assembly to back the childish gesture of not sending a representative to next year's Assembly in Edinburgh because of the Scottish Church's more liberal attitude in allowing couples in same-sex relationship to serve as ministers and deacons. The Presbyterians will also face the continued challenge of electing their first woman moderator, after miserably failing this year when they had the chance to do so.

Surely this is the time for senior figures in the Church to pave the way for this, before the February vote for a new Moderator-elect takes place.

The Presbyterians seem not to care, or acknowledge, that they are the only main Protestant Church on this island not to have elected a woman leader, when the Methodists have done so and when the Church of Ireland appointed its first woman Bishop a couple of years ago.

The Anglicans also have their problems with same-sex marriage, as well as the fall-out from the row at Knocknamuckley. In recent years, they have been immersed in internal changes but the Church's leadership profile in public has been muted, though no worse than other Churches.

The Roman Catholic Church continues to have an uphill battle in the wake of the clerical child-abuse scandal, and they still have a long way to go to regain the respect they once had.

In the meantime, the Churches should give every support, in public and private, to help the politicians to steer us out of the current mess. They may not instill us with confidence, but they are the only politicians we have, and it is we who elected them.

Belfast Telegraph

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