The Archbishop of Armagh’s Presidential Address at Armagh Diocesan Synod 2017

A third word is engagement. The word has a number of nuances, but here I mean – in effect – the opposite of disengagement. You and I are called to be committed to and involved in the life, the needs and the cares of the world around us. It is very easy for Christians to separate their religion from the everyday life of the world; it is also supremely dangerous. In what we know as the “high–priestly prayer”, that prayer of Our Lord in John’s Gospel, chapter 17, his prayer is that his followers will be fully in the world, in the darkness of the world as well as its joys. If we as disciples live only in a ghetto of our own making, we are actively shutting people out of the Church, and so we are shutting out Jesus Christ himself.

On the night of the terrible fire in the Grenfell Tower in London in June, the first people on the scene to bring help and comfort (other than the fire and police services) were men and women of local faith communities. I learnt more recently that there is a computerised system that ensures that when more than six fire appliances are called to a fire, or a terrorist outrage or any other disaster, the Salvation Army will automatically be called for help. They were there first on the night of the Grenfell fire, but very quickly local faith groups of every kind were combining to give shelter, food, blankets and just straightforward comfort to those who had escaped from the tower block. More movingly, by the next morning the west London synagogue had sent a huge consignment of clothes, food and other necessities to the local mosque. The faith response to Grenfell is, in Christian terms, not simply good neighbourliness, important though this undoubtedly is. It is the command of faith that if we are not engaged with the world around us – fully and even sacrificially – we have left Christ outside the door of our churches. How can we then expect anyone else outside our doors to take us seriously or wish to be part of us?

The fourth and final word may be the most unexpected, enchantment. We may associate enchantment with the world of Harry Potter or the novels of Philip Pullman, but that should perhaps teach us something. Even those, such as Pullman, who are deeply antagonistic to religious faith of any kind, realise that an immensely deep need in people is to be captivated by something beyond themselves. Enchantment comes from the idea of the entrancing song that can carry people to another place of wonder, a place beyond themselves. This is not about stunts or artificial trickery but about the magnetic love of Christ calling people out of themselves, their misery and fear and anger, towards his love.

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