One thing that struck me when I went up to Dublin to train for ministry some fifteen years ago, was how average and normal everyone felt their home parish was. Let me explain. When you arrived in the college in those days, it was quite likely that you would be coming face to face with fifteen people that you had never met before, or at most you might know one or two. When I went up I was the only person from Cashel, Ferns and Ossary, there was a mix of folk from the rest of the country. So, for the first small while at every hands turn you had to introduce yourself, name, where you were from and then what sort of church your home parish was. So it was a case of, ‘My name is Jo Bloggs, I’m from county so-and-so and I’m from a typical Church of Ireland parish’. After we got to know each other a bit better, we discovered how different our home parishes were. Some used only the old Black Book and had at most 12 Holy Communions a year, others used only the blue book and Irish Church Praise. Some had praise bands and some had record players. Some were evidently quiet catholic and some were fiercely Protestant. The things that parishes did, what they were involved with what ideas they had, were all very different. Some had no notion that others in the church were doing such things or were surprised to find out just what things others did not do. It was clear that many of us had created in our minds a ideal vision of the church in the image of our home parishes.
This is one of the reasons I love General Synod. It shows off the church of Ireland in all its quirkiness, variety, pomp and love of committees. The illusion that we are all the same is quickly dispelled. The best definition of a family is not that we all look the same but that we are all related, as much as that may surprises, embarrass or even shock us. Going to Synod is a bit like going to a family reunion and finding out what an odd but wonderful and varied bunch we are. As The Arch bishop of Armagh reminded us, our faith is supposed to be relational and which of us in our heart of hearts doesn’t think that our relations are a pretty odd bunch. That however is the strength of a family, that there is this group of people who whilst all different, have a common bond, who express a grab bag of familial traits in a myriad of different ways. We may have to sit through financial reports of committees in which we have little interest, whose stories we are sure we have heard before, but it is a small price to pay for wonderful vision of the rainbow that is the Church of Ireland. For me it is the sight of that rainbow that is a sign and reminder of our covenant with God, that, whatever the weather, what ever side of the argument we are on, where ever we have been or what ever has happened, there is still a place at the table for us. I think that, that is the best way of describing a family, those who, what ever else, we will admit that the share a bond and that we will sit round a table together.