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W

hat are the roots


of the Church of
Ireland Hard Gospel
Project? Reflecting on the
Troubles in the wider com-
munity, Archbishop Harper
said: Those divisions that
beset the community spilled
into the life of the Church of
Ireland at Drumcree the dif-
ficulties the Church of Ireland
had in addressing (Drumcree)
marked an important
almost defining issue for the
Church.
Drumcree brought the
Church of Ireland to ask itself
questions posed not just by
that crisis, but by the divi-
sions of the wider community
which it somehow symbolised:
Where does the (Church of
Ireland) stand on issues about
sectarianism (and) commu-
nity tension? He felt it also
posed another question: How
was the Church to set an
example worthy of imitation
in a very disturbed and
disturbing situation?
Archbishop Alan
Harper was integral to
a process of self-exami-
nation started by the
Church of Ireland. It
commissioned soci-
ologist Gareth Higgins
(who has since become
a regular columnist in the
Gazette) to take a snapshot
of attitudes towards sectari-
anism throughout the length
and breadth of the Church of
Ireland.
The Hard Gospel Report
had two key findings. There
was a widespread belief in the
Church of Ireland that sectari-
anism was incompatible with
Christian faith. There was also
a groundswell of opinion that
the denomination wanted to
do something positive about
it. The words of a retired rec-
tor inspired the title both for
the report and subsequent
project: I want to see a return
to the hard Gospel that you
love God and love your neigh-
bour as yourself.
A DIFFICULT JOURNEY
Archbishop Harper said of
this self-examination: The
first thing we had to do was to
try and understand this phe-
nomenon called sectarianism.
We also realised that what sec-
tarianism does to a Church is
to rob it of its authenticity.
The Hard Gospel process
means asking whether there
is anything in what we do or
say which has contributed to
division in our community.
How do we best serve God
What are the things we (in the
Church of Ireland) are engaged
in which are contrary to the
Gospel and which inhibit the
way the Gospel is meant to
inform and enliven the lives
of people in twenty-first
century Ireland?
Is the Church client-driven
or Gospel-driven? Archbishop
Harper said: Over the cen-
turies, it is very easy for any
organisation, not least a
Church, to identify closely
with social and political aspi-
rations of its own member-
ship in particular. Sometimes
those aspirations become
closely associated with a par-
ticular religious or denomi-
national identity. Thats a very
uncomfortable place to be.
He continued: The Church
has to fly as its flag the cross of
Jesus Christ. This means that
the Church manifests part of
its calling to be salt and light
by asking the question, Is
the way we are the way Christ
requires us to be, and you cant
do that if you are wedded to a
particular historical or politi-
cal analysis?
The Church of Ireland, in
deciding to walk this journey,
faces difficult questions. The
Archbishop said: What (are)
we going to discover about
ourselves about our his-
tory as a Church and the
way we have related over the
centuries to other Churches?
How have those historical as
distinct from theological dif-
ferences shaped the way our
country now is?
THE HEART OF THE
HARD GOSPEL
Archbishop Alan Harper
believes that the heart of the
Hard Gospel is an engage-
ment with one of the most
significant human problems:
how do we deal in a critical
and affirming way with issues
of difference? Given the roots
of the Hard Gospel process,
an inevitable focus has been
on how to live with politi-
cal and religious difference
unionism and nationalism,
Protestantism and Roman
Catholicism.
However, the Archbishop
believes that the challenge
of dealing with difference
goes beyond this. It quickly
became clear there were lots
of other issues of difference as
well which present themselves
as issues which the Church
has to address. He mentioned
issues of sexuality which were
emerging more widely in the
Anglican Communion. He also
mentioned issues of gender,
immigration and equality - all
potentially difficult issues to
deal with and presenting the
same challenge: We needed
to think through what was the
Hard Gospel thing, which is to
love God and love your neigh-
bour as yourself wrestling
with issues that make differ-
ence difficult for us to cope
with.
ONLY A NORTHERN THING?
Is the Hard Gospel only
relevant in Northern Ireland?
It is just not true that Hard
Gospel issues are to do
merely with the North. The
Archbishop continued: They
may be different sets of issues
which present themselves, but
they are issues about dealing
positively with difference of
affirming a community that is
not completely monochrome
in its make-up.
There is the old chal-
lenge of living with his-
toric neighbours. There
is also the fresh challenge
of living with new neigh-
bours who have come
with the social changes
of the Celtic Tiger and
record inward migra-
tion. He concluded:
These fresh issues are ones
that no one has had time to
think about. They need to be
thought about and prepared
for.
AN INTERNAL JOURNEY
What is the Church of
Ireland modelling in the
way it lives with difference
within its own membership?
Archbishop Harper talked of
the internal challenges to liv-
ing with difference. In par-
ticular, he reflected on differ-
ences of churchmanship. He
also talked of issues such as
debate over General Synod
representation from dioceses
Hard Gospel Easy Yoke?
Archbishop Alan Harper speaks to
Earl Storey, Director of the Hard Gospel Project
Interview I 6 - FRIDAY 31 AUGUST 2007 CHURCH OF IRELAND GAZETTE
...what sectarianism does to a Church is to
rob it of its authenticity
Interview I CHURCH OF IRELAND GAZETTE FRIDAY 31 AUGUST 2007 - 7
Earl Storey, left, with Archbishop Alan Harper
in the North and South, as
well as tensions between the
Northern and Southern parts
of the Church of Ireland.
He identified the challenge
as how do we live with one
another, affirm one another,
respect and accept one anoth-
er? He continued: The real-
ity is that while people think
there is a problem, there is a
problem if there is some-
thing which in the life of the
Church makes for misunder-
standings or antipathy
we have to address that.
Talking of the internal chal-
lenge for the Church of Ireland,
he said: We have to ensure
that the institutions of the
Church are not only serving
the Church well but that they
should be seen to serve the
Church well, and to be serv-
ing the whole of the Church.
He called for an honest but
generous conversation in the
life of the Church.
DEFINING SUCCESS
One of the most important
tasks of a leader is to define
success for their organisation.
Archbishop Harper was asked
to paint a picture of what suc-
cess or failure would look like
for the Hard Gospel Project.
He said: I would like to see
this Church even more at ease
with itself than it is, and hav-
ing a clear sense of its mission
to Ireland and the world
Were rediscovering the places
where we need to put particu-
lar energy.
He valued enthusiasm to
engage with tough issues rath-
er than avoid them, adding:
The criticism that has been
levelled at us is that we are
very good at avoiding issues
I think there is a measure
of truth in that. He looked for
a Church which has changed
not just because Ireland has
changed but because the
Church has changed itself
and is attempting to change
Ireland.
WHO MOVED
MY CULTURE?
An Anglican bishop recent-
ly uttered the memorable
phrase, Culture eats strategy.
The Archbishop was asked to
comment on this with regard
to the Church of Ireland.
Recognising that strategy
does not develop independ-
ently of our culture as an
organisation, he said: Culture
is not frozen. It is not a static
thing. It is growing and chang-
ing. The Church of Ireland cul-
ture is no different.
Regarding the culture in
the Church of Ireland, he
said: Most of all it should be
informed by ongoing engage-
ment with the Gospel of Christ.
That is what the Church is
about. He commented that
the dead hand of a culture
can stymie and slow or curtail
a strategic approach, that in
the end we simply tire of the
effort.
Jettisoning culture was not
what he was proposing. He
said that the Church of Ireland
needed to free up its institu-
tions so that they work more
efficiently. He felt that, where
appropriate, the Church of
Ireland should be willing to
say of something this doesnt
work anymore so lets stop
doing it if (a) particular part
of Church life is not serving
the purpose for which it was
originally set up we need
to re-imagine how we do this
particular kind of work.
THE PLACE OF
THE CHURCH
The Primate had clear
things to say about the chang-
ing place of Church in society.
We (Churches) can no longer
rely on having a place as of
right in terms of public affairs
or the influence that Church
used to exert simply by being
the Churches. He continued:
We have now to command
that, as a result of delivery and
providing a critique of soci-
ety that others can take with a
degree of respect persuad-
ing people by the power and
quality of our argument and
the genuine strength of our
analysis rather than merely by
weight of numbers.
HARD GOSPEL SUNDAY
The Archbishops hopes for
Hard Gospel Sunday were that
it would enable parishes to
see (that) dealing with dif-
ference constructively in a
very diverse society is a core
Gospel issue.
The bishops of the Church
of Ireland have designated
Sunday 9th September 2007
as Hard Gospel Sunday.
(Resources and further infor-
mation, www.hardgospel.net)