General Synod considers reports on marriage and education and debates private members motion on baptism


The General Synod in progress on Day 1.

The first day of the General Synod in Armagh City Hotel continued until early evening on Friday receiving reports, reading of bills and considering several motions.

One of the main discussions was around a Private Members Motion on baptism which provoked some emotional contributions from Synod members.

The proposer of the motion, Professor Patricia Barker put forward the motion; 'Whilst affirming the sanctity of marriage this Synod acknowledges that it is a reality of modern life that infants are often born to single parents and/or to couples who are not married.'

The Motion asked Synod to affirm that, in accordance with Canons, Chapter 9 of the Constitution of the Church of Ireland, irrespective of the marital status of the parents of an infant, a minister must not refuse or, save for the purpose of preparing or instructing the parents or godparents, delay to baptise any child within his or her cure who is brought to be baptised, provided that due notice has been given and the provisions relating to sponsors and godparents are observed.

Before the motion was proposed, Archbishop John McDowell observed that the motion had no power to do what it sought to do. It could not impact the present or future practice of baptism by the Church of Ireland. He also said there had been a request for voting by orders.

Prof Barker said that the Motion followed on from last year’s General Synod when the matter of refusing to baptise and infant whose mother was not married was raised. A number of accounts of this practice had emerged in the intervening year, she said. She asked that members of Synod affirm what they believe is fundamentally already embedded in the Church’s Canon law.

She said the motion did not seek to change Canon law but to affirm that law must be applied consistently and with clear equality to all parishioners who find themselves in the same situation.

She continued: “If this Synod believes that being a child of a single parent or of parents who are not married is lawful cause to refuse to baptise that child, the consequence of that decision is that, therefore, all children born outside of marriage should be refused in order to comply with our fundamental principles of consistency, equity and clarity.”

Clergy voted against the motion while lay members voted in favour but because more than 50 per cent of each the clergy and laity did not vote in favour, the motion fell.

Also on the agenda on the first day of General Synod was the report of the Marriage Council proposed by Revd Johnny Campbell-Smyth who presented official data which showed that the number of marriages per year had declined across Europe by almost 50 per cent between 1964 and 2022.

In the same period the divorce rate had doubled.

He outlined statistics in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland that in 1964 the number of couples married in Church of Ireland parishes in Northern Ireland was 2,343 and in 2022 that has reduced to 511, making that a 78% reduction in the past 60 years.

The Central Statistics Office for the Republic of Ireland shows that only 1.1% of marriages (that’s 242) in the Republic took place in the Church of Ireland within 2023. Civil ceremonies however increased to 31.6% of all marriages in 2023.

“So statistically there is a growing tide of couples moving away from church weddings across the island, but that doesn’t imply that our role is diminishing,' he said, outlining the work of the Council of providing support to couples considering marriage.

'The Church has a lot to offer to support couples in their relationships. I believe the Church has the opportunity to provide support at any stage, whether when a couple are considering marriage, supporting couples through the challenges of life whether health, loss, divorce, remarriage, the empty nest, whatever it is, the church is there to support and this is where we as a Marriage Council I think have begun this year to spread our wings wider,” Mr Campbell�'Smyth stated.

The Board of Education (NI) has expressed its concern about the voices in the media, politics and society which might question the role of faith in education.

Proposing the Report of the Board of Education, Canon Malcolm Kingston (for the Board of Education for Northern Ireland) said that the board believes that a school is “best served by a non�'denominational Christian ethos open to those of all faiths and none”.

Canon Kingston said that the board had also been considering the findings of the Independent Review of Education in Northern Ireland which was published in December 2023 and how it relates to the role of Churches in education.

Canon Kingston said that the Board of Education supported the Transferor Representatives’ Council in their pursuit of a revision to the Religious Education Curriculum in Northern Ireland and endorsed the position that collective worship is a Christian act and is vital in the retention of a Christian ethos in all controlled and Church of Ireland schools.

He expressed the board’s concern with the direction of travel of an imposed part of the Relationship and Sexuality Education curriculum concerning abortion and sexual reproduction for all schools in Northern Ireland.

He thanked Canon Amanda Adams and Frances Boyd for representing the Church as members of the Education Authority Board. He said that the involvement of the Church of Ireland in the work of the authority was important as it was responsible for the delivery of efficient education services to meet the needs of children and young people through schools and youth services.

Seconding the report, Hazel Corrigan began by thanking the outgoing boards of management of primary schools and welcoming the incoming boards who started their four year term of office in November.

She welcomed the endorsement by the Minister for Education Norma Foley of the work of faith based schools at a recent conference and in particular her acknowledgement of the work of boards of management.

Mrs Corrigan said that over recent months Dr Ken Fennelly with Susan Ellis and Eileen Flynn had delivered training for new primary boards of management. By the end of May near 1,600 members of boards will have attended training from each dioceses with primary schools in the Republic.

She encouraged parents to consider applying for a Secondary Education Committee (SEC) grant and asked schools to ensure parents are aware of the grant for children attending a Church of Ireland or Protestant school. Their website is