The Orange, the Church and me

Rev. Canon Dr. S.E. Long, retired Church of Ireland minister and Senior Grand Chaplain reflects on his association with the Orange.

When I joined the Loyal Orange Institution I had no thought of getting deeply involved in the organisation.  I saw its value as a movement set for the defense of the Reformed Faith and with the capacity to draw together those of the Protestant denominations who have the same intention.  As a unionist, I saw it as a voice for people who had the same ambition to ensure that Northern Ireland remained part of the United Kingdom.  And I regarded it as an opportunity to keep in touch with men in the community.  The privileged place of the clerical chaplain in the Orange Order allows him the opportunity to emphasise Christian beliefs, and to advocate Christian ethical standards of behaviour, for the chaplain can be the teacher and the preacher of Orangeism.

The primary attraction for me in the Orange Order was its concentration on the Christian faith as preacher and practised in the early church and by the Protestant Reformers; its agreeableness with the theological emphases of the Church of Ireland, markedly biblical and liturgical in its ritual; given to friendship across the denominational divides; a brotherhood of shared beliefs and ethical principles.

I realised, human nature being as it is, that the plan and purpose of the organisation were idealistic, that the reality meant a constant striving to reach and to maintain the standards set by the founding fathers.  Cognisant of the intention to encourage people to value and live by those models of belief and behaviour, that living is learning, thinking and doing.  To have men trying to live by Christian faith and practice has to be a most laudable pursuit.

I found that the Order’s intention was compatible with what my Church, and the Churches exist for, to worship God and to know Him in the person, worth and work of Jesus Christ.

The task of the Church is to persuade people to believe in God and to live their lives consonant with that faith and trust.  The task of the Order is to encourage the involvement of its members in the work and witness of the church in which they claim membership.  Many Orangemen do that as office holders and devout and devoted Churchmen.

It has had bishops and an archbishop, John Baptist Crozier, and many clergy of the Church of Ireland; Moderators of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland and leaders from the other Protestant Churches.

The reasons for changes in attitudes of the churches to the Order in recent years are well known and their causes well documented and are in the public domain.  The media here and everywhere left no one in any doubt on the attitudes and actions of the many at every level interested in and affected by happenings and circumstances, often regrettable in their effect on life in Northern Ireland.

There has been, too, the growing secularism of a society in which churches and religiously orientated organisations have lost influence and effectiveness in their efforts to have the Christian voice heard necessarily, clearly and pungently.

True as an analysis of things generally there are successes with people and in places when there are positive responses to Christian work and witness.

The Orange Order remains a means of contact, the church with men and they with it.

Whatever value is placed on church services with Orangemen in regalia in attendance they are opportunities for the church by its worship, singing, praying and preaching to encourage them to think on what it teaches of importance to them – Christian spiritual and ethical realities – and to hear the Word of God through people to people.

The controversies over the refusal of Churches to allow “Orange Services” are most regrettable.  The reaction “You do not go where you are not welcome” has effects on Church and Order relationships not to be assessed by me that is for those who make decisions and live with them.

My own experience on the subject has been good.  I have had no adverse situations to prevent me fulfilling engagements.  I have nothing to add on the matter other than to say that judgments made need sensitive explanation and justification.

As a clerical chaplain, I used opportunities to contribute to the workings of the Order in an organisation where a hearing was guaranteed whatever the subject and the cut and thrust of the debate was encouraged.

In Private, District, County, Grand Lodges and in my case the Imperial Council for World Orangeism, I had a voice and presence which was always determinedly centred on the faith to which the Institution is committed irrevocably.

I have persisted in membership at times when decisions taken by the Order were ill judged and controversial, and other clerical colleagues chose to disassociate themselves from it.  I continue to believe in the values by which the Institution stands, while deeply regretting the inability or unwillingness of some members to keep the vows and promises made at their initiation.  My experience has been that while the recruitment of brethren is a constant cause for concern, there is continuous need to question the applicants for membership on their perceptions of the Order, the honesty and sincerity it will expect from them and what it will require of them in character and conduct, in order to fulfil their obligations as good men and worthy citizens.

The Orange Institution, everywhere, has many admirable brethren who add considerably to the society and community to which they belong.

The fellowship of the lodge is so meaningful to them that it is demonstrated in the membership of aged brethren, Orangemen from their youth with their sons and grandsons in the lodge with them.

* This is an extract from Canon Long’s recent publication The Long of it  (Slieve Croob Press, 2009)