Sunday, 29 May 2011

With All the Saints in a parish church and in the cathedral

The interior of All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

This morning I was celebrating the Eucharist and preaching in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, in Dublin’s north inner city. The choir and the clergy were away for the day, visiting Leighlin Cathedral in Co Carlow, and there was a small congregation this morning.

All Saints’ Church goes without mention in Peter Costello’s Dublin Churches (Dublin: Gill and Macmillan, 1989), but is an interesting parish and building in the life of the Church of Ireland in the Diocese of Dublin.

Grangegorman was originally a grange belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Christ Church Cathedral, providing an income for the Vicars Choral of the cathedral. Although the area had a vicar or curate from at least the early 18th century, Grangegorman was without a church for so long that in 1800 it is described as providing a sinecure for the Revd Henry Campbell.

All Saints’ Church was designed by John Semple and was built in 1828. A year later, in 1829, the parish was formed from areas carved out of the parishes of Saint Michan and Saint Paul, and the Revd Arthur Smith Adamson was reappointed perpetual curate or vicar.

Grangegorman has seen many changes since then, particular under Adamson’s two immediate successors, the Revd William Maturin (1843-1887), and Canon Henry Hogan (1887-1923), who, between them, served the parish for 80 years. During their time, Grangegorman became the most prominent of three Tractarian churches in Dublin – the other two being Saint Bartholomew’s, Clyde Road, and Saint John’s, Sandymount.

In this climate, the architect Thomas Drew remodelled the interior of All Saints’ according to Tractarian principles, redesigning the chancel in 1856, and adding the north aisle in 1867, the south porch in 1887 and the baptistery in 1889.

The walls of All Saints’ are lined with red-and-blue brick, and the pointed brick arches between the nave and the aisle are carried on limestone shafts with stylised Caen stone capitals. The baptistery window is of red sandstone. The chancel arch is carried on clustered colonnettes of black-and-red polished stone.

Sadly, much of the beautiful interior of the church was destroyed in a fire in 1966. The first phase of restoration work around 1980 was limited to essentials by financial constraints, so that the present low raftered ceiling is not as high as the original 19th century roof.

When restoration work was again necessary in 2001, the church was restored to its condition before to the fire, the original brickwork was revealed, new floor tiles were laid and the organ was re-sited.

The War Memorial in All Saints’ is considered a late masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts Movement (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The stained glass windows include work by Catherine O’Brien, AL Moore of London, James Powell & Son and various artists from An Túr Gloine school. The War Memorial is considered a late masterpiece of the Arts and Crafts Movement.

The vestry walls are lined with portraits and photographs of previous rectors and curates at All Saints’, often remembered as giants striding across the history of the Church of Ireland.

Archdeacon Raymond Jenkins, Rector from 1939 to 1976, was also Warden of the Divinity Hostel, the precursor of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (1934-1939), where the Jenkins Room is named after him.

For nine years, from 1966 to 1975, his curate at All Saints’ was Bishop Frederick Robert Willis, who had been a missionary in India with the Dublin University Mission for 23 years before becoming Bishop of Delhi (1951-1966).

Many of the other clergy at All Saints’ had colourful careers, dedicating much of their life to missionary work. The Revd Davis George Croghan (1862-1865) from Wexford and the Revd John Thomas Darragh (1880-1881), both curates with William Maturin, later became missionaries with SPG (now USPG – Anglicans in World Mission) in South Africa – Croghan became Archdeacon of Bloemfontein and Dean of Grahamstown, while Darragh became Rector of Saint Mary’s, now Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Johannesburg.

Since 1976, All Saints’ Church has been part of the Christ Church Cathedral group of parishes, which also includes Saint Michan’s Church and Saint Werburgh’s Church, on opposite banks of the River Liffey.

The mediaeval tower of Saint Michan's reflected in a neighbouring modern office block (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

From Grangegorman, I strolled back through Broadstone, down Constitution Hill and Church Street and past Saint Michan’s, along the Quays and up Winetavern Street to Christ Church Cathedral, in time for coffee in the crypt.

A bagpiper in Temple Bar, where men in kilts outnumbered women in skirts this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After lunch in Café Topolis in Parliament, I spent some time strolling around Temple Bar. For the first time in my memory, men in skirts outnumbered women in skirts in Temple Bar – the Scottish football supporters in kilts outnumbered the women still in the city centre after last night’s hen parties, and a young girl in her first communion dress shied away from a bagpiper who was adding to joyful sunny atmosphere.

I was back in Christ Church Cathedral this afternoon for Choral Evensong sung by the Cathedral Choir. The Preces and Responses were by Herbert Sumsion (1899-1995), who was the organist at Gloucester Cathedral for much of his career and a life-long friend of Vaughan Williams and Herbert Howells. The Canticles Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from the Evening Service in D by Sir George Dyson (1883-1964).

But the outstanding performance by the choir this evening was the Anthem: Wesley, Blessed be the God and Father, written in 1833-1834 by Samuel Sebastian Wesley (1810-1876). This truly was the choir at its best, and sitting behind them in my stall was a real blessing this afternoon.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

‘Whoever saves a life has saved the entire world’

The Areopagus, beneath the slopes of the Acropolis in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 29 May 2011: The Sixth Sunday of Easter

All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin

10.30 a.m., The Eucharist

Acts 17: 22-31; Psalm 66: 7-18; 1 Peter 3: 13-22; John 14: 15-21.


Acts 17: 22-31 ... the Apostle Paul's sermon at the Areopagus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

May I speak to you in the name of the + Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen

If the truth were to be told, many Christians find it difficult to live a life that is truly Trinitarian.

We may think we understand our relationship with God the Father, the Creator of Heaven and Earth.

We may think we have an even clearer understanding of our relationship with God the Son … after all, we know every last detail of his biography; his CV has been the subject of every Sunday School and Confirmation class we attended; his CV fills and shapes our Church Calendar and the stained glass windows of our parish churches.

But what about the Holy Spirit?

If we were to ask most people, they probably think of the Holy Spirit as some invisible appendix of God the Father and God the Son, something or someone that comes down at Pentecost; perhaps, that gave us gifts at confirmation; but something or someone best not talked about too much in case someone thinks we are too enthusiastic about Christianity, about religion.

We become uncomfortable about the Holy Spirit when we think about enthusiastic and uncontrolled expressions of charismatic Pentecostalism.

Our access to thinking about God the Holy Spirit is made more difficult when we think about the images of the Holy Spirit provided in the traditions of Christian art: a dove that is shown in paintings and stained-glass windows that looks a lot like a homing pigeon; or tongues of fire dancing around the meekly-bowed heads of people cowering together as they hide in a room.

We think, perhaps, that it is best to leave sermons about the Holy Spirit to the Day of Pentecost, or to a once-a-year Confirmation service, and let the rest of us get on for the rest of the year with God being God the Father or God the Son.

But the Holy Spirit is not something added on as an extra course, as an after-thought after the Resurrection and Ascension.

We find it difficult to think of the pre-existence of Christ. What was he doing before the Annunciation? Sunday after Sunday, we confess in the Nicene Creed that “Through him all things were made.” But we still find it difficult in our prayer and inner spirituality to think of the Eternal Christ.

And when it comes to saying “We believe in the Holy Spirit,” do we really believe in the Holy Spirit as “the Lord, the giver of life,” in the Holy Spirit as the way in which God “has spoken through the prophets”?

I am a regular blogger. My sons worry that my friends may think I’m a bit of a “Geek.”

I post on the internet, on average, every day, or every second day. But I really am not a geek. All I post is my lecture notes, my sermons, and some rambling thoughts about walking on the beach, or about travelling and local history, or about my love of music and poetry.

It takes very little extra work. I still have to write up my notes for lectures and sermons. And I have very little way of knowing whether these notes and ramblings have any impact once they go out into cyberspace.

About three years ago, when I faced up to some personal difficulties and wrestled with them, I posted on my blog some reflections on how my mind kept returning to those reassuring words from Dame Julian of Norwich: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of things shall be well.”

I wrote how Julian’s positive outlook does not come from ignoring suffering or being blind to it, but arises from the clarity she attained as she struggled with her own questions. This struggle gave her the ability to see beyond her own pain and suffering and to look into the compassionate face of God. Only this gazing could reassure her that – despite pain, and sorrow – in God’s own time, “all shall be well.”

Almost immediately, a former work colleague rang to know if I was all right. He offered a friendly ear, and his response was comforting and consoling.

Over the years, there have been some other responses to this posting. Then, 10 days ago, an anonymous reader posted, saying: “Thank you for this gift. [I r]eceived very difficult news this past week and kept looking for a silver lining – some way to give thanks to God for what has happened in my life … In reading the words ‘All shall be well . . .’ was a great reminder of the hope that Christ gives us and as well, that Christ is with us each second of the day. Thank you again for the reminder of ‘God with us’ no matter what.”

It was a response out of the blue, and after three years it put my own difficulties then in perspective. Three years later someone else found comfort in my own reflections on my own sorrows.

I don’t know who this person is, or where she lives. All I know is she is a chaplain.

But if this was the only blog-post that I had a response to, if this was the only reader I had for the past three years, then all the other blog-posts had been worth it. We cannot control, quantify or restrict the way in which the Holy Spirit uses or values our work, or uses us to work with others. And for most of the time, we’re better off not knowing.

But I was sharing this experience with some colleagues this week. And I was reminded of a saying in the Talmud – one of the most sacred texts of ancient Judaism: “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.” [Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4: 1 (22a); Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 37a.]

It is a saying found throughout Rabbinic literature, that is repeated in the Quran, and that inspired Oskar Schindler, the hero of the movie Schindler’s List.

I was sharing this story a few nights ago over dinner with some clerical colleagues and friends.

One told me of a man who had turned up in his church for a quiet mid-day service. The man is now in his mid-40s, and was visiting Ireland on a business trip. He had often visited churches and cathedrals, but had never before been so moved as he was by this mid-day Eucharist. He approached my friend afterwards and asked for a quiet moment.

He wanted to be baptised ... there and then.

My friend asked him to wait, to come back in an hour or two. And he did. Two parishioners stood as sponsors or godparents. The whole thing was over in ten or 15 minutes. The man rang his wife full of joy. He felt he had arrived where he ought to be. Outwardly, he was full of joy. Inwardly, he had arrived, he was at home, he had found his peace with God.

What had happened? The Holy Spirit had moved, and he had responded.

“Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

‘He himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things’ ... the steps up the Areopgaus in Athens (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

God never leaves us alone.

This is what the Apostle Paul is saying at the Areopagus in Athens in our reading from the Acts of the Apostles this morning. The people who worshipped the unknown God on the slopes beneath the shadow of the Acropolis could be assured that God had heard their prayers, and they were now being invited to join in communion with him through Paul’s proclamation.

And, because the Resurrection breaks through all the barriers of time and space, the Apostle Peter tells us this morning that even in death Christ brought the good news to those who died before the Incarnation: “also he went and made a proclamation to the spirits in prison.”

God leaves no-one without the opportunity to be drawn into his infinite love, no-one despite the barriers of time and space, the barriers of history or geography, the barriers of social or religious distinction.

And as a sign or a token of this, as a promise of this, Christ says in our Gospel reading this morning that he is asking “the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you for ever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”

If you know the Spirit, and the Spirit abides in you, how would you let others know?

I imagine, that there are many people this weekend who are very happy to celebrate the fiftieth anniversary of Amnesty International, which has been an advocate for them. Because of the work of Amnesty International, they do not have to be Christians to have found truth in the promise of Christ that they shall not be left alone, that he shall send them an advocate.

If the Holy Spirit is the Advocate and is living in you, then who are you an advocate for?

Who do you speak up for when there is no-one else to speak up for them?

Who are you, in your own small, quiet, undramatic way, a little Oskar Schindler for?

I have no doubt that the Holy Spirit works in so many ways that we cannot understand. And that the Holy Spirit works best and works most often in the quiet small ways rather than in the big dramatic ways.

Don’t put down or dismiss the small efforts to make this a better world. “Whoever saves a life, it is considered as if he saved an entire world.”

Gandhi once said: “Be the change you want to see in the world.” And he also said: “Only he who is foolish enough to believe that he can change the world, really changes it.”

And sometimes, even when it seems foolish, sometimes, even when it seems extravagant, it is worth being led by the Holy Spirit. Because the Holy Spirit may be leading us to surprising places, and leading others to be there too.

And so may all we think, say, and do, be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, Amen.

All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin

Collect:

God our redeemer,
you have delivered us from the power of darkness
and brought us into the kingdom of your Son:
Grant, that as by his death he has recalled us to life,
so by his continual presence in us he may raise us to eternal joy;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Father,
whose Son Jesus Christ gives the water of eternal life:
May we also thirst for you,
the spring of life and source of goodness,
through him who is alive and reigns with you
and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman, Dublin, at the Eucharist on Sunday 29 May 2011.

Saturday, 28 May 2011

Saturday afternoon ... and time to walk on the beaches at Portrane and Bettystown

Dark clouds gathering over the broad stretches of sand on the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath, late this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Long ago i learned to write my sermons as early in the week as possible. And I learned too that even if I’m not preaching to read the Sunday Lectionary readings and at least ten days in advance and to think on them constantly so that I can engage with the sermon, and be prepared to peach at short notice.

This practice has normally left me with Saturdays that are free of pressure and demands. A late night last night at dinner with good friends still left me free to spend the afternoon on the coast.

After an early lunch I visited cousins in Portrane, and received a surprise gift of a bottle of Bordeaux brought back from a holiday in France.

From The Quay, there was a clear view across to Rush, and one lone yacht sailing between the Quay and Lambay Island. Out from the Burrow Beach, two teenagers were playing joyfully in the water and swimming, paying no regard to the fact that weather has become noticeably chilly these days or that dark clouds were threatening to gather.

Flowers blooming on the ruins of Saint Catherine’s Church, Portrane (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

In Portrane itself, I noticed beautiful purple flowers that were in full bloom on the ruined walls of old Saint Catherine’s Church. My grandparents, great-grandparents and many other generations on that side of the family are buried in the old churchyard, but it was sad to see inside the ruins of this former Church of Ireland parish church that the gravestones of members of the Evans family, who once owned Portrane House, are crumbling and many of them are now difficult to read.

Relish has a picturesque location at the end of a terrace of cottages above a sandbank overlooking the beach at Bettystown, Co Meath (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The two of us then drove back through Donabate, onto to the M1 and north to Bettystown on the “Gold Coast” of Co Meath. There we had an early dinner in Relish, the most picturesquely located café in this part of Ireland, at the end of a terrace of cottages poised on top of a sandbank and looking out over broad stretches of soft sand at Bettystown and out to the Irish Sea.

Later, we stepped down onto that beautiful golden beach and started strolling south towards Laytown. It was still early in the evening, but the gathering clouds made it feel darker and colder and threatened rain.

We bought the Guardian in Donovan’s supermarket, some bread for tomorrow morning’s Eucharist in All Saints’ Church, Grangegorman.

A refurbished old thatched cottage outside Julianstown south of Drogheda (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

We stopped outside Julianstown to photograph an old thatched cottage that has recently been refurbished. And then we headed back through Gormanston, Balbbirggan and the city centre to my office to collect my robes and print out that Sunday sermon.

Tuesday, 24 May 2011

‘Thy Kingdom Come! Prayer and Mission in the building of The Kingdom’


Patrick Comerford

‘Thy Kingdom Come! Prayer and Mission in the building of The Kingdom.’ This is the theme of a one-day conference being organised by Affirming Catholicism in Saint Matthew’s, Westminster, on Thursday, 30 June, 2011.

Originally, Affirming Catholicism had planned residential conference at Liverpool Hope University from 29 June to 1 July on the theme, “Praying the Kingdom,” and I was invited to lead a workshop on “Prayer, mission and building the kingdom: the work of USPG.”

However, circumstances have changed, and a new programme has been announced for a one-day conference in Saint Matthew’s, Westminster.

Saint Matthew’s Church, Westminster

The conference begins with arrival and registration at 9:30 a.m. on 30 June.

The opening speaker, Bishop Musonda Trevor Mwamba of Botswana, is to speak on “Dancing in a rainbow of prayer: the magical journey to wholeness.” Bishop Trevor is the best-selling author of Dancing Sermons. He also appears as himself in a number of Alexander McCall Smith’s bestselling books, The No.1 Ladies’ Detective Agency, as well as in the movie. He served in Notting Hill in London and in his native Zambia before moving to Botswana.

Later in the morning, Janet Morley speaks on an interesting title: “‘It is dangerous to read newspapers’ (Margaret Atwood): risk, hope and the practice of praying the kingdom.” Janet Morley is the author of several books of prayers, including All Desires Known and Bread of Tomorrow – praying with the world’s poor. She is currently preparing for SPCK an anthology of poems, with reflective commentaries, for use in Lent and Eastertide.

There is a mid-day Eucharist, and after lunch I have been invited to speak on: “Prayer, mission and building the kingdom: the work of USPG.”

Later in the afternoon, Bishop William Mchombo of Eastern Zambia speaks on: “Proclaiming the Kingdom in the current situation of the Anglican Communion.” Bishop William Mchombo is Bishop of Eastern Zambia and Acting Provincial Secretary of the Church of the Province of Central Africa. He also serves on the Inter-Anglican Standing Commission on Unity, Faith and Order. He has been closely involved in developing resources to help churches and communities respond to the challenges facing them, especially HIV-AIDS.

The one-day conference concludes with a discussion, an option for silent meditation, and Evening Prayer.

The registration fee is £25, to be paid on the day.

To register, e-mail Mark Perrett at: admin_at_affirmingcatholicism.org.uk

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Monday, 23 May 2011

President Obama passed by, but he never visited Kilkenny today

Bishop Michael Burrows with a portrait of his predecessor, Bishop John Kearney – President Obama’s great-great-great-grand-uncle (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

President Barack Obama was visiting Ireland today – and Dublin and the whole the country appear to have come to a standstill.

I caught a train to Kilkenny before the presidential entourage arrived in Dublin, and was in the Marble City an hour or two before we were due to meet as the board of USPG Ireland (the United Society for the Propagation of the Gospel) – Anglicans in World Mission.

The Butterslip, where William Comerford lived with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in the 18th century (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

On my walk through Kilkenny from the train station to the Bishop’s House in Troysgate, I had time to stop in a few good bookshops and to photograph Saint John’s Church, the 16th century Shee’s Almshouse in Roseinn Street, the Butterslip – where my grandfather could say his grandfather’s grandfather, William Comerford, had lived with his son, daughter-in-law and grandchildren in the 18th century – Grace’s Castle (the Courthouse), Rothe House, the Deanery and Saint Canice’s Cathedral.

We met in the Bishop’s House in Troysgate, in sight of both Saint Canice’s Cathedral and what was once the Bishop’s Palace. Among the many portraits of former bishops hanging in the house is one of Dr John Kearney (1741-1813), who was Bishop of Ossory two centuries ago.

The Kearney family may have originally come from Cashel, Co Tipperary, and in Michael Kearney, latter a sixth great grand uncle of President Obama, bought a 160 acre estate from another Kearney family in Cashel.

John Kearney, who was the Bishop of Ossory from 1806 to 1813, was born in Dublin, the son of Michael Kearney, a barber-surgeon, and was educated at Trinity College Dublin, where he was elected a Scholar in 1760, graduated BA in 1762, and was elected a Fellow in 1764.

Kearney was Professor of Oratory and Archbishop King’s Lecturer in Divinity before becoming Provost of TCD in 1799. As Provost, he was opposed to the Act of Union, and he remained Provost until 1806, when he was appointed Bishop of Ossory. He was consecrated in the Chapel of Trinity College Dublin on 2 February 1806 by Archbishop Charles Agar of Dublin, Bishop Charles Lindsay of Kildare and Bishop Nathaniel Alexander of Down and Connor.

Saint Canice’s Cathedral ... John Kearney was bishop here 200 years ago (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

As Bishop of Ossory, Kearney lived in the Bishop’s Palace, and when he died in Kilkenny on 22 May 1813 and was buried in Saint Canice’s Cathedral – local lore says he may have been buried in the vault of one of his predecessors, Bishop Michael Cox. Portraits of both men now grace the home of Bishop Michael Burrows.

But my interest in Bishop Kearney’s portrait today was less about art and more because he is the President Obama’s great-great-great-grand-uncle. A few weeks ago, there were rumours that President Obama was going to visit Kilkenny, and see the place in Saint Canice’s Cathedral where his great-great-great-grand-uncle is said to be buried. He never did – although the arrangements for his visit to Dublin and to Moneygall meant two of the board members never got to today’s meeting in the shadow of the house where Bishop Kearney had once lived.

The board of USPG Ireland bids farewell to Bishop Michael Doe

Before leaving there were presentations to make to Bishop Michael Doe, who is retiring from USPG. I arrived back in Dublin to find Heuston Station and the surrounding area were sealed off. There were no buses or taxis and no Luas services – all public transport in the area had been cancelled because President Obama was leaving early, and his entourage was making its way up the quays.

A few minutes later there was a wailing of sirens, a convoy of out-riders, heavy black vehicles, Garda cars and emergency ambulances. The President passed by. The visit was over. He was on his way to London, without visiting John Kearney’s Trinity College or Kilkenny. And I was on my way home.

President Barack Obama passes by on Kingsbridge in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Sunday, 22 May 2011

An afternoon of bliss in Skerries

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; he restores my soul … Looking across the fields at the mills in Skerries towards Holmpatrick Church and the sea beyond (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

This has been a busy weekend. At Evening Prayer yesterday, we marked the end of the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) course with the presentation of diplomas and certificates. Some of the students will be back for future graduations, but there is going to no further intake on this course.

Who knows what next year holds in store?

Later, at the celebratory bar-be-cue, the MTh students made thoughtful and generous presentations to their NSM colleagues, and the weekend came to a close this morning with our end-of-year Eucharist, at which I presided.

As students bade fond farewells to each other and exchanged dates and details for the deacons’ ordinations that continue through to September, I caught a taxi into the city centre. The area around Christ Church Cathedral has been sealed off in preparation for President Barack Obama’s visit to Dublin tomorrow, but two of us strolled in the rain from the Chapter House down Lord Edward Street to The Larder in Parliament Street for lunch.

Once the rain eased off, we drove out to Skerries, where someone had asked for a copy of one of my photographs of the Harbour for her daughter who is now living in England.

The pebble garden at the back of The Olive is an attractive and enticing sun trap on a Sunday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The rain continued to hold off as we then went for coffee in The Olive in Strand Street, my favourite café in Fingal area.

Peter and Deirdre have now opened a new pebble garden at the rear of the café, and with today’s winds but warm sunshine this proved to be a suntrap and yet a gentle oasis of calm this afternoon as we sipped a double espresso and an Americano.

Back out on Strand Street there was an extra buzz in Skerries – the sixth formers in the Community College had graduated this morning, and there was a strong feeling of families having fun together.

Blue skies and blue waters at the North Beach and the Harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

From there, we walked up to the cove-like North Beach beside the Harbour, and then on by the Sailing Club and out onto the harbour and the pier. Despite all the weather forecasts, this was a beautiful, relaxing afternoon in Skerries, with sunshine casting a silver sheen across the harbour waters.

We walked back along the South Beach, with clear views across to Rockabill and Shenick, before picking up the papers in Gerry’s, and driving out to the mills. On my last visit I had missed photographing the thatched four-sail windmill.

On the road back to Dublin, it was past 5.30 but they were still playing cricket at the Hills Cricket Club. North Co Dublin is a stronghold of cricket, and earlier in the afternoon as we were passing by Kenure, I noticed there was a lively game going on at Rush Cricket Club.

If the summer sunshine truly arrives this year, I can imagine a few relaxing weekend afternoons in Rush or Skerries watching cricket, walking on the beaches, strolling around the harbours, or simply sipping coffee in the pebble garden at The Olive. That would be bliss, would be a blessing for both my soul and my body, and would do a power of good for my sarcoidosis.

A note on this morning’s hymns


Patrick Comerford

Our End-of-Year Eucharist this morning marks the end of an acdemic year, and also the end of the NSM (Non-Stipendiary Ministry) course at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. We had the presentation of certificates and diplomas at in the chapel last night.

This morning’s Lectionary readings at the Eucharist are: Acts 7: 55-60, Psalm 31: 1-5, 15-16, I Peter 2: 2-10, and John 14: 1-14. I am presiding at the Eucharist and the preacher is my colleague, the Revd Patrick McGlinchey.

The booklet for this morning's Eucharist includes the following on page 2:

A note on this morning’s hymns

Our processional hymn, Come, learn of God’s Kingdom, the Kingdom of Light, was written by Bishop Timothy Dudley-Smith. Born in 1926, and educated at Pembroke College, Cambridge, this English hymn-writer has been Archdeacon of Norwich (1973-1981) and Bishop of Thetford (1981-1991). He has been President of the Evangelical Alliance. He has written over 300 hymns, many of them well-known hymns, including Tell out my soul, and is the author of a biography of John Stott.

The setting for this morning’s hymn was written by John Crothers and was specially named Braemor Park as a tribute to the Revd Dr Maurice Elliott.

The setting for our Gradual, Come, my Way, my Truth, my Life (610), is The Call by Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), one of the greatest English composers of the last century and the musical editor of The English Hymnal, which he co-edited with Percy Dearmer. The words are from The Call, a poem by George Herbert (1593-1633), published in a posthumous collection, The Temple, in 1633. The Call is essentially a meditation on Christ’s words in this morning’s Gospel reading: “I am the way, the truth and the life” (John 14: 6). Herbert adds additional allusions and offers real food for thought in the way he develops his theme. Because of the structure of each of the three stanzas, this poem is often described as “a trinity of trinities.”

Herbert was an MP and a courtier before he was ordained in 1630. As Rector of Fugglestone St Peter with Bemerton St Andrew in Wiltshire, Herbert was unfailing in his care for his parishioners, bringing the Sacrament to those who were ill and food and clothing to those in need. There he also began writing poetry, and shortly before he died he sent the manuscript of The Temple to Nicholas Ferrar, Nicholas Ferrar in Little Gidding, who later arranged its publication in Cambridge in 1633. Other hymns from The Temple in the Church Hymnal include King of glory, King of peace (358) and Let all the world in every corner sing (360).

Like Herbert, Vaughan Williams studied at Trinity College Cambridge. He retained the title The Call for his setting for this hymn, which was first published as the fourth of his Five Mystical Songs in 1911. However, the harmonisations of this morning’s hymn version are not identical to the original by Vaughan Williams – instead, the version in the Church Hymnal combines the first half of the version in BBC Songs of Praise (1997) with the second half from the Cambridge Hymnal (1967).

The words and music of our Offertory hymn, I am the bread of life (420), were written in 1966 by Sister Suzanne Toolan, who has taught music in schools and seminaries and has been the director of a spirituality centre. The words draw on Saint John’s Gospel (6: 35-59 and 11: 25-27). The hymn was popularised in Europe in the early 1970s by the Fisherfolk, who visited Ireland in 1973.


Our final hymn, Sent forth by God’s blessing (443), by Omer Westendorf (1916-1997), was written in 1964 in response to the Liturgical Reforms of Vatican II, and came to Europe through its popularity among American Lutherans. The tune is a familiar Welsh traditional melody, the Ash Grove (Llwyn Onn), first published in 1802 and arranged by Gerald Hocken Knight (1908-1979), organist of Canterbury Cathedral and Director of the Royal School of Church Music.

Patrick Comerford

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

Friday, 20 May 2011

A Victorian seafront terrace with a Joycean legacy

Martello Terrace ... a Victorian row of eight houses at the north end of the beach in Bray, Co Wicklow (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

It has been a busy week, and it promises to be a busy, working weekend. But I managed to take a few hours out this afternoon, and had lunch in the Beach House in Bray.

Once again, two of us managed to get a table at one of the full-length windows looking out on to the beach, and south towards Bray Head.

Bray Head and the beach seen from the terrace at the Beach House in the afternoon sunshine today (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After lunch, it was still bright and sunny and the afternoon sunshine was warm and inviting. Instead of walking south along the promenade towards Bray Head, we walked north along the stony beach towards the harbour. There were small scattered groups of Spanish and Italian students on the beach, gently charmed by the small waves of the tide. The waves rolled in gently, and as they went back out again, there was a gentle, slushing, breathing sound from the pebbles.

One lone swimmer had braved the waters as his dog waited patiently at the northern end of the beach. As we reached them, I wondered whether the water was cold. “Not as cold as it was in November and December,” he smiled.

The beach at Bray and Bray Head seen from the north end of the beach this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

We stopped to admire Martello Terrace, which is part of Bray’s Victorian architectural heritage. This terrace is a largely uniform row of eight, three-storey houses built in 1860, seven of which are two-bay houses. They form of one of Bray's earliest, best-preserved, and most distinctive seafront terraces. The terrace faces onto Bray’s grass-covered esplanade, but is separated from it by a small private space now used by the residents for car-parking.

At the east end of the terrace, No 1 is also of historical and literary interest because James Joyce lived there from 1887 to 1891. It is now the home of the former Labour TD Liz McManus.

Each house on Martello Terrace has a veranda and first-floor Regency-style balcony spanning the front of the building and continuing across the whole group. The verandas have low rendered walls with simple railings and steps, and slender iron columns with brackets supporting the balconies. The balconies have decorative geometric chinoiserie railings.

The façades are finished in painted lined render, while the hipped roves are covered in artificial slate and overhang supported on paired brackets, and the houses have shared rendered chimneystacks with corbelling.

The entrances to seven of the houses are timber and glazed doors with narrow sidelights and segmental-headed fanlights. The windows are flat-headed and filled with two-over-two timber-sash frames. Glazed doors to the first floors lead onto the balconies.

At the west end of the terrace, the entrance to No 8 is to the west elevation and consists of a timber and glazed door with a small hood supported on decorative brackets, and a segmental-headed fanlight above.

We then walked in behind Martello Terrace to Bray Harbour, where the River Dargle enters the sea. The harbour was filled with sailing boats and small yachts. Bray Sailing Club is more than 100 years old, and many of its members have earned national and international recognition.

We followed around the harbour to look at the colony of mute swans, and wondered about returning to O’Toole’s Harbour Bar, which is proud of its reputation as one of the best pubs in Ireland. The weather was still bright and sunny, but time was pressing on. We had another look at Martello Terrace, and I was back to work later in the afternoon.

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Lizzie’s Cottage and an old oak throne

Lizzie’s Cottage in Loughshinny on a more sunny afternoon ... a fine example of a late 18th or early 19th century thatched farmhouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

This was a busy but beautiful Sunday. The sunny weather seems to be long gone, the skies are grey and there is rain everywhere. But I spent most of the day in Rush, Skerries and Balbriggan, taking the services and preaching in Kenure Church (Rush), Holmpatrick Church (Skerries), and Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan.

There was no time to stop for a walk along the beach, nor was there any time to stop for a coffee in Olive in Skerries. But the road from Rush to Skerries, and again from Skerries to Balbriggan, offered splendid views of the coastline, the sea and the islands.

What a pleasure it was to see so many children in each church. It was a pity to be so rushed – not just because I had spent most of last week at the General Synod the Church of Ireland, but because this is a beautiful corner of Dublin to spend a relaxing few hours, and the parishioners and church-goers there deserve more of a priest than to have him making breathy-taking dashes from one church to the next.

Every time I travel from Rush to Skerries I notice that on the east side of the road one of the most attractive thatched houses in this area – and there are many of them – is the one known popularly as Lizzie’s Cottage in Loughshinny.

This is a fine example of a late 18th or early 19th century thatched farmhouse. It has been restored in recent years and is now a private residence. It features the original cobbled yard and an original bake-house that is now incorporated into the house. At one time, the bake-house ovens were used by people in the locality to bake bread.

This white-washed, detached, six-bay, single-storey, L-shaped thatched house was built around 1800, on an L-shaped plan in two main sections, each of three-bays, with an advanced entrance porch. To the rear there is an attached L-shaped farmyard complex. The roof is double-pitched and thatched. There are four nap rendered chimney stacks, a double-pitch slate roof to the stables, and a mono-pitched slate roof to the porch entrance. The rubble walls are white-washed. The openings are square-headed, with painted granite cills. The cottage has reproduction timber sash windows and reproduction tongue and groove doors.

It was long after 1 p.m. when I left Balbriggan this afternoon, and I was back in the city centre to time for a short stroll through Temple Bar and a coffee in La Dolce Vita in Cow’s Lane before taking part in Choral Evensong in Christ Church Cathedral, along with the Dean and the Archdeacon of Dublin.

The preces and responses were by Kenneth Leighton (1929-1988) and the two canticles, Magnificat and Nunc Dimittis were from Leighton’s Collegium Magdalenae Oxoniense, written for Magdalen College, Oxford.

Leighton composed, who composed many pieces for Anglican liturgy music, is probably best known for his setting of the Coventry Carol, written in 1948 when he was still a student. He spent his last 18 years as Professor of Music at Edinburgh University. His early work was influenced by English church music and by Vaughan Williams, Benjamin Britten and William Walton. Later influences included Arnold Schoenberg, Anton Webern and Alban Berg.

The Crypt, Richmond Street … an Aladdin’s Cave in Portobello for ecclesiastical antique hunters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

After choral evensong, two of us went for an early dinner in Rotana Café, a Lebanese restaurant in South Richmond Street, Portobello.

Mohammed Abuissa opened this restaurant three years ago May 2008. But already it has been selected twice, in 2010 and again this year, for inclusion in The Dubliner 100 Best Restaurants.

On my way in, I couldn’t help but notice the wonderful decorated door next door, at No 31B. I had a look at their website afterwards. It seems like an Aladdin’s Cave for ecclesiastical antique hunters or for anyone wanting copes and old pews. But I wonder who could want or need an 8-ft oak Gothic throne, dating from around 1875? It’s selling for €2,750!

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin

The Good Shepherd … a model for ministry and for parish life

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me’ (Psalm 23: 5) … Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 15 May 2011, The Fourth Sunday of Easter:

Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 23; I Peter 2: 19-25; John 10: 1-10.

12 noon: Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, Holy Communion.


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I once saw a T-shirt with the slogan: “Three good reasons to be a teacher: June, July, August.”

However, it seems June, July and August are going to be busy months for those of us teaching at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. There are student appraisals, courts of examiners, new courses and modules to prepare, timetables to agree on.

And then there is a series of ordinations of students as deacons and priests in the Church of God from this month right through to September.

The students who are being ordained in the coming weeks have worked on a variety of major projects with immediate relevance and sowing a deep pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the church, the needs of parishioners, and the needs of the world.

They are an outstanding group of students, and they will be a blessing to the parishes they work in. But I know too that they will see the parishes and dioceses they are going to as blessings for them at the start of their ministries.

I imagine as they sit in church this morning, all our ordinands will warm to our Gospel reading, as they think about Christ showing us the model of pastoral care as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd ... a stained glass window in Saint Mark’s Church, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

It’s a popular image. I think, perhaps, that the image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most popular images to fill stained-glass windows in churches of every tradition, surpassed in popularity only by windows showing the Crucifixion or the Last Supper.

But, you know, sometimes I have problems with our cosy, comfortable image of the Good Shepherd. Christ is so often portrayed in clean, spick-and-span, neatly tailored, nicely dry-cleaned, red and white robes, complete with a golden clasp to hold all those robes together.

And the lost sheep is a huggable, lovable, white fluffy Little Lamb, a little pet, no different from the Little Lamb that Mary had and that followed her to school.

But shepherds and sheep, in real life, are not like that.

I remember once, on Achill Island, hearing about a shepherd who went down a rock-face looking for a lost sheep, and who lost his life. Local people were shocked – lambs then did not fetch a price that made them worth losing your life for.

The sheep survived. But in the process it had been torn by brambles, had lost a lot of its wool, was bleeding and messy. Any shepherd going down after lost sheep gets torn by brambles, covered in sheep droppings, slips on rocks, risks his life. And all for what?

The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46) is a good illustration of how vulnerable and easily-led sheep are.

In the Palestine of Christ’s time, and even to this very day, throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, sheep and goats are often difficult to tell apart until they have been separated.

Goats are lively animals and very curious. They are happy living either in herds with other goats or by themselves, while sheep are more docile, easily led, and always stay in groups.

Sheep are greedier than goats – they are more likely to overeat than goats if they have access to more food than they need. Sheep are destructive grazers, while goats are browsers. This means sheep eat grass and other plants all the way down to the ground, while goats, on the other hand, despite popular misconceptions, simply nibble here and there, sampling a variety of bushes and leaves, chewing on a lot of things without actually eating them.

Goats are among the best climbers in the world: they almost never fall or slip, while sheep, on the other hand, are much less sure-footed and can easily fall and get stuck upside down.

We all know the parable of the lost sheep, but the parable of the lost goat just wouldn’t have had the same resonance, would it?

Sheep can and will stay out all night, and are more resilient in bad weather, which is why the shepherds on that first Christmas were out on the hillsides looking after their flocks. Goats on the other hand need warmth at night, so might even have been in the stable alongside the ox and the ass.

So: sheep are outsiders, goats are insiders. And so the parable of the sheep and the goats made sense in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first or second century: Christ is the Good Shepherd who goes out of his way for the outside, who risks his life to seek and find the wayward, the vulnerable, those who are easily led and easily led astray, those who are regarded by others as having little value.

Most of us – removed from farm life by two or generations – have little idea of what it is to be a shepherd, to look after sheep, to keep them in a sheepfold, how sheep follow the voice of their shepherds, but how easy it is to lead them astray.

The good news of the incarnation first came, not kings in their palaces or to the Roman governor, but to shepherds.

Yet they were among the poor, the exploited and the marginalised of their day. They had a hard life. They had to stay out at night in the cold and on the hostile hills as they herded their sheep. They faced all the dangers and difficulties the sheep faced, and were just as vulnerable. They shared the heat of the day, and they slept with their flocks at night, sharing the dangers of cold weather and threats of preying wolves.

They were poor and had no prospects as husbands or fathers – and their work meant they left their families alone and vulnerable at night too.

But that’s the kind of life Christ lives for us and with us.

Christ journeys with the most vulnerable, and takes on all our vulnerability. The Lord is my shepherd … he guides me in the paths … for his name’s sake (Psalm 23: 3).

Christ knows what it’s like to be out in the cold. He knows what he’s asking when he calls on people to leave their homes and villages, and even their families, since he has done the same himself. The Lord is my shepherd … I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23: 6).

He knows what it’s like to have people think that you are crazy or irresponsible because of what you leave behind and let go of – after all, people said the same things about him. The Lord is my shepherd … he spreads a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me (Psalm 23: 5).

Christ knows the risks and hardships of life, he knows how hard as it is to follow the shepherd, but that it’s much better than being prey to the others, to the thieves and the bandits. The Lord is my shepherd … though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (Psalm 23: 4).

Christ is the good shepherd. Like his Father, he leads us together to what we need: food, water, air, true security, deep rest, and real love. Trusting him frees us to enjoy all of those good gifts as fully as God gives them, and the richness of God’s blessings are far beyond what I know how to describe.

When he’s our shepherd, we experience abundant life that no thief can take away.

When he’s the gate, there’s no need for us to try to do that job for him, and our anxieties about whether the “wrong” sort of people are getting in are replaced with freedom to love whoever we find ourselves with in the flock.

Christ is our Lord and shepherd, and so we need fear no evil; surely, as we follow him, goodness and mercy shall follow us (Psalm 23: 6).

Saint Peter, in our epistle reading this morning, reminds us that we are like sheep who have gone astray but who have returned to the guardian of our souls (I Peter 2: 25).

“I am the Good Shepherd”

And, in our Gospel reading and the verses that follow Christ compares himself to the Good Shepherd. In those verses that follow (verses 11-18) – but that we are not reading this morning – he says he is the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, in the face of great risks from wolves and from the terrain, and against all common wisdom, as the hired hands would know.

Christ, against all the prevailing wisdom, identifies with those who are lost, those who are socially on the margins, who are smelly and dirty, injured and broken, regarded by everyone else as worthless, as simply not worth the bother.

God sees us – all of us – in our human condition, with all our collective and individual faults and failings, and in Christ totally identifies with us.

And how should we respond to that?

A beautiful example of the response to Christ’s unfailing, immeasurable love for us is provided by the early Church, in the way the Apostolic Church is described in our first reading (Acts 2: 42-47), their openness and warm welcome to the newcomers, their devotion to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to breaking bread together and to prayers.

They were generous, sharing and filled with joy beyond their measure. They were filled with glad and generous hearts. And, because of that, they added to their numbers day-by-day.

And for me, that’s the best model for ministry of the deacons and priests who are being ordained this summer, and for the life of the church at parish level, yes, even for parishes such as this.

May we keep this in mind as we too break bread this morning, and in the Eucharist enter into communion with Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and with one another and with the whole church, which is his true flock.

And so, may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Parish Eucharist in Saint George’s Church, Balbriggan, Co Dublin, on Sunday 15 May 2011.

‘He leads me beside still waters’

He leads me beside still waters ... Holmpatrick Church and the wetlands at Kybe Pond in Skerries, Co Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 15 May 2011, The Fourth Sunday of Easter:

Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 23; John 10: 1-10.

10.30: Holmpatrick Parish Church, Skerries, Co Dublin, Morning Prayer.


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I once saw a T-shirt with the slogan: “Three good reasons to be a teacher: June, July, August.”

However, it seems June, July and August are going to be busy months for those of us teaching at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. There are student appraisals, courts of examiners, new courses and modules to prepare, timetables to agree on.

And then there is a series of ordinations of students as deacons and priests in the Church of God from this month right through to September.

The students who are being ordained in the coming weeks have worked on a variety of major projects with immediate relevance and sowing a deep pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the church, the needs of parishioners, and the needs of the world.

They are an outstanding group of students, and they will be a blessing to the parishes they work in. But I know too that they will see the parishes and dioceses they are going to as blessings for them at the start of their ministries.

I imagine as they sit in church this morning, all our ordinands will warm to our Gospel reading, as they think about Christ showing us the model of pastoral care as the Good Shepherd.

The Good Shepherd ... a stained glass window in Saint Mark’s Church, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

It’s a popular image. I think, perhaps, that the image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most popular images to fill stained-glass windows in churches of every tradition, surpassed in popularity only by windows showing the Crucifixion or the Last Supper.

But, you know, sometimes I have problems with our cosy, comfortable image of the Good Shepherd. Christ is so often portrayed in clean, spick-and-span, neatly tailored, nicely dry-cleaned, red and white robes, complete with a golden clasp to hold all those robes together.

And the lost sheep is a huggable, lovable, white fluffy Little Lamb, a little pet, no different from the Little Lamb that Mary had and that followed her to school.

But shepherds and sheep, in real life, are not like that.

I remember once, on Achill Island, hearing about a shepherd who went down a rock-face looking for a lost sheep, and who lost his life. Local people were shocked – lambs then did not fetch a price that made them worth losing your life for.

The sheep survived. But in the process it had been torn by brambles, had lost a lot of its wool, was bleeding and messy. Any shepherd going down after lost sheep gets torn by brambles, covered in sheep droppings, slips on rocks, risks his life. And all for what?

The parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31-46) is a good illustration of how vulnerable and easily-led sheep are.

In the Palestine of Christ’s time, and even to this very day, throughout the Eastern Mediterranean, sheep and goats are often difficult to tell apart until they have been separated.

Goats are lively animals and very curious. They are happy living either in herds with other goats or by themselves, while sheep are more docile, easily led, and always stay in groups.

Sheep are greedier than goats – they are more likely to overeat than goats if they have access to more food than they need. Sheep are destructive grazers, while goats are browsers. This means sheep eat grass and other plants all the way down to the ground, while goats, on the other hand, despite popular misconceptions, simply nibble here and there, sampling a variety of bushes and leaves, chewing on a lot of things without actually eating them.

Goats are among the best climbers in the world: they almost never fall or slip, while sheep, on the other hand, are much less sure-footed and can easily fall and get stuck upside down.

We all know the parable of the lost sheep, but the parable of the lost goat just wouldn’t have had the same resonance, would it?

Sheep can and will stay out all night, and are more resilient in bad weather, which is why the shepherds on that first Christmas were out on the hillsides looking after their flocks. Goats on the other hand need warmth at night, so might even have been in the stable alongside the ox and the ass.

So: sheep are outsiders, goats are insiders. And so the parable of the sheep and the goats made sense in the Eastern Mediterranean in the first or second century: Christ is the Good Shepherd who goes out of his way for the outside, who risks his life to seek and find the wayward, the vulnerable, those who are easily led and easily led astray, those who are regarded by others as having little value.

Most of us – removed from farm life by two or generations – have little idea of what it is to be a shepherd, to look after sheep, to keep them in a sheepfold, how sheep follow the voice of their shepherds, but how easy it is to lead them astray.

The good news of the incarnation first came, not kings in their palaces or to the Roman governor, but to shepherds.

Yet they were among the poor, the exploited and the marginalised of their day. They had a hard life. They had to stay out at night in the cold and on the hostile hills as they herded their sheep. They faced all the dangers and difficulties the sheep faced, and were just as vulnerable. They shared the heat of the day, and they slept with their flocks at night, sharing the dangers of cold weather and threats of preying wolves.

They were poor and had no prospects as husbands or fathers – and their work meant they left their families alone and vulnerable at night too.

But that’s the kind of life Christ lives for us and with us.

Christ journeys with the most vulnerable, and takes on all our vulnerability. The Lord is my shepherd … he guides me in the paths … for his name’s sake (Psalm 23: 3).

Christ knows what it’s like to be out in the cold. He knows what he’s asking when he calls on people to leave their homes and villages, and even their families, since he has done the same himself. The Lord is my shepherd … I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psalm 23: 6).

He knows what it’s like to have people think that you are crazy or irresponsible because of what you leave behind and let go of – after all, people said the same things about him. The Lord is my shepherd … he spreads a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me (Psalm 23: 5).

Christ knows the risks and hardships of life, he knows how hard as it is to follow the shepherd, but that it’s much better than being prey to the others, to the thieves and the bandits. The Lord is my shepherd … though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil (Psalm 23: 4).

Christ is the good shepherd. Like his Father, he leads us together to what we need: food, water, air, true security, deep rest, and real love. Trusting him frees us to enjoy all of those good gifts as fully as God gives them, and the richness of God’s blessings are far beyond what I know how to describe.

When he’s our shepherd, we experience abundant life that no thief can take away.

When he’s the gate, there’s no need for us to try to do that job for him, and our anxieties about whether the “wrong” sort of people are getting in are replaced with freedom to love whoever we find ourselves with in his flock.

Christ is our Lord and shepherd, and so we need fear no evil; surely, as we follow him, goodness and mercy shall follow us (Psalm 23: 6).

“I am the Good Shepherd”

And, in our Gospel reading and the verses that follow Christ compares himself to the Good Shepherd. In those verses that follow (verses 11-18) – but that we are not reading this morning – he says he is the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, in the face of great risks from wolves and from the terrain, and against all common wisdom, as the hired hands would know.

Christ, against all the prevailing wisdom, identifies with those who are lost, those who are socially on the margins, who are smelly and dirty, injured and broken, regarded by everyone else as worthless, as simply not worth the bother.

God sees us – all of us – in our human condition, with all our collective and individual faults and failings, and in Christ totally identifies with us.

And how should we respond to that?

A beautiful example of the response to Christ’s unfailing, immeasurable love for us is provided by the early Church, in the way the Apostolic Church is described in our first reading (Acts 2: 42-47), their openness and warm welcome to the newcomers, their devotion to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to breaking bread together and to prayers.

They were generous, sharing and filled with joy beyond their measure. They were filled with glad and generous hearts. And, because of that, they added to their numbers day-by-day.

And for me, that’s the best model for ministry of the deacons and priests who are being ordained this summer, and for the life of the church at parish level, yes, even for parishes such as this. It helps to explain how in the Eucharist we are invited into communion with Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and with one another and with the whole church, which is his true flock.

May we keep this in mind as pray together this morning, as we pray for each other, and as we bring to God our hopes for building up the fellowship and the shared life of this parish and this community.

And so, may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at Morning Prayer in Holmpatrick Church, Skerries, Co Dublin, on Sunday 15 May 2011.

Responding to Christ’s unfailing, immeasurable love

The ruins of Saint Catherine’s Church ... the original parish church in Kenure (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 15 May 2011, The Fourth Sunday of Easter:

Acts 2: 42-47; Psalm 23; I Peter 2: 19-25; John 10: 1-10.

9.30: Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin, Holy Communion.


May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit

I once saw a T-shirt with the slogan: “Three good reasons to be a teacher: June, July, August.”

However, it seems June, July and August are going to be busy months for those of us teaching at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. There are student appraisals, courts of examiners, new courses and modules to prepare, timetables to agree on.

And then there is a series of ordinations of students as deacons and priests in the Church of God from this month right through to September.

The students who are being ordained in the coming weeks have worked on a variety of major projects with immediate relevance and sowing a deep pastoral sensitivity to the needs of the church, the needs of parishioners, and the needs of the world.

They are an outstanding group of students, and they will be a blessing to the parishes they work in. And I imagine as they sit in church this morning, all our ordinands will warm to our Gospel reading, as they think about Christ showing us the model of pastoral care as the Good Shepherd.

The image of the Good Shepherd is one of the most popular images in stained-glass windows in our churches, surpassed in popularity only by the Crucifixion or the Last Supper.

But sometimes I have problems with our cosy, comfortable image of the Good Shepherd. Christ is so often portrayed in clean, spick-and-span, neatly tailored, nicely dry-cleaned, red and white robes, complete with a golden clasp to hold all those robes together.

And the lost sheep is a huggable, lovable, white fluffy Little Lamb, a little pet, no different from the Little Lamb that Mary had and that followed her to school.

But shepherds and sheep, in real life, are not like that. I recall once, on Achill Island, hearing about a shepherd who went down a rock-face looking for a lost sheep, and who lost his life. Local people were shocked – lambs then did not fetch a price that made them worth losing your life for.

The sheep survived. But in the process it had been torn by brambles, had lost a lot of its wool, was bleeding and messy. Any shepherd going down after lost sheep gets torn by brambles, covered in sheep droppings, slips on rocks, risks his life. And all for what?

Christ is the Good Shepherd who goes out of his way for the outside, who risks his life to seek and find the wayward, the vulnerable, those who are easily led and easily led astray, those who are regarded by others as having little value.

Most of us – removed from farm life by two or generations – have little idea of what it is to be a shepherd, to look after sheep, to keep them in a sheepfold, how sheep follow the voice of their shepherds, but how easy it is to lead them astray.

The good news of the incarnation first came, not kings in their palaces or to the Roman governor, but to shepherds.

Yet they were among the poor, the exploited and the marginalised of their day. They stayed on the hostile hills as they herded their sheep. They faced all the dangers and difficulties the sheep faced, and were just as vulnerable. They shared the heat of the day, and they slept with their flocks at night, sharing the dangers of cold weather and threats of preying wolves.

In our Gospel reading and the verses that follow Christ compares himself to the Good Shepherd. In those verses that follow (verses 11-18) – but that we are not reading this morning – he says he is the Good Shepherd who seeks out the lost sheep, in the face of great risks from wolves and from the terrain.

Christ, against all the prevailing wisdom, identifies with those who are lost, those who are on the margins, who are smelly and dirty, injured and broken, regarded by everyone else as worthless, as simply not worth the bother.

God sees us – all of us – in our human condition, with all our collective and individual faults and failings, and in Christ totally identifies with us.

And how should we respond to that?

A beautiful example of the response to Christ’s unfailing, immeasurable love for us is provided by the early Church, in the way the Apostolic Church is described in our first reading (Acts 2: 42-47), their openness and warm welcome to the newcomers, their devotion to the teaching of the apostles, to fellowship, to breaking bread together and to prayers.

They were generous, sharing and filled with joy beyond their measure. They were filled with glad and generous hearts. And, because of that, they added to their numbers day-by-day.

And for me, that’s the best model for ministry of the deacons and priests who are being ordained this summer, and for the life of the church at parish level, yes, even for parishes such as this.

May we keep this in mind as we too break bread this morning, and in the Eucharist enter into communion with Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, and with one another and with the whole church, which is his true flock.

And so, may all our thoughts, words and deeds be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. This sermon was preached at the Eucharist in Kenure Church, Rush, Co Dublin, on Sunday 15 May 2011.

Saturday, 14 May 2011

‘As neat and trim as a lady’s drawing-room’

Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh ... ‘As neat and trim as a lady’s drawing-room’ according to Thackeray (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

For the past three days I have been staying almost in the shadow of Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh. The Charlemont Arms Hotel is just a two or three minutes’ stroll from the hill on which the cathedral stands and from which Armagh takes its name – Ard Mhacha, the “Hill of Macha”. On the other side of the hotel, on the neighbouring hill, is Saint Patrick’s Roman Catholic Cathedral.

Macha was a legendary pre-Christian tribal princess associated with nearby Eamhain Mhacha, or Navan Fort, a major ritual site occupied from the late Neolithic and early Bronze Age, and thought to have been the centre of Iron Age Ulster.

Eamhain Mhacha is associated with the epic Ulster cycle, the Táin Bó Cúailnge (“The Cattle Raid of Cooley”) and its doomed hero, Cú Chulainn, the “Hound of Ulster.”

After the ritual destruction of the sanctuary at Eamhain Mhaccha in the first century AD, it is likely that the nearby hill of Ard Mhacha became the centre of the Ulaidh – the local tribal group that gave their name to Ulster. This is this hilltop enclosure that Saint Patrick acquired and in the year 445 in this enclosure he built his first “Great Stone Church,” the Church of the Relics, on the Druim Saileach (Sallow Ridge) Hill, a site close to Scotch Street, below the Hill of Armagh.

The monastic community that developed around Saint Patrick’s Church produced the Book of Armagh, a ninth century Irish manuscript now in the Library in Trinity College Dublin, and containing some of the earliest surviving examples of Old Irish.

The Vikings raised the monastery in Armagh on at least two occasions in the ninth century – in 839 and in 869. The church was also damaged in a lightning strike in 995.

Brian Boru, who defeated the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf on Good Friday 1014 – only to be executed as he prayed in his tent that evening – is said to be buried beside the North Wall of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral. However, the church remained in ruins until 1125 when it was repaired and re-roofed by Bishop Cellach or Celsus.

After his death, the see remained vacant for five years until he was succeeded by Saint Malachy in 1134.

A head stoop at the West Door of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

The most far-reaching work of restoration was carried out by Archbishop Patrick O’Scanlon (1261-1270). Further damage required major rebuilding by Archbishop Milo Sweetman in the 1360s and by Archbishop John Swayne in the 1420s.

Archbishop Edmund Connesburgh, who was appointed Archbishop of Armagh in 1475, was consecrated but never gained possession of the diocese. He resigned in 1477, and acted as a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Ely in 1477. He became titular Archbishop of Chalcedon in 1478, by 1483 he was styled “Archbishop in the universal church,” but by 1502 he was a suffragan bishop in the Diocese of Exeter.

In the 1560s, as Lord Deputy of Ireland, the Earl of Sussex fortified the cathedral against Shane O’Neill, but in 1566 O’Neill “utterly destroyed the cathedral by fire, lest the English should again lodge in it.” A century later, in 1641, Sir Phelim O’Neill burned down the cathedral.

Archbishop James Margetson carried out repair work in the 1660s, and further restorations were undertaken in 1727, 1765, 1802, 1834, 1888, 1903, 1950, 1970, and most recently in 2004 under Dean Herbert Cassidy.

The extensive restoration carried out between 1834 and 1837 was commissioned and largely paid for by Archbishop John George Beresford. The architect Lewis Nockalls Cottingham (1787-1847) addressed the structural vulnerability of the cathedral by restoring the nave walls to the perpendicular and removing the short wooden spire that can be seen on the cathedral seal (right).

He also reopened the clerestory windows that had been blocked by Archbishop Margetson and restyled them in decorated Gothic, enlarged the choir windows and overlaid the timber vaulting with plasterwork.

Cottingham came to Armagh after restoring Saint Alban’s Abbey, and in Armagh he tried to replicate some features which had impressed him in Saint Alban’s, erecting a stone screen to separate the nave from the choir.

This innovation shows how Cottingham was influenced by the ideas of AWN Pugin and the early Gothic Revival. These influences can be seen too in his restoration of the High Altar from the west end, where it had been relegated by Archbishop William Stewart at the beginning of the 19th century, to its proper eastward position in the form of a stone altar backed by a reredos of canopied niches. These too were copied from Saint Alban’s.

However, many felt that, far from providing a sense of mediaevalism, Cottingham was too deliberate and precise and that he tended to eclipse the earlier features of the cathedral. According to William Makepeace Thackeray, Cottingham’s cathedral was “too complete ... not the least venerable. It is as neat and trim as a lady’s drawing-room.”

Although the rood screen was removed in 1888, much of Cottingham’s work remains, although the basic shape of the cathedral is still as it was conceived by Archbishop O’Scanlon in the 13th century.

The West Door of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Armagh’s Georgian architectural heritage is one of the attractive features of this cathedral city. To the left, as you leave the cathedral gates, is Armagh Public Library, founded in 1771. Across the street is the former Armagh Infirmary, dating from 1774. The 18th century is also represented in the 11 houses of Vicar’s Hill facing the great west door of the Cathedral.

Other well-known Georgian buildings in the city include the former Archbishops’ Palace (1770), now the offices of the city council, the former women’s prison (1780) and Armagh Observatory, founded in 1790.

Opposite the Library is the neo-Elizabethan Synod Hall, built in 1912, and, to its right, the limestone pillars and 18th century iron gates, the site of the Archbishops’ Palace. The new See House is expected to be completed by the end of this year.

Caught between the Scylla of repression and the Charybdis of oppression

Visiting a Hindu temple in Leicester ... one of the images presented during the Inter-Faith debate at General Synod in Armagh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

On the third day of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland in Armagh this morning [Saturday], I seconded the report of the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, and as secretary of the Inter-Faith Working Group, seconded Motion No 10:

“General Synod welcomes the work of the Inter-Faith Working Group and encourages each diocese to appoint an Inter-Faith resource person to foster and encourage Inter-Faith initiatives at diocesan and parochial level.”

The motion was proposed by the Archbishop of Dublin, the Most Revd Dr Michael Jackson. As we spoke, a collection of images from two conferences – the Inter-Faith Conference in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute last September, and the Inter-Faith Conference in Leicester earlier this year – were projected on the main screens behind us.

Seconding the report and the motion, I said:


Over the past few weeks, I have followed with fascination the news from the Middle East and the Islamic world – the Arab Spring that has gripped Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria, Qatar, the Emirates …

And as I’ve watched, like you, I have found I am reacting with a mixture of hope and fear, joy and anxiety, wonder and heartbreak.

There are up to 10 million Christians in Egypt … twice the population of Ireland. There are 2 million Christians in Syria … greater in number than the membership of the Church of Ireland.

In both countries, these people have joined the calls for democracy … knowing that the price of demanding democracy risks being caught between the Scylla of an even more repressive regime that clamps down any lingering liberties, and a Charybdis of a new order controlled largely by the Muslim Brotherhood.

The bravery of these Christian communities, the willingness of their Muslim neighbours to stand guard as they prayed, and of Christians to stand protectively by their Muslim neighbours as they bowed in prayer, is an example of how good Christian-Muslim relations produce fruits that are for the benefit of the whole of society.

Last February and March some of us heard similar heart-warming stories – how Muslims and Christians have stood together in the face of hatred and in the face of provocation.

But whether we are talking about these islands or the Middle East, good relations cannot be created at a moment of crisis. They come about only through hard work, honesty and commitment, from communities that respect themselves while respecting others.

Events in the Middle East and the Islamic world are a sharp reminder that the world is changing rapidly, and that the agenda the context for Inter-Faith relations is changing faster than we can grasp.

The time is now to prepare for this on this island. We need people in each diocese who are resourced so they can answer and advise us at all levels in the Church about the difficult questions about school prayers, community prayers, shared events, marriage, family tensions, community opportunities …

That is why the Inter-Faith Working Group believes there is a need for a commitment in each diocese to have an Inter-Faith resource person.

All of us who went to Leicester a few weeks ago were impressed not so much about the theoretical under-pinning of dialogue in that city and that diocese but more by the stories that underlined the value of pastoral and personal encounters, that were built on the church, in the diocese, in parishes, in schools, engages with community and society.

At times of crisis, the church in Leicester was able to offer solidarity with those who were targeted by those with violence in their hearts, violence stirred and provoked by media caricature and images.

Our images from Leicester are positive and encouraging. And we hope that these images, and other positive images from our conference last September, encourage each diocese – more than this resolution – to appoint an Inter-Faith resource person to foster and encourage Inter-Faith initiatives at diocesan and parochial level.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Director of Spiritual Formation, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.