Monday, 31 December 2012
Looking back on a year of faith and love, sustained by family and filled with hope
This was the year of the London Olympics, the year of child killings in Connecticut and cinema killings in Colorado, the year of Barack Obama’s re-election, the hijacking of the Arab Spring in Egypt so that it turned to an Islamist winter, the continuing and brutal civil war in Syria, more offensive Israeli offensives in the Gaza Strip and on the West Bank, and a year of increasing poverty in Greece brought on by austerity measures that Greeks blame on Germans.
It was the year of the Costa Concordia cruise sinking, when the Taliban targeted children in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and when we learned more about Jimmy Savile than we ever wanted to know.
It was a year that saw the publication of the Mahon Tribunal Report, but we still don’t know where Bertie Ahern keeps his money, and we still don’t know why bankers receive fat pensions rather than receiving long sentences. It was the year Angela Merkel thought we were working, Aung San Suu Kyi came to Dublin, the Encyclopaedia Britannica went out of print, and the typewriter went out of production.
It was the year the death of Savita Halappanavar almost awoke the conscience of a nation, that saw the deaths of Maeve Binchy in Ireland, Bishop K.H. Ting (Ding Guangxun) in China and Pope Shenouda in Egypt. And it was a year that saw the election of new Archbishops of Canterbury and Armagh.
And of course, as The Irish Times Magazine said on Saturday, referring to the hysteria about supposed Mayan prophecies, “It was the year the world was meant to end, but instead life went on in its everyday way.”
Silence and double talk
But this was also the year when the Churches once again demonstrated our apparent innate ability to shoot ourselves in the foot. Pope Benedict seemed to be more obsessed with how many animals could fit into a stable in Bethlehem than with facing up to the damage to all the churches created by the issues surrounding clerical sex abuse or dealing with clerical celibacy and women’s ministry.
This too was the year in which the Vatican silenced Father Tony Flannery, Father Gerard Moloney, Father Brian D’Arcy, Father Sean Fagan and Father Owen O’Sullivan. Many more have been silenced too, but have no-one to speak up for them.
In the Church of Ireland, we probably shot ourselves in the foot too when, as The Irish Times observed, the General Synod appeared to vote in favour of prejudice against gay clergy. We certainly gave the disappointing impression that we are not a welcoming church in many dioceses and parishes. We closed the doors we had opened, slightly and briefly, at Ballyconnel, Co Cavan, and in the debates in the General Synod I found myself resenting being spoken down to by some synod members when all I had done was speak in favour of wording found in the Book of Common Prayer and the 39 Articles. It made me ask who the true defenders of tradition are.
By the end of the year, many were asking too whether the Church of England also shot itself in the foot by voting down the proposed legislation on women in the episcopate, even though the majority of dioceses in the Church of England – 42 out of 44 – have already approved proposals for women bishops.
The vote was a setback for Archbishop Rowan Williams ahead of his retirement from Canterbury, and as I attended a reception in Church House in Westminster immediately after the vote, it was obvious that he and all the bishops present were downcast. I was reminded that evening of a similar vote in 1978, when the General Synod rejected the ordination of women and Una Kroll cried from the gallery: “We asked for bread and you gave us a stone.”
Now the Church of Ireland faces a series of episcopal elections over the next few months, and it is going to be interesting to watch what happens.
Meanwhile, I cannot but be hopeful when it comes to the immediate and the long-term future of the Church ... in all its expressions, and I am reminded of the words of Leonard Cohen: “... Forget your perfect offering / There is a crack in everything / That’s how the light gets in.”
Back to Cambridge
For the first time in many years, I was not at the annual summer school in Cambridge organised by the Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies. Instead, I attended a two-week summer school at the Institutum Liturgicum in London, studying patristic sources for liturgical texts and liturgical Latin, and staying for two weeks with the Benedictines at Ealing Abbey.
However, I was back in Cambridge a few times this year. At the beginning of February, I was the visiting preacher at Choral Evensong in the chapel of Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge. The Dean of Sidney Sussex, Peter Waddell, and his wife Lisa were perfect hosts, and after dinner in their home we enjoyed trudging back to through the snow and across the frozen Cam at “Mag’s Bridge” in the dark to Sidney Sussex.
We had rooms looking out over both Hall Court and Cloister Court, which were covered in snow when we woke on Sunday morning. After the Eucharist we joined Peter and the students for brunch. Later that evening, after Choral Evensong, there was formal dinner in the Hall, and a lengthy discussion afterwards with dons and guests over Port and Stilton.
Peter has since moved to the University of Winchester. But I was back in Cambridge again in June to walk the “Fitzwilliam Trail,” researching a paper on the connections between the Fitzwilliam families of Ireland and Cambridge. The trail began at the Fitzwilliam Museum and Fitzwilliam Street, and ended in Fitzwilliam College, and there was a quick visit to Sidney Sussex afterwards. The trail would continue later back in Ireland, with visits to Fitzwilliam Square and Merrion Square in Dublin and the former Fitzwilliam estates in Co Wicklow.
USPG becomes Us
I continued my commitments as a member of the boards of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland and the council of USPG in Britain. There were board meetings and meetings of working groups in Dublin and Kilkenny, and in June I was at the USPG conference in the High Leigh Conference centre near Hoddesdon in Hertfordshire and the Diocese of St Albans.
I celebrated the closing Eucharist at the conference, which was, in effect, the last Eucharist at a USPG conference, for the society was soon to be renamed and relaunched as the United Society, to be known as Us.
I was back in London again in November, taking part in a service in Saint Margaret’s Church, Westminster Abbey, for the relaunch of USPG as Us.
Teaching and ministry
We reached a new milestone at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute with the successful completion of the first full three-year cycle for the MTh degree, and the conferring of the first MTh degrees at Trinity College Dublin.
I was pleased to begin delivering the MTh Year I module on Church History, which I had designed. I gave papers on deacons’ ministry and the diaconate at seminars in Edinburgh and Dublin, and so it was interesting to be invited to preach at the ordination of deacons in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in September.
I took my place a few times in the year as canon-in-residence in Christ Church Cathedral, preaching, presiding at the Eucharist, and reading lessons, and preached and presided regularly in the chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. I was invited to preach in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on Good Friday and at a service to mark the 150th anniversary of Saint John’s Church, Monkstown (Cork). I also took services, took part in services or preached in Rathfarnham, Tullow, Saint Bartholomew’s, Saint Nahi’s and the Chapel of the Mageough Home (Dublin), spoke at a Lenten reflection in Castleknock, took part in a baptism in Knocklyon, and attended ordinations in Edenderry (Co Offaly) and Dublin.
I also attended the introduction of the Revd Anthony Kelly to the parishes of Holmpatirck, Kenure, and Balbriggan, and the institutions of the Revd Patrick Burke in Castlecomer, Co Kilkenny, and the Revd Olive Henderson in Dunlavin, Co Wicklow. In October, I was at Saint Mogue’s Cottage, beside Saint Edan’s Cathedral in Ferns (Co Wexford), to speak to the diocesan ecumenical societies on the present state of the Church of Ireland.
Once again, I took part in the annual memorial service in the Unitarian Church, Dublin, for former staff members of The Irish Times, only weeks after the death of former Irish Times colleague John Armstrong. And there were funerals in Dundonald (Belfast), All Saints’, Grangegorman (Dublin) and on Achill Island (Co Mayo), and the funerals of Maeve Binchy (Dalkey) and the Revd Derek Sargent (Clontarf).
Travels in Ireland
I brought a student group to visit the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue, organised a Liturgy Module field trip to Christ Church Cathedral and Core Church in Dublin, and I also brought students from the US to visit Christ Church Cathedral.
There were two Church History module field trips: the first was to Tara, Kells, Trim and Drogheda; and the second was to Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin Castle, the Bank of Ireland (former Parliament), Trinity College Dublin to see the Book of Kells, and the National Museum and the National Gallery of Ireland.
There were visits to other monastic sites in Ireland too, including Clonard, Co Westmeath, Clonfert and Portumna in Co Glaway, Clonmacnoise, Co Offaly, and Freshford, Co Kilkenny.
A good Christmas gift meant I stayed in the Lough Erne resort in Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh, at the beginning of February, and later that month I stayed in Virginia, Co Cavan, with Archdeacon Craig McCauley, when I was one of the facilitators at the one-day Church of Ireland conference on sexuality in Ballyconnell, Co Cavan.
In my travels through Ireland this year, there were return visits to Lismore and Cappoquin, Co Waterford, reviving many happy childhood memories. I also stayed in Athlone, Co Westmeath, Castle Durrow, Co Laois, in April, and visited the grounds of Stormont (Belfast).
There was a number of visits to Kilkenny throughout the year. The Dublin and Glendalough clergy conference in Kilkenny in February, which included services in Saint Canice’s Cathedral and Saint John’s Church, and a reception in the former Palace. There were USPG board and committee meetings in Kilkenny, there was Patrick Burke’s institution in Castlecomer, there was a visit yo see the former Comerford castle at Danganmore in April, there was a visit in May to Ballybur Castle and Kilkenny with visiting Comerfords from the US, and there was a visit to Freshford in July.
Then I was back in Kilkenny again before the end of a year to deliver a public lecture in Rothe House on the different branches of the Comerford family. The evening was organised by the Kilkenny Archaeological Society and the Callan Historical Society.
Of course, I had regular beach walks throughout the year, with walks on beaches in Co Dublin (Skerries, Loughshinny, Rush, Portrane, Donabate, Malahide, Portmarnock, Bull Island), Co Meath (Mornington, Bettystown and Laytown) Co Wicklow (Bray, Greystones, Kilcoole and Brittas Bay), Co Wexford (Kilmuckridge, Courtown and Kat’s Strand), and Co Mayo (Mulranny and Dugort on Achill Island), as well as walks along the shoreline in Dun Laoghaire, Howth, Killiney, Dalkey, Booterstown, Seapoint and in Skerries, Bray and in Wexford town.
There were country walks in Co Carlow (Borris and Tullow), Co Laois (Dunamaise and Durrow), Co Kilkenny (Danganmiore, Kells, Inistioge, The Rower, Ballybur, Freshford and Castlecomer), Co Waterford (Cappoquin and Lismore), Co Kildare (Celbridge and Castletown), Co Wicklow (Tinahely, Kilcoole and the grounds of Kilruddery), Co Meath (Trim, Tara and the grounds of Dunboyne Castle and Gormanston Castle), Dublin (between Portrane and Donabate, and in grounds of Howth Castle and the grounds of Orlagh Retreat Centre), riverside walks (along the banks of the Shannon, the banks of the Dodder in Rathfarnham, Templeogue, Knocklyon and Firhouse, the Thames in Richmond, the Cam in Cambridge and the Avon in Chippenham), and countryside walks in England near Lichfield, near High Leigh and in the West Country.
Travels in England
It was a year of extreme weather in England, and so far this year has seen the driest spring and the wettest winter on record. But nothing can take away from the pleasures I get from my regular return visits to England throughout the year.
I was in Lichfield Cathedral on the Day of Pentecost, and as we were about to leave the Cathedral singing about the fire of the Holy Spirit, the organ was silenced and the fire alarm went off. The cathedral emptied earlier than expected, but later that afternoon we had lunch without friends Pete Wilcox and Catherine Fox.
Pete was the Canon-Chancellor of Lichfield Cathedral, and Cathy is a writer and columnist in the Church of England Newspaper. I was sorry, later in the year, not to be in Liverpool when Pete was installed as the Dean of Liverpool Cathedral in succession to Justin Welby, who had just become Bishop of Durham and who is now about to be enthroned as Archbishop of Canterbury.
Throughout that weekend, we followed the daily cycle of prayer in Lichfield Cathedrals. But there was time too for meals with friends, visits to some of our favourite places including Vicars Close and Saint John’s, walks in the parks and by the pools, and walks in the countryside out along Cross in Hand Lane and out towards Farewell and Chorley.
During other visits to England, I spent a day in Saffron Walden, researching an essay and indulging in some architectural photography. An old friend brought me on a walking tour of Kinston-on-Thames on a summer afternoon. During my two-week stay at Ealing Abbey, there were visits to the Ealing Studios, and a visit into the City of London to see Saint Paul’s Cathedral, and to see Dr Johnson’s House off Fleet Street.
I spent a beautiful summer’s day in the West Country, visiting Chippenham, Calne and Quemerford in North Wiltshire. Sitting in the summer sunshine with the Guardian and a glass of white wine in the beer garden behind the Talbot in Quemerford, looking across the open Wessex countryside, I was conscious that there are many more moments like that when I catch a glimpse of heaven.
I was back in Lichfield again in early November before winter closed in for a family anniversary and a family birthday.
The winter fields were bare, either ready for ploughing and preparation for spring or covered in stubble left from the autumn harvest. The skies were blue, and it was crisp weather that invited walks in the countryside along Cross in Hand Lane and Abnalls Lane, and walks in Beacon Park, along Beacon Street, by Minster Pool and Stowe Pool, in Vicars Close and the Cathedral Close, and through the Market Place.
Before the end of the year, I was back in London too, staying at the Penn Club in Bloomsbury as I took part in the relaunch of USPG as Us in Westminster Abbey.
For the first time ever, I visited Scotland in March to take part in a seminar on deacons’ ministry and the diaconate, and I used the opportunity to see as much as possible of Edinburgh. I had never thought of it before as a delightful European capital city. Summer holidays were spent in Greece and Italy, with time in Crete at the end of June and beginning of July, and time in Tuscany at the end of August and beginning of September.
In Crete, I stayed in Rethymnon, which has continued to draw me back for four decades and remains my favourite town in Greece. There were meals with friends in Rethymnon and Iraklion, visits to Chania, time in some mountain villages, time to visit some monasteries, and time on the beach.
The rise in poverty is less visible in Crete than in other parts of Greece because tourism has cushioned Crete against some of the worst effects of the collapse of the Greek economy. But it is difficult to imagine that this can continue for Crete.
The crisis has brought other problems too for Greece – the loss of political confidence, the loss of social confidence, and the loss of hope for many.
In late August and early September, I joined a guided tour of Tuscany, staying in Montecatini Terme and visiting Florence, Pestoia, Siena, San Gimignano, Lucca and Pisa, and going to coast at Viareggio and the five villages of Cinque Terre. There was time for the opera, visits to vineyards and olive groves, and an afternoon in the Uffizi.
Inter-Church, Interfaith and inter-cultural work:
Over the years, I written about the theology of Bishop KH Ting while I was secretary of the Dublin University Far Eastern Mission, and had a number of meetings in Cairo with the Coptic Orthodox Patriarch, Pope Shenouda, while I was working on Christian-Muslim dialogue in Egypt. When Pope Shenouda died this year, the Church of Ireland Gazette used a photograph of the two of us at one of those many meetings.
The Eucharistic Congress in Dublin also had its ecumenical dimensions. I took part in the pilgrims’ trail around the churches of Dublin, and that experience also provided the inspiration for a new blog, the Dead Anglican Theologians’ Society.
I attended the Kristallnacht commemorations in the Dublin Jewish Progressive Synagogue when I brought a number of students to experience the use of liturgical and sacred space in Judaism.
I was a guest at the Chinese New Year celebrations in Temple Bar, and later in the year I was a guest at the Moroccan embassy in Dublin for celebrations marking the end of the Ramadan fast.
Publications and broadcasting
I continue to contribute a monthly column to both the Church Review (Dublin and Glendalough) and the Diocesan Magazine (Cashel and Ossory), and to write occasional comment pieces in The Irish Times and the Church of Ireland Gazette.
I wrote an ‘In retrospect’ tribute to Dean Gonville ffrench-Beytagh in Search to mark the 100th anniversary of his birth. There were book reviews in The Irish Times and the Astene Bulletin, Notes and Queries (Association for the Study of Travel in Egypt and the Near East), Number 50: Winter 2011-12 (February 2012), London, and two photographs from my collection were published in Maurice Curits’s latest history of a Dublin suburb, Portobello. And there were two further contributions to the American journal Koinonia: with Rev. John D. Alexander: ‘Anglo-Catholicism’, Koinonia, (Kansas City MO), vol 5, no 19, Trinity 2, 2012, p. 3; and ‘Finding Hope in Greece in the Midst of financial and economic crises,’ Koinonia (Kansas City MO), vol 5, no 19, Trinity 2, 2012, pp 8-11.
I did a radio interview on RTÉ Radio 1 on Christmas Day on the Wexford Carol, and there were positive responses to my blog essay series on Christmas poems, Poems for Lent, Poems for Easter, and the Saints through Advent and Christmas.
Now there are invitations to write a paper for Studies next year and to contribute to a new book being planned for publication by Veritas.
This year marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962. Half a century later, the world faces a greater threat from the stockpiles of nuclear weapons that keep growing and proliferating. I have continued as President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (Irish CND) and have spoken at the annual general meeting of Irish CND, and the annual Hiroshima Day commemorations in Merrion Square on 6 August.
As President of Irish CND, I also attended the conference of the International Peace Bureau, which met in Dublin for the first time, and was present when the Sean MacBride Peace Prizes were presented by President Michael D Higgins to two democracy activists from the Arab Spring, Lina ben Mhenni from Tunisia and Nawal El-Sadaawi from Egypt. The ceremony was attended by many old friends, including Bruce Kent, vice-president of CND in Britain.
I remain a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the Dublin and Glendalough Diocesan Synod, the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue and the Anglican Affairs Working Group, and as a member of the Governing Council of CITI and the MTh course co-ordinating committee in TCD.
I have also kept up my commitment to Heart to Hand, which raises funds for projects with children in Romania and Albania, and took part once again in the three-day sale in Portrane, helping out on the bookstall in the big tent each day. Then in the week before Christmas, I took part in the “Black Santa” sit-out outside Saint Ann’s Church in Dawson Street. These fundraising efforts raised over €30,000 each and it was a privilege to be part of both.
Health and good spirits
I continue to spend time each month with my GP for B12 injections, and there were days of tests in hospital as they continued to monitor my sarcoidosis. But there was good news too, when I was told that sarcoidosis has become quiescent. It doesn’t mean it has gone away, or that the symptoms have gone away. But it means it is not making any progress, and that it’s doing any damage to me at present.
Not that that would stop me from living a full life, and living life to its full. Faith and love, family and friendships – these have been the mainstays throughout this year and they continue to give me hope. And I have also been sustained and buoyed by my work, my walks on the beach in the countryside and my cultural experiences, including visits to art galleries, listening to music, enjoying architecture, watching movies and reading.
At the beginning of the year, the Greek film-maker Theodoros Angelopoulos died in a street accident in Athens while making the last movie in a trilogy. But his death caused me to rewatch a number of his movies, including Ulysses Gaze (1995), Eternity and a Day (1998), The Weeping Meadow (2004) and The Dust of Time (2009). I wonder whether The Other Sea, which was his take on the Greek financial crisis and which he was making at the time of his death, is ever going to be completed?
Leonard Cohen was back in Dublin again in September, and once again I was at his concert in the Royal Hospital. For me this was, perhaps, the cultural highlight of the year:
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.
Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)