Tuesday, 13 March 2012

A quick, one-day visit to Edinburgh

Rising above the clouds over Dublin this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

It was an early start this morning. The taxi arrived at 4.50 a.m., and I was at the airport by 5.20 for the first flight to Edinburgh.

As the plane climbed through the clouds, the sun was rising, and in warmth of its glow and in the blue skies it was possible to imagine that this was an early summer morning rather than early spring.

I was leaving Edinburgh Airport before 8 .a.m., and had an hour for a busy walk around Edinburgh castle, down the Royal Mile, and along Prince’s Street, past Sir Walter Scott’s Monument, before heading to Grosvenor Crescent and the offices of the Scottish Episcopal Church for a consultation on ‘Deacons, the Diaconate and Diakonia,’ chaired by the Very Revd John Armes, Dean of Edinburgh and Bishop-elect of Edinburgh.

Deacon Brodie ... not a subject for discussion at todayx’s consultation in Edinburgh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

The meeting lasted all day, but at the end of the day there was still time for a visit to Saint Mary’s Episcopal Cathedral nearby before another walk up the Mound, along the Royal Mile to see Deacon Brodie’s House, Saint Giles Cathedral – the ‘High Kirk’ – Parliament Square, Mercat Cross, the Tron Kirk, Old Saint Paul’s and John Knox’s House.

Time was too short. I never got to climb Calton Hill and to see for myself why this city is called the “Athens of the North.”

A lone busker at Waverley Bridge in Edinburgh this evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

As I caught the Airport Express at Waverley Bridge, a young woman replete in kilt and traditional Scottish dress was busking on the bagpipes.

As the bus passed Edinburgh Zoo and Murrayfield, I could count many reasons for planning a return visit. In the meantime, there’s enough to write about my first visit to Edinburgh at a later date, and plenty of photographs for illustrations.

I was leaving Dublin Airport and heading for home by 9 p.m.

Ballyconnell, Virginia, Achill Island, Edinburgh ... all within five days. I’m sure my body will recover soon.

‘Deacons, the Diaconate and Diakonia’

Students making their declarations in the Chapter House in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, prior to their ordination to the diaconate (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2011)

Patrick Comerford

The following presentation was made at the ‘Seminar on Deacons, the Diaconate and Diakonia’ organised by the Diaconate Working Group of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Edinburgh this afternoon [Tuesday 13 March 2012:

‘Deacons, the Diaconate and Diakonia’:
The Church of Ireland Experience


Good afternoon.

This is my first time in Scotland, arriving in Edinburgh this morning. And I imagine, after last Saturday’s result in Dublin, I think I was one of the happy travellers on a flight from Dublin to Edinburgh these past two or three days!

But thank you for your welcome and hospitality. I am aware that we are preparing for a meeting in Dublin next year (2013) and look forward to sharing and welcoming at the other end too.

We have had some interesting developments in our understanding of diakonia, the diaconate and the ministry of deacons in the Church of Ireland in recent years, as we have revised and changed our programme of training for ordination at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, where I teach on the MTh programme.

The Preface to the Ordinal in The Book of Common Prayer (2004) of the Church of Ireland has similar if not the same theological understandings of the threefold ministry of bishops, priests and deacons as those found in most other member churches of the Anglican Communion (p. 518).

But that says little about understanding of the diaconate, and whether there are any unique ministries appropriate to one who is ordained deacon.

Indeed, the preface hints – although it is not explicit about this – that the order of deacon is a transitionary one, saying that “none shall be admitted a Deacon, except he be Twenty-three years of age …” and “every person which is admitted a priest shall be a full Four-and-twenty years old, and shall have served in the Office of a Deacon the space of whole year at least …”

The Book of Common Prayer of the Church of Ireland provides two ordination services, one in “traditional” language (pp 519-526), and one in “contemporary” language (pp 553-562). Having been at ordination services every year since this Prayer Book came into use, it appears to me that all deacons in the Church of Ireland, at this stage, are being ordained using the words and form of the second rite.

The Ordinal says “Deacons in the Church of God serve in the name of Christ, and so remind the whole Church that serving others is at the heart of all ministry” (p. 555), and there is no similar parallel wording or phrase at the ordination of priests and bishops.

This raises questions about whether we must retain sequential ordination – questions that were raised over a decade ago in To Equip the Saints, the Berkeley statement of the International Anglican Liturgical Consultation in 2001.

Personally, in my experience in the Church of Ireland, I know of only three cases of people who were ordained deacons and remained deacons without being ordained priests:

● one was ordained a deacon in the US, and served as a deacon in a parish in the Church of Ireland in the early 1970s, without ever being ordained a priest before returning to the US;

● the second was ordained a deacon, and for what I imagine were evangelical arguments about headship never presented herself for ordination as priest, and has since transferred to the Church of England, where she remains a deacon;

● the third is a deacon from a Baltic Lutheran member church of the Porvoo Communion, who served in an NSM-type situation, who moved to Ireland, and who is now an NSM deacon.

But these are three exceptional cases, and the norm remains in the Church Ireland: deacons expect and are expected to be ordained priest about 12 months after their ordination as deacons.

We have tried to have a major re-think about this. No longer is the deacon’s year served as type of one-year “apprenticeship” in the first three years of curacy, with the curate being ordained priest after the first of the three years has been served.

We have a three-year course for full-time ordinands, leading to the degree of MTh from Trinity College Dublin (University of Dublin). The first two years are devoted almost entirely to the academic content of this programme, with weekend placements in parish situations:

Year 1: An eight-week Sunday placement; and a three-week full-time placement.

Year 2: A 10-week Sunday placement, with one day in each alternate week.

As they begin their third year, ordinands are ordained deacons, but this no longer takes place within the context of beginning a three-year curacy. Instead, this year continues as part of the academic programme, with students completing their dissertations (about 18,000-20,000 words), completing a pastoral portfolio, and working on a more intense parish placement, with defined learning goals.

The year as a deacon-intern is an integral part of the MTh degree programme; its purpose is to provide a focal point in making the connection between learning and practice, and the priority is the development of the intern.

Intern deacons are expected to take part in parish Sunday services, lead two services a month; preach about once a month, spend three days in practical ministry under the direction of their training incumbent, and spend two days a week in study and one week a month in residence as students, engaging principally in theological reflections on their practical experiences and completing their dissertations.

At present, there are 17 full-time students in that Third Year of the MTh programme. Next year (2012-2013), they may be seven; and in following year, we seen part-time students who have completed a four-year part-time course, entering this phase of the programme, either in a full-time or a part-time capacity.

What if a student/ordinand fails to complete the Third Year of the programme?

Do we find ourselves with students who, having failed to complete the academic programme, are either unavailable for ordination or have to repeat a year?

Could we then find ourselves with a permanent diaconate, or semi-permanent diaconate, by default rather than by design?

These are some of the difficulties we are identifying at the moment.

But we have certainly separated the diaconate from concept that it is merely the first year of curacy in which the curate is not able to do all the things the rector can do.

But as a staff, many of us are re-examining the wisdom of ordaining the interns as deacons.

If it is assisting in the definition of the diaconate, why are we still using terms such as “intern” and “internship” and not simply “deacon” and “diaconate”?

Parishes still expect the “deacon-interns” to fulfil all the roles and to assume all the responsibilities of a first-year curate in a traditional three-year curacy, and this places additional stress on the Year III students.

Facing the possibility of failure or change of heart during this Year III experience is truly to wrong reason to be forced into considering what a permanent diaconate would mean for the Church of Ireland.

We are still left with the legacy of those expectations, and the thinking in the old ordinal that the role of a deacon was primarily as a liturgical assistant, rather than a person who had major role in preaching and pastoral care.

In the old models, those skills were developed in the curates’ “apprenticeships.”

Other anomalies are being identified in this process too:

What is the future for NSM ministry in the Church of Ireland, if any?

What is the difference between a reader, an intern and a deacon, apart from their possible roles in baptism?

But we are seeing potentials, identifying possibilities and naming problems, and we are aware that this is the beginning of a process that there are many lessons to be learned along the way.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a Canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

A day in Edinburgh talking about deacons and the diaconate

The offices of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2012)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Edinburgh for the first time today [Tuesday, 13 March 2012], taking part in a Seminar hosted by the Diaconate Working Group (DWG) of the Scottish Episcopal Church. The seminar, “Deacons, the Diaconate and Diakonia,” takes place from 9.30 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the General Synod Office of the Scottish Episcopal Church in Grosvenor Crescent, Edinburgh.

The Diaconate Working Group was set up to look again at the issue of a renewed diaconate and the role of the diaconate and Deacons within the Scottish Episcopal Church, partly as a preparation for the next Consultation on the Diaconate organised by Porvoo Communion of Churches, which takes place in Ireland next year, and partly because this issue appears to be alive in the Churches on these islands.

The Faith and Order Board (F&O) and the Mission and Ministry Board (MMB) of the Scottish Episcopal Church asked the Diaconate Working Group to engage with ecumenical partners to explore their understanding, and any current developments, in neighbouring Churches relating to the diaconate.

The delegates come from the Scottish Episcopal Church, the Church of Ireland, the Church of England, the Church in Wales, the Roman Catholic Church, the Church of Scotland, the Methodist Church, the United Reformed Church, the Salvation Army, and Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS).

As delegates, we have each been asked to prepare a five-minute presentation on the following:

● What is a Deacon in your tradition?
● In what ways is the diaconal calling expressed in the life of your church?
● Is the diaconal ministry a ‘live’ issue for your church?
● What are the future plans regarding diakonia in your church?

There will be 10 minutes for comments and questions, so we have 15 minutes each.

The presentations will contribute to an appendix to go with Truly Called 2 which is to be circulated to participants, to the SEC’s ecumenical partners in Action of Churches Together in Scotland (ACTS), and to the Scottish Churches’ National Sponsoring Body for Local Ecumenical Partnerships (NSB), which is currently looking at models of ministry.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

Poems for Lent (18): ‘Christians and Pagans,’ by Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Dietrich Bonhoeffer ... interesting questions for Lent from a poet-theologian

Patrick Comerford

When the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, preached at King’s School, Canterbury and broadcast live on BBC Radio 4, on the first Sunday of Lent [26 February 2012], he took as his text a reflection by the German theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer on the nature of true freedom and what it means that “the truth shall set you free.”

Quiet contemplation and learning to release the “fictions” of our lives are part of the Lenten practice.

He recalled how in 1939, Bonhoeffer was in New York, exploring whether he should stay there as pastor to the German emigrants. By then, the young German theologian was deeply unpopular with the Nazi regime, making broadcasts critical of Hitler and running a secret training institution for pastors in the Confessing Church who could not accept the way that the Nazi state was trying to control the Church.

After a tumultuous inner struggle, and after only a month in New York, Bonhoeffer returned to Germany, knowing he was going back to extreme danger. Six years later, he was executed in a concentration camp. He left behind one of the greatest treasures of modern Christianity in his letters and papers from prison.

In a poem he wrote in July 1944, he sketched out what he thought was involved in real freedom – discipline, action, suffering and death. The freedom he was interested in is the freedom to do what you know you have to do.

Freedom, he says, is “perfected in glory” when it is handed over to God, Archbishop Williams recalled. And this finds its climax in the moment of death, when we step forward to discover what has been hidden all along – the eternal freedom of God, underlying everything we have thought and done.

For my Poem for Lent this morning, I have chosen Dietrich Bonhoeffer’s ‘Christians and Pagans,’ written in July 1944.

One translator, however, rightly said that this poem should in fact be called ‘Christians and Others,’ as the contrast for Bonhoeffer is really between the true Christian disciple and those others of “normal” religiosity, who still maintain their traditional expectations of how God should act to soften their pains and griefs.

In reflecting on this poem, two young women pastors, the Revd Simone Sinn and the Revd Rolita Machila, both working in the Department for Theology and Studies of the Lutheran World Federation in the Department for Theology and Studies, spoke about Lent as “a time to concentrate on what is essential in our faith and for our lives ... a time when we try to refocus our attention on what is important in life and try to concentrate on what really matters ... Lent is a time to concentrate on what is important in our lives and in our faith.”

This reflection is introduced on her blog by the Revd Jane Stranz, who has worked from July 2002 to October 2011 with the language service of the World Council of Churches in Geneva (2002-2011) and is now working in Paris with the Fédération Protestante de France based in Paris.

The two pastors say that, in a succinct way, this poem sheds light on three fundamental questions: In the first part, what does it mean to be human? In the second, what does it mean to be Christian? And finally, who is God?

They summarise these as three different encounters between people and God, three questions that are inter-related yet distinct.

We might be drawn into God’s story by listening to the biblical accounts of the life, passion and death of Christ during this Season of Lent, at the Eucharist, by standing with the least who are hungry, thirsty, who are foreign or naked on all days of our lives. Bohoeffer says: “Christians stand with God to share God’s pain.” But they say this needs further meditation and spiritual exploration, and may even be read as sef-critical question, for, as they ask: “Do we Christians actually do that?”

Interesting questions for Lent, indeed.

Christians and Pagans, by Dietrich Bonhoeffer in July 1944:

People turn to God when they’re in need,
plead for help, contentment, and for bread,
for rescue from their sickness, guilt, and death.
They all do so, both Christian and pagan.

People turn to God in God’s own need,
and find God poor, degraded, without roof or bread,
see God devoured by sin, weakness, and death.
Christians stand with God to share God’s pain.

God turns to all people in their need,
nourishes body and soul with God’s own bread,
takes up the cross for Christians and pagans, both,
and in forgiving both, is slain.

* Note: Translated in A Testament to Freedom: The Essential Writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer (eds GB Kelly and FB Nelson (San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1990), p. 549.

Canon Patrick Comerford is Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, and a canon of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.