Tuesday, 5 February 2013

‘If it be your will’ or ‘Dance me to the end of love’

Snow on the gravestones in Saint John’s Churchyard, Kilkenny this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

At the Dublin and Glendalough clergy conference in Kilkenny this morning [Tuesday 5 February 2013], the Revd Bruce Pierce introduced us to ways of talking about stress and coping with in our ministry and in our parishes.

But he introduced us to this morning’s topic with humour and the song written by Richard Stilgoe and Peter Skellern about a fictional parishioner called Mrs Beamish:

. Mrs Beamish stands in church,
expression calm and holy
And when the organ plays she
mumbles hymns extremely slowly.
A pillar of Saint Botolph’s
For forty years or more
She does the flowers at Easter
and the brass-work on the door.
But recently Saint Botolph’s
has gained a brand new Vicar,
His name is Ken, he’s single,
and he wants the hymns sung quicker.
He’s introduced a custom
which Mrs Beamish hates,
So she rounds upon the person next to her
and clearly states:

“Don’t you dare shake hands with me,
or offer signs of peace,
You lay a finger on me
and I’ll send for the police,
Don’t whisper ‘peace be with you’
– this is the C of E,
So bend the knee, say ‘thou and thee’
– and keep your hands off me!”

Ken tells us love your neighbour,
And Mrs Beamish sneers,
“I only love my neighbour
if I’ve known them 30 years”
Even when it isn’t Christmas
He let’s youngsters in the church
He's altered all the music
after audience research
They shout out ‘Halleluiah!’
They don’t act like me and you
The young women don’t wear hats
And the young men quite often do
They seem to like their hands
enthusiastically rung
’Til they turn to Mrs Beamish
And they feel her acid tongue...

“Don’t you dare shake hands with me,
I don't know where you’ve been!
You lay a finger on me and you’ll feel this tambourine!
Don’t whisper peace be with you
This is the C of E!
So bend the knee, say ‘thou’ and ‘thee’
And keep your hands off me!

In the beginning was the Word
Read out loud by Thora Hird
Harry Secombe then would scream
“Morning has broken” by a stream
Now the organ’s gone for scrap
And everyone has got to clap!

“Don’t you dare shake hands with me
or turn to me and smile
You’ll wake up spitting teeth out
Face downwards in the aisle
Don’t whisper ‘peace be with you’
This is the C of E!
You go just one inch too far
You’ll end up wearing that guitar
One false step in my direction
You’ll need to believe in the resurrection!
So bend the knee, say ‘thou’ and ‘thee’
And keep your hands off me!”


Mrs Beacham ... ‘Don’t you dare shake hands with me’

In our second session this morning, we were asked several questions about our God stories (my own instant answers to some of those questions are in brackets):

● What is your favourite Biblical text? (Little children love another)
● What is the image of God that you like best, why? (Christ the Pantocrator)
● What sermon do you remember best? (‘Love God, Love one another’)
● What has been the family influence ... how does the family deal with anger, secrets .... who was the person in your life that inspired you, that formed God for you ... what did they do or say? (My ‘Gran’ Hallinan, who showed my Holman Hunt’s ‘The Light of the World’ when I was a very small child)
● Where is the place of nurture for you, that you want to go to when you are spiritually tired? What in it makes the difference? (Lichfield, Rethymnon or Wexford)
● Where or who is the theologian or theological book that helps you at the moment? (Dietrich Bonhoeffer) What is in that book that fulfils you?
● Who is your hero in the here and now? (Desmond Tutu)
● What is the big doubt? And how do you live with ambivalence of uncertainty?
● What’s the nagging question that keeps eating you and doesn’t go away?
●What is the poem that you would hold to that would help your faith? (Leonard Cohen, ‘If it be your will’ or TS Eliot, ‘Ash Wednesday’).
● What is the big excuse when your ministry is challenged so much and you ask what is the meaning? (‘Little Children, Love one another’)
● What is the song that tells your story? (Leonard Cohen, ‘If it be your will’ or Leonard Cohen, ‘Dance me to the end of love,’ which I want as my coffin is being carried out of church)
● Who is the person you want as your final companion ... and do not pick someone from your family?
● What would be your Last Word that would tell your story? (‘Little Children, Love one another’)
● What’s the deal you’ve done with God ... what is your covenant with God? (‘Little Children, Love one another’)
● What has changed in your vocation ... do we allow our vocation to change? And has that been for good or bad?
● If you were terminally ill, would you like to be visited by you? Would you want you to provide care when you’re dying?

A dusting of snow on the rooftops in Kilkenny this morning (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

‘If It Be Your Will’ (Leonard Cohen):

If it be your will
That I speak no more
And my voice be still
As it was before
I will speak no more
I shall abide until
I am spoken for
If it be your will
If it be your will
That a voice be true
From this broken hill
I will sing to you
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing
From this broken hill
All your praises they shall ring
If it be your will
To let me sing

If it be your will
If there is a choice
Let the rivers fill
Let the hills rejoice
Let your mercy spill
On all these burning hearts in hell
If it be your will
To make us well

And draw us near
And bind us tight
All your children here
In their rags of light
In our rags of light
All dressed to kill
And end this night
If it be your will

If it be your will.


Leonard Cohen, ‘Dance me to the end of love’

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic ’til I’m gathered safely in
Lift me like an olive branch and be my homeward dove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Oh let me see your beauty when the witnesses are gone
Let me feel you moving like they do in Babylon
Show me slowly what I only know the limits of
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
me to the wedding now, dance me on and on
Dance me very tenderly and dance me very long
We're both of us beneath our love, we’re both of us above
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to the children who are asking to be born
Dance me through the curtains that our kisses have outworn
Raise a tent of shelter now, though every thread is torn
Dance me to the end of love

Dance me to your beauty with a burning violin
Dance me through the panic till I'm gathered safely in
Touch me with your naked hand or touch me with your glove
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love
Dance me to the end of love


Archbishop’s ancestor is Lord Edward FitzGerald

The following news report appears in The Irish Times this morning [Tuesday, 5 February 2013] on page 10:

Archbishop’s ancestor is
Lord Edward FitzGerald


Patsy McGarry,
Religious Affairs Correspondent


The new Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, who was confirmed as archbishop at St Paul’s Cathedral in London yesterday, has Irish connections that go back to the 1798 leader Lord Edward FitzGerald. Church of Ireland historian Canon Patrick Comerford has established that Archbishop Welby’s mother, Jane Gillian Portal, is descended from the Napier family in Kildare, whose ancestral home was Celbridge House. It is now Oakley Park, part of a special needs school. Celbridge House became home to the Napier family in 1785.

Canon Comerford, who lectures at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and is an adjunct visiting professor at Trinity College Dublin, said he had found “that the archbishop’s maternal grandmother was Rose Leslie Napier”.

He recalled how Sir Charles James Napier, who played a role in the Greek war of independence, was a first cousin of Lord Edward FitzGerald.

He wondered whether Rose Leslie Napier was descended from the same family. His research found that “Archbishop Welby is a direct descendant of Lady Sarah [Napier] Lennox”, a sister of Lady Emily Lennox, duchess of Leinster and mother of Lord Edward FitzGerald.

His story of Archbishop Welby’s Irish roots appears in the current edition of Church Review, diocesan magazine of Dublin and Glendalough.

Back in Kilkenny with some searching questions about ministry

Kilkenny Castle in the dark ... seen from my room tonight (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

Patrick Comerford

I am in Kilkenny for the next three days at the Dublin and Glendalough Clergy Conference. This is my second time in Kilkenny in less than seven days, this time staying in the River Court Hotel, with a room looking out onto Kilkenny Castle, on the banks of the River Nore.

The speaker at this year’s conference is the Revd Bruce Pierce, Director of Education at Saint Luke’s Home Education Centre in Northridge House, Cork. Bruce was worked in the past in the Diocese of Dublin as curate of Raheny and Coolock with Canon Cecil Wilson and the Revd Jim Carroll, curate of Taney with Canon Des Sinnamon, Rector of Leixlip and Lucan in succession to Canon Eric Despard, and a hospital chaplain in Tallaght. He later moved to Amsterdam and Toronto, before returning to Ireland.

Introducing himself – as though he needed any introduction – Bruce admitted he felt “a little like Our Lord going back to his own home patch.”

But he brought us back down to earth with his humour and with some of his own stories, drawing from his own life experiences. He warned us, that “in case of fire,” we should “exit [the] building before tweeting about it.”

We need to listen, especially to listen to ourselves, he reminded us. Telling us to look at our assumptions, he challenged us to ask ourselves: “Why do I react in particular ways?”

We were asked questions such as:

● Why do we need to be pleasing people?
● What is our need for affirmation?
● What is it like to be lost when I don’t know what I should be doing next?

We were reminded that change comes with a cost. The answer to the blocking mechanism phrased in words such as “We’ve always done it that way here” is to ask: “Why?”

But we too need to ask when we move to something new whether we are we moving to something or are moving away from something.

And he went on to ask us:

● Who am I without a clerical collar?
● Who comes first – me the person, or me the priest?

Many of these questions were raised for him in Toronto, where he was a chaplain who happened to be an Anglican, rather than an Anglican who happened to be a chaplain.

He asked again:

● Who am I in this role?
● What are my boundaries and what are my expectations?

The Johari Window ... a key to self-understanding

He introduced us to the Johari Window as a way of identifying our weaknesses, prejudices, triggers and blind spots.

Freud once said feelings are neither good nor bad, but what we do with them can be good or bad. We mask our feelings very well. And so he challenged us to examine our deep feelings. Yet so many of us fear that these are like a pressure cooker, and that if open it or take off the lid there are going to be dangerous consequences.

He suggested that many clergy have low self-esteem, and their self-doubt is coupled with recurrent problems about worthiness in ministry.

● Are we valued, safe, secure?
● Have we chosen the right career?
● Did we come into clerical ministry because we wanted to be loved and affirmed?

He said people with low self-esteem have high anxiety levels, tend to be perfectionists, and their anger can be expressed inappropriately, yet they have a manifest desire to please others in an effort to self-protect.

Are we worried whether we make any difference at all? And he illustrated this dilemma with a sign that says: “The meek shall inherit the earth ... if it’s alright with you.”

Clergy have huge issues around confidentiality, yet we need to share what is going on in our lives.

Do we find that we are not the people we believe we are?

And he left us with some questions to consider:

● How are my own needs met in my ministry?
● Can you finish the sentence that begins: My role in ministry is to...?
● How do I handle conflict in the parish or in the institution in which I work?
● Am I aware of my own boundaries in ministry?

He told us: “When we learn about ministry, we learn about ourselves.”

This afternoon, Bruce also introduced us to the Clergy Wellness Project, which is being carried out by Bruce and the Revd Daniel Nuzum of Cork University Hospital, in association with Dr Wanda Malcolm, Professor of Pastoral Psychology at Wycliffe College, University of Toronto.

During the conference, we are worshipping once again nearby in Saint John’s Church. On Tuesday evening we are in Saint Canice’s Cathedral, followed by a reception in the Deanery.

Just before this afternoon’s coffee break, news broke of the election of the Revd Ferran Glenfield as Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh. But there were interesting conversations with the Revd Dr Norman Gamble of Malahide about injecting new life into Affirming Catholicism in Ireland and into the Society of Catholic Priests, interesting conversations over the dinner tables, and interesting conversations that went on until late in the night.

Looking out on John Street Bridge in the dusk of evening in Kilkenny (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2013)

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