13 February 2015
It has been a busy fortnight. I have been working since Monday of last week, with admittedly with some short breaks – for walks on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, and in Skerries, and a family dinner in Corfu, the Greek restaurant in Parliament Street, Dublin.
But the past seven days alone have included delivering eleven lectures, leading two Bible studies in tutorial groups, celebrating a teaching Eucharist, taking part in planning an Ash Wednesday retreat, attending the institution of a new rector, and signing off on my monthly column for two diocesan magazines, with 16 accompanying photographs.
I have enjoyed every moment, and every moment of the preparation.
But by this afternoon I needed a walk by the sea.
The rain had arrived by mid-afternoon, but two of us were undeterred and we headed south to Bray, Co Wicklow, for a walk on the beach.
Long before the sunset was predicted, darkness was closing in. The sky was grey, the clouds were grey, the pebbled beach was grey, the sea was grey, the promenade was grey, the paved area around the bandstand was grey. It was dusk, and it was like “Fifty Shades of Bray.”
The sound of the sea beating against the pebbles on the shoreline was so inviting that I continued walking in the rain, listening to the soothing sound of the rolling, breaking waves.
Eventually, it was too dark to continue walking on the beach, and we crossed Strand Road to Albert Avenue, and found a warm welcome in Carpe Diem, where we had two piadine and two double espressos. A piadina is an Italian thin flatbread, typically prepared in the Romagna region, and our paidine were filled with goat’s cheese, spinach, peppers and tomatoes.
Later, as we walked back the South Esplanade, the reflections of the lights in puddle-dotted concrete and tar were cheering, and I was heartened again by the sounds of the sea beating against the pebbles and echoing all along the shoreline.
I spent a day working in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital, Lichfield, last month [16 January 2015] being interviewed for a series of films by the historian, photographer and filmmaker David Moore.
Dave studied public history at Ruskin College, Oxford, and we first met when I was leading a guided walking tour of the Cathedral Close, Lichfield, and lecturing on the history of the close at the invitation of the local history group, Lichfield Discovered.
He is passionate about public history, and the need to hear the voice of local people and their memories of history in their area. One definition says: “Public History is history that is seen, heard, read, and interpreted by a popular audience. Public historians expand on the methods of academic history by emphasising non-traditional evidence and presentation formats, reframing questions, and in the process creating a distinctive historical practice … Public history is also history that belongs to the public. By emphasising the public context of scholarship, public history trains historians to transform their research to reach audiences outside the academy.”
The Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital has played a crucial role in the development of my faith and in the beginning of my sense of a call to ordination to the priesthood.
Over the course of many hours in the chapel, Dave asked me about my values and beliefs and how they were first shaped in Lichfield, my memories of Lichfield, my family connections with the cathedral city, my life story from a defining moment in the chapel of Saint John’s, through a career in journalism that took me from the Lichfield Mercury to the Wexford People and The Irish Times, my call to ordination and the priesthood, and my views about war, peace and nationalism.
These five films were made in association with the local history and environment groups, Lichfield Discovered and the Friends of Sandfields Pumping Station, and with the hospitality of Canon Andrew Gorham, Master of Saint John’s Hospital, and the staff and residents of Saint John’s.
A Self Defining Moment
The first in this series of films is A Self Defining Moment, was published on 21 January 2015. In this film, I talk to David Moore talk about my own self-defining moment, and the scenic route I took to ordination and priesthood.
I first arrived in Lichfield in my teens, and began his career in journalism as a freelance contributor to the local newspaper, the Lichfield Mercury. I continue to be grateful for the encouragement and opportunities provided by the Lichfield Mercury and its then editor, Neil Beddows, in the early 1970s.
Lichfield and the Comerfords
The second film, Lichfield and the Comerfords, was published on 21 January 2015. In this film, I talk to Dave Moore about my connection with Lichfield and my links with the Comberford family.
I originally came to Lichfield following in the footsteps of my great-grandfather, James Comerford, about 70 years earlier. Like him, I was seeking the story of the origins of the Comberford family, which was intimately linked with Lichfield for many generations, spanning centuries of the history of the family.
The Vision is the third in this series of films. It was published on 26 January 2015, and has been described by Dave Moore as a “very powerful and moving film.”
In this film, I talk about my grandfather, Stephen Comerford, and the impact that World War I had on him.
The Causes of War
The fourth in this series of films, The Causes of War, was published on 12 February 2015. In this episode, I talk about the causes of war, and the impact of nationalism.
Here Dave gives me an opportunity to develop some of the ideas I had spoken about in a short film made for Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, last year  as part of the commemorations there marking the centenary of World War I.
Humanity is the fifth and final film in the series. In this last episode, I talk to David about those personal feelings that define my views of humanity, and how I answered the call to ordained ministry in the Anglican tradition.
Dave and I worked for most of that day in the Chapel of Saint John’s Hospital before heading off to a late lunch in the centre of Lichfield. I am looking forward to returning to Lichfield and to Saint John’s later this year to preach at the Patronal Festival Eucharist on the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist [24 June 2015].
Updated: 14 March 2015 following the production of the fifth film in this series.