17 June 2017

A day in Glenstal Abbey
discussing resources for
ministerial development

Glenstal Abbey … the venue for today’s one-day meeting (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

Saturday, 17 June 2017, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert Diocesan Day,

Glenstal Abbey, Co Limerick

1, Introduction and Contexts:

As you have read in Newslink this month, I have been living at the Rectory in Askeaton since January as the part-time priest-in-charge of Rathkeale Group of parishes. My teaching roles at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute and Trinity College Dublin finally came to an end yesterday, but I have already taken up the second half of my role in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert as Director of Ministerial Education and Training.

Today, I want to share some of my vision for this role, and I hope to do so again next Saturday [24 June 2017] at the Diocesan Synod.

In the last two weeks, I have written to those of you with email addresses, both ordained and as readers, to introduce some of my ideas about what a programme of ministerial education and development can look like, exploring hopes and seeking feedback.

There are exciting developments our partnerships with the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, as we see here this morning, and in Reader training in the neighbouring Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory, and there are obvious benefits in exploring how these can be developed in this diocese too.

There may be further developments in areas such as Communion-by-Extension, Ordained Local Ministry and team ministry that offer exciting challenges and that need creative resourcing.

2, Resourcing Ministry:

One area I am beginning to explore is the resources we need for ministry in these dioceses.

I am working on a new dedicated website or blog that can provide planning for the Sunday Lectionary readings in advance, with ideas for sermons, selecting hymns and relating them to intercessions, as well as pointing to wider web resources.

Some of us already may be part of lectio divina or Bible study groups and would appreciate ideas to bring to these groups. Others like to prepare sermons in advance, and I want to encourage this. If we leave our sermons to write until Saturday, it says a lot about how much we think of the role of preaching in our ministry and what we think of those we know are going to be listening to us.

Some of you are writing sermons for parish readers. Having these ideas in advance, and having them so you can share and discuss them in advance, in real team work, helps to strengthen the quality of that team work in a parish, but also enhances the quality and authenticity of what is finally delivered on a Sunday.

I don’t want to write your sermons for you, but I do want to stimulate our intellects and our creativity, so we don’t return to having the fall-back situation of pulling out the sermon I had for the First Sunday after Trinity three years ago or six years ago, when we were using the Year A readings in 2014 or in 2011, or back knows when.

The carved wyvern biting his tail under the seat in the precentor’s stall in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick … sometimes in ministry we end up chasing our tails (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

3, The Spiritual foundations for this work:

But to do this we need too to attend to our own personal spiritual lives and lives of daily prayer.

If we continue to do things because we’ve always done them, because the parishioners expect them to be done, because they have a ‘must-be-done-today,’ urgency, without continuing to nurture and refresh our daily life through prayer, we are in danger of spiritual burnout and exhaustion.

Archbishop Michael Jackson once spoke to me about what he called ‘supply-and-demand’ ministry. They demand and so we supply, rather than we supply and it becomes what they demand.

I was in Saint Mary’s Cathedral in Limerick last week looking among the misericords for what had been the Precentor’s stall. Eventually I found it in a dark corner, hidden behind another chair. The Precentor’s symbol is a wyvern biting its tail.

Without nurturing a prayer life, that is resourced and that is nurtured, we can end up like fabled monsters chasing our own tails.

How do we nurture spiritual and personal development that can sustain us in our ministry, lay or ordained?

How can we develop a life of personal prayer life and rule of life that underpins our role in in leading public prayer?

One of you suggests looking at developing a deeper resource based on the early Celtic insights into kenotic spirituality. This priest finds support through being a member of the Community of Saint Aidan and Saint Hilda, a dispersed monastic community based at Lindisfarne that follows a Rule of Life.

Some of you may find having a spiritual director is useful. It is not common practise, but the resources are there, and it would naturally add an ecumenical dimension to our ministry too.

Some of us follow the practise of the daily office. It is not a canonical requirement for priests in the Church of Ireland. But I have the Daily Prayer app from the Church of England on my ’phone. It offers stability and discipline and helps me to pray when I cannot pray. Praying the daily office and following the lectionary keeps us reading and re-reading scripture.

Others speak of following the Rule of Saint Benedict, practicing Christian Meditation, using Centring Prayer, Prayer Walks, the Jesus Prayer, icons and so on. But how do we find the resources for these, and how do I find the ways that best suit my own personality of spirituality?

And I know the Guild of Readers is organising a quiet day on Saturday 9 September in Killaloe, with Archdeacon Gary Hastings and Dean Gary Paulsen.

But lifestyle, a rule of life, spiritual direction, regular prayer, meditation, fasting and other spiritual disciplines only work if also work on time management so that we learn when to have days off, when to have evenings off, when to have family time and fun time, and how to make sure that these happen, not by accident but by proper use of diaries and timetables. Otherwise, we become those fabulous monsters chasing our tails, and when the relationships and friendships we value most start to suffer we are already suffering ourselves.

4, Developing Ministry in the Diocese:

Because priests are widely spread in this diocese on Eucharistic ministry, it has been suggested that Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer should be developed as a particular ministry of Readers. Nor should we forget ‘Services of the Word’ and the proposed Order of Morning and Evening Prayer to be voted on at General Synod next year [2018]. The Guild of Readers has used this as an experiment and has proposed amendments.

There are pitfalls here, of course. Readers could begin to lose the nourishment and spiritual blessing of the regular celebration of the Eucharist, which priests come to know is vital for our spiritual lives; and the laity could start to see the priests as merely ‘Mass Priests.’

As we develop the role and ministry of Readers in Communion by Extension, which is mandated in this diocese on a case-by-case basis, we need to be careful to continue to teach that the Eucharist is a celebration of the whole Church and not just by the priest. As so many theologians remind us, it is the Sacraments that make the Church, and not the Church (and so, not the priests) that makes the Sacraments.

Because priests are widely spread in this diocese on eucharistic ministry, it has been suggested that Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer should be developed as a particular ministry of Readers.

But we need also to move beyond merely Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer, to thinking about how they can be used creatively and interpreted. And that involves thinking about how to move from asking what can readers do to empowering and enhancing the ministry of readers.

The pitfalls here, of course, if we see Readers as only reading Morning Prayer and Evening Prayer include Readers beginning to lose the nourishment and spiritual blessing of the regular celebration of the Eucharist, which priests come to know is vital for our spiritual lives, and that the laity start to see priests primarily as ‘Mass Priests.’

As we develop the role and ministry of Readers in Communion by Extension, which is mandated in this diocese on a case-by-case basis, we need to be careful to continue to teach that the Eucharist is a celebration of the whole Church and not just by the priest. As so many theologians remind us, it is the Sacraments that make the Church, and not the Church (and so, not the priests) that makes the Sacraments.

Two barriers have been identified here: people sometimes feel short-changed to have a reader rather than the rector at a Sunday service; and clergy can sometimes undermine readers by wanting things done only their way.

5, Resources for liturgy and public prayer:

How do we write, structure and lead intercessions?

One rector told me he would value the availability of this for lay people, who could be trained to lead the corporate prayer as part of regular public worship.

However, one reader says he feels this is of interest only to some readers. Yet the intercessions are the prayers of the people. They should and must be heard as the voice of the people, and the first step towards achieving this can be taken by readers, both diocesan and parish readers, being empowered to develop this ministry.

How do we prepare for the seasons in the Church Calendar, beginning with Advent?

Do you find you are too tightly or too thinly stretched in your parishes to mark the main seasons and saints’ days?

How do we find resources for school assemblies, children’s addresses or Confirmation classes?

Often, we do not know where to look or the quality of what we are looking at. A new confirmation course produced within the Church of Ireland has been severely criticised in the Church of Ireland Gazette – and I think rightly so – for its one-sided ideological approach.

I am told we probably operate a varied programme for Confirmation around the diocese, all home-grown. Should we streamline and agree a curriculum for Confirmation training, one that is too old-fashioned, one that empowers confirmands as spiritual people and does not expect them to be pew fodder?

Again, one reader thought working with resources for school assemblies, children’s addresses or confirmation classes was of interest only to a few readers. Is this because rectors are holding back or reserving some aspects of ministry, or is this because readers have not been empowered and resourced, and so feel inadequate or in danger of stepping on the rector’s toes?

What new publications, books and resources are becoming available?

So, a question – what you reading now?

I am reading For God’s Sake, a collection of papers edited by Jessica Martin and Sarah Coakley (London: Canterbury Press Norwich, 2016). They and the other contributors look at the way Anglican parish ministry is changing irrevocably as the Church is taking a new shape in the face of an uncertain future. They talk about how we they are being shaped anew in their vocation to prayer and study.

Jessica Martin and Sarah Coakley are highly-respected Cambridge theologians. But this is a down-to-earth practical collection of papers arising from a conference a few years ago in Lichfield Cathedral.

Many of us will identify immediately with the title of an essay by Cheryl Collins and Jessica Martin on ministry in rural Suffolk and south Cambridge, ‘The Priest Attends Seven Village Fetes: Multi-Parish Ministry.’

I spent some time this week in both O’Mahony’s Bookshop in O’Connell Street, Limerick, and the Abbey Bookshop across the street, run by the Augustinians, to see what new books they had in the areas of spirituality, liturgy, theology and pastoral care.

If you look at the books on your shelves, ask how many of them date from when you were ordained or did a reader course. But how do you find out what new books and resources are coming on the market?

Life-long learning and development is vital to keep us all fresh. We need new insights and inspirations from others’ thoughts, writings and research or publications.

And so part of the new website or blog I am working on will include pointers to new books, new publications, including magazines, and new resources.

6, Shaping this into a programme:

But these ideas need to be explored together, and from autumn on I am planning a number of single-topic study days.

I am offering regional meetings in places such as Killarney, Co Kerry, Moneygal, Co Offaly, Limerick city centre or the Rectory in Askeaton, Co Clare, where – thanks to the bishop – a new meeting room has been equipped – and Ennis, Co Clare. I know too that Killarney is also available as a training centre for the south-west of the diocese.

These meetings could be on a monthly basis, one in each venue in turn, so that each venue would have two or three meetings a year. This is a big diocese and it is easier for more of us to attend more events if you we have so long to travel. Because it is a big diocese, the fact that clergy and readers can meet more regularly means more opportunities to and support one another, to share, and to grow in friendship.

But I also think we can do some of this work together on field trips, such as a one-day visit as a group to the three functioning cathedrals in the diocese, Limerick, Killaloe and Clonfert.

In the responses you have sent me, one priest spoke of the practice of ‘Well-being’ days in another diocese, which included ideas such as sailing – although she admitted this ‘didn’t really float my boat.’

We could have days exploring team ministry, a day that begins with a teaching Eucharist, cluster days that are designed and tailored to the specific needs of parishes and groups of parishes, days that look at specific issues such as Communion by Extension – practicalities and spirituality; days like book clubs, perhaps updating our reading, or looking at a set of Lectionary readings in advance, such as preparing for Advent and Lent.

Some of you tell me you have parish book clubs, but that these use secular material, and how good it would be to develop a spiritual version.


Structure of the Day:

10 a.m., Arrival, coffee.

10.15, A short reflective service with the Archdeacon of Tuam, the Ven Gary Hastings.

10.30, Introductions, Session 1.

11.30, break

11.45, Session 2.

1 p.m. Lunch.

1.30, Session 3:

2.45, Final summing up.

3.15: The Eucharist, with the Very Revd Gary Paulsen, Dean of Killaloe.

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