16 June 2017

Celebrating and sharing in this
ministry of Word and Sacrament

Sharing in Christ’s ministry of Word and Sacrament … an icon from Thessaloniki in the Chapel of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Patrick Comerford

I am on my way back to Askeaton on the bus through Limerick following two working days in Dublin.

There were three viva voce exams in the Church of Ireland Theological Institute on Thursday [15 June 2017] for students whose MTh dissertations I supervised during this academic year, and a court of examiners for the MTh course and Trinity College Dublin this afternoon.

Since January, I have been in a long-drawn-out process of leaving CITI and TCD, as I settled into my new roles in Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes and in the Diocese of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert.

It was good to join CITI colleagues and others for dinner last night, and over the past few days there have been some warm farewells and exchanges with former students and former colleagues.

I first started lecturing occasionally in what was then the Church of Ireland Theological College in the early 1990s, and was appointed a part-time or visiting lecturer in 2002, teaching on modules on Church History and what was then called ‘Church and Society’ and might today be called Contextual Theology.

I joined the staff full-time four years later in 2006, as Director of Spiritual Formation, chaplain and Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy, and then in 2011 was appointed Lecturer in Anglicanism and Liturgy and an Adjunct Assistant Professor in Trinity College.

I began my working life after leaving school training as a Chartered Surveyor and studying for a BSc in Estate Management through Reading University. But the joys of freelance journalism with the Lichfield Mercury not only offered more fun, but also offered a much more interesting career.

I went on to work with the Wexford People group of newspapers, which also included the Enniscorthy Guardian, the New Ross Standard, the Wicklow People and the Bray People.

In the mid-1970s, I moved to Dublin to work in The Irish Times, and remained there until 2002, spending my last eight years there as Foreign Desk Editor. Those years in The Irish Times also offered me the opportunity to study in Japan in 1979, and then to return and complete my degrees in philosophy and in theology and to study for ordination.

But these 15 years at CITC and CITI have been some of the best working years of my life – so far.

A few weeks ago, as the semester and the academic year came to a close, there was an exchange of presents at the closing Eucharist.

I presented an icon to the chapel in CITI that is a print of a photograph I took some years ago of an icon I saw in Thessaloniki. It shows Christ holding his right hand in blessing, and in the other hand the Bible. Before him are the Bread and Wine of the Eucharist. It is an icon of the Christ as the Great High Priest, presiding at the Eucharist and proclaiming the Gospel, and is a reminder to ordinands that as priests we share our priesthood with Christ, and that we are ordained to ministry of both Word and Sacrament.

‘The Quill’ … sculpted in in bog oak that is 5,600 years old (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Later, the staff and students presented me with ‘The Quill’ from Celtic Roots Studio in Ballinahown Craft Village. This is a work in bog oak that is 5,600 years old and from Boora Bog in Co Offaly.

The Celtic Roots Studio, based in the craft village of Ballinahown, Co Westmeath, combines a workshop and gallery space with an interpretative centre and display of historic artefacts made from bogwood. This natural material was formed from trees that became engulfed in Irish bogs thousands of years ago and preserved in the low oxygen atmosphere of the peat.

Now, discarded bogwood is reclaimed by Celtic Roots Studio and slowly dried out over two years before it is carved and polished into contemporary sculpture and jewellery designed by Helen Conneely.

The artists of the Celtic Roots Studio use bog oak, yew and pine that are five millennia old.

Buried trees and forests are common and widespread in Irish bogs. In extensive areas of the west of Ireland entire forests of pine lie preserved underneath the blanket bog. In raised bogs, pine forest is part of the natural vegetation succession from lake to bog. The three important types of wood found preserved in bogs today are Scots pine, oak and yew, and they can be from 4,000 to 7,000 years old.

The Celtic Roots Studio sent samples of bog oak and bog yew to the Queen’s University Belfast to get the samples of wood carbon dated.

The scientists at the Radiocarbon Research Unit in QUB confirmed: ‘In providing dates along with sculptured wood, you can safely say, in the case of bog yew, that the date of the growth of the wood is between 2,000 and 2,200 BC and for the bog oak, the date of growth of the wood is between 3,300 and 3,600 BC.’

I return to Askeaton and the Diocese of Limerick this evening with memories that may not go back so far in time but that are treasured immensely. Some of the other presents in my bag on the bus this evening include books, coffee and chocolate.

Tomorrow I try to put into practice some of what I have teaching about the ministry of Word and Sacrament over the past 15 years with a ‘ministry day’ in Glenstal Abbey for priests and readers from the Diocese of Limerick, Killlaloe and Ardfert, and who are being joined by colleagues from the Diocese of Tuam, Killala and Achonry.

Next weekend I celebrated the anniversaries of my ordination as Deacon on 25 June 2000 and Priest on 24 June 2001.

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