Saturday, 20 January 2018
The cycle of life as the year
passes in a country parish
Donald Trump may be marking one year in the White House today, although gridlock on Capitol Hill means there is no joy in the White House on this day. Indeed, the world may be fretting at how so much has changed in the past year. To be humorous, Norwegians may be very happy that so few of them emigrated to the US in the past year.
But this evening I am marking one year since I was introduced by Kenneth Kearon as priest-in-charge of the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes.
The service of introduction took place in Holy Trinity Church a year ago this evening, on 20 January 2017, and the preacher was Archbishop John Neill.
Since then, it has been an eventful year, working through the full cycle of life, with Baptisms, Confirmations and Funerals – and, hopefully this summer, a wedding too.
On my first Sunday morning, I got lost on my way to my first service, in Castletown Church near Pallaskenry. But I think I am now beginning to find my way.
I never thought I was going to find myself in a parish like this in this part of Ireland. I have very few, and very thin, distant family links with Limerick, and in the past it was either a county to pass through on the way to other parts of Ireland, or a venue for rugby matches at Thomond Park.
If you asked me two years ago where I though I was going to be at the beginning of 2018, I would probably have guessed a parish in England, or retired to a quiet place in Ireland, offering myself for Sunday duty in parishes I know and love or in sunny places in the Mediterranean.
But I have been blessed in these past 12 months in this group pf parishes, stretching across west Limerick and north Kerry.
There has been the usual Sunday rota of church services, and I have now worked through a full year in the Church Calendar. There have been pastoral visits, hospital and nursing home chaplaincy, school assemblies and boards, charity committees, and a new take on church synods, committees and meetings. There have been moments of deep sadness, including a number of funerals in the past week, but there have been moments too of great joy.
I have been blessed too in my opportunities to engage in Ministerial Education and training in the diocese. I continued my academic work until last year’s MTh students were conferred with their degrees in Trinity College Dublin. This new role is a different way of engaging with the application of theology, organising in-service training days, providing liturgical and preaching resources in the diocese, and bringing clergy and readers together.
I have been blessed in a new role as the Canon-Precentor in the three cathedrals in this corner of the Church of Ireland. The chapter is now meeting regularly, arranging to visit each other’s churches and parishes, and enjoying each other’s company.
And I have been blessed in finding myself in a corner of Ireland I never knew before. There have been new towns, rivers and beaches to explore, new walks, new places to photograph. Most of all, there have been new people to meet, new friends to make.
As I head into a second year in these parishes and this united diocese, I am also blessed by what the Benedictines know as stability, celebrating the Eucharist in one parish with one people on a week-by-week basis, and by what George Herbert recognised in the ordinary, daily and weekly round of the country parson among his people, recognising the cycle and rhythm of life as a sacramental sign of the breath and pulse of God.