Saturday, 30 June 2018

A statue in Limerick is
a reminder of the principles
underpinning Anglican unity

The statue of Bishop John Jebb in the Jebb Chapel or North Transept of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

It is impossible for visitors to Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, not to be overwhelmed by the larger-than-life statue in the North Transept or Jebb Chapel commemorating John Jebb (1775-1833), Bishop of Limerick.

John Jebb was born in Drogheda on 27 September 1775. He was Archdeacon of Emly when became Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe in 1823. He was a High Church theologian to ritual and is regarded as a forerunner of the Oxford Movement.

Jebb died on 9 December 1833.

His monument is a tribute to the crucial role he played in the 19th century discussions and debates that led to development of what became the Anglican Communion.

The inscription on the plinth of his statue in Saint Mary’s Cathedral reads:

‘To the memory of John Jebb, DD, Bishop of Limerick.

‘This monumental statue is raised by friends of religion and literature in Ireland, England and America in commemoration of benefits conferred by his life and writings upon the Universal Church of Christ.’

A separate plaque in the Jebb chapel names those ‘friends of religion and literature in Ireland, England and America,’ beginning with Bishops, Deans and senior clergy of the Diocese of Limerick and Ardfert, continuing with the Archdeacon of Dublin, the Regius Professor of Divinity in Trinity College Dublin, the Lord Chief Justice, local potentates, including members of the Barrington family and the ‘Proprietors of the Limerick Chronicle.’

Surprisingly, no bishops of the Church of Ireland are included in the list of Irish names, which make up three of the six columns on the plaque.

But the list of English names is headed by the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Archbishop of York, the two senior bishops of the Church of England, the Bishop of London and the Bishop of Durham, as well as the Bishop of Lincoln and the Bishop of Winchester.

The names from the Church of England also include the Dean of Manchester, the Master of Saint John’s College, Cambridge, James Wood (1760-1839), later Dean of Ely, the President of Magdalen College, Oxford, Martin Routh (1755-1854), the Master of Clare Hall (now Clare College), Cambridge, William Webb, Christopher Wordsworth (1774-1856), Master of Trinity College, Cambridge, and brother of the poet William Wordsworth, and two archdeacons.

The name of the Rev HJ Wilberforce may be a reference to the Revd Henry Wilberforce (1807-1873), a son of the anti-slavery campaigner, William Wilberforce. He was a former student of John Henry Newman and a Tractarian priest in the Church of England before he joined the Roman Catholic Church. Later, he became secretary of the Catholic Defence Association and lived in Ireland for two or three years. He engaged in an exchange of critical correspondence with the Revd Alexander Dallas, a strong evangelical missionary associated with the Irish Church Missions and the Achill Mission of Canon Edward Nangle.

Other worthies among the list of English names include the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Thomas Spring-Rice (1790-1866), although he was MP for Limerick and then MP for Cambridge, and he lived at Mount Trenchard, Co Limerick.

The names of American donors on the plaque include William White (1748-1836), first and fourth Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church and Bishop of Pennsylvania; George Washington Doane (1799-1859), Bishop of New Jersey, and Thomas Cort, President of Pennsylvania University.

The plaque listing the names of the Irish, English and American contributors to Bishop John Jebb’s memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

This is an interesting collection of names, as it brings together the Church of Ireland, the Church of England and the Episcopal Church over a generation before the first Lambeth Conference.

Martin Routh of Clare College, Cambridge, provides an interesting link that brought the three churches back together after the American Revolution and before the formation of the Anglican Communion.

When the American Anglicans or Episcopalians visited England in 1783 seeking assistance to form up their own episcopate, Thomas Thurlow, Bishop of Durham, recommended they consult Routh. Routh advised them against approaching the Lutheran bishops of Denmark and instead recommended they approach the Episcopal Church of Scotland as this church had a high church tradition.

On 14 November 1784, Robert Kilgour, Bishop of Aberdeen and Primus of Scotland, Arthur Petrie, Bishop of Ross and Moray, and the Coadjutor-Bishop of Aberdeen, John Skinner, consecrated Samuel Seabury of Connecticut as bishop. This act was crucial in the survival of the American Episcopal Church.

A year later, the first General Convention of the Episcopal Church was held in 1785. William White was elected the first Presiding Bishop, and in 1787 he was consecrated bishop in the Chapel of Lambeth Palace by the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, and the Bishops of Bath and Wells and Peterborough.

Bishop Gregory Cameron, a former Deputy Secretary General of the Anglican Communion and now Bishop of St Asaph in Wales, was the speaker and the Limerick and Tuam clergy conference last year. He identifies the first use of the term ‘Anglican Communion’ in 1843, four years after the death of Bishop Jebb.

He found this first usage in the title of a book by Canon John Jebb, The Choral Service of the United Church of England and Ireland, being an Inquiry into the Liturgical System of the Cathedral and Collegiate Foundations of the Anglican Communion (London: James Parker, 1843).

This Dublin-born Canon John Jebb (1805-1886) was a nephew of Bishop John Jebb of Limerick, and he was a canon of Limerick Cathedral until he moved to England in 1843, the year this book was published.

This second John Jebb spent most of his early church life as the Prebendary of Donoughmore in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, from 1832 to 1843. Later, he was a prebendary in Hereford Cathedral and then a canon residentiary.

Four years after Jebb’s book was published, Horatio Southgate, the Missionary Bishop of the Episcopal Church in the Dominions of the Sultan, spoke in 1847 of ‘each of the three branches of the Anglican Communion …, namely, the English, the Scotch, and the American.’ By the mid-19th century, it was common to refer to the growing family of Anglican and Episcopal churches as ‘two communions.’ The term ‘Anglican Communion’ is eventually used as a defining term at the first Lambeth Conference in 1867.

The names of the subscribers to Jebb’s memorial in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, illustrate how from the very beginning the close links between these churches are inseparable from Anglican identity.

Today, there is a movement within the Church of Ireland that threatens and that could endanger these historic links between these three churches. Two bishops of the Church of Ireland recently attended the Gafcon Conference in Jerusalem which called on Anglican bishops to distance themselves from the Episcopal Church and to boycott the next Lambeth Conference called by the Archbishop of Canterbury.

But the ‘Preamble and Declaration’ adopted by the General Convention of the Church of Ireland in 1870 pledges: ‘The Church of Ireland will maintain communion with the sister Church of England … and will set forward, so far as in it lieth, quietness, peace and love, among all Christian people.’

At their consecration in the Church of Ireland, bishops are told by the consecrating archbishop that bishops have ‘a special responsibility to maintain and further the unity of the Church, to uphold its discipline, to guard its faith and to promote its mission throughout the world.’ They are asked: ‘Will you promote unity, peace, and love among all Christian people …?’

The solemn answer is: ‘By the help of God, I will.’

Any move to create a rift between the Church of Ireland and the Church of England or to promote disunity and schism in the Anglican Communion, runs contrary not only to the principles of John Jebb, but are also in breach of the foundational canonical principals that guide the governance of the Church of Ireland.

The list of American contributors to Bishop John Jebb’s memorial (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Services in July 2018
in the Rathkeale
Group of Parishes

‘Noli me Tangere’, by Mikhail Damaskinos, in the Museum of Christian Art in the Church in Iraklion, Crete … Sunday 22 July is the Feast of Saint Mary Magdalene (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Sunday 1 July (Trinity V):

9.30, The Eucharist (Holy Communion), Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton;

11.30, Morning Prayer, Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert.

Readings: II Samuel 1: 1, 17-27; Psalm 130; II Corinthians 8: 7-15; and Mark 5: 21-43.

Hymns: 593, O Jesus, I have promised; 211, Immortal love for ever full; 592, O Love that wilt not let me go.

Saturday 7 July 2018:

2 p.m., Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton: Holy Matrimony, the wedding of Nicky White (Nantinan) and Rob Foley (Cork).

Sunday 8 July (Trinity VI):

9.30, the Eucharist (Holy Communion), Castletown Church;

11.30, Morning Prayer, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: II Samuel 5: 1-5, 9-10; Psalm 48; II Corinthians 12: 2-10; Mark 6: 1-13.

Hymns: 529, Thy hand, O God, has guided; 593, O Jesus, I have promised; 618, Lord of all hopefulness.

Sunday 15 July (Trinity VII):

9.30, Morning Prayer, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton;

11.30, The Eucharist (Holy Communion), Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin, Tarbert.

Readings: II Samuel 6: 1-5, 12b-19; Psalm 24; II Ephesians 1: 3-14; Mark 6: 14-29.

Hymns: 461, For all thy saints, O Lord; 535, Judge eternal, throned in splendour; 204, When Jesus came to Jordan.

Sunday 22 July (Trinity VIII and Saint Mary Magdalene):

9.30, Morning Prayer, Castletown Church;

11.30, The Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: Song of Solomon 3: 1-4; Psalm 42: 1-10; II Corinthians 5: 17-22; John 20: 1-2, 11-18.

Hymns: 288, Thine be the glory, risen, conquering Son; 606, As the dear pants for the water; 592, O Love that wilt not let me go.

Sunday 29 July (Trinity IX):

Fifth Sunday joint celebration:

11 a.m., Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), The Rectory, Askeaton.

Readings: II Samuel 11: 1-15, 12b-19; Psalm 14; Ephesians 3: 14-21; John 6: 1-21.

Hymns: 294, Come down, O Love divine; 428, Let us break bread together; 587, Just as I am, without one plea.

Followed by Parish Barbeque. All Welcome.

Friday, 29 June 2018

A century and a half of
Victorian brickwork on a
street corner in Limerick

21 O’Connell Street, Limerick, has interesting polychromatic red-brick features (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

The Official Tourist Office at 20-21 O’Connell Street, Limerick, is part of the Fáilte Ireland tourist office network in Ireland, where staff offer visitors information on places to go, things to do, where to stay, tour bookings and what’s on locally and nationally.

These include places of interest along the Wild Atlantic Way, the treasures in the lakelands and the exciting activities and events in towns and cities.

The building stands on the south-east side of O’Connell Street, at the corner of O’Connell Street and Thomas Street. Despite the modern shopfront at the ground floor level, this building is a place of architectural interest in Limerick because of its polychromatic red-brick features, including the vitrified brick lettering with the date AD 1867.

This gable-ended, three-bay, four-storey polychromatic red brick building, is dated 1867. The building rises above the buildings beside it with an interesting five-bay third-floor level.

The red-brick front elevation is laid in Flemish bond with a diagonal brick cornice and vitrified brick courses at sill levels and at the level of the springing of the first floor window arches.

The vitrified brick lettering at the window piers on the first-floor and second-floor level reads: ‘AD 1867.’

The vitrified brick lettering reads: ‘AD 1867’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The painted, brick north-facing side elevation has unpainted vitrified brick stringcourses.

There are segmental-arched window openings with red and vitrified brick arches, red brick reveals, flush vitrified brick sills, and one-over-one timber sash windows with ogee horns.

There is a pitched natural slate roof with a large brick chimneystack at the south gable that has a corbelled pointed-arch detail. There are corbelled brick eaves to north gable, and moulded cast-iron rainwater goods on the polychromatic corbelled eaves.

The polished granite shopfront dates from around 2000, and has an over-wrought steel-framed glazed canopy.

The elegance of this red-brick building makes an interesting contrast with the pretty and diminutive single-bay, two-storey No 22 next door.

This is a terraced single-bay, two-storey building, built around 1900. Here fluted full-height pilasters are joined by a plain rendered band at the parapet level, and there is a modern timber shopfront at ground floor level that dates from about 1990.

The round-arched window opening has a rendered reveal, painted sill that is possibly replacement, and a 1950s timber casement window.

This building has a pitched artificial slate roof that is hidden behind the parapet wall and its cast-iron cresting.

Leonidas at No 22 O’Connell Street, Limerick, is diminutive and pretty (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

The ‘Leper’s Squint’ survives in
Limerick from the Middle Ages

The ‘Leper’s Squint’ and the Arthur Memorial hidden behind the organ in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I spent much of Thursday [28 June 2018] in Limerick, first at a meeting of charity trustees and then in Saint Mary’s Cathedral to record a Eucharist at which I was the preacher as Precentor.

The recorded Eucharist is to be broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 on Sunday morning 15 July 2018. The Dean of Saint Mary’s, the Very Revd Niall Sloane, presided, the other clergy who too part included the Revd Edna Wakeley and the Revd Paul Fitzpatrick, who is to be licensed as the cathedral curate tomorrow afternoon [30 July 2018], and the choir was directed by Peter Barley.

As I was wandering around the cathedral while the choir was rehearsing and others were testing sound levels or putting the finishing touches to their notes, I took a look at what is known as the ‘Leper’s Squint’ in the original north transept or Chapel of the Holy Spirit, which dates from around 1360.

The ‘squint’ is hidden to the left and behind the organ, and so visitors often miss this opening in the cathedral wall.

Visitors who see it are often told that the prevailing medical opinion of the day meant lepers were not allowed inside churches in mediaeval times, but could watch celebrations of the Eucharist or the Mass through this opening and also receive the Holy Communion.

Leprosy was common in the Middle Ages, when it believed to be highly contagious and therefore Lepers were not allowed into churches. The Cathedral’s ‘leper’s squint’ allowed them to see and hear mass and receive Communion through this small opening or slot to the side of the High Altar.

There is a surviving reminder of the prevalence of leprosy in mediaeval Ireland in the name of Leopardstown in suburban south Co Dublin.

But was the opening in the original north transept in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, truly a ‘leper’s squint’?

Openings like this are rare in Irish churches but are found in mediaeval churches throughout Europe. An opening like this is known as a hagioscope, from the Greek words άγιος (ágios, ‘holy’) and σκοπεῖν (skopein, ‘to see’).

This architectural term denotes a small splayed opening or tunnel at the eye level of people who are seated so that they can see through the internal masonry of a dividing wall in a church.

These openings are usually in an oblique direction, south-east or north-east, to facilitate one or more worshippers in side-chapels, private manorial chapels, chantry chapels at the east ends of the aisles, or other parts of a church.

Sometimes, the High Altar in the chancel was not visible, making it difficult to witness the elevation of the host and the chalice after the words of institution. A hagioscope offered a good view of the High Altar to everyone within the sectioned-off area.

Perhaps the best-known hagioscope must have been that provided for Julian of Norwich. But Lady Margaret Beaufort, mother of Henry VII and grandmother of Henry VIII, was also provided with her own screen, private viewing facilities that still exist in the Chapel of Christ’s College, Cambridge.

However, when a squint was made in the external wall of chapel, church or cathedral, it allowed lepers and other people regarded as non-desirables to watch the liturgy without coming into contact with the rest of the congregation. These squints were often known as leper windows or lynchoscopes.

Apart from the blocked-up lepers squint in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, Athenry Priory in Co Galway also once had a leper’s squint, and there were leper’s squints or similar stone openings too in Furness Church, a 13th century Norman church near Naas, Co Kildare, and Saint Mary’s Church, Inis Cealtra or Holy Island on Lough Derg.

Perhaps the opening in the wall in Saint Mary's Cathedral, Limerick, served a mediaeval hermit, a small community of nuns, or even a rich local merchant or patron with his own private chapel. The obvious family in this case would be the Arthur family, for Canon Geoffrey Arthur, the fifth recorded Treasurer of the Cathedral, was buried here when he died in 1519. A stone slab with his name and a decorated cross is set into the triple arched sedilia recess.

But the story of a leper’s squint seems to be more engaging for visitors who manage to find it behind the organ.

Thursday, 28 June 2018

A day of interviews and
a restored Baptismal font

An interview with David Patton in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, for ‘The Spiritual Journey of Ireland’ (Photograph: Beniamin Sobotka, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

I spent the afternoon in Askeaton yesterday working with David Patton and his Polish-born brother-in-law Beniamin Sobotka, who are working on The Spiritual Journey of Ireland. This is a full-length video documentary that promises to take us around the island of Ireland, exploring our spiritual history and taking in the historic sites that connect us to our spiritual past.

David is from Dundalk, Co Louth, and the concept for this documentary has been with him since 2002 when he first started investigating Ireland’s rich spiritual heritage. Since then, he has always dreamt of researching this in more detail and bringing out ‘the pivotal stories that make up our spiritual journey as a nation and see what impact it has both on our present and future.’

He says the topic gripped him then and has stayed with him ever since.

He is a leader in a local church in Drogheda, and describes himself as ‘a passionate communicator and student of faith.’

Filming is taking David and Beniamin to heritage sites across Ireland, enjoying the opportunity this bright summer weather provides to capture the beautiful landscape as a visual backdrop to the spoken content delivered by many contributors.

Apart from me, the contributors include Nick Park, Executive Director of the Evangelical Alliance Ireland, and Dr John Scally, Professor in Ecclesiastical History at Trinity College Dublin.

The project is at the filming stage, and David and Beniamin are ready to take it all the way from the filming to production and post production. They plan to have the documentary finished by November, giving their backers a chance to receive their DVDs in time for Christmas. ‘We think the finished product will make a great Christmas gift for friends and family.’

Earlier in the day, I was a speaker at an event in the Desmond Castle, Newcastle West, marking the restoration of the Baptismal font from the former Saint Thomas’s Church, and its return to Newcastle West. As well as senior representatives of the Office of Public Works, the attendance included the Bishop of Limerick, the Right Revd Kenneth Kearon, and the Dean of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, the Very Revd Niall Sloane.

The church, which once stood on the north side of the castle, between the castle and the Square, was demolished in 1962. The font, made of Caen Stone, bears the inscription, ‘One Baptism for the Remission of Sins.’

With Dean Niall Sloane, Bishop Keneth Kearon, and senior representatives of the Office of Public Works at the return of the Baptismal Font in Newcastle West

Are these ‘Days of
Wine and Roses’ in
the rectory garden?

‘Days of Wine and Roses’ … a summer evening in the rectory garden in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

After a busy day yesterday, two of us sat out in the rectory garden until late in the evening [27 June 2018], while the temperature remained in high 20s. We sat there for what seemed like an interminable evening in the sunshine, sipping wine, admiring the roses, reading the papers, enjoying the sunshine, and occasionally getting up only to stroll through the garden gate and into the fields behind the rectory, where the grass has been cut and the hay has been rolled into bales.

These are unusual summer days for west Co Limerick. It had been a busy day, speaking at a public event in the Desmond Castle, Newcastle West, and then working throughout the afternoon with a film crew at Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton.

The temperatures rose beyond 30, making these hotter days than those in Crete a week ago.

And, as the evening seemed to stretch on endlessly, we sat there, in the warm evening sunshine, basking in the sun-induced laziness, I began humming to myself the Andy Williams version of ‘Days of Wine and Roses,’ a popular song from the 1962 movie of the same name.

The film Days of Wine and Roses was directed by Blake Edwards with a screenplay by JP Miller (1919-2001), adapted from his own 1958 Playhouse 90 teleplay of the same name.

The movie was produced by Martin Manulis, with music by Henry Mancini, and stars Jack Lemmon, Lee Remick, Charles Bickford and Jack Klugman. But, despite the title, and despite what I once thought the song means, this is no romantic move. Instead, it depicts the downward spiral of two average Americans who succumb to alcoholism and fail to deal with their problems.

The music was written by Henry Mancini with lyrics by Johnny Mercer. The song is composed of two sentences, one for each stanza. They are each sung as three lines:

The days of wine and roses laugh and run away like a child at play
Through a meadow land toward a closing door
A door marked ‘nevermore’ that wasn’t there before

(The lonely night discloses) just a passing breeze filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you

(The lonely night discloses) Just a passing breeze filled with memories
Of the golden smile that introduced me to
The days of wine and roses and you-oo-oo.

The best-known recordings of the song are by Billy Eckstine in 1961 and Andy Williams in 1963. But several other recording artists have also recorded it, including Shirley Bassey, Frank Sinatra, Ella Fitzgerald, Perry Como and Tony Bennett, and the song has since become a jazz standard.

The phrase ‘days of wine and roses’ is originally from the poem Vitae Summa Brevis (1896) by the English writer Ernest Dowson (1867-1900):

They are not long, the days of wine and roses:
Out of a misty dream
Our path emerges for a while, then closes
Within a dream.

Dowson coined such vivid phrases as ‘Days of Wine and Roses’ and ‘Gone with the wind’:

I have forgot much, Cynara! gone with the wind,
Flung roses, roses riotously with the throng,
Dancing, to put thy pale, lost lilies out of mind;
But I was desolate and sick of an old passion,
Yea, all the time, because the dance was long: I have been faithful to thee, Cynara! in my fashion.

– Ernest Dowson, from Non Sum Qualis eram Bonae Sub Regno Cynarae, third stanza (1894)

This earlier poem was first published in The Second Book of the Rhymer’s Club in 1894, and it is also the source of the phrase ‘I have been faithful ... in my fashion.

Margaret Mitchell, touched by the ‘far away, faintly sad sound I wanted’ of the third stanza’s first line, chose words from that line as the title of her novel Gone with the Wind.

In a useful piece of information as the World Cup moves on to the next stages, the Oxford English Dictionary says Dowson provides the earliest use of the word ‘soccer’ in the written language – although he spells it ‘socca,’ presumably because it did not yet have a standard written form.

Both Mancini and Mercer said that once they had the title, the words and music rolled out and could not be written fast enough. Andy Williams sang the song on the film songtrack, winning a gold record, while Mancini and Mercer won a Grammy for Song of the Year and the Academy Award for Best Original Song.

Coincidentally, Johnny Mercer, who wrote the lyrics for the title tune, also wrote the lyrics for the theme from Laura, a 1944 film in which Dowson's poem is quoted in its entirety.

‘Like a child at play through a meadow land’ … the summer fields behind the rectory garden in Askeaton (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

https://youtu.be/xE3Y4-hB-9g

Wednesday, 27 June 2018

The baptismal font
returns with stories
to Newcastle West

The site of the former Saint Thomas Church, built in 1777, is marked out by low-level wall between the castle and the square (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Desmond Castle, Newcastlewest, Co Limerick,

Wednesday 27 June 2018

The return of Saint Thomas’s Baptismal Font to Newcastlewest


This font was presented to Saint Thomas’s Church by the Earl of Devon, and was used in the church for baptisms up to 60 years ago.

Saint Thomas’s Church stood for almost 200 years in front of the castle, on the south side of the square, and its location is marked with the small, low-level wall.

The church was united with the Rathkeale Group of Parishes in 1953, was deconsecrated in 1958, and was demolished in 1962.

The last Rector of Newcastle West, David Kaye Lee Earl (1958-1962), later became Dean of Ferns (1979-1994) and he died in Waterford last year.

Newcastlewest remains part of my group of parishes, but I have to be honest and say I am sorry that the Church closed too many churches in West Limerick in the 1950s and 1960s. I regret, while the Church of Ireland is still present here, we do not have the visible presence that comes with actually having a church building in such a strategic location in the centre of the town.

The Courtenay family were mainly responsible not only for providing this font but also for moving the church from its original site at Churchtown to this location in the 18th century.

Henry Reginald Courtenay (1741-1803), Bishop of Bristol and later Bishop of Exeter, was the father of William Courtenay who recovered the family title as the 10th Earl of Devon in 1835. Two of his sons, Canon Henry Hugh Courtenay (1811-1904), who later became the 13th Earl of Devon, and Canon Leslie Courtenay, were both Anglican priests, as were the 15th and 16th Earls of Devon.

So, the Earls of Devon had a good reason to be benevolent in their endowments of Saint Thomas’s Church, typified in donating this font.

But I think, too, of the ordinary, everyday parishioners who were baptised in this font.

The vast majority of children baptised in this font were part of the ordinary, every-day life of this parish.

They include members of the Curling family, related to Lord Edward Fitzgerald and with exotic stories about the Greek War of Independence in the 19th century.

They include the aviator, Sophie Pierce (1896-1939), who was born in Newcastle West in 1896, and who as Lady Mary Heath flew solo from South Africa to London.

She died tragically in London at the age of 43, when she fell down the steps of a London tram in a drunken stupor. But Sophie Pierce had the last laugh. At her own request, her ashes were scattered from a plane over Newcastle West – just when her neighbour, a man she never got on with, was taking his midday walk.

All these people – the children of farmers, shopkeepers and artisans – shared in the common baptism that unites all who have been baptised, for there is only ‘one Lord, one Faith, one Baptism.’

They are an essential part of the story of Newcastle West, and an essential part of the mosaic that makes us the pluralist and diverse Ireland we are today. And it is appropriate that this font is restored here, so that all who see it are reminded of its original use, reminded of the story of a parish that should not be forgotten, and reminded of our shared stories and shared identities in Ireland today.

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is priest-in-charge, the Rathkeale Group of Parishes. He was speaking at the invitation of the Commissioners of Public Works in Ireland at the return of the Saint Thomas’s Baptismal Font to Newcastle West in the Desmond Castle, Newcastle West, Co. Limerick.

Kudos for Aristophanes
and Shakespeare in a
bottle of summer wine

A bottle of Malvazis in the Kudos range from the Dourakis winery on a warm summer’s evening in Georgioupoli last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

As the temperature in Limerick reached 30 at one stage on Tuesday afternoon [26 June 2018] while I was indoors at a meeting in Henry Street. Later in the evening, two of us sat out in the rectory garden until long after 10.30, while it was still daylight and as a moon that was almost full was rising above the field to the south behind the walled garden. As we shared a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc from Chile, I thought back to my times over the previous two weeks sitting out in the early evening in Crete sharing cool, crisp, palatable white wines.

Many of those white wines in Crete were locally produced, and in some tavernas the wine – red, white and rosé – comes straight from the barrel, often produced by the family that runs the taverna.

I had written earlier during my holiday about one locally-produced wine in Crete which is made from the Malvazia grape and became known as Malmsey. This wine passed into folklore because Shakespeare says that the Dublin-born Prince George, Duke of Clarence, was drowned in a vat of Malmsey in 1460.

So, it was interesting last week, as the evening was beginning to cool down in Georgioupoli, to be offered a bottle of Malmsey or Malvasia from the nearby Dourakis winery.

The name Malvasia may come from Monemvasia, a Byzantine fortress on the coast of Laconia that was known in Italian as Malvasia. But in Crete, wine historians insist the name is derived from the district of Malevizi (Μαλεβίζι), west of Iraklion. The area includes Fodele, said to be the birthplace of El Greco, Palaiokastro and Gazi.

The bottle of Malvasia I enjoyed in Georgioupoli last week was part of the Kudos range of wines produced in Dourakis range of wines.

The name was chosen because of line by the classical playwright Aristophanes:

κῦδος δὲ […] ἡ δόξα͵ ἐξ οὗ καὶ κύδιστος ὁ ἐνδοξότατος.

The label claimed the word κῦδος (keedos) passed from the works of Aristophanes into the English language in the 19th century, meaning high acclaim or praise for exceptional achievement.

It also described Malvazia as ‘a Cretan variety of grape which spread across Mediterranean vineyards eight centuries ago and has been enhanced in recent years in Greece under ideal climatic conditions.’

The label added: ‘It is a golden yellow wine with rich aromas of citrus fruits and dried nuts. In the mouth, its high acidity balances perfectly with its rich body. The aromatic complexity continues with a long aftertaste.’

I passed by the Dourakis winery one day, and regretted later not calling in. It is close to the village of Vrysses, off the main road between Rethymnon and Chania.

The Dourakis family says its ethos and proud tradition is characterised by knowledge, skills and extensive experience in winemaking. The family winery prides itself in creating products of high quality using scientific care and respect of traditional methods.

In the last 28 years, the winery has developed quality wines using traditional Cretan grape varieties, as well as international grape varieties, and that that are distributed across Crete. Many of these are organic wines monitored by ΔΗΩ.

Aristophanes (Ἀριστοφάνης) (ca 446 to ca 386 BC) was a comic playwright in Athens. Eleven of his 40 plays survive virtually complete. He is also known as ‘the Father of Comedy’ and ‘the Prince of Ancient Comedy.’

Aristophanes has been said to recreate the life of ancient Athens more convincingly than any other author. His powers of ridicule were feared and acknowledged by influential contemporaries. Plato singled out his play The Clouds as slander that contributed to the trial and subsequent condemnation to death of Socrates, although other satirical playwrights had also caricatured the philosopher.

His play, The Babylonians, which has since been lost, was denounced by the demagogue Cleon as a slander against the Athenian polis. It is possible that the case was argued in court, but details of the trial are not recorded and Aristophanes caricatured Cleon mercilessly in his subsequent plays, especially The Knights, the first of many plays that he directed himself.

‘In my opinion,’ he says through that play’s Chorus, ‘the author-director of comedies has the hardest job of all’ (κωμῳδοδιδασκαλίαν εἶναι χαλεπώτατον ἔργον ἁπάντων).

Perhaps Aristophanes alone among the classical playwrights would have understood why Shakespeare had poor Clarence drowned in a vat of Malmsey. But I had better use for my bottle on a warm summer’s evening last week.

Locally produced wine in a taverna in Georgioupoli last week (Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Tuesday, 26 June 2018

Finding sure friends
in the storms and on
the journeys of life

‘ … they took him with them in the boat, just as he was’ (Mark 4: 36) … boats in the small harbour at Georgioupoli in Crete last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick,

26 June 2018


Our Gospel reading today (Mark 4: 35-41) was one of the Gospel readings we might have read here on Sunday morning.

It tells a story about a boat journey in a thunder storm. Christ is with the disciples, and they are seasoned fishers and sailors. They would know the real dangers of sudden storms and swells that can blow up on a lake, and they would know the safety of a good boat, as long as it has a good crew.

Christ is asleep in the boat when a great gale rises, the waves beat the side of the boat, and it is soon swamped by the waters in the storm.

At first, it seems Christ is oblivious to the calamity that is unfolding around him and to the fear of the disciples. They have to wake him, and by then they fear they are perishing, they are going to drown.

Christ wakes, rebukes the wind, calm descends on the sea, and Christ challenges those on the boat: ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ (verse 40).

Instead of being calmed, though, they are now filled with awe. Do they recognise Christ for who he truly is? They ask one another: ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’ (verse 31).

Even before the Resurrection, Christ tells his friends not to be afraid, a constant message he has for them after his Resurrection.

Do his friends in the boat begin to ask truly who Christ is because he has calmed the storm, or because he has calmed their fears?

Some of you are setting out the next stage in the journey of life. Hopefully, you have dreams. But you may also have some doubts or fears.

You may face storms and difficulties on that journey in life.

But I hope you will take three ideas with you on the journey in life.

1, You can dream dreams for yourself, for your family, for your friends, for your future. But when the going gets tough, I hope you can keep your trust in Christ, and that you can be confident that he will take care of you and love through all the storms and all the journeys in life.

2, The Disciples represent your friends: the friends you make in school, the friends you will meet and make in school, can be important friends later in life as you travel together on the journey in life.

3, And finally, the boat in this story is often seen as representing the Church. I hope that in the future you will find the Church is a welcoming place, a safe place, and a place you can turn to in the journeys and in the storms of life.

This reflection was prepared for the end-of-school-year service in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Co Limerick, on 26 June 2018.

Mark 4: 35-41:

35 On that day, when evening had come, he said to them, ‘Let us go across to the other side.’ 36 And leaving the crowd behind, they took him with them in the boat, just as he was. Other boats were with him. 37 A great gale arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped. 38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, ‘Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?’ 39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, ‘Peace! Be still!’ Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm. 40 He said to them, ‘Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?’ 41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, ‘Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?’

A fishing boat with its nets in the harbour in Georgioupoli last week (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

A present of the Victorian
heraldic bookplate used
by James Comerford

James Comerford’s bookplate … a thoughtful gift that arrived in the post recently (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

While I was away in Crete for two weeks this month, a generous gift with sentimental value had arrived in the post.

A Facebook friend, Edmund Moriarity, had been carrying out some research when he recently acquired a 19th century history of Walthamstow in north-east London.

I regularly pass through Tottenham Hales, which is near Walthamstow, when I am taking the Stansted Express from Stansted Airport into London, and it is on the same train line I shall be using next week when I am going to the USPG conference in the High Leigh Conference Centre in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire.

When my Facebook contact opened the book, a book plate fell out with the coat of arms and name of James Comerford. He was intrigued by the bookplate, googled the motto, So Ho Ho Dea Ne, and found my ‘interesting blog article’ on James Comerford.

Through messenger on Facebook, he asked whether I would you like the bookplate.

It was a kind and generous offer.

I have been familiar with this bookplate since childhood, when I was first shown copies of it by two aunts who lived in my grandmother’s house in Terenure, Dublin. But the only other copy I have of this bookplate is in James Comerford’s slim volume, Some Records of the Comerford family collected by a descendant, written at the beginning of the 20th century, privately printed and later bound on 26 November 1902.

The bookplate shows a Victorian version of the quartered Comberford arms used by the Victorian antiquarian and book collector, James Comerford, JP, FSA (1806-1881). His heraldic bookplates, with the motto So Ho Ho Dea Ne, remain collector’s items. The heraldic description is:

Quarterly 1 and 4, Gules, a talbot passant argent; 2 and 3, gules, a cross engrailed or, charged with five rose of the first, barbed and seeded of the second.

Crest: out of a ducal coronet or, a peacock’s head proper.

Motto: So Ho Ho Dea Ne.

The first quarter represents the Comberford family of Comberford, between Lichfield and Tamworth, and the Moat House in Tamworth, Staffordshire. This is an interesting reversal of the arms used by the Wolseley family of Wolseley, outside Rugeley in Staffordshire. The arms may have been adapted by the Comberford family to show a close relationship with both the Wolseley family and the Talbot family, Earls of Shrewsbury.

The second quarter was adopted by the Comberford family after inheriting the estates of the Parles family through marriage, probably with the intention of displaying their loyalty to cause of the House of Lancaster during the Wars of the Roses.

The peacock crest is a variation on a theme found in the arms of the Comberford and Comerford families in Staffordshire and in Co Kilkenny and Co Wexford. The Comberford version is: out of a ducal coronet or, a peacock’s head per pale of the first, charged with six roses counter-charged.

The motto defies translation; indeed, I cannot even ascertain which language it is supposed to be. But has been used by all branches of the family and is usually said to mean: ‘God will do it.’

The bookplate is a thoughtful treasured gift, and provide a link with many aspects of the history of this family.

Monday, 25 June 2018

An invitation to speak
about El Greco at
Askeaton arts festival

A monument to El Greco in El Greco Park in the centre of Iraklion (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Askeaton Contemporary Arts has invited me to speak next month at the 13th edition of ‘Welcome to the Neighbourhood,’ the local arts festival involving international and Irish artists who live and work in Co Limerick.

The programme begins on Monday 16 July 2018 and continues throughout July 2018.

Since 2006, Askeaton Contemporary Arts has commissioned, produced and exhibited contemporary art in Askeaton. The events are public, free and open to all, culminating in a special Open Day on Saturday 28 July, featuring new commissioned artworks.

I have been invited to speak on Friday evening, 20 July at 8 p.m. on El Greco and his influence on western art.

The programme notes say: ‘Askeaton's Church of Ireland priest, and accomplished author, blogger and journalist, Patrick Comerford is given carte blanche to present a talk at Askeaton Civic Trust. Expect a journey through the history of western art, with renaissance painter El Greco at the helm.’

Doménikos Theotokópoulos or “El Greco” (1541-1614) is closely identified with the Spanish Renaissance. Yet, as his popular nickname indicates, he was Greek by birth and he normally signed his works with his full birth name in Greek letters, Δομήνικος Θεοτοκόπουλος (Doménikos Theotokópoulos).

Theotokópoulos was born in Venetian Crete in 1541, the descendant of a prosperous urban family that had probably been driven out of Chania in western Crete to Iraklion after an uprising against the Venetians in 1526-1528.

This year’s programme in Askeaton opens on Monday morning, 16 July, at 11.30 a.m., with an invitation to join Askeaton tour guide Anthony Sheehy on an exploratory walk around the town’s mediaeval history.

For over a decade the Office of Public Works has been active inside Askeaton’s mediaeval castle, carrying out a long-term conservation project on one of Ireland’s most important buildings. On Wednesday 18 July, at 12.30 p.m., artist Carl Doran and OPW staff describe their work and the day-to-day tasks involved.

There will be another opportunity at 11.30 on Monday 23 July to share in Anthony Sheehy’s knowledge, exploring Askeaton’s history in a walk around the ruins of the Franciscan Friary.

Curators Max Andrews, Mariana Cánepa Luna (Latitudes, Barcelona), and Gareth Bell-Jones (Flat Time House, London) discuss some of their recent exhibition projects on Tuesday evening 24 July at 8 p.m., when they recall some of the travels and experiences that form part of their work and profession.

Karin Dubsky is one of Ireland’s leading marine ecologists. She works at Trinity College Dublin and is co-ordinator and co-founder of Coastwatch Europe. She campaigns regularly on environmental issues.

On Thursday evening 26 July, at 8 p.m., following the recent Coastwatch Europe exhibition at the European Parliament in Brussels, she will describe her work and how a greater understanding and inclusive vision of an area such as the Shannon Estuary area could be gained.

The annual open day, from 3 p.m. on Saturday 28 July, celebrates the work of 2018’s artists in residence. A reception at Askeaton Civic Trust will be followed by a guided tour of Askeaton, encountering new projects by Matt Calderwood, Jonny Lyons, Ruth Clinton and Niamh Moriarty.

All events are free and open to the public.

A seafront exhibition in Iraklion in 2013 on the making of the movie El Greco (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

IOCS announces details
for the 2018 summer
conference in Cambridge

The illustration from the poster for this year’s IOCS conference in Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge

Patrick Comerford

The Institute for Orthodox Christian Studies in Cambridge has announced in the past week details of this year’s annual conference, which takes place from 31 August to 1 September 2018, at Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

For many years, this summer conference has played an important role in my theological education and my professional development.

The conference this year addresses the topic: ‘The Newness of the Old: Tradition, Doctrine and Christian Life between Preservation and Innovation.’

In Christianity, preservation of tradition and innovation are complexly intertwined. On the one hand, an act of resistance to change can turn out to be an original move that out-performs fashionable new ideas and practices.

On the other hand, the audacious introduction of the ‘new’ is at times the only way to safeguard the faithful continuation of tradition. Yet innovation can also weaken tradition and lead to its destruction, and faithfulness to tradition may degenerate into an ossified and lifeless traditionalism.

A consistently Trinitarian theology and practice must transcend any simplistic dichotomy between a conservative and a progressive outlook on life.

Paradoxically, it is precisely the ‘old’ that manifests itself as the ‘ever-new’. The question as to how to balance the interplay of continuity and discontinuity remains one of the main challenges for Orthodox theology in the 21st century. The aim of the conference is to explore how the complex interrelationship between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ is to be conceived of.

For more details, enrolments and payments, please visit the IOCS website here. A poster/flyer for the conference here. A detailed programme for the conference will be uploaded shortly on the IOCS website.

The keynote speakers this year include: Dr Brandon Gallaher (University of Exeter), the Revd Prof Nikolaos Loudovikos (University Ecclesiastical Academy of Thessaloniki), the Revd Prof Andrew Louth (Durham University), and Professor Jens Zimmerman (Trinity Western University).

Papers will be presented by: Barnabas Aspray (University of Cambridge), Lucian George Berciu (University of Fribourg), Richard Choate (Graduate Theological Union and University of California, Berkeley), Dr Viorel Coman (KU Leuven), Dr Christine Mangala Frost (IOCS), Ryan Hacker (University of Cambridge), Professor Sigríður Halldórsdóttir (University of Akureyri), Dr Smilen Markov (University of Veliko Turnovo / University of Oxford), Michael Miller (University of Cambridge), Ben Morris (Diocese of Sourozh), Yuliia Rozumna (Nottingham University), and Stefan Zelijkovic (University of Belgrade).

Conference enrolment for two days, with meals, is £340. Conference enrolment for two days with no meals is £250. Coffee/tea and biscuits will be provided for all participants. The prices above do not include accommodation. Since places are limited, intending participants may prefer to reserve a place with a non-refundable deposit of £100.

Bookings may be made through the IOCS website.

Accommodation arrangements need to be made directly with Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge.

Sidney Sussex College, Cambridge … the venue for this year’s IOCS annual conference (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2017)

Sunday, 24 June 2018

The promise every new child
brings is the fulfilment
of God’s promises

An icon of the Birth of Saint the Baptist from the Monastery of Anopolis in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 24 June 2018: Trinity IV and the Birth of Saint John the Baptist:

11.30 a.m.: the Eucharist (Holy Communion 2), with Baptism, Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 7-13; Acts 13: 14b-26; Luke 1: 57-56, 80.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

How wonderful that this morning, as we celebrate the Baptism of Samuel Jacob Teskey here this morning, that we are also celebrating the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. It is a unique commemoration in the Church Calendar, so unique that it should not be transferred to a weekday celebration when it falls on a Sunday.

Only three people in the Bible have their birthdays celebrated in the Church Calendar: Christ on Christmas Day (25 December), his mother, the Virgin Mary (8 September) and Saint John the Baptist.

Incidentally, today is also a special day for me, for I was ordained priest 17 years ago on this feastday [24 June 2001], and was ordained deacon 18 years ago tomorrow [25 June 2000].

Later his afternoon, we a second special celebration in this group of parishes to make this feast very special: as part of a programme of reaching out to the parishes in the diocese, the choir of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is singing Choral Evensong in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, at 5 p.m.

Baptism is not a private matter for a family, or simply making sure that we have got the baby’s name right. It is a public event in the life of the Church, it ought to take place within the liturgy and the worship of the Church.

It is not about giving a name to baby, not is about protecting a baby when the parents plan to take him or her on a long journey.

When Christ comes to the River Jordan to be baptised by Saint John the Baptist, it marks the very beginning of his public ministry and mission. It is also a Trinitarian moment, in which we come to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, Baptism is never just about me, about the child, about one Baptism. There is no place for a self-centred or individual-centred understanding of Baptism. Baptism marks our incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church. Today Sam becomes a full member of the Church. Baptism marks the beginning of our own ministry and mission, for each and every one of us as members of the Church. I was reminded when I was being ordained that I had been baptised first, and that was my first commission in the ministry of the whole Church.

Saint Luke is alone among the Gospel writers in telling the story of Saint Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the birth of Saint John the Baptist.

This birthday celebration is at pivotal moment in the calendar: half-way between one Christmas Eve and the next: yes, sorry to startle you, but Christmas Eve is just six months away from today.

But it is also a pivotal moment in the calendar, because it coincides with that time when the days start to get shorter and nights start to get longer.

In Ireland, in Greece, and in many other places across Europe, a bonfire was kindled as darkness fell on Saint John’s Eve. The bonfire was a protest at what the poet Dylan Thomas called ‘the dying of the light.’

The child’s mother, Elizabeth, even though she is, as some might say, a little on in years, knows her pregnancy is a blessing, and her neighbours and relatives rejoice with her when she gives birth (Luke 1: 58).

The child’s father, Zechariah, is, literally, dumb-struck, by the prospect of becoming the father of a son. When he recovers his speech – a sign of his obedience to God in all this chaos – his first words give us the long song of praise or canticle we know as Benedictus.

This is the part that is missing from this Gospel reading. But here Zechariah hails his son as the prophet of God the most high. And he is a prophet because he brings from the very beginning, at his birth the good news of the fulfilment of God’s promise.

Zechariah tells everyone present that God has responded to the cries of people, and in his mercy is going to ‘rescue’ then ‘from the hands of our enemies,’ so that they may live without fear’:

‘By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Luke 1: 78-79).

But I wonder whether Zechariah and Elizabeth would have been so quick to rejoice, so quick to celebrate, if they had known what was going to happen to their son?

Could they had foreseen that a cruel capricious ruler, who would slaughter the first-born, would then lock up their son and – to meet the demands of his wayward daughter – would agree to behead him?

We all know in some way the sadness of people who wait longingly, through many years of marriage, for the birth of a child.

But we all know too that the greatest sadness and grief any parent can suffer is to be alive when their child dies, no matter how old the parents are by then, no matter how young or old the child is, an infant or an adult.

Would any of us who are parents have our children if we knew they were going to suffer cruelly? But my question is asked in vain. The answer, of course, is yes. That answer is so because it is rooted in love, the love of parents for their child is total unconditional love.

While I was thinking of Zechariah and Elizabeth, how they longed for a child, how that child escaped Herod’s slaughter of children in his age group (see Matthew 2: 16-18), only to become the victim of the victim of cruelty that was whimsical and decided on the spur of the moment, I could not avoid thinking of the plight of children who have been forcibly separated from their parents in the United States, and who are now being held – despite what President Trump said in the past week – are still being held in cages.

I was invited to speak about this at a protest outside the US Embassy in Dublin on Thursday, immediately after arriving back from Greece.

There I asked if anyone asks how ordinary, decent people remained silent while children were being sent on trains to Auschwitz, they need only ask how ordinary, decent people remain silent today given what we now know is happening in America.

If children here in a school, creche or pre-school group were held in conditions like that, the gardai or the police would be called in immediately, and there would be outrage if judges did not jail the culprits.

I reminded the protest outside the embassy how we would not allow cattle to be transported like this, or animals to be caged like this. Why then are children being held like this?

Zechariah was dumb-struck, indeed, but the end of his silence is a sign of his obedience to God’s hopes for the future.

And I know that the pregnant Elizabeth took comfort against any foreboding she may have had instinctively for her son when the words she heard from her cousin Mary, just a few verses before this morning’s reading, words in the Canticle Magnificat:

‘He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty’ (Luke 1: 51-53).

This is the promise every new child brings to the world. Sam is the very embodiment, as every child is, here and everywhere, of the fulfilment of God’s promises to you, me, and everyone.

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

Saint John the Baptist depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Luke 1: 57-66, 80

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Hymns: 3, God is love, let heaven adore him; 20, The king of love my shepherd is; 358, King of glory, King of peace.

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, you created the world, and made us in your own image.
Forgive us when we turn away from you.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord God, through your Son you overcame evil and death.
Rescue us from slavery to sin.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Lord God, by your Spirit you restore us to fellowship with you and with one another.
Breathe your love and freedom into our lives.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are the body of Christ.
By one spirit we were all baptised into one body.
Let us then pursue all that makes for peace
and builds up our common life together.
The peace of the Lord be always with you
and also with you.

The Preface:

Because by water and the Holy Spirit
you have made us a holy people by Jesus Christ our Lord,
raised us to new life in him
and renewed us in the image of your glory:

Post Communion prayer:

Gracious God,
in Baptism you make one family in Christ your Son,
one in the sharing of his body and blood,
one in the communion of his Spirit.
Help us to grow in love for one another
and come to the full maturity of the body of Christ. Amen.

The Blessing:

The God of all grace
who called you to his eternal glory in Christ Jesus.
establish, strengthen and settle you in the faith;
and the blessing of God almighty,
the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit,
be upon you and remain with you always. Amen.

The Dismissal:

God has delivered us from the dominion of darkness

You have received the light of Christ;
walk in this light all the days of your life.

Shine as a light in the world
to the glory of God the Father.


Go in peace to love and serve the Lord.
In the name of Christ. Amen.

An icon of Saint John the Baptist in a small chapel in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Sometimes evil is so
great that crying out
is our only prayer

An icon of Saint John the Baptist in a small chapel in Georgioupoli in Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 24 June 2018: Trinity IV and the Birth of Saint John the Baptist:

9.30 a.m.: Morning Prayer, Castletown Church, Co Limerick.

Readings: Isaiah 40: 1-11; Psalm 85: 7-13; Acts 13: 14b-26; Luke 1: 57-56, 80.

May I speak to you in the name of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

This morning is the Feast of the Birth of Saint John the Baptist. It is a unique commemoration in the Church Calendar, so unique that it should not be transferred to a weekday celebration when it falls on a Sunday.

Only three people in the Bible have their birthdays celebrated in the Church Calendar: Christ on Christmas Day (25 December), his mother, the Virgin Mary (8 September) and Saint John the Baptist.

Incidentally, today is also a special day for me, for I was ordained priest 17 years ago on this feastday [24 June 2001], and was ordained deacon 18 years ago tomorrow [25 June 2000].

Later his afternoon, we have two special celebrations in this group of parishes that make this feast very special this year: as part of a programme of reaching out to the parishes in the diocese, the choir of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, is singing Choral Evensong in Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, at 5 p.m.

Later this morning, in Holy Trinity Church, Samuel Jacob Teskey is being baptised in Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale.

Baptism is not a private matter for a family, or simply making sure that we have got the baby’s name right. It is a public event in the life of the Church, it ought to take place within the liturgy and the worship of the Church.

It is not about giving a name to baby, not is about protecting a baby when the parents plan to take him or her on a long journey.

When Christ comes to the River Jordan to be baptised by Saint John the Baptist, it marks the very beginning of his public ministry and mission. It is also a Trinitarian moment, in which we come to understand God as Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

So, Baptism is never just about me, about the child, about one Baptism. There is no place for a self-centred or individual-centred understanding of Baptism. Baptism marks our incorporation into the Body of Christ, the Church, we become full members of the Church, and it also marks the beginning of our own ministry and mission, for each and every one of us as members of the Church.

Saint Matthew’s Gospel introduces Christ’s ministry by first telling the story of Saint John the Baptist. Saint Mark begins his Gospel with the appearance of Saint John the Baptist. And the first person we meet in Saint John’s Gospel is Saint the Baptist.

But Saint Luke alone tells the story of Saint Elizabeth’s pregnancy and the birth of Saint John the Baptist.

This birthday celebration is at pivotal moment in the calendar: half-way between one Christmas Eve and the next: yes, sorry to startle you, but Christmas Eve is just six months away from today.

But it is also a pivotal moment in the calendar, because it coincides with that time when the days start to get shorter and nights start to get longer.

In Ireland, in Greece, and in many other places across Europe, a bonfire was kindled as darkness fell on Saint John’s Eve. The bonfire was a protest at what the poet Dylan Thomas called ‘the dying of the light.’

The child’s mother, Elizabeth, even though she is, as some might say, a little on in years, knows her pregnancy is a blessing, and her neighbours and relatives rejoice with her when she gives birth (Luke 1: 58).

The child’s father, Zechariah, is, literally, dumb-struck, by the prospect of becoming the father of a son. When he recovers his speech – a sign of his obedience to God in all this chaos – his first words give us the long song of praise or canticle we know as Benedictus.

This is the part that is missing from this Gospel reading. But here Zechariah hails his son as the prophet of God the most high. And he is a prophet because he brings from the very beginning, at his birth the good news of the fulfilment of God’s promise.

Zechariah tells those who are gathered that God has responded to the cries of people, and in his mercy is going to ‘rescue’ then ‘from the hands of our enemies,’ so that they may live without fear’:

‘By the tender mercy of our God,
the dawn from on high will break upon us,
to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death,
to guide our feet into the way of peace.’ (Luke 1: 78-79).

But I sometimes wonder whether Zechariah and Elizabeth would have been so quick to rejoice, so quick to celebrate, if they had known what was going to happen to their son?

Could they had foreseen that a cruel capricious ruler, who would slaughter the first-born, would then lock up their son and – to meet the demands of his wayward daughter – would agree to behead him?

We all know in some way the sadness of people who wait longingly, through many years of marriage, for the birth of a child.

But we all know too that the greatest sadness and grief any parent can suffer is to be alive when their child dies, no matter how old the parents are by then, no matter how young or old the child is, an infant or an adult. And that grief will be seen at a funeral in Askeaton later today.

Would any of us who are parents have our children if we knew they were going to suffer cruelly? But my question is asked in vain. The answer, of course, is yes. And that answer is so because it is rooted in love.

While I was thinking of Zechariah and Elizabeth, how they longed for a child, how that child escaped Herod’s slaughter of children in his age group (see Matthew 2: 16-18), only to become the victim of the victim of cruelty that was whimsical and decided on the spur of the moment, I could not avoid thinking of the plight of children who have been forcibly separated from their parents in the United States, and who are now being held – despite what President Trump said in the past week – are still being held in cages.

I was invited to speak about this at a protest outside the US Embassy in Dublin on Thursday, immediately after arriving back from Greece.

There I asked if anyone asks how ordinary, decent people remained silent while children were being sent on trains to Auschwitz and Belsen in the 1930s and 1940s, they need only ask how ordinary, decent people remain silent today given what we now know is happening in America.

If children here in a school, creche or pre-school group were held in conditions like that, the gardai or the police would be called in immediately, and there would be outrage if judges did not jail the culprits.

I reminded the protest outside the embassy how we would not allow cattle to be transported like this, or animals to be caged like this. Why then are children being held like this?

I hope I would not have been silent in the 1930s or the 1940s. But I can blame myself if I am silent today. This is not about politics, this is about morality. This is not about what I think or do not think about Donald Trump or Jeff Sessions, this is about what I think about a small girl being pulled forcibly from her mother’s breast. This not about whether I think Donald Trump is like Herod, but about whether I fear these children could end up like Anne Frank, like the children whose stories I heard in Krakow and Auschwitz.

Sometimes evil is so great that crying out is our only prayer, but remaining silent is becomes our condemnation.

Zechariah was dumb-struck, indeed, but the end of his silence is a sign of his obedience to God’s hopes for the future.

And I know that the pregnant Elizabeth took comfort against any foreboding she may have had instinctively for her son when the words she heard from her cousin Mary, just a few verses before this morning’s reading, words in the Canticle Magnificat:

‘He has shown strength with his arm;
he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts.
He has brought down the powerful from their thrones,
and lifted up the lowly;
he has filled the hungry with good things,
and sent the rich away empty’ (Luke 1: 51-53).

And so, may all we think, say and do be to the praise, honour and glory of God, + Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

An icon of the Birth of Saint the Baptist from the Monastery of Anopolis in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Luke 1: 57-66, 80

57 Now the time came for Elizabeth to give birth, and she bore a son. 58 Her neighbours and relatives heard that the Lord had shown his great mercy to her, and they rejoiced with her.

59 On the eighth day they came to circumcise the child, and they were going to name him Zechariah after his father. 60 But his mother said, “No; he is to be called John.” 61 They said to her, “None of your relatives has this name.” 62 Then they began motioning to his father to find out what name he wanted to give him. 63 He asked for a writing tablet and wrote, “His name is John.” And all of them were amazed. 64 Immediately his mouth was opened and his tongue freed, and he began to speak, praising God. 65 Fear came over all their neighbours, and all these things were talked about throughout the entire hill country of Judea. 66 All who heard them pondered them and said, “What then will this child become?” For, indeed, the hand of the Lord was with him.

80 The child grew and became strong in spirit, and he was in the wilderness until the day he appeared publicly to Israel.

Hymns: 3, God is love, let heaven adore him; 20, The king of love my shepherd is; 358, King of glory, King of peace.

Liturgical colour: White

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
by whose providence your servant John the Baptist
was wonderfully born,
and sent to prepare the way of your Son our Saviour
by the preaching of repentance:
lead us to repent according to his preaching
and, after his example,
constantly to speak the truth, boldly to rebuke vice,
and patiently to suffer for the truth’s sake;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord.

Introduction to the Peace:

We are fellow-citizens with the saints
and the household of God,
through Christ our Lord,
who came and preached peace to those who were far off
and those who are near: (Ephesians 2: 19, 17).

The Blessing:

God give you the grace
to share the inheritance of Saint John the Baptist and of his saints in glory:

Saint John the Baptist depicted on a pillar in the Church of the Four Martyrs in Rethymnon, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2018)

Saturday, 23 June 2018

Limerick and Killlaoe
Diocesan Synod 2018:
the work of USPG

The Diocese of Swaziland celebrates the Season of Creation by cleaning the Mbabane River ... there has been close relationship with the Diocese of Limerick through USPG

Patrick Comerford

Bishop, members of Synod

I have been asked by the chair (Archdeacon Wayne Carney) and the secretary (David Frizelle) to speak to the report of the Council for Mission (pp 35-39). I am not a member of the Council for Mission, but I am a trustee of USPG (the United Society Partners in Gospel), which has a close working relationship with this diocese over the years, particularly to the benefit of the Diocese of Swaziland, which is part of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACNA).

I am also a former director of USPG in the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Both agencies or companies – which have been chaired in the past by Bishop Michael Burrowes and then by Bishop John McDowell – have been wound up over the past two years as part of the restructuring of USPG. One organisation will now work in facilitating Anglican dioceses and parishes through these islands to work in partnership with Anglican churches throughout the world in their needs.

So, today I would just like to:

1, Outline what funding from and partnership with this diocese has made a real difference in the past in the Diocese of Swaziland.

2, Update us what is happening today in the Diocese of Swaziland.

3, Update us on USPG in Ireland and in the Anglican Communion.

In conclusion, I would like to explore some of the options that are available for this diocese to explore as we look at options for Partnership in Mission in the future.

Luyengo Farm vegetables arriving at Saint Francis Primary School in Mbabane with Samson Mthupha, Principal, and Busi Matsebula, Secretary of the Board of Education

1, The past links between this diocese and Swaziland:

Swaziland is one of the poorest countries in the world. It is a tiny, landlocked African kingdom surrounded by South Africa and Mozambique. It has a population of just one million, but it has possibly the highest level of HIV/AIDS in the world: 40 per cent of the people there are HIV+, many children are born HIV+, and 20,000 new HIV cases are reported or diagnosed each year.

But there are only 2,000 hospital beds in Swaziland. This means most of the people are left to die at home. To compound these problems, 40 per cent of the people are unemployed, and 69 per cent of people live below the poverty line.

But for many people, the biggest problem is not HIV – it is the problem of what they are going to eat.

With the support of this diocese and the Bishops’ Appeal, USPG Ireland worked to provide feeding programmes and training in horticulture and market gardening so that the diet of people and the ability of families to be self-sufficient can be improved significantly.

To help this work, it was possible too to make use of previously under-used church lands. One of the major projects you have supported through USPG was the Luyengo Farm project. This was important as a teaching aid for local people and a source of employment, and it also became an income generator for the Diocese of Swaziland, helping to support many HIV/AIDs programmes, schools and care of the sick and orphaned.

In 2014, ‘Bikers with a Mission’ – the Revd Andrew McCroskery and Canon Nigel Kirkpatrick – began from Saint Brendan’s Cathedral, Clonfert, on their ten-day bikers’ tour of the 30 cathedrals of the Church of Ireland raising awareness of and funds for USPG’s work in Swaziland. Their tour also marked the 300th anniversary of USPG in Ireland in 1714.

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya, who became the first woman bishop in Africa in 2012, has visited this diocese, and was also one of the assisting bishops at the consecration of Bishop Kenneth Kearon in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 2015.

Students from the Institute of Technology in Tralee have been particularly generous in helping the Luyengo Farm Project. The farm came to employ 30 people and went on to have a reasonable prospect of a sustainable commercial future.

Bishop Ellinah Wamukoya became the first woman bishop in Africa in 2012

2, The Diocese of Swaziland today:

The Diocese of Swaziland consists of three archdeaconries, 16 parishes, three parochial districts and two chapelries, served by the bishop and 40 clergy, and with about 8,000 regular attending church members.

Diocesan staff and volunteers work tirelessly and in extremely challenges circumstances, especially since a long drought has devastated large areas of already vulnerable countryside. Let me share three positive points about the diocese today:

1, The Diocese of Swaziland is committed to the Green Anglican movement, which promotes environmental conservation and development work across Southern Africa. The diocese has been recognised as a leader in that work. Young people in the Anglican Diocese of Swaziland recently completed a 450 km challenge to raise environmental awareness. They donated shoes, school uniforms and toiletries to schools along their route.

2, The diocese has about 15 Neighbourhood Care Points in the country where children are fed daily. The Bishop recently visited Mbava to see the start of building a new kitchen structure where she laid the foundation stone. The church also distributed maize bags and beans to over 100 families in the most affected communities in the Shiselweni and Lubombo regions of the country.

This work, possible through assistance from the Church of Ireland and other companion dioceses, has responded to the nutritional needs of children who are orphaned and vulnerable. In the face of the drought, there were increasing demands on these resources.

3, Schools, especially in Mbabane, were affected by water shortage. The diocese, through help from Hope Africa and USPG Ireland, donated tanks and distributed water in four primary schools and one pre-school as an emergency relief and water harvesting solution for future use.

The Diocese is drilling boreholes to harvest ground water for two parishes, and has erected three 10,000 litre water tanks to help the Mbava community with water harvesting, where fencing has also been donated to start a community garden that will supply vegetables to the care point.

3, Looking at the future:

USPG is the oldest Anglican mission agency working overseas. It dates back to 1701, and is taking new steps forward to work in new and more meaningful partnerships, that are less about giving and receiving, both money and ideas, but more about empowerment, two-way relationships and building partnerships.

Now USPG is taking a fresh look at its work and we are looking to new opportunities to develop these commitments. The work of USPG Ireland and USPG Northern Ireland is being integrated into the main work of USPG, and this promises to deliver wider engagement in mission for partner dioceses and parishes in the Church of Ireland.

To share some idea of the breadth and scope of our work, USPG was recently named by the Diocese of Europe as the mission agency to support its work with refugees in Greece and southern Europe. Meanwhile, USPG produces Harvest, Advent and Lenten resources, which I have used successfully in my own parish.

As USPG restructures in Ireland, these resources are being made available to dioceses and parishes throughout the Church of Ireland.

USPG arranges placements for volunteers through placement programmes

Conclusions:

USPG and the Diocese of Swaziland have been working together for some years to create a new development programme. Last year, USPG staff members visited Swaziland to meet Bishop Ellinah Wamukoyah and her colleagues, and Fran Mate, USPG Programmes Manager for Africa, was back there again in the past week.

The discussions are still active, but it looks likely now that USPG’s future engagement in Swaziland will focus on community development, education, support for women, and protecting the environment.

In these areas, USPG will be working in partnership with HOPE Africa, the development arm of the Anglican Church of Southern Africa (ACSA).

Davidson Solanki, USPG International Programmes Manager, says: ‘The diocese has a particular concern to improve food security and provide communities with better access to healthcare and education. To this end, the dioceses will be working in selected parishes to pilot a new approach to development that focuses on local skills and resources to tackle local challenges.’

USPG is also continuing to support leadership development in Swaziland and throughout the Anglican Church of Southern Africa.

Positively, because of these new partnerships, but sadly, because of some past personnel problems, the Diocese of Swaziland is not in a position at the moment to receive funding from Ireland for the water tanks projects.

So, while as a diocese we have had a very successful and positive relationship, with fantastic results from all contributions, circumstances beyond our control mean the Diocesan Council for Mission is going to have to re-examine ways of supporting mission work overseas in the future.

For example, there is the possibility of supporting similar work through the Partners In Mission (PIM) Programme, which includes a number of costed programmes.

Partners In Mission offers a variety of programmes from USPG partners within the Anglican Communion. They address different contexts, but each programme will empower a community to release its God-given potential to achieve a fuller life. These include:

Bangladesh, Health; North India, Health; North India, Tackling Slavery; South India, Justice; North India, Women’s Helpline; South India, Green Schools; Malawi, Community Development; Sri Lanka, Education; Tanzania, Children and Babies; Zambia, Justice; Zimbabwe, Tackling Stigma; South Africa, Livelihoods.

Each parish or diocese commits to praying and giving. USPG is encouraging a minimum pledge from churches of £1,000 per year for their chosen programme. However, USPG realises that this is beyond the reach of some parishes and will welcome any commitment they are able to make.

USPG guarantees that 100% of the giving will be dedicated to the chosen programme. Regular updates will enable prayers to be informed. With inspiring stories and pictures from its chosen programme, a church or parish will see the meaningful impact its giving is having on the community where the programme is based.

Becoming a Partner In Mission will give the satisfaction of knowing this support has a major impact on lives and communities through the Anglican Churches.

But that is me speaking as a Trustee of USPG and I am not a member of the Council for Mission. I am sure whatever the Council decides can bring about a fruitful three-way partnership between this diocese, USPG, and a programme in an Anglican diocese or province.

Canon Patrick Comerford was speaking at the Diocesan Synod, the United Dioceses of Limerick, Killaloe and Ardfert, in Villiers School, Limerick, on 23 June 2018.