Thursday, 31 December 2020

From Valencia to Valentia,
in a year of lockdowns,
road trips and lost plans

The Irish Times calendar confused the important holidays at the end of 2020 … was this a sign of the times? (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

A friend posted on his Facebook page on Christmas Eve: ‘It’s been a long and difficult year – made more difficult by people who feel the need to preface everything by saying that it’s been a long and difficult year.’

As I look back on the past year, I do not need to tell anyone how long or how difficult it has been. Nor do I need to recall the major events in the political, sporting, social calendars of the past year. But I should have realised that this was going to be a year like no other when calendar for 2020 produced by The Irish Times predicted that Christmas Eve this year would fall on 25 December, Christmas Day on 26 December and Saint Stephen’s Day on 27 December.

So, I started to carefully fill in a large year-planner on a wall in the meeting room in the Rectory. How wrong I was to start planning a few months in advance, never mind planning for a full year ahead.

I got to London twice, and to Valencia early in the year. I was in London in January for the launch in the House of Lords of resources to mark Holocaust Memorial Day and to mark the 75th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust and World War II in 1945.

I was in Valencia in Spain in January too, to celebrate my birthday, and I was back in London in early March for a meeting of the trustees of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel).

The City of Arts and Sciences in Valencia, designed by Santiago Calatrava and Félix Candela, is one of the ‘12 Treasures of Spain’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Those visits to London, allowed two of us to spend some time off visiting Bevis Marks Synagogue, the oldest Sephardi synagogue on these islands, and to explore parts of the East End in London.

But on that second visit to London, it was obvious that all future travel plans for the year were about to be cancelled. A planned visit to Myanmar on behalf of USPG was called off, and the pandemic restrictions quickly entered every aspect of life.

The Saint Patrick’s Day parades in Askeaton and Rathkeale were cancelled for the first time in living memory, and an invitation to preach in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, on Saint Patrick’s Day, was called off. Nor did I join other family members on a visit to Istanbul later in March.

Soon too, I realised I was not going to be back in Crete for Orthodox Easter, and all other travel plans were scuttled. Among the many planned trips that were cancelled included a city break in Warsaw (a Christmas present from one son), a few days in Puglia and Bari in June, summer holidays in Khalkidhiki and Thessaloniki in August and September, and the potential for a few days in Venice or Paris in November. All meetings of USPG became Zoom meetings, so never for to London again. The USPG annual conference at Swanwick in Derbyshire was cancelled too.

This is the first year in many that I have not been in Greece, Lichfield or Cambridge.

But we were not to be outdone. When the lockdown was relaxed at different times of the year, two of us took advantage of the situation, and headed off on a number of ‘road trips’ throughout the southern half of Ireland, visiting and revisiting places that reassured us that Ireland is, indeed, a beautiful island.

There were two visits to Cobh, including visits to Spike Island and Saint Colman’s Cathedral; two visits to Cork, including walk tours of Jewish Cork and visits to Saint Fin Barre’s Cathedral, which was celebrating its 150th anniversary this year; and a visit to the Ring of Kerry.

There were return visits to many places that were dear to me in my childhood and formative years, including Cappoquin and my grandmother’s former farm, with warm welcomes at Cappoquin House, Mount Melleray and Dromana in Villierstown; Ballinskellings and its long sandy beach on the tip of the Ring of Kerry; Valentia Island, where we stayed in the Royal Valentia Hotel; Cahir, Carrick-on-Suir and Clonmel in Co Tipperary, including the Butler house in Carrick, and the Swiss Cottage, castle and Nash-designed parish church in Cahir; Bunclody, including a first-time visit to the only synagogue in Co Wexford; and, of course, Wexford town itself.

Other delightful stops on these ‘road trips’ included Mallow, Lismore, Kilkenny, Loop Head, Doneraile, Kanturk, Buttevant, Kenmare, Sneem, Croom, Kilmallock, Charleville, Aghadoe … and so many more places.

A return visit this year to the Cappoquin of my childhood (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

I continue to provide weekly preaching and liturgical resources for clergy and readers in the Church of Ireland Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe at www.cmelimerick.blogspot.com, and I continue blog daily at www.patrickcomerford.com. I write a monthly column in the Church Review, I have contributed to a number of journals, including Search, the Irish Theological Quarterly and ABC News (Askeaton), I have written occasionally in The Irish Times, and I have written chapters for two books on the history of Saint Patrick’s College, Maynooth, and Drogheda Grammar School.

I was invited to lecture on Pugin’s architecture for the Adare History Society, on the Sephardic Jewish ancestry of John Desmond Bernal for the Friends of the Hunt Museum in Limerick, and on the clergy of Askeaton for Askeaton Civic Trust.

I marked the 20th anniversary of my ordination by Archbishop Walton Empey in Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin, in 2000. In ministry, many expected highlights were cancelled this year – including an invitation to preach at the installation of the new Dean of Killaloe, the Very Revd Rod Smith – and many more were delayed or postponed, including baptisms and weddings. But funerals can never be postponed or cancelled.

When the lockdown forced the cancellation of public celebrations of the Parish Eucharist, even on Easter Day and on Christmas Day, I continued to celebrate the Parish Eucharist on Sundays and major feast days, albeit behind the closed doors of one of the churches or the rectory.

I celebrated the Eucharist and preached once in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, and visited the cathedral on a number of occasions. But I did not have the involvement in cathedral life I would have loved, enjoyed and expected as Precentor. And the pandemic also played havoc with plans for training days for clergy and readers in these dioceses.

On the other hand, I learned to use Zoom and became more proficient with YouTube, and both became important venues for meetings of General Synod, Diocesan Synod, clergy, USPG trustees, school boards and seminars, including a series of webinar lectures on Sephardic history organised by the Sephardi Academia programme at Bevis Marks Synagogue.

I remain a member of the General Synod of the Church of Ireland, the Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue and the Interfaith Working Group. I am now in my last year of six as a Trustee of the Anglican mission agency USPG. I preached a recored sermon for USPG for the 75th anniversary of the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in 1945 that was used in cathedrals and churches around the world on 9 August. I am chair of the board of management of Rathkeale No 2 National School, a member of the boards of three local secondary schools, in Askeaton, Rathkeale and Dromcolliher, and a member of a number of educational and charitable trusts in Limerick.

I remain President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND), and I spoke on 6 August at the commemorations in Merrion Square, Dublin, marking the 75th anniversary of the atmoic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945.

Although my Pulmonary Sarcoidosis has flared up a few times this year, and I continue to be conscious of some symptoms of my Vitamin B12, my good health has been enhanced this year by love, friendships, and walks on beaches, by riverbanks and in the countryside. I may have sarcoidosis, but sarcoidosis does not have me.

As the year ends, perhaps I am allowed to muse had I made that family trip to Turkey earlier this year, could I have headed this end-of-year review with a reference to ‘from Cappadocia to Cappoquin’ … had I made it back to Greece, perhaps I could have spoken of a year ‘from Rathkeale to Rethymnon’ or ‘from Askeaton and Adare to Athens and the Acropolis’? Indeed, how I wish I could I could write now about from ‘Lichfield to Limerick’, or from ‘Cambridge to Limerick’.

But the lasting legacy of this year may not be the lockdown what the shutdown of 2020 means for most of us. Perhaps the lasting legacies may be provided by Brexit and the closing years of the Trump presidency.

Before this year turned everything on its head, PPE referred to philosophy, politics and economics, which seemed to be the degree of choice of most Oxbridge team members on University Challenger, and PUP referred to the Progressive Unionist Party, once led by Hugh Smyth, David Ervine, Billy Hutchinson and Dawn Purvis.

Who ever thought a president chosen by the Republicans – the ‘party of law and order’ – would show such contempt for law, and sow chaos in the world order?

Who ever thought that next Christmas Britons may be deprived of not only Brussels sprouts at the Christmas dinner table, but also Champagne, Prosecco, Parma Ham …

Who ever thought in advance of 2020 that 20/20 vision would see them through this past year?

Who ever thought that this year would be a year when most of us would see more alcohol being poured through our fingers than through our lips?

Never in our wildest dreams did we imagine we could go up to a bank cashier with a mask on and ask for money.

I never thought the comment, ‘I wouldn’t touch him/her with a 6-ft pole’ would be heard as a caring, friendly statement.

Meanwhile, does anyone know if we can take showers now … or should we just keep washing our hands?

I have not covered a wall in the Rectory with a wall planner for 2021. As for those who get back to Mediterranean holidays next year, we may find the reality of tariffs, trade barriers and food standards may mean we are not going to be plagued by cheap food outlets offering ‘authentic English breakfasts.’

These are witty sentiments that have been shared across social media platforms and pages over the past week. But perhaps the closing words of the year should come from the US Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who died earlier this year (18 Septmeber 2020). She was a trailblazer on behalf of gender equality, and she fought fiercely and unflinchingly to advance and defend the rights of women and minorities.

She embodied the principle of equal justice for all under the law, as well as the Jewish value of ‘tzedek, tzedek, tirdof’ – ‘justice, justice shall you pursue’  (Deuteronomy 10: 20). That saying was framed on the wall of her Supreme Court chamber, and summed up perfectly her calling as jurist and a Jew.

After a year in which racism, anti-Semitism and violence increased across the world, stoked by a US President who is refusing to accept the democratic will of his people and to leave office, it is important to keep these words in mind as we head into another year, still trembling with uncertainty about what the future holds: ‘Justice, justice shall you pursue.’

Happy New Year, wherever you are!

I am never again going to cover a wall with a wall planner for the year ahead (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Irish Anglicanism, a book review in
the ‘Irish Theological Quarterly’

Irish Anglicanism, 1969-2009: Essays to mark the 150th anniversary of the Disestablishment of the Church of Ireland. Edited by Kenneth Milne and Paul Harron. Dublin: Four Courts Press, 2019. Pp. 304. Price €35.00 (hbk). ISBN 978-1-84682-819-5.

Reviewed by: Patrick Comerford

The Church of Ireland is marking the 150th anniversary of its disestablishment in 1869-1871. The Church of Ireland is unique in these islands: while the Church of England, the Church in Wales and the Scottish Episcopal Church work within clearly-defined political units in the United Kingdom, the Church of Ireland works across two jurisdictions – the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland; four of the 12 dioceses are cross-border dioceses, with many cross-border parishes.

The disestablishment commemorations began late last year, with Archbishop Justin Welby of Canterbury preaching in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, and look like continuing into 2021. As part of the commemorations, Irish Anglicanism 1869-2019 is a new collection of essays edited by Dr Kenneth Milne, the Church of Ireland historiographer, and Dr Paul Harron, an architectural historian and former Church of Ireland press officer.

To mark the fiftieth anniversary, Archdeacon (later Bishop) Henry Patton published a collection of his own essays, Fifty Years of Disestablishment, in 1922. But the monumental work on disestablishment came at the centenary, when the pioneering Jesuit ecumenist, the late Michael Hurley, edited a collection of essays by a group of Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker and Roman Catholic scholars, Irish Anglicanism 1869-1969, in 1970.

This collection is unlike both predecessors. The essays are often short, sometimes to the point of being terse – the longest is by Archbishop Michael Jackson and runs to 18 pages – and are of varying degrees of scholarship: two have no footnotes or references, one has footnotes that sometimes are considerably longer than the text on a page, and one contributor manages to refer to himself at least nine times in the third person.

Unlike Michael Hurley’s book half a century ago, this collection has only one contributor from outside the Church of Ireland. Fergus O’Farrell offers a Methodist perspective, but there is no Roman Catholic reflection, nor is a Presbyterian voice heard.

Of the 26 contributors (some of the papers are co-authored and one has multiple authors), only six are women, which poorly reflects the life of a Church that has been ordaining women as deacons since 1987, as priests since 1990, and as bishops since 2013.

Bishop Harold Miller does not allow his own churchmanship to influence a very fine description of the developments in modern liturgy in the Church of Ireland. But he fails to give credit to other liturgists who contributed to these developments, including Michael Burrows, Ricky Rountree, Michael Kennedy and Brian Mayne. It is left to Raymond Refaussé (p. 238) to give credit to Canon Mayne’s role in compiling and editing the 2004 Book of Common Prayer.

A collection of essays, by its very nature, is selective. But there is no contribution on the Church of Ireland Bishops’ Appeal or the work of the church through development agencies such as Christian Aid and Concern; there is no discussion of the work with migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, including the pioneering work of the Discovery initiative and the Discovery Choir; and no engagement with the work of mission agencies, apart from brief historical references in Bishop Kenneth Kearon’s essay to SPG, SPCK and CMS and the role of the Church of Ireland in forming churches in Spain and Portugal.

Of the 20 papers in this collection, five are by bishops (six if one counts the foreword), but only one by a former member of staff of Church of Ireland Theological College, and no other paper is from present or past staff members of the Church of Ireland Theological Institute, although many are scholars of international repute, such as Adrian Empey, John Bartlett and David Hewlett, and there is none by lay theologians, such as Andrew Pierce, Margaret Daly-Denton, or the Dublin-born brothers David Ford (Cambridge) and Alan Ford (Nottingham).

The discussion of theological education needs a critical approach in a Church where the teaching of Biblical languages, Church History and patristics have been marginalised and reduced to electives or options.

Despite Canon Ginnie Kennerley’s summary of women’s ministry as women in ordained ministry, little attention is given to women in lay ministry, their membership of General Synod and committees – there are two brief mentions of Lady Brenda Sheil – their role in diocesan and parish life. Nor is there the robust discussion needed of laity engagement in law, the media, science and sport: Catherine McGuinness was a Supreme Court judge; the late Jack Boothman was president of the GAA; Colonel Dick Bunworth was once aide-de-camp to President de Valera and retired as Deputy Chief of Staff, while his brother, Colonel Bill Bunworth, was a pioneering officer in Irish peacekeeping operations.

The brief discussion of media and communications could have generously referred to Patsy McGarry and Andy Pollak who have provided a regular platform in The Irish Times for many people in the Church of Ireland through the ‘Rite and Reason’ weekly column and in a well-planned series marking the millennium in 2000.

Three contributions briefly refer to the crisis at Drumcree, but there is almost no account – apart from Canon Kennerley’s brief mention – of the rise of Reform and Gafcon (p. 69), mainly in Northern dioceses, a movement that threatens to rob many dioceses in the Church of Ireland of a once generous, broad and inclusive ethos. Their aggressive rise impinges on every facet of church life. The paper on interfaith matters misses an opportunity to tackle the objections of some ‘conservative evangelicals’ to an invitation to a Muslim to speak in Christ Church Cathedral, Waterford, and their apparent silence in the face of protests outside mosques in the Greater Belfast area, when crosses were carried by protesters in white robes.

The divisiveness created by this new expression of ‘conservative evangelicalism’ came into the open in the debate on sexuality at the General Synod of 2012, described by Bishop (now Archbishop) John McDowell, as being ‘for many the most divisive synod in living memory’ (p. 101).

If that was a deeply divisive synod, Robin Bantry White argues, on the other hand, that at General Synod ‘there are fewer bores, but also fewer skilled debaters. There are fewer people among the general membership adept at using the Standing Orders. In some ways the synod has become more an annual conference than a parliament debating great matters’ (pp. 190-191).

A church that is more interested in its archives and its monuments than in theological reflection on its faith and praxis is in danger of becoming a mausoleum rather than growing as a living church.

Biographical note:

(Revd Canon Professor) Patrick Comerford is a priest in the (Church of Ireland) Diocese of Limerick, Precentor of Saint Mary’s Cathedral, and a former Adjunct Assistant Professor in Trinity College Dublin and the Church of Ireland Theological Institute.

This book review was first published in the Irish Theological Quarterly (Maynooth), Vol 85, No 3, pp 323-325, on 1 August 2020

Praying at Christmas with USPG:
7, Thursday 31 December 2020

‘In the beginning was the Word’ (John 1: 1) … an old typewriter seen in a restaurant in Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day. I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church.

Before this day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021) is ‘Introducing the International Year of Peace and Trust,’ which I introduced on Sunday, writing as a trustee of USPG and President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Thursday 31 December 2020 (New Year’s Eve):

Let us pray that 2021 may be marked as a year in which all people on earth work for peace and trust based on dialogue, mutual understanding and cooperation.

The Collect (Times and Seasons)

Eternal Lord God,
we give you thanks for bringing us through the changes of time
to the beginning of another year.
Forgive us the wrong we have done in the year that is past,
and help us to spend the rest of our days
to your honour and glory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 1: 1-18 (NRSVA):

1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was in the beginning with God. 3 All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being 4 in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. 5 The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

6 There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. 7 He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. 8 He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. 9 The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

10 He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. 11 He came to what was his own,[c] and his own people did not accept him. 12 But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, 13 who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God.

14 And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth. 15 (John testified to him and cried out, ‘This was he of whom I said, “He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me”.’) 16 From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. 17 The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. 18 No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Wednesday, 30 December 2020

An old Victorian club
in Dun Laoghaire has
finally closed its doors

The doors have closed at the former Kingstown Men’s Christian Institute and the premises have been sold (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I went for a long walk on the East Pier in Dun Laoghaire this afternoon, in bright winter sunshine and under clear blue skies.

During those short few hours in Dun Laoghaire, that included lunch at Fallon and Byrne’s in the People’s Park, and searching once again for any connections between Haigh Terrace and the family of Vivienne Haigh-Wood, TS Eliot’s first wife, I also search out Dun Laoghaire’s two Church of Ireland parish churches, Christ Church beside the People’s Park, and the former Mariners’ Church, which now houses the National Maritime Museum.

For many decades, both churches were closely linked with the 130-year-old former Kingstown Men’s Christian Institute at 43 Upper George’s Street, one of the striking late Victorian buildings in Dun Laoghaire. Until recently, this was home to one of the longest-running, purpose-built social clubs in Ireland, and so I was surprised to learn that it closed in recent years, and was sold earlier this year.

The Sunday Business Post reported earlier this year (26 July 2020) that the music moguls Denis Desmond and Caroline Downey of MCD had bought the 130-year-old, striking, red-brick building for €1.5 million.

Desmond and Downey reportedly plan to convert the 130-year-old former Kingstown Men’s Christian Institute building in Dun Laoghaire into their company’s head office and that Gaiety Investments had applied to change its use from a social club to a commercial office.

The distinctive, large and imposing building – with ‘Kingstown Men’s Christian Institute’ in redbrick over its entrance – was home to a social club since 1888 catering, initially, to the Protestant community of Kingstown.

Work on the building began around 1884 thanks to benefactor William McComas of The Grange, Monkstown, who donated £4,000 for its building, and also left £10,000 in a trust to ensure the club could survive and changes in its fortunes over the years.

The initial idea was to set up a club for young provincial Protestants who moved to the area for their first jobs in what was then Kingstown. Many of these men found employment in businesses such as Edward Lee & Co, the department store where Dunnes Stores stands now.

By providing them with a place to socialise, and study the Bible, the intention was to keep them on the straight-and-narrow, close to their Christian faith and support their initial steps towards establishing themselves away from family and home.

The premises at No 43 included two Bible reading rooms and a large gym on the ground floor, and two billiards rooms on the first floor. Snooker was, apparently, banned in the club back then as it was seen as a ‘working man’s game.’

The caretaker’s accommodation was on the second floor. When complete, it was one of the first commercial buildings in the town to have indoor toilets.

The club was associated with the three Church of Ireland parish churches in the immediate vicinity: the Mariners’ Church on Haigh Terrace, Christ Church on Park Road, and Saint Paul’s, Glenageary.

Christ Church, Park Road … closely associated with the institute (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

At its height, the club had over 300 members. But membership dwindled in the 1970s, mainly due to the advancing age of members. Rather than close, the club opened its doors to Catholics and women, and a bar was added in 1977 close to where the snooker had come to be was played. The addition of a bar also led to a name change – the club became Dún Laoghaire Christian Institute.

Membership grew again to more than 200 by the millennium – with a 70/30 split between the genders. The bar beside the snooker room, where a pint of Guinness cost €4, proved too small for the club’s needs so another was installed in what was the gym, where a music venue was also developed.

Double bay windows lit up the high-ceilinged spaces that had have plenty of period detail but could never be considered as extravagant. This addition – complete with a giant figure of Marilyn Monroe trying to keep her skirt down – proved a mainstay of the club through the ‘Naughties.’

However, as surrounding buildings were converted from offices to apartments, there were complaints about noise and it was decided to close this part of the operation.

Membership began to drop off again in the early 2010s, although annual subscriptions were about €85. In its closing years there 52 members – the youngest was 60 and the oldest 91, and most were local residents.

However, high insurance costs and rates, combined with the closure of the music venue, led to financial strains in recent years. The trust, which helped the club greatly down the years, apparently lost money in bank shares during the recent financial crisis and could not sustain the club in straitened times. In these circumstances, the sale of the premises became inevitable.

The building was designed by the Dublin architect, William Kaye-Perry (1853-1932). This impressive Victorian era building on Dún Laoghaire’s main street was built of red Bridgewater brick in English garden wall bond and the brickwork on this building is of very high quality. It is accessed by a flight of granite steps at the front. The main entrance is flanked by two octagonal walls and with a massive Tudor arch springing from moulded jambs.

Double bay windows light up the high-ceilinged spaces which have many restrained period details.

The premises extend to 650 sq m (7,000sq ft) over five levels. The impressive entrance is grand in scale and gracious in its detail. There are clear views over Scotsman’s Bay from the second floor.

The Institute had a large gymnasium, an active literary and debating society, a tearoom, a games room, and at least three classrooms.

Although membership of the society was exclusively male, a committee was formed in 1893 to arrange ladies’ gymnasium classes and members were permitted to bring in a non-member visitor to the Institute.

When the building was put on the market in 2018, it was reported that when it was sold and the club debts were cleared, any surplus will be paid to the local Church of Ireland parish under the terms of the trust that established the club.

The Genealogical Society of Ireland has from the trustees the full records of the institute for preservation in the Society’s archives in Loughlinstown. The records include the minute books, membership records, and financial records going back to the foundation in the early 1890s. The minutes include references to the wide range of activities of the institute, and the activities of other organisations the used the rooms in the building.

Looking back at Dun Laoghaire from the East Pier this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Praying at Christmas with USPG:
6, Wednesday 30 December 2020

‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9: 6) … street art near Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day. I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church.

After a few busy days, and before this day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021) is ‘Introducing the International Year of Peace and Trust,’ which I introduced on Sunday, writing as a trustee of USPG and President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Wednesday 30 December 2020:

‘Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given, and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace’ (Isaiah 9: 6). May the peace of the Lord be always with us.

The Collect of the Day (Christmas I)

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Luke 2: 36-40 (NRSVA):

36 There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband for seven years after her marriage, 37 then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshipped there with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.

39 When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favour of God was upon him.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Mid-winter sunshine on
a winter afternoon in
Skerries and Loughshinny

Mid-winter sunshine and blue skies on the South Beach in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I had planned to come to Dublin last week after the Christmas Day services, and to take a day off on Sunday last, with hopes to see my GP later this week for a check-up on my sarcoidosis and a booster shot for my Vitamin B12 deficiency.

But, as so often happens in ministry, life and circumstances need flexibility. There was a funeral in Tarbert on Sunday, and eventually I got to Dublin last night (Monday).

I am not so sure how long I can stay here during this lockdown after seeing my GP. But today was a sharp, cold day, with clear blue skies, and two of us decided to head north for a walk on the beaches and by the harbour in Skerries, and around Red Island.

I was last in Skerries in March, before the first major lockdown began, and it was good to back there after a nine-month absence.

Mid-winter sunshine at the Harbour in Skerries this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

It is undeniable that families begin to feel cabin fever after a few days at home during the Christmas season, and there were as many people walking the beach and around the harbour in Skerries in the mid-day winter sunshine as one might expect on a day in late summer before children return to school.

Brexit deal or no-deal, the harbour was filled with a large number of trawlers and fishing boats. Every coffee shops and food outlet that was open had large queues of patient people waiting outside.

After a walk on the South Beach and stopping in Gerry’s to buy The Irish Times, we collected coffees and falafel-and-humus wraps from Olive on South Strand.

Mid-winter sunshine reflections in the arbour and blue skies on the beach in Loughshinny this afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Later, we decided to stop off too at Loughshinny, with its long beach and small harbour.

I was last there four years ago, in December 2016, and was surprised at how many families were there too this afternoon.

Loughshinny has poor parking facilities – although these seem to be undergoing improvements – and no coffee shops to hold visitors, and the beach feels almost like a private beach. But the beach and harbour, which once were hidden delights, have become more familiar to many families, it seemed this afternoon.

There were clear views across to Lambay Island, off the coast of Portrane, and with its narrow streets, its white-washed and thatched cottages, and harbour filled with oyster pots and fishing nets, this could be small fishing village in south Wexford or on the coast of Cornwall.

Coming back past the airport, we caught a rare but clear sight of a plane coming in to land, and thought about the many flights we have missed this year and our many cancelled travel plans. But it was good to revisit Skerries and Loughshinny this afternoon.

Loughshinny has the charm of a small fishing village in south Wexford or on the Cornish coast (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The banking heir who
claimed a title and whose
father was Vicar of Askeaton

Francis Money-Coutts … a poet and writer, who inherited an obscure title and a banking fortune

Patrick Comerford

While I was researching the priests, rectors, vicars and curates of Askeaton for a lecture hosted by Askeaton Civic Trust earlier this year [19 February 2020], I came across the extraordinary story of the son of one Vicar of Askeaton who inherited one of the largest banking fortunes in Britain and who also managed, by sleight of hand, to wangle a seat in the House of Lords.

It was an exotic story that brought me from the rectory of Askeaton to the banking halls of London and the House of Lords … but also to stories of death in Venice, traders in Bombay, the courts of Cambridge, and the archaeological digs at Minoan Knossos in Crete.

Francis Burdett Thomas Nevill Money-Coutts (1852-1923) was born plain Francis Money in London on 18 September 1852, the son of the Revd James Drummond Money (1800-1875), who was Vicar of Askeaton in 1830-1833.

The Revd James Drummond Money was born in Bombay, India, on 26 April 1805, a son of Sir William Taylor Money (1769-1834), an MP (1816-1826) who made his fortune in India and Java as a director of the East India Company and who died of cholera in Venice in 1834.

James was educated at Harrow and Trinity College Cambridge (BA, 1828; MA, 1868), and was ordained deacon (1828) and priest (1829). He was the curate (‘lecturer’) in Ashbourne, Derbyshire, for less than a year when he came to Co Limerick in 1830 and was presented as Vicar of Askeaton by Sir Matthew Blakiston (1783-1862).

What brought a young man like this to Askeaton? He was then only 25, newly-ordained and with little parish experience. The answer is probably provided by his marriage on 10 October 1832 to Charlotte Noel, daughter of Canon Gerard Thomas Noel (1782-1851), Vicar of Romsey Abbey, Hampshire, and a famous evangelical hymnwriter.

The Revd James Drummond Money’s father, Sir William Taylor Money, died of cholera in Venice in 1834 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

She was his first wife, and she was a first cousin of Charles Noel, Earl of Gainsborough … I have told the sad and romantic stories of his daughters’ marriages in ‘Four Victorian weddings and a funeral’ (in Marriage and the Irish: A miscellany, ed Salvador Ryan, Wordwell: Dublin, 2019, pp 163-165). But, more importantly for this part of Ireland, Charlotte was a granddaughter of Sir Lucius O’Brien (1731-1795) of Dromoland Castle, Co Clare, and a first cousin of William Smith O’Brien (1803-1864) of Cahermoyle, Co Limerick.

Charlotte and James stayed in Askeaton for a very short time. They returned to England in 1833, where he became the Rector of Blatherwyck in Northamptonshire in 1833 and then a year later Rector of Sternfield, Suffolk (1834-1861) in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury. Charlotte and James had nine children, but most of them died in infancy and she died in 1848.

The Revd James Money married his second wife, Clara Maria Money-Coutts, originally Clara Maria Burdett, at Chelsea on 28 April 1850. Clara was one of the three daughters of the wealthy banker Sir Francis Burdett (1770-1844) and his wife Sophia, a daughter of the banker Thomas Coutts. Clara’s sister was the Victorian philanthropist Angela Burdett-Coutts, who eventually inherited the Coutts banking fortune.

James Money and his second wife Clara were the parents of Francis Burdett Thomas Nevill Money-Coutts (1852-1923), who was born Francis Money in London on 18 September 1852; and the Revd Walter Baptist Money (1849-1924), who played cricket for Kent and Surrey and who was ordained in the Diocese of Lichfield.

James Money, former Vicar of Askeaton, died in 1875 and Clara died in 1899.

Their son, Francis Money, was educated at Eton and Trinity College Cambridge (BA 1875; MA and LLM 1878). He was admitted to the Inner Temple in 1873 and was called to the bar in 1879. But, although he was both a barrister and solicitor, he spent most of his life as a poet, librettist and writer. He is now remembered chiefly as a patron and collaborator of the Spanish composer Isaac Albéniz.

Mercy Money-Coutts Seiradaki worked at Knossos with Sir Arthur Evans and John Pendlebury (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In 1875, Francis Money, as he was then named, married Edith Ellen Churchill.

In 1881, his aunt Angela Burdett marrying a foreigner – an American who was 40 years her junior. The marriage violated the terms of the will of her father Sir Francis Burdett, who had made her the sole heir of the Coutts banking fortune.

Seeing an opportunity, Clara and her son adopted the name Coutts under the terms of the will, so that he became Francis Burdett Thomas Nevill Money-Coutts on 20 September 1880. Mother and son then contested Angela’s claims. A settlement was reached, and Angela received two-fifths of the income until her death in 1906, when Francis then became the sole beneficiary.

At one point, Francis was considered for a partnership in the family bank, but this idea was abandoned as he was thought too unstable in temperament for such a position.

Adopting the pen name of ‘Mountjoy,’ he wrote and published at least 23 works between 1896 and 1923. Many of these were collections of poems. He also worked for the publisher John Lane in London, writing prefaces for, and editing, collections of poems by other authors, including the poet Alfred, Lord Tennyson and the 17th century mystic, theologian and bishop Jeremy Taylor.

In 1912, by a genealogical sleight of hand, Francis became the 5th Baron Latymer through his mother’s family, when the title was called out of abeyance. The title was thought to have been extinct for 335 since the death in 1577 of John Nevill, stepson of Catherine Parr, the sixth wife of Henry VIII. But Francis petitioned for the title in 1911, and by resolution of the House of Lords on 15 July 1912 he was declared to be co-heir to the Barony of Latymer. He was summoned to Parliament by writ on 11 February 1913. Now the son of a Vicar of Askeaton had a seat in the House of Lords.

Francis changed his name again in 1914 to Francis Burdett Thomas Coutts-Nevill. He died in London on 8 June 1923.

Of course, as I researched the history of this unusual family that had lived briefly in Askeaton in the 1830s, I also had to find a Greek connection, especially with Crete and Thessaloniki. Francis was the grandfather of Mercy Money-Coutts Seiradaki (1910-1993), born the Hon Mercy Money-Coutts. She worked in the 1930s as an archaeologist in Crete, where she married Michael Seiradakis in 1947.

She was privately educated and then graduated in modern history at Oxford. There she became a student volunteer for Sir Arthur Evans at Knossos, but John Pendlebury was her archaeological mentor. He was working at the Temple Tomb and was the Curator of Knossos in the early 1930s.

Mercy was one of the five women post-graduate students at the British School at Athens in 1933-1934. She studied prehistoric pottery that winter in Athens and then left with her fellow student Edith Eccles for Crete to assist Pendlebury in completing his catalogue at Knossos. She excavated with him in the Lasithi Plateau and illustrated his most important book.

During World War II, Mercy worked for British Intelligence at Bletchley Park, then for the Red Cross, and returned to Crete in 1944. Pendlebury had been shot by the Germans earlier in the war. Back in Crete, Mercy joined the United Nations Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, and acquired almost legendary status for her heroic exploits.

She was whole-hearted not only about her work but also about life on Crete. She learned modern Greek, got to know the island, its people and culture and was known for her ability to get on with local workers on site. She is seen as a pioneer of contemporary approaches to archaeological work.

Mercy married Michaeli Seiradakis, who also worked for UNRRA, and they had two children. They lived in Chania in western Crete, but she moved to Athens in 1962 where for several years she worked part-time as a library assistant in the British School. She spent the last three years of her life in Thessaloniki and died on 1 September 1993. Her son, the physicist and astronomer John Seiradakis, was born in Chania and is a professor emeritus at the Aristotle University of Thessaloniki.

Ballindeel House, Askeaton … home of the Revd James Drummond Money in 1830-1833 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Canon Patrick Comerford is the priest-in-charge in the Church of Ireland parish, and has been living in Askeaton since 2017

The Great Court, Trinity College Cambridge … both the Revd James Money and the future Lord Latymer were students there (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This feature is published in the 2020 edirion of ABC News, the annual magazine of the Askeaton/Ballysteen Community Council Muintir na Tíre (pp 72-74).

Praying at Christmas with USPG:
5, Tuesday 29 December 2020

Two plaques on a street corner in London recall Saint Thomas Becket, Archbishop of Canterbury … ‘Let us pray for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York …’ (Photographs: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day. I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church.

Before this day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021) is ‘Introducing the International Year of Peace and Trust,’ which I introduced on Sunday, writing as a trustee of USPG and President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Tuesday 29 December (Saint Thomas Becket):

Let us pray for the Archbishops of Canterbury and York and all bishops of the Anglican Communion, that they may integrate into the mission of the Church all that seeks ‘to transform all unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.

The Collect of the Day (Common Worship)

Lord God,
who gave grace to your servant Thomas Becket
to put aside all earthly fear
and be faithful even to death:
grant that we, disregarding worldly esteem,
may fight all wrong, uphold your rule,
and serve you to our life’s end;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God our Redeemer,
whose Church was strengthened
by the blood of your martyr Thomas Becket:
so bind us, in life and death, to Christ’s sacrifice
that our lives, broken and offered with his,
may carry his death and proclaim his resurrection in the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 10: 28-30 (NRSVA):

28 Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. 29 Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground unperceived by your Father. 30 And even the hairs of your head are all counted.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Monday, 28 December 2020

Epiphany and January 2021
in the Rathkeale and
Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes

The Magi waiting to arrive at the Epiphany … a scene in Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

The new Covid-19 pandemic restrictions introduced by the Government on 22 December 2020 make it difficult to know when Church services with congregations are going to resume. This is a list of the planned Church services for Epiphany-tide and January 2021.

Should restrictions ease, these are the times of services, the readings and the hymns. If the restrictions remain in place, these readings and hymns will be used at celebrations of the Parish Eucharist in the Rectory.

As is now usual, Sunday sermons and intercessions will continue to be available on Patrick’s blog (www.patrickcomerford.com) and on the Parish Facebook page, and the Sunday sermon will be streamed through YouTube and Facebook.


Sunday 3 January 2021 (Christmas 2):

9.30 a.m.: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, the Parish Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Jeremiah 31: 7-14 or Sirach (Ecclesiasticus) 24: 1-12; Psalm 147: 12-20, or Wisdom 10: 15-21; John 1: (1-9) 10-18

Hymns:

652, Lead us, heavenly Father, lead us (CD 37)
166, Joy to the world, the Lord is come! (CD 166)
425, Jesu thou joy of loving hearts (CD 25)

11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), the Epiphany Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Matthew 2: 1-12

Hymns:

202, What child is this, who laid to rest (CD 13)
201, We three kings of Orient are (CD 13)

Wednesday 6 January 2021 (The Epiphany):

11 a.m.: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton: the Epiphany Eucharist (Holy Communion 2)

Readings: Isaiah 60: 1-6; Psalm 72: 1-7, 10-14; Ephesians 3: 1-12; Matthew 2: 1-12

Hymns:

202, What child is this, who laid to rest (CD 13)
201, We three kings of Orient are (CD 13)

Sunday 10 January (Epiphany 1):

9.30 a.m.: Castletown Church, Parish Eucharist

11.30 a.m.: Holy Trinity Church, Rathkeale, Morning Prayer

Readings: Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Mark 1: 4-11

Hymns:

136, On Jordan’s bank the Baptist’s cry (CD 8)
386, Spirit of God, unseen as the wind (CD 23)

Sunday 17 January (Epiphany 2):

9.30 a.m.: Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton, Morning Prayer

11.30 a.m.: Saint Brendan’s Church, Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), the Parish Eucharist.

Readings: I Samuel 3: 1-10; Psalm 139: 1-5, 12-18; John 1: 43-51

Hymns:

608, Be still and know that I am God
605, Will you come and follow me

Sunday 24 January (Epiphany 3):

9.30 a.m.: Castletown Church, Morning Prayer

11.30 a.m.: Rathkeale, Parish Eucharist

Readings: Jonah 3: 1-5, 10; Psalm 62: 5-12; Mark 1: 14-20

Hymns:

381, God has spoken - by his prophets (CD 23)
584, Jesus calls us! O'er the tumult (CD 33)

Sunday 31 January (Epiphany 4, the Presentation of Christ in the Temple):

11 a.m.: United Parish Eucharist, Saint Mary’s Church, Askeaton (HC 2).

Readings: Malachi 3: 1-5; Psalm 24: 1-10; Luke 2: 22-40

Hymns:

119, Come, thou long-expected Jesus (CD 8)
691, Faithful vigil ended (CD 39)

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple … a stained glass window by Harry Clarke in Saint Flannan’s Church, Killaloe, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Praying at Christmas with USPG:
4, Monday 28 December 2020

‘Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt’ (Matthew 2: 14)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day.

I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church. After a few busy days, and before this day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021) is ‘Introducing the International Year of Peace and Trust,’ which I introduced yesterday, writing as a trustee of USPG and President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament.

Monday 28 December (The Holy Innocents):

Let us pray for all children who are caught up in wars as innocent victims.

The Collect of the Day:

Heavenly Father,
whose children suffered at the hands of Herod:
By your great might frustrate all evil designs,
and establish your reign of justice, love and peace;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Eternal God,
comfort of the afflicted and healer of the broken,
you have fed us this day at the table of life and hope.
Teach us the ways of gentleness and peace,
that all the world may acknowledge
the kingdom of your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

Matthew 2: 13-18 (NRSVA):

13 Now after they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream and said, ‘Get up, take the child and his mother, and flee to Egypt, and remain there until I tell you; for Herod is about to search for the child, to destroy him.’ 14 Then Joseph got up, took the child and his mother by night, and went to Egypt, 15 and remained there until the death of Herod. This was to fulfil what had been spoken by the Lord through the prophet, ‘Out of Egypt I have called my son.’

16 When Herod saw that he had been tricked by the wise men, he was infuriated, and he sent and killed all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old or under, according to the time that he had learned from the wise men. 17 Then was fulfilled what had been spoken through the prophet Jeremiah:

18 ‘A voice was heard in Ramah,
wailing and loud lamentation,
Rachel weeping for her children;
she refused to be consoled, because they are no more.’

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Sunday, 27 December 2020

‘But Mary treasured all
these words and pondered
them in her heart’

‘But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart’ (Luke 1: 19) … ‘Divine Teardrop’ by Peter Cassidy … part of his exhibition at the Wexford Festival in 2016 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Sunday 27 December 2020

The First Sunday of Christmas (Christmas I)

(Saint John the Evangelist)

The Readings: Isaiah 61: 10 to 62: 3; Psalm 148; Luke 2: 15-21.

There is a link to these readings HERE.

A prayer over a cup of wine announces the baby’s Hebrew name At circumcision, and the parents drink some of the wine … cups used for this ceremony on display in the Museum of Jewish Culture in Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

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

The English singer Des O’Connor, who died last month (14 November 2020), was born in Stepney to an Irish father and a Jewish mother, and joked that he was the first O’Connor to celebrate his bar mitzvah.

A boy’s bar mitzvah celebrates his adult undertaking of the responsibilities he has as a ‘child of the covenant.’

The concept of covenant is one of the most important concepts when it comes to understanding the Bible.

At the heart of the difference between a covenant and a contract are the concepts of love and relationship. A contract is between two or more parties who retain their separate identities; a covenant aspires in literally a flesh-and-blood way to the very revolutionary concept that the two parties become one.

In the Bible, a covenant establishes the basis of a relationship, conditions for that relationship, promises in the relationship and the consequences if these are violated.

One of the most familiar examples of a covenant for us is marriage. A good marriage is less about contract and all about love and relationship. In this way, the Prophet Isaiah, in our first reading, compares the Biblical covenant with a wedding, and the fruit of this wedding between God and the People is a family with a new name, and the children of this family become a light to ‘all the nations’ (see Isaiah 61: 11).

The Biblical covenants provide the framework for holding together the whole biblical story, and they provide the keys to understanding the Bible. As this story unfolds, we see God makes covenants, keeps covenants and fulfils covenants. These are the ways God unfolds his redemptive plan.

Our Gospel reading (Luke 2: 15-21) tells of the Naming and Circumcision of Jesus. In one short, closing verse it tells of three events:

1, the naming of the Christ Child;

2, the sign of the covenant between God and Abraham ‘and his children for ever,’ thus Christ’s keeping of the Law;

3, the first shedding of Christ’s blood.

The most significant of these events in the Gospels is the name itself. The name Jesus means ‘Yahweh saves’ and so is linked to the question asked by Moses of God: ‘What is your name?’ ‘I am who I am,’ was the reply, and so the significance of the ‘I AM’ sayings in the Fourth Gospel.

Saint Luke recalls the Circumcision and Naming of Christ in a short, terse summary account in one, single verse (Luke 2: 21).

But he does not say where the Christ Child was circumcised, but artists often located it in the Temple, linking the Circumcision and the Presentation, so that Christ’s suffering begins and ends in Jerusalem.

Jesus is circumcised so he begins life living and fulfilling the Covenant. But it also shows clearly that he is fully human as well as fully God – God does not appear to take on our human appearance, but is actually born a human. God has made a covenant with humans; now in our human form, with all its frailty and all its weakness, God takes on our part of the Covenant too.

A covenant is a sign of God’s grace. God does not make a covenant with us because we deserve it, but because God loves us first.

Names are important starting points in covenant stories: Abram becomes Abraham, Jacob becomes Israel, Saul becomes Paul, and so on.

In Jewish tradition, a boy child is given a Hebrew name when he is circumcised. When the Christ Child is circumcised, he is formally given the name Jesus (‘God saves’), the name given to him through the message of the angel. Naming the child signifies not only a new start in the Covenant story, but that this too is a story that tells us that God saves.

In this story, we are at the beginning of redemption, the beginning of the New Covenant, the beginning of the New Year.

The Gospel account of the naming and circumcision of Jesus is not only a reminder of the incarnation, but is very specific in its detail: Jesus is born a Jew, and on the eighth day receives an ineradicable mark of this identity, which is both religious and ethnic. The prayers at circumcision include a prayer that the child may grow to instruct ‘his children and posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right’ (see Genesis 18: 19).

We are coming to the end of a year that marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II and the end of the Holocaust. Yet, throughout this year, there have been disturbing reports of the rise in anti-Semitism, across Europe and in the US.

According to a survey by the non-partisan American Jewish Committee this year, 88 per cent of American Jews believe anti-Semitism is a problem in the US, and 82 per cent think it has increased over the past five years.

Vlad Khaykin of the Anti-Defamation League points to QAnon and the ‘normalisation’ in political debates of terms like ‘globalist’ and the use of Jewish philanthropists like George Soros as scapegoats, and how this ‘makes for a dangerous resurgence of political anti-Semitism.’

The AJC survey shows that 75 per cent of Jews in the US feel that the extreme right represents a very or moderately serious threat.

More anti-Semitic incidents were recorded last year than ever before in the US. American Jews feel they are increasingly being targeted online because they are Jews.

The rift in the Labour Party in Britain is just one dimension to the many reports of the rise in anti-Semitism there. In the first six-month period of 2020, online anti-Semitic incidents rose 4% in the UK, when the pandemic and lockdown measures fostered an ‘explosion of anti-Semitic discourses.’

Similar reports are heard across Europe.

Today’s Gospel reading reminds us that Jesus is born a Jew, but offers an opportunity at the end of this year’s 75th anniversary to remind us never to forget the horrors of the Holocaust and the obligation to take a firm stance against anti-Semitism, racism and religious prejudice, so that future generations may grow to instruct their ‘children and posterity to keep the way of the Lord by doing what is just and right’ (see Genesis 18: 19).

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

Elijah’s Chair in the Museum of Jewish Culture, Bratislava … used at the circumcision of a Jewish boy when he is eight days old (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Luke 2: 15-21 (NRSVA):

15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go now to Bethlehem and see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ 16 So they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the child lying in the manger. 17 When they saw this, they made known what had been told them about this child; 18 and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds told them. 19 But Mary treasured all these words and pondered them in her heart. 20 The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.

21 After eight days had passed, it was time to circumcise the child; and he was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

The instruments of circumcision, used at the circumcision of a Jewish boy when he is eight days old … exhibits in the Museum of Jewish Culture, Bratislava (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Liturgical Colour: White or Gold

Penitential Kyries:

Lord God, mighty God,
you are the creator of the world.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

Lord Jesus, Son of God and Son of Mary,
you are the Prince of Peace.

Christ, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Holy Spirit,
by your power the Word was made flesh
and came to dwell among us.

Lord, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who wonderfully created us in your own image
and yet more wonderfully restored us
through your Son Jesus Christ:
Grant that, as he came to share in our humanity,
so we may share the life of his divinity;
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Introduction to the Peace:

Unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given,
and his name shall be called the Prince of Peace. (Isaiah 9: 6)

Preface:

You have given Jesus Christ your only Son
to be born of the Virgin Mary,
and through him you have given us power
to become the children of God:

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Heavenly Father,
you have refreshed us with this heavenly sacrament.
As your Son came to live among us,
grant us grace to live our lives,
united in love and obedience,
as those who long to live with him in heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Blessing:

Christ, who by his incarnation gathered into one
all things earthly and heavenly,
fill you with his joy and peace:

‘Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you shing stars’ (Psalm 148: 3) … in the Vandeleur Walled Gardens in Kilrush, Co Clare (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Hymns:

119, Come, thou long expected Jesus (CD 8)
170, Love came down (CD 10)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Material from the Book of Common Prayer is copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.



In line with Government and Diocesan guidelines, all churches in the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe are closed this morning due to the Covid-19 pandemic. This sermon was part of a celebration of the Eucharist in the Rectory, Askeaton, Co Limerick.

Praying at Christmas with USPG:
3, Sunday 27 December 2020

Saint John the Evangelist in the cave in Patmos … two images on Greek postage stamps (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I am using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day.

I am one of the contributors to the current USPG Diary, Pray with the World Church, introducing the theme of peace and trust this morning:

After a few busy days, and before this day starts, I am taking a little time this morning for my own personal prayer, reflection and Scripture reading.

The theme of the USPG Prayer Diary this week (27 December 2020 to 2 January 2021) is ‘Introducing the International Year of Peace and Trust’:

The Rev’d Canon Professor Patrick Comerford, USPG trustee and President of the Irish Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament:

The UN General Assembly has declared 2021 the International Year of Peace and Trust, in the hope of mobilising international efforts to promote peace and trust among nations on the basis of political dialogue, mutual understanding and co-operation and to build sustainable peace, solidarity and harmony.

As we come to the end of a year that marked the 75th anniversary of the end of World War II, the world is still on the brink of catastrophic disaster, with an overwhelming capacity for nuclear ‘overkill,’ increasing tensions between the superpowers, proxy wars in many regions across the globe, and exponential rises in antisemitism, racism and poverty.

The precarious state of our planet is made more hazardous because of the widening gap in trust between world powers, often due to the vanity of misguided leaders. In our comforts, we sometimes forget that the unseen victims of global tensions and violence are people living in parts of the world that are priorities for USPG’s mission programmes.

Peace is not marginal to the mission of the Church. One of the five marks of mission, central to Anglican identity, is ‘to transform all unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and pursue peace and reconciliation.’

Sunday 27 December (Saint John, Apostle and Evangelist):

Lord, we pray for peace among us:
in our families, in our communities,
in our nation, and throughout the world.

The Collect of the Day:

Merciful Lord,
cast your bright beams of light upon the Church;
that, being enlightened by the teaching
of your blessed apostle and evangelist Saint John,
we may so walk in the light of your truth
that we may at last attain to the light of everlasting life
through Jesus Christ your incarnate Son our Lord.

The Post-Communion Prayer:

Grant, O Lord, we pray,
that the Word made flesh proclaimed by your apostle John
may ever abide and live within us;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

John 21: 19b-25 (NRSVA):

19 After this he [Jesus] said to him, ‘Follow me.’

20 Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Jesus loved following them; he was the one who had reclined next to Jesus at the supper and had said, ‘Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?’ 21 When Peter saw him, he said to Jesus, ‘Lord, what about him?’ 22 Jesus said to him, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? Follow me!’ 23 So the rumour spread in the community that this disciple would not die. Yet Jesus did not say to him that he would not die, but, ‘If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?’

24 This is the disciple who is testifying to these things and has written them, and we know that his testimony is true. 25 But there are also many other things that Jesus did; if every one of them were written down, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s morning reflection

William Mitchell’s geometric relief sculpture of Saint John … one of a series with the symbols of the four evangelists in Liverpool Roman Catholic Cathedral (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Praying at Christmas with
Lichfield Cathedral:
2, Saturday 26 December 2020

Saint Stephen before the Council … a window by CE Kempe (1837-1907) in the south aisle in Lichfield Cathedral in memory of John Toke Godfrey-Faussett (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

Throughout Advent and Christmas this year, I have been using the Prayer Diary of the Anglican Mission Agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) for my morning reflections each day, and the Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar produced at Lichfield Cathedral for my prayers and reflections each evening.

Advent is the Church’s mindful antidote to some of the diversion and consumerism of a modern Christmas. It prepares us to encounter Christ again in his joy and humility.

In ‘The Advent and Christmas Devotional Calendar 2020,’ the Dean and community at Lichfield Cathedral have invited us to light our Advent candle each day as we read the Bible and join in prayer.

This calendar is for everyone who uses the Cathedral website, for all the Cathedral community, and for people you want to send it to and invite to share in the daily devotional exercise.

This is a simple prayer and bible-reading exercise to help us to mark the Advent Season as a time of preparation for the coming of Christ.

It is designed to take us on a journey, looking back to John the Baptist and Mary the Mother of Jesus; looking out into the world today, into our own hearts and experience; outwards again to Jesus Christ as he encounters us in life today and in his promise to be with us always.

You can download the calendar HERE.

The community at Lichfield Cathedral offers a number of suggestions on how to use this calendar:

● Set aside 5-15 minutes every day.

● Buy or use a special candle to light each day as you read and pray through the suggestions on the calendar.

● Try to ‘eat simply’ – one day each week try going without so many calories or too much rich food, just have enough.

● Try to donate to a charity working with the homeless or the people of Bethlehem.

● Try to pray through what you see and notice going on around you in people, the media and nature.

After the busy rounds of Advent and Christmas Day, despite the disappointment of cancelled services, I am taking a little time this evening to pray and reflect using the Advent and Devotional Calendar from Lichfield Cathedral, which comes to an end today.

Saturday 26 December 2020 (Saint Stephen’s Day):

Read Acts 7: 51-60 (NRSVA):

51 ‘You stiff-necked people, uncircumcised in heart and ears, you are for ever opposing the Holy Spirit, just as your ancestors used to do. 52 Which of the prophets did your ancestors not persecute? They killed those who foretold the coming of the Righteous One, and now you have become his betrayers and murderers. 53 You are the ones that received the law as ordained by angels, and yet you have not kept it.’

54 When they heard these things, they became enraged and ground their teeth at Stephen. 55 But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. 56 ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ 57 But they covered their ears, and with a loud shout all rushed together against him. 58 Then they dragged him out of the city and began to stone him; and the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 While they were stoning Stephen, he prayed, ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’ 60 Then he knelt down and cried out in a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not hold this sin against them.’ When he had said this, he died.

Reflection:

Reflect on the martyrdom of Saint Stephen. Jesus gave us life through death – eternal life. We remember that the world hates and persecutes the light – anything that calls into question its values and opinions. God’s light searches and judges. Pray for all who stand up for God’s truth and suffer as a result.

Yesterday’s evening reflection

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org

Please call this day
Saint Stephen’s Day,
not ‘Boxing Day’

Inside Saint Stephen Walbrook, a Wren church in the heart of the City of London (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

It must have been about 50 years ago, while I was training to be a chartered surveyor with Jones Lang Wootton, that a file for an investment or development property went missing. It was an important portfolio, and ought to have been filed under ‘S’ for ‘Saint Stephen’s Green.’

Eventually, the file was found under the letter ‘G’.

‘I filed it under ‘G’ for Green,’ the person who did the filing explained.

But for many Dubliners, it is probably not Saint Stephen’s Green, but ‘Stevenses Green,’ as in ‘Dr Stevenses Hospital’ and ‘Stevenses Day.’

I find it hard to call today ‘Boxing Day.’ For me, 26 December is always going to be Saint Stephen’s Day.

Stephen is a family name: my grandfather, father, eldest brother and a nephew were baptised Stephen. But my reasons for insisting on retaining the name of Saint Stephen’s Day is not some quirky genealogical sentimentality or some displaced filial loyalty.

It is theologically important to remind ourselves on the day after Christmas Day of the important link between the Incarnation and bearing witness to the Resurrection faith.

Saint Stephen the Deacon is the Protomartyr of Christianity. The Greek word name Στέφανος means ‘crown’ or ‘wreath’ and the Acts of the Apostles tell is that Saint Stephen earned his crown at his martyrdom when he was stoned to death around the year AD 34 or 35 by an angry mob encouraged by Saul of Tarsus, the future Apostle Paul.

Stephen was the first of the seven deacons chosen in the Apostolic Church in Jerusalem. While he was on trial, Saint Stephen experienced a theophany: But filled with the Holy Spirit, he gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. ‘Look,’ he said, ‘I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’ (Acts 7: 55-56).

The Lion’s Gate in the Old City of Jerusalem is also known as Saint Stephen’s Gate because of the tradition that Saint Stephen was stoned there. In AD 415, a church was built Saint Stephen’s honour in Jerusalem to hold his relics. The relics were later moved to Constantinople. Today, those relics are said to be buried under the altar of the Church of San Lorenzo fuori le Mura in Rome.

The ‘Feast of Stephen’ is inextricably linked with Christmas through the English carol Good King Wenceslas, although during my visit to Prague last year, I was aware that the Czechs have a far better claim than the English to Good King Wenceslas.

Today is a public holiday in the United Kingdom as Boxing Day. But as Saint Stephen’s Day, today is still a public holiday in Ireland and many other countries, including Australia, Austria, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Finland, Germany, Italy, New Zealand, Poland, Serbia, Slovakia, and parts of France, the Philippines and Spain.

In the Orthodox Church, Saint Stephen’s Day is celebrated on 27 December, and is known the ‘Third Day of the Nativity.’

The interior of of the Stephansdom or Saint Stephen's Cathedral, Vienna (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

In my morning and evening prayer diaries in my blog postings this morning and this evening, drawing on resources produced by USPG and Lichfield Cathedral, I am using photographs from Saint Stephen Walbrook, a Wren church in the heart of the City of London that has been listed by Sir Nikolaus Pevsner as one of the 10 most important buildings in England, and a stained-glass window in Lichfield Cathedral, depicting the martyrdom of Saint Stephen.

Saint Stephen’s Church in Mount Street Crescent, Dublin – popularly known as the ‘Pepper Canister Church’ – is one of the last churches built in the classical style in Dublin. Saint Stephen’s, which opened in 1824, was designed by John Bowden and Joseph Welland. The tower and portico were modelled on three elegant monuments in Athens: the Erechtheum on the Acropolis (the portico), the Tower of the Winds (the campanile), and the Monument of Lysicrates (the cupola). But the Victorian apse, which was added in 1852, owes its inspiration to the Oxford Movement.

However, the most impressive church I have visited that is named after the first martyr is the Stephansdom, the Cathedral of Saint Stephen, in Vienna, which dates back to 1147.

Having visited the Stephansdom many years ago, while I was a panellist at a seminar organised by the Diplomatic Academy of Vienna, I returned to visit the cathedral last year.

A memorial tablet there recalls Mozart’s relationship with the cathedral. This was his parish church when he lived at the ‘Figaro House’ and he was married there and two of his children were baptised there. He was named an adjunct music director there shortly before his death, and his funeral was held in the Chapel of the Cross in the cathedral in 1791.

The Stephansdom has 23 bells, and it is said Beethoven realised the full extent of his deafness when he saw birds flying from the bell tower and realised he could not hear the bells toll.

A few years ago, I also visited Saint Stephen’s House, the theological college in Oxford popularly known as ‘Staggers,’ which is firmly rooted in the Anglo-Catholic tradition, maintaining high standards of liturgy and intellectual rigour.

Saint Stephen’s House was founded in 1876 by leading Anglo-Catholics members of the Anglo-Catholic Movement, including Edward King, then Regius professor of Pastoral Theology at Oxford and later Bishop of Lincoln.

King was one of the outstandingly holy men of his time. Other founding figures included Henry Scott Holland, one of the leading figures in the development of the Christian social teaching of the time. It was he who suggested the name of the house.

Saint Stephen’s has moved since its foundation, and is now located at Iffley Road in East Oxford in the former monastery of the Cowley Fathers, where it is said Dietrich Bonhoeffer decided to return to Germany where he met with martyrdom.

Bonhoeffer’s martyrdom illustrates how none of this architecture or grandeur, and the extension to the Christmas holiday provided by this saint’s day would have any meaning today without the faithful witness of Saint Stephen, the first deacon and first martyr, who links our faith in the Incarnation with our faith in the Resurrection.

An icon of Saint Stephen, the first deacon and the martyr