21 April 2016

Gasping for air on the beach in Bettystown
and learning lessons from Connacht rugby

Walking on the golden sands in Bettystown, Co Meath, on Wednesday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

Patrick Comerford

I almost lost my voice last Sunday while I was presiding at the Eucharist. Since then, speaking out loud has been a testing task, my throat is closing before I can even open it and my lungs feel they are pushing too hard at too little air.

I think all this is a flare up on my lungs of my sarcoidosis symptoms following medical procedures almost two weeks ago and it is feeling quite uncomfortable. As yesterday progressed, I was worried about not being able to speak at a diocesan synod in Athy, Co Kildare.

But by lunchtime yesterday, there was a clear blue sky, I could feel the sunshine on my face, and there was a real feeling that summer may be on the way.

Some cousins from the English Midlands were passing through Dublin on their way to Ennskillen. We meet up near my old school at Gormanston shortly after mid-day, and five of us went to lunch in Relish in Bettystown, Co Meath, looking out over the sandbanks and out towards the Irish Sea.

The tide was out, and with such clear blue skies and clear blue seas, the lengthy stretch of sand was beautiful expanse below us stretching from Laytown to the south to the mouth of the Boyne at Mornington to the north.

After lunch, we went for a walk on those golden sands, out to the shoreline, before returning for coffee on the terrace at Relish.

Walking on the beach in Bettystown, Co Meath, on Wednesday afternoon (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2016)

By the time I got to Saint Michael’s Church, Athy, my lungs had enough energy to speak against the proposed diocesan changes, including removing six parishes from the Diocese of Glendalough and transferring them to the Diocese of Meath and Kildare.

As I explained last night, I have nothing against either Meath or Kildare: I went to school in Co Meath and one of my degrees is from a university on Co Kildare.

But this Bill fails because it is based not on ecclesiology and the needs of the church, with the diocese as the basic unit, but because it is based on financial needs and sees the parish as the basic and transferrable unit of the church. As I said last night, a bill that made similar presuppositions in the past was labelled as “national apostasy” by John Keble – not because of what it was doing, but because of the presumptions on which it was founded.

An archdeacon in another diocese asked me on social media whether this was a “NIMBY synod.” But it can never be. It must be about the needs of the whole church.

This Bill presumes we should only have bishops where we can afford them. The reality is we should have bishops not where we can afford them but where we need them for the life, ministry and mission of the Church of Ireland.

Bishops are about leading the Church, not about managing the Church.

The proposals must be addressed as a whole, and not just how they affect individual dioceses. I said it was unimaginable to consider a new diocese that would stretch from Achill Island in the north-west, to Valentia Island in the south-west, and embracing parishes in Kerry, Limerick, Clare, Galway, Mayo, and parts of Sligo, Offaly and North Tipperary.

I pointed out that these proposals would live the Church of Ireland without a resident bishop in the whole province of Connacht. And I pointed out that the IRFU had also tried to get rid of Connacht Rugby – and look at how wrong they were about that.

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