Tuesday, 29 June 2021

A reflection on ministry,
mission and unity
on Saint Peter’s Day

Saint Paul (left) and Saint Peter (right) in windows in the west porch in Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Skibbereen, Co Cork (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Last week, I marked the 20th anniversary of my ordination as priest in 2001 and the 21st anniversary of my ordination as deacon in 2000. In recent days, many of ordained colleagues have been posting photographs on social media celebrating the anniversaries of their ordinations too.

Today (29 June) is Saint Peter’s Day in the calendar of the Church of Ireland, and the Feast of Saint Peter and Saint Paul in the Church of England and many other church calendars, honouring their martyrdom in Rome.

This time of the year is known in Anglican tradition as Petertide, one of the two traditional periods for the ordination of new priests and deacons – the other being Michaelmas, around 29 September.

The Cambridge poet-priest Malcolm Guite says on his blog that Saint Peter’s Day and this season is appropriate for ordinations because Saint Peter is ‘the disciple who, for all his many mistakes, knew how to recover and hold on, who, for all his waverings was called by Jesus “the rock,” who learned the threefold lesson that every betrayal can ultimately be restored by love.’

The Apostle Peter and the Apostle Paul holding the church in unity … an early 18th century icon in the Museum of Christian Art in Iraklion, Crete (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

In the Orthodox Church, Saint Peter and Saint Paul are seen as figures of Church Unity, sharing a common faith and mission despite their differences. They are often seen as paired, flanking images at entrances to churches, and the icon of Christian Unity in the Orthodox tradition shows the Apostles Peter and Paul embracing each other – signs of the early Church overcoming its differences and affirming its diversity.

Peter’s Cell is an unusual place-name in the heart of the old city in Limerick. It marks the site of a house established by Donal Mor O Brian (1168-1194) for the Canonesses of Saint Augustine in 1171. Very little is known about these canonesses, apart from the fact that they had a church dedicated to Saint Peter – the word cell comes from cella or a room for each nun.

Despite the forced departure of the Augustinian canonesses at the dissolution of monastic houses during the Reformation, the name of Peter’s Cell survived in a small corner near the junction of Bishop Street and Peter Street.

In the late 17th century, the Quakers had a small burial ground near Peter’s Cell, and the Dissenters, the precursors of the Presbyterians, rented the former site of the canonesses, from Lord Milton from the 1690s until they built a new meeting house or chapel in Peter Street in 1765.

Part of the ruined convent buildings was converted into the Peter’s Cell Theatre around 1760. Later, Saint Munchin’s College was located in Peter’s Cell briefly in 1800-1809.

So, Peter’s Cell in Limerick has been used by Augustinians, Quakers, Presbyterians, theatre-goers, and as a diocesan seminary. Another form of ecumenism and diversity in centuries gone by, I suppose. But then our ministry must always involve mission in a broken world, and not in a world as we would like to find it. And, at the heart of that ministry and mission must be the quest for unity among all Christians.

When Pope Francis marked the feast of Saint Peter and Paul last year, he stressed the importance of unity in the Church and allowing ourselves to be challenged by God, urging people to spend less time complaining about what they see going wrong, and more time in prayer.

He noted that Saint Peter and Saint Paul were two very different men who ‘could argue heatedly’ but who ‘saw one another as brothers, as happens in close-knit families where there may be frequent arguments but unfailing love.’

God, he said, ‘did not command us to like one another, but to love one another. He is the one who unites us, without making us all alike.’

Saint Peter in chains (see Acts 12) … the window by Charles Eamer Kempe in Lichfield Cathedral commemorating Dean Herbert Mortimer Luckock (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Readings:

Ezekiel 3: 22-27; Acts 12: 1-11; Matthew 16: 13-19.

The Collect of the Day:

Almighty God,
who inspired your apostle Saint Peter
to confess Jesus as Christ and Son of the living God:
Build up your Church upon this rock,
that in unity and peace it may proclaim one truth
and follow one Lord, your Son our Saviour Christ,
who is alive and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Saint Peter and Saint Paul in a pair of stained glass windows in Saint John’s Church, Wall, near Lichfield (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

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