02 November 2021

Reflecting on 12 years with USPG,
the oldest Anglican mission agency

Canon Patrick Comerford with Bishop Elinah Wamukoya of Swaziland and the Revd Duncan Dormor of USPG at a recent USPG conference … the Diocese of Limerick has centuries-old links with SPG and USPG

Patrick Comerford

My time as a trustee of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) has come to an end after six years.

I have served two three-year terms as a trustee of USPG. Before that, I spent six years as a member of the council of USPG, which is one of the oldest mission agencies in the Anglican Communion.

During those 12 years, my commitments to USPG included engaging with the Anglican churches in Korea, Egypt and Pakistan. However, Covid-19 restrictions put an end to plans to an extensive visit on behalf of USPG to the Anglican Church in Myanmar, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary last year.

I have spoken at USPG conferences, led conference workshops, chaired conference sessions and presided at the conference Eucharist, and taken part in USPG events throughout Ireland and England.

The Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe has a long link with the USPG, and those links were expressed in recent years in the close links with the Diocese of Swaziland in Eswatini and Bishop Elinah Wamukoya, who died earlier this year (21 January 2021) due to complications caused by Covid-19.

During this year’s diocesan synod, Bishop Kenneth Kearon pointed out that the links between this diocese and USPG were in place when he came to the diocese. He suggested those links had been developed by Bishop Michael Mayes, a former USPG missionary, who was Bishop of Limerick and Killaloe (2000-2008).

Bishop Michael worked with USPG in Japan in 1968-1974, and when he returned to Ireland he was USPG Area Secretary for Ireland (1974-1975) and USPG Area Secretary for Cashel, Cork, Limerick and Tuam (1975-1993).

However, the links between these dioceses and USPG and its predecessor SPG date back long before that.

Harry Vere White (1853-1941) was elected Bishop of Limerick, Ardfert and Aghadoe 100 years ago on 29 September 1921. He was an SPG missionary in New Zealand (1880-1875), and when he returned to Ireland he was the organising secretary of SPG in Ireland (1894-1900).

He was the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin (1918-1921), when he was elected Bishop of Limerick in 1921. His short history of SPG in Ireland, Children of Saint Columba, is an interesting account of Irish missionaries who worked with SPG, including many from these dioceses.

Some of my predecessors in the Rathkeale and Kilnaughtin Group of Parishes had strong family links with SPG and USPG. The Revd Willoughby William Townley Balfour (1801-1888), Vicar of Askeaton in 1833-1837, was the uncle of Francis Richard Townley Balfour (1846-1923), an SPG missionary in Southern Africa.

Balfour worked with miners on the diamond diggings in Kimberley, translated the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer into Sesotho, and was Archdeacon of Bloemfontein and of Basutoland (1908-1922). When he was consecrated an Assistant Bishop for the Diocese of Bloemfontein in 1911, he was effectively the first Anglican Bishop of Lesotho.

The Revd James Napier Clarke (1870-1934) was the curate of Kilnaughtin (Tarbert), Co Kerry, in 1905-1908, served with SPG in Honduras and Southern Africa for seven years.

A portrait of Bishop Harry Vere White in Saint Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

This feature was first published in the November 2021 edition of ‘Newslink’, the Limerick and Killaloe diocesan magazine (pp 5-6).

Praying in Ordinary Time 2021:
157, Abbey Street Methodist Church, Dublin

Abbey Street Methodist Church in Dublin is also home to the Dublin Central Mission (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Patrick Comerford

Today, in the calendars of many churches in the Anglican Communion, is All Souls’ Day (2 November).

Before the day gets busy, I am taking a little time this morning for prayer, reflection and reading. Each morning in the time in the Church Calendar known as Ordinary Time, I am reflecting in these ways:

1, photographs of a church or place of worship;

2, the day’s Gospel reading;

3, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary.

My theme this week is Methodist churches. My choice of church this morning (2 November 2021) is Abbey Street Methodist Church in Dublin, home of the Dublin Central Mission of the Methodist Church in Ireland, with additional photographs from the former Centenary Methodist Church on Saint Stephen’s Green.

The recessed entrance porch at the west breakfront has mosaic tiling in the frieze stating, ‘Abbey St. Methodist Church’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

As a post-graduate theology student in the Irish School of Ecumenics in the early 1980s, I had placements in two Methodist churches: with the Revd Paul Kingston in Abbey Street Methodist Church, Dublin; and with the Revd Robin Roddie in Shankill Road Methodist Church, Belfast.

In the 1980s I also organised some meetings of Christian CND at Dublin Central Mission, and some years ago I preached in Abbey Street as part of a series of Holy Week services organised by three local churches – Abbey Street Methodist Church, Saint George’s Church (Church of Ireland), Cathal Brugha Street, and Abbey Presbyterian Church, Parnell Square.

All three churches are off O’Connell Street, the main thoroughfare in Dublin’s north inner city, and Abbey Street Methodist Church is the only surviving Methodist church in the city centre or between the canals. The church is just 75 metres east of O’Connell Street and beside a Luas Red Line stop.

John Wesley visited Ireland on 21 occasions between 1747 and 1789. On the first of these visits, he landed at George’s Quay on 9 August 1747, and preached that Sunday afternoon at Evening Prayer in Saint Mary’s Church to ‘as gay and senseless a congregation as ever I saw.’ The Archbishop of Dublin strongly disapproved and Wesley did not preach again in a parish church in Dublin.

Wesley failed to obtain a freehold site for a building in Dublin and so took a 99-year lease on a site in Whitefriar Street, where the first Methodist chapel in Ireland was built and opened in 1752.

Later, the Methodists who worshipped in Whitefriar Street found a new site on the south side of Saint Stephen's Green, where they built a chapel designed by Isaac Farrell. The fa├žade was dominated by a handsome Ionic portico. The building opened for worship in 1843, four years after the centenary of Wesley’s commencement of Methodist work, and so was called the Methodist Centenary Church. Wesley College was built behind it.

The Methodist Centenary Church itself was burnt down in the 1960s, and the congregation moved to Christ Church, Leeson Park, while Wesley College moved to suburban Ballinteer.

As for Abbey Street Methodist Church, it has a shared history with the development of Lower Abbey Street and is an integral part of its 19th century streetscape.

The first Methodist gathering on Abbey Street took place in 1747. The present church site dates from 1821, shortly after Lower Abbey Street was realigned by the Wide Streets Commissioners. The church building was remodelled and rebuilt in its present form by GF Beckett in 1901, retaining some of its original 19th-century plinth course, and reopened in 1902.

The coloured-glass leaded windows, with a tripartite arrangement on the ground floor of the west breakfront, are the only ecclesiastical features of this terraced, nine-bay, three-storey building with attic.

The red brick walls are laid in English garden wall bond, raised and rusticated granite ashlar plinth course to sill level and various terracotta string courses and mouldings. The inscribed lettering on the plinth course reads: ‘Rebuilt MDCCCCI Erected MDCCCXX.’

The recessed entrance porch at the west breakfront has a granite Doric surround that includes a segmental-arch opening with an architrave surround flanked by a pair of engaged Doric columns on plinths supporting a stepped entablature that has mosaic tiling in the frieze stating, ‘Abbey St. Methodist Church.’

The church survived bombardment during the 1916 Rising. Over time, it has been extended and renovated to house the growing needs of the congregation and the inner-city mission work of the Methodist Church.

Abbey Street became the city centre base for the Dublin Central Mission in the 1960s. The Minor Hall was damaged in the 1972 Talbot Street bomb.

Today, Abbey Street Methodist Church has a multi-ethnic, all-age congregation with members from over 20 countries.

DCM has four areas of ministry in five locations across Dublin, all with a mission to Welcome, Serve and Support those who need it most. DCM facilitates and runs a number of social action projects, and also cares for older people, operating a care and nursing home and two sheltered Housing complexes.

The inscribed lettering on the plinth course reads: ‘Rebuilt MDCCCCI Erected MDCCCXX’ (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Luke 14: 15-24 (NRSVA):

15 One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said to him, ‘Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!’ 16 Then Jesus said to him, ‘Someone gave a great dinner and invited many. 17 At the time for the dinner he sent his slave to say to those who had been invited, “Come; for everything is ready now.” 18 But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, “I have bought a piece of land, and I must go out and see it; please accept my apologies.” 19 Another said, “I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I am going to try them out; please accept my apologies.” 20 Another said, “I have just been married, and therefore I cannot come.” 21 So the slave returned and reported this to his master. Then the owner of the house became angry and said to his slave, “Go out at once into the streets and lanes of the town and bring in the poor, the crippled, the blind, and the lame.” 22 And the slave said, “Sir, what you ordered has been done, and there is still room.” 23 Then the master said to the slave, “Go out into the roads and lanes, and compel people to come in, so that my house may be filled. 24 For I tell you, none of those who were invited will taste my dinner”.’

Abbey Street Methodist Church has a multi-ethnic, all-age congregation with members from over 20 countries (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

The Prayer in the USPG Prayer Diary today (2 November 2021, All Souls’ Day) invites us to pray:

We pray for all those who have gone before us. May we cherish our memories of family and friends who are no longer with us.

The former Methodist Centenary Church on the south side of Saint Stephen’s Green (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued tomorrow

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

The former entrance to Wesley College beside the former Methodist Centenary Church in Dublin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2021)