Bishop’s Letter – March 2017
This month our Bishop talks about the duty and right of the Church of Ireland to be in the market place of educational options, about his role of ‘encourager’ as patron of schools, welcomes Hazel Corrigan to the role of Lay Secretary of the General Synod, announces the retirement of two rectors and looks forward to Easter Dawn Eucharists around the Diocese.
Once again there is much talk in the wider public square of matters connected with school patronage, admissions policies, the role of the churches and parental choice. The Church of Ireland has long cherished its role as a partner in the delivery of education in this State. It sees its involvement as a privilege and a responsibility, partly the product of complex historical events and partly a manifestation of our commitment to faith – based education as a social good. In working with many stakeholders in the world of education, we aspire to contribute to wider society as well as upholding our own ethos and values, and we take care not to over – burden the schools with matters of sacramental preparation, as opposed to wider religious education, which more properly belong in the actual parish setting. We recognise that educational provision in Ireland is in a state of flux, and we affirm that parents desire and deserve choice concerning the moral and indeed spiritual formation of their children. In short, we are happy to co exist with others in a veritable market place of educational options, but we affirm our duty and right to be there and we believe that the long evidence of history demonstrates that we have something distinctive and wholesome to offer.
Patron as ‘encourager’ and human presence
I say all these things not simply because they are timely, but because much of my own life has again been occupied with schools, especially but of course not exclusively at primary level, in recent times. Boards of Management are busy, not only responding to the request of the Minister for submissions regarding matters of admission and governance, but also attending modules of ongoing training ably organised by the Revd Brian O Rourke. I myself have been occupied – and I do this every second year – in visiting every classroom of every national school of which I am patron. This I consider a really key aspect (and indeed a very pleasurable one) of my work as I encounter the vibrancy and the questioning of school communities, both students and teachers, in their own context. Of course I attend the ‘big’ occasions in schools, the openings of new buildings and the dedications of extensions, but it is the routine visits which really bring me joy. At the time of writing I have been in sixteen of the twenty eight schools, and my hope is that, in addition to regular and invaluable encounters with the local clergy, every pupil in ‘our’ schools should personally encounter that mysterious being ‘the Patron’ at least four times during their primary school career.
And that last sentence brings me to a curious observation about patronage, which on the face of it has nothing directly to do with ethos or characteristic spirit in ‘denominational’ terms. Eccentric and antediluvian our patronage system may be in the eyes of some, but humble experience has taught me that there is real value in the patron being an identifiable human being. VECs in their time, and more recently ETBs, along with other corporate patronage bodies, are in their way estimable things, but they are not human beings who can visit the schools and meet the children and know the staff at a human level. I can but be an inadequate patron, and in that role I know I have made mistakes, but yet there is something wholesome about being available as an individual to school communities and Boards at least as an encourager. The role of patron can be a very formal thing, or it can be something of a flexible resource within the system, and I believe that those who exercise it have a responsibility to devote to it a good deal of their best energy. Critics will say that episcopal school patronage is either an anachronism or a distraction from the real task of mission. I have learned over the years that patronage is pastoral ministry too, and it is all about putting a human face into a role which could all too easily and using other models of governance become faceless.
Hazel Corrigan welcomed to new role
Talking of faces both new and familiar. Some time ago I wrote here of the incredible contribution made to the life of the Church of Ireland by Sam Harper as a lay honorary secretary of the General Synod over many years. It is now marvellous to record that his elected successor in the role is also from this diocese. This is a great tribute to the quality and commitment of so many of our lay people. Hazel Corrigan of Tullow will being to the work a splendid portfolio of experience, clear thinking, good sense and great integrity. We wish her every blessing in a huge task undertaken gladly and generously and look forward to seeing her guiding hand firmly on the synodical tiller when we gather in Limerick in May.
Two well-loved priests retire
I will be saying more anon of the contribution and service of two well loved priests who have announced their retirements. Canon Roger Harmsworth will retire at the end of June after most fruitful labours in the counties of Laois and Wexford and happily will continue to reside in the latter. The Revd Martin Hilliard will after Easter be taking leave of Kells and the Nore Valley and returning to live in Dublin. We think much of them both in these months of completion, preparation and transition.
Easter Dawn Eucharist
As you read these lines, Lent will be well upon is with it opportunities and, old fashioned as the term sounds, disciplines. It seems rather premature to look ahead yet to Holy Week and Easter but I might point out that very often I like to spend the entire Holy Week in a parish in the diocese and this year will be doing so in Enniscorthy. And finally, one of the great highlights of my year is the Easter Dawn Eucharist by the lake in Stradbally, co Laois. (This is one of several such events around the diocese on that happy day). At Stradbally we gather by kind permission of Mr Thomas Cosby and all are welcome – although the hard work, including the provision of an excellent barbecue breakfast , is done by the Laois Youth council. We need to get the time of this event each year into our minds and diaries, and having consulted the sunrise tables I conclude that we should commence this year at the challenging time of 0540. So have a properly nourishing Lent, and see many of you then!
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory