Bishop’s Letter – May
This month Bishop Burrows’ focus is on farming
Although I am for better or worse by origin a city person, I have spent the vast bulk of my ordained ministry in parishes and dioceses where agriculture is the dominant economic activity. In all of those years I have rarely, if ever, witnessed a more difficult winter for farmers than the one that is now ending. Indeed, it is quite extraordinary to be writing in mid-April that (one hopes) we are coming to the end of winter. Between storms, and repeated late-season episodes of snow, and at times apparently unending rain, this has been a season of real hardship. The land is waterlogged, farm work is weeks behind its normal schedule, fodder is scarce and expensive and even imported, grass growth has hardly begun. It is almost impossible to remember when we last had four or five consecutive truly dry days.
Those who work on the land and who know nature well have a sage understanding that these things happen, and they strive to uphold their spirits by taking the long view of things. However, both my own observations and my conversations with the clergy have reminded me of the pastoral challenges of the present situation in agriculture. At best people are weary and preoccupied; at worst these conditions can present real challenges to mental health. Farmers who live alone can find it all particularly stressful … it is a lonely experience travelling up an isolated and waterlogged lane to one’s house, feeling as the light fails on another wet evening that work is not being done and that the backlog is becoming overwhelming.
RURAL PASTORAL WORK – THE VALUE
Which leads me to two simple observations. The first is to reaffirm the value of steady and truly empathetic rural pastoral work. On so many occasions recently I have heard farmers express gratitude for clergy who understand their predicament, visit them in their homes and are genuinely ‘there for them’ at a time of considerable stress. This kind of reliable and practical care can never be undervalued.
Secondly, to a great extent the ministry and witness of this diocese depends on the contribution and the generosity of farming people. Agriculture is not only our dominant activity; it is also our own economic backbone. Six times a year I am reminded at the diocesan finance committee that we do not hold vast reserves; rather via the system of parochial assessment we take in and pay out money for the maintenance of ministry and mission. Our diocesan cash flow, which undergirds so much of our work, in turn derives from the steady and reliable contributions of parishes the majority of which are essentially agricultural. And even in bad times, when money must be far from many of our farmers, I am moved by the fact that contributing to the church remains a priority and that year by year the funds we need to sustain the diocese continue to come in. People occasionally and understandably complain about their assessments, but at the end of the day they remain remarkably faithful and committed.
TRIBUTE TO GENEROUS DISCIPLESHIP
So it struck me forcibly that it is time I paid a sincere personal tribute to the generous discipleship of so many of our farmers. The diocese depends for its very existence on the good stewardship of farm incomes. I may think I have a demanding task involving working very long days, but it is as nothing compared to the labours of farmers in recent conditions. Work on the land can be an uphill struggle, income is often unreliable, the farming workplace can still be a setting with many hidden dangers. The work of farmers brings out great qualities of neighbourliness and indeed spirituality, but those who on the land work to co- create fruitfulness with God deserve all the empathy, care and prayer which we can offer them. In the tough times and in the good times, I often reflect on how fortunate I am to have been called for so long to be a pastor to those who themselves care for the land and under God provide our daily bread.
TWO CLERGY MOVING TO OTHER PARISHES
As always there have been some changes in the diocese. After a most fruitful and cherished ministry in Killeshin, Canon Peter Tarleton has very generously made himself available to serve for a period as priest-in-charge of Portlaoise, The Rock and Ballyfin. This will be for a period of approximately two years, and will present many challenges in terms of (to use a time- hallowed phrase) the care and cure of souls there. He moves to Portlaoise with the task of striving to chart the best possible way forward after a time of pain and turbulence, and aware that all his vast pastoral skill and experience will need to be brought to bear upon the task.
Last month we mentioned the appointment of a new rector for Clonenagh! The institution of the Revd Victor Fitzpatrick in Mountrath will be at 8pm on Friday, August 24, the feast of St Bartholomew. This will be a very joyful moment for the parish after a long vacancy which in effect began in sad circumstances a year previously.
NEW CURATE FOR WEXFORD AND KILSCORAN
On Tuesday July 3, the Feast of St Thomas, at 8pm in Wexford, the Revd Conor O Reilly will be received into priestly ministry in the Church of Ireland and licensed to be curate in Wexford and Kilscoran. Conor in the past served in ministry in the Roman Catholic Church and has made a pilgrimage over time into Anglicanism … he currently lives in Carlow. For the past year he has been doing further residential training at the Church of Ireland Theological Institute. Conor brings to his renewed ministry much spiritual richness and we hope he and Mollie his wife will be very happy living in Kilscoran.
In the near future it is hoped that the appointment of a curate to Waterford will be made leading to an ordination there at the end of the summer
Lastly, I would want to offer my sympathy and that of the diocese to our indefatigable Diocesan Communications Officer Margaret Hawkins on the recent death of her mother. Many joined her and the family circle for the funeral in Kilpipe Church on March 19.
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory