A few weeks ago, I was given a back issue of this Diocesan Magazine. The reason was that a very much younger version of myself appeared in one of the pictures and the person giving it to me thought I might be interested in it.
I flicked through the pages to see the various news items from the parishes and then turned to the ‘Letter from the Bishop’ inside the front cover. His reflections that month were interesting. Several retired clergy were mentioned by name as they were celebrating some significant ordination anniversaries, one fifty years and another sixty years. The bishop of the day also highlighted two recent ordinations, for what was then termed ‘auxiliary ministry’ and noted that two more people had just been accepted for training for the same auxiliary ministry. At the time, this was part of a steady flow of women and men who felt called to auxiliary ministry, and who could avail of the part time study options available. We have reason to be very grateful for those who in past years served in this way, and indeed those who continue to minister in this diocese in what we now call non-stipendiary ministry. However, I was also interested to read the penultimate paragraph which stated ‘please pray for those parishes seeking new Rectors at this time. There is a shortage of candidates for each vacancy.’ In some ways, nothing changes!
On Saturday 25th March, an exploration day is being organised for people who might like to discover more about the Ordained Local Ministry. It is being facilitated by our two Directors of Ordinands, Dean Paul Draper and Canon Nicola Halford and will be held in St Laserian’s Cathedral in Old Leighlin. I am very grateful to both of them for all they do to encourage vocations towards the various forms of ministry available in the wider church and in this diocese. Fuller details about this event can be found elsewhere in this issue.
It is obvious to all that there are currently a number of clerical vacancies in this Diocese. What is happening here is being replicated in many other places in the Church of Ireland. However, despite the challenges, I am not pessimistic.
In my final enthronement sermon in St Canice’s Cathedral, I referred to the idea of the cantus firmus, or enduring melody, in a piece of music. Everything is built on and around this melody and after all the improvisation and creativity the composer may include, the composition resolves itself around the enduring melody at the end. I then asked, ‘in the midst of change and challenge, what is the cantus firmus of the church?’ I went on to say, ‘none of us can know what shape the church may take in the years ahead. Change is inevitable. But what I do know is that prayer, worship and the sacraments will always lie at the heart of Christian communities in this Diocese. I also know that people will not cease to be in need of love, pastoral care and affirmation, and to be reminded constantly that God loves them more than they can ever appreciate. That is the cantus firmus for me as your bishop’.
Given that prayer, worship and the sacraments are central to our life as a church, we will continue to need ordained clergy. We will continue to need people who are known locally and know their localities to provide pastoral care and lead worship. We will continue to need priests who will preside at the eucharist. The difference is that in the future a number of these will be ministering very much in a part time capacity. However, there will still be full time stipendiary clergy who will train, supervise and encourage other colleague priests who are serving in the Ordained Local Ministry. Ordained Local Ministry is predicated on there being full time colleagues working alongside them. Ministry will be collaborative.
If you are reading this and wondering if ordained ministry might be something God is calling you to explore, please first talk to your rector or the priest in charge of your parish. Then come along to St Laserian’s Cathedral at the end of this month to meet Dean Draper and Canon Halford. Enjoy meeting other people who are asking themselves the same questions. Whether you take it a stage further and begin a discernment process is up to you. There will be those there who will explain the process and the training involved. Also why not talk to one of the clergy in the Diocese who are already finding fulfilment in their calling in the Ordained Local Ministry? They are the Revd Pat Coleman, the Revd Ger James, the Revd Mike O’Meara, The Revd Janet Finlay and the Revd Ciaran Kavanagh.
I will end my letter this month with the words of one of the Ember Day Collects which is a prayer for vocations to ordained ministry. I hope many of you will include it in your private prayers in this season of Lent.
you have entrusted to your Church
a share in the ministry of your Son our great High Priest:
Inspire by your Holy Spirit the hearts of many
to offer themselves for ordination in your Church,
that strengthened by his power,
they may work for the increase of your kingdom
and set forward the eternal praise of your name;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Copyright © 2004, Representative Body of the Church of Ireland.