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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Monthly Letter – December 2021


Dear Friends

 As I write (early Nov) we are just hearing the happy news that the Reverend Stephen Farrell is to be the next dean of Ossory and rector of Kilkenny Union. This is a very happy prospect for us all. Mr Farrell has been rector of Zion, Rathgar in Dublin for the past decade and combines pastoral wisdom drawn particularly from a rural agricultural upbringing with a very high level of scholarship as manifested in his academic achievements both in Oxford and in Dublin. His specialty is ecclesiastical law, but there is nothing at all stuffy or remote in his approach to it! His manifold gifts will be a great asset to cathedral, parish and diocese and we look forward to welcoming him and Laura (also a lawyer) along with their three young daughters to Kilkenny probably in early February.

Funeral of beloved colleague

On a different note, since my last letter here we had the funeral of a beloved retired colleague, Archdeacon Kenneth Wilkinson. Although he was indeed full of years, his death marks the end of an era especially in Ferns. He was an exemplary archdeacon … few chairpersons ever could rival his mastery of a meeting!… and was also a splendid and effective pastor, particularly during his long incumbency in Enniscorthy where, as I said at the funeral, he seemed to belong not just to the Church of Ireland but to the whole town. In extending our sympathy to Bettie and to the whole family circle, we give thanks for a priest of such dignity, utter commitment and integrity.

Singing still an issue

And so, it is time, in these continuing strange months, to wish you all the blessings of the coming Christmas season. Many have become troubled about the continuing HSE restrictions on congregational singing – a very traditional part of Christmas and indeed of worship throughout the year. This matter was indeed raised from the floor at the recent diocesan synod, when it was genuinely lovely to be together albeit also suitably distanced within the airy atmosphere of Enniscorthy!

On the day on which I write this letter the singing restrictions remain as they have done since June last. There have been a number of promises that the extensive online HSE material concerning gatherings for religious worship will be fully revised and updated … and perhaps by the time you read this that MAY have happened. Lest anyone think otherwise, the Church of Ireland bishops have maintained frequent contact with the powers-that-be concerning singing and a number of other issues relating to gatherings for worship. However, definite responses are slow to appear and the current negative trajectory of infection does not give cause for huge optimism. From the point of view of the public health authorities (as I understand it) gatherings for worship must be assumed to involve a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated people as it is not considered right or proper for people to be asked for evidence of vaccination on arrival at a place of worship. Given that this is so, it is regarded as something of a concession that we are permitted to gather as many people as we do indoors, subject of course to face coverings and social distancing. In other areas, however, a high level of risk assessment is expected … and from the point of view of those who provide public health advice congregational singing appears to be regarded still as an unnecessary additional risk, although it is from our point of view so much part of our very spiritual DNA in the Church of Ireland. At any rate, ‘we are where we are’ in relation to this matter, and we have always been clear that we will regard safety as our top priority and accept health advice however apparently tiresome. As I say, everything may well have changed by the time you read these few words… or it may be the case that once again this Christmas we will be largely depending on the angels to sing the Christmas carols just as they did that first Christmas night above Bethlehem.

St Columba – 1500th anniversary

One last little point. On December 7th people in many places will celebrate the 1500th anniversary of the birth of St Columba, whose story many of us remember right back to primary school days. Monk, hymn writer, major Irish saint, evangelist and Founder of Iona … there are so many aspects to the life of this influential figure. Famously when he considered it his duty to leave his native land to witness for Christ in other places he got into a boat without oars in the company of a number of friends and let the wind take him wherever the Spirit willed … and so he arrived in Iona. That island off the west coast of Scotland, now so peaceful, was in those days apparently fertile ground for evangelism as it was a place of intersection of the shipping routes of early medieval Europe and a place from which traders could carry not only their goods but the Gospel news they had received from the monks. As we give thanks for someone who made a huge contribution to Christian mission and European culture, we think of many events taking place around Ireland to mark the anniversary and we send our prayerful greetings to the parishes which bear the Columban name among us … particularly Tullow and Rathsaran in Rathdowney Union. And we do not forget the chapel of St Columba in Lismore Cathedral, where stones from Iona are set into the sanctuary floor.

 Again, have a truly blessed Christmas in the company of those whom you love

 Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory