THE CONTINUING STORY
This magazine will reach readers around Sunday July 5, likely to be an extraordinary day in the annals of the Church of Ireland. After a long ‘exile’, the people of God in this diocese will return to public worship hopefully yet cautiously, joyfully yet with restraint. That to which we will return will not be quite like what we have known before; we will have to embrace the so – called new normal with courage and integrity.
I remember reading very many years ago a short story which went on the following lines. I cannot quite remember where I read it, or even who penned it, but it might serve as something of a parable for today’s situation.
Book fell to the floor
Many moons ago, the population of one of our off-shore islands was being evacuated and re – settled on the mainland. One man who loved his island home resisted to the last, but eventually realised his situation was unsustainable. One evening, having packed up his few possessions in anticipation of the arrival next morning of those who would assist his departure, he sat for the last time in front of the fire in his cottage reading in the failing light. He dropped off to sleep, his book fell to the floor…
And then the morning came and with it the bustle of those who loaded up his possessions and bore them away to the pier. The man locked his cottage, pocketed the key and tried not to look back.
Dereliction set in
He did his best to cope with his new life and adjust to different circumstances. But month after month and year after year, he never went out without keeping the key of his island home in his pocket. He would fondle it as he walked, and would look across the misty sound towards the island and the good memories of his old life. But he could not quite bring himself to visit, there were no people there now, the few animals that grazed on the land were beginning to make the cottages their shelters as dereliction set in.
But he knew the day would come when he would have to go back. The visit of a young relative who had never seen the island which was yet so much part of her own heritage proved to be the catalyst. One morning the older man and the young girl borrowed a rowing boat and set off across the sound. The water was glassy as the oars cut through it; the channel through the myriad of threatening rocks proved as familiar as if he had navigated it only the previous day. The pair tied up the boat at the deserted pier and walked up the grassy track towards the cottage, somewhat apprehensive about what they might discover. The man, as he had done every day for many years, fondled the familiar key.
The book was still there – open on the same page
The key turned relatively readily in the lock, and with a little effort the door creaked open. The atmosphere was dim, layers of cobwebs had to be negotiated and the light from the window was obscured by abundant fuchsia. There was an inevitable musty smell and perhaps the sound of a disturbed mouse. But before the ashes still sitting in the hearth was the old armchair. Amid a cloud of dust the man sank again into it while the girl sat gingerly on the floor. The man leaned over from the chair and picked up the book, still lying on the floor and open at the very page where it had fallen all those years ago while he slumbered. He began to read and indeed did so aloud; instantly he re-entered the story. The girl was mesmerised, and time stood still.
The man read aloud and contentedly to the girl for a few minutes, his melodic voice enhanced by the occasional cry of a gull on the sill. Amid the untidiness and the dank air, it was yet a scene of utter tranquillity and even strange joy. Indeed, it was as if eternity was being tasted. The man put down the book, looked over to the smiling girl and with a tear in the corner of his eye said to her – “This is your place too”.
All was well, the memories of loss and deprivation peculiarly redeemed. Sadly, all that was missing was the previously inevitable kettle.
All things intermingle for good for those who love God
True parables speak for themselves and I will not spoil the tale by interpretation. I offer it to the musings of the reader. But dragged into the present from the recesses of my memory, it gives me great comfort. All will be well, the Book will continue to be read, those who come after us will continue to mesmerised by what is true and eternal, even the experience of exile is capable of being redeemed. All things intermingle for good for those who love God.
As we reassemble our life of worship and re-emerge, as it were, into the sun, we welcome those who have recently joined or who are about to join our company, and those who have embarked on new ministries. The Reverend Edna Wakely has moved from Limerick City Parish and Cathedral to be rector in Castlecomer; the Reverend Ian Coulter is kindly taking on the care of Templemore Union for the immediate future; and the Reverend Dr Richard Marsh is be to Bishop’s Vicar in St Canice’s Cathedral and Kilkenny Union, coming to us from Co Mayo but also bringing with him extensive experience in ministry in such locations as Canterbury Cathedral. We look forward to their presence and contribution, realising what a challenging and unusual time this is to be embarking on new ministries in new places.
With warm good wishes for all the opportunities and decisions of the weeks that lie ahead; I look forward so much to being able to move amongst you across the dioceses once again.
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory
Apologies – This letter should have been uploaded on the first of the month as usual.