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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Monthly letter – June 2019 – Facing reality

Dear Friends

No organisation (or perhaps better ‘organism’), the Church itself included, should plod along for years without pausing to reflect on its fitness for purpose, the sustainability of its current operations and its continuing need for reform. In short even a diocese like this from time to time needs to embrace a process of strategic planning.

Of course, we make strategic decisions all the time – as we make appointments to ministry, as we prepare the diocesan budget annually. But the time has come, in the view of the Diocesan Council and of myself, to engage in some more concentrated and comprehensive planning as we look to the next couple of decades.

I know people often regard processes of this sort with a certain dread – their quiet lives may be threatened, decisions may be made which impinge on parochial arrangements familiar to them, it will all involve a great deal of administrative effort.


However, it has to be done! The fact is that while we have certain historic financial reserves, they have been eroded rapidly in recent years as we have been running, despite our best efforts at prudent management, a recurring deficit. The actual administration of the diocese involves remarkably modest expense, so – frankly – we do have to look at the costs of the provision of ministry.

The advent in the near future of Ordained Local Ministry will offer new opportunities in terms of how ministry is ‘done’ especially in our smaller parishes. There may be situations where the traditional and cherished parochial model is ceasing to be effective. We may need to invest more in chaplaincy ministry in places of education and healthcare and we may need to be alert to how much pastoral work can be entrusted to well-trained lay people. In saying these things, we are simply echoing thoughts being articulated in these days all over the Church of Ireland.


So the time has come to attempt to map the future, to strive to do it in a manner that is unthreatening and creative, to bring people with us, to undertake the task while the waters are still relatively calm rather than when a storm is actually upon us.

Hence the Diocesan Council has requested me to summon a single-issue special Diocesan Synod on the morning of Saturday June 29th in Kilkenny College. Synod members were given a measure of informal advance notice at last year’s October meeting that this was fairly likely to happen.


The plan is to have a full and candid discussion of the present situation, to explain the process that lies ahead, and to seek to set up a Diocesan Commission which will have varied membership, including some external wisdom and which it is hoped can enjoy the trust and confidence of all in setting about a task which, while challenging, has also the capacity to be liberating and empowering.

It seems prudent to do all this at a special meeting of the synod – members will be able to discuss the matter in an atmosphere that does not have a cluttered agenda, and those appointed to the Commission will be empowered to begin their work over the summer.


It is, of course, vital that the Commission is given the right briefing for its task by the synod – this is indeed an opportunity for renewal and for vision. We need to be aware too of the need for fresh thinking; there is a truism that there is no point trying the same ‘solutions’ as may have been attempted in the past and then expecting different outcomes. This process cannot be seen simply as a financial exercise, or an attempt at administrative tidying-up, or a further round of parochial amalgamations. We have got to be much more creative than that; much better too at genuinely bearing one another’s burdens.


The Diocesan Council and the archdeacons have done a great deal of preliminary reflection about the proposal likely to be laid before the synod for debate and decision. Obviously, the synod itself may wish to amend and even improve what has been drafted but the essential gist of what is suggested is as follows:

In the context of our need to explore our strengths and weaknesses, with special regard to imaginative spiritual outreach and a desire to move forward with hope and confidence, the proposed Commission should

Consult with all parishes in order to identify current and prospective needs and patterns of ministry

  • Focus in particular on the situations where existing models of ministry are unsustainable and explore alternatives
  • Be open to the promptings of the Spirit in identifying ways in which the mission and witness of the church can be strengthened in our diocese to meet the challenges of the future
  • Seek imaginative ways of promoting the Gospel message and empowering the laity to share more fully in the ministry of the whole people of God
  • Take into account the IDLE process (Inter-Diocesan Learning Experience; to which I devoted my letter in the May Diocesan Magazine) by developing and incorporating its potential as a vision for our diocese.

 All in all, therefore, an exciting, wide-ranging and highly positive endeavour, which requires the prayerful support of the whole diocese. The initial task of the Commission will take probably until late 2020; the follow-through will have the capacity to sustain and strengthen our fellowship in the Gospel over many years to come.

To other matters


+ The Revd Patrick Burke has decided to step down from the editorship of this magazine, a task he undertook willingly and without notice some years ago following the death of Herbie Sharman. Patrick has approached the work with enthusiasm, skill and efficiency and has brought to the magazine the fruits of considerable journalistic experience. He has indeed the pen of a ready writer; he is hugely well – informed regarding issues in the church and the wider world, and he always writes with a real elegance that makes his words stay in the mind. We thank him for all he has done and we are sure his utterances will not become invisible in the letters columns of the national dailies where he contributes greatly to public debate.


+ On April 28, a former bishop of this diocese, the Right Reverend John Neill, celebrated the 50th anniversary of his ordination at the Eucharist in St Canice’s Cathedral. Bishop Neill’s contribution to the Church of Ireland and to wider Anglicanism has been immense, and he is renowned not least for his great clarity of thought and for the freshness of his liturgical style. We are honoured that he and Betty chose to spend their retirement among us, and we wish them ‘ad multos annos’.


+ The next priest – in – charge of Fiddown Union will be the Revd Vicky Lynch. Vicky was ordained a decade ago in Limerick diocese, where her enthusiasm for rural ministry and youth work (two causes which of course overlap) were well known. For some years, in the spirit of our Covenant relationship with the Methodist Church, she has exercised her ministry in that context, particularly in social outreach in Limerick city. She now returns to the Church of Ireland, and plans to combine her part-time ministry in Fiddown with doctoral studies.

The Service of Introduction will be in Piltown on Friday 30 August at 8pm, and the preacher will be Bishop Trevor Williams who ordained Vicky during his own years in Limerick.


Michael Cashel Ferns & Ossory