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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Monthly Letter – May 2019

Dear Friends

Recently, with a small but representative group from across the diocese, I participated in a new all-Ireland initiative in the Church with the – perhaps unfortunate – title IDLE. This initiative may also be mentioned in other pages in this issue, and the Revd Mairt Hanley has had a particular leadership role on our behalf in helping it come to pass.

IDLE stands for ‘inter-diocesan learning experience‘; the idea is a pioneering one and involves small teams from three dioceses coming together for twenty-four hours to assess our spiritual wellbeing and mission. In the presence of each another, and with the help of a skilled facilitator, each diocese was asked to identify three practical initiatives it might take to assist genuine growth and outreach. We agreed that we would work over the next year and beyond, with the help of our diocesan councils, to put these initiatives into practice and that around the middle of 2020 we would gather again so that each diocese could give an account to the other two of what had actually been achieved.

Our diocesan team distilled its objectives into the following three areas … and it was interesting how our approach compared and contrasted with the other dioceses with which we shared the process, namely Clogher and Derry & Raphoe.

Without going into too much detail of how we eventually reached our conclusions, the following is a summary of how our thinking gelled.

  • we often mutter about the burden of our many church buildings, yet we are also fiercely attached to them. We need to turn them into greater spiritual and community assets. First of all we need to challenge the assumption that the vast majority of them need to be locked all week. Secondly, we might try to ensure that the time they are actually used is doubled in a creative and outward looking way. On this 50/50 principle, if a church is open for an hour on Sunday for liturgy, it should also be open for an hour some other day of the week for some community purpose consonant with its status as a place of worship.
  • we considered borrowing an idea pursued some years ago by Scottish Anglicans under the banner ‘Make your church more inclusive’. Every single church community should do at least one practical thing to make it easier for newcomers and pilgrims to feel welcome. The cumulative impact of this across a diocese could be quite remarkable, for we often forget that one of the strengths of Anglicanism, with all its spaciousness and breadth, is that it can provide a haven for those who somehow do not feel at ease anywhere else! Sensitive and modest efforts can make all the difference … improving disabled access, making sure the church notice board is always scrupulously accurate and up to date, providing gluten free bread as required at the Eucharist, making sure there are items for children to play with, leaving out supplies of cold drinks and biscuits in churches where wanderers and tourists drop in … the list can be endless. All that is really required is a little thoughtfulness.
  • We often moan about the lack of new and indeed younger faces in our Synods and Councils. But the place where all the ladders start in terms of ensuring that our decision-making bodies are truly representative of the reality of the people of God is at the Easter Vestries. Not only do these meetings elect the Select Vestries in each parish; they also triennially elect Diocesan Synod members who in turn elect both the Diocesan Council, and also our members of the General Synod who themselves make the key decisions regarding the teaching, worship and governance of the whole church. If new faces are to take their place in the deliberations of the wider church, everything starts at the Easter Vestry. Yet, in a church which prides itself on participative neo-democracy of a kind that is the envy of members of many other churches, the attendance at our Easter vestries is frankly horribly low. If turnout in national elections was anywhere near as low as turnout at Easter vestries, we would be frankly appalled and conclude that democracy was in crisis. A key to transforming and renewing the governance of the church would be to quadruple (or better!) attendance at Easter Vestries, particularly in triennial years like 2020!

Thus concluded our diocesan IDLE team … we can but wait and see whether their worthy ideas gain traction, and capture the wider imagination. Other dioceses are now watching us!



Many in the diocese were saddened to hear of the recent death of Dean Billy Beare, sometime Dean of Lismore. Billy Beare was a dedicated pastor and a man of many parts … musician, calligrapher, woodworker, broadcaster. He touched many lives for good particularly in the counties of Laois and Waterford – his lovely voice brought dignity to the spoken liturgy and richness to the Church’s song. Our prayers and sympathy are with his family, with Walter and with Rachel. Billy was a priest who served God to the full; one of those rare people who remained in active ministry right up to his 75th birthday. This diocese and his native diocese of Cork benefitted from a ministry of many parts which also included years in full time hospital chaplaincy in Cork city. It was good to witness such a gathering of friends and admirers at his funeral in his native Bandon, and Billy was given back to God amid thankful tears and splendid music such as he would have loved.

Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory