Scroll Top
Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Monthly Letter – November 2021


Dear Friends

I write on October 8th, two weeks ahead of the planned date for the further easing of Covid restrictions, particularly with regard to church services.

By the time you read this we will have a clearer picture of how matters have unfolded, not least with regard to matters like congregational singing and the capacity of churches. Come what may, however, I suspect that the widespread use of face coverings, caution in respect of human proximity and physical interaction, and necessary emphasis on ventilation (even in church buildings in winter!) are likely to remain with us for some time. But perhaps by Christmas we can reasonably hope that the herald angels will not be left to sing by themselves without our being able to join in….

Diocesan Synod

We are cautiously planning an in-person diocesan synod for Saturday November 6th in St Mary’s Enniscorthy. All public health protocols will be carefully followed, the session will be shorter than usual and sadly there will not be the traditional opportunity to share a meal together. But, even within such constraints, I get the impression that people will be very glad to be with one accord in one place and to SEE one another actually rather than virtually.

General Synod – timely climate change debate

Meanwhile, the General Synod has just met online, and in all the circumstances congratulations are due to those who ensured its efficient running and positive spirit. Among the many matters debated, there was of course emphasis on climate change and the duties of Christian disciples when it comes to safeguarding the planet. This was a timely debate in the run up to COP 26 (the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow), when so many of us locally are attending harvest thanksgivings and reflecting on the wise stewardship of creation. The central authorities of the church and the Representative Body are to be commended on the accelerated manner in which they have worked to ensure the church’s divestment from fossil fuels. A particularly significant contributor to the synod  debate was the Reverend Trevor Sargent who reminded us how it is relatively easy for the synod  to instruct the ‘central church’ to make radical changes to its investment policy, but the real challenge is to ensure that people practice what they preach, in all sorts of small ways, at local level and in everyday parochial life. Sometimes we can be timidly conservative in addressing matters like how we heat churches or require and act upon BER ratings for church properties or ensure that we use fully compostable materials as far as possible in our catering arrangements.

Oasis sidelined

As I reflected on what Mr Sargent had said and observed in my travels a number of churches sumptuously decorated for harvest with great commitment and skill, I came across an article in the English paper, the Church Times, that really struck home. It was a kind of parable of how small actions matter, how emphasis on outward beauty must be accompanied by behind-the -scenes responsibility, how easy it is for us not even to think about the environmental consequences of apparently trivial habits. Yet at every Harvest Thanksgiving we need to ask ourselves whether, ironically, in our very giving of thanks for the wonders of creation we are simultaneously eroding its sustainability.

To return to the newspaper article. The bishop of Dudley is a keen gardener and flower-grower. Yet he is concerned that in our floral displays we often still use a form of foam, often known as Oasis, which keeps the flowers in position. However, this innocuous looking foam, used for many years to assist the displaying of created beauty and colour, is apparently made of harmful microplastics which are themselves a threat to sustainability. The bishop suggests that floral foam needs to be treated with the same attitude as we have been bringing to bear on other single use or non-recyclable plastics. Floral foam is a by-product of the petro-chemical industry. It crumbles over time into tiny fragments that are not compostable. When put innocently into compost heaps in churchyards, it will take up to 500 years to break down and is still not biodegradable. In addition, the foam is generally soaked before use and wastewater containing microplastics, once discarded into the drains, can contaminate water sources and ultimately can enter the human food chain.

Small things matter greatly

It is in truth all quite scary, a timely parable of why small things matter greatly, especially when taking the long view concerning environmental responsibility. How extraordinary it is that such eventual harm could result from skilled displays of beauty. So it is that floral foam is now banned from displays such as the Chelsea flower show, and the bishop of Dudley is seeking to end its use in the diocese in which he works, suggesting that money hitherto spent on it be used for more suitable receptacles.

All this was news to me when I read the article . . . I really thought this was information worth sharing, and every day one learns something new about how we manage to threaten the environment through apparently trivial small actions. I don’t think I have ever written about flower arranging in this magazine before, and in the Church of Ireland it is almost part of our DNA to be grateful to those who with such skill ‘do the flowers’ and decorate churches not only at Festivals, but Sunday by Sunday. Flowerless worship is frankly almost impossible to envisage. Yet it is so important, in this and so many areas of life, to make sure that we do not unintentionally distort the beauty we celebrate by threatening the very environment on which that beauty depends. And, by the way, I am sure that many of the flower experts in the diocese already knew what I have said here long ago and are perhaps amused that it has taken so long for me to catch up!!

Every little helps

But at the end of the day environmental responsibility is about mission and about that flourishing of humanity which God desires. Thus the Anglican ‘five marks of mission’, having dealt with issues like the proclamation of Good News, the baptising of new believers and the loving service of human need, conclude with the fifth mark which declares that a hallmark of the church will be ‘safeguarding the integrity of creation, and sustaining and renewing the life of the earth’.

And in keeping true to that fifth mark, to use the slogan, ‘every little helps!’. So let’s not lose heart…

Michael Cashel Ferns & Ossory