A TIME OF UNCERTAINTY
Normally my September letter offers good wishes and encouragement to the parishes as the September flurry of activities resumes – the schools and organisations are reopening, there is a myriad of harvest services, there are abundant meetings of many Boards and committees.
But just now it seems so strangely hard to plan anything with any measure of certainty. The basic Biblical principle of ‘continuing steadfast ‘, and the Prayer Book’s excellent emphasis on ‘patient continuance in well doing’ seem hard enough to achieve in themselves without adding any additional elements of excitement or strategic initiatives. And no doubt by the time these words appear in print circumstances will have adjusted yet again.
So we simply do not know, for example, whether the Diocesan Synod can meet in October. More immediately, at the time of writing our churches in Laois and Offaly have been again closed for normal public worship and uncertainty surrounds the timing and location of ordinations to which we had much looked forward. On and on the worrying saga goes … And the year will undoubtedly end with an Advent and Christmas season unlike anything we have known before.
Re-opening of schools
The present priority is undoubtedly the re-opening of schools, and the assessment of the impact this may have on the wider public health position. Our thoughts are with students, teachers, parents, School Boards and all the stakeholders in education as they try to navigate the most turbulent and uncertain of logistical waters. We all long, I think, to hear again somehow the distinctive happy sound of the school playground – that unique sound that encapsulates the friendship, energy, fun and creativity that a place of education should be all about.
Rathdowney NS closure
As we wish our schools well amidst all these challenges, a special word of greeting and thanks must go to all who have been associated through the years with the parish National School in Rathdowney, most recently under the leadership of retiring Principal Ms Barbara Stanley. On account, sadly, of declining numbers that school will not be reopening this September and we think of its pupils now dispersing to other places of education. Sadly the public health circumstances made it impossible to have a proper public celebration during the summer of all that Rathdowney NS has meant to generations of students, families and parishioners.
Absence of hymn singing
Many people, amidst all the wonderful work done locally to re-open churches for public worship, have been concerned about the absence of congregational singing and how long this situation is going to continue. Again, I know no easy answers, and I recognise that hymns are so much part of our identity and spirituality, and such a great source of joy. It is important that somehow we ensure in these times that music remains part of our worship even in new and imaginative ways – perhaps through the reflective use of instrumental music or through meditative listening to recorded singing.
Maintaining cathedral choral tradition
The challenges facing church music just now pose a major problem for Church of Ireland cathedrals with a significant choral tradition, and we all know how the kind of quality choral singing associated with cathedrals is part of the very genius and spirit of Anglicanism. It has been heartening to see how, in this diocese and beyond, cathedral musicians have been exploring how the extensive space available in large buildings can allow a measure of ‘live’ singing to continue, with musicians suitably distanced from one another and from the congregation and considerable use too of solo material. But to maintain the cathedral choral tradition ‘until the flood is past’ (as a hymn might put it) will involve a huge degree of commitment and skill and determination.
Retirement of organist Malcolm Proud
As we consider our great gratitude for our cathedral musicians, readers will find elsewhere in this magazine an account of the retirement of Mr Malcolm Proud who has been Cathedral Organist at St Canice’s over several decades and has made an enormous contribution to music and worship there. Malcolm is truly a figure of international renown as anyone who has attended particularly his harpsichord recitals will know. The contribution made by him and by his wife Susan to the content and reputation of the Kilkenny Arts Festival has been immense. For me he was also for many years a valued and friendly neighbour in the Cathedral Close. We wish him well for the years ahead and salute his mighty achievements and the wonderful work too with the rebuilding of the organ a decade ago.
Death of organist Dr Eric Sweeney
Only two years ago Dr Eric Sweeney retired as organist of Waterford Cathedral and we were deeply saddened to learn of his recent sudden death. He, too, was a colossus in the musical life of the South East, did so much to ensure the present excellent state of the cathedral organ and led the choral life of Christ Church with great personal reverence and humility. As a composer and in particular as a master of improvisation he was magisterial. We salute the memory of a kindly man of great talent and integrity who enriched the lives of so many.
We have been utterly blessed as a diocese to have had people like Malcolm and Eric ministering among us, and we are grateful too that their quest for excellence continues with their successors, who will never be deflated even by today’s uniquely challenging circumstances.
Accident – former Dean
Finally, many will recall with affection and appreciation the long ministry in this diocese of Dean Norman Lynas prior to his move some years ago to the cathedral in Bermuda. Some weeks ago he suffered a very serious accident in his home there, and is currently being treated in Boston for very major injuries. The prayers and love of many in this diocese will surely go out to him.
Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory