One has learned long ago that predicting developments surrounding Covid is a dangerous business. However, as I write churches are at last able to be somewhat ‘fuller’ and October 22 will bring, all being well, a much greater easing of restrictions. By then I will have started, commencing on October 9, a long-awaited Confirmation circuit of the diocese. Given the backlog of candidates, and the very likely expectation of some continuing measure of prudent social distancing, I have decided that in several venues there are going to be have to be up to three such services. At the time of writing close on thirty Confirmations are therefore scheduled around the diocese for the period up to December 12.
I hugely look forward to encountering all the candidates involved, and just pray that I won’t develop a cold or a cough during this extended period of confirmation ministry – having the bishop in enforced isolation in the middle of it all would mess everything up again!! Seriously it is most exciting, hopeful and positive that we are now at this point.
Singing regulations unclear
Nevertheless, it will be some time before anything approaching ‘normal’ returns and one fears there may well be bumps along the road. Again, at the time of writing, future regulations concerning congregational singing are far from clear … and it will not be long (dare I say?) before this starts to cause us considerable concern in the context of preparation for Christmas … whatever may have happened at harvest. We have significant issues to address going forward concerning the manner of the safe and proper administration particularly of the Eucharist in an ever-evolving situation. One feels the use of face coverings at worship will be with us for quite a long time. The warm breezes of summer which wafted through our church doors will give way to the more icy winds of winter while we remain rightly preoccupied with maintaining adequate ventilation.
I do plan to have an in-person diocesan synod on the afternoon of Saturday November 6 in St Mary’s Church Enniscorthy commencing with a (said) service at 1345. I think at this stage all concerned long to meet again face to face. However, business will be shorter than usual .. the hope is that all will be over by 1800… and while there will be one comfort stop to stretch our legs and ventilate the building … there will be no traditional shared dinner involved. Huge efforts will be made to make people feel safe in what is a very large and airy building, which is also technologically well equipped. So we would hope that live streaming of proceedings will be possible. If we succeed in doing all this, it will be a huge breakthrough in terms of diocesan fellowship and encounter.
The resignation, with immediate effect at the end of August, of the Very Reverend David MacDonnell, dean of Ossory, caused great surprise and shock in Kilkenny and around the diocese. The only appropriate words here must be in recognition of an imaginative and talented ministry which, while short, got a great deal done. The dean has our prayers as he returns to a career in teaching and we share his hopes that this may prove compatible with some form of ministry as a priest in the future. The appointment process for a new dean will begin shortly, and we are working on similar processes in the case of the deaneries of Waterford and Cashel. However, it is a gleam of the obvious to say that the situation in Kilkenny has led all of us who are part of parish and cathedral life there, myself included, to a certain measure of self-examination and prayerful reflection. There are many clergy in the diocese, but I can truly say that only the dean of Ossory is ‘my rector’, and so within the fellowship of the Cathedral Close I feel particularly drawn into the current atmosphere of reflection and loss.
Across the nations – bishops meet via Zoom
Looking beyond the local, every ten years or so all the bishops of the Anglican Communion meet in Canterbury at what is known as the Lambeth Conference – a huge and wonderful multi-cultural event which is very much part of the cement of the worldwide Anglican Communion and a marvellous opportunity for participating bishops to live and learn in the presence of one another over a period of two weeks or so.
The last such Conference took place in 2008 when I was still what they delightfully term a ‘baby bishop’. The Archbishop of Canterbury decided, for a range of reasons, that the next Conference would be in 2020 but Covid put a sudden stop to that. The bishops are now destined to gather from July 27 to August 8 next year although a certain degree of uncertainty must remain surrounding even that plan. Meanwhile, on a monthly basis by Zoom since June, I have been the convener of one of a number of preparatory ‘Bishops’ Conversations’ intended to assist bishops in getting to know colleagues from other nations, and to prepare themselves to engage with the themes and issues identified for the Lambeth Conference itself. It is a fascinating experience to sit in our Diocesan Office for two and a half hours on a Thursday afternoon once a month and to find oneself in warm conversation with bishops from Pakistan, South Africa, Canada, the US, the UK and Kenya .. to mention some of the countries involved in ‘my’ group. The whole discussion is rooted in a shared exploration of the text of 1 Peter. I find the experience gives me a vital new perspective on some of my more local problems and challenges. It also makes me realise anew, after all the privations of Covid, what it means to be ‘in communion’ with sister (there are SO many more Anglican bishops who are women than was the case in 2008) and brother bishops across the nations. Writing this letter but hours after one of our Zooms, I keep thinking of a colleague whose diocese in Pakistan includes part of the border with Afghanistan with all that implies in terms of human need.
Retirements and prayers
On our own borders, I wish my episcopal colleague and good friend Kenneth Kearon every happiness as he retires from Limerick and Killaloe in October. With the retirement at the same time of Patrick Rooke, the bishop of Tuam, a new diocese of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe (essentially a ‘diocese of the West’) will come into being. The person elected to provide episcopal oversight from Belmullet to Beara will need manifold gifts including huge reserves of energy, and will deserve many prayers.
Michael Cashel Ferns & Ossory