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Diocese of Cashel, Ferns and Ossory

Bishop’s Monthly Letter – November 2016

In his letter this month our Bishop talks about the value of lay volunteers’ bishop-burrows-november-2016work in running the Church of Ireland and pays a very, very special tribute to Mr Sam Harper who is retiring as ‘southern’ lay secretary of the General Synod.
He also thanks Siobhan Tulloch for her work producing the Children’s Page in the Diocesan magazine over many years and introduces the new diocesan communications officer who began her work in October.

Dear Friends

It is in the very nature of the Church of Ireland that it relies hugely upon the commitment, skill and generosity of its lay volunteers. Ever since we were disestablished in 1871, we have been a church which cherishes the indispensable place of the laity in its polity – there are, after all, twice as many lay members as clerical members in the General Synod itself.

Sam Harper is retiring

Among the many demanding roles which the church entrusts to its lay volunteers, few can be compared in terms of sheer hard work with that of the lay honorary secretaries of the General Synod and of its Standing Committee. There are two such secretaries, one representing the province of Armagh and the other the province of Dublin. There are also two clerical honorary secretaries. Since 1994, the ‘southern’ lay secretary has been Mr Sam Harper of this diocese … Indeed he is at this stage very much the senior secretary of the synod. He has now indicated his intention to retire from this demanding role at the November meeting of the Standing Committee.

Long and distinguished service – what his work involved

It has been a source of pride to this diocese that Sam’s service has been so long and so distinguished. It is no exaggeration to say that he has carried a workload virtually equivalent to a full time job, which has involved considerable travel around Ireland and endless homework as well! It is certainly not all about attending meetings in Dublin (although there are many of these) …. It is about preparing the agenda for the General Synod and ensuring that that event each year runs smoothly and fruitfully. It is about working constantly with the staff of Church of Ireland House and having an overview of almost every aspect of the governance, life and witness of the Church of Ireland. It is about making sure there is no part of the life of the church in which the lay voice is not audible and effective. In many ways, given the nature of the Church of Ireland and the checks and balances within it, the role of a lay General Synod secretary can be extremely significant and influential … Perhaps more so than that of any bishop! (In all of this, the holder of such an office requires an extremely tolerant and understanding family at home …. as Lilia will I am sure agree)

Administrator,  financier,  ambassador and more

The lay secretaries also have a vital ambassadorial role on behalf of the church …. They may be required to attend public gatherings or parliamentary committees and convey the views of the Church of Ireland (rather than simply their own views) in a way that is insightful and fair to all shades of opinion. They will require the confidence of those who sent them, they will need to be able to think quickly on their feet, they will not be easily fazed. To do all this, they need a huge working knowledge of the Church of Ireland itself, and they need to be well rooted in the worship and life of their own diocese.

Deep faith and commitment

To all of this Sam has brought utter commitment and great skill for over twenty years. He has become one of the synod’ s best known faces, and is regarded with grateful affection by very many. He earths his task in a shrewd understanding particularly of the southern rural church, and his ‘other’ life as a farmer helps him to understand the everyday issues and problems of that sector which is so much the backbone of a diocese like this. But, above all, good administrator and financier that he may be, the key to Sam’s style of work (indeed I would prefer to call it his ministry) is that he prays about every iota of it. He is someone of deep and sincere spirituality, motivated always by faith, ready to listen to the views of others but very clear about the values and priorities for which he stands. To hear him take opening prayers at a meeting of the Standing Committee provides ample evidence of what matters most to him. Those who have been enriched by his ministry as a Diocesan Reader will most certainly concur.

A special salute

We offer Sam our most grateful good wishes as he lays down this particular task … Although he will carry out many other roles still in our common life both at diocesan and central level. But it is only right that at this juncture he should be specially saluted by his own diocese, which as I said at the outset has been proud to number him among its sons.

Siobhan Tulloch – Children’s Page producer retires

As we think of one much appreciated lay ministry, so to another. I gather Siobhan Tulloch is to ‘retire’ from producing her regular Children’s page in this magazine. With great imagination and faithfulness she has produced this material certainly for as long as I have been a magazine reader, and she brings to her work the skill and background knowledge of a professional primary teacher. I often wonder how many people rush to read the monthly bishops’s letter, but I can certainly assure Siobhan that the bishop often looked first at her page, perhaps in search of a moment of freshness and concern for the things that ultimately really matter. We thank her for all her years as a contributor, and trust that many who first encountered this magazine through her page went on to become adult readers.

New Diocesan Communications Officer

Finally and very importantly too. Another lay ministry. I mentioned last month the appointment of a new Diocesan Communications Officer … But I could not then name her. I can say now that I have greeted the appointment of Margaret Hawkins, who lives in Wexford, with both gratitude and delight. Margaret is already familiar with the journalistic world, not least in farming circles, both in print and in radio. She is also a published novelist. Elsewhere in this magazine you will learn more of her, but please make use of her skills and networking abilities if you want your good news stories within the diocese to reach a wider public. We are most fortunate to have secured the services of someone of so much experience, truly with the pen of a ready writer. I look forward to working with her in ensuring that the myriad of initiatives and events which happen across the diocese become ever more widely known – we wish her indeed ‘good luck in the name of the Lord’

Michael Cashel Ferns and Ossory