2007 Bishop Jacksons Clogher Diocesan speech

Address given by the Right Reverend Michael Jackson. at the Clogher Diocesan Synod, held in St Margaret’s Hall, Clabby on 4th October 2007

… full of grace and truth …


Last year, ladies and gentlemen, the Diocesan Synod met in St Patrick’s, Monaghan. This year we meet in St Margaret’s, Clabby, a location well suited to our purpose with church and hall once again close beside one another. My thanks go to the Reverend Maurice Armstrong, members of the Select Vestry and parishioners of St Margaret’s Parish, for their welcome to us both in church and here in the Parochial Hall. It is not long since many of us were gathered here in this Hall, on a wonderful evening, for the launch of a most informative and well-researched History of Clabby by Mr Sam Morrow, himself a son of this Parish and a highly respected and involved member of the diocese of Clogher.

During the course of my work this year, I had occasion to be in Jerusalem for a period of no more than forty-eight hours. There was very little time to do anything apart from work but I had twenty minutes to myself during which I visited the Garden Tomb. Established in 1893 for the preservation of a large tomb typical of the first century AD, The Garden Tomb Association has maintained a substantial garden area in Jerusalem in beautiful condition for the use of visitors and pilgrims alike. It stands outside the city wall, close to the main roads to Damascus and Jericho, near an old quarry once used by Jews as a place of execution by stoning and by Romans as a place of crucifixion. The rock today stands starkly out against the skyline and above the bus station. Whether this is the locality in which Jesus was crucified, buried and from which he, as the first-fruits of them that slept, rose from the dead – nobody knows. Yet to have had the privilege of being there was an enrichment of my faith and an encouragement to my belief in the saving work of God in Christ Jesus. The uncanny thing was that whether I had been there or not, everything it was able to tell me was already in the Bible as I had read it and tried to understand it. To see something like it was, nonetheless, an inspiration to a faith seeking understanding.

All of this I say because, like so many of us here this evening, I have been grappling in the hope of resurrection with the death during this year past of Robin Wakely and Tom Moore. Both of them contributed tremendously to the life of our diocese, the one in a brief period of time, the other across a lifetime. To both of them we all, as members of the body of Christ, are indebted for faithful priesthood, an obedience to God’s call to serve whatever the cost. This instinct to faithfulness and service is to be treasured in a world all too uncritical of its own achievements and unaware of its own limitations.

… grace and truth …

But: What of grace and truth? With both of these words we are talking about the same Jesus Christ, in the thinking of John the Evangelist, a Gospel-writer who sees no problem in piling big words on top of little people. Grace and truth: often it is difficult to comprehend the truth, often it is our abiding and besetting temptation to reduce the truth to the limits of our own understanding. Grace, mercifully, is well beyond our grasp. In shrivelling truth by reducing it to the scope of our own understanding, we achieve little more than the shrivelling of ourselves. It is grace which equips us to be embraced by the truth. And truth is the living expression of those big words of St John for little people such as ourselves: incarnation, crucifixion, glorification, resurrection. We need both the living Word of God and the big concepts which the Word carries. In an Anglican world, fractured now by cunning cherry-picking and self-absorption, we need both and we also need one another and we will certainly need the Word of God full of grace and truth.

Sometimes it is exciting to look forward, to cast our eye into the future and to make a stab at what some of the preoccupations and possibilities will be in years to come. Often church people bemoan the fall away in church attendance. I understand that in certain suburban parts of Northern Ireland church attendance averages well below 10%, even below 5%, while we in country dioceses are repeatedly conditioned to see ourselves as second-class citizens by virtue of being ‘country cousins.’ Don’t believe a word of it! Too easy would it be for us in moments of panic to see the boosting of numbers of people attending church as the sole yardstick of effective Christianity. After all, God began without the church and may well conclude without the church. Again, too easy would it be for us, inside the church, to dismiss the faltering, sometimes strident, sometimes imploring, but sincere cries of those seeking faithfully to find the church out there, at work in the world as not being Christians at all. We have much to learn and much to unlearn.

Politically in Northern Ireland you might well argue that the churches on the ground have been caught on the hop. It seems that any time we are challenged, there is every reason from tradition for us not to get involved. We hear it and we say it: The time is not right or: It would cause offence or: That sort of thing is better left to someone else – and so forth. Yet, the picture, the image, the icon of life in Northern Ireland which has broken ground is that of a jovial Mr Paisley and a jovial Mr McGuinness sitting side by side, looking together towards the world which is beyond both of them. It was a picture which many thought they would never see. It is a picture which many of us cannot yet comprehend. I suggest that it is our challenge and our duty to take this picture as fact rather than as fiction and also, when the rhetoric of its subjects is that of those eager to please, to go deeper and to root for content when what we hear is words. To my mind this is an urgent priority if the churches are to make any contribution to the fashioning of a Northern Ireland of the future. The future of Northern Ireland will be found in and through mature devolution at all levels. And mature devolution requires not only peaceful co-existence but pro-active co-operation on the part of those who, previously enemies, now accept their need of one another as fellow-citizens. This, in turn, necessitates an honesty and a trust informed by both grace and truth. Has not the time come for churches to engage generously and critically with the new political aliveness and to weave the best of what we are and who we can yet become in the new Ireland now unfolding before us? This is a moment to rejoice. This is a time to savour. This is a season to remember and to say: I was part of it when it happened.

In no sense am I glib or naïve enough to think that the leap – significant though it is – from violence to peace is in any sense a ‘let-out’ for contemporary politicians on any side. It is not, nor can it be. Incitement to diminish others different from oneself; intimidation to conform socially or religiously to a shrunken or shrivelled definition of who we are; injustice perpetrated in the names of ideas more imposed than agreed – we have been there and we do not want to return. This is the sort of tyranny which we hope no longer has a market value in our society. And our own Hard Gospel Project has already said much on this theme and has much more to contribute. It is a great pleasure to know that the Border Protestants Initiative for which I called a couple of years ago in Diocesan Synod will be happening very soon in conjunction with The Hard Gospel Project here in our diocese.

We have recoiled from a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as much as anything because we have become inured over decades to the rhetoric of the reconciliation industry when we were too fearful and too battered to be able to demand truth. There is a real dilemma at the heart of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission in our context and it is this: in the human sphere without confession there cannot effectively be forgiveness and without truth there cannot effectively be reconciliation. I suspect that we are nowhere near that point yet. I wish both Mr Denis Bradley and Lord Eames everything that is best in their current endeavours but would hazard a guess that even they are admitting already to themselves that they will do little more than scratch the surface and both of them know how dangerous this is in Northern Ireland. I suggest respectfully: How indeed can it be otherwise when there is no agreed definition of a perpetrator and a victim and when a number of victims are also perpetrators and a number of perpetrators victims? Speaking for us all I am sure, I should also like to wish Lord Eames every happiness in retirement and to wish Archbishop Harper every strength in his work as Primate.

Ecology and the environment: These are areas outside the west door of the church and beyond the covers of our Prayer Books and Hymnals – or so it might seem. Yet this is where there is a genuine passion on the part of young people to care for the planet. If we look at our Bibles – from Genesis to Revelation – we see unfolding before us the story of stewardship faithfully executed and cruelly squandered. I think particularly of the tiny Book of Ruth – emotional yet unsentimental – where in the human story unfolding we find the presence of God in the actions that people take: Ruth’s willingness to be an alien in order to support her mother-in-law; Boaz’s heeding Naomi in leaving some of the harvest for the women and outcasts to glean. Here we have a human ecology and an ecology of nature rolled into one. From the incalculable richness of the Hebrew Scriptures Ruth offers us an ethic of engagement which is unsurpassed in its directness and its effectiveness.

But the urgencies of the planet are, in a very special way, an area of life about which we all can and must do something. On the global and the local level alike, there is need to become involved and to make our individual contribution, however small it may seem, and however small it may in fact be, to this vital work of conservation and preservation of an unique environment. It will change the way we think, it will change the way we farm, it will change the way in which we dispose of what we no longer want or need. It also has to change the way we pray and the way we worship. And churches should now play an increasing part in this, if we are serious about connecting once again with the world around us. Wouldn’t it be marvellous were we as Christian people to make the connection, to draw the two together and to have a notice outside our churches which said arrestingly yet responsibly:
You are welcome here to come and worship God. Please bring your rubbish to church!

Education: Future provision for educational needs in Northern Ireland is now a thorny subject. As much as anything this is because, under the Review of Public Administration, we have reached the point where real and lasting decisions have to be made and nobody seems to want to make them. While those who make provision either as teachers or as governors for such a future at primary or at secondary level genuinely agonize about making the most responsible and imaginative decisions for future generations, whatever clarity there may be at Departmental or Governmental level does not seem readily to come our way. I use the word: our, because many of us here and many other members of the diocese are involved. I appeal through this Diocesan Synod to the Minister for Education to come clear and clean with us about a number of issues which, so long as fog and fudge remain, make strategic planning for the Controlled Sector well-nigh impossible.

A number may look towards the Roman Catholic Church and note the way in which a radical plan for Fermanagh, through Clogher and Kilmore Dioceses, is already on the table, has been offered for public consumption and may go on to wonder why, in the Controlled Sector, there is no similar coherent statement or plan. To speak plainly, it is because there is no agreement. I suggest a number of reasons:
(1) we are not accustomed to being radical
(2) we still think that a benign past will somehow continue as it always has done
(3) we suffer from an over-attachment to the plants which we have and we fear the effects of centralization and maximization on what we are today reluctantly forced to admit to be the small communities which we constitute.
The General Synod Board of Education NI in its response to The Costello Report came out broadly in favour of the then proposals, and received little thanks for it. It did so, however, for a reason which I believe will stand the test of time: the best interests of the pupils. It did not do so in order to be disloyal to the past or the present. It did so in order to be loyal to making such provision for the future.
(4) integration somehow is a word we dread. I suspect that years of having to live with the zapping effects of sectarianism have deprived us of the sense of freedom and openness to opportunity which the word integration contains and offers.

Increasingly young people think quite differently from the ways in which we do. I thank God for that because, were it otherwise, there would be no tomorrow. Frustratingly, religion itself seems to have most of its shares invested in the past – antiquarianism at its most worrying. Young people today seek more and more in terms of life-skills from their years in school. Talk to any teacher – particularly in the primary sector – and you will hear that the curriculum is full of add-ons. But the integration of which I speak is the integration of vocational and intellectual education. These words I choose carefully because both of them are properly academic and neither is elitist. This is a reality of integration which has long been lost, and sadly, from our understanding of secondary education. My prediction is that, within quite a short period of time, the choices may well have been made over our heads. If we find ourselves left behind, we have only ourselves to blame.

The scaffolding of a new society: More and more I sense that we are coming to terms with the very broad range of choice in our society with confidence. I would go further and say that while the church as an institution is agonizing about what, at the point when change is happening, is being lost, other people are getting on with their lives and, because of the calculated nostalgia of the same church, are in fact making principled and pragmatic decisions for themselves. The underlying danger is that, while the church exudes an air of not wishing to engage with change, people generally will cease to think of the church as an obvious ‘pit stop’ in their decision-making. Our fear of change in the world around us is no less than a wilful desire not to heed the Spirit of God active in the world. People are looking for what I might call the scaffolding of a new society and increasingly they are appreciating structures which give opportunity for personal fulfilment within the life of a community. We need to come down from our perch and work in with them.

The social vacuum created and perpetuated by the years of The Troubles has gone but we need to be careful not to let a new vacuum of social inaction move in. I think that there is at the same time a parallel movement, a levelling out of the heady sense of freedom-from-all-structures along with the recognition that most of us simply cannot handle such freedom to our best advantage without guidance and without a sense of belonging. Again my own opinion is that the churches – together and individually – have a great deal to contribute. But we need to be both gracious and adventurous. In a world where Christianity is increasingly ‘on the rack’ and ‘on the ropes’ it is difficult to see how initiatives which churches take in independent disregard of one another will be taken seriously today, let alone tomorrow. Northern Ireland is a microcosm of religious specialisms and within such a spectrum, experimental, interesting, exciting and important things can and do happen – but all too often outside the churches which regard themselves as mainstream. Who would have thought that a church on the Shankill Road would, in good faith, close and move to the Falls Road in order to facilitate new members for whom it was difficult and dangerous to come to the Shankill Road to worship? Teaching on its own is insufficient. Action needs to accompany it. Structures which have long been in place may well be creaking under the strain of everything they are now asked to bear. As well as seeking fresh expressions of church we need, at the same time, what I might call old church done better.

In our diocese and across the whole world, Remembrance Sunday 1987 in Enniskillen will be remembered as one of the most dastardly and cynical acts ascribed to the Provisional IRA during the period of ‘The Troubles.’ This event is still dogged by a genuine failure on the part of the perpetrators to accept any sense of reality about what they did; by the total absence of any meaningful gesture of apology; by an unrealistic expectation which hangs somewhere out there in the ether that the people whose lives and family securities were shattered on that steely November morning could simply ‘move on.’ It was not, in fact, until what we call 9/11 that international terrorism, with its insidious tentacles entwining individuals and communities everywhere, became an unmarketable product and we saw a sustained de-escalation of terrorism in our land. In Enniskillen and elsewhere, there have been marvellous examples of forgiveness and the absence of bitterness while at the same time those who suffered most acutely retain a very fresh memory of those who were killed and of the way in which they were killed. For many of those directly involved, they have needed all of the days in those twenty years simply to keep going. I applaud once again the dignity and courage of those who have endured so much on top of such terrible tragedy.

Since last we met as Diocesan Synod, we have had two visitors to Clogher from the Diocese of Madrid and the Archdiocese of Kaduna in Northern Nigeria. The first coincided with St Macartan’s Day in March when we were delighted to welcome Bishop Carlos Lopez-Lozano and his wife Anna to Clogher. They very much regard Clogher as their home diocese because in the late nineteenth century Bishop Stack was one of the three Irish bishops who consecrated the first Anglican bishop of Spain. Not only did Bishop Carlos speak of the foundation of his church, with genuine pride in the Irish connection, but he also spoke of the situation of the Anglican Church during the Spanish Civil War. He addressed a packed Ardess Historical Society, the Clogher Historical Society, members of the Mothers’ Union, clergy and lay leaders and visited the Primary School in Lack along with Colaghty Parish Church and Hall and Monaghan Collegiate School. Bishop Carlos has invited Mr Simon Genoe, one of our ordinands, to work with young people in the diocese and in an initiative involving refugees. He has also invited me to conduct his diocesan Clergy Residential at St Patrick’s-tide next year. We are the first Irish diocese in recent times officially to have welcomed Carlos and all of you as members of the diocese should congratulate yourselves on such generosity and openness. Any time I have met him since then he has spoken with great appreciation of his time in Clogher and of its people.

Our second visitor was Archbishop Josiah Idowu-Fearon who gave us a tremendous public lecture on Christian-Muslim relations in Northern Nigeria with a combination of clarity and passion rarely seen. He also underlined for us the inadequacy of simplistic definitions of mission. It was his first visit to Ireland. He was offered the rare privilege of a Chairman’s reception by Fermanagh’s First Citizen, Councillor Alex Baird; he met our two Church of Ireland MLAs, Mr Tom Elliott and Mrs Arlene Foster; he participated in the sinking of a Macartan 1500 Time-capsule in the grounds of Belleek Pottery and addressed clergy, DPAs and Readers. Out of his visit has come not only a more subtle and balanced understanding of the place of Anglicanism in Nigeria but also a practical initiative involving Christians and Muslims working side by side in developing economic self-sufficiency on Jacaranda Farm. This sort of partnership is neither formal nor trumpeted with full brass, but in both of the cases above the friendship is genuine and reciprocated. In an Anglican Communion currently, so it seems, happy to collapse in on top of itself we should be glad of such small mercies. On your behalf I have already congratulated Archbishop Josiah on being appointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury one of the Six Preachers of Canterbury Cathedral, the first ever to be appointed from outside the Church of England.

Before the Diocesan Synod this year is a Motion in the name of the Diocesan Council relating to the amalgamation of the Donagh Group of Parishes and the Monaghan Group of Parishes with the attendant church closures this requires. The substance of this Motion has been the stuff of many, many meetings including a Special Meeting of the Diocesan Council. There has been widespread consultation on the ground by Members of the Clogher Commission and in particular by the archdeacon and the Diocesan Secretary. I should like to pay tribute to all those who have put in extra work from the outset in this matter. It is, ladies and gentlemen Members of Synod, a brave motion and I ask you please to give it serious, thoughtful consideration. Those who bring it do so with their eye on sustainable provision of ministry in North Monaghan. It has the support of Diocesan Council. But, as you are well aware, only Diocesan Synod can make the appropriate decision for the future.

A number of new clergy has begun work and a number of new initiatives has taken place in the diocese since we met in Monaghan in 2006. In early December 2006 the Reverend David Skuce was instituted to the Grouped Parishes of Maguiresbridge and Derrybrusk. A son of the diocese, David has subsequently taken on the further role of co-ordinating Lay Ministry in the diocese. We now have well over forty people happily involved in a fulfilling lay ministry as Diocesan and Parochial Readers and DPAs, a number in dual roles. This is something to celebrate every bit as much as ordained clerical ministry, not least because it is often more difficult to do this work among people who already know you very well. The Reverend Bryan Kerr has undertaken the work of co-ordinating support for DPAs and for this I am grateful. Since last year’s Synod, seven DPAs have been trained, commissioned and deployed throughout the diocese. In May 2007 the Reverend Robert Kingston was instituted to Carrickmacross Group of Parishes. Robert brings with him vast creative experience of parochial and pastoral life on the ground lived in a wide range of dioceses in the Church of Ireland. Robert has already undertaken the position and work of being Rural Dean of Monaghan. We wish him and Rosemary well in everything which will unfold for them in Carrickmacrosss Group of Parishes. In June 2007 the Reverend Bryan Martin was instituted to Dromore Parish in the week in which the Parish was celebrating fifty years since the laying of the foundation stone of the present church building. We welcome Lesa and Joel along with Bryan to Clogher Diocese, confident that Bryan has much to offer and a great willingness to share his talents. The Reverend Colin Bell, after a term as Chaplain to the Forces, is to return to Clogher Diocese and expects to be instituted rector of Aghadrumsee Group of Parishes in November 2007. The Reverend Derek Kerr has moved, on October 1st, to be incumbent of Drummaul Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Connor. Throughout his time in Clogher he played his part in mission, youth work and as a Clerical Secretary of the Synod as well as in the life of the Grouped Parishes of Devenish and Boho. We wish him well in all that will unfold for him in Randalstown. We also wish the Reverend Ian Linton and his wife Amanda well when they move from Enniskillen to Drumcliffe Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Elphin. Ian has made a strong impression in the parish and the diocese in so many ways in the time he has spent with us.

The Reverend Alison Seymour-Whiteley was ordained deacon on May 31st in St Macartan’s Cathedral, Clogher. Likewise in Clogher Cathedral on June 9th the Reverend Elizabeth Thompson was ordained priest – to a rather convincing local drum-beat which was more than a match for the technique shown by the archbishop of York when he was with us in 2006 if those of you who were present recall! These were tremendously joyous occasions in the lives of these two individuals, their families and in the on-going life of the diocese in both mission and ministry. Mr Charles Eames and Mr Simon Genoe continue in training for the ministry and Mrs Lorriane Capper has already begun training this year. We continue to appreciate the work of retired clergy and Readers who make it possible for us all to be members of a Diocese which runs with efficiency and where worship continues in a regular cycle availing of talents of those who generously give of themselves in preparation for and conducting of such worship Sunday by Sunday.

This is not the time to be complaining! It is indeed fashionable to say – and I hear many people saying it – that nobody is ‘going into the church’ these days. It has not always been the case and indeed it may not be the case in the future, but as things stand we are tremendously fortunate in terms of ministry in our diocese – and now is not the time to be grumbling. The vast majority of our parishes have clergy. We have an increasing pool of committed, talented Non-stipendiary Clergy. We have Diocesan Readers and Parish Readers who are very much at ease with the people among whom they work and with the work which they are doing. And, unique in the Church of Ireland, we have Diocesan Pastoral Assistants who have made a tremendous impact and contribution across the diocese in less than a year. All of this should encourage us to be in good heart and discourage us from listening too readily to the prophets of doom on every occasion.

I wish to single out one Diocesan Reader in particular, Mr Robert Fyffe, who has served for more that thirty-three years in this capacity in Fivemiletown Parish and across the diocese. Robert is known to us all for his personal faith in God; for his commitment to the ways of the Church of Ireland; and for his consistency and care of others. His effective involvement in the life of the community was recognized in New Year Honours as has also been that of Captain Robert Lowry, also of Fivemiletown. As Mr Robert Fyffe has decided to retire, we accept his decision reluctantly and wish that he be assured he will always be welcome at diocesan events.

To our Synod today we have pleasure in welcoming The Reverend Ian Carton of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland from First Monaghan; The Reverend Joseph McGuinness of the Roman Catholic Church from Enniskillen and The Reverend Daphne Twinem of the Methodist Church from Fivemiletown as Official Guests. I trust that Members of Synod will join me in welcoming you and we look forward to what you say to us later.

Throughout the year we have been blessed by a very effective Diocesan Office, a very efficient and pleasant group of people in Glenn Moore, Ruth McKane and Kellie Beacom. All three of them instinctively go out of their way to help any who approach them. So good are they at what they do that sometimes I wonder if we make too many demands on their willingness to be of assistance to us. Kellie who managed MACARTAN 1500 part 1 has moved to work in a project closely associated with the lives of young people in Enniskillen and, although we hope to see her with us from time to time, we wish her well in the new sphere of work. The enhancement of the profile of Clogher Diocese among people of all shades of opinion and religious persuasion we owe to MACARTAN 1500 and I wish to pay tribute to all concerned. This project has opened our eyes to other people. It has also enabled us to facilitate discussion on things which really do matter to people and to open up debate and to show the non-ecclesiastical world that we are serious about doing business with it.

I began with what may seem to have been a few jottings culled from Holy Scripture in the form of no more than five words: … full of grace and truth … Those five words, however, come from that part of St John’s Gospel of which we never tire, the opening chapter. There St John makes the essential link between the Word of God and creation itself and in so doing ties together in that life-giving way the Word of God as person and the Word of God as Scriptural witness to the definitive divine revelation. This, ladies and gentlemen Members if Synod, is what it is to be an Evangelical: to carry in one’s own person, by one’s own life, the Word of God in the cross of Christ and through the pages of Holy Scripture. The urgency lies with us, in our day, with our neighbour, to run with the responsibility which is ours as those who have seen …his glory …to carry on and to carry through the mission of the Father’s only Son, full of grace and truth. (St John 1.14)

The spirit of Clogher remains well encapsulated in the Collect for St Macartan’s Day: building and strengthening of the church, Gospel proclamation and leadership, reconciliation and peace in society in our time. To this we are called again in 2007:
Heavenly Father, we thank you for Macartan, faithful companion of St Patrick, and builder of your church in Clogher: Build up your church through those whom you call to leadership in this generation and strengthen your church to proclaim the gospel of reconciliation and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord.

+Michael Clogher: 04.x.2007