Synod address 2009
Address at the Clogher Diocesan Synod held in Drumkeeran Parish Hall by the Right Reverend Dr Michael Jackson.

Thursday 24th September 2009



Since we met last year as The Synod of Aghavea, we have lived with the impact of the Report: Whatever you say, say nothing …written by David Gardiner and commissioned by the Church of Ireland Hard Gospel Project through the Reverend Earl Storey. In his presentation on that occasion last year, David drew our attention to something vital in the life of the church today, namely the recognition that popular culture itself can express truths of genuine religious impact. Desperate Housewives, East Enders, Michael Jackson lyrics may not be the places to which Church of Ireland people conventionally go for theological sustenance. But with no more than one in five people, as a generous estimate, now attending church on an averaged regular basis across the year, I cannot but ask myself: Where do people go for spiritual sustenance and growth? The answer of the overwhelming majority seems to be: Nowhere in particular! Popular culture, too often deemed to be beneath the dignity of church people, is now the first port of call for the majority of our population for the presentation and exploration of issues and values. We continue to dismiss it and its impact to our peril.

3000 copies of: Whatever you say, say nothing …were printed. All were quickly snapped up both within the diocese and well beyond. Many of the Rural Deaneries have discussed it; many of the parishes have worked through it; many individuals will have mulled over it of an evening at home. It will have brought to the surface a number of competing emotions and varied reactions, but I hope that at every point those who contributed to it will be recognized for the honesty of what they said. For my own part, I was invited by Bishop Duffy to discuss the Report with all the Roman Catholic clergy of the diocese. Every one of these explorations and encounters will have brought with them insights into old problems and difficulties. Inevitably, discussion will have ranged between seeing no problem in maintaining the status quo ante and seeing the impossibility of living emotionally in the past when in fact all of us enjoy the freedoms and opportunities of the present. One of the other observations which I have to make is that much of the reaction to the Report boils down to whatever particular expectations each of us brings to bear on the church in general and on the Church of Ireland in particular.

This Report holds within its compass a broad range of views – and this too is to be commended, whether you agree with any of them or not. It is surely a testimony to the resilience and generosity of spirit within and across the Church of Ireland that we continue actively to engage not only with one another but freely and openly with those who differ from us. To turn difference into division has not been our way, nor indeed has enforced uniformity through dogmatic intimidation been our route. Freedom to interpret has been and must remain the catch-cry of Anglicanism and of its way of living. Room for others not only broadens the scope of experience for everyone else but opens up more room for ourselves.

If I might stay with: Whatever you say, say nothing …for a little longer, it is easy enough to see how any of us might get into such a frame of mind. It is harder to see how we might get out of it. Deep within the Church of Ireland there is a decent instinct to preserve what you already have, in the hope of holding on to it - because there is no guarantee that it will not one day be useful. There is also the sense of duty by which we preserve what we have inherited because, once again, we have a sense that is not ours to dismantle and, even if we feel that it is or might be, there are very quickly many who will tell us that it isn’t. But such cries of conservatism are not a definition of tradition and do not of themselves equip us to live today for tomorrow.

But I also need to change the focus. If we are truly to hear the broad range of voices which permeate this Report – rather than picking out what we happen to like and pretending that the other voices simply are not there – then we need to hear a number of things. Let me start with education: sustained anxiety is expressed in the Report about the educational systems within which we work; hard questions are posed about the relationship between segregation and indoctrination and the finger is pointed at all of us who carry responsibilities in this area. We are asked: Does our multi-layered system of education ‘prepare young people for diversity’ or are young people ‘hampered for later life’ by segregated education? (page 50) This is a truly hard question. Let me also illustrate from society: the question is posed: Have we the will to be the church in the following way: concentrating less on solving or fixing whatever are the immediate issues and more on learning to walk towards rather than away from conflict? (page 57) Both of these, and there are many more, suggest that whether or not we still think that saying nothing is the best course of action in the life of the church and in the ways in which it impacts on issues of importance in the world beyond, a number of people locally thinks that there are areas and issues which need to be voiced and heard.

But maybe the most alarming thing is that in a Report stretching to seventy one pages, the person of God is not explicitly mentioned once. This is a shocking reality which resonates loudly with the statistic which I offered you right at the beginning – one in five people attending church services on a regular basis. And still we cling on to more parish churches than we really need. And still we seek to fill individual incumbencies without any real sense of the need for a broader picture and a living diversity of ministry, ordained and lay, shared with people who have a whole range of interests and abilities outside the church which they feel are not wanted or welcomed within the church. And so there emerges a rather shocking reality – have Border Protestants let themselves become nothing more than a cultural entity? Have Border Protestants for too long taken for granted a cultural definition of themselves, branded as religion, which neither seeks nor finds God at the heart of personal and corporate identity? Coming out of the whole Report: Whatever you say, say nothing …the question which remains with me is this: What are the members of the Church of Ireland in this diocese willing to set to one side in what matters to us most, in order to make room for those with whom we disagree and who disagree with us?

There is, self-evidently, no future in the past but my hope remains that there is a future for the best of the past – named, understood, owned, celebrated, shared with others. There is scope for us to bring our identity into the future. This is part of the work which God invites us to do not least because God invites us to transformation, to be who he is making us to become. This is even more vital than the particular things he asks us to do. Who we have been, who we are, who we are yet to become – these are what make up the identity of an individual and the identity of a community. These are the memories and the possibilities which we carry, with which we seek to deal and which follow us as time moves on. Identity is challenged at all points in contemporary life. However irritating it may be to us, it is part of the world which we inhabit. There are many factors which lie behind this and many of them we are powerless to influence or to change. The pace of life itself gives us reason to explore the relationship between what we are expected to do and what we really need to do. The vast range of global communication and information technology again can tend to bewilder but need not demoralize. The reality of change is as old as the Greek philosopher Heraclitus who is remembered for his sixty-century sound-bite: Everything is in a state of fluidity. As Christian people today – with so many calls on our loyalty and our time – having priorities and principles is a vital component in who we are. Such priorities and principles give shape to our best efforts. We nonetheless live in a world of fluidity so much of which is genuinely exciting.

When I seek inspiration and guidance in the whole question of Christian identity, I draw strength and sustenance from those tremendously powerful words of 1John 3.2: Dear friends, we are now God’s children; what we shall be has not yet been disclosed, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. Twenty-five per cent of British adults regard it as an ‘amazing coincidence’ that Jesus Christ was crucified on Good Friday. Let me explain – they know that there is something significant about Good Friday but they do not make the connection between the day Good Friday and the event of the Crucifixion of Jesus Christ. The First Letter of John is so strong because from the outset it makes explicit the connection between the incarnation, or enfleshment, of Jesus Christ and the eternal life which was with the Father and was made visible to us. (1 John 1:2) But immediately this realization spills over into the essential character of community in the self-understanding of the Christian person. There is no: me without there being an: us and there is no: us without there being a: you. This is a bitter pill for the contemporary generation of clergy and laity for whom there has always been a: me –priority long before what we call The Credit Crunch. The overflowing joy of the First Letter of John has not got to do with: me but with you and with them, the invitation to the sharing of a common life, shared horizontally with one another in Spirit because already shared vertically – if you will allow me to indulge in such spatial crudities – with Father and Son. How far indeed this is from so many aspects of contemporary church life and how alien to the eighty per cent of members of our diocese for whom worship in church is now something alien!

Therefore, I return in a real and tangible sense, obedient to Holy Scripture and its interpretation in the light of God’s self-revelation and in the continuing self-presentation of God in the Holy Spirit, I return to the Report: Whatever you say, say nothing…At its heart it seems to me to be a cry for recognition by a part of the total tradition which seeks, however falteringly, however late in the day, to be reconciled with the whole of the total tradition, wherever that reconciliation may bring either it or the part with whom it is yet to be reconciled. My justification for saying this lies in the following telling phrases from the Report: Protestants tend to sit back and whinge rather than get on with changing and improving things and: People don’t want to hear this but they need to face up to it – they’re too focussed on individual interests and not sufficiently interested in the overall sustainability and prosperity of the Community. If people don’t co-operate and act strategically there won’t be a Protestant community in some areas in 5-10 years and: We shouldn’t blame anyone else, we should take responsibility ourselves for what we didn’t do, could have done, should have done – we have all been complicit in allowing wrong things to happen. The picture is more varied than seemed, perhaps, to be the case at first sight. There clearly is work still to be done by each and by all of us. There is also a sign of hope in that there is a realization that simply blaming others for things for which we ourselves were in part responsible will not take us into any meaningful future. Neither will it enable us to carry forward the memories which we must carry with anything other than a sense of our own utter loneliness. God calls us to particular patterns of life and ways of acting in our time and in our place. We, I firmly hold, are called:
never to forget the people who have suffered and who have lost their lives;
never to diminish the tragedies which we and others have suffered;
always to be generous in understanding and forgiving;
always to be ready to take the risk of reconciliation with those with whom the future, built on truthfulness, lies.
There is no magic formula but again I firmly hold that the combination of identity and involvement together can take us there as we live them both, confidently and generously.

The reason this work is so important is that throughout the life and thought of the Christian tradition, our understanding of God and of ourselves has always required a recognition of the stranger. Both in relation to ourselves and in relation to the God whom we worship, the stranger lies at the heart of our identity. It is this thread of continuity which connects the generous instinct for hospitality of Moses at the Oak of Mamre in the book Genesis with the abject enforced departure of Romanian families from Belfast in June 2009. It is this thread of challenge which many factors and many factions seek to break in a country such as ours, suffering as it does as much from religious indigestion as it does from religious hunger. We are also a country which has yet to make really good use of The Peace of the last ten years politically, socially or religiously. Either cutting ourselves loose or cocooning ourselves from others, sooner rather than later deprives us of identity as well as separating us from a functioning participation in community. It is for this wider set of reasons that, as we agreed at the end of last year’s Diocesan Synod: Whatever you say, say nothing… has to become: Whatever we say, let us do something …

A number of events and issues affecting us locally and more widely afield has taken us into new areas of exploring our identity, however willing or unwilling we are to do so. I name but a few. The continuing impact of the global economic downturn, referred to as The Credit Crunch, is now so pervasive, so complex and so engulfing as to become part of the weave of our total life. Poverty in so many ways has come to meet us and many who never expected to be touched by it have found themselves its slaves. The complexities of contemporary economics; the ways in which what happens in one place really does affect what happens elsewhere with almost instantaneous effect – these things are now not only on our doorsteps but in our kitchens. Suddenly and overnight, we all became economic theorists but every day new implications came to light. The deeper implications of decline will be with us for at least a generation. We were initially told that what was happening bore no comparison or relationship to the Wall Street Crash; yet it is now regarded as a modern version of that event. Those who have spoken of green shoots are scorned for being hopeful in a way which is entirely unrealistic. Many infrastructural projects will not now have a beginning let alone a completion. Rash speculation may indeed have had its day for the present cycle but many people who rejoiced at last to have work close to home, instead of being forced to emigrate, can neither work nor rejoice any more. Those who wish to do something relatively simple, such as save to survive in an increasingly privatized world, do not now know what to do. The insecurity enforced on people by the squeezing of credit margins continues to result in many people looking in the eye and with a certain disbelief decent, established employers who cannot afford to continue to employ them or indeed remain in business. Within the church itself there are, of course, short- and long-term ramifications. And still the parishes resist any consideration of combining forces with neighbouring parishes simply because it will involve amalgamation. And still we ourselves concluded after a thoroughgoing Diocesan Review within the last five years that the status quo ante is unsustainable.

Although mission agencies struggle valiantly, the future is bound to bring with it the sort of restructuring which, when seen in the cold light of day or met in the narrow corridors of real life, means shrinkage. And the outcome of lesser revenues at home would tend to lead to lesser scope for giving abroad. Even as I outline it, this scenario presents to us the mirror opposite of the optimistic canvas of globalization which we have often painted for ourselves: the opportunities, the networking, the new connections, the new people and the bigger numbers. And in light of what I have been saying earlier, many of you will be saying: If things are as bad as he is making out, then we really do have no time for the stranger and all of that. But to my way of thinking, this is entirely the wrong way to go. We as Christian people need to dig deep within the widest possible definition of generosity to meet this crisis, thinking both for ourselves and beyond ourselves. There have been times of crisis before and there will be times of crisis again. One of the very important things that I notice as I talk to people in all sorts of circumstances and situations is that generally they are in good heart. They are knuckling down and getting on with it as best they can. They are offering support and assistance to one another and are mindful of one another’s needs. This bodes well for our solidarity with one another and I applaud people for it.

The report which in many ways took Northern Ireland by storm in the year past was The Report of the Consultative Group on the Past. I simply cannot tell if its authors were able or unable to foresee the reaction and furore caused by the suggestion of a payment of £12,000 per person killed in The Troubles. However, it seems to be the only thing for which it is now remembered. If ever we needed to be reminded of the depth of feeling and sense of loss still experienced throughout Northern Ireland by the legacy of The Troubles – as people continue to experience this legacy – this was it. Tremendous opposition was voiced and not only was there confusion but also a resurgence of deep hurt – instantaneously. Consistently the Church of Ireland has expressed, as indeed we sought to do throughout The Troubles themselves, solidarity with those who suffered and continue to suffer. At the same time – and in many ways a more thankless task, and I speak with a certain degree of understanding as I chair the Committee responding to the process at various points in its unfolding – we have considered it as essential to take the invitation offered in the Report as follows: ‘significant forward movement is required on the part of everyone to enable society to become more defined by its desire for true and lasting reconciliation.’ I draw this to your attention fully aware that reconciliation is a much overused word, but aware also that it contains within it: a new morality for the future. How often in Northern Ireland - to our sadness and to the sadness of countless international partners wishing us nothing but well – how often have we found ourselves facing a brick wall called: the future? Why do we do it? Are we there once again? Is the deadly cycle of inertia and opportunism in any sense re-inventing itself once more? I sincerely hope not.

The most sustained response which we have made concentrates on a number of factors which will at some point need to be addressed. They express firmly the understanding that Christianity is a future-focused religion. Briefly stated, they comprise some of the following. Unselfish acts of goodness ‘across the divide’ achieve more than does crying for new blood. Weighing the scales of justice take us only so far in the quest for grace. Enemies and friends are both entitled to moral understanding, if all are to exercize moral responsibility and contribute in a new moral framework. In the sharing of stories please do not look to offer the best of yourself while at the same time presenting the worst of your partner in dialogue. Remembering and education go together; education will have no bite to it unless those who learn also experience positive change in the society. The Report of the Consultative Group on the Past has displeased many and delighted few. However, it is my opinion that history will yet judge it as an honest, broad-ranging and, of course, controversial contribution to a maturing of generous and challenging thinking particularly at a time when, strangely and with a great degree of disappointment, Northern Ireland finds itself in severe difficulties in dealing with The Peace. Time and again members of the Protestant community have rejected initiatives because they do not see enough of themselves in them; they do not see enshrined in black and white the things that matter most to them. But if The Troubles which still define our identity have taught us nothing other than fear of the future, then they still need to teach us the strength of accommodation which comes out of common suffering.

Education is also an area where questions of identity remain highly charged and impassioned. The sudden guillotining of Free School status and the consequent withdrawal of the SEC grant at the beginning of 2009 hit very hard at an agreement which had, since the foundation of the State, enabled Protestant people in the Republic of Ireland to provide and to experience education in accordance with the Protestant ethos. One fell administrative swoop has cut at the root of this and the devastation of its impact raises serious and on-going questions about respect for Protestant identity as an interwoven component in national identity. Over the past thirty years, almost everything has become a commodity – something you can sell and buy; something the worth of which you assess according to the cash-in value which it will have either immediately or in the longer term. If education was once dismissed as a nursery for indoctrination, it is now being trumpeted as the place where market forces must rule and regulate. This is a particularly attractive argument from privatization in a world of crumbled public finances and at the heart of a philosophy which seeks to tax our way out of recession. My own specific concern and deep affection are for Monaghan Collegiate School, our oldest secondary education foundation dating back to 1570 and George iii as The Clogher Diocesan School. In no sense do I celebrate the life of MCS in a spirit of rank sectarianism or Protestant triumphalism – but I do celebrate it. In no sense do I seek special status for a peculiar corner of Irish society tragically misunderstood as religion itself becomes increasingly devoid of meaning and its intentions for good repeatedly rubbished – but I do seek understanding and respect. Throughout my time in this diocese I have developed a tremendous respect for MCS and have grown to understand more fully what is meant by a Protestant ethos lived by young people in their formative years in secondary school. I have great admiration for the ways in which together all staff and pupils co-operate in a way which is respectful of heritage and principles, faithful to God and neighbour, eager to play its part today and ready for tomorrow. These seem to me to be components essential to understanding ethos. MCS has consistently used the SEC grant to survive – fact. The continuing threat to, and atrophying of, a school such as MCS which has consistently used the SEC grant to provide a broad-ranging education, delivered without any prior application of academic selection criteria, is a matter of utmost seriousness. My appeal to Minister Batt O’Keeffe TD is that there be a recognition that Protestant Secondary Schools such as MCS are not the fat cats of the system; that the provision of denominational education carefully planned and honourably delivered is neither sectarian nor politically incorrect; that the preparation for a life of active and responsible citizenship which is offered in schools such as MCS can and does proudly stand side by side with any other school in the secondary sector in today’s Ireland. It is not our wish either to prop up the past or to live in the past. It is our concern, in fulfilling educational aspirations for the children and young people in our care, to make through them an open-ended contribution to public life and active citizenship. Our capacity to do so has been seriously endangered and needs to be safeguarded.

Once again, secondary education in Northern Ireland has received a number of frustrating setbacks over the year past. Historically, secondary education in County Fermanagh in the Protestant sector has shown an incapacity to agree with itself and this has been far from helpful to our cause. At the same time, in County Fermanagh alone, Lisnaskea High School, celebrating with great joy in this year its fiftieth anniversary, still faces tremendous uncertainty about its future; Devenish College is promised a new build on what remains a green field site; Enniskillen Collegiate has long been promised a new Science Block at least; Portora has also been promised a new build. In terms both of estate and morale, this makes for a very reduced educational experience for all pupils and teachers. Meanwhile, it also seems that the Department of Education and the secondary schools are moving in opposite directions. The danger inherent in this is not simply anxiety and confusion for primary school parents and pupils contemplating the future in their own schools and the future in secondary education for such children, but the wider and deeper anxiety is that once schools start going it alone and once the Department of Education ceases to hear their voices - even if it has quite different ideas – it is all the more problematic for the twain ever again to meet. Already we face on January 1st 2010 – but of course Northern Ireland being Northern Ireland we expect a stay of execution – a new Education and Skills Authority which will sweep to one side the Area Boards which have for many decades sought to maintain with integrity the complex educational system of Northern Ireland. In paying tribute to them and in highlighting the contribution of all who from our own diocese have served on WELB, I must on your behalf convey thanks to those who in Shakespeare’s phrases have ‘done the state some service’ in voluntary capacities throughout that period. But I have a wider caution which I should like to voice: we must be careful, whatever our strength of feeling, to keep open both width of opportunity and expectation of excellence. Let me for a moment, ladies and gentlemen members of Synod, speak from an entirely personal standpoint. In my work from day to day, the perspective from which I see the young people of County Fermanagh is primarily that of confirmation. In those acts of worship, sometimes three on the same Sunday, I see people for whom equality of opportunity is essential, as is the availability of a readily accessible curriculum which embraces the widest range of vocational and academic disciplines excellently in an integrated and fluid educational experience.

One of the interesting developments in the year past has been the number of people who have wanted, as members of the diocese, to go to the Holy Land as pilgrims. This initiative was indeed well under way before Bishop Suheil came to spend Whitsunday 2008 with us but is greatly enhanced by our knowing him and his knowing us. In this regard, I should like to thank the Reverend Glenn West, the Reverend David Skuce and the Reverend Mark Watson and the staff of the Diocesan Office for their helpfulness. Not only did those who went on pilgrimage find it a transformative experience personally, but a number of other things have flowed from this in the best evangelical tradition. Theology and geography were brought together in the person of Jesus. A number of really practical mission initiatives have come out of this. When confronted by the unspeakable human tragedy in Gaza, which occurred between the two pilgrimages, we were able to mobilize practical support from the diocese and get it immediately through our contact with Bishop Suheil directly to those in pain and need. Further, by initiatives in parishes, particularly Trory and Killadeas and through Portora Royal School and Mr Brendan Bannon in the Buttermarket in Enniskillen, we have been able to offer support to a wider educational need in the Holy Land in the form of support for a Diocesan School in Jordan. Our biggest initiative now is that of providing significant support for St Luke’s Hospital, Nablus through the Holy Land Medical Relief Fund. Many of you are beginning to hear more of the initiatives which will be rolled out between now and Christmas in this cause – and I know you will support them well. A tiny band of people has driven and sustained these initiatives and I am really proud of the fact that they have sought no recognition nor have they, nor any of the contributors, been daunted in generosity at a time of recession. Charity begins at home but there is no predicting how far it will travel under God. Also I should like to thank the Reverend Noel Regan and the Jacaranda Farm Committee for their work. Not only has Clogher Diocese contributed in Northern Nigeria to agriculture, irrigation and a building programme, but Bishop Josiah and his wife, Comfort, shared with those of us who met them on a visit to Clogher in June 2009 the deep recognition that he and his people have of friends within the Anglican Communion and of their generosity at a time when the Communion is characterized as staggering on in unrest and alienation.


I should like first to express the thanks of the whole Diocese to Mr Harold Stewart who for more than thirty years has represented the laity of Clogher as a Member of Standing Committee. He has done this with great regularity and faithfulness and, throughout that time, has been a thoroughly reliable presence in Church House, Dublin. Mr Walter Pringle and Mr Glenn Moore are now our lay members of Standing Committee. The Reverend Bryan Kerr continues in membership and Canon Stewart replaces Canon Courtney who has retired. As I say, Canon Courtney has retired as incumbent of Enniskillen and precentor of Clogher. Throughout his time in Enniskillen, he has served on many Committees and combined his work in Enniskillen Parish with the Church of Ireland chaplaincy of the Erne Hospital. We wish him and Valerie well in retirement in Carrickfergus. Dean Thompson has retired as incumbent of the Clogher Group of Parishes and dean of Clogher. He also combined his work in that Group with service on many Committees in the diocese. We wish him well in his retirement in Irvinestown. The Reverend Alan Capper was instituted early in 2009 in Lisnaskea Parish, moving from Lack (Colaghty). Miss Naomi Quinn, Diocesan Reader, who served in the Ematris Group of Parishes under the supervision of the Reverend Robert Kingston, has entered residential training for the ordained ministry as has also Mrs Stephanie Woods. Mrs Lorraine Capper continues in training in the Theological Institute, embarking now on her third year. The Reverend Charles Eames was ordained priest in June and continues to work in Magheracross Parish. Mr Simon Genoe, one of our ordinands, was ordained deacon in the Diocese of Connor likewise in June and serves in Lisburn Cathedral. The Revered Helene Steed combines work in the Clones Group of Parishes with being the Rural Dean of Clones. The Reverend Canon William Johnston succeeds Canon Courtney as Precentor of Clogher.

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 the talents of those who generously work Sunday by Sunday. We are also very appreciative of the work of Diocesan Pastoral Assistants – a form of ministry unique to the Diocese of Clogher in the Church of Ireland - who, as lay people, bring a richness of human experience to pastoral ministry in parishes across the diocese. To all of you: Thank you.

To our Synod today we have pleasure in welcoming The Reverend David Cupples of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland from Enniskillen; Monsignor Joseph McGuinness of the Roman Catholic Church from Enniskillen and representatives of the Methodist Church as Official Guests. I trust that Members of Synod will join me in welcoming you all. We look forward to the time which we will have together this evening and the things which you wish to say to us.


Throughout this year, as last, we have been blessed by a very effective Diocesan Office, a very pleasant group of people in Glenn Moore, Ruth McKane and Leslie Stevenson. All three of them have been consistently helpful to all of us and deserve our thanks for everything they have given, often beyond the call of duty. I am sad to have to inform Synod that Leslie has found it necessary to step down from the position of Diocesan Accountant in July of this year. I should like our thanks to go from this Synod to him for work which he did in that role and to wish him all that is best for the future. I wish also to thank Glenn and Ruth for the tremendous work which they have done over summer months in relation to our diocesan finances and in conjunction with Hassard McClements, our Accountants.


I began by saying how pleased we are to gather in Drumkeeran for our Diocesan Synod 2009. Most of my time is spent with people and those people want to see and to be part of a future which provides opportunities for others as well as themselves. So often things are happening and we who spend too much time associated with the inner workings of the church are quite unaware of them. There is a generation of young people who have priorities different from ours. They are impatient with the ways in which they perceive us to be living in the past. They are impatient for an open agenda where their freedom to contribute to a different Ireland today is not hedged about by an anxiety about ‘the other side’ having the same opportunities. They are impatient with what they still see as our preoccupations with minutiae, as many of them do not really want to know about the small print of denomination. And many of them, given half a chance, will leave and not return. They will, of course, take with them so much of value which they have received here but many of them will not be here to make a direct contribution and we will, therefore, not experience it either.

As The Peace in Northern Ireland gives us all an opportunity to rethink our own priorities in a climate freed from much of the fear of the past, we need to go back, among other things, to expressions of hope and nuggets of possibility as contained in, for example, 1 John 3.2: Dear friends, we are now God’s children; what we shall be has not yet been disclosed, but we know that when Christ appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. But the other side of this is that he will see us as we are! And the challenge in this for us is that by our conformation to Christ we are transformed into our best selves in Christ and in community. The Kingdom of God – like a little child, like a mustard seed, like so much else that could be disregarded and unknown in everyday life then as now – breaks in on our world and gives us a foretaste of being as we will become. Identity is wound into belonging and belonging makes community. The call to make community begins in baptism and continues in communion and mission. We are called as Christian adults to rejoice and to delight in who we are and to yearn for the time when Christ’s seeing us will blend with our seeing him. In the meantime, we are called by the same Christ Jesus to put at the service of God’s creation the precious gift which is ours through God’s grace, that of being a child of God.

The spirit of Clogher is well summed up in the little Collect for St Macartan’s Day to which I personally return regularly for sustenance: building and strengthening of the church, Gospel proclamation and leadership, reconciliation and peace in society in our time. These three are at the core of our identity and form the heartbeat of our community. Of us God asks only that we go and do it. I ask you to pause in silence, seated as you are, as I say and pray with you the Collect of St Macartan:
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: 24.ix.2009



Date: 24th September 09