Bishop's Farewell Sermon
Sunday April 10th 2011
Service of Evening Prayer, St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen
Readings: Isaiah 35; 1 John 3.1-3; St Matthew 20.17-34
We are here this evening in St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen to
express our trust in God and to look eagerly to the future which God has
in store for all his people. We think particularly of the people and the
clergy of Clogher Diocese and of all members of the community to whom we
belong. That community gives us our lifeblood and our energy. The diocese
of Clogher, encompassing as it does almost all of two counties and parts
of five more, is uniquely placed in contemporary Ireland to live out the
really important conviction that what unites is more important than what
divides. Traditions are the focal point of identity. Traditions shape us
more as who we are yet to be, as the First Epistle of John reminds us, even
than who we have already become. Traditions, therefore, must not get stuck!
Traditions must always take us into a future which we have not been able
to discover on our own. And so, traditions are powerful and precious, they
are forceful and freshly lived in each and every generation. And something
else, in the diocese of Clogher we have the Border running like a river through
us, challenging us not to be hemmed in or boxed out by straight lines, with
their all-too-tidy definition of who we are and of who other people are -
and, therefore, of who we can-not be and who they can-not be. Borders need
not bring exclusion. They can heighten definition without dismantling belonging.
They can and ought to be thresholds of experience – places and patterns
of living in which we can march together rather than walk apart. To turn
your back on borderlands and on opportunities and experiences which they
provide would not be the best use of the possibilities which life in all
its fullness offers us – and will continue to offer us into the future.
Clogher is and always has had pivotal opportunities for good in such transformation,
even if the decisions which affect us most nearly are often made elsewhere
and on our behalf. We need urgently to seize these opportunities.
It has been my pleasure to spend the last nine years in Clogher Diocese,
together with my family – my wife Inez and our daughter Camilla – and
we have thoroughly enjoyed this time, this place and the people of this diocese.
When we arrived in March 2002, we were welcomed with open arms and that welcome
has not only been sustained but has grown in every year since then. We arrived
at a time when The Peace in Northern Ireland was something to which people
were just getting accustomed and acclimatized. This was entirely understandable
because the experience of everyone in this part of Ireland was of relentless
and sporadic Troubles, not only over thirty years but for virtually every
decade of the twentieth century, so complex and yet so predictable is Irish
history. To see the cycle broken and to trust to such breaking was and remains
a great time to have been here, a time when, in the idiom of the prophet
Isaiah, chapter 35.1: The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the
desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus it shall blossom abundantly,
and rejoice with joy and singing. We associate these words of Isaiah with
the Season of Advent, yet we do well to apply them to this Season of Lent.
Lent now reaches its climax in Passion Sunday and Palm Sunday when with Jesus
Christ we enter Jerusalem in humility and in glory. We have all together
seen here in Northern Ireland the return of the sort of normality which others
elsewhere might consider a little bit boring. For us it was and remains exciting.
The presence of peace is something much stronger than the absence of fear.
And this makes all the more tragic the recent death of Ronan Kerr, in neighbouring
Omagh, a man whose daily work brought him to within a few hundred yards of
this cathedral church. The presence of peace is the flowering of hope, in
the spirit of Isaiah chapter 35 – and that puts us in a quite different
place. This is the transformation which we have witnessed and, as a family,
we have been privileged to enjoy throughout our time here and across the
many months which have been packed with action, good fun and a gentle way
of living here in Clogher Diocese. The death of Ronan Kerr only last weekend,
nonetheless, shows us that compassion must always be to the fore in situations
of human devastation and calculated killing. It shows us also, as we continue
to extend our sympathy to his mother and all members of his family, that
the people of Northern Ireland will not stand for a return to the climate
of fear and of wilful destruction of human life.
The presence of peace and the flowering of hope have combined to make possible
a number of activities which before this time would have been impossible
and indeed barely imaginable. Even to review the things which are now happening
as a matter of course in the life of the diocese is quite breathtaking. The
cross-community co-operation, along with the religious co-operation, which
is now expected, rather than simply tolerated, in town after town and parish
after parish witnesses to a sea-change in behaviour as well as in thinking.
The seizing of Whitsunday, the Day of Pentecost, as a time to express Christian
Unity has opened up for all of us the freedom of expression of who we are
in Christ. It is there already in the Scriptures, of course, and yet we are
the only diocese, as far as I can see, to do this purposeful gathering under
the Spirit of God on that particular day. From the outset, there was no question
that it would be anything other than ecumenical and in the open. It was clear
from the start that everyone would be welcome and there was never any doubt
that so much of the real business would happen at the hospitality which has
always followed. And it never yet has rained!
The Macartan 1500 Celebrations likewise enabled all members of the Christian
traditions to travel together along a new highway which was already there
but which had, perhaps, never quite officially been declared open. Through
taking head-on a Lecture Series on Christianity and Conflict as part of those
Celebrations, we were able to express together an aspect of our shared past
and travel through it into a new future together. We did this through setting
it in the wider contexts of a number of world events, giving us a bigger
perspective - the Spanish Civil War and the Christian-Muslim Riots in Kaduna,
Nigeria as well as our own Troubles through the skilfulness of David Bolton,
a person of international renown. We were invited to experience the hospitality
of both Monaghan County Council and Fermanagh District Council, and for that
civic generosity and hospitality to us and to our guests from abroad we remain
most grateful. The Fermanagh Churches’ Forum, when in its infancy,
came to see me in Fivemiletown and asked me to become its chairperson. I
declined and I knew that those same people were disappointed. However, I
explained why I had refused. I said: If you yourselves take charge and control,
then you will flourish – and of that I was and remain completely convinced.
And now, every year and across town after town in Country Fermanagh, there
is a walk of witness around all of the churches and everyone enjoys it thoroughly.
These are but some of the ways in which the people of Clogher Diocese, while
remaining steadfast in their witness and proud of their identity, have shown
a generosity and a confidence in themselves and in their tradition. They
have done so by a willingness to embrace others hospitably and publicly.
It has paid tremendous dividends and we are the richer for it all. And none
of it would have been possible were it not for my firm friend Bishop Joe
Duffy and for his successor Bishop Liam McDaid.
The daily life and work of people is very much where both their strengths
and their needs lie. Throughout these nine years in the diocese of Clogher,
I have always marvelled at the capacity of people to dig deep into their
resilience of spirit, into their strength of character and into their sheer
determination to make the world a better place for others to be happy and
to enjoy. I have also marvelled at the capacity of individuals to transcend
tragedy and smile in the face of sorrow and sadness. Countless individuals
have pointed the way forward for us and many of us have taken the lead and
followed the initiative. This is the spirit of Enniskillen, a place which
has risen from the ashes of community heartbreak as a result of the Enniskillen
Bomb in particular, to model restraint, tolerance and positivity to the whole
world. This is no mean achievement. This is no insignificant feat. It is,
first and foremost, testimony to the people of Enniskillen that we are where
we are today at the civic and the community level. I feel too that this sense
of confidence has spread out into the rest of Fermanagh and further afield.
There is still work to be done and yet the ground which people have covered
is noteworthy, laudable and exemplary. It has already changed the ground
under our feet.
Looking into the future which we all share and which awaits us all, I wish
to suggest to you a few pointers, as I see them. The first is that the world
which, in the language of St John’s Gospel and the Epistles of John,
we have conditioned ourselves as religious people to fear, even though in
fact most of us are actually rather fond of the world and what it has to
offer, is little interested and even less impressed by a divided Christian
witness. Within the churches, we spend a lot of time in polishing up our
distinctions and in refining our separations. But people who are already
disengaged from the churches simply have no real interest in what we are
on about. You might say that this is their loss - I would have to challenge
that. Mission - a great banner headline in the vocabulary of every church – mission
cannot start where the church is. Mission has to start where God is and where
people are. Mission is not about refilling empty church buildings but it
is about letting the voice of God speak through the lives of people, wherever
they are and whoever they are, to them and to other people in Godly ways.
There is not yet enough of this in our understanding of God and the church.
Secondly, we cannot for ever avoid dialogue with people of Faiths other
than our own – not as a civic thing, not as a race-relations thing,
but as a theological and a religious thing. The biological world is a place
where difference and diversity are what give life and sustain life through
development and change. Somehow, in churches we have sold ourselves the myth
which, in my humble opinion God would be the first to explode, that the avoidance
and the prevention of change are in and of themselves an achievement, something
noteworthy and to be applauded. And yet, lived life is different – very
different. Not only in Ireland but everywhere in the world where Christians
live, they have to live alongside people of Faiths other than their own,
in uneasy and twitchy situations – and often mighty dangerous. But
life forces them to live together.
My third pointer for you to consider is that we do not give sufficient space
and responsibility to our young people. I fully realize that, for many of
us, there is a sense that we cannot quite let ourselves go and give free
rein to those who do not have experience such as we have. However, many young
people have an experience which we, older people, do not have. They have
life-skills which will now pass so many of the rest of us by. They have a
principled approach to fairness and difference which again will elude many
of us, since we are conditioned by experiences which are themselves very
different. The danger is that their voice will be lost. We need the voices
of both of us, but the older need to encourage the younger. This is not by
any means confined to church life. At a time when we face Elections, we know
well that young people are increasingly disengaged from the political process
and many older people do not set them a convincing example of anything other
than cynicism. We need to be careful – a disengaged generation rapidly
becomes a disenfranchised generation. This is a worrying trend. Young people
carry with them an enthusiasm and an energy which bring a commitment to tolerance
and respect of others along with an urgent sense of the need to listen and
contribute. All of this we need to bring right to the fore in our societies
and in our churches, if we are to make a contribution in each and every generation
to life as it is living around us.
Maybe you are wondering what we will miss about Clogher Diocese. My answer
is that we will miss a great deal. The first is the people - who are people
whom we have come to know and enjoy, people who talk straight and have every
intention to be helpful in doing so. The second is the landscape – which
is spectacular and yet entirely unpretentious. Those who have come to see
us and stay with us are completely taken with what we call simply: the countryside.
All of us take it for granted because it is part of who we are. Yet when
people see it for the first time, it makes an instant impression which lasts.
The third is the hospitality – wherever you go in Clogher Diocese,
there is not only a welcome but hospitality to follow. All of these we will
miss, along with simply meeting people in the street and talking to them,
meeting them again at the Clogher Valley or the Enniskillen or the Tydavnet
Show and catching up. This easy companionship and open friendliness is something
which all three of us will miss greatly.
The invitation to go to Dublin and Glendalough came out of the blue on a
Wednesday afternoon at 4.10pm on February 2nd. My attention was on something
totally different. The way in which things work in the Church of Ireland
is that you do not in fact know that you are being considered for a new position
while you are actually being considered. When I was informed that the Electoral
College for Dublin and Glendalough Dioceses wanted me to be the next archbishop
of Dublin and Glendalough, it was genuinely news to me. As the weeks since
then have turned into months, I have come to realize the responsibility which
is being asked of me. I have come to sketch, and only to sketch, the range
of tasks which lies ahead of me. I have come also to a strong sense that
it would not be possible to contemplate this work were it not for the experience
given me in this diocese by all with whom I have come in contact. I could
not claim to have done an excellent job. I have, however, tried to do as
full and comprehensive a job as I could. To those whom I have disappointed
or offended, I offer genuine apology. To those whom I have helped in any
way, I say only that you have helped me much more than you realize and much
more than I have helped you. To those whose generosity and affection I have
experienced I say: Thank you again and again. To have the glorious opportunity
to be part of the lives of Schools which have been here since the sixteenth
and the seventeenth century; to share in the life of much younger educational
foundations; to share the hopes of young people offering themselves for Confirmation
and Ordination; to have a role of engagement with international organizations
such as Mothers’ Union, the Girls’ Friendly Society and many
others, as they live locally with lots of excitement and total commitment;
to see community organizations flourish South and North – this is a
glorious way to spend your time and to live life to the full. This has been
Clogher Diocese in parish, in town and village and in people who still have
time for other people.
At this time of year, we are on the verge of the Passion of our Lord. The
Gospel Reading tells us of the vivid explanation of what lies before him
as given by Jesus to the disciples. It is not something which is over-developed,
it just seems to hang there. But in a real sense it doesn’t just hang
there. Those who are privileged, those who have most immediate access to
Jesus through friendship and familiarity, begin to look to their self-interest
as the death of Jesus comes home to them between the eyes. It is two blind
men sitting at the roadside on the outskirts of Jericho who uniquely hail
him Son of David and plead for mercy. They set in train the unstoppable.
When he asks them what they want, their need is so real that they simply
say: Sir, open our eyes. Having the courage to ask for what you want – without
embarrassment – this is the strongest message of hope for ourselves
and hope in the future which Passion Sunday gives us – whether we are
those who remain or those now about to depart. May God give you protection,
joy and peace.
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.