Friday 31 December 2010

A New Year Prayer for January 2011

John Wesley, 1703-1791

During Epiphany we reflect on how God reveals his nature to us. A natural response is to pray that he may reveal himself to others in and through us. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, who remained a priest in the Church of England all his life, encouraged his flock to make this covenant with God to be his in all things. Methodists still use it at Covenant Services, traditionally held at the start of the New Year.

I am no longer my own, but yours.
Put me to what you will, rank me with whom you will;
put me to doing, put me to suffering;
let me be employed for you or laid aside for you,
exalted for you or brought low for you;
let me be full, let me be empty;
let me have all things, let me have nothing;
I freely and wholeheartedly yield all things to your pleasure and disposal.
And now, glorious and blessed God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit,
you are mine, and I am yours.
So be it.
And the covenant now made on earth,
let it be ratified in heaven.

adapted from John Wesley's Covenant Prayer,
as used in the Methodist Covenant Service, 1974

Friday 24 December 2010

Happy Christmas one and all!

Wishing You
A Very Happy and Blessed Christmas

and all the very best for 2011
from Joc & Marty Sanders

I like this Madonna by Albin Egger-Lienz (1868-1926) because of the luminous warmth of the light, and also because the artist was born just outside the lovely town of Lienz in the Austrian East Tyrol, where we stayed last summer. On the first morning we were woken by the sound of marching bands leading Tyrolean sharp-shooters in traditional uniform. They were parading to an open-air Corpus Christi Day mass across the main square from our hotel. Dressing quickly, I joined the worshippers in the street and did my best to follow it in German - a marvellous experience!

Thursday 9 December 2010

150th Anniversary Celebration of St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Nenagh

The Nenagh Union of parishes extend a very hearty invitation to all, to join with us in St Mary’s Church, Church Rd., Nenagh, on Sunday 19th December at 3 pm, for an Advent Eucharist to celebrate the 150th Anniversary of St Mary’s Church of Ireland, at which Archbishop of Armagh Alan Harper will preach and Bishop of Limerick & Killaloe Trevor Williams will preside. Refreshments will be served afterwards.

Archbishop of Armagh Alan Harper

Readers may be interested in the following historical details.

The vision to build the present St Mary’s came from the then Rector, Rev. James Hill Poe. It replaced a church of the same name which was unfit for purpose in Kenyon St, of which only the tower remains. The first planning meeting was held on May 6th 1855, and the new church was finally consecrated on 19th December 1860 – 150 years to the day before this year’s celebration.

The site was donated by Carroll Watson, Attorney, of Brookwatson. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners were informed that the parish would contribute £200 towards the cost, but replied that this was not enough. After various delays, plans were received, but they did not include a spire or gallery. Further negotiation was needed before permission was given for them.

The Rev. James Hill Poe died in 1859, without seeing his plans fulfilled. Work finally began in September of that year. The church was designed in the Gothic style by Joseph Wellard, one of the Irish pupils of Edward Pugin, and the pictures show that his design was followed closely. The plans included a neat tower surmounted by a sword-like spire.

Original architect's drawing of St Mary's

The building-contractor was Mr Hunter of Bandon, but of course many local craftsmen were employed. It took over a year to complete the task.

A bell cast in the Sheffield foundry of Nalor & Vickers, presented by John Bennett, Churchwarden, was installed in the tower. The organ, built by Telford of Dublin, was especially designed to expose to view a pretty stained-glass rose window in the gable end.

Opening Ceremony, 1860
St. Mary's Church was consecrated and opened for worship on Wednesday, 19th December 1860, as recorded in the Nenagh Guardian of that day. The Bishop of Killaloe, Lord Riversdale, was present "though somewhat feeble of limb" and the congregation numbered about 700. The choir sang an anthem composed for the occasion by the newly appointed organist, Robert Atkinson, while the preacher was Archdeacon Roe, rector of Roscrea and one of the leading orators of the time.

150 Years of History
Since its erection, the church has undergone no structural change and the Nenagh Guardian’s description of 1860 still stands:
The building... consists of nave, aisle and chancel. A light gallery spans the West-end… The chancel is lighted by three lofty lancet opes (windows)… The flooring… laid with encaustic tiling pavement of very neat pattern.

The church has since witnessed the worship of generations of parishioners, as well as their baptisms, marriages and funerals. They have lovingly maintained it and beautified it with many memorial gifts. The church was entirely re-roofed in 2003-5 at a cost of €230,000, and this year it has been completely redecorated as part of the anniversary celebrations.

Do come to see all that has been achieved by the grace of God!

Thursday 2 December 2010

December prayer - A child's prayer at Christmas

Singing “Vom Himmel Hoch” from a church tower at Christmas
by Ludwig Richter
Luther was no puritan – he loved music, he loved children, and he had a deep feeling for the festival of Christmas. What better, then, than this prayer he wrote as a carol for his own children, to pray together as we look forward expectantly through Advent for the birth of Jesus, our incarnate Lord, on Christmas day.

Ah, dearest Jesus, holy Child,
Make thee a bed, soft, undefiled,
Within my heart, that it may be
A quiet chamber kept for Thee.

My heart for very joy doth leap,
My lips no more can silence keep,
I too must sing, with joyful tongue,
That sweetest ancient cradle-song,

Glory to God in highest heaven,
Who unto man His Son hath given
While angels sing with pious mirth.
A glad new year to all the earth!

Martin Luther, 1483-1546
The last 3 verses of the carol
“Vom Himmel hoch da komm ich her”
which he wrote in 1531 for his children.
Translated by Catherine Winkworth, 1855

Tuesday 30 November 2010

‘Events, dear boy, events!’

This article appeared in the 'View from the Pew' column in the December 2010 / January 2011 edition of Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe.

… as Harold Macmillan is reputed to have said when asked ‘What do you fear most in politics?’

What an extraordinary week it has been for our country!
The dogs in the street knew ten days ago that talks had begun at official level that would lead inevitably to Ireland seeking a loan from the European Financial Stability Fund and the IMF. It was well signalled internationally by blogging economists (see the excellent blog). But government ministers just kept on denying it. Either they were lying, or officials had simply bypassed them - charitably assuming the latter, clearly power had already slipped from their fingers.

Only after EU finance ministers met did the government admit that ‘technical discussions’ were taking place, but they still persisted in spreading confusion about the likely outcome. It finally fell to Central Bank Chairman Patrick Holohan to explain clearly what was happening. Three days later, on a Sunday, the Government announced that it had applied for a multi-billion euro loan facility. We will have to wait a little longer to know what the terms will be.

As I write, on Monday 22nd November, the government is visibly crumbling. The Taoiseach announced he would call a general election in the New Year, once the budget and the four year plan have been passed, after the Greens said they would pull out in January. But it is far from clear the government can last so long – we may well have an Advent general election. The pace of events is accelerating

The people have been badly served by successive Fianna Fáil led Governments, I feel.
Whatever the merits of the bank guarantee and NAMA, it is clear that the root of our financial problems is the mountain of debt taken on in the Celtic Tiger years. And we were landed with the debt by the golden circle of grasping bankers, megalomaniac developers and venal politicians, symbolised by the Fianna Fáil tent at Galway races. Brian Cowen encouraged the worst excesses when he was Minister of Finance. He is now Taoiseach. Fianna Fáil remains in office. It is almost past belief.

Since the beginning of the year the government must have seen the writing on the wall, as their popularity fell and their Dáil majority shrank. It would have been honourable and in the national interest if they had called a general election in the summer or autumn. A new government with a fresh mandate for five years could then have taken the difficult budget decisions now required, and negotiated the package of assistance we need with our European partners. Instead we have political instability coinciding with a massive financial crisis, which threatens the future not just of Ireland but of the Euro and the EU. By clinging to power this government have made serious problems much worse.

Why were elections not called earlier? Is it possible they have something more to hide? I pray not – but I recall that the Greek financial crisis was triggered by an incoming government discovering that the outgoing government had cooked the books and lied about it.

As we wait for the democratic process to take its course, we depend on the kindness of strangers.
Let us pray for the Irish and international negotiators seeking to resolve the present financial difficulties, that their decisions may be for the good of all. Let us pray for our country, that our people may recover the confidence required for economic recovery, and begin the task of creating a just and sustainable society for the future. And let us pray for all those who are impoverished by this great recession, that their lives may be made easier by the support of those less badly afflicted.

O Lord, guide and defend our rulers – and grant our government wisdom.

Sunday 7 November 2010

Journeying through the wilderness

This article appeared in the 'View from the Pew' column in the November 2010 edition of Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe.

We are entering a wilderness
We feel a bit like the Children of Israel, I think, as Moses led them from Egypt into the Sinai desert, to wander for forty years before reaching the Promised Land.

The economy has crashed; the public finances are in crisis. In successive budgets we have already suffered painful cuts to jobs, pay and services, as well as higher taxes. And now we are told we face four more years of increasing pain to bring the public finances back into balance. We long for the Celtic Tiger boom days, as the Israelites longed for the fleshpots of Egypt.

We won’t return anytime soon, I believe.
Even if we reduce the deficit to 3% by 2014, to which all the major political parties are committed; even if we make the budget adjustment of €15 billion economists say is necessary. The problems we face are deeper than the perennial instability of capital markets.

It is dawning on us – too slowly - that our modern consumer lifestyle is unsustainable. It cannot continue. To feed it humans are over-exploiting the Earth’s resources of fossil energy, minerals, water and fertile land. This damages God’s planet which nurtures us. Humans will suffer with the rest of creation, unless we change. This lifestyle is also unjust. Everyone cannot enjoy high consumption in a finite world. If the rich take the lions’ share, the poor are deprived of their aspirations.

We cannot go back, we can only go forward. Our journey through the wilderness will likely last decades.

How did we get here?
The root cause is surely old fashioned greed, a sin to which humans have always been liable – greed for money, for possessions, for a lifestyle richer than our neighbours. We know we must repent and change our ways, but we do not yet see clearly what and how, so we are anxious, frightened. It is as if God is humbling and testing us, as he did the Israelites, while we journey through our own wilderness.

But as Christians we should take heart from their experience, and go forward confidently. God will look after us on our journey. He will make ‘water flow from flint rock’ and feed us ‘with manna that our ancestors did not know’ (Deut 8:15-16). He will continue to bless us with enough to meet our needs, if not our unreasonable wants. And God will eventually lead us into our Promised Land. With his help we can and will build a society which is sustainable and just, more like the kingdom of heaven than the one we know today, even if like Moses we will not enter it ourselves.

Budget 2011 will be tough
We should not complain about a tough budget. Our public finances must be balanced as soon as is reasonable, because it would be unjust to pass an undue burden of debt onto our children. But Christians must judge Budget 2011 by God’s standards – its justice - not our own selfish interests.

The balance between cuts and taxes will be critical. The least well off must be protected. Those with good incomes and large assets must pay more tax. The rich should rejoice to be able to pay a lot, but that will not be enough. Even families with quite modest incomes must accept paying a little more with as much grace as they can muster.

For me, as in previous years, the acid test will be whether the overseas aid budget is maintained, because that supports the very poorest of the poor.

Thursday 4 November 2010

November Prayer - For Holy Rest

On the 1st of November we remembered all the faithful departed, including my mother, who died that day 10 years ago. Through the month the days grow short as we move into the darkness of winter. This prayer captures our longing for holy rest and God’s peace at the end. It is by Cardinal Newman, ordained a priest in the Church of England, a convert to Rome, who was recently beatified. In this parish we shall say it together each Sunday during November, and you might like to learn it by heart to use in your private prayers.

O Lord,
support us all the day long
until the shades lengthen,
and the evening comes,
and the busy world is hushed,
the fever of life is over,
and our work is done.
Then, Lord, in your mercy
grant us safe lodging,
a holy rest, and peace at the last;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

John Henry Newman, 1801-90
This adapted version is included in
The Book of Common Prayer, p494

Sunday 10 October 2010

A View from the Pew – Finding traces of Jan Hus in Prague

Published in Newslink, the Diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe in October 2010
Jan Hus monument, Old Town Square, Prague

Jan Hus, early church reformer
This summer I visited Prague on holiday with my wife by rail – Eurostar from London, a few nights in Cologne, the overnight sleeper to Prague, on to Vienna, then Bratislava, and back home. Very civilised, a wonderful adventure - and we saved carbon emissions by not flying!

I had vaguely heard of a church reformer called Jan Hus, but in Prague I found traces of him around every corner – there is a gigantic statue of him in Old Town Square, erected during the Czech national revival in 1915 – so I decided to learn a bit more about him.

Jan Hus was a Bohemian priest and theologian at Charles University in Prague. He was influenced by John Wycliffe, the 14th Century English reformer who first translated the Bible into English. Like Wycliffe, he taught that the true church consists of all redeemed Christians; that Christ, not the Pope, is its head; and that the Bible alone provides the laws which should govern church life. He railed against the abuses of the medieval church, with its payments for indulgences, masses etc. Caught up in the maelstrom of church and international politics, Hus was convicted of heresy and burned at the stake in 1415 at the Council of Constance, where Wycliffe also was posthumously condemned.

After the death of Hus, his followers rose up in revolt. After a long and bloody crusade to suppress them, a peace treaty was signed in 1436 which permitted them to have their own independent Hussite Catholic Church, in which priests and bishops held no worldly possessions and laity were permitted to receive communion in both kinds. This lasted until 1620, when the Roman Catholic Hapsburgs finally suppressed it, forcing Hussites to go underground or leave Hapsburg territory. One group found refuge in Saxony, and as the Moravian Brethren inspired John Wesley.

The spirit of Jan Hus lives on
While in Prague, I also went to a chamber concert in beautiful baroque St Nicholas’ Church. To my surprise, I discovered that this now belongs to the Czechoslovak Hussite Church, which I had never heard of before. When I enquired further, I learned their story.

A modernizing movement of Czech Catholic priests asked the Vatican, after the foundation of the Czechoslovak state in 1918, to accept reforms, including the use of Czech in the liturgy and voluntary clerical celibacy. This was refused. But at Christmas 1919 masses were said in Czech in many churches anyway, and the next year the breakaway church was formed. It grew rapidly in the nationalist fervour of the times, and with around 180,000 members in 300 parishes and 6 dioceses it remains one of the largest Czech denominations today.

They describe themselves as ‘Christians who strive to combine contemporary moral striving and scientific knowledge with the Spirit of Christ as preserved in Scripture and the tradition of the Early Church, and in the reform movements of the Bohemian Reformation and subsequent reformation efforts.’ Like us in the Church of Ireland, they claim both Catholic and Protestant traditions, they combine Synodical with Episcopal governance, they ordain women, and are members of the World Council of Churches.

Wednesday 6 October 2010

Creation Flourishing on St Francis' Day

This report appeared in the Nenagh Guardian for 16 October 2010
Sharing refreshments after Creation Flourishing (photo Patrick Rowley-Brooke)

Creation Flourishing – a time for celebration and care
Monday 4th October was the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, who had a very special love for all God’s creation. So what better day could there be for a large congregation of nearly100 people from different churches and Christian groups in and around Nenagh to come together at 7.30 pm in St Mary’s Church of Ireland to celebrate the flourishing of God’s creation and to reflect on our duty to care for it.

The liturgy was developed by a team from Nenagh Churches Together, Eilish Cummins served as Master of Ceremonies, and the organ was played by Sylvia Crawford.

Gathering & Welcome
The liturgy began with everyone singing that great hymn How Great Thou Art, led by a joint choir from the CofI and Catholic parishes, as local church leaders Rev Marie Rowley Brooke (Church of Ireland), Fr Anthony McMahon (Catholic), Rev Brian Griffin (Methodist) and Philip O’Regan (Living Water, non-denominational prayer group) processed to their places in the front. Rev Marie Rowley-Brooke gave an address of welcome, commending the Nenagh Churches Together initiative.

God’s creation is so amazing in the diversity of life it supports, in its complex and intricate inter-relationships, in its beauty. Our first response to it could only be wonder.

Children from the four Nenagh primary schools – the Gaelscoil, CBS, St Mary’s Convent and St Mary’s Church of Ireland – began by reading The Story of Creation, adapted from Genesis. Cantor Patrick Rowley-Brooke sang an extract from Psalm 104 with choral response, Bless the Lord O my soul. Sr Christine Quigley read a Prayer of Wonder. Suma and Priya from India then danced a graceful Dance of Wonder in Keralan costume to a traditional Malayalam song of praise – one of the high points of the evening.

As we contemplated the wonder of God’s creation, we realised how perfectly made it is to sustain us, and not just us but the whole web of life of which we are part. Our response could only be to give thanks for all that God has given us.

Philip O’Regan led intercessory prayers, written by Catherine Brennan SSL for Churches Together in Britain and Ireland. Guitarists Ken Mulcahy and Stephen Normayle then led the congregation in singing a thanksgiving hymn, Thank you Lord for food to eat.

As we wondered at and gave thanks for creation, we recalled the damage we human beings do it by thoughtless and greedy actions. We were moved to repent and seek forgiveness.

Joc Sanders called the congregation to repentance and led them in a prayer of confession. After a period of reflection without words on human responsibility, all joined in a prayer for God’s grace to grant us the courage to change our ways.

Covenant of Care
Scripture assures us that God has graciously made a covenant to preserve and protect his creation, to which we responded with our own covenant to care for God’s creation.

John Armitage read a passage from Genesis, The rainbow is the symbol of God’s covenant with creation. Denis Holmes read St Francis’ lovely prayer, Make me an instrument of your peace. Rae Croft, Joseph Kelly and Nadzeya Piatrouskaya lit candles to symbolise our Covenant of Care and all joined in declaring it. Then the joint choir sang Timothy Dudley-Smith’s hymn, The God who set the stars in space.

Going out as God’s people
As the congregation prepared to go out together, united as God’s people, filled with wonder and thankfulness for God’s grace shown in creation, penitent for the human damage done to it, and determined to join in God’s covenant to care for it, all joined in saying The Lord’s Prayer together. The church leaders then led the people in saying a Community Blessing, and the service finished with all singing that stirring hymn, All creatures of our God and King.

Most then shared in delicious refreshments kindly provided by a team from the Church of Ireland parish, amidst a happy chatter of conversation between old friends and new. A common theme was how lovely and meaningful the evening liturgy had been.

Tuesday 5 October 2010

Lough Derg water extraction - an appeal to North Tipp public representatives

In response to the front page story in the Nenagh Guardian for 25th September 2010, ‘Dublin must pay cash for our water’, I wrote the following letter to the Editor, which was published in the 2nd October edition.


I am dismayed at the reported comments of some County Councillors about taking water from Lough Derg for Dublin (front page, last week). Talk of making Dublin pay for our water will only encourage the powerful and unaccountable promoters of this bad scheme to press ahead*. Lough Derg is part of our heritage, and a valuable resource for recreation and tourism. It is not for sale!

If ever built, this €450 million scheme will likely be an expensive white elephant. The promoters try to justify it by saying Dublin will need half again as much water by 2040 as it uses in 2010. But this is based on Celtic Tiger era projections for population and economic growth in the Dublin Regional Planning Guidelines, which surely no one believes anymore. With realistic growth projections, fixing leaks, and sensible demand management measures, like rainwater harvesting and water metering and charging, Dublin will not need the water.

There is a risk that Lough Derg could be irreparably damaged by the scheme. No one yet knows enough about the hydrology and ecology of the lake to know what its impact will be. It would be extremely foolish to take decisions without a proper scientific understanding.

Rather than talk about money, I call on our public representatives to demand two things before any decisions are taken:
  1. an independent review of the demand assumptions on which the scheme is based;
  2. adequately funded independent scientific studies of Lough Derg, which should be paid for at arms length by the scheme’s promoters.
Joc Sanders,

*The editor, as is his right, saw fit to omit these words: ‘You’ve shown you’re a whore - now let’s haggle over the price’ - that is, I fear, how talk of payment for water will be seen by the scheme's promoters.

Sunday 3 October 2010

Make me an instrument of your peace

Tomorow, Monday 3rd Oct, is the feast day of St Francis of Assisi, so what better prayer to use in our parish this month than this one of his! We shall say it together each Sunday, and you might want to learn it by heart to use in your own private prayers.

Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
where there is injury, pardon;
where there is discord, union;
where there is doubt, faith;
where there is despair, hope;
where there is darkness, light;
where there is sadness, joy.
Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
to be understood, as to understand;
to be loved, as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
it is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
and it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226)

St Francis of Assisi, by Andrea Vanni 1332-c.1414, Lindenau-Museum, Altenburg

Tuesday 28 September 2010

Why not join us next Monday, 4th October?

Nenagh Churches Together
Invite you to an ecumenical celebration

Creation Flourishing
- a time for celebration and care

St Mary’s Church of Ireland, Church Rd., Nenagh
Monday, 4th October 2010, at 7.30 PM

Thursday 9 September 2010

September Prayer - A Grace by Bp Lancelot Andrewes

Prayer is the living breath of Christians. Within our Anglican tradition we are blessed with wonderful resources to draw on, some harking back a millennium or more, which perhaps we do not always value as we should. So within the Nenagh Union of Parishes we will be selecting each month a spiritual jewel suitable to the season to pray together throughout the month. We are delighted to offer them for you to use too – you might choose to learn some by heart. A Grace suits September well, as a month of harvest thanksgiving. Here is one by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, altered to put it in contemporary English.

Loving God,
you give food to all flesh,
you feed the young ravens that cry to you,
and you have nourished us from our youth up:

fill our hearts with good and gladness
and underpin our hearts with your grace.


Bishop Lancelot Andrewes, 1555 – 25 Sep1626.He supervised the translation of the King James Bible.

Engraved portrait of Bishop Lancelot Andrewes

from the frontispiece to a 17th century volume of sermons

Sunday 5 September 2010

Do we need a Green Charter?

This piece appeared in the September 2010 View from the Pew column which I write for Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe.

What wonderful creatures honey-bees are!
One of the most popular stands at the Nenagh Show this year was the Beekeeping Association’s, where I watched bees at work through glass inside a sealed hive – what single-minded industry! We all love honey of course, and the finest candles are always made from beeswax, but even more important is the service bees give the rest of creation by pollinating flowers. I am concerned not to have seen a single honey-bee in my garden this year – not one - and I think their absence may account for the bad set on the broadbeans. I think I shall take a beekeeping course this winter, and set up a hive in the garden.

Wild bee colonies have been killed off, beekeepers tell us, by the Varroa mite, an alien species inadvertently introduced by human beings from overseas. This is just one of many ways in which human actions are damaging biodiversity – in other words, unravelling the wonderful web of life which God has created on this planet. God chooses to continuously create new life through the mechanism of evolution. Bees have evolved in an intricate three cornered dance of life with flowering plants and animals including ourselves. In this dance, plants provide pollen and nectar to sustain bees; bees in return pollinate the flowers so that they can produce fruit and seeds; these in turn sustain animals, which in wonderfully ingenious ways distribute seeds to start new generations of plants.

We thwart God’s purposes at our peril
God’s purpose in creating bees, I think, is that they should be good bees, playing their part in the dance to sustain the web of life, alongside all the other creatures he has created. In much the same way God created us to be good human beings. We are not bees, of course - we are made in God’s image, as souls with consciences. We are able to reflect on what is right and wrong, to plan for the future, in a sense to be co-creators of it with God. But with this privilege also comes our human susceptibility to those spiritual diseases which we call sin - spiritual diseases like greed and selfishness - which all too often lead us to damage God’s creation in a way other species do not, as well as hurting our fellow human beings. Jesus tells us that the path to eternal life is to love God and our neighbour too – how can we possibly love God if we do not also cherish and protect His creation?

The scarcity of honey-bees should shock us out of complacency. We thwart God’s purpose if we do not cherish and protect not only bees but all of God’s creation. Yet that is what we are doing, through our greedy over-exploitation of the worlds resources – particularly those of us in the rich industrialised world. Human beings cannot flourish while disrupting the web of life.

Our Christian obligation is surely to live as good human beings should, showing our love for God’s creation by caring for it, at the same time as we show love for our neighbours by seeking justice.

Towards a Green Charter
Because I feel this so strongly, I was delighted to see Les Bertram’s report elsewhere on a presentation given by Rev Elaine Murray to our Diocesan Synod about Cashel & Ossory’s ‘Green Charter’. Their prophetic work in this area inspired General Synod this year to ask the Church in Society Committee to propose a ‘Code of Environmental Good Practice’ to General Synod in 2011. All too often the business of synods is tedious and boring, and does not register with ordinary parishioners in the pews. But this is different – it reaches to the heart of our Christian calling, I think.

I feel it is important for people in this diocese to have a way to make their views known to inform the deliberations in General Synod. If you want to do so, email them to me at, and I will undertake to forward combined comments to the Committee for their consideration.

Acting in parishes now
But we need not and should not wait for the long drawn out formal synod process before taking action at parish level. Here are a few ideas:
  • Prayer is at the heart of our parish life. We might make a point of always including prayers for creation in formal intercessions, if we don’t already do so.
  • The Select Vestry might commission a group to carry out an audit of the parish’s carbon footprint and seek ways to reduce it. You will probably find that as well as reducing emissions you can save money on energy too, which should please the Treasurer!
  • Rural churches and graveyards are often a haven for wildlife - you might look for ways to protect and encourage this diversity of life. How about leaving part of the grass long to allow wildflowers to bloom, and asking a local beekeeper to place a hive there?
  • The Church of Ireland is a member of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland, which every year produces resources for use in ‘Creation Time’ (1st September to 4th October). This year the theme is ‘Creation flourishing, a time for celebration and care’ and you can download the materials from You might weave these resources into your services, or join with other local churches in an ecumenical celebration.
  • You might consider finding a facilitator to run a short parish course on climate change or environmental awareness. I led the Omega Climate Change course over 6 nights as a successful Lenten programme last year, and could be persuaded to do so again.

Diocese of Cashel & Ossory Green Charter

This Green Charter has been adopted by the Diocese of Cashel & Ossory. It has been proposed as a model Code of Environmental Good Practice which General Synod has asked the Church in Society Committee to propose in 2011.

As Christians and members of the Anglican Communion, we have an obligation to protect God's creation, not only nationally but globally. The Diocese of Cashel & Ossory affirms its commitment to Environmental Awareness and Protection by:
Identifying areas of waste and excess.
Encouraging environmental consciousness in every parish.
Promoting environmental responsibility in the broader community.
Spiritually and financially supporting third world development, supporting fair trade and addressing the effects of climate change.
Advocating policy change at local and national level that is environmentally beneficial.

Identifying Waste and Excess

Turn off unnecessary lighting.
Use heating only when essential.
Draught proof windows and doors.
Provide Recycling facilities in all churches.
Identify and deal with inefficient equipment

Encourage environmental consciousness

Infuse the Churches worship with references to God's creation.
Avail of alternative energies or fuel efficient systems.
Impress upon Select Vestries the environmental consequences of their decisions.
Include environmental issues in the Churches education programmes at every level.
Maintain Church environs sympathetically and cherish trees and wildlife.

Promote Environmental responsibility

Lead by courageous and articulate example
Cooperate with other people of faith who share these aims.
Educate members of the public to the moral and economic consequences of inaction.
Dialogue creatively on these issues with members of the agricultural community.
Encourage cleaner and more environmentally responsible urban living.

Support Third World Development

Raise awareness of the effect of climate change on the developing world.
Support projects that assist those who suffer most from Climate Change.
Campaign alongside Bishops' Appeal and similar agencies who work for change.
Think seriously about how our lifestyle and carbon footprint affect the poor.
Break the bread in solidarity with those whose future is crushed by our lifestyles.

Policy Change in Church and State

Use the Churches councils and synods as places of environmental debate and agents of change.
Raise expectations concerning environmental protection facilities provided by Local Authorities.
Demonstrate to public representatives that their environmental policies matter by how we vote, lobby and act.
Draw inspiration from the achievements and experiences of other nations and churches within the European family and seek to contribute ourselves.
Offer informed and understanding prayers for those who carry great responsibilities in these matters.

Cashel & Ossory Green Charter – Presentation to Diocesan Synod

Les Bertram from Banagher wrote this report on a presentation given at the Limerick & Killaloe Diocesan Synod at Killorglin this year. It was published in the September 2010 edition of Newslink, the Limerick & Killaloe Diocesan magazine.

At the General Synod earlier this year at Dublin the Diocese of Cashel & Ossory brought a motion that recommended that their green charter be adopted by the whole Church of Ireland as a way forward in environmental good practice. This was unanimously adopted by the General Synod.

At our Synod at Killorglin we had the great pleasure of welcoming Revd Elaine Murray of the Kilkenny Group, who spoke to us about the Diocese of Cashel and Ossory green charter.

Elaine opened by telling us that climate change is changing our lives, and that we know instinctively that our present day church needs to get its house in order, that at heart of the covenant of God with his people is a call to ‘Do Justice’. Climate change is a matter of justice.

Their diocesan charter was adopted in 2008 and has been rolled out to every parish in their diocese. We were told that their charter was a guide to living generously, committing them to the following points.

  • To identify areas of waste and excess

  • To encourage environmental responsibility in the wider broader community

  • To support third world development both spiritually and financially by supporting fair trade and addressing the effects of climate change

  • To advocate policy change that environmentally beneficial at both local and national level
We were all given a copy of this green charter.

Elaine told that each Parish Vestry was given a copy of the ‘Green Pages’ which is an eco friendly version of the Yellow Pages, never heard of it myself but sounds like a great idea and I must get a copy. They also launched a diocesan Environment Awareness Competition which is now in its second year. Winners include installation of solar panel heating of a church at Freshford, Co Kilkenny. In Stradbally ageing trees in an 13th century graveyard were replaced by 14 new trees which included holly, copper beech, lime and hawthorn, sponsored by parishioners. While young people as part of their confirmation classes learned all about the reproduction system of trees while successfully avoiding free range saddleback pigs in a forest at Johnstown house in Carlow! Sounds like environment issues can be fun. There was much more and the message was that things can change if the effort is made.

Eco Seminars have been organized over the last two years, topics range from ‘Our Christian Responsibility to the Global Effects of Climate Change’, to ‘Practical changes and understanding Government Regulations and Grants’. ‘Understanding Alternative Energy systems and cost effectiveness’ and ‘Wildlife & Fauna Awareness in our Church Environs’.

Cashel & Ossory diocesan environmental committee consists of just four people which keep green matter uppermost in people’s minds by regular updates in the diocesan magazine and updates each vestry by post, strongly recommending that ‘Green Matters ‘ appear on the agenda of each Vestry meeting. Promoting websites like ‘Living Generously’, an online Christian Community who promote ideas for living in an eco-friendly way, and ‘EcoCongregation’ who can help us think about the link between our Christian faith and care of the planet.

Elaine concluded her address by suggesting the Irish campaign, ‘Power of One’ had been fairly successful but that many people still feel overwhelmed or swamped and helpless when faced with problems of such magnitude, but reminded us that the people in the third world have, and will bear the brunt of the problems caused by climate change and we must do more to help them. Finally saying ‘I hope and pray that the Church of Ireland, in adopting the green charter route can lead the way for church communities everywhere to really show that we have taken our gospel values to heart in the area of environmental good practices ‘.

It was a very good address and it would be of interest to know what green ideas have already been put into practice already in our own diocese. I think its now time to own up.

Les Bertram

Thursday 22 July 2010

Glorious variety of Day Lilies

I am ashamed at how long it is since I last blogged the garden. In it I am unfailingly brought to wonder at my Creator's handywork for which I can only glorify His name.

This has been an extraordinary year. The soft fruit has been magnificent, and for once the birds have largely left it alone. We have feasted on strawberries, redcurrants, raspberries, tayberries, and the blackcurrant bushes are laden with huge berries waiting to be picked. Susanna has tried her hand at making redcurrant jelly, a must for lamb, and raspberry vinegar, such a refreshing summer drink. Though the birds did strip the morello cherry last weekend when we were away in Louth with the Irish Tree Society. I would like to think that the birds are learning to share, though I fear it may have more to do with so many dying in the last hard winter.

We are eating our own peas and beans, with more coming on in succession, and I am very pleased with the new potatoes - Duke of York now, with Charlotte and Pink Fir Apple to follow on. Courgettes threaten to become a glut. Only the tomotoes and cucumbers in the poly-tunnel are a disappointment - probably because the plastic is losing its transparency.

The roses have also been very good this year, no doubt because the frost reduced the numbers of pests and the dry June held back the mildew.

But the stars of the season are the day lilies. Susanna bought an extensive collection from the specialist Apple Court Nursery in England some years ago, which have been moved to her Labyrinth garden in front of the house, where they have really taken off. The sheer variety of form and colour is quite extraordinary. All this has been achieved by nursery men, largely in the USA - but it is the hand of God which has made the variation in the wild species without which they could have done nothing!

Below you will find portraits of most of the cultivars, varying in colour from lemon yellow through peach and pink to strong reds, and varying in form from delicate elongated to full and plump. Unfortunately the labels got lost when they were transplanted, and we can no longer identify which is which.

And here are some general views of the Labyrinth with the day lilies in situ.

And lastly a view of the end of the Drive Border, a very happy if unplanned juxtaposition of purple Cotinus 'Royal Purple' and Berberis with lime green spurge.

Wednesday 21 July 2010

Shannon water for Dublin?

Tomorrow, Thursday, RPS consultants will present a report to the Environment & Engineering Strategic Policy Committee of Dublin City Council, recommending that 350 million litres of water a day should be pumped from Slevoir Bay on Lough Derg to a storage reservoir at Bord na Mona's Garryhinch Bog in Co Offaly, for treatment and distribution as drinking water to the Greater Dublin area and surrounding counties.

Last night Gerry Geoghegan of RPS, accompanied by Colm O Gogain and Pat Fitzgerald of Bord na Mona, gave a preview of their recommendations to a meeting of the Lough Derg branch of the Shannon Protection Alliance in Dromineer, which I attended. They were given quite a hard time. Questions and comments from the floor showed the extent of local opposition to this project. It is clear that there is a vast lack of trust in the water engineers and planners in Dublin and Bord na Mona not to ruin the wonderful natural resource of Lough Derg, which I can see out of my window as I write. The diagrams here are taken from the presentation.
This story will run and run - shades of Shell to Sea.

My own first thoughts on the issue, for what they are worth (probably rather little!) are these:

First, I question the need for a new water supply for Dublin.

The origins of the project lie in the crazy Celtic Tiger years. Demand was forecast to grow from 540Ml/d in 2010 to 800Ml/d in 2031, driven by a growing population and economy. But the economy is now contracting and population is falling, and neither is ever likely to return to the Celtic tiger rates. In future water is likely to be metered and charged for, reducing demand further. And sustainable future growth should be balanced across the State and not just in the Dublin region. As a citizen I do not want to see public money wasted on an unnecessary project. I suspect that those who have spent so many years promoting and planning for the project are not facing up to the chnaged world.

Before the project is allowed to proceed it is essential that the assumptions on which it is based are subjected to independent review, in the light of current data.

Second, (assuming the need for a new water supply for Dublin is confirmed) the proposed option appears to address many of the possible objections, and is difficult to argue against:

  • The 4m3/s average extraction is less than 2½ % of the 176m3/s average flow through Lough Derg. The Garryhinch Bog storage will be a buffer to prevent excessive extraction during periods of low flow if it is properly sized. Water flow can be controlled by the ESB at Parteen & Ardnacrusha to maintain water levels in Lough Derg within the current statutory limits.
  • Alternatives such as desalination and tapping groundwater are unsustainable: desalination is energy intensive and likely to increase CO2 emissions; groundwater is an unrenewable resource.
Lastly, if the project goes ahead, it will be vital to ensure that it will not damage the Lough Derg environment in any significant ways.

In my view we should concentrate our efforts on this, rather than take a position of blanket opposition.

In particular we need to focus on:
  • Improving the currently inadequate scientific understanding of the Lough Derg ecosystem before decisions are made, which must be funded by the project sponsors.
  • Monitoring plans for the extraction point in Terryglass bay and the pipeline through the Shannon catchment to ensure they are environmentally and socially acceptable.
  • Working jointly with similar groups monitoring plans for the Garryhinch Bog storage and onward pipeline.
  • Ensuring that extraction protocols are developed, based on sound science and legally enforceable, to ensure the Lough Derg environment is adequately protected.

  • We should also seek a ‘planning gain’ from the project, with money made available for continuing scientific studies and projects to improve water quality and biodiversity of the entire catchment, and sustainable development of local communities.
  • We should campaign for integrated environmental management of the South Shannon Corridor through application of the IUCN Category V Protected Landscape approach. Several thousand acres of riparian land are already in public ownership, through ESB and Coillte, and a first step would be to develop an Integrated Management Plan for this public land.

Wednesday 30 June 2010

Playing catch-up after holidays

I'm still playing catch-up after being on holiday for the best part of 6 weeks - which explains why I've been offline for so long!

I feel so very blessed in these times of economic depression to be able to go away at all, unlike so many - but that is a big plus of being retired. Susanna and I didn't have a proper holiday last year, in part because of her hip surgery. So this year we planned a big one, travelling by train to Central Europe, saving airplane carbon emissions and exploring echoes of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. So many new places - so many new experiences. It will take months to process and reflect on them - meat for many posts here in future. But for now I can only summarise.

We took the car on the ferry to Wales and England on a royal progress to visit children and grandchildren - how I wish they lived closer!

We left the car in London and took the train through the Channel tunnel to Cologne for a few days, a lovely city despite the awful destruction wrought in the final days of the war by allied bombardment, with a side trip to Charlemagne's capital of Aachen.

Then the night sleeper to Prague, quite undamaged by the war, where we stayed in a hotel beside St Mary Tyn church on Old Town Square, and I was fascinated to discover the refounded Czechoslovak Hussite Church.

From their to Vienna for a few days where we met up with friends from Florida with whom we hired a car and toured Austria in a counter-clockwise direction: Melk, Linz, Salzburg, Lienz in East Tyrol (perhaps my favourite place), Baden and back to Vienna.

Then leaving our friends, on to Bratislava by train since the Danube was in flood and the hydrofoil was cancelled, another lovely ancient city in the process of being restored after years of neglect. There I had my wallet stolen and a heavy cold turned into bronchitis, prompting me to investigate the Slovak health system - very good and cheap. It was as hot as hell, but we had an air-conditioned hotel room, so we decided to stay on and skip the planned visit to Budapest.

Finally, back home: train to Vienna, on to Munich, the night sleeper to Paris, and back to London by Eurostar, taking just under 24 hours. Drive to South Wales, overnight in Loughor, the Fishguard ferry and back home. Where after three days largely spent trying to get new plastic cards, driving licence etc we took a lovely long weekend in Donegal with the Irish Tree Society.

Thursday 6 May 2010

Christians learning together

Young flag-carriers at Celebrating Our Nations
(photo Padraig O Flannabhra)
Nenagh Churches Together
Nenagh Churches Together is the name chosen by a group of lay Christians from different denominations in and around Nenagh, who come together to work on common projects. Last year we organised two events involving Roman Catholic, Methodist, Baptist and Church of Ireland people: a Day of Prayer for Climate Change in October; and a Prayer Vigil for Copenhagen in December, using and adapting materials prepared by Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI). Both were lovely, well-attended, prayerful events, and gave a powerful witness to the faith we all share. I also enjoyed meeting and getting to know the organisers from the other churches - it was a real learning experience for all of us, working together, developing trust, discovering each others gifts – and it was fun!

This year lay members of the Nenagh Roman Catholic Pastoral Council invited Nenagh Churches Together to help organise an ecumenical service to celebrate the diversity of our Nenagh community and to welcome newcomers from so many different countries and church traditions to the town. Once again we shared the pleasure of working with and learning from each other, and making new friends in an even larger and more diverse group.

A Celebration of Our Nations
The service, entitled ‘A Celebration of Our Nations’, was held in St Mary’s of the Rosary Catholic church on 29th April. It was attended by close to 350 people, both native Irish and many foreign nationals, and all agreed it was a great success – a truly worthy celebration of God-given diversity.

Flags of many nations at Celebrating Our Nations
(photo Padraig O Flannabhra)

We began with a colourful procession of 22 foreign flags, most carried by natives of the country concerned, followed by our own Irish flag, and lastly the UN flag, carried by Nenagh Town Mayor Hughie McGrath, representing the Civic sphere. Nenagh Catholic priest Fr Tom Whelan then welcomed everyone to his church, including Nenagh Rector Rev Marie Rowley-Brooke – Methodist, Baptist and Romanian Orthodox ministers were unable to attend, but sent their apologies.

There followed five themed sections, each with a scripture reading, a prayer and music: congregational hymns, solos - even a colourful liturgical dance! The themes were:

All Christian Churches: We celebrated the glorious diversity of our Christian churches and traditions – yet diverse as we are, we are united as followers of Jesus Christ.
The Nations of the World: We celebrated our many homelands, and our diverse races, languages and cultures – yet for all our diversity, we are all united in our common humanity.
God’s Creation: We gave thanks for the diverse universe God has made, and for the miracle of our living world, which provides so bountifully for all our needs – yet underlying this diversity, science reveals a deep unity in creation.
Our Community: We reflected on how our lives in our communities of Nenagh and North Tipperary are so enriched by those amongst whom we live and work, whether native Irish or from other countries.
Those in Need: We prayed for all those in need, both locally and around the world, and we prayed that we might ourselves become agents of God’s transforming love, working to relieve the suffering of others.
Among the marvellous variety of readers and musicians involved were: students from the town’s primary and secondary schools; people from England, Russia, India, Poland, South Africa, Romania and Ireland; members of the Church of Ireland, Roman Catholic, Methodist and Romanian Orthodox churches, and the Living Water non-denominational prayer group; a harpist, a soloist with guitar accompaniment, a creative dance troupe, and the joint choirs of the Catholic and Church of Ireland parishes.

At the end, as we prepared to go out together as God’s people, we joined in the Lord’s Prayer, each in our own language - a powerful symbol of shared faith, reflecting the experience of the first Pentecost in Jerusalem. The clergy present then pronounced blessings and led the people in saying a Community Blessing together:

Blessed are we when we sing God’s praises
and walk together faithfully on God’s earth.
Blessed are we when we proclaim God’s justice
and enjoy together the fruits of creation.
Blessed are we when we are guided by God’s wisdom
and live in harmony with God’s world.

Finally we were all invited to join in refreshments prepared by the ladies of the Catholic parish. The hall was packed, we met old friends and new, the craic was mighty, and the refreshments were delicious – I can confirm there is no truth in the old adage that protestant cakes taste better!

The Future of Churches Together
Those of us involved in Nenagh Churches Together certainly hope to continue working together on future projects. It would be wonderful if our work on ecumenical events were to lead on to joint outreach in our community, bringing the love of Christ to the poor, the sick, and the disadvantaged.

There are many ways in which people are already involved ecumenically. Clergy organise ecumenical services during the Week of Prayer for Christian Unity. There are ecumenical Bible Study groups in many places. And there is the marvellous Oak House inter-church fellowship which has been meeting for many years in East Galway. With no desire to diminish these, but to complement them, I suggest you might consider forming a local ‘Churches Together’ group in your own town.

The ‘Churches Together’ model of local, lay-led, practical ecumenical action is working well for us, and would be a good model for others too, I think:
  • It unlocks the energies and gifts of a host of committed lay Christians, largely because it is lay led with clergy support.
  • It strengthens Christian mission to the wider community by the joint witness of different denominations. We are stronger together – as Paul puts it, the body of Christ needs all its parts.
  • It encourages people from different denominations to learn from each other as they work together. They grow as disciples – they grow together in love - and they enjoy doing so.
  • Most denominations are members of Churches Together in Britain and Ireland (CTBI), which provides a host of useful approved materials, and gives legitimacy to the name.
  • All you need to make a start are one or two enthusiastic lay people, with tacit clergy support, who will work to organise an ecumenical event with similarly enthusiastic lay people in one or two other churches, while reaching out to others – see for ideas.

Sunday 2 May 2010

A View from the Pew – Will you take the 10:10 Challenge?

This article appeared in the May 2010 edition of Newslink, the diocesan magazine of the diocese of Limerick & Killaloe.

As I noted last month, the greenhouse gas emissions that cause global warming are a consequence of the personal choices and decisions of countless individuals around the world – particularly those of us in rich countries. Perhaps it is because world leaders doubt they can get their peoples to change those choices and decisions that they failed so dismally to agree in Copenhagen last December what to do about it. Let’s hope and pray they do agree effective and just action soon, before it is too late. We now know for certain that unless we act quickly to reduce our emissions of greenhouse gases, our descendents will face terrible problems in years to come.

But their failure to agree shows it’s now time for ordinary people to step in to defend our children’s futures. And as Christians we have a particular responsibility to take the lead. As the bishops of our Anglican Communion reflected at the last Lambeth Conference:

‘If we say that “The earth is the Lord’s…”, we must be prepared to live as if that is true! We can not misuse a gift from the Lord. If we are to call ourselves disciples of Jesus Christ, we must be prepared for radical discipleship by “living simply, so that others may simply live.” Safeguarding creation is a spiritual issue.’

The first step is for each one of us to take personal responsibility – if we don’t, no one else will. Just suppose each one of us made a pledge to cut 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions in 2010? What if we got everyone we know to do the same? And what if all this made governments sit up and take notice? That could be the first step towards a brighter future for us all.

Cutting 10% in one year is a bold target, but for most of us it’s achievable – and would save us money too! Here are some ideas for what you and your family can do.

1 Save on heating – and bills Turn down your thermostat - 1°C less can save 10% by itself! Turn off radiators in hallways and rooms you don’t use. If you need them, more jumpers and warm underwear all round. Fix those draughts. Then apply for a grant to insulate your loft and walls. You’ll be warm & cosy!

2 Drive less – be healthier Think before you make that short drive. Walk, cycle or take public transport when you can. Leave your car at home one day a week. Share the school run and car-pool with a colleague or two to get to work. Eco-driving guidelines can save 5-15% of fuel: drive smoothly, control your speed and stick to the limits (driving at 70 uses 15% more fuel than driving at 50, and cruising at 80 uses 25% more than at 70), change gear up as early as you can, and turn off heated rear windscreens, demister blowers and headlights when you don’t need them.

3 Save on electricity – be bright Change over to low-wattage light bulbs. Turn off unnecessary lights, and turn off TVs, computers, battery chargers etc when not in use. Consider replacing old inefficient fridges and freezers, and always buy appliances with a good energy rating.

4 Fly less - holiday more Swap the plane for boat and train, when you can. Holiday nearer to home and take fewer but longer trips – same tanning time, dramatically less carbon emissions.

5 Eat better In-season fruit & veg produce the least emissions – and the less processed the better. Buy locally produced food when you can, to support your neighbour and save food miles. Grow your own – nothing tastes like it!

6 Buy good stuff Less stuff made = less emissions = less climate change. So buy high-quality things that last, repair if possible rather than chucking, buy and sell second hand. Ignore pointless changes in fashion. And borrow your neighbour’s mower!

7 Dump less Avoid excess packaging and buying pointless stuff that goes straight in the bin. Recycle everything possible. Compost your scraps – the garden will love you!

8 Don’t waste food… The average Irish family throws away loads of food every month. So don’t buy or cook more than you need. And eat up those tasty leftovers with a smile on your face!

9 …or water Your tap water uses lots of energy – and heating it uses loads more – so take showers rather than baths, be careful watering plants and only run full dishwashers & washing machines.

10 Pass on the word! Monitor your carbon footprint (Google ‘Power of One’ to find a calculator). Persuade family and friends to join you in saving 10% in 2010. Take the 10:10 pledge. And get your parish to do the same!

For more information and to take the 10:10 pledge see

Here in Nenagh, the group that followed an ecumenical Lent course on climate change last year has formed Nenagh Carbon Watchers (see We aim both to support each other in our personal efforts to reduce emissions, and to promote transition to a sustainable life style in our local communities. As part of this, I have been monitoring my own household’s carbon emissions, and after 11 months I am confident that we will have saved around 25% of emissions with insignificant capital expenditure (that excludes the flights we have not taken).

After a false start last year, I am determined this year to invest in better home insulation and heating controls. This will not only reduce our emissions further, but by reducing heating bills provide a much better return on my money than I could get in any bank, as well as give employment to local tradespeople. And for 2011 I have my eye on one of those electric cars we are hearing about… I’ll keep you posted on how we get on!

Tuesday 20 April 2010

A Celebration of our Nations

At the initiative of the Nenagh Catholic parish, Nenagh Churches Together are organising a service to celebrate the cultural diversity of our Nenagh community and its varied churches. It will include a procession of the flags of many nations, hymns, music and dance, and readings and prayers - all offered to the glory of God by people drawn from many nations and faith traditions.

The service will take place at 7.30 pm on Thursday 29th April in St Mary's of the Rosary, Church Rd, Nenagh Co Tipperary. It will be followed by refreshments in the Pastoral Centre.

All will be very welcome, from whatever nation, including Ireland!

If you are in the vicinity why not come and join us?

Saturday 3 April 2010

Wishing You Every Blessing for Easter

Going to Emmaus, Robert Zünd, 1877, Kunstmuseum St. Gallen
They said to each other, “Were not our hearts burning within us,
while he was talking to us on the road,
while he was opening the scriptures to us?” Luke 24:32

The long road to the kingdom

This article appeared in the April 2010 edition of Newslink, the diocesan magazine of the diocese of Limerick & Killaloe

The Penitents (Los Penitentes)

Ice melting at the foot of a glacier near the south wall of Aconcagua in the Argentine Andes, the highest mountain in the Americas - the Aconcagua glaciers have reduced in area by 20% since 1955 as a result of global warming. Photo by Lucas Hirschegger.

Bravo, Paddy Anglican!

Canon Stephen Neil hit the nail on the head in his article last month when he wrote, ‘The task we face is how to reintegrate (politics, economics, religion and environmental stewardship) and create a sustainable and healthy society for all Creation’. That is a vision of the kingdom of heaven. It’s a big ask, isn’t it? But Christ announces the kingdom is coming and calls us, his followers, to build it.

The four-fold crisis we are living through – political, economic, religious and environmental – is very deep. Building the kingdom will be neither quick nor easy. We the people are confused, demoralised and angry at what has happened to us. Our leaders remain for the most part deep in denial about their responsibility for landing us in the mess. I don’t think much will change until they move beyond denial. For recovery to take place, they will surely have to make way for fresh faces that are not compromised by past misdeeds and errors and can command the respect of the people. But we the people will have to change too, because all of us bear some responsibility.

The psychology is important, I think. Human beings must pass through distinct psychological stages in order to process guilt: initial denial is followed by shame, then penitence in which hearts change, before recovery is possible. How far down this road have we travelled so far?

The Golden Circle
The tent at the Galway races is long gone, but lives on in memory as the enduring symbol of the golden circle of venal politicians, megalomaniac developers and grasping bankers. Bankers anticipating bonuses borrowed short on international markets and lent long to fund developers’ ever more grandiose projects. Both greased the palms of politicians, who in turn obliged with light touch regulation and rezoning, and bought our votes with goodies paid for from windfall stamp duties. The greed of all three worked together to inflate an asset price bubble which was bound to burst. Similar cycles of greed were at work in other countries, but few were as intense as ours. As the rest of the world begins a faltering recovery after the global crash, Ireland remains stuck in recession. Incomes continue to fall, services are being cut further, young families struggle to pay the mortgage on homes worth a fraction of what they paid, youth unemployment balloons and another lost generation emigrates. As I see it, the golden circle is the main cause of our economic woes, though most of us colluded in it.

Many developers have gone bust and lost personal fortunes. Most senior bankers have been forced to resign and one has been questioned by the Gardai. I confess to a certain guilty pleasure, what the Germans call schadenfreude. Some show signs of shame, but most not – and certainly no penitence. They scrabble to keep as much as they can of the personal fortunes they made during the bubble they engineered, even as they look to the rest of us to recapitalise their banks and buy their bad debts through NAMA.

And what of the politicians? Fianna Fáil has led coalition governments since 1997. Brian Cowan was Minister of Finance from 2004 until he became Taoiseach in 2008, presiding over the golden circle at its most manic. He and his party must bear the lion’s share of political responsibility for what has happened. Yet they are in complete denial and shamelessly cling to office – I am lost for words! But let’s not forget who voted them there – we the people did. And they cling on in hope that we will do so again.

Time for a ‘Velvet Reformation’?
As we all know, the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has been in ever deepening crisis since the Murphy report was published last year. It was bad enough to learn over many years how some priests and religious abused children both sexually and physically. But the Murphy report revealed that this evil was compounded by a culture of secrecy and cover up at the highest level, which allowed the perpetrators to continue their abuse. Bishops criticised in the report tried at first to deny they had done anything wrong, though four have since resigned. In March it was revealed that Cardinal Sean Brady himself swore two abused children to secrecy 35 years ago.

Faithful Roman Catholic laity and priests are as shocked as the rest of us. They feel angry and betrayed by their leadership. Perhaps part of their anger is with themselves, because very many in their heart of hearts must know that they colluded in the evil by not shouting stop. Fr Enda McDonagh, former professor of Moral Theology at Maynooth, has proposed a 12-step recovery programme, involving laity in the process of healing the church. Pope Benedict has just issued his long awaited pastoral letter - in it he points to grave errors of judgment and failures of leadership by his brother bishops. Garry O’Sullivan the editor of the Irish Catholic newspaper has called for a ‘Velvet Reformation’ in which the entire hierarchy is replaced.

It is too early to know how all this will play out, but it does appear that the outrage of laity and lower clergy is forcing the hierarchy out of denial to admit shame for the damaging culture they presided over. It is a good sign, but time will tell whether they can move on to true penitence, a prerequisite for renewal, which will probably require wholesale changes in personnel and a shift of power from clergy to laity.

We Anglicans may feel tempted to thank God that we are not like them. But that would be to behave like the Pharisee who thanked God publicly that he was not like other men – Jesus you will remember preferred the private contrition of the humble publican. We should remember that there are skeletons in our cupboard too, and that many of us used the excuse that it was none of our business to keep silence when we heard rumours of what was happening. Rather we should show solidarity and come to the aid of faithful Roman Catholics in ecumenical prayer as they struggle to reform their church.

Who is responsible for Global Warming?
The fourth part of the crisis is the failure of environmental stewardship. Its most dangerous symptom is global warming, largely caused by increasing emissions of green house gases from burning fossil fuels, destroying forests, and intensifying farming. To reverse it will require coordinated action by people in every country.

Global leaders meeting in Copenhagen last December disappointingly failed to reach the international agreements that are necessary. Despite its fine words our government has also failed to hold back Irish emissions as it promised, among the highest in the world per capita.

Perhaps the main reason for these failures is that responsibility for emissions does not lie so much with governments as with the personal choices and decisions of countless individuals around the world, particularly those in rich countries – people like you and me. Very many of us remain in obstinate denial that there is a problem at all. Even those of us who admit that there is a problem do not yet feel real shame for our bad choices and decisions. Until we do we will be denied the gift of penitence, ‘to live simply that others may simply live’.

The road to the Kingdom will be long and we have barely started down it.

Thursday 18 March 2010

Spring watch - frog spawn

Common frog (Rana temporaria) with spawn
Yesterday, St Patrick's day, the sun smiled on Susannah and me, as we proudly wore shamrock to church, and later were feasted by a kind friend Mary in honour of Clodagh's birthday! So many people around the world slap shamrock on everything in sight before celebrating Irishness in a wild binge to 'drown' it. It's quite extraordinary really - but I wonder how many recall the significance of that small trefoil leaf: used by Patrick as a metaphor for the Trinity - three leaflets in one leaf symbolising three persons in one God.
I searched the wild flower meadow for wild shamrock, but could find none due to the exceptionally cold and late season. However Susannah brought some from the greengrocer in a small pot - at least it was Irish grown, no doubt in some poly-tunnel, not imported from the Netherlands as it so often is. The cold, late season also means it is far too early to plant the potatoes which are chitting in the greenhouse - 1st early Duke of York, 2nd early Charlotte and main-crop Pink Fir Apple.

However, at long last the daffodils in the Labyrinth are pushing up their flowering heads -they came as volunteers with topsoil when the extension was built, so are scattered in pleasing natural clumps.

And yesterday the first frog-spawn appeared in the pond on the patio - now that's a real sign of Spring! I neglected the pond last year, so it was frightfully overgrown. But the sight of the spawn galvinised me into action to clear out the surplus pond weeds. I carefully left the spawn on one side and put it back afterwards - I trust I have not damaged it - and this morning another mass had appeared.

Sunday 14 March 2010

A View from the Pew – Life is stirring

View from the Pew is a column I write for Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe - this peice appeared in the March 2010 edition.

Pussy willow bravely blooming

What a hard winter we’ve had of it!
First the floods in November, then the snow around Christmas, followed by the hardest frosts for many years.

The Shannon froze. It brought to mind my mother’s story of how as a teenager in the early 1930s, she and her friends walked across Lough Derg on the ice from the Tipperary to the Galway shore, dragging a small boat in case the ice cracked. Mistakenly I had thought I would never see such a thing myself because of global warming – but that confuses weather with climate. Weather is naturally variable, and even as the planet warms we can expect occasional cold snaps, though they may be rarer. Climate is about long timescales and wide areas. As we froze in Ireland, temperatures in the arctic were up to 7°C above normal this winter. Don’t be misled by the cold winter – climate change is continuing and real.

It was heartening to see how people rallied round to help their neighbours devastated by the floods and struggling in the cold. I was impressed how the IFA organised distribution of fodder donated by farmers with a surplus to those who had lost theirs. And we should all feel inspired by the generosity and enterprise of the children of St Michael’s National School, Limerick, who raised over €500 to give toys at Christmas to children who had lost theirs when they were flooded out of their homes, as reported in Newslink last month.

In the garden the frost has killed many tender plants, and I fear for a lot of others. The Chilean Puyas which survived several winters outside are all gone, as is a Cordyline. Two Olearias are looking very sick. And I have attended far too many funerals of old friends recently. Most were occasions to celebrate long lives well lived, but the death of a contemporary reminds me of my own mortality.

New life is stirring.
But now life is stirring again as the days lengthen and winter gives way to another spring. The flowering willow is covered with silver pussies, snowdrops are blooming their socks off, the first crocuses are struggling through over-long grass, and the hellebores are about to burst. The buds on Forsythia and winter cherry are swelling, and the catkins are lengthening on the cobnuts. The birds too are starting to think about making babies – I have just been watching from my window two hen blackbirds trying to chase each other away from a rather bemused looking cock. And a farming neighbour who looked ready to drop in the pew confided that he had barely slept for a week because he was up all night calving!

Is it just me who detects new life stirring in our diocese too? I hope not. These are just some of the things that I have noticed recently:
  • The buoyant mood of the hundreds of people who made the pilgrimage from all corners of the diocese to Limerick for Celebrate Together in November. Something new happens when we move out of our own small parishes to come together.

  • The mixture of fun and serious purpose in the largely lay group that Vicki Lynch brought together to attend the NOSTRA public lectures at Mary I. It was eye-opening to meet so many others who also yearn to talk about their faith and its implication for mission, to discover we are not alone.

  • The new training programmes designed to equip lay people for ministry, as parish and diocesan readers and in pastoral and youth work, and the moves toward a ‘fellowship of vocation’. They promise to release the gifts of those who take them up for Christian service.

There are stirrings too in other churches. For all the disillusionment over clerical abuse, increasing numbers of Roman Catholic lay men and women are seeking pastoral and theological training – and they are pressing for a greater lay involvement in their parishes. New churches and worship communities are springing up as well. In my parish, for instance, there is the Nenagh Baptist Group, a new church plant which particularly welcomes the unchurched and young families, and Living Water, an interdenominational charismatic group, holding joyous monthly meetings of worship and prayer in a local hotel, both well worth a visit.

Where are the stirrings leading?
We know where the stirrings in the garden will lead – to burgeoning life, beautiful flowers and a bountiful future harvest.

It is less clear where the stirrings in the church are leading, but I feel sure the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing. Perhaps this Lent we should all ponder where the Spirit is leading us, both as the church and individually, and listen prayerfully for the Spirit to guide our responses.

Here are my own tentative first thoughts:

  • We should not be afraid of new life stirring, but rather seek to nourish it. It springs from within our tradition, like a shoot sprouting from a rootstock, drawing strength from the faithful witness and unsung service of so many Church of Ireland people over the years. Let us see it as a harbinger of exciting renewal, not frightening change.

  • Similar stirrings are at work in other churches, as I found when I sought out and talked to Christians of other traditions. Most long to share Christian witness, prayer and service with others, just as we do. This suggests to me that the Spirit is leading our different denominations to walk together, recognising each other as fellow disciples of Jesus, who unites us in our diversity. Let us cultivate ecumenical activity - perhaps through a ‘Churches Together’ group in our own locality.

  • In all our churches, ordinary lay men and women both feel a call to play a more active role and are responding to it. The old model of full-time professional clergy dispensing ministry to laity who passively consume it can no longer be sustained. With fewer vocations, limited finances and ever larger parish unions, clergy are overworked and risk burnout. In an age of mass higher education and democracy lay people recognise that they also are gifted for ministry and seek to exercise their gifts. It is now generally recognised that all Christians are called to serve in a multitude of different ways – the clergy’s role is to equip them to do so. Let us make a reality of passionate all-member ministry.

  • We are most likely to discern where the Spirit is leading by sharing our own thoughts with others and testing them in discussion. Let us unleash the power of the Spirit by contributing to the debate.

What do you think? If you agree or disagree, or feel moved to contribute to the debate, why not share your thoughts in a letter to Madam Editor?