This is a kind of time travelling experience. I went back to St Macartin’s Cathedral, Enniskillen, to preach at the service which commemorated the 400th Anniversary of the Charter which established the Royal Schools in Ireland – as part of the Plantation Settlement. In this case, the school was Portora Royal School, Enniskillen. I became a Choirboy in the Cathedral in about 1957 but I hadn’t really been back since 1967 when we moved to Belfast.
Portora was a kind of Glenalmond, set in the beautiful lakeland scenery of Co Fermanagh. I have pretty mixed feelings about all the schools I attended. But I can’t get away from the fact that my grandfather, my father, my uncle and I were all pupils at Portora Royal School. My father and mother both taught there.
But as always this is a time of change. The boarding school that Portora was is no more and a merger has just taken place with the Girls Collegiate School at the other end of town. The merger has been something of a bumpy ride but it will sort itself out in time.
The picture is with Dean Kenny Hall of the Cathedral – and the sermon honours among others former pupils Samuel Beckett, Oscar Wilde and Henry Francis Lyte – whose hymns we sang yesterday.
I met old friends, more from my Primary School than from Portora – but it was extraordinary
Time I wrote about that – but some of my time is now being taken up with interim ministry at St Peter’s, Lutton Place. It’s all the familiar stuff – AGM next Sunday when we run the gauntlet of ‘Any other Business’ as clergy have for generations!
Long past time that I put up this posting about my visit to St Mary’s Cathedral, Limerick, for their 850th Anniversary. Our own Bishop Anne Dyer said that this was a moment when various bits of her life came together – so here we are with Martin Brown OSB of Glenstal Abbey where she was on retreat.
I went over to Helensburgh on Saturday to preach at the Institution of Revd Dom Ind. Dom has been Rector of Bridge of Allan for the last ten years – Director of Ordinands in the Diocese of St Andrews. Beside all that, he has acted as my Chaplain – sorting out Orders of Service for the ‘big event’ so that they were the best that we could do and standing just behind my left shoulder making sure that I didn’t get lost or wield mitre or crozier inappropriately.
I’m gradually sorting out what retirement means – now one year on. It wasn’t difficult to stop and walk away. You have to do that. But it takes longer to work out how life is going to be. Alison and I are busy at all sorts of things – family, friends, garden, a bit of travel – . I’m doing a bit of peripatetic preaching and enjoy that. Some more broadcasting and other things. This week I begin a spell as Interim Pastor at St Peter’s, Lutton Place, in Edinburgh. I’m going to work with the Vestry and the congregation to prepare the ground for the appointment of their next Rector.
The best story we all knew in Belfast was about the woman who used to take the baby elephant home from the Zoo every evening during the blitz in 1941. In 2009 it was traced to Denise Weston Austin , a keeper at the zoo. She would walk Sheila the baby elephant into her back yard each evening – and back again in the morning.
Now it’s a film called Zoo just released. The charm in the story is its simplicity and humanity. The blitz in Belfast was devastating. Denise found a simple – if slightly eccentric – thing which she could do in the chaos. She looked after the baby elephant
Politics will always be adversarial. That’s how the conflict between competing ideas and visions is resolved. But sometimes the ability of politics to achieve seems to break down – another crunch Brexit cabinet meeting or the efforts of the EU to solve the migration crisis. Not much charm, grace or humour in any of that.
It’s always tempting to think that things were better in the past Maybe they were – the vision and political determination which founded the NHS seventy years ago speak of a different kind of political culture. Sheila the elephant had gone back to the zoo and there was a desire to build a better post-war world.
Values are influenced by time and re-examination. Seventy years has seen society do some critical thinking around equality – about class, gender and sexuality. But there are also aspirational ideas around public service and shared responsibility which we can continue to celebrate and foster.
I think it is time to honour values and indeed spirituality in our public life. More service and less personal ambition – more compassion and less sloganising -more vision which catches the imagination and. warms the heart.
The story of Denise Austen who looked after Sheila the elephant reminds us that what matters is our ability to retain our humanity and compassion – however challenging the times
A sad day yesterday as we said farewell to one of my oldest friends, Peter Rankin. just before Christmas, he was due to go cycling in Kerala with his daughter. But he began to feel unwell. He was diagnosed with a brain tumour and in six months he was gone – leaving his wife Lynn and daughters Jen and Gilly.
We were students together in Trinity College, Dublin. We shared a flat and College Rooms. We maintained contact and our lives unfolded in very different ways.
Yesterday’s funeral in Preston was an extraordinary event – a Civic Funeral for Peter as an Honorary Alderman of the City. He was a passionate socialist. He served the Council and the City for nearly 40 years – including two terms as Council Leader. And he was notably successful – and greatly loved – in that role.
It is in part the story of how two young men – each deeply affected by the early years of the Troubles – worked out their responses to that. Peter was, I think, the best example I know of a person of immense ability who left Northern Ireland behind. And as he was accepted and trusted in a different place grew into a person of real stature in a way which would have been impossible in his home place.
Canon EJ Moore – known as Jim – was the first Rector with whom I served when I was ordained in 1976. I travelled to Belfast on Thursday last and was honoured to preach at his funeral service in St Columba’s, Knock, in East Belfast.
In 1976 he was Rector of Holy Trinity Parish, Joanmount in North Belfast which is at the meeting of the Oldpark and Ballysillan Roads. It’s one of the areas of Belfast where, at that time, the two communities were interwoven. So there were several peace lines – or barriers – in the parish area. It was edgy, difficult and often violent.
Jim became something of a hero to me – and to the many curates who served with him in Holy Trinity and in Jordanstown. He was I think the very best that the Church of Ireland could put in place in a difficult situation in the early years of the Troubles – and my sermon explains why.