Archbishop’s Commissary speaks positively about rebuilding church life after challenging year


Archdeacon Brian Harper.

The Presidential address at this year’s Diocesan Synod by Zoom conference was presented by the Archbishop’s commissary for Clogher Diocese, Archdeacon Brian Harper.

The Diocesan Synod held on Thursday, 26 November received the report of the Diocesan Council and the 149th financial report for 2019 as well as the report for Diocesan Board of Education.

The Assessor, Right Hon Lord Stephens of Creevyloughgare and Diocesan Chancellor, was appointed and the scripture reading and prayers were read by Mr. John Irvine and Revd Francis Rutledge respectively.

In his address, Archdeacon Harper noted the deaths of Synod members; John Keating, long-serving member of Council and Synod, former member of the RCB; of Cecil Lancashire who was a member for the parish of Drum; Marion Anderson who was a member for Magheraculmoney; of the Revd Canon Mark Watson, incumbent of Trory and Killadeas and then Maguiresbridge and Derrybrusk.

He said during the year, the diocese had said farewell to Canon Ngozi Njoku, rector of Garrison, Slavin and Belleek and he and some of her Garrison group parishioners were able to be part of licensing in her new cure of souls in the Wembley area of London. They had instituted by Zoom the Revd Lorraine Capper, Mark Gallagher, Elaine Dunne and Francis Rutledge to their respective parishes and the Revd Stephanie Woods has stepped into the role of stipendiary part-time minister of Inishmacsaint.

Archdeacon Harper continued; “There are very few unused and suitable adjectives to describe 2020 and few people have been left unscathed. As the father of an NHS nurse in Liverpool who has only last week recovered, we hope, from COVID, I am conscious of the many people who have suffered considerable anxiety, illness, death and bereavement, not only in the developed world which has access to medical facilities but also around the world in places already torn apart by war, in refugee camps and in overcrowded cities and slums. I have listened this week to those who have complained about the churches being closed and remembered how enthusiastically we embraced the new opportunities last Spring and rose to the occasion, how we reached out to others and discovered new ways of doing things and now we seem to have become tired and angry and critical and trying to finds ways of avoiding our responsibilities to society.
“I have watched the news footage of doctors and nurses describing their work. I have two children in the NHS and they brush it off lightly but I admire what they do, even though they don’t tell me! In many other careers, education and childcare, businesses, parenting, etc etc, people have made huge sacrifices for the community; loss of income and business, stress and mental issues, facing seemingly insurmountable crises. We need to continue doing good for all.
“Whilst our politicians have made difficult and sometimes mistaken judgement calls, as we all have, whilst researchers and scientists have stumbled into dark corners in their search for best practice and advice and in the church we have argued about the difference between two metres and six foot, about what is legally required and what is only advice that can be ignored, people have died and society has been rocked, not because of the politicians, but because of a virus that spreads rapidly and that can have indiscriminate outcomes.

“Each of us has a responsibility to reduce the spread of this virus. We have, I suspect, all failed. We have forgotten to use the sanitiser or sing Happy birthday at the sink. We may have made an unnecessary journey. We may have stood too close to someone. It is difficult to be perfect. So instead of being grumpy or miserable and blaming one another, we should be paying tribute to and encouraging all those who are striving to do what is good. The politicians, the scientists, who are working in a new and unfamiliar arena. The clergy are also in that new arena and, as this is a church gathering, I want to comment on what my colleagues have achieved. The dioceses of Armagh and Clogher formed a joint COVID response committee to coordinate and advise our parishes of the information from both Stormont and the Dail. I have been personally impressed at the way parishes have responded. Compliance has been high and continues. Some have been imaginative in the way they have adapted with technology, drive-in services, support for the lonely. It has also been stressful for people.”
He went on to speak of the challenges for clergy and the need to keep them encouraged.

“Clergy have been challenged about why that church can do this but we can’t, that parishioner is upset because you haven’t visited in hospital or at home, and there a stress in ministry when you know that you want to do more pastorally but can’t. So clergy need to be encouraged. Often, we don’t live near our parents or family circle, we find it difficult being compared negatively with our neighbouring rector or church of another denomination, and we know that the parish is struggling to pay our stipend and whilst our homes are gratefully appreciated and are thankfully spacious and comfortable, it can be as lonely in a rectory as it can be anywhere else.

“But together, we will get through it. We have seen excellent commitment, excellent work at all levels of society. We might be scarred but we can rebuild.

“Personally, I want to pay tribute to our diocesan secretary, Glenn Moore. I want to thank him for the text messages at 11pm on Friday night, for answering my queries almost immediately at 8am on a Tuesday morning, for his advice and knowledge and patience and good humour. To Ashley who has continued to keep the books, to encourage and advise parishes that have struggled, and just worked away. And to Henry Robinson for his work with our parish properties, and Brian Donaldson for communication and magazine, Michael Skuce for directing our Safeguarding and GDPR management, Johnny Phoenix for supporting and encouraging youth work and who have played key roles this year and in 2019 and to Sabrina for her role in the office, fielding enquiries and much more etc.

“As we consider this report, let us do so with thanksgiving for the efforts of all those have served us in 2019 and who may have found their vision for 2020 shattered, not just those who have served at diocesan level, but the Sunday School teachers, the youth workers and youth work volunteers, the parish visiting teams, the administrators and vestry members, the choirs and musicians, the vision makers and willing hands, the ‘retired’ clergy, the lay readers and parish readers, the non- stipendiary clergy and the ordained local clergy and the clergy, all listed in the report.

“And finally, two important things that you may be thinking that I’d forgotten but I’ve saved the best until last. Allow me to pay tribute to Archbishop John. I first worked with him when he was chair of the Marriage Council before becoming Bishop of Clogher. I have found him to be quietly pastoral, fair, dedicated, knowledgeable, encouraging, sensible, approachable, direct. He has taken up the ministry in Armagh at a very difficult time but has already provided a continuation of leadership and ministry across this island. As Archbishop of the Northern Province, he is still responsible for the spiritualities of Clogher so he hasn’t quite left us. I know this Synod would want to thank him for his leadership and service throughout his time here.

“And allow me to welcome my long-time friend of over 30 years to the position of bishop-elect of Clogher. Ian Ellis and I were together in Armagh when he was curate in St Mark’s and I was rector of the Ballygawley group and then he was rector of Loughgall when I was nearby in Mullavilly before he went to education and then to Rossorry. I’m looking forward to when he stops being bishop-elect as are we all.

“As a Synod and as a church, we are together in Christ, whether in person or in spirit. Technology has enabled us to meet together, to share together in fellowship. It is different;your dog will be barking in the background, we will all be admiring the décor in the room in which you are sitting and you might possibly be wearing your slippers, but we are together. May God bless us in our work and ministry in the year that lies ahead as we move forward into a world in which everything will have changed and yet nothing will have changed. Tout a changé, rien n’a changé.

“The world may have changed but the gospel is unchanged and continues to be proclaimed to a broken world and the light of Christ continues to shine in the darkness. The Lord be with you.”