The ministry of ‘a decent man’

Apr 12th, 2013 | By | Category: Ministry

A colleague died this morning, a good man, a Godly man, cut down by illness long before his time. He had recently marked a quarter of a century as rector of his parish, a corner of our rural diocese where he fulfilled a calling to be a faithful shepherd and knew the sense of having been a part of a community where he was known and loved.

In Dublin days, I used to wonder about clergy such as he, an engineering graduate, immensely able priests who spent the years of their ministry in what seemed to me to be rural obscurity. It was only gradually that I came to realize that, while Dublin was a grand place to live, there would never be that sense of community, there would never be a sense of rootedness, comparable with small town Ireland. There is a warts and all quality in rural life that cannot be disguised by pretence. In small communities where everyone’s business is known, being the person you are is the only option available.

Perhaps the best country parishes are those where you open the local weekly paper and see the name of the local clergyman, not because he has sought any publicity, not because he has come up with anything novel, but because he is at the heart of the community and the news is about the life of the community; faith and life combine seamlessly.

I remember five or six years into my eleven year spell in Dublin, maybe around 2005, giving notice that in 2011 I planned to move back to the country. (The move was to come in 2010, a year earlier than I had anticipated, and was to be to Co Laois, as far from the sea as it was possible to be, rather than to the coast of Co Wexford, for which I had hoped). The desire to move to the country wasn’t because I didn’t love being where I was, I did (who could not love Killiney Bay?), but it was because I hadn’t a clue of how to really engage with the challenges of ministry in an urban setting, and because I was trained for ministry in a bygone age, where the priest and his people shared the life of a close knit community.

I took years to realize what my colleague had known all along. When we gather on Monday to bid him farewell there will be deep and genuine grief in the whole community at the loss of a man who was part of their lives, his ministry of presence and pastoral care having an impact immeasurably profound.

In the tradition of the actor Paul Eddington, who, when asked what he would like his epitaph to be, said, ‘I think I would like it to be ‘He did very little harm’, there was a friend in college days who said his aspiration in life would be that his own epitaph simply said, ‘a decent man’, that he would show the qualities of a decent man, a quiet and gentle goodness and loving-kindness.

The colleague who died today was that, ‘a decent man’.



Leave a comment »

  1. I think your own epitaph will be a pretty favourable one. Having been a parishoner in your urban parish and someone who, as an incomer without relatives or roots or even many friends in that area, really felt the want of a secure community, I thought you did as much as one priest could to make us feel welcomed and included.

  2. Dot, you are very kind, but I think I’m very much a rustic at heart.

  3. Your former urban parish was a rural one when I arrived there in 1954, and there was a very strong, if relatively small CofI community. In fact there was a very strong local community and, as you mentioned above, the scope for being anyone other than yourself was very limited. Although doing relief as a Christmas postman I did come across some military types whose pension envelopes suggested they were overstating their former military rank. Short of that, however, everyone knew everyone else’s business.

    As my mother ran the local newsagents, we knew as much as most, but were stongly advised to be discreet (ie shut up) no matter what we came to hear.

    By the time you came, the place was a concrete jungle, infested with crime, poverty and distress of all sorts. A different place entirely.

    I am now living in Raheny (north Dublin suburb) where, despite the residential build up over the years, there is still a sense of community and focus on the village. This came across to me very strongly during the first Raheny Festival a few years ago. It was a marvellous experience to see the locals virtually pedestrianise the main road as they drifted between festival locations and even stopped for a chat in the middle of the road. Took me back a while.

    Incidentally, this is the village from which Rev. Jim Carroll is retiring after a very active and much loved ministry over the last 21 years. His is loved across all the religious denominations and none. A real jewel in the Raheny crown.

    Anyway, hope you’re enjoying where you are and that the baillifs don’t come for yours or the wife’s house in the near future. 🙂

Leave Comment