Since the 1980s, the ideal Church of Ireland cleric has, for me, been found not in the pages of any clerical directory, but instead in the pages of William Trevor. In Autumn Sunshine, there is the gentle, gracious integrity of Canon Moran, who has ministered for years in his little parish in Co Wexford, and who responds with a commitment to non-violence when confronted with the violent and angry republicanism of his daughter’s partner.
‘The following morning Canon Moran conducted his services in St Michael’s, addressing his small Protestant congregation, twelve at Holy Communion, eighteen at morning service. He had prepared a sermon about repentance, taking as his text St Luke, 15:32: ‘ … for this thy brother was dead, and is alive again; and was lost, and is found.’ But at the last moment he changed his mind and spoke instead of the incident in Kinsella’s Barn nearly two centuries ago. He tried to make the point that one horror should not fuel another, that passing time contained its own forgiveness.
“The man Kinsella was innocent of everything,’ he heard his voice insisting in his church. “He should never have been murdered also.”
Harold would have delighted in the vengeance exacted on an innocent man. Harold wanted to inflict pain, to cause suffering and destruction. The end justified the means for Harold, even if the end was an artificial one, a pettiness grandly dressed up. In his sermon Canon Moran spoke of such matters without mentioning Harold’s name. He spoke of how evil drained people of their humour and compassion, how people pretended even to themselves
He could tell that his parishioners found his sermon odd, and he didn’t blame them. He was confused, and naturally distressed’.
In Of the Cloth, there is the love of Ireland expressed by Grattan Fitzmaurice in his conversation with Father Leahy, Catholic curate in the community.
‘Grattan said, ‘I love Ireland.’
They loved it in different ways: unspoken in the dark, that was another intimation. For Grattan there was history’s tale, regrets and sorrows and distress, the voices of unconquered men, the spirit of women as proud as empresses. For Grattan there were the rivers he knew, the mountains he had never climbed, wild fuchsia by a seashore and the swallows that came back, turf smoke on the air of little towns, the quiet in long glens. The sound, the look, the shape of Ireland, and Ireland’s rain and Ireland’s sunshine, and Ireland’s living and Ireland’s dead: all that’.
Ministering in a group of six churches deep in the Irish Midlands, six small communities, there is a sense of being in the land of Moran and Fitzmaurice; there is an inexpressible love for the place and the people, which would sound bizarre and sentimental were it to ever be articulated. Receiving, yesterday, a telephone call advising I had been elected to the chapter of Saint Patrick’s, the national cathedral, a call that came with no prior notice, there was a sense of sharing an identity with Moran and Fitzmaurice; having reached a degree of maturity when the appelation ‘canon’ becomes not an eccesiastical title, but a mark of the passing years.
To possess but a fraction of the qualities of Trevor’s clerics would capture a sense of the best of the church I love.