It struck me recently that a lot of people who have had quite an influence on my life have died in the past 6 months. My two immediate predecessors as Rector of St. Finnian’s have died in this period. Canon Noel Battye and Bishop Jim Mehaffey built on the foundations laid by Canon Huston and made an extraordinary difference in the lives of so many of our parishioners.
Through their roles in public life, as a distinguished broadcaster in Noel’s case, and as a Bishop in Bishop Jim’s case, they had a huge impact on all sorts of people over the years. I find myself thinking too of other broadcasters who died recently and featured prominently in my growing up in the south of Ireland. Gay Byrne and Marian Finucane conducted interviews and discussions on radio and television on pretty well all the social changes unfolding in front of our eyes, while Larry Gogan played the music and endeared himself to so many on the radio with his “Just-a-Minute” quiz.
The thing that connects them all that I want to commend this month is the quality of steadiness. Gay Byrne presented his last radio programme just over a year and a half ago and was interviewed on national radio just months before he died. Marian Finucane died suddenly at home and was due to present her flagship weekend show just days after she died at the age of 69. Larry Gogan presented his last show just months before he died at the age of 85. Between them, Bishop Jim and Noel served the people of St. Finnian’s for 42 years and in retirement continued to take services in many places until ill health prevented them from continuing. There’s a very real sense pastorally and practically that I stand on the shoulders of giants of the ordained ministry. Through all the changes of the years, in the dark days of the troubles, through people’s joys and sorrows, these people , some of whom I knew personally, and others I didn’t, were a constant presence. What would they have made of the changes we see unfolding today? How would they have responded? What would they have done?
I think they would have held onto the thing they were about whether it was facilitating public debate, informing people, building peace, listening, proclaiming the love of God, serving people and being there.
All of these things are somehow captured in this word “steadiness.” Their voices accompanied us through some of the best and worst times of our lives. They maybe made us laugh and cry as they shared people’s stories and experiences and something of their own lives with us.
There are always going to be new and innovative things, whether it is in how we conduct worship or technology, or there will be trends that emerge that capture our imagination for a while but how many last the course in our lives?
I’m very grateful for those who have this quality of steadiness. The church couldn’t function without them. I think of those who make worship a priority and come each week. Even when it is an effort and a struggle they continue to come and their presence enriches our gatherings.
I think of those who do the hidden tasks – the people we don’t necessarily see who set up for organisations and meetings, dragging tables and chairs and equipment into place so we can gather. I think of musicians and choirs. I think of those who serve on the Select Vestry and oversee policies on a range of issues and ensure our governance is all it should be and complies with the standards required. I think of our Sexton and Church Wardens again who set things up and quietly prepare the church for worship each week. I think of flower arrangers, those who voluntarily look after our grounds, Glebe Wardens who arrange repairs, Lay and Parish Readers who prepare services and assist at Holy Communion.
Even as you list out these steady people you are conscious that there are some who aren’t mentioned, those who arrange events, who oversee funeral teas and supply food and refreshments, those who teach Sunday School and lead organisations and distribute magazines, give lifts and visit people in need. There are those who spend their time looking after loved ones who are not well and all of these are tasks that require huge steadiness.
We need steady people in our world. When they are no longer with us we miss so much all the things that they did, the way they looked after things or organised events or even more significantly, the way they prayed for us and lifted us up before God or walked with us through the different things we faced.
Can we invest in steadiness in our own lives? Can we be depended upon to do whatever we have committed to? Can we show up even when we don’t feel like it or it is damp and cold outside?
Most of the people I have mentioned, either the well known ones or the not so well known ones, have huge amounts to teach us in this regard. It is an important and countercultural value in a rapidly changing world.
Let’s do what we can to be steady in changing times and if we have got out of the way of it, let’s do all we can to ensure that those who want to come on board again are given all the support and encouragement and appreciation we can offer them.
With very best wishes.
Jonathan Pierce (Rector)