Last week, I paid a flying visit to Dublin for a surprise birthday party to honour one of my former training rectors. He had a significant birthday and I was invited, alongside many of his former colleagues and parishioners, to honour Canon Desmond Sinnamon and his lovely wife, Jennifer.
I think it would be hard to encounter a warmer more loving human being than Des. He has always had a remarkable presence and every room he is in is always a better place because he is in it. He has a wonderful gift in making whoever he speaks to the most special person in the room and, as he makes his way around a room, sprinkling something of his magic dust wherever he goes, it’s a marvellous thing to behold. I was asked, unexpectedly, to say a few words on that occasion as former colleagues from across the city of Dublin, from Kilkenny, Limerick and Belfast gathered. It shows the respect and affection in which he is held that people wanted to be there.
I will always be grateful for his influence upon my life. When he employed me as a curate in the parish of Taney, I had been out of parish ministry for a year working in a community for adults with learning disabilities. We met at a mutual friend’s house at a dinner party and, after a conversation, he invited me to come for a meeting, after which he invited me to become part of the parish team.
He taught me the importance of building connections and relationships with people who were never likely to instinctively seek out the church and its regular services. He often sent me to situations I felt instinctively awkward and difficult to be in, like golf club dinners, or civic events, or receptions. His rationale was that, if people met you in those settings and you were interested in their lives, they might well contact you when things were difficult for them and maybe you could serve them.
He had, and has, a great heart for those on the margins and I remember the way he and his wife, Jennifer, opened their home to a Palestinian refugee and how he spent a sabbatical in Palestine and made many trips to that part of our world, where there has been so much suffering and bloodshed. These visits and trips were often undertaken in dangerous and challenging circumstances, but he was prepared alongside Jennifer, to go there.
I have many happy memories of their legendary hospitality during my time on that parish team. He believed in working hard, but also in socialising together and building team spirit.
A big emphasis was placed on making people feel welcome and, if you saw someone strange or new in church, you were to try to engage them in conversation, give them a parish magazine and try to help them to integrate into some activity that might be a blessing to them. Doing what the boss told me to do worked out well for me personally as I welcomed a lovely, young lady who came to the church on her first Sunday in Dublin after starting a new job. When I called round with a magazine and some information for her, we got talking and we’re still talking 21 years later. She became my wife!
I had an incredible boss for my first curacy, too. The late Archdeacon Philip Patterson also took a step of faith in employing someone he didn’t know previously.
He and his lovely wife, Eleanor, recognising how different life might be in Belfast for a young man from rural Ireland, made me feel so welcome. When I made mistakes, as inevitably I did, he would go around to visit families and pick up the pieces.
Even when we differed in approach, he gave me freedom to try new things and fully got behind them and put his trust in me. He was also firm enough to push me and make me do things that went beyond my comfort zone.
I learned so much from him about organisation, planning meetings prayerfully and thoughtfully. I learned about preparation and giving of your very best to everything that you did. Again, he and his wife and family modelled something amazing to me about the welcome you can provide and hospitality and kindness. They were very mindful of how daunting this move might be for my Mum at the time and always welcomed her with love and great care on her visits to Belfast.
It was devastating to hear the news of his diagnosis with terminal illness in 2013, but I watched the way he lived that time with such courage and dignity, writing in his final weeks in the parish magazine about the hope of heaven. It was one of the honours of my life to be invited to carry his coffin for a lift at his funeral service.
Reflecting on the impact of the 2 bosses I have had in shaping my own life and ministry, I feel very grateful for them. Two very different and diverse people who loved God and people with everything they had. They took the time and effort to do what they could to train and help me develop. They rejoiced in my successes and stood completely behind me when I failed or things didn’t work out.
Since those days, I have had the experience of being the boss to 5 colleagues. They are a very diverse and enormously gifted bunch of people. They have all endeavoured to be the best version of themselves they can possibly be in all of the complexities and challenges of ministry.
Are you a boss or a leader in your context? Can you see the difficulties people have and try to help to find ways forward? I feel very grateful to have learned from such amazing people who instilled something very important. They expected lots from me, but stood 100% behind me. Their trust and support meant that I wanted to give of my very best for them.
Could I say a huge ‘thank you’ to all who supported our Lenten lunch last Sunday to raise funds for the earthquake appeal following the disaster in Syria and Turkey. It was an amazing event and the team that set up the hall, prepared and served such a fabulous soup lunch did the most incredible job. We await the final total, but to it will be added a donation from the parish funds authorised by the select vestry of £1500. It’s an incredible thing to see what is possible as we work together in response to what is truly a dreadful situation.
Our Lenten services continue on Thursday night at 7.30 pm, as we continue to think about how to hear God using the method of reading the Bible called Lectio Divina.
Looking forward to speaking again soon.
Much love to everyone,
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