Cork Clergy Conference is a Casualty of Coronavirus ~ 21 years in Retrospect

One of the inevitable casualties of the current Coronavirus Pandemic has been the Cork, Cloyne and Ross gathering at Ballylickey, County Cork for the much-valued annual Clergy Conference.

This year’s Conference was scheduled to take place from 7th to 9th October. The speaker was to have been Canon Scott Gunn, executive director of Forward Movement, the leading discipleship ministry of the Episcopal Church in the USA. Known widely for the daily devotional Forward Day by Day, they also publish books, host conferences, create curricula, and offer digital resources to promote discipleship and evangelism.

The Reverend Canon Scott Gunn

Bishop Paul Colton said:

Not being able to host a clergy conference this year is a great disappointment. It’s a significant event in our annual calendar for me and for the clergy of the Diocese. We take a theme, learn from a distinguished speaker, relax and enjoy one another’s company in a way that is good for our teamwork together. It nurtures relationships and allows people to get to know and understand one another and this bears fruit in our work together in the Diocese.

This would have been my 21st clergy conference as bishop. The level three public health framework of recent days would have made it impossible in any event, however, during the summer, even when restrictions were relaxed, in consultation with senior colleagues in the Diocese, I formed the view that, even with sensible precautions, it would not be prudent to press ahead. Gathering people who would not ordinarily gather in a small venue and bringing a speaker from the USA all defied common sense in the current climate.

I truly look forward to the time when we can convene again and to having the opportunity at some stage of welcoming Canon Scott Gunn to the Diocese. We met first at the Lambeth Conference in 2008 and have kept in touch using social media ever since.

A hiatus like this provides an opportunity for thanksgiving and retrospect for all that the annual clergy conference has achieved over the past two decades.

In 2000, the Millennium Year, the former Dean of Vancouver, a Corkman, Dean Herbert O’Driscoll, was welcomed home.

Herbie’s theme was Christian Preaching: Responsibility, Vocation, Art.

In 2001 the theme was Being the Church in a Rural Diocese. A keynote address was given by the then Minister for Agriculture, the late Joe Walsh, T.D. The theme was teased out by the Reverend John Whitehead editor of Rural Theology of the Rural Theology Association.

In 2002, the conference moved to Ballylickey for the first time and the Reverend (as he was then) Mark Oakley, who had recently published The Collage of God was the speaker, taking the theme Spiritual Society, Secular Church?

In 2003, assisted by the Church of Ireland Liturgical Officer of the time, Canon Ricky Rountree, and with a variety of ‘in-Diocese’ liturgical scholars, the opportunity was taken to prepare for the introduction in 2004 of the new Book of Common Prayer. The theme was The Book of Common Prayer 2004: a New Beginning in Worship.

In 2005, Cork was European Capital of Culture and the theme of the conference the previous year focussed on understanding Cork. The theme, therefore, in 2004, in preparation, was A Celebration of Cork: our place of ministry. A memorable highlight was a visit by Bishop Colton’s former English teacher, the actor, Maura O’Shea, mother of the BBC broadcaster and author, Fergal Keane, to read Frank O’Connor’s First Confession. It was an unforgettable conference with Seán O’Sé providing evening entertainment, and thoughtful contributions from the Cork City Manager of the time, Joe Gavin, and other talks, including The Cork Huguenots by Dr Alicia St Leger. Dr Seán Pettit spoke about The Making of Cork – Irish and European Influence, and Richard Wood spoke about Cork’s architecture.

In 2005 the speaker was the Reverend Canon Professor David Brown, FBA, Van Mildert Professor of Divinity (a chair formerly held by Oliver Quick, Michael Ramsey and Stephen Sykes) and a Residentiary Canon of Durham Cathedral since 1990 (before which he was a Fellow of Oriel College, Oxford). His theme was God in the Visual Arts.

In 2006 the speaker was Rabbi Julia Neuberger, Baroness Neuberger who is well-known worldwide as a Rabbi, Social Reformer and Member of the House of Lords in the U.K. who lectured on various themes within Judaism.

Thanks to Baroness Neuberger, our speaker for 2007 was recruited: Bishop Richard Harries, former Bishop of Oxford, Baron Harries of Pentregrath.

His theme was Making Decisions:  Where shall wisdom be found? and included addresses: Christianity and public policy in a secular society; The Shape of Christian Ethics; and Managing Power and Violence.

Famously, he commented, looking around at the small gathering of 30+ clergy, ‘After my time here with you I think is how a diocese is meant to be.’

2008 was another home-grown conference. Bishop Michael Mayes gave some very challenging and thoughtful addresses on the theme: Reflections on things Scriptural including: Living on Other Planets; I heard your voice; Interpreting Scripture; and The Book of Revelation.

2009 took a theme topical with Anglicanism: Canon Law, Communion and Covenant. The speakers were Bishop Colton’s colleagues from the School of Law and Politics at Cardiff University and the Centre for Law and Religion there: Professor Norman Doe, and Professor Mark Hill, Q.C. It’s fair to say that the theme was anticipated with a certain dread, but everyone was thrilled by the accessibility, fun and conviviality, as well as the practical relevance of the addresses.

Clergy Conference photo 2009 with Professor Mark Hill QC to the left of Bishop Colton and Professor Norman Doe to the right.

In 2010 Bishop Colton recruited someone who had been in his bible study group at the Lambeth Conference 2008: Bishop Nick Baines, then Bishop of Croydon, now Bishop of Leeds.

His theme was: Old message, new media: communicating the Gospel in the digital age. The addresses were: Rumours of Glory; If I had a rocket launcher; Lovers in a dangerous time; and Waiting for a Miracle.

An overview of the history of the Church of Ireland was the subject matter in 2011 and the theme taken by the speaker, Canon Dr Adrian Empey, was The Church of Ireland: a goodly heritage?

Interesting addresses followed: Contested ground: where to begin?; The Reformations and beyond revisited; Protestant Ascendancy: some issues; Catholic Ascendancy: even more issues; and From Partition to Pluralism?

The Reverend Dr Giles Fraser, was the speaker in 2012. Up to the previous year he was Canon Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral and director of the St Paul’s Institute, responsible for the cathedral’s engagement with the City of London and the relationship between ethics and modern finance. He resigned from St Paul’s in October 2011 following the resolve of the Cathedral Chapter to evict the Occupy protestors by force. His theme was: Occupy: One Year On. The lessons learnt

Clergy Conference 2012 with the Reverend Dr Giles Fraser

The Chief Executive of Church Army, Canon Mark Russell, was the speaker in 2013 and his theme was: A Time for Confidence. Mark spent more time in the Diocese encouraging young adults to step up to positions of leadership in lay ministry, and was also the preacher at a Celebration of Lay Ministry in St Fin Barre’s Cathedral, Cork

Mark, Russell, CEO, Church Army; giving the address at the Celebration of Lay Ministry in the United Dioceses of Cork, Cloyne and Ross, at Saint Fin Barre’s cathedral, Cork. Image credit: Neil Danton. Copyright © Neil Danton 2013.

The writer, philosopher, parish priest and co-founder of the charity IntoUniversity, Dr Hugh Rayment-Pickard, was the speaker in 2014.

His theme was: Jesus’ Teaching on the Kingdom and the Life of the Church

Dr Andrew Pierce, Assistant Professor of Intercultural Theology and Interreligious Studies at Trinity College, Dublin, was the speaker in 2015.

His theme was: Nature, Grace and Place.

Mark Oakley, by then ‘The Reverend Canon’ was welcomed back in 2016 and he took poetry as his theme: ALL PASSION SPENT? Reclaiming faith, poetry and preaching.

Mark’s addresses were: A beach-combing faith; Now you see me, now you don’t: a human priesthood; The metaphorical God; and Stopping the geese from waddling: a language for our preaching.

2017 was marked by worldwide celebrations fo the 500th anniversary of the Reformation, so an invitation was sent to our friends in one of the Porvoo Communion of Churches to which we belong. The Reverend Dr Jan Eckerdal, Diocesan Chaplain with responsibility for Theological Education, Diocese of Strängnäs, Church of Sweden was our speaker. His theme was: The Lutheran Thread of the Church Catholic.

Clergy of Cork, Cloyne and Ross with the Reverend Dr Jan Eckerdal (front row fifth from right) in 2017

The poet and theologian, Pádraig Ó Tuama, then leader of the Corrymeela Community, originally from Cork, was the speaker in 2018. His theme was Borders and Belonging in the Biblical Witness The addresses were: Ruth, the border crosser; Tamar, the tamer of the Lion of Judah; Jesus and Gentiles: an exploration of friendship; and The great Grandmothers of Jesus.

Pádraig O’Tuama at Ballylickey in 2018

2019 brought a focus on the Decade of Centenaries with overall theme: Knowing our story: making a difference now.

It began with a field trip around a number of sites in County Cork relating to the War of Independence and the Civil War, led by local historian Con McCarthy. Dr Ian d’Alton spoke about Cork Protestants before independence: a year at war, 1916 and also on the subject Protestant and Irish’ – questions and conversations. Gerry White of the Western Front Association concluded the conference with an address entitled From Gunner to Guerrilla – Tom Barry’s Road to Rebellion.

Local historian, Con McCarthy, briefs the group at the site of the Dripsey Ambush
Clergy of Cork, Cloyne and Ross on last year’s Decade of Centenaries field trip, in this instance, at the birthplace and home of Sam Maguire.
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