Sermon at the Funeral of the Reverend Robert Lawson

Sermon preached at the Funeral of the Reverend Robert William Lawson

in the Church of Saint Brigid, Castleknock, Dublin

by the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton, Bishop of Cork

Saturday, 26th January 2019

We gather here, as we heard at the outset,  ‘… with confidence in God, the giver of life, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead.’ In saying what I say to you today, I felt drawn to the words, read earlier, from the Wisdom of Solomon:

‘Those who trust in him will understand truth,

and the faithful will abide with him in love, …’

(Wisdom 3.9a)

We’ve a saying in the Church of Ireland, indeed in the Anglican tradition, which, when you boil it down, means ‘if you want to know what we believe, look at how we worship and how we pray.’  In the same way, we see much of Robert and his pattern of belief in the choices, many of which he made, for this liturgy today: the prayers first with him and his family in the home he loved; the choice of this place where, on his journey, much of his faith was nurtured and where he exercised ministry long before he was ever ordained, where his earthly body will lie; the participation by his family, inviting us in Christ’s name to gather with him in this Eucharist, the scriptures, the ecumenical involvement, the taking-part by members of Contemplative Outreach Ireland, the quotations from Fr Thomas Keating and Thomas Merton, the hymns with their themes of personal and earthly journey – towards home, towards God, and towards rest.

More generally the Funeral Service sets out why we are here, and what we believe this is about:

  • To remember before God our dear brother Robert;
  • To give thanks for his life;
  • To leave him in the keeping of God his creator, redeemer and judge;
  • To commit his body to be buried; and,
  • To comfort one another in our grief

And we do all of this ‘in the hope that is ours through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.’

It’s a helpful structure for the liturgy today, and it can be used by the preacher conveniently to give shape to our thoughts at a time like this.  Unfortunately, however, in the case of Robert, a formula like this, on its own at any rate, just won’t do. It’s too tidy and too convenient. It lets institutional religion and its representative preacher – me, charged by Robert with this responsibility today – off the hook.   There’s much more going on in our minds, our hearts, our spirits, as we gather here today, and these bullet points simply will not contain it all. We know there is a bigger and more difficult story to tell as we reflect on the many ways we have each known and journeyed with Robert.   

We had some great and happy times; so we do remember and are thankful.  Time is too short, now at any rate, to go through them all: life here in the parish, his ministry as a lay man and as a reader, his reaching out especially to people who were ill.  This was a part of Dublin that accelerated in growth in the 1990s, and has continued to expand since. To put it in perspective, when I arrived here 29 years ago, Castleknock still looked like a village and there were 107 Church of Ireland families; when I left nine years later there were 517 families. The region has continued to expand during the incumbencies of Andrew Orr and Paul Houston.

This was an area of population explosion and Robert was one of the many lay people here who I could not have done without, people without whose voluntary work, I would have gone under, and when I nearly did, Robert was one of the ones who was there.  You have your own memories – Sunday Cub, Boys’ Brigade, football, fund-raising, vestry, and life outside the parish too: his sport, his work in the Department of Biotechnology at DCU, the Church’s Ministry of Healing. He trained to be licensed as a Diocesan Reader followed; and next, ordination training, deeper contact with neighbours in Lucan and Leixlip, being made a deacon in 2008 and ordained priest in 2009, deep relationship with the people of Celbridge and Straffan with Newcastle-Lyons, and then Christ Church Cathedral Group, and contact with countless others in these dioceses and further afield.  And then I suppose I better mention that he was a Liverpool supporter. Before vestry prayers each week in that vestry, the air had to be cleared as of first importance of friendly football banter; yes, we parked it. As he leaves us, it looks as if it could well be his team’s year.

The last time we had communication with one another was on Saturday last – the 29th anniversary of first meeting one another at my Institution as Rector here in this very place. As it happens, 1990 was also the last year Liverpool won the league. Those were the days when Robert was emerging from the first phase of his illness.  The years that followed in the 1990s and the first part of the twenty-first century, such was Robert’s zest for life and people, that illness, and markers, and check-ups while all there, all took a relative back seat. A new diagnosis in 2010 came as a real jolt. Recent years brought new stages on his journey; and that is how he saw it – as journey.  He never saw it as ‘battle’, ‘struggle’ or ‘fight’, and didn’t want it labelled as such. And this, of course, goes against our instinct.

I reminded him last Saturday of the friendship anniversary that was in it. Ever the mystic, and ever the somewhat intangible in his spirituality, at least to rationalists like me,  he replied: ‘Many philosophers would say the friendship started long before we were born.’ I’m still thinking about that one.

On his journey, Robert had come to see a lot of things on a different timeline.  This cannot always have been easy for those closest to him, but they have journeyed faithfully and lovingly with him, and he with them.

So now that he has come to this point on his journey, we are especially mindful of you – those of you who were closest to him along the way – Ada, Theo and Paul, Robert’s mother, Muriel (who cannot be here today due to her great age), his mother-in-law Florrie, all of Ada’s family, and of course, his late brother John’s family; and in the communion of Saints, worshipping with us today  – ‘angels and archangels and all the company of heaven ‘ – we think of his father Bill, his brother John, and Victor, his father in law. Intrinsic to Robert’s journey were his medical team – they were, of course, professionals, but to Robert they were friends and teammates on his side and he had huge admiration for them as individuals and their science. And of course his countless friends, in person, and virtual, to whom he reached out, gave himself, ministered and made a difference.  Many of you here received counsel, friendship and ministry from Robert in your own hour of need. I am not going to repeat the words that you have said and posted about him again and again on social media which he embraced. Sometimes though he had a way of challenging you – me at any rate – and I’d never give him the sut, as they say, of knowing that he was right (that’s pride) but often he hit the mark, not always mind you (he was far from perfect), so it is no wonder that one dear friend, against that background, described him as ‘infuriatingly lovely.’   

Robert whatsapped (that was his way latterly of keeping in touch with many of us) on 20th December to say that he was embarking on a new drug which, in his words,  ‘wouldn’t be a game changer’ and it would be ‘his last throw of the dice’. Again his words. I asked what he wanted and he said ‘Just keep in touch’. Robert, more than anyone else I have ever known, learned to live in the moment. We kept in touch, in the days and nights since – banter, jokes, sometimes more pensive and vulnerable.  Often I sent him photos – a morning mist over farmland when I was out two weeks ago in West Cork; it wasn’t a lot different from his home townland, I thought, of Carrickbanagher in Sligo, in the Parish of Collooney. Robert’s journey was a deeply personal one, and sometimes, for those of us apart from himself, it was hard to figure out: perplexing.  He was quite clear that it was ’his journey’; ‘I have to make the journey,’ he said, but he knew that he was not alone. I am not thinking only and predictably of God, that again is too clichéd. So I want you all to know how Robert saw it and what he said to me about all of you – most of you are included anyway, I hope – (you can see Robert widening his eyes and putting his tongue in his cheek at my saying that; and perhaps even his deep guffaw of laughter – ‘Did he just say that?’).  Last week when he told me that he believed, to use his words, ‘time is beginning to catch-up with me’, I asked him if I could do anything for him. ‘No thanks’ he said “God has put me together with so many beautiful different people to learn from them. That’s enough for me.’ That’s you guys.

Contact sustained by long walks when I was here, occasional get-togethers, social media asides, and long, long conversations on the car phone (with handsfree I emphasise) that often lasted on my drive home to Cork from Newlands Cross to as far as Urlingford or even the Horse and Jockey, until I reached the hard border into Cork a few miles north of Mitchelstown,  we kept in touch and he usually left me in no doubt about what he thought about institutional religion, in general, and bishops and other types of ecclesiastical authority, in particular, and the way that authority and power is exercised, particularly when it excluded rather than included. His journey didn’t alienate him entirely from institutional religion, but a lot of it exasperated him – certainly it brought him to a place of holding it in proper perspective in a very contemporary 21st Century millennial way.   These recent years of journeying have been, for him, paths of deepening spirituality: the Cloud of Unknowing, the writings of St John of the Cross, Thomas Merton,  Richard Rohr and, most especially, Thomas Keating. And so came the importance of contemplation and centering prayer; spirituality, which he saw as the way forward in the ministry and mission of the contemporary Church – not strategies, programmes, or frenzied activity and initiatives.

And that brings me to the Scripture readings  (Psalm 23, Matthew 5.1-11) and the reading from the Biblical Apocrypha (Wisdom of Solomon 3.1-9) chosen for today, including the text I was drawn to.  One of the things they have in common is this, and this commonality, for me at any rate, captures something of Robert’s spirituality, which had become deeply mystical, yes, in the tradition of the Christian mystics. All of the readings contrast conventional perceptions with a new and transforming and transformative perspective on things. They turn conventional outlook on its head. Robert often strove to do this himself.

In the psalm the God who in great parts of the Hebrew Scriptures is encountered as Almighty, powerful God, omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent,  sometimes portrayed as terrifying, is, here, in contrast, a shepherd who pastors and restores us, is with us in the valley of death, takes away fear, and brings comfort.  Even when we are surrounded by those metaphorical enemies there is a laden table of welcome and hospitality to sit at, where the cup is overflowing, and God welcomes us into his house, forever.  

Jesus, in what he did and said, was, par excellence, the one (Matthew 5.1-11) who turned the accepted wisdom and the human mores of the day on their head. As Robert’s beloved Father Thomas Keating said of the parables of Jesus, for instance, ‘The thrust of the parables is to subvert the distorted myths in which people live their lives.’ So, for example, it is the foreigner who is good and who comes to the rescue, not the priest or the respectable local.  For Jesus the Kingdom of God, surprisingly, is like a mustard seed, or a widow, or a child, the lost sheep, or a wayward son. So it is here again in today’s snippets of sermons gathered in what we call The Beatitudes.  It is the poor in spirit to whom the kingdom of heaven belongs.  Those who mourn are comforted. The meek inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are filled. The pure in heart see God.  Peacemakers are children of God. Those who are persecuted are given the kingdom of God, and so, in spite of everything that we face, we can ‘rejoice and be glad.’  

Robert’s journey had brought him to a point where he seemed to have grasped these outlandish things and rested in them, which brings me, finally, to the first reading from the Wisdom of Solomon (3.1-9).  It is a passage that is curiously beautiful and yet unsettling – dare I say ‘infuriatingly lovely’? For it casts those of us who have the very human reactions, as the foolish ones – ‘in the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction…’  Truth be told that is how we actually feel at times like this. Yet again, however, the conventional outlook is turned on its head: ‘…but they are at peace … their hope is full of immortality … God found them worthy of himself …’

In his  last message to me last Saturday Robert was anticipating the move to the Hospice, and he said ‘it should be a great time of purification already … if you could use the word or whatever you want to call it – part of the spiritual’, he said.  His last words to me were discomfiting – that wasn’t surprising – but this was not my journey, it was his.

It takes spiritual maturity to realise and embrace all of this, and if we are honest, if I am honest, many of us wrestle with these things, not least with the ideas of discipline and testing, but there again, as Saint Paul said somewhere else, ‘now we see through a glass darkly’ (1 Corinthians 13.12)  

But Robert’s spiritual journey had led him to embrace how he saw it and had come to grasp it: ‘I lie in greater opening to my God’, he said last Friday.   This is why, friends, I was drawn to the text I chose:

‘Those who trust in him will understand truth,

and the faithful will abide with him in love …’

(Wisdom 3.9a).  

It seems to me that that is the point to which Robert had arrived on this stage of his journey.   That is why, as I say “we have confidence in God the giver of life, who raised the Lord Jesus from the dead’, and that we can rest in the truth that ‘the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, [where] no torment will ever touch them.’  (Wisdom 3.1)

The Reverend Robert William Lawson 25th May 1960 ~ 23rd January 2019


Posted in Bishop, Church Services, Sermons

First Youth ‘Leaders in Training Course’ held in Cork, Cloyne and Ross

Recently the Cork Diocesan Youth Council (CDYC) teamed up with the YMCA to put together an accredited course – Leaders in Training – for training Youth Leaders. The first group of 8 trainees began in September 2018 and consisted of 4 transition year students, 1 Leaving Cert student and 3 youth leaders.

Participants in the Leaders in Training Course in Cork, Cloyne and Ross.

The course was run over 8 weeks with assignments and sessions.  As part of their overall assessment and final assignment, the trainees had to plan, organise and run an event.

On the 5th of January, the Leaders in Training participants held this event. They ran a Well-Being morning with different activities and workshops based on the topic of stress and worry. The morning was attended by 28 young people who really enjoyed the activities and expressed a wish for something similar in the future.

Leaders in Training event

The tutors and youth leaders who came to support the participants on the day were deeply impressed by the confidence and organisation of the group.

Chairperson of CDYC, Judy Peters says:

They did an amazing job and any youth group would be lucky to have them as leaders. I have watched them develop in so many ways over the last few months. Their confidence and leadership skills have come on immensely.

A big thank you was given to Joy Cantwell-Moore and Isla Jeffers for their hard work and teaching.

Posted in CDYC, Lay Ministry, Voluntary Work, Youth Work

Bishop Colton attends Cork County Commemoration of the First Dáil

On Monday, 21st January 2019, the centenary of the meeting of the First Dáil in the Mansion House in Dublin, Cork County Council held a special commemorative meeting at the County Hall, Cork.  Dr Paul Colton, Church of Ireland Bishop of Cork, was in attendance as a guest.

Special meeting of Cork County Council in Cork County Hall, to commemorate the first meeting of Dáil Éireann.

As part of the Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Commemorations and Reconciliation Project (supported by the Church of Ireland Priorities Fund) Bishop Colton has been working in partnership with other bodies and agencies in Cork City and County who are also engaging with the Decade of Centenaries.  In the case of Cork County Council he has been working with the County Heritage Office, Conor Nelligan, and Nicola Radley, Senior Executive Officer at the Corporate Services Directorate at Cork County Council.

Bishop Colton with (left) Cllr Frank O’Flynn, Chairman of the Cork County Commemorations Committee, and Cllr Kevin Murphy.

Yesterday’s meeting, like that of the First Dáil, was conducted principally in Irish, but included also an excerpt in French from the ‘Message to the Free Nations of the World.’  The meeting commemorated the nine Corkmen who were elected to the First Dáil:   Liam De Róiste; James J Walsh, David Kent, Terence MacSwiney, Patrick O’Keeffe, Thomas Hunter, Michael Collins, Diarmuid Lynch and Seán Hayes.  Principal addresses to the meeting, in Irish, were made by the Mayor of Cork County, Cllr Patrick Gerard Murphy, and the CEO of Cork County, Mr Tim Lucey.  In itself, the meeting made history as it was the first recorded bilingual meeting of the County Council.

At the special meeting were (l-r) Cllr Mary Linehan Foley, Bishop Paul Colton, and Cllr Susan McCarthy.

A keynote address was given by Dr Neil Buttimer from the Department of Modern Irish at University College, Cork.  Bishop Colton was warmly welcomed to the special sitting of the County Council by the Mayor and Councillors, as well as the chairperson and vice-chairperson of the Cork County Commemorations Committee.

Dr Neil Buttimer (left) Department of Modern Irish at University College Cork, Bishop Colton, and Conor Nelligan, Cork County Heritage Officer.


Posted in Centenaries in Ireland, Centenary, Cork, Cork Centenaries Commemoration and Reconciliation Project, Decade of Centenaries

10th Anniversary of Ecumenical Links with Indian Orthodox Community marked by Cork Church of Ireland Parish

For the past ten years, members of the Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, have been celebrating mass on two Saturdays each month in St Michael’s Church of Ireland Church in Blackrock, Cork, and also on their major festivals.  A special celebration was held recently to mark the 10th anniversary.

At a special service in St Michael’s Church on Saturday 12 January, their priest Fr Zachariah George, and the Church of Ireland rector, Archdeacon Adrian Wilkinson, lit wicks from a large oil lamp to symbolise their shared faith and ecumenical fellowship.

Celebrations of the 10th anniversary of the use by the Indian Orthodox Church in Cork of St Michael’s Church of Ireland Church, Blackrock, Cork.

Later Archdeacon Wilkinson was presented with an engraved glass plaque as a gift to the parish. The inscription reads, ‘Thank you for your generosity and support throughout our journey, with deepest gratitude and appreciation from all our members to St Michael’s Church, Blackrock, Cork 2019’.

A presentation to Archdeacon Adrian Wilkinson.

The large congregation at the service included many young families and children. Afterwards everyone enjoyed a celebratory meal in the Old Schoolhouse beside the church and there both clergy cut a special cake in honour of the occasion. The parishioners in Blackrock would like to thank the Indian Orthodox congregation for this very generous gesture and they look forward to continuing the journey with them for many more years to come.

Cutting the cake.

The Malankara Orthodox Syrian Church, more commonly known as the Indian Orthodox Church, traces its roots back to the evangelical activity of St Thomas the Apostle in the 1st Century. These Christians are predominantly from Kerala State on the southwestern Malabar Coast of India. Quite a number now live in Cork and work in a variety of professions and in business.

The 10th anniversary celebrations of the members of the Indian Orthodox Church in St Michael’s Church, Blackrock, Cork.

Posted in Anniversaries, Ecumenism, International Church Relations, Special Events

Joint Christmas Message from the Bishops of Cork: Bishop John Buckley and Bishop Paul Colton

Catholic Diocese of Cork and Ross

Church of Ireland – Diocese of Cork, Cloyne and Ross

Joint Press Release


Joint Christmas Message from the Bishops of Cork:

The Most Reverend Dr John Buckley and the Right Reverend Dr Paul Colton

Christmas 2018

As Bishops of Cork, many things are on our minds as we approach Christmas 2018. We recently commemorated the centenary of the end of the ‘war to end all wars’ and yet, one hundred years on, there is war and conflict in many places around world. Everyone feels the global reach of these wars where they are locally. Next year we will begin to mark the events, not without their own violence and conflict, that led to the independent foundation of our State. At a more personal level many live with human conflict and deep upset in their own lives for all sorts of reasons, depending on our circumstances: homelessness, hunger, poverty, striving to keep going in a fast-changing society, keeping up at work, matching the pace of change. These, and so many more, challenge us in ways that affect our well-being: physical, mental and emotional.

It is against this background that we hear again in 2018 the Christmas message of the baby whose birth was announced as bringing ‘peace on earth and goodwill’.   He was called the ‘Word made flesh’ – God among us; and ‘Emmanuel’ – God with us. Peace is so much more than the absence of war, conflict and violence. We often hear that ‘the peace of God passes all understanding’, and so it does, and for many it seems hard to find and to feel. The Christmas message assures us that God is with us no matter what we are going through.

As we join, therefore, once again this year as Bishops of Cork, in wishing you all a Happy Christmas, we pray that you will know the joy, hope and peace that the birth of Jesus, the baby born in Bethlehem brings; and indeed that all, wherever they are around the world, who work for justice, peace and the well-being of humanity, will be blessed and encouraged to persevere.

In offering these hopes and prayers, we are conscious that God energises people’s imaginations and gives them the will, in God’s name, to make the world a better place here and now. As ever, here in Cork, we pay tribute to, and encourage our parishes and the people of Cork to support (through our voluntary work or gifts and engagement), those who work day in and day out throughout the year among us to change things for the better for people who are poor, homeless, living on our streets, looking for affordable housing, newcomers to our shores, people living in fear of violence, coping with mental health issues, living with pain and illness, caring for older people and people living with dementia, those seeking cures for disease, those who feel like strangers among us, and many who are working to put before us the big issues that face us all, such as climate change.

There is so much good being done and worked towards. We wish each and every one of you a peaceful and blessed Christmas.

+Paul Colton,                                                                          +John Buckley,      

Bishop of Cork, Cloyne and Ross                                                Bishop of Cork and Ross.



Further information from:

Sam Wynn        Church of Ireland Diocesan Communications Officer

Telephone:      +353 (0)86 813 7659


Posted in Bishops of Cork, Christmas, Church in Society, Ecumenism, Five Marks of Mission

Anglican Chant Focus and Rehearsal at Cork Church

One Sunday this Autumn,  the Rev. Elaine Murray led the usual service of Morning Prayer at St Mary’s Church, Carrigaline, County Cork.  However, there was a difference.  Under the auspices of the Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Church Music Scheme, she had invited Peter Stobart from St Fin Barre’s Cathedral to take the congregation through some of the canticles and psalms, and to explore Anglican Chant.

Some members of the choir from Monkstown, County Cork led by Roger Ellis had also come along to the Service and the sound was an impressive one. Peter had chosen three different styles of chant as a way of demonstrating to the congregation what was possible with very little extra effort.

Firstly the canticle Venite was sung to a very simple plainchant. After just a couple of practice verses the congregation was able to break out into antiphony, with one side of the church singing the odd verses and the other side the even verses. This monastic style is one of the oldest forms of liturgical chanting.

Anglican chant proper was used for the psalm of the day. Although the chant itself was longer than the plainchant had been, the tune was seemingly more memorable and so caused very few problems. After a few practice verses everyone stood up so as to be back in Service mode and sang the whole psalm through.

The third musical setting was for the canticle Benedictus. Peter chose a responsorial format and so it was the most modern concept of the three. The principles of chanting were still the same, however, and the congregation by this stage in the morning were picking things up very swiftly. A short refrain using the first line of the text, written by Peter himself,  was sung between the verses.

The Rev. Elaine Murray said afterwards that she thought the congregation had never sounded so good and that the service was exactly what she had imagined it to be. As a lover of Anglican chant she said that she was worried that without initiatives such as this it would quickly disappear completely from our liturgies.

Anglican Chant being taught by Peter Stobart at St Mary’s Church, Carrigaline.

Posted in Anglicanism, Church Music, Diocesan Church Music Scheme, Worship

Young People of Rosscarbery Host Supper for Simon Community

On Saturday 24th November, the Youth Group in Ross Union of Parishes, Rosscarbery, County Cork, held a supper in aid of the Simon Community. The young people prepared and served a two course meal, sold raffle tickets and cleared up afterwards. A total of €708 was raised for Cork Simon. Kerry McMahon from Cork Simon came and spoke of how the projects run in Cork city rely heavily on such fundraising events.

Congratulations to all the young people!

Young people and leaders from the youth group in Ross Union of Parishes.

Posted in Church in Society, Community Involvement, Five Marks of Mission, Voluntary Work, Youth Work