Bishop Rooke’s Presidential Address to TKA Synod 2021

As your President and Bishop, it is my great pleasure for the eleventh time, to
address you, the members of the Tuam, Killala and Achonry Diocesan Synod. I
do so with mixed emotions as this is the final time I shall stand here before you
at a TKA Diocesan Synod. Indeed, it is the last occasion any of us will attend
such an event as with my retirement on 31 st October and that of the Bishop of
Limerick and Killaloe on the same day, All Saints Day, 1 st November will mark
the formation of the new United Dioceses of Tuam, Limerick and Killaloe so
that next year, you will be invited by a new bishop to attend the first Diocesan
Synod of the new United Dioceses, held, not here but somewhere in close
proximity to Limerick. Those from the Ballisodare Group of parishes will, by
then be members of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh Diocesan Synod. Some, no
doubt, will be sad about all this – we don’t as a rule like change! Others, will
see it as the opportunity it presents to move forward on a firm and secure

Let me take you back to the Diocesan Synod of September 2011, the same
month of my consecration, 10 years ago. This is what I said then as part of my
first Presidential Address to the Diocesan Synod…

‘The past few months have proved to be a dramatic time for these Dioceses. It
began with the announcement that Bishop Richard would step down at the end
of January. Then came word that the House of Bishops would be seeking a
moratorium of one year before the calling of an Episcopal Electoral College.
They wanted time for the episcopal needs here to be re-examined, before the
appointment of a bishop. Hence, as the Constitution dictates, a special
meeting of the General Synod was called for 20 th March in Christ Church
Cathedral. The Bishops’ announcement provoked outrage from many people.
This was primarily expressed through the pages of the Church of Ireland
Gazette: ‘Tuam is being treated unfairly and a vacancy is not the time to begin
such a process’ was the gist of what was being said. A view that subsequently
prevailed as, almost unanimously, the General Synod voted against the
Bishops’ proposal. That decision was in no small way influenced by the
members of our Dioceses who spoke in a passionate way of the needs of Tuam,
Killala and Achonry and the clear desire for an episcopal leader, not in a year’s
time, but as a matter of some urgency. Hence, the Archbishop summoned an
Episcopal Electoral College for the end of March. It met in Armagh but failed to
make an election and so the appointment lapsed to the House of Bishops who
on the 13 th of April elected me.’

I went on to state……

‘I mention all of this because the process demonstrated two things –
First, that the structure and episcopal needs of Tuam, Killala and Achonry(TKA),
and of all dioceses in the Church of Ireland need to be re-examined. Questions
such as the role of the bishop in a small diocese must be addressed. In that
sense, the Bishops were right; they were not suggesting anything new or
unexpected and in recent months, with General Synod’s support, steps have
been taken by the Standing Committee to have such a look at the episcopal
needs of all the dioceses – and Archdeacon Hastings is a member of the initial
Working Group which will formulate terms of reference for the examination of
the issues of episcopacy, with a wide review north and south, focusing
particularly on mission. Thus they are presently consulting and gathering
appropriate information from the dioceses as well as identifying matters of a
theological nature before reporting back to the Standing Committee in January.
However, none of this is to suggest that changes or restructuring will inevitably
result. Simply that the Church is doing what it needs to do, and I believe, that
we in TKA, must play our full part in the process. We have nothing to fear from
it and must hope that from it will emerge a clear vision and direction for the
way ahead. What we must not do, is fall into the trap of thinking that this is in
any way a threat. It is not. To take part in such a process is surely the only way
to safeguard the trust that has been bestowed upon us. As the one who has
subsequently emerged as the episcopal leader, I pledge myself to achieve for
TKA the very best possible solution for these Dioceses.
So let us go forward with heads held high – no one in the Church of Ireland, and
not least the Bishops, are under any illusion that the people of Tuam, although
small in number, intend to be a force in the Church for many years to come.’
(End of quotation)

In many ways this single issue has dominated my time among you as your
bishop. It has been time-consuming and we’ve travelled down some cul-de-
sacs in that time. But it is enlightening, I believe, to step back in time – to that
Diocesan Synod ten years ago and recall the hurt and the frustration that those
from Tuam, Killala and Achonry were feeling. Yes, you’d got your new bishop
but a lot of collateral damage had been done. As a diocese we were feeling
very insecure and, despite the support of General Synod, many across the
Church of Ireland still saw that there was an issue that needed sorting.
Compare all that to today – our heads are firmly held high, we have shown
integrity, a willingness to compromise and a desire to do what is best for the
whole church, while at the same time, getting a good result for ourselves –
and, most importantly, we have done it on our terms and in our time. We are
no longer the ‘Tuam Problem’ but are being openly congratulated for the
manner in which we have collaborated with our neighbouring dioceses in
working through the many issues and reaching amicable solutions that most
can live with.

Yes, perhaps the result is similar to what might have been envisaged by some
ten years ago and TKA will no longer be a diocese in its own right – but this
time round, as you face another vacancy, you know clearly what is to happen,
where your future lies and that it is something you have negotiated, we have
negotiated – nothing will be forced upon you. Indeed, I believe those of you
who will remain part of the Tuam family are in for an exciting time with much
to look forward to.

And, family is the theme that runs through all that I want to say in this
presidential address. For that is what we are in this Diocese – and that is what I
shall remember most as I look back on my time among you. Families may not
always agree but they stick together and support one another when in need.
Not least small families – and, in diocesan terms, we are a very small family,
diverse but united, with the strong looking out for the weak. We are small
enough to know those across the diocese – indeed the Tuam Group reaches all
the way from the western seaboard to Co Roscommon in the east. Those on
the north Mayo and Sligo coast know many in Galway and Clifden in the south
and Zoom has further enhanced this knowledge. And this sense of family is
now to be extended through the marriage of two united dioceses. Think what
happens at most weddings as two families are thrown together – they are
reticent at first, sticking with their own. But as time moves on, they come to
know each other better and new friendships thrive, with points of overlap
discovered, common experiences shared and before you know it, lives are
enriched and value added to all who are prepared to look beyond their own.
Hence, I want to use this opportunity to say ‘thank you’ for the spirit with
which you have begun to approach this impending marriage – a spirit that over
those ten years has pervaded all we’ve done together. Your willingness as
individuals, as parishes, as a diocesan family to face and work through the
tough issues has been second to none. All our diocesan meetings have been
conducted in a cordial and friendly manner with only the occasional display of
annoyance – and that, let me assure you, is certainly not the case everywhere
across our Church! I want to thank you, one and all, for that and for the
support and encouragement you have always been to me as your Bishop.

The Senior Clergy; Archdeacon Gary Hastings and Archdeacon Alan Synnott in
those early years and Dean Alistair and Archdeacon Stephen in more recent
times have led that support undertaking many unseen tasks in the background.
This past year has been no exception and I want to thank the Dean and
Archdeacon once again for their willingness, except on a good fishing day, to
tackle any task and see it through.

The clergy team is at the heart of any diocese and I owe much to all our clergy.
Although ever changing, I feel fortunate in the team I’ve had. I should perhaps
say a particular word of congratulations to Dean Alistair who alone of the nine
stipendary clergy I inherited has survived my time here – indeed four others
have come and gone over those years! Canons Doris and Andrea as NSMs too
were here ten years ago but all other members of our present team have
arrived during my time as Bishop.

This past year has been overshadowed by Covid and pandemic restrictions.
Church life has all but ground to a halt during two lockdowns. With regular
church services cancelled, face to face meetings impossible, confirmations and
baptisms forbidden, funerals severely curtailed and pastoral visiting as we
know it impossible, one could be forgiven for thinking very little was
happening. Far from it – clergy across the country have risen to the task and
not least here in Tuam, Killala and Achonry. I think it is probably fair to say that
we’ve all improved our computer skills and are now experts at Zoom and so
much more! Online services, virtual meetings, telephone calls, garden visits to
name but a few are some of the improvisations that have become common
practice. But nothing quite beats those face-to-face encounters and how good
it is to be back here in Tuam among friends, albeit socially distanced and all too
aware of the unseen danger that continues to lurk in our midst. Let us hope
that soon, life really will return to something that resembles normality,
whatever that is. To quote Bishop David Chillingworth who conducted our
Annual Clergy and Readers Quiet Day…. ‘we are not used to being in structures
which are not fixable – we are not used to instability or being out of control.’
For many, the Pandemic has brought bereavement and suffering. In one way
or another anxiety, fear, social isolation, suffering, loss and uncertainty have
blighted all our lives. As Bishop David reflected, ‘all these experiences are
profoundly disturbing and make us reflect on our values and our patterns of

Already this month we’ve been able to celebrate two ordination services in the
northern end of the Diocese and we welcome the Reverends Caroline Morrow
and Clive Moore as OLM priests in their respective charges at Killanley and
Ballycastle with Crossmolina. The Reverend Martin Steel, from Connor Dioicese
joins us as a deacon serving his internship in the Killala Group and we also
welcome another deacon, the Reverend Alistair Doyle from Dublin Diocese
serving for a year as a deacon in Galway and Oughterard as well as acting as
Chaplain at NUIG and GMIT. Martin and Alistair, we are delighted to have you
among us and trust you will enjoy serving in this diocese – and I know you’ll
both be warmly embraced by all in your respective parishes and in the wider
diocesan family.

Eventually we did manage to get Canon Jen McWhirter instituted into the
Aughaval Group – in December…. many months after her appointment early in
2020. Two further institutions are planned for next month – on Friday 8 th
October in Clifden when the Dean will be instituted into the Omey Group and
on Sunday 17 th October when the Archdeacon will formally arrive in the Killala
Union. I am most grateful to the Dean and the Archdeacon for their willingness
to take on the additional oversight of what will now become larger groups of
parishes. I think the parishioners in both the Omey Group and the Killala Union
will agree, that their soon to be rectors, have already proved that they are
more than up for the task. The Archdeacon is fortunate in the OLM support he
has in the wider Killala Group but we are aware that the Dean could do with
more assistance in his wider responsibilities and in this regard we are grateful
to Canon David Williams for the cover he has been providing and I’m pleased
that Mrs Frankie Hill-Thornburg from Clifden is about to begin training as a
Diocesan Reader….one of three people in the diocese preparing for that role at
this time, and how we need them! With the advent of ordained local ministry,
we have been left with just one Diocesan Reader, Dr Eamon Smith. I should
therefore like to offer a special word of appreciation to him for his wisdom,
support, psychological expertise and enthusiasm. In this connection too, I want
to thank Provost Lynda our Warden of Readers and Canon Jen our DDO for
their work with selection, training and oversight of our readers and ordinands.

A few weeks ago the Rev Peter Norman announced that he will retire at the
end of next month. Peter, I thank you for your calm and thoughtful ministry
among the people of Rathbarron and Tubbercurry over the past three years.
Peter has his own home in the diocese and I am delighted that he has kindly
agreed to conduct services as required across the Diocese and I will be issuing
him with the necessary ‘Permission to Officiate’ to enable this. Peter, we wish
you and Helen a long and fruitful retirement together.

For the past seven or eight years Canon Doris Clements has acted as Diocesan
Curate, filling in all over the Diocese and, as we all know, no one has done
more in terms of our Diocesan Board of Education. I want to thank Doris for all
that she does so willingly and much of it, I hope she will continue to do, as in a
couple of months, due to age, she switches from a licensed cleric to one with
Permission to Officiate. Sadly, this change will mean that we lose her from the
two Cathedral Chapters and the Diocesan Council but knowing Doris, she will
make herself available in whatever way she can – Doris, we do thank you, as
like me, you move to the slow lane.

Over my term of office, I’ve had a Heather to keep me right – for six of those
years it was Heather Sherlock and for the past four, Heather Pope. As new
business and safety procedures have come into force in recent years, we have
had to comply – and be it Safeguarding procedures, GDPR, Well-being, Charity
Regulations and other Protocols, Heather has been up to the task and ahead of
the game. Heather, thank you – you’ve certainly shouldered much of the
burden of these complex changes and I can’t thank you enough.

My thanks too to our Diocesan Registrar, Mrs Audrey Shannon for all her work
in preparing legal documents for ordinations, institutions and other diocesan
occasions – Audrey has been at this for a long time now, long before I arrived,
and has loyally attended to all these matters.

In June we said farewell to Mrs Emma Rodrigues, our lead Evangelist/Outreach
Worker in the Ballina Churches Together Project. Emma started five years ago
as a lone figure walking the streets of Ballina, making connections and
providing friendship and hospitality. A true pioneer, she worked tirelessly and
sacrificially for many months before eventually forming a support group of
volunteers to assist her in the social outreach across the town. The Project
itself would not have been possible without the support of Church Army and
the ecumenical co-operation of the four churches and their clergy across
Ballina. I want to pay a particular tribute to Bishop John Fleming for the role he
has played – always supportive, practical and hospitable, he has been pivotal
to its success.

BCT has become widely known through the Big Blue Bus that was purchased
some four years ago. It more than served its purpose in bringing the message
and practical support of the Project into the estates around Ballina and with
the evening ministry in the town centre. Sadly, it became too expensive to run
and has been sold but the outreach continues, and with Emma’s departure,
the Project is now in the very capable hands of Ms Marian Edwards, assisted by
Ms Roseamund Adamson.

The BCT Project is one of a number of new initiatives that we have been
experimenting with under our Alternative Pathways Programme. The Sacred
Path on Achill, based at the newly purchased St Thomas Hall in Dugort is
another. This year we’ve been attempting to enthuse a wider group of clergy
and laity across the Diocese to form a Learning Community to share together
new ideas and experiences that we hope might manifest themselves in further
examples of alternative ways of doing church in the local context. I’m sorry I
won’t be here to see this develop but I do urge those in positions of influence
to keep pushing against this doorway to the future. Traditional Church as we
know it cannot, I believe, survive on its own – hence we must seek constantly
to find new ways, alongside the traditional, to reach those who will never
darken the door of a church building. A blended approach, as it is known. So
my thanks to Canon Andrew and the Alternative Pathways Team who have
agonised on all this and played their part in enabling others to catch the vision.

As I mentioned at the outset, Canon Andrew and his parishioners in the
Ballisodare Group will leave TKA upon my departure, joining Elphin Diocese. I
know that they will be greatly missed from the Tuam family but I’m sure the
move to Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh is the correct one for them, even if it is
with sadness from our perspective. It goes without saying that we wish all in
Ballisodare, Collooney and Ballymote God’s richest blessings in the years
ahead. They take with them many who have played significant roles in recent
years in this united dioceses, and for fear of omitting one, I’ll not name
them…but we know who they are and of the importance they have been to
our common life and witness together. Canon Andrew himself, has entered
fully into the life of TKA and his leadership and participation will be greatly
missed. His role over the past couple of years in editing Tidings has been much
appreciated and I thank Canon Jen McWhirter for agreeing to step into the
Editor’s shoes.

Canon Andrew allowed significant coverage in Tidings of our lockdown Lenten
fund-raising for the water project at Imaroro in our overseas link diocese of
Kajiado. What a splendid team effort it was as we read together the full canon
of scripture over a six-week period. Every parish played its part with the 11K
euro plus target surpassed. This effort epitomised the family that we are in
these United Dioceses with all contributing readily and wholeheartedly.
In this address, I’ve quite deliberately ‘looked in’ to the immediate concerns of
this Diocese rather than ‘outwards’ to the concerns of the wider world, which
are many and complex at this time.

I have said much about farewells, and this morning I was made aware of another. My colleague here in Tuam, Archbishop Michael Neary has, I am informed, had his intention to retire accepted in Rome and I assume this means he will step down within the next
few weeks. The Archbishop has been a good friend to the Church of Ireland
community in the West over his long episcopate of 26 years. I personally have
been on the receiving end of his kindness and hospitality. He has always gone
out of his way, in his humble and quiet manner, to make those of us from the
Church of Ireland feel welcome and affirmed. I want to wish him a long and
happy retirement back in his native Castlebar.

I should like to conclude as I began, by quoting again from my first address to
this Diocesan Synod 10 years ago. This is what I said then and I believe it is
equally relevant 10 years on…

‘….our aim, indeed our mission is not simply to survive another generation and
hope for the best after that. I did not accept this position to oversee steady
decline in these Dioceses. I am firmly of the belief that there are possibilities for
growth and new life. In order to achieve this, we will have to be imaginative
and courageous, acknowledging that one size will not fit all. Innovation and
practical common sense will be required. We will have to work as a team where
all will be required to make sacrifices of one kind or another, for the common
good. I believe the clergy and laity here can be that team and that the future is
So, I come among you as your episcopal leader at an exciting but challenging
time both in terms of the wider picture and that at diocesan level.
Economically, morally and practically these are difficult days. I pray that ‘with
the help of God’, together we may be found faithful in our calling and be given
the integrity to safeguard the trust that is ours, in the Church we love, in this
beautiful part of the island of Ireland.’ (End of quotation)

May God bless you the members of this Diocesan Synod and all the parishes,
communities and people across this United Dioceses and may you continue to
remain faithful to your calling. In a few weeks’ time, along with Alison and
Susanna who have been my constant support, I shall take my leave of you as
we go our separate ways but the people we have come to know and value in
Tuam, Killala and Achonry, will never be far from our thoughts and prayers.