In 2015 the Diocese of Bangor and the United Dioceses of Meath and Kildare in the Church of Ireland launched a partnership link.
This week the clergy of the two dioceses are joining together for a 2-day conference in Llandudno. In advance of the arrival of our visitors from Ireland, we asked the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, the Most Rev’d Pat Storey, a few questions about her diocese and the link between dioceses in Ireland and Wales.
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Bishop Pat, can you tell us about your Diocese of Meath and Kildare?
The Diocese of Meath and Kildare is based around the Midlands of the Republic of Ireland and meanders into several counties, from Kingscourt in the north, to Athlone in the West, and Mountmellick in the south.
There are seventeen parishes and a busy Church of Ireland secondary school, with around 25 clergy who are in full time or non stipendiary ministry. As it is a wide geographical area and few in the number of full time clergy, we are heavily reliant on a very faithful band of diocesan readers and retired clergy.
The recent census revealed that around the dioceses of the Church of Ireland, around 15% of those claiming to be Church of Ireland, attend church regularly – so there is much work to do! Most parishes in the diocese have a Church of Ireland primary school attached to the parish.
The Diocese of Meath and the Diocese of Kildare were united in 1976. Does this mean that the Diocese is now effectively one diocese, or are there still differences within your Diocese?
The Diocese of Meath and Kildare was united in 1976, and is a very tight union now, even though it took time for assimilation at the time. In discussions around changing borders of dioceses at General Synod, Meath and Kildare was very firm on wanting to stay together and not be split up, having worked so hard to belong to each other. There are two cathedrals – in Kildare town and in Trim – and the diocese now very much operates as one entity.
The Bishop’s title ‘Most Reverend’ comes from the ancient times in Ireland of the High Kings. It is thought that because of its geography near Armagh and Dublin, Meath was designated the third most important diocese and the bishop was given the title ‘Most Reverend’ by one of the high kings of Ireland.
What are the positive aspects of life in your Diocese, for which you give thanks to God?
Meath and Kildare is a very happy diocese, and we are all very grateful for that. Due to the fact that there are not that many of us, there is not space or indeed appetite for factions or for fighting amongst ourselves. That is a huge positive.
We live in a beautiful part of the island if Ireland. People are warm, open, and grateful for their clergy. They appreciate and look for spiritual leadership. The diocese has spent a few years now establishing a vision into the future, and some priorities, in order to place that vision firmly rooted in the ground.
Our vision is ‘together in God’s love, transforming lives’.
Our three priorities are: discipleship; the provision of ministry into the future, and a diocesan social justice project.
So far we have run a Pilgrim Course (discipleship), a very successful project around the prevention of leprosy (social justice), and we are working presently at the provision of ministry into the future (looking at ordained local ministry), and we are holding a full diocesan review in 2018.
We all have challenges! What are the main challenges for your Diocese at present?
We are just like everywhere else – our numbers are not as strong as we would like and Ireland is becoming more secular. We are 3% of the general population in the Republic, and that brings challenges of its own. How do you maintain your identity, especially when younger generations are in ‘mixed marriages’ or are not continuing a Christian identity at all?
Our principal challenges are likely to be shared around the rural southern dioceses of the Church of Ireland: rising secularism; maintaining the next generation; creative liturgy and worship; a heart for outreach and evangelism; resisting simply managing decline.
Since the link between our Dioceses was launched in 2015, a team from Bangor has visited Meath and Kildare, and there was a joint youth weekend in Holyhead this year, amongst other things. What are your hopes for the link between our Dioceses?
We hope that we will learn from one another and encourage one another, and that we might even have something to offer too! There is a special relationship when two dioceses spend time getting to know one another, sharing some things in common and also learning how differently we could approach our joys and sorrows.
Time spent together is important, even though there is a body of water between us, but I hope that at least once or twice each year we can meet up and share our lives and ministries with each other so that on each side of the Irish Channel, we can be becoming better people and more faithful ministers of the gospel.
Do you have a favourite worship song or hymn?
I love Matt Redman’s ’10,000 Reasons’, simply because I am a very thankful person. I feel that I have been really richly blessed and I can find, on my good days, 10,000 reasons to feel that I am very fortunate indeed.
My favourite traditional hymn is ‘O the deep, deep love of Jesus’. The words are amazing and it speaks for itself!
And finally Bishop Pat, could you share a Bible verse or passage with us, which you are reflecting on at present?
Isaiah 50.4 has always been a verse that I hold on to and that challenges me:
The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word.’
What a challenge that presents! We are not given gifts to use for ourselves, but to make sure that the lives of others are better for having been with us. That is an ongoing endeavour in my own life and ministry. Some days I feel like I am winning, and other days ….. I feel very human!
Thank you, Bishop Pat.
Today (Thursday 9 November 2017) has seen the opening of Ysgol Cybi, the new Church in Wales primary school, serving Holyhead. The school opened it’s doors to pupils for the first time in September, but today has seen the official opening by Kirsty Williams – the Welsh Assembly Government’s Cabinet Secretary for Education. As part of the opening ceremonies, the new school building was blessed by the Bishop of Bangor, the Right Reverend Andy John.
Ysgol Cybi has been developed on the site of Holyhead’s former Cybi School. It serves the catchment area which was previously served by 3 schools – Ysgol y Parchedig Thomas Ellis, Ysgol y Parc and Ysgol Llaingoch. With places for 540 pupils, as well as 76 nursery places, Ysgol Cybi has become the largest Church in Wales primary school in North Wales. The Headteacher is Mr. Trystan Roberts, previously the Headteacher at Ysgol Kingsland, another of Holyhead’s primary schools.
Commenting on the opening of Ysgol Cybi, Mrs Anest Gray Frazer – the Diocese of Bangor’s Director of Education and Engagement – said, ‘It has taken almost 8 years to arrive at this moment – the first new church school in the Diocese of Bangor since 1994. The Diocese is thrilled to have been able to work with the Isle of Anglesey County Council to ensure that school reorganisation has retained church school primary provision in Holyhead. The Council and Welsh Assembly Government have then delivered an education facility which is genuinely ready for the 21st Century education requirements of the pupils of Ysgol Cybi. It will be very exciting to see the school develop as a community, as well as a Church school.’
The Right Rev’d Andrew John, Bishop of Bangor, commented, ‘It has been a privilege to take part in the ceremony today and to bless this new school community in its new school building. Building a community is all about developing people and relationships, and I hope and pray that Ysgol Cybi will be able to build on the achievements and strengths of the schools which have gone before it, and become a genuine Christian community which reaches out and enables all of its pupils to fulfil their God-given potential.’