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Irish-speaker for the Irish

09 January 2015

David Chillingworth considers a Primate of Ireland's ministry

Donald Caird: Church of Ireland bishop: Gaelic Churchman: A life
Aonghus Dwane
The Columba Press £16.99
Church Times Bookshop £15.30 (Use code CT251 )

THE Rt Revd Donald Caird personifies what is best about the life and ministry of the Church of Ireland - particularly about the Southern Irish part of that church. Aonghus Dwane's affectionate biography introduces us to a priest and bishop of wit, charm, and incisive intellect. Donald's ministry spanned the second half of the 20th century - a period when the Church of Ireland population grew in confidence. His ability to speak fluent Irish established beyond doubt his love of his country and his presence in the mainstream of its life.

I must confess an interest; for Donald was a friend of my parents - his background similar to mine. I was reared on Donald Caird stories. My favourite occurred during his curacy when he visited the same family twice in the same afternoon of pastoral calls. He cheerfully told them that he had met people "just like them" earlier that afternoon.

This is a story of faithful ministry. I could not imagine a priest less overtly ambitious than Donald. Yet Dwane's book tells of his journey in ministry from Belfast, to Enniskillen, to Wales, and on to Dublin, Kilkenny, and Limerick. That journey ended with Donald's election as Archbishop of Dublin - a key office in the leadership of the Church of Ireland community in the Irish Republic. Each change was accepted with an obedience born of vocation. Each task was fulfilled with grace and with integrity of leadership.

Since Partition, Donald's community had been in a journey of coming to terms with their membership of the new Irish state. Donald was determined that they would play their full part - even though there were aspects of its culture and values which were uncongenial. Speaking at his enthronement as Bishop of Meath, he called for the Church of Ireland community, "small but widely scattered . . . to play the fullest part in the Christian community of which it was a significant part".

I was particularly interested to find significant threads that - perhaps unconsciously - heralded movements that would be of the utmost significance for the Church of Ireland as an all-Ireland church.

It was during Donald's long ministry that the Church of Ireland in the Republic began to move towards a more liberal Catholic culture - some of that expressed in canonical change in which Donald had a part. The Church of Ireland also, while expressing its deep commitment to the state, attempted to set out a distinct position on social and ethical matters. Finally, while the Church under Donald's leadership expressed a deep commitment to peace, the relationship with fellow members of the Church in Northern Ireland was at times difficult.

Yet, however great the difficulties, this book describes a ministry of exceptional grace and quality.

The Most Revd David Chillingworth is the Bishop of St Andrews, Dunkeld & Dunblane, and Primus of the Scottish Episcopal Church.

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