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The Rt Revd Dr Samuel Greenfield Poyntz

by
10 March 2017

Universal Pictorial Press

Clear vision and the gifts to take him there: the Rt Revd Dr Samuel Poyntz

Clear vision and the gifts to take him there: the Rt Revd Dr Samuel Poyntz

Canon Adrian Empey writes:

THE Rt Revd Dr Samuel Green­field Poyntz, who died on 18 Feb­ruary, aged 90, was educated at Portora Royal School, Enniskillen, and Trinity College, Dublin, where he studied philosophy and oriental languages, achieving successively his BA (1948), BD (1953), and Ph.D. (1960). He was awarded an hon­orary D.Litt. (1995) by the Uni­versity of Ulster in recognition of his contribution to the Province as Bishop of Connor (1987-95).

His ministry may be viewed in three parts, corresponding to years of service in three dioceses: Dublin, Cork, and Connor. Ordained dea­con in 1950, he served the first 28 years of his ministry in the united dioceses of Dublin & Glenda­lough, almost entirely in city-centre parishes, serving one of three curacies under his father.

Given his combination of prac­tical, pastoral, and intellectual gifts, it is not surprising that he made his mark with parochial nominators, becoming successively Rector of St Stephen’s (1959-67), St Ann’s (1967-70), and the combined parishes (1970-78). Challenged by the dim­inishing number of resident parish­ioners in the city centre, he responded to changing circum­stances by re­­placing older parochial models with a vision of the church engaging in the life of the city. He possessed a clear vision of where he wished to go, and the gifts necessary to get there.

He admired his great contemp­orary, David Sheppard, in making the Church relevant in post-industrial Liverpool. He made sure that I was provided with a copy of Sheppard’s book, Built as a City (1974), when I joined him as an assistant curate in the same year. In those two hectic, inspiring, form­ative, and overwhelming years that fol­lowed, I was privileged to be part of that ground-breaking ministry that he combined with a memorable final four years as Archdeacon of Dublin.

As it happened, neither of the ensuing episcopal appointments was the choice of an electoral college. That fell to the bishops in rare moments of collegial clarity. As Bishop of the united dioceses of Cork, Cloyne & Ross (1978-87), he set about the task of renewal with characteristic vigour and foresight, refurbishing the diocesan office, carrying out remedial works in two charitable housing centres, and amalgamating two religious-run voluntary hospitals. Many of his initiatives had important ecumen­ical aspects. He was a familiar, re­­spected, and admired figure, both in the city and beyond, where he is still remembered with affection.

His appointment to the see of Connor, in 1987, presented him with formidable challenges: the ravages of IRA and Loyalist vio­lence, deeply divided communities, and inner-city decay in Belfast, to name a few. He worked tirelessly in support of his hard-pressed clergy in distressing situations, readily acknowledging their unsung cour­age and com­passion, while under­taking peace-making initiatives. As always, he stood firm, and, together with Archbishop Eames of Armagh, he represented the public face of the Church of Ireland.

At another level, he was promin­ent both in ecumencial dialogue and in the concerns of the wider Ang­lican Communion. He was vice-chair of the British Council of Churches (1986-90), and led a British Council delegation to Israel-Palestine in 1989.

He was president of the Irish Council of Churches (1986-87) and co-chaired the Irish Inter-Church Meeting. In this capa­city, he led several important dele­gations to international conferences, including the first European Ecu­menical Con­ference in Laus­anne.

But there was more to “Sam” — as he was affectionately known — than the sum of his many achieve­ments. His readiness to innovate was tempered by an indifference to certain modern means of commun­ication. He wrote letters in a char­acteristic scrawl in Gladstonian profusion, I think virtually every one of them by return. When I joined him at 8 a.m. for our weekly discussions about the parish, he would already have dispatched a mass of correspondence.

He had the gift of reading people like an open book. He took a keen personal interest in the welfare of his clergy, whether by pastoral or by practical support. The same pro­vision was extended to anyone to whom he had a duty of care, not least to his ordinands. They were never in doubt as to what was ex­­pected of them.

He changed lives. Behind the bustle, there was warmth, humour, humanity, integrity, and courage. He was unquestionably one of the most outstanding servants of the Church of Ireland in his generation. In all of this, he was loyally sup­ported by his wife, Noreen, who survives him, together with their daughters, Jennifer and Stephanie, their son, Timothy, and their fam­ilies.

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