The following is a speech made by Norman Gamble following a presentation made to him and his wife Susan, at the conclusion of a special church service of Thanksgiving held in St. Andrew’s Church on Sun. 15th August.
The saga started in June 1990 with a phone call from the late David Seymour, asking if I would consider a move to Malahide where Canon Gough Cooper was retiring at the end of the month. Not expecting the matter to go anywhere, I said I would consider. Some tourists arrived in Lorum Church saying they were ‘passing by’: strange, for Lorum lay up a long, single track on an un- signposted road. They were identified as Malahide nominators by a Malahide parishioner who was visiting friends there!
At the end of July we went on holidays to Malahide, using the house of our friend Colm Hewitt, in Seabury. While there I was approached by the nominators and by the end of August I had been appointed as Rector. It all happened very quickly: and my fate, although we did not arrive until the end of November.
We never expected to be here over thirty years later, although it was a lesson on letting God lead (or stay put!). I have never initiated an approach to any parish. In the three decades since, Malahide as parish and area has changed greatly, and the parish has been greatly developed: a twice expanded school, and a total reworking of St Andrew’s Church, the building of our Parish Centreand the physical development of the southern part of the parish on a scale which would have been unimaginable in 1990. Indeed, St Doulagh’s has developed a role as the presence of the Church of Ireland in the Northern Fringe: I hope that my predecessor will be able to build on the momentum of what was done over the past years as houses creep up and disturb the peace of St Doulagh.
In our time, we have made many friends and we hope that these friendships will continue, but I would also counsel about trhe importance of letting whoever succeeds me lead on in the Holy Spirit. Don’t say that I would have done it this way or that. It is all too easy to get into a rut, and I feel strongly that the Church of Ireland is prone to parochialism, failing to look outside the parish boundaries socially or physically.
Before I came here, I was in Down diocese, followed by Leighlin. In both the bishops landed me with ‘out of parish’ tasks: Robin Eames asked me to be Hon Secretary of the Diocesan Library, and Noel Willoughby Warden of Readers in Cashel & Ossory. Both said more or less the same thing: all clergy should have a task to enable them to get out of the parish from time to time with a good conscience on behalf of the wider Church.
It was wise advice, for we are all part of the Catholic Church: not a parish and not even a diocese, and possibly not even denomination. One cannot lead from within, and all of us are led by the Spirit into the entire world to help communicate the message of Christ. While in Bagenalstown, I was asked to be Diocesan Secretary of the Christian publishing mission, SPCK, keeping it in touch with parishes, and shortly after I came to Dublin, I was nominated to the Governing Body as the Church of Ireland’s representative on the Governing Body for nine years. There were many notable members on the Governing Body, businessmen, diplomats, clergy. This was a wonderful insight for me into the wider church, and indeed not without a direct rub-off on the parish as the Bishop-elect of the Windward Islands, the late Sehon Goodrich, and the present Bishop of Dover, (who is now in pastoral charge of Canterbury, Rose Hudson-Wilkin both came to Malahide, and I will not forget Sehon explaining to the enraptured children in St Andrew’s the problems facing banana farmers by exploitation by big business!
But not even the Anglican Communion can be the limit of our concerns: our Anglican tradition is Catholic, a word meaning ‘universal’, and therefore ecumenical by definition. The Holy Catholic Church of the Creed is not a denomination but something which embraces us all, and therefore ecumenical contact and outreach must be a part of our ministry if it is to be faithful to Christ, and I have valued the many ecumenical contacts we have developed, and I was privileged to know and work with the Rev Dr Bill O’Neill of the Presbyterian Church who is thankfully still with us, as well as the late Archdeacon Macartan Brady and Fr Brendan Heffernan, and in more recent times Fr Gerry Tanham and Fr Kevin Moore in St Sylvester’s and Fr Gerry Corcoran in Donaghmede. Unfortunately, the two Fr Gerrys and Fr Kevin cannot be here this afternoon due to parish commitments. I think we all came to realise that what we share is far greater than what divides us.
There are some wonderful people in this parish whose commitment knows no bounds. What has been acheived over the past thirty years is a result of their trust and faith. It would be dangerous to name them as I will never get all the names in, but the care of both churches, the parish centre, and the school bear testimony to them. They live their lives inspired by the spirit and values of Christ. Some care for finances and buildings, the thankless behind the scenes tasks: other like the Mothers’ Union build up the community of the parish. Some have done so for all or most of their lives: some are blow-ins from all over Ireland and the wider world: don’t underestimate the ‘blow-in’ for they will have been blown here deliberately by the Spirit of God. One of the healthy signs of the parish is the people we have attracted to our fellowship and life from outside Anglicanism, not because it is better than some other traditions but simply because we have shown them it make sense in the modern world. They have enriched our life and witness, carried out not just within church buildings but within the heart of society itself, and some of them have found their way into the Select Vestry and the wider deliberations of the Church, bringing fresh ideas and commitment as a vaccination antidote to the stagnation which can infest and smother the life of any Christian community.
St Andrew’s School is an excellent example of this which is not always appreciated by the parish, and I would pay tribute to our two principals, Trevor Richmond and Lesley McElhinney, and the members of the Boards of Management for their vision and ideals, and what they have acheived for the Church of Ireland and for Malahide.
I thank you all here today: you are representatives of the wider parish in the strange circumstances in which we find ourselves today. The church is not the clergy, but all of us: it is expressed not only in the worship of the Eucharist in which we recall Christ and his message of hope in God’s love, but in lives inspired by our worship which permeate God’s love and hope to all with whom we share our lives, for there are no boundaries to Christ.
Keep pulling as a parish, keep pulling with the wider Church and in these critical times keep pulling together to live the message of God’s hope in Christ in a community filled with fear and helplessness because it cannot face that future on its own resources. God is present in Christ, and it is God who will take us in his arms and show us a future of hope.