On Sunday, September 20 the Church of Ireland community in Baltinglass in Co. Wicklow celebrated its annual harvest festival. It’s an important date in the Anglican calendar. Some Catholic communities mark the occasion but it’s not widespread.
There is no special date for it except to say that it takes place this time of the year. As it suggests, it takes place to mark the gathering of the harvest.
And according to all the experts this has been a great grain harvest with farmers experiencing higher yields than in many years.
Does that mean that our bread and porridge will be cheaper this winter? I doubt it.
Máirt Hanley is the Church of Ireland rector in Baltinglass and he invited me to talk in church on the Sunday they were celebrating the harvest festival.
I know Máirt since my days working and living in Kerry when he was ministering in Tralee and then later in Camp in West Kerry.
It was my second time to talk in a Protestant church so naturally I was somewhat more nervous than usual when getting up to speak.
It all worked out fine. The church seemed full and Ireland being the small place that it is, a number of people present knew people I know. That’s Ireland.
The theme of my talk was based on my recent trip with Concern Worldwide to Lebanon, which was relevant to the first reading from the prophet Joel, who lived approximately 400 BC/BCE.
Máirt, his wife Una and their three children Sadhbh, Oscar and Cathal live in the manse, which is on the grounds of the church.
I arrived early so there was plenty of time for a freshly brewed cup of coffee. Even if there was an element of panic when I arrived, I immediately felt at home. Within seconds toast and coffee was served. Just what I needed. The reason for the panic was that Una and Máirt were in the throes of putting the finishing touches to the preparations for the food, fun and games that were being served up after the church service.
At one stage little nine-year-old Sadhbh began to explain to me what she missed from living in Kerry but quickly added that she was enjoying life in Wicklow and was happy in her new school. She even went on to tell me what secondary school she expects to attend.
I know little or nothing about Máirt’s family but sitting down in Máirt and Una’s kitchen on that Sunday morning I was conscious of the warmth and ‘normality’ of family life. A man and a woman with their three young children doing what nature, love and life suggests.
I felt at home in the short hour I spent in their kitchen.
On the few occasions I have been in the house/home of a Catholic priest I have to say I have found myself wondering what to say and how to behave. There is always something pained about it, there is something odd about it all. There’s something missing. I’d go as far as saying, in most cases, there seems to be something not right about it.
Driving back from Baltinglass I was wondering is Máirt Hanley any less a priest than his Catholic counterpart? I doubt it. I wonder what God thinks about it all?
Has it all to do with holiness and theology or more to do with history, turf wars and power?
Of course there is place for different types of priesthood within the Catholic Church: religious congregations and diocesan priesthood. Why not married priests? Why not women priests?