The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke concluded his ministry as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland with a celebration of the Eucharist in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Sunday evening (2nd February). Archbishop Clarke was joined by a large congregation from across the diocese and beyond, including all serving bishops of the Church of Ireland.
In the course of his sermon, the Archbishop spoke of the importance of Candlemas – the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – which properly concludes the season of Christmas. He remarked that on Christmas Day, the light of the world through Jesus “shines” on a small group of people – Mary, Joseph and the shepherds – and then goes “out into a wider world” at Epiphany, with the arrival of the Wise Men. In the words of the Nunc Dimittis, at Candlemas, it becomes “a light to lighten the Gentiles … the whole inhabited world is now to be shown the glory of Jesus Christ.”
The congregation was encouraged to carry the light of God to those “who do not encounter any light in their own lives.” Dr Clarke said: “It is the great paradox of Christianity that the further you and I move out into the places of darkness and need, the closer we will be brought – face–to–face – with the living Christ.”
Simeon, who is mentioned for the first and last time in the account of the Presentation, had reached the point where he could let go of his responsibilities and also realised that “he can now be let go”. Every one of us is called to “let go of aspects of our life so that you may go on further, carrying the cross, the light of Candlemas, deeper into the world” into lives that are broken, disfigured or empty.
“But there is one thing of which you and I must never let go,” the Archbishop added: “The hand of Jesus Christ.” He quoted Archbishop William Temple’s prayer that we may never let go of His hand but “walk in daily fellowship with Him and so shall we go forth, not without stumbling, not without weariness, but always towards the love of God that awaits us in our Father’s house.”
Members of the congregation gathered afterwards for a reception in the newly-refurbished Alexander Synod Hall, where presentations were made to the Archbishop on behalf of the diocese.
The Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven Terry Scott, paid tribute on behalf of the clergy and readers and wished the Archbishop a long, happy and healthy retirement.
“You have shown us great kindness and generous hospitality,” Archdeacon Scott said. “You have opened your home to us on many occasions and frequently been with us in our parishes and rectories. You’ve made the effort and taken the time to get to know us and stood beside us on those occasions of great joy or heart–breaking sadness.
Archdeacon Scott said: “You have been yourself and encouraged us to be ourselves, and we’ve loved you all the more for that. You’ve sought to build up our confidence in ourselves and reminded us by word and example that the call we’ve each received from God is a gift to be cherished – and you’ve been great fun.”
The Diocesan Secretary, Mrs Jane Leighton, expressed gratitude for the Archbishop’s work with the diocesan staff, council and committees, and for ministering “in the widest sense of the word” to the parishes: “We have benefited greatly from his time in Armagh. “
The Archbishop said he was thrilled to see so many friends at the reception. He thanked God for nearly 45 years in the ordained ministry and “for the adventures and the experiences that I’ve had over those years”, and the diocese “for making the past seven years, years that I will treasure forever.” He had firstly envisaged his primacy as “the Armagh project” but soon realised it was “the Armagh adventure” and came to value the kindness, acceptance and generosity he had received from every part of the diocese. He added his thanks to the diocesan office staff, the clergy and archdeacons, Dean Gregory Dunstan, and his personal assistant, Mrs Pamela Hutton.
He said that he and Archbishop Eamon Martin, who was present in the audience, had “arrived at roughly the same time, both as blow–ins” but had got to know each other very quickly.
“The friendship that has developed between us, I believe, is something that models something that I hope is valuable for Northern Ireland and is valuable for this diocese because it wasn’t simply a professional relationship; it was in every way a friendship.”
He also thanked representatives from the central Church for their support and care during his time as Primate and recalled his request – in his enthronement address – for the Church to model a spirit of collaboration and a spirit of courtesy. He welcomed progress on this within the Church of Ireland especially as “the world outside doesn’t know a great deal about collaboration or about courtesy and perhaps we can teach many other people what it means to have both of those qualities.” The Archbishop also commended the bishops of the Church of Ireland for their loyalty, support and kindness.
The Archbishop concluded his episcopal ministry with a blessing: “Unto the Lord’s gracious mercy and protection we commit you. May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace, now and forever more. Amen. And thank you again.”
Photography by Jonathan Hull and Peter Cheney