3 January 2022
By Tony Forde
Writing a New Year message in the January 2022 edition of the Cork, Cloyne and Ross Diocesan Magazine, the (Church of Ireland) Bishop, Dr Paul Colton, sent a message of encouragement and confidence to the people of the United Dioceses. He acknowledged that all our current fears are understandable and a necessary part, often of our need to avoid danger, But, quoting Dr Scott MacDougall, Associate Professor of Theology of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, he said that, in the wake of our Christmas celebrations, ‘ Fear is the wrong response to the coming of the Prince of Peace …The proper response to the coming of the Prince of Peace is joy.’
Bishop Colton also referred to 2022 as the 70th anniversary year of the consecration, in Cork, of Dr George Otto Simms, as Bishop of Cork.
Bishop Colton said that the text of the sermon, preached on that occasion by Eric Symes Abbott is as relevant now as it was then: ‘Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.’ (Luke 12.32)
Bishop Colton wrote
Fear, in certain situations, is an essential human emotion and response. We need it to sense, avoid and flee from danger. We learn this from our earliest days. In other circumstances, however, fear can limit our experience of life and skew our response to our context and times. These days, naturally, we fear ‘getting’ Covid either ourselves, or our loved ones. There are many things that we fear arising from the uncertainty and vulnerability of this pandemic. ‘Where is it all going?’ we wonder. It’s worth reminding ourselves, however, that in terms of our outlook as Christian disciples, and our ministry and mission as the Church, as the people of God, we need to be more quizzical and sceptical about fear. The scriptures are full of instances where people are afraid; in their shoes we would have been fearful too. Very often, God’s response is to tell them not to be afraid.
As Dr Scott MacDougall, Associate Professor of Theology of the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (appointed in 2020 as theologian to the House of Deputies in The Episcopal Church) wrote to that Church at the start of Advent – ‘Fear is the wrong response to the coming of the Prince of Peace.’ Indeed, so. Mary was terrified about what lay ahead, so was Joseph. Both were told ‘Do not be afraid…’ The shepherds also, on the hillside, were told ‘Do not be afraid…’ The proper response to the coming of the Prince of Peace, says MacDougall, is joy.
Seventy years ago, George Otto Simms came to Cork. He was appointed Dean of Cork in 1951 but wasn’t installed until 16th April 1952. However, the following July (14th) Bishop Hearn died suddenly and, on 2nd October 1952, George Simms was elected Bishop on the first vote at Diocesan Synod. (That’s how elections happened then). I make this connection because, at George Simms’ consecration as Bishop on 28th October, the preacher was the famous Eric Symes Abbott, at that time Dean of King’s College, London. He had been Chaplain to King George VI and would become one to Queen Elizabeth II, as well as Dean of Westminster.
The sermon he preached that day in 1952 holds good now also, I believe. His text was Luke 12.32: ‘Do not be afraid little flock, for it is your Father’s pleasure to give you the kingdom.’
Many uncertainties lie ahead. Naturally we wonder and worry about them. But again, as Dr Scott MacDougal, wrote to The Episcopal Church at the start of Advent, ‘…we do not make good decisions out of fear.’
Let us go into 2022 with confidence, therefore. Like Mary, Joseph and the shepherds and countless others before us, let us not be afraid, for we too have heard ‘news of great joy for all the people.’ (Luke 2.10)