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Parish celebrates 200 years of worship and witness at St Columba’s, Swords

Parishioners and friends of St Columba’s Church in Swords gathered on St Columba’s Day (Saturday June 9) to celebrate the bicentenary of the consecration of the current church building.

The service of thanksgiving, which was celebrated by the Archbishop of Dublin and at which the Archbishop of Armagh was the preacher, also marked the retirement of the Rector of Swords, Donabate and Kilsallaghan, Canon Robert Deane. The service was attended by the Dean of Christ Church Cathedral and the Archdeacons of Dublin and Glendalough as well as many clerical colleagues from the area.

Pupils from the Old Borough National School also joined the service to sing the anthem, Treoraigh me, a Thiarna.

The service was followed by the launch of a new parish history, ‘St Columbas 1818–2018 – A Parish History’ by Brian Scott, a local historian and parishioner of Donabate.

In his sermon, Archbishop Richard Clarke, focused on the words from the Gospel [John 12.21] “Sir, we wish to see Jesus…” He said that these words had a lot to say about the parish’s celebrations.

“Much of what we might want to say about the vocation of this parish, two hundred years on from the building of this beautiful church, is summed up in those words, We wish to see Jesus. We are called to be open to a world – a world which is today changing constantly, and even frighteningly before our eyes – so that men and women and children may be drawn to say to us, ‘We wish to see Jesus’. What is this religion thing about? What is it really about? Is there anything behind the externals of religious faith that could convince us of meaning and of purpose in this life and for this world?” the Archbishop said.

He added that there were echoes of this in the history of St Columba’s. He said whether we were to look back at the monastery of the early Christian church of St Columba 1,500 years ago, or to the round tower of the 10th century, or to the square belfry tower of the later mediaeval period, the message remained the same. “The Church of God does not exist for itself alone but also and even primarily, for those outside the walls of the Church who wish to find Jesus Christ. And so with this beautiful Georgian church – designed by an Armagh architect (!) – the call remains the same. This is not to be the comfort zone where people can luxuriate in each other’s company and bring God into the conversation, as suits. When Greek pilgrims sought out Jesus in Jerusalem, it changed the entire mainstay of his ministry,” Archbishop Clarke stated.

We are called to be open to a world – a world which is today changing constantly, and even frighteningly before our eyes – so that men and women and children may be drawn to say to us, ‘We wish to see Jesus’.

Two centuries on from the consecration of St Columba’s the world has changed a lot, the Archbishop said. Now the Church is not at the centre of community life or Irish life in general. It faced the alternatives of retreating into a bunker for the like–minded or of risking itself “by moving beyond established decorum and the peddling of convenient truisms,” he stated. Today’s Ireland did not seem to have much grip on its heritage of faith and it could no longer be presumed that there would be any pull for the outside world towards the life of an individual parish, he said adding, “Any instinctive yearning to come to see Jesus has been well muted and suppressed”.

However, he said that in a community named in honour of Columba, it would not be our words that convince. “It is our life in the world outside these walls that will enthuse and encourage others. It is our actions of unfeigned love and integrity that will intrigue others whose faith in life itself has become jaded and contemptuous. It is then that people may ask about Christ. It is then that people may say to us, ‘We wish to see Jesus’,” he concluded.

‘St Columba’s 1818–2018 – A Parish History’ was launched by Archbishop Michael Jackson. He commended Canon Robert Deane and Brian Scott for the timely publication.

He said north County Dublin was very important in the understanding of the establishment of Christianity in the east of Ireland. The foundation of a monastery in Swords was ascribed to St Columba and it is believed that the bodies of Brian Boru and his son Murtagh were brought to the round tower at the site after the Battle of Clontarf en route to Armagh.

The names of members of the families of bishops and archbishops were woven through the centuries of rectors of Swords and there were a number of features of local history that were also part of national history, he stated, with links to the GPO, the Chapel Royal and the Customs House. He also outlined the wide range of charitable and social works connected to the local Church of Ireland community.

“The history rightly brings us to the present day, remembering the ministry of Canon Stanley Baird, the ordination of the Reverend Kingsley Long, the Readership of Henry Boylan and Addy Patterson and the ministry of today’s rector Canon Deane. 1818–2018 is the specific timespan that brings us here today and, in celebrating this, we celebrate the earlier and local history that also have national and international resonances – as does all history when we see it in its true light. I should again like to thank Canon Deane and Brian Scott for making this history possible and for making it so attractive and the parish and parishioners of Swords for being here to this day and for your witness, faithfulness and constancy in the past, in the present and into the future. Ad multos annos!” Archbishop Jackson concluded.

1818–2018 is the specific timespan that brings us here today and, in celebrating this, we celebrate the earlier and local history that also have national and international resonances – as does all history when we see it in its true light

The final part of the celebrations was reserved for Canon Robert Deane. Saturday was his final service in St Columba’s. The honorary treasurer of the Select Vestry, Billy Goodwin, paid tribute to the Rector for more than 17 years of service to the parish. He also thanked Anne Deane for all the work she had done in the parish and wished them both well in their retirement.

The Archbishop of Armagh’s sermon and the Archbishop of Dublin’s remarks on the parish history are also available online.