The Archbishop-Elect of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland and Bishop of Clogher, the Right Revd John McDowell takes up his new role on Tuesday, April 28

Looking forward to his move to Armagh and his new role as the head of the Church of Ireland, he said: “I was obviously surprised and very grateful for the confidence that my colleagues in the House of Bishops placed in me. There is a transition period where you are not really the Archbishop of Armagh but you want to be as helpful as you can and you are also I suppose trying to work out what and how you are going to approach the task.
The Archbishop-Elect explained the three facets to the role;
He said there was the appointment of Bishop of the Diocese of Armagh, which has a larger population with a great number of large towns in it than Clogher Diocese.
In addition, there is the role of Primacy of All Ireland, considered ‘First among equals’ acknowledging there is another Primate in the southern province but to some degree to be an ambassador for the Church of Ireland.
He added: “The third element is your place within the wider Anglican Communion which I have relatively little experience of. You become a member of the Primate’s Meeting which is one of the instruments of communion within Anglicanism. There are a number of ways we hold ourselves together, the Lambeth Conference, the office of the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Anglican Consultative Council and more recently, the Primate’s Meeting.
So what type of church do you see under your leadership?
“It’s difficult to speak for the church as the Church of Ireland General Synod is the body which has that authority. There is a saying that the Church of Ireland is synodically governed and episcopally led. What the Archbishop of Armagh can do is to speak to the Church and suggest can concern itself with. It sets a bit of a tone as well. It’s about its spiritual life and its own governance and the need to acknowledge that like probably all institutions and all bodies some bits of it do well and some do not do well; some bits are growing and some bits are shrinking; some bits function very well and some bits function not so well and to maybe try to discover that the bits that do not do well could do a bit better, in terms of spiritual life and acknowledging there is a huge diversity within Anglicanism and to remember that that’s all part of the Anglican heritage.
“There are obviously particularly challenges at the moment, what the church says to society and what it does for the society in which it is placed. You cannot pretend it doesn’t live in a political context. Politics is not something that just happens in Parliament. Democracies are places where political discussion or dialogue are about what we can do together or decisions which are deeply embedded. There are institutions which are recognisable bodies in civil society such as the business community, trade unions, voluntary sector and churches are one of those. I think they have their particular things to say and its perfectly legitimate for them to say it.
“The big imponderable at the moment is coronavirus and we have no idea how deeply that will affect the patterns of society. We could come out the other side of that challenge a changed society, with maybe small changes and maybe some very profound changes. Of course the other big external issue is Brexit which involves the relationships between the different regions within Ireland and the United Kingdom.
“I could be in both parts of that jurisdiction in one day praying for good governance for both of them and for their leaders,” he said.
In terms of reaching out to people in the Church of Ireland, the Archbishop-Elect recalled how a Northern Ireland Life and Times survey revealed around 45 per cent of people in Northern Ireland attend church at some point. He said the heyday for attending church was in the period from the late 19th Century to the period to the middle of the 1960s. But he thinks current attendance is “back to the old norm” with fewer people committed to regular churchgoing.
He rightly points out that churches are among the very few inter-generational bodies with people of different ages attending.
The Archdeacon-Elect says people in very small rural parishes are committed to their churches in the sense that they are contributing to their community who feel it is being enriched with their presence. He said the church finds its place in the community.
“The second challenge is what we are for ourselves as a group, as a faith community, how we build up the church, which can’t live in isolation but we have our particular family traditions - how we contribute to the diversity of Ireland, how we build up the church to be confident communities of faith and not hesitant or fearful or invisible communities of faith.”
He said for the Church of Ireland, there was tremendous heritage from Anglicanism.
“The Church of Ireland has a particular way of doing things, liturgically. Liturgy is both the expression and source of our belief. Our vocation may be to hold together what on the face of it appear to be contradictory things is maybe one of our roles in religious and spiritual life. I have no idea if it is the best way to be a Christian but it is our way and it seems to contribute something to the catholic church, the wider church.
“Harry McAdoo, a well-known Archbishop of Dublin and a great scholar, once said, ‘If I hadn’t been born an Anglican, I would have had to become one.’”
The Archbishop-Elect leaves Clogher Diocese after forging and maintaining good relations with other denominations.
He said: “I think the vast majority of committed Christian people see more in common with other Christian traditions than separating us. There is a very long history of ecumenism in the diocese of Armagh as well. There is a long association and friendship with Archbishop Eamon Martin and I hope we can continue to build relationships and friendships.
The Archbishop-Elect trained for Church of Ireland ministry after a career in industry in which he held a senior role in Shorts and was for a time, Assistant Director of the CBI in Northern Ireland.
“That probably give me some skills in organisation and about leadership. I’ve been very lucky here. I’m not very fond of the word ‘leader’ in the ecclesiastical world but one of the things a leader does is to build a team around him. It is almost a contradiction in terms to be involved in a leadership role in Christianity, to do it on your own.”
“There are certain things as a bishop that end with you. There are plenty of lonely moments in that sense where you have to make decisions. But by and large business acclimatised me to working with all sorts of different people from all sorts of different backgrounds in different ways and to experience what every parishioner experiences, normal working life with those pressures.
As Bishop of Clogher the new Archbishop-Elect held a number of positions nationally and internationally representing the Church.
He was the Church of Ireland contact person to the Churches of the Porvoo Communion which represents the Scandanavian and Baltic Lutherans as well as the Spanish and Portuguese Anglicans and other Anglican churches and provinces from these islands making contact at senior level travelling with them.
He has also held senior roles on the Irish Council of Churches, the national ecumenical instrument and also the Irish Inter-Church meeting, the latter which includes the Roman Catholic church.
He said those bodies were important especially as ecumenism was becoming bland and it was important to keep going and keep talking.
These inter-church bodies contribute to providing resources for churches around Brexit, homelessness, welfare reform and subjects churches would be expected to have a voice in.
“I enjoyed that hugely, I am coming to the end of that, six years in total; two years as vice-President, two years as President and two years as outgoing Vice President. I will be involved again as a member of the Church Leaders’ Meeting.”
The Archbishop-Elect says of his time in Clogher Diocese; “It’s always been an aim of mine wherever I have worked to try to create a family atmosphere where there are degrees of mutual respect and degrees of mutual accountability. I remember saying that the diocese of Clogher is big enough to do things if we all pull together in the same direction and small enough for everybody to be necessary for that to happen and to be accountable for what the contribution is. If you treat people with respect, then relationships are easier.
“By and large I felt people were for me rather than against me. It helps if you are reasonably interested in people and their families and what they do and acknowledge that as an important factor in their faith. Whoever the next Bishop of Clogher is they (the people) should allow him or her to be his or her own bishop of Clogher and not that they should be like me, Brian Hannon or Michael Jackson or like St. Macartan.”
The Archbishop-Elect says he enjoys reading history and poetry and in terms of music, takes particular pleasure in the tradition of Anglican anthems (Byrd, Tallis Gibbons etc). He does admit to particularly enjoying the Psalms which are poetry.
The Archbishop-Elect acknowledges that his mother who had a profound influence on his life, reciting the Daily Office at home and was happily committed to God and His Church and would have sung the Te Deum while washing the dishes. One of her favourite biblical phrases was from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 10; “I come that you would have life and that you might have it more abundantly.”
Relaxation for the Archdeacon-Elect is visiting one of his favourite places, the Ulster Museum to see the collection of Irish Art and reading.
“The thing I am looking to reading most is I took possession of the third volume of Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy about Thomas Cromwell, ‘The Mirror and Light,’ an historical novel,” he adds.
The Archbishop-Elect’s wife Mary teaches in Enniskillen Royal Grammar School and his daughter, Dorothy, is at the University of Oxford.
(This article was first published in Clogher Diocesan Magazine).