Above: Reverend Kingsley Sutton with his wife Daphne
He started out as a farmer tending sheep on the Wicklow hills. Today Reverend Kingsley Sutton’s flock is the congregation of Kilgariffe Union of Parishes.
The rector, who moved to Clonakilty with his family a year and a half ago, is resolved to keeping his church door open to everyone, as Mary O’Brien finds out when she meets him.
It was this resolve that found the Reverend out of a job two years ago and brought him and his family all the way down from Newry to Clonakilty.
In 2015, Reverend Kingsley Sutton resigned his position in Newry after he removed and destroyed two Royal British Legion flags that were hanging in St Patrick’s and St Mary’s churches in Newry, an incident that was widely reported at the time. He subsequently resigned and made a heartfelt apology to his parishioners in Newry.
“I just lost patience, I thought this is not what Christianity is meant to be about,” he says passionately. At the time, he explained that in his “haste to provide worship areas in Newry that are more accessible to all people and free from what I perceived as the vestiges of the past, I completely underestimated the depth of meaning and present day value of the Royal British Legion standards”.
“The Bishop gave us a fresh start down here, which I’m very grateful for,” he says. “You learn from these things…we lost our church, home, community, schools, even our country. Coming to this diocese has taught me more about the grace of God, especially as I failed so spectacularly.”
Newry’s loss was West Cork’s gain, as can be seen from the warmth and respect that Rev Sutton is treated with by his parishioners of all ages in Clonakilty and surrounds. The rector is as likely to be seen on his hands and knees cleaning the church pews, as he is standing at the podium at the top of the church giving a sermon. ‘It’s all God’s work,” he says simply.
The run up to Christmas is even busier this year for Rev Sutton with renovations ongoing since August at Kilgariffe Church in Clonakilty.
“The thing about our job is that you can’t meet every need. However every need you do meet, you feel you’re helping someone, helping that person find their faith or find out what their faith means to them. I think one of the most important things I’ve learned is that I have to consider the needs of my family too,” says Rev Sutton.
“A number of years ago I overdid it. I got to Christmas day and my body just gave up. I couldn’t eat for about six weeks and survived on a diet of bread and water. I actually thought I was dying at one stage, especially since my dad had died from stomach cancer. It was a frightening time.”
The refurbished Kilgarrife Church is ready just in time for Christmas. The building, which is 200-years-old next year, now boasts a number of new widescreen televisions and a top-of-the-range sound system. “We’re moving with the times,” explains the rector. “We’ll be able to do a more contemporary form of worship, displaying the lyrics of songs and images on the screens. I believe in multi-generational worship; there ought to be something for every age group in a service. It’s similar to a family dynamic, whereby a parent might end up watching cartoons with a child because they appreciate the value of that.
“Children are encouraged to bring one of their gifts to church on Christmas morning to show off and enjoy the occasion. We also bring a Christmas cake and sing Happy Birthday to Jesus.
“There is also a good tradition here in Clon of attending carol services in other churches. I’ll attend the Methodist and Catholic service and Rev Denis Maguire and Monsignor Aidan will come here.”
Reverend Kingsley Sutton is married to Daphne, a primary school teacher. The couple, who met in Theology College, have five children ranging in age from 15 to seven.
“I was to be the farmer and take on the family farm, but as a Christian, I felt more and more called toward the work of the church,” explains the rector.
“With my father’s blessing, a year after he passed away, I closed down the farm and went to Theology College, where I met Daphne. We had an intense relationship for five months but it wasn’t the right time and we broke up. Three years later, I was still thinking about her, so I got back in touch. We were married on August 28, 2000. The rest is history.
“I think if God had a motto it would be ‘I am for people’,” says Rev Sutton. “Christmas is about relationships and getting closer to each other; it’s a time when you meet up with people and rekindle relationships.”
A children’s nativity service takes place at Kilmaloda Church, Ballinascarty on December 10, at 11am.
A carol service takes place at Kilgarrife Church, Clonakilty on December 15 at 8pm.
Midnight service starts at 11pm on Christmas Eve at Kilgarrife Church and Christmas Day service is at 11.30pm.
Everyone (of every faith) is welcome to attend all or any of these services.