“Leadership, Creation and Vocation” theme of 39th ACCORD annual conference

06 Mar 2009

6 March 2009

“Leadership, Creation and Vocation” theme of 39th ACCORD annual conference

The 2009 Annual Conference of ACCORD, the Catholic Marriage Care Service, takes place this weekend in Ballybrit, Co Galway.  The keynote speaker is Ms Mary Hanafin TD, Minister for Social and Family Affairs, who will address the ACCORD delegates this evening. 

Speaking on the special vocation of married couples, Bishop Willie Walsh, President of ACCORD said, “Our conference’s theme emphasises the special leadership and creative roles undertaken by ACCORD volunteers in terms of supporting and living out the vocation of marriage.  Not alone do ACCORD volunteers welcome the call to the vocation of marriage but they also walk that extra mile to assist others prepare for and sustain their own vocation to the Sacrament of marriage.”  Please see Bishop Walsh’s full speech below.

Ms Ruth Barror, National Director of ACCORD, thanked Minister Hanafin for supporting ACCORD’s role in providing quality services to couples and families throughout Ireland.   Ms Barror said, “I wish to thank Minister Hanafin, and the Family Support Agency, for continuing to fund essential ACCORD services which are so vital to couples and families especially in these difficult economic times.”

More than 50% of the services delivered by ACCORD are provided by volunteers for no fee.   ACCORD volunteers delivered over 64,778 of direct client contact hours in 2008, an increase of over 10% on 2007.  The breakdown between ACCORD’s key service areas were: 61% delivered in marriage and relationship counselling; 33% in marriage preparation and 6% through our Schools Education Programme.

ACCORD counsellors and facilitators will be addressed by a number of experts who will focus on the conference’s theme of Leadership, Creation and Vocation:

  • Dr Tony Humphreys Consultant Clinical Psychologist, “Are we Victims or Creators”
  • Mr Sean Ruth Organisational Psychologist, “ACCORD and Leadership”
  • Mr Brendan O’Reilly National Director for Catechetics, “Lift your Gaze, See Anew”


Notes to Editors
ACCORD, the Catholic Marriage Care Service, is an agency of the Irish Bishop’s Conference.  ACCORD serves the pastoral needs of marriage and the family and its mission is to respond to the needs of couples who are preparing for, or seeking a deeper commitment to, traditional marriage, family values and structures.

ACCORD is the most geographically widespread provider of services in support of marriage and family in Ireland and has 58 centres countrywide.  All services provided by ACCORD’s over 800 volunteers are confidential.   ACCORD volunteers are professionally trained and highly skilled practitioners who are personally equipped with the qualities and competences required to sensitively carry out this very important work.  Each volunteer delivers at least 100 hours of service per year.

Marriage Preparation
The core elements of this course are an examination by the couple of:

– Family of Origin
– Communication
– Conflict
– Commitment
– Children
– Church/Sacrament
– Sexuality
– Fertility awareness

Statistics for 2008 indicate that: 63% of couples attending for marriage preparation had a third level education; 75% of couples had been in their relationship more than three years before deciding to get married; 12% have children within their current relation ship and 4% from a previous relationship.

Marriage Counselling
Statistics for 2008 indicate that: 66% of clients who sought counselling were married; 13% were cohabiting; 6% were single and 10% were separated or divorced.  63% of clients have children whilst 7% of clients have children from a previous relationship.  Half of ACCORD clients were aged between 30 and 40 years old, the average age is 37 for women and 38 for men.

The most common problems cited by clients were:

– Partners being critical of one another, insulting and not listening, 42%
– Sexual & intimacy issues, 26%
– Problems with extended family, 15%
– Dissatisfaction with task sharing in the home particularly childcare and housework, 12%
– Financial problems. In 2008 15% of clients cited financial difficulties/problems as main reason for  attending a rise of 2% on 2007, however in the last three months this has risen to 20% nationally.  Whilst around the country parts of North Dublin, Naas/Newbridge, Monaghan, Belfast and Tralee are all over 25%.

Address by Bishop Willie Walsh, President of ACCORD

39th ACCORD Annual Conference, Clayton Hotel, Ballybritt, Co Galway

I welcome you all as we gather here this evening for our Annual Conference.  I would like to thank you, Minister Mary Hanafin, for opening our conference and for your kind remarks and continued support for the work of ACCORD.   I believe it is some forty years ago since I attended my first CMAC Conference in Leeds.   So what is new?   Every conference is new – different times, different people, different themes, different speakers and very occasionally different National Directors.

Can I begin by saying a cead míle fáilte to Ruth Barror, our new National Director who is just over 100 days in the office.   Ruth is no stranger to ACCORD, having served as a member of Dublin ACCORD in the 1970’s and of course having led our sister organisation MRCS for some years.   Your task Ruth is a formidable one.   We are not an organisation which all the members meekly assent to the Director’s wishes or to what Central Office suggests but, ultimately, we all want to work with you in a spirit of co-operation, loyalty and love.   We wish you every blessing and personal happiness and fulfilment in the task.

I take the opportunity to pay a sincere tribute to our former Director – Shay Ellis.   ACCORD was very fortunate in having Shay at the helm during a period of significant and at times difficult change.   He worked with extraordinary generosity and dedication to continuously improve standards of service.   Buicheas ó croí agus gach dea ghuí to Shay and to Iris.

The theme chosen for this year’s Conference is a wide ranging one.   Leadership, Creation and Vocation.   Each could be the subject of a conference in itself.  Each aspect of the theme has a particular relevance to the work of ACCORD.

ACCORD and of course you the members of ACCORD are very much in a position of ‘leadership’ in relation to marriage in Ireland today.   You are by far the largest provider of education for marriage and marriage counselling.   That leadership role places you in a position of both privilege and responsibility.   Privilege to facilitate young couples to open their minds and hearts to a deeper understanding and appreciation of the wonder, the mystery, the sacredness and the joy of that relationship of love.   Responsibility to give of your best in terms of training and preparation to lead them towards that deeper understanding and appreciation

Privilege to be trusted with the painful stories of couples whose marriages are in difficulties.   Responsibility to accept and respect their brokenness and their allowing you to enter into these most delicate and sensitive areas of their lives and hopefully assist them on the road towards healing.   It is a quiet mostly unnoticed form of leadership – and bishops and ministers would often sigh for that quiet unnoticed form of leadership in these difficult times for Church and State.   A quiet and mostly unnoticed form of leadership but one which is vital to the wellbeing of our society.

At a time when many of us who are in positions of leadership in our Church have had our credibility greatly diminished the quality of your leadership in the area of marriage is all the more important.   Your witness to the importance of marriage and to its sacredness speaks much more convincingly than anything that we might say as bishops or clergy.

One might wonder where does ‘creation’ fit into the work of ACCORD.   There is of course the mystery, the wonder, the privileged, and the joy in the creation of new life and then the responsibility of nurturing and caring for that new life.   I realise of course that you can only touch on these issues in a short pre-marriage course but even if you only alert couples to the wonder and sacredness of giving new life to a child you will have truly gifted them.

But apart from Creation in that literal sense there is a great deal of room for creativity in marriage itself – in managing, developing and enriching that relationship.   There are a thousand ways of saying “I love you”.   Both in the areas of education and counselling a creative imagination can certainly stimulate interest and help to move a relationship to a deeper level.   And as an organisation we must be constantly creative in searching for new ways to meet the challenges to marriage and family in today’s world.

The third heading, that of ‘vocation’, underpins your commitment to your own marriages and is at the heart of our understanding of Christian Marriage.   Something short of 60 years ago when I wondered if or not I should go study for the priesthood I always had the feeling that I would hear a whisper from God telling me if he wanted me to become a priest.  Whilst I never heard that physical whisper I followed my heart and am very happy for it.

We see vocation nowadays more in terms of a choice, of a decision or commitment to a particular way of life.   All of us have a vocation through our baptism.   Through our baptism we are called, we are invited to live a Christian Life, a life inspired by the example and teaching of Jesus Christ.   We can live that Christian life as married or single, cleric or lay.

You have chosen to live that life as a married person: you have made that commitment to a life long relationship with one whom you love.   Your vocation, your calling is to try to live out that relationship of love in as generous a manner as possible.   It is a sacred commitment.   On the occasion of entering into that commitment the Church, recognising it is sacred, surrounds it with prayers and blessing thus making it a Sacrament.   You respond to that sacred Vocation which is marriage in the day to day living of your marriage – in the joys and the sorrows, the pleasure and the pain, the fulfilment and the frustrations of your own relationship.   You go further however in that vocation in your reaching out to other couples to help them in their commitment of love.   This work adds a whole new dimension to your vocation as married people.

Pope John Paul II wrote an encyclical at the beginning of the new millennium  under that very title “The Beginning of the New Millennium”.   He has a lovely piece towards the end of that letter under the heading “the Spirituality of Communion” where he speaks of trying to see the face of God in each person we meet.  He then goes on to speak of the Christian approach to the gifts that I possess suggesting that for Christians the gifts that I have are not just gifts for me, they are also gifts for you and the gifts that you have are not just gifts for you but also gifts for me.  Within your marriage the gifts that you possess are not just gifts for you but also for your partner.  You go further in ACCORD in that the gifts which you have as a married person are not just for you and your partner – they are also gifts to be shared with other married couples.

This year’s conference takes place against a background of very serious worry about the state of our economy.   The present crisis is placing considerable pressure on so many individuals and families.   I have in mind those who have lost or carry the worry of possible loss of jobs.   I have in mind young couples who are burdened by heavy mortgages or couples who see little hope of being able to provide themselves with an adequate home.   I have in mind some of you here this evening who carry worries about your own economic wellbeing.   These pressures and worries will inevitably cause added stress to many marriage relationships.   Indeed some of you may yourselves be subject to such pressures and worries right now in your own married relationship.

I am not about to offer any simplistic solutions to our present difficulties.   I do want to say however that the spirit of voluntarism which is at the heart of ACCORD, that spirit of giving freely without expectation of recompense is a real countersign to the sometimes selfish and aggressive individualism which has characterised much of our economic activity of recent years.   And when I say that I am not indulging in the present national pastime of “who can we blame”.   Let’s not rush off to get a place on the currently overcrowded high moral ground before we ask which of us didn’t indulge a little in the mad rush to ensure that we too got out share of the fruits of the Celtic Tiger.

There is I believe a gradually growing consensus that all of us must be generous in our response to the need to share the pain of rebuilding our economy.   That generosity which inspires the voluntarism of you the members of ACCORD and indeed the tens of thousand of other volunteers across the country is both a challenge and an example to all our people at this time.   Voluntarism is about the practice of giving freely of your skills, your time and your energy for the benefit of others and without expectation of recompense.   It is about generosity of mind and heart, it is ultimately about love of neighbour and particularly the neighbour in need.  Voluntarism is at the heart of the Gospel message.

In recent years ACCORD accepted, and I believe wisely accepted, the need for some degree of payment for those who were able to give extra time to meet the growing demands for our services.   Nonetheless voluntarism remains at the heart of ACCORD and I deliberately speak of its being at the heart of ACCORD because ACCORD is about heart, it is about caring for those whom we are privileged to serve.   May the generous spirit of voluntarism continue to be at the heart of ACCORD.


Further information:

Martin Long, Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
John Farrelly, Director of Counselling ACCORD (087 2889720)