His final service on Suirside takes place on Sunday next before he moves on to Dublin, and his presence shall be missed by the both the indigenous and immigrant members of his congregation.
“I first came to Waterford in 2002,” Rev Parkin, a Yorkshire native, told The Munster Express.
“I’d previously worked for Christian Aid both here in Ireland and in Africa, where I gained a great level of experience, understanding and insight into the daily lives of the people of that extraordinary continent.”
Before studying theology (an interest he cites from the maternal side of his family), John Parkin was, literally, a man of the earth, well, its rocks and minerals to be precise – a geologist.
An alumnus of Hull University, Rev Parkin also holds a Doctorate in Geology from Trinity College Dublin, and subsequently worked in the field in the great natural beauty of Dingle, where he would meet Charles J Haughey, prior to his becoming Taoiseach.
Following his full-time work as a geologist, life took a more vocational path when studying to become a Methodist Minister in Belfast, which in turn led him to Christian Aid, and to Africa.
In the early 1980s, Zambia was his first port of call there, where he combined both his academic and religious training, working on a geological study while also practising his Ministry. Despite contracting malaria, Rev Parkin overcame that obstacle and remained wholly committed to his work and to Africa.
While also visiting Israel and Palestine in that period on behalf of the Church of Scotland, John’s work with Christian Aid saw him return to Africa in the mid-1980s, where he saw at first hand the ravages of famine in Ethiopia in both 1984 and 1988.
“I met with warlords while I was there,” he said. “Some of these would later help to form a government, and my work led to my helping transport over a million pounds in food aid across the border from Sudan – be it food grains and other essentials to help sustain lives.
“I travelled with guerrillas to famine-stricken parts of the country, such as Tigray Province in the northern highlands; the lowlands of Ethiopia didn’t experience drought and food could be acquired within that area as opposed to having to import it from Sudan.”
Rev Parkin’s recalled his time in Africa with great fondness, even if his work took him into several countries experiencing the consequences of famine or civil war, be it Sierra Leone or Ghana, for example.
In 1994, he was among the election observers overseeing the first fully democratic plebiscite in South Africa, a vote which would lead to the historic election of Nelson Mandela, a fellow Methodist, as president.
After a spell in Birr, County Offaly, Rev Parkin was appointed to a Ministry in Waterford city, during a period of considerable immigration, when at least 1,000 people a month were travelling to make new lives here in boom-time Ireland.
And that diversity of nationalities was reflected in Rev Parkin’s congregation at the 300-year-old Saint Patrick’s Church, which occupies a site where a place of worship has stood for over eight centuries. There are sometimes as many as 14 African languages spoken during services, including Pentecost Sunday.
While administering joyful occasions such as weddings and baptisms, Rev Parkin has also experienced tragedy and its effects on our immigrant community.
The death of Paiche Unyolo Onyemaechi and the manner of her passing shocked the entire south east community, but in particular those who knew and loved Paiche, whose remains were discovered just outside Piltown in July 2004.
Rev Parkin’s sense of ecumenism was made manifest in his role in developing the Waterford Integration Network, which was established by the then Catholic Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, Dr William Lee.
So what of Waterford’s immigrants today? “The current direct provision system, which leads to asylum seekers living in hostels, is far from ideal; it creates a certain level of dependency among those waiting for their applications to be processed,” he said.
“While former Minister Shatter did reduce some of the backlog, there are still incidences of those who have been waiting seven years and longer for news on their applications, and by now many of these have families, young children attending school. To have a family living altogether within one room is far from ideal.”
It’s worth pointing out that those seeking asylum aren’t permitted to work in Ireland, with adults receiving a State stipend of €19 per week, which hardly represents a ‘milking’ of the system as some uniformed and thoroughly ignorant observers might otherwise claim.
Rev Parkin, without wishing to overstate the matter, said there is “some racist comment” directed towards immigrants in Waterford, with African-born taxi drivers bearing the brunt of such unwelcome verbal abuse.
He has also learned of some attacks on immigrants which in turn led them to the Gardaí, but he added that he feels the situation for all people living in Waterford shall improve when the economy begins to pick up.
“This has been a difficult time for Waterford, a most trying period,” he said. “The loss of jobs and industries has taken its toll, of course it has, but I am hopeful that things can change in a positive sense for everyone living here.
“Waterford has got a great sense of vibrancy and energy, which Spraoi showcases every year and as the two Tall Ships festivals held here also illustrated, and the 1100th anniversary celebrations in the city have provided another platform in which to showcase that energy, and creativity and sense of place.
“Within our own church, in St Patrick’s, which has been splendidly renovated, we can now accommodate family events, meetings and concerts, as we did during the Imagine Festival, and that provided a great source of joy to the Methodist community here in Waterford.”
Rev Parkin’s eventful life has taken him to Africa and the Middle East, and all the way to Birr, Waterford and, imminently, to Dublin. His contribution to Waterford, and the role he has played in integrating the ‘new Irish’ into life on Suirside shall not be forgotten. We wish him well.