Sunday was an extraordinary day for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe as five new priests were ordained by Bishop Ken Good. They were Rev Liz Fitzgerald, Rev Nigel Cairns, Rev Rhys Jones, Rev Jonathan McFarland and Rev Robert Wray. All five will serve in the diocese.
More than five hundred people – including relatives and friends of the ordinands – crammed into Glendermott Parish Church for a service which lasted almost two hours. It was, Bishop Good said, an historic day for the diocese. He said no one in the church could recall an occasion when so many priests were ordained for the diocese in a single service.
The collection at the ordination service usually goes to the Diocesan Ministry Fund but the Bishop said it had been decided that Sunday’s offering would go, instead, to help victims of the recent flooding in Glendermott Parish. The local communities of Drumahoe and Tullyally were among the areas worst affected by last month’s severe floods in the North West. Bishop Good hoped the gesture would be a recognition of their desire to bless and care for families who had suffered because of the flooding and to show them compassion.
In his Sermon for the ordinations, the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett, recalled a service few weeks ago, in Saint Columb’s Cathedral, when a small number of clergy gathered to share the eucharist and mark significant anniversaries of their ordinations. At that gathering, the Preacher said, the Dean of Derry – in a significant reflection – said that theirs was a house divided and wondered how often during their respective times in ministry they had asked themselves the question, “Why me? Why me, Lord? Why have you called me to this house?”
The question reminded Dean Barrett of the 1992 Eurovision Song Contest, which Ireland’s Linda Martin won with a song called ‘Why Me?’ “Dean Stewart’s question got me thinking about my own ordination to the diaconate 20 years ago and about why it was that God called me. I have to tell you that I still have difficulty answering that question.”
Dean Barrett said he’d been privileged to spend time with the “soon-to-be-priests” on their pre-ordination retreat. “During our times of sharing in worship and prayer and chat and an awful lot of laughter together, it seemed to me, and I don’t think I’m breaking any confidences when I say that one way or another all five, I think, share a similar kind of reticence: ‘Why me, Lord?’
“So if I’m right, and you are asking the question, ‘Why me?’, please do not fear it because you are in great company. Many of the greatest prophets of the Bible were exactly the same,” Dean Barret said. “They responded to God’s call on them with reluctance and with excuses. Moses, Joshua, Isaiah, and others besides, were all reluctant. They all had ready excuses for God up their sleeve when they heard his call. ‘Who am I that I should go? What shall I say to them? What if they do not listen? I am slow of speech. Send someone else. I’m not good enough. I’m too young and inexperienced. And you can decide which of those falls closest to your own feelings.
“So the question, ‘Why me?’, does not divide us, but rather is more likely to unite us. You are also united probably with most of the ordained clergy here today: deacons, priests and, dare I say, Bishop, all of whom, I’m quite sure, one time or another, and also many of the prophets have asked ‘Why me?’. But I’m so thrilled, despite perhaps your personal reticence; you have all confidently already today confessed that you believe in your hear that God has called you to the office and work of a priest in his church. I am confident that God will bless in your calling and in your ministry in his name.”
The Preacher asked the ordinands to think about three aspects of the office and work of a priest – all beginning with the letter ‘P’. “First you are called to proclaim – proclaim the word of the Lord. Proclaim means to ‘speak out’, so priests are to speak out the Good News.” Priests were also given authority to pronounce God’s forgiveness upon all who were penitent. They were to encourage forgiveness, acknowledge sinfulness and bring peace. “The third ‘P’ is preside – priests are to preside at the celebration of the Holy Communion. And to preside at Holy Communion is an extraordinarily privileged position, for it is there that we, all of us, come closest to Christ.”
A large number of clergy from throughout the diocese and beyond attended today’s service, many participating in the laying on of hands. The first reading was performed by Rev Cairns’ daughter Megan; Albert Smallwoods, MBE, read the second reading and the Rector of Clooney, Rev David McBeth, read the Gospel. The organist was Derek Collins, Robert Goodman played the trumpet and the choir of St Columb’s Cathedral performed throughout the service.
Afterwards the congregation crossed Church Brae to Glendermott Parish Hall for refreshments and speeches. Bishop Good thanked the local Rector, Rev Robert Boyd, for organising the large and complex Ordination Service so successfully.