Politicians from across the community mingled with parishioners of Christ Church, Londonderry, this morning as the congregation gathered for their first service since this week’s vandalism attack, in which the church organ was almost destroyed.
Archdeacon Robert Miller recalled the words of the Danish poet and author, Hans Christian Andersen, when he told the congregation: ‘Where words fail, music speaks’. “Alas,” Archdeacon Miller said, “this morning I find myself being left to speak in the absence of music”.
The incident happened sometime between Sunday afternoon and Tuesday evening. The perpetrators smashed their way into the church through a stained glass window and cut wires and cables in the instrument’s inner workings. The damage will require an estimated six-figure sum to repair. Today in church, the Parish’s Director of Music, Ben McGonigle, accompanied the choir on the church’s grand piano instead of the organ.
Following this week’s open invitation from Archdeacon Miller for people to show their support for Christ Church by joining them for Sunday worship, scores of people from across the community attended the church’s regular Sunday morning service, which was led by the Pastoral Director, Rev Katie McAteer.
Among those present were Sinn Fein MLA Karen Mullan and her party colleagues Councillors Patricia Logue and Eric McGinley; the former SDLP MP Mark Durkan, and party colleagues John Dallat (MLA) and Cllr Angela Dobbins; Independent Councillors Gary Donnelly and Sean Carr; and former Ulster Unionist Deputy Mayor, Alderman Mary Hamilton. The Administrator of St Eugene’s Cathedral, Fr Paul Farren, also attended the service.
Archdeacon Miller – who is Rector the Group of Parishes to which Christ Church belongs – preached the sermon. In it he said that sometimes, in difficult times such as this, the expression was used that these things were sent by God to try us. “I don’t believe that,” the Archdeacon said. ”I don’t believe in a God like that, who sends pain to test those whom he loves”.
There were lots of things that we did not know or could not know about this vandalism, the Preacher said. It seemed a Godless action of a person or persons who had fallen short of how God wanted them to live. “God did not send this vandalism to test my congregation any more than the suffering in your life is sent by him. Whilst we can’t know why it has happened, what we can know is that God can redeem the brokenness that we experienced and the evil that destroys our peace.”
The Rector said many in the congregation – himself included – had felt God’s love lived out in the responses of their sisters and brothers in Christ across the city and beyond. “I’ve said to people in the past that sometimes in life when difficult things happen I accept them in faith. I accept them in faith based on things that I do know. And what I do know, this morning, is that as we gather together – parishioner and citizen alike – that God loves us. It is in this love that I want to remind all of us today, and indeed I speak also of myself, that God can turn around any terrible situation of destruction. Yes, a material building has been vandalised in a terrible way, and the vandals also have diminished themselves by such thoughtless and uncaring behaviour in destroying that which we hold dear – sacred even – but I have a message for them, this morning. There is a way back from this destruction. Your own lives don’t have to be destroyed, and you can turn away from the hurtful and destroying behaviour and seek to become better. In fact, I believe that is God’s hope for you”.
Referring to today’s readings, Archdeacon Miller said the gospel was rooted and found its foundation on forgiveness and the danger of ‘unforgiveness’. He said many would know that he had co-written a book with Fr Paul Farren called ‘Forgiveness Remembers’. “There seems a certain irony about it this morning, as I stand in the pulpit, The reason we wrote the book is that we know from personal experience and from our years of ministry that forgiveness is not easy; it is, however, non-negotiable and essential.” Archdeacon Miller said that the day after the vandalism was discovered he had been asked in an interview whether he had forgiven the vandals. “My answer was to say that it is a journey that I have yet to begin to make, but a journey I am going to have to make.”