‘Excited but daunted’ Bishop appeals for congregation’s prayers

The Rt Rev Andrew Forster has been installed as Bishop of Derry at a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry. The service, which was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Revd Raymond Stewart, took place four weeks to the day after Bishop Foster’s consecration in Armagh and was the first such service in the Diocese in almost 18 years.

Among those in the congregation this afternoon were the Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, the Lord-Lieutenant of County Londonderry, Mrs Alison Millar, and the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Cara Hunter.

There was a great deal of symbolism in the Service of Installation. It began with Bishop Forster knocking three times with his pastoral staff on the Cathedral’s west door before he was admitted and welcomed by the Dean and members of the Cathedral Chapter. Early in the service, the Diocesan Registrar, Revd Canon David Crooks, read the Archbishop’s Mandate for the Induction, Installation and Enthronement of Rt Revd Forster into the Bishopric of Derry. The Dean then led the new Bishop to the episcopal Throne where he took his seat.

In his sermon, having thanked the congregation for the warmth of their welcome, Bishop Forster got straight to the point: “Now, you’re all thinking: ‘What’s the new Bishop like?’ Well, who am I? Who is Andrew James Forster? Well, I am simply a follower of Jesus Christ who realises each day my need of His grace and His mercy and His love. And I come to you as a sinner, a sinner who realises and relies upon the forgiveness that Jesus freely gives because of the cross of Calvary. I come to you as no more than a shepherd and no less than a shepherd; and I come to you to journey with you as we seek to live out what it means, each of us, to be followers of Jesus Christ and what it means for us to share that love of Jesus in the communities in which He has placed us.”

The service took place on the first Sunday of the New Year and on the eve of the Epiphany. Bishop Forster said ‘Epiphany’ was all about journey and he wanted to focus for a few minutes on the theme of ‘journey’ – the epic journey of the wise men recorded in the second reading (Matthew 2: 1-12) – and how it impacted on us.

“King Herod is one of the bad boys of history,” the Bishop said. “Under him, the economy of Judea flourished, brilliant building programmes and everything, but Herod was a ruthless dictator who could do anything to maintain his grip on power. And it was because of the actions of Herod that Jesus, in the opening weeks and months of his life, along with his parents, would become a refugee, a refugee fleeing persecution – he ends up in Egypt as you know – and it was because of Herod’s psychopathic hatred and insecurity that the male infants of Bethlehem would be slaughtered.

“Refugees, persecution, fear, insecurity – it sounds pretty familiar to our broken world, doesn’t it, our broken world where so many followers of Jesus face persecution and even death for Him, where refugees are so often put at the very bottom of the pile and where refugees are often ignored, and lost and left behind?

“I want us – as a follower of Jesus – I want each one of us to have bigger hearts, to have bigger hearts for those who are on the margins of society, for those who come to us as refugees, for those who are persecuted for their faith, for those who know day by day what it is to live with insecurity and in fear. We need to be people with bigger hearts, generous hearts and giving hearts.”

Bishop Forster recounted for the congregation the arduous, “epic” journey of the Magi, that began in Babylon – modern day Iraq – led them across the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, through the desert of Transjordan, across the mountains of Golan, down through the fertile crescent of Lebanon, with the pleasant, cooling breezes off the Mediterranean.

“I often think a physical journey can be a metaphor or a mirror for our own spiritual, personal journey. Think about it for a moment or two. Maybe some of you feel that you’re having to cross pretty treacherous rivers, you’re having to go against the flow, against accepted norms, against what everybody else thinks is right. Sometimes it can be very difficult – actually, all the time it can be very difficult – to go against the flow. Or, I wonder is it a desert, when life and even faith has seemed dry and difficult? You’re going through the desert of doubt or uncertainty or loneliness, whatever that could be for you. I wonder did you feel like that today, going through a desert? Or we have to climb mountains – mountains of challenge – challenges to do with health and unwanted diagnoses, money problems, family concerns. And let’s hope that there are also plenty of good times on the journey, where life has been good, and it’s felt like a breeze.

“The truth is none of us knows what our journey holds, but as Christians we proclaim that we follow the God of the journey. And it’s not simply about a star now, it’s about a Saviour – a Saviour whom we follow – a Saviour who journeys with us, leading and guiding us. It’s the hope of the Gospel, it’s the good news of Christmas and it’s the wonderful story of Epiphany.

“As Christians we proclaim that God is the God of the journey and if your journey is difficult at the moment, God is the God with you on that journey, and if your journey is good at the moment, God is the God with you on that journey. God loves you. God cares for you. And God journeys with you. Trust Him.

“One of the most wonderful things for me about being a member of a local church is that we journey together, supporting each other through good times and hard times. I’m sure each one of us in church this afternoon can testify to times whenever the church family has gathered around to help and to bless us.

“And isn’t it strange that in one way we’ve never been so connected in the world through internet and social media but yet, on the other hand, we’ve never felt so disconnected from each other, and it seems so easy to become isolated and disconnected? In those circumstances, I think there’s nothing that beats a warm-hearted church, serving God at the heart of its community, with the community in its heart, serving in hope and love as a family.”

Bishop Forster returned to the Magi – the “wise, learned men”, from the “higher echelons of society” – who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were preceded by a group of shepherds, hard-working men, living quite isolated lives, eking out a modest living caring for sheep. “To both of those groups,” the preacher said, “their goal was to meet Christ. And you see what we have here, from the highest in society to some of the lowliest in society? Jesus was for all of them. And Jesus is for all of us. Jesus is for our community here in the North West. Jesus is the one who brings light and hope and help on our journey. You see, whatever background, whatever education, whatever colour, creed, class, they came to worship Him and bowed down and worshipped Him. He’s for you and He’s for me and our goal must be to worship Him.

“Do you know, whenever we talk about the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John and so on, gospel, of course, means ‘good news’? The good news that Matthew writes for us. The good news that he recorded for us today in our Gospel reading is good news that through the love of God we can know significance, redemption, purpose and hope. And I want to tell you, that’s all I can do, that’s all I can do as a bishop, is to share the hope and the good news of Jesus, and to help each of us journey with Him. That’s who I am and that’s what God’s called me to be throughout my life – a messenger of His hope.”

Bishop Forster explained to the congregation that he and his family were in the process of moving house, in the course of which he discovered an old school report of his, which he shared – at his own expense. “My French master gave me a mark and then, in the comment box, wrote this (now, think about this for a moment): ‘Willing though ungifted.’ In other words, ‘He’s a nice fellow, but a bit dim when it comes to French.’”

Bishop Forster ended his sermon with an appeal to the congregation to pray for him. “I’m excited to be your bishop,” he told them. “I’m also daunted to be your bishop. And the one thing that has been so evident for us as a family over these last weeks and months has been the prayers of people like you. I covet your prayers and I need your prayers. And as I pray for you, please continue to pray for me, so that God will lead, God will bless and God will help us to live out our call in His world.”

Clergy and readers from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe took part in today’s Service of Installation. The service was sung by the Cathedral Choir and the Chamber Choir, directed by Nicky Morton, with the organ played by Dr Derek Collins.

After the service, many members of the congregation made their way to the city’s Guildhall for a reception hosted by the Deputy Mayor.

Next Sunday, Bishop Forster will be installed as Bishop of Raphoe at a Service in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe.