Funeral of Bishop James Mehaffey – “a powerful influence for good”

The funeral has taken place in Londonderry of Rt Rev’d Dr James Mehaffey, a former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, whose friendship and joint peacebuilding with his Roman Catholic counterpart, the late Bishop Edward Daly, inspired many during some of the most violent years of the Troubles.

Bishop Mehaffey’s immediate predecessor, Lord Eames, and his two successors, Bishop Ken Good and Rt Rev’d Andrew Forster, took part in this afternoon’s Service of Thanksgiving for the late bishop’s life, which was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev’d Raymond Stewart, assisted by Canon John Merrick. The Roman Catholic Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, the Moderator of the Derry and Donegal Presbytery, Rev Colin McKibbin, and the Methodist Superintendent, Rev’d Richard Johnston, also took part.

The Lord Lieutenant of the City of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey; Deputy Lieutenant, Mrs Stella Burnside (representing the Lord Lieutenant of the County of Londonderry); former Lord Lieutenant for the County, Sir Denis Desmond; the Duke of Abercorn; and the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Cara Hunter, were in the congregation. Also present were Lord Hay of Ballyore, the Olympic gold medallist Dame Mary Peters, former PSNI Assistant Chief Constable Peter Sheridan, East Londonderry MP Gregory Campbell, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson, former SDLP leader Mark Durkan, Mrs Pat Hume, former Church of Ireland Primate Most Rev’d Alan Harper and the Bishop of Mahajanga in Madagascar, Rt Rev’d Hall Speers.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Most Rev’d Dr Richard Clarke, was unable to attend in person and Bishop Andrew Forster read out a tribute from Dr Clarke in which he described Bishop Mehaffey as “a powerful influence for good”.

“Of course, we all have our own individual memories of Jim,” the Archbishop said, “but all of us will recall with particular admiration his work – in company with Bishop Edward Daly – not only for peace but also for reconciliation in this city. Together they brought hope and light into communities where there was precious little of either. We all saw in Bishop Jim a gracious composure coupled with a steely resolve – the sense that this work for peace and harmony between communities so long divided was work for the Kingdom of God, and it would not be thwarted, from whatever quarter.”

The address during the Service was delivered by the Rt Rev’d The Lord Eames, another former Primate of the Church of Ireland, who recalled Dr Mehaffey’s advice to colleagues on the Church of Ireland’s Priorities Committee to remember why they were there.

“If there is a hallmark as he moved to this city to be your Bishop,” Lord Eames said, “if there is a hallmark that I would have as part of his legacy, it is those words: ‘Hold on, you’ve lost sight of why we’re here.’ You’ve lost sight that the reconciliation in our community which was so fostered by Edward Daly and James Mehaffey must never be lost sight of. You’ve lost sight of the wonderful rewards of reconciliation or in reaching out hands of friendship. And within the Church, you’ve lost sight at times of your roots – the roots that have given you the commission of God to be alive for all sorts and conditions of people.

“For Bishop Jim, this was his priority as he worked with Edward and other leaders to bind up the broken, to heal the wounds of the lost, to make people remember why you’re here, that in the short gift of a lifespan you must grasp every opportunity to do things for the good of all – across the barriers, across the river and across the divisions.

“This was his ministry as a Bishop. It was a ministry exercised in those dark days of suffering, misunderstanding, suspicion; and it was a ministry which was being true to the commission given to him in September 1980: ‘Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost.’”

Before the Service, Bishop Mehaffey’s wife, Thelma, their daughter Wendy and son Tim welcomed the many hundreds of people from across the community who had come to sympathise with the family in their loss. And Wendy read out an emotional tribute to her father, during which she spoke of her love and gratitude to her “beautiful dad”.

She said her father’s love of people came into its own after he was appointed Bishop, as he sought friendships across the city. There was challenge in this role, Wendy said, but he remained steadfast in his belief and faith. “During his last spell in hospital,” she said, “there was a day when, in a moment of brilliant and characteristic clarity, Dad said: ‘One helps the other.’ May that be the profound message that we each take away from our gathering today.”

Bishop Mehaffey’s remains will repose in St Columb’s Cathedral until Monday morning when they will be taken to Belfast for cremation.