Tobermore’s new Rector “may be small in stature but she is a dynamo”

“She may be small in stature,” the Reverend Peter Jones told the congregation in Kilcronaghan Parish Church on Friday evening, “but Rosie is a dynamo”. Rev Jones was preaching at the Service in his hometown of Tobermore during which Rev Rosie Diffin was instituted as Rector of Kilcronaghan, Ballynascreen and Six Towns, in succession to Rev Carmen Hayes who moved last year to the neighbouring Parish of Errigal and Desertoghill.

It was a measure of the affection the new rector commands that many of her former parishioners from Kilmore and St Saviour’s in the Diocese of Armagh had travelled through the Sperrins, on what Bishop Andrew Forster called a “dreich night”, to attend the Service. One of them, a teary-eyed Mrs Marlene Hobson, hugged Rev Diffin in the porch afterwards and told her, “There’s room on the bus for you.”

There was no change of heart on the part of the new Rector, though, and there was no room inside the church as the visitors from Armagh joined parishioners from Rev Diffin’s new parishes to see her being instituted. Sitting with the new incumbent were her husband, Ronnie, and their sons Ronnie, William and Wilson.

The preacher, Rev Jones, is Rector of the Parish of Mossley in the Diocese of Connor, but he knew Rev Diffin from their days together in the Armagh Diocese. “This is a significant Service,” he told the congregation, “not just in Rosie’s life, in her journey of faith, in her continued discernment of God’s call in her life. I think tonight is a significant moment for the parish of Kilmore in Dobbin.”

Turning directly to the those parishioners, many of whom were seated together to the preacher’s right, Rev Jones said: “As you say goodbye tonight to Rosie and to Ronnie, as you enter a season of vacancy, at the very outset I want to be heard to say tonight: please be assured that we are praying for you.”

For the local congregation, in “a place that I have known for years as home”, Rev Jones said it was a significant night, too, for the parishes of Kilcronaghan, Ballynascreen and Six Towns. “I know this parish well and I know Rosie and Ronnie well, and as such I say with honesty and sincerity tonight, that I’m excited by the prospect of Rosie’s ministry here, of what God has planned for this parish.”

There were great days ahead for the parish, Rev Jones said. “Rosie will love you. She will go the extra mile as she seeks to serve God in this place.” She would work relentlessly, doing all that she could to share the good news of the Gospel in this community and beyond.

Rev Jones told that community that the Gospel message was revolutionary. It required change and asked people to move beyond their comfort zone. “Rosie, I know you to be a biblically-focused person, both in your own personal walk with God and in your leading of God’s people. Please continue to keep and place the Bible at the very centre of all you do in this place.”

The preacher said biblical ministry and pastoral care should be inextricably linked. “What we believe we implement. What we preach we practise. Rosie, you are biblically-grounded but what I say to your new congregations here I say this: Rosie is also an outstanding pastor, someone who will go well beyond the call of duty.

“I would really have loved, over the years,” Rev Jones said, “to have kept a tally of the conversations that I have had with Rosie where she was out and about visiting parishioners, attending hospitals and, of late, even taking eggs to parishioners who were elderly and housebound. I have rarely, in my time in the Church, encountered anyone with such a level of pastoral dedication as you.

“And this can be a difficult and it can be a demanding aspect of Christian ministry,” the preacher said, “as our clerical colleagues tonight will attest. It requires great patience, persistence and even, dare I say it, a sense of collective responsibility within a parish. To the people of Kilcronaghan and Ballynascreen again, I say, as Rosie loves you, as Rosie cares for you, so you must love her and care for her. As we place the Bible and its values at the centre of our mission and ministry, so we must also live these out in practical ways.

“Paul speaks about the need for consistency whenever he calls Timothy to do three things, in verse 2 – correct, rebuke and encourage. He speaks of the need for patience in verse 5, and these are important traits as we together seek to be pastorally attentive and biblically faithful in equal measure. A parish is a community of faith, a place where the concept of collective responsibility should prevail, where patience, persistence and love combine to ensure that we can support one another, encourage one another and journey together. And our united intention, and the united intention of this parish under Rosie, will be to see the Kingdom of God advanced and grown.

“This is a call, isn’t it, to share successes, to learn from mistakes together? It is a call to be there for each other in the good and difficult times. Rosie will be the Rector – by the end of this Service – of this parish, the person at the helm of the ship. She’ll offer leadership, and I’d say tonight ‘quality leadership’, but she needs to be supported and she needs to be encouraged. Uphold her in prayer.

“Rosie, tonight, follow the example of the model between Paul and Timothy and be attentive – pastorally attentive. When the need arises, do correct and rebuke, but also encourage. Be patient. In this place do the work of an evangelist and discharge all the duties of your ministry. You’ve heard me say a lot directly to parishioners tonight and there’s one thing I want to say clearly: please make sure she takes time off, because she will work and work – and work and work and work, over the coming weeks. Make sure that she takes time off to spend with God and to deepen her own personal walk with the Lord.

“So, be biblically faithful, be pastorally attentive and finally, tonight, be God-honouring.” Rev Jones said Friday night’s readings were a reminder that everything happens in God’s timing. “But perhaps the most profound lesson of all for each of us tonight in this church is that we need to rely entirely on God: in all we say and all we do, in the good times and when the storms arrive, we need to put God first.”

Rev Diffin was presented for her commission by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller. Bishop Forster was assisted in the Service by the Rural Dean Rev Colin Welsh and the Diocesan Registrar Rev Canon David Crooks. The Bishop’s Chaplain was Rev David Slater.

After the Service, the new Rector greeted her new parishioners in the adjoining parish hall where a fine supper awaited guests, and where tributes were paid to Rev Diffin. Robert Young, who spoke on behalf of Rev Diffin’s former parishioners, thanked her for her ministry and dedication to Kilmore and St Saviour’s. He assured the people of Tobermore that they were getting not just a fantastic minister but a fantastic person. “Our loss is definitely your gain.”

Margaret Johnston, from Ballynascreen, made presentations to Rev Tommy Allen – who looked after local parishioners during the vacancy – and to his wife Ina. Mrs Johnston sympathised with the people of Kilmore and St Saviour’s: “Only six months ago, we were feeling exactly like you’re feeling now.” She welcomed Rev Diffin and her husband, Ronnie, to their new parishes. “We know that you were God-sent,” Mrs Johnston told the Diffins, and she assured the preacher that the new Rector would not be allowed to work ’24-7’.

Church warden, David Watters, welcomed the new incumbent to KIlcronaghan Parish Church and said they looked forward to their fellowship together as they started a new chapter in the parish’s history with a new leader.

Rev Diffin thanked everyone who came to the Service of Institution. It was, she said, a night of mixed emotions. “I was exceptionally happy in Kilmore and St Saviour’s, Dobbin. And I love you all to bits and I’m going to miss you. And some day, I’ll be standing here and I’ll be looking at the people of Kilcronaghan, Ballynascreen and Six Towns and I’ll be saying, ‘I love you all to bits and I’m going to miss you’. But we’re one big Church family.

“It’s nights like this that remind us that there’s one church under Christ. We’ve come here together, and we’re from all different places and all different parishes and churches, and we haven’t met each other before. It’s a unique moment that God has drawn us together – His children – in under this roof at this moment, so it’s special, really special.”

Rev Diffin thanked the preacher, Rev Peter, for ‘bigging her up’, and thanked Bishop Forster: “You’re not a bad bishop, sure you’re not? You’re the best bishop I’ve got right now. And I do thank you for tonight and for making it so personal and so special.”

Bishop Forster described it as a special evening. He acknowledged the presence of two former rectors of the parishes, Rev Canon Walter Quill and Rev John White, and thanked them for their attendance. He also expressed gratitude to the Rural Dean, Rev Welsh, for organising the service and looking after the parish during the vacancy.

Bishop Forster expressed his appreciation to Rev Tommy Allen and Mrs Allen. “What a great couple and what great servants of God and His Church,” the Bishop said. “Thank you for all that you’ve done during the vacancy, Tommy. We’ll find you another one soon.” Bishop Forster also complimented the parish workers who had prepared a magnificent supper for the special occasion.

“As I was shaking hands with people at the door [of the church] I could’ve told you who were the people from Kilmore and the Dobbin and who were the people from the parishes here, because the ones from Kilmore and the Dobbin were going out with big long faces and the ones from here were smiling and joyful.

“First of all, I want to thank those from Kilmore and the Dobbin for travelling in such numbers tonight to be here. It says an awful lot about you and it also says a lot about Rosie and Ronnie, so thank you all for being here and thank you for giving her to us.

“Rosie and I have already served together because when I was Rector of Drumglass Parish in Dungannon, Rosie came to us for a year as Intern Deacon. Within a few days – literally within a few days – Rosie had endeared herself to the parishioners because of her openness, her warmth, her sincerity because with Rosie Diffin you get what you see. And her warmth and her sincerity and her love is evident, and very quickly the parishioners here and in Draperstown will quickly come to love her and see the treasure that they have in Rosie. I so enjoyed serving with her in Dungannon and we’ve been close friends ever since. I’m delighted that she’s now in the Diocese.”

The Bishop also thanked Rev Peter Jones for preaching “an excellent sermon” which spoke not just to Rev Diffin but to everyone present of the picture of what the Church of Jesus Christ should be like.

Rt Rev Forster said Kilcronaghan, Ballynascreen and Six Towns was a great group of parishes and now, in Rev Diffin, they had a great rector. “Peter reminded us that the best days are yet to come,” the Bishop said, “and that’s the truth for any follower of Jesus Christ – that the best days are yet to come. We’ve had a really super evening tonight, so many people worked so hard to make tonight such a special night. I thank each and every one of you. We’ve had a great night tonight but under God greater days and greater things are to come and we trust Him, and we’ll walk with Him, and well know His love and care into the future.”