The Diocese of Derry and Raphoe has a new priest following Sunday evening’s ordination of Rev Iain McAleavey at a Service in Glendermott Parish Church in Londonderry.
The 26-year-old County Down man was ordained by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, and will serve as Curate in the Parish of Glendermott and Newbuildings.
The service was dramatically different to most ordinations in the Diocese because of the restrictions in place to limit the spread of the Covid-19 virus.
The much smaller than usual congregation was obvious evidence of the virus’s impact, although perhaps the most poignant effect was seen near the end of the ordination when – instead of the usual mass laying-on of hands by clergy – Bishop Andrew led individual clergy in performing the ritual, after each had cleansed their hands with sanitiser.
Bishop Andrew referred to the changed circumstances for an ordination. “We would usually expect the church to be packed,” he said, “and lots of singing and a good bun-fight afterwards, and so on, and there’s an awful lot that we can’t do this evening because of the Covid-19 restrictions. But, what did we say, as we began this service? ‘The Lord be with you, and also with you.’ God is here. His spirit is with us. His presence is with us. And he comes to bless us by His presence and by His grace.”
Also lending his presence to the occasion was the Rt Rev Darren McCartney, former Suffragan Bishop of the Arctic and Rector of Clonallon & Warrenpoint with Kilbroney. Among those in church to watch Rev McAleavey being priested were the new curate’s girlfriend, Danni deKeizer, who delivered the second reading, and his parents Colin and Irene. The first reading was read by Rev Joanne Megarrell, the Rector of Moira, where Iain first discerned a call to ministry, and the Gospel was read by Rev Arthur Burns, Curate in NSM at Glendermott.
Bishop Andrew was assisted in the Service by the Rector of Glendermott, Rev Canon Robert Boyd; the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller and the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss, who preached the sermon. Archdeacon Huss said Ian was a Lisburn man – “and that’s a very good sign right there, at the beginning.” But what was this ordained ministry that Ian was being sent to do?
“When I left work as a schoolteacher,” the preacher said, “to go off to Theological College to train, one of my colleagues said, ‘David, from now on you’ll be drinking tea and opening garden fetes all day long.’” That was the perception, Archdeacon Huss said. But what does a minister of the Gospel really do? Was it just to vaguely float around opening things and being there occasionally for people when the minister might be needed?
“Well, there’s no better place to turn to,” the preacher said, “than [today’s] Gospel reading [John, 20: 19-23] , where the Lord Jesus Christ sent his apostles out on their mission and ministry in the world. And it shows us here that the ministry of the Gospel, the ministry of those who inherit that mantle from the apostles – the ministry of the priests or elders or presbyters in the Church of God – is not like any other work or calling.”
Archdeacon Huss said ministry had a number of features that were very striking, very wonderful and very odd in today’s world: it was a ministry grounded in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and the peace that flowed from it; it was a ministry empowered by the Holy Spirit – “The resurrection of Christ is the bedrock of our faith and of our ministry, showing that this is not some airy-fairy idea, it’s not some vague notion dreamed up in some cloistered, quiet place, but it’s a solid fact: public, historical, undeniable.” – and it was a ministry to do with the forgiveness of sins.
“This is the strange part, isn’t it? I said at the beginning that ministry is strange in the eyes of people today, maybe in the wider world, and here’s a very strange part about it: Jesus says, ‘If you forgive the sins of any they are forgiven; if you retain the sins of any they are retained.’ What a strange way to sum up the ministry that he was sending the apostles to do. You might be expecting him to say, ‘Receive the `Holy Spirit, now go and preach the Word,’ or ‘Receive the Holy Spirit, now go and build up my Church.’ But he says a strange thing about the forgiveness of sins. And here is a place where the Christian ministry departs from secular ideas and understanding of what’s really most needed in our world.
“If you were to go out and do an opinion poll: what are the biggest problems in our world, what are the biggest needs? Well, at the minute, Coronavirus, climate change, economic problems, inequality, the migration crisis, and so many other things. But, of course, the Lord teaches us that there’s something much deeper, there’s a problem which goes below the surface of all of those other things, and it is the problem that’s summed up in the simple word ‘sin’. The reality of sin is something which the Lord Jesus Christ doesn’t shy away from, and which those called to ministry need also to hold to.
“There is a deep problem in our world and in every human heart. As the Russian dissident and prisoner of conscience, Alexandr Solzhenitsyn, said after years in the Gulag, in the prison camp, he said, he discovered that the line between good and evil runs through every human heart. And the Lord says not good people and bad people, there are people made in the image of God – wonderfully, fearfully made – but who are broken because of sin, the reality of sin, but also, of course, there’s the remedy for sin.
“Here’s the wonderful news,“ Archdeacon Huss said, “that there is an answer to this deepest human problem – which is in the Lord Jesus Christ. And so, He sends the apostles to this task of the forgiveness of sins. Of course, we’re well aware that it’s God alone who forgives sins, but He gives to the apostles and He gives to the preachers of the Gospel the task of declaring the way in which sins can be forgiven, and of assuring people who repent and believe that their sins are forgiven. He sends the apostles, in other words, into the ministry of absolution.
“As the old words of the Morning and Evening Prayer Service said, ‘He hath given power and commandment to His ministers to declare and pronounce to His people being penitent the absolution and remission of their sins. This is a wonderful privilege that you will now have to declare to God’s people as they repent that their sins are forgiven through Christ.
“So, don’t shy away, Ian, from this key aspect of ministry, that it has to do with the forgiveness of sins; with leading people to the place where they find that forgiveness; leading them to the cross, in your preaching, in your presiding at the Lord’s table where you will present before the people the body and blood of Christ, broken and poured out for them – for their forgiveness, for their healing, for their salvation.
“Whatever you do, lead them to the Lord Jesus. This ministry is based on His resurrection, it’s empowered by His spirit and it releases that wonderful gift of the forgiveness of sins.
Archdeacon Huss said making Jesus known, turning people from sin to the Saviour and bringing enlightenment were things the new Curate could not do but God could do through him, by the power of the Holy Spirit. “So, continue to pray day by day that you will be enlarged and enlightened in your understanding, and not only understanding but in your love for these truths, to be able to share them and proclaim them.”
Lastly, the preacher asked the Lord to bless Rev McAleavey as he embarked on this greatest possible privilege.