The Rev Dr Robin Stockitt has led his final Service of Sunday Worship in Donemana prior to his retirement as Rector of Donagheady (St James). He was joined for the occasion by another retiree, Rt Rev Ken Good, who preached the Sermon.
“I want to thank Robin and Joan for so many things,” Bishop Good said in his address, “but particularly for the generous way in which they have given of themselves to us as a parish, to us as a diocese, to us as a community and to us as a Church of Ireland.”
Bishop Good, who instituted Dr Stockitt into the parish seven years ago, talked about Robin and Joan’s legacy in Donemana. They had made their mark, the Bishop said, and their mark had been a very positive one. “My sense was that this parish was ready and willing to move forward, as evidenced by Jigsaw and the Monday Club and other things I saw at the time. I thought that there was a willingness there for creative and fresh approaches to ministry. Now, it is always a risk when a bishop institutes a new rector into a parish. But what about when you institute an English vicar who has never worked in Northern Ireland? Is that a risk? That is a risk. But he had, in his favour, wisely married someone from here who could at least soften the edges a bit.”
The Bishop praised the Rector’s skill as a “very gifted communicator” who was able to make complex things understandable. Robin was flexible and adaptable, and ready and willing to take on a challenge. “What I think people appreciate as your legacy, and there are many things, is your genuineness and authenticity,” Bishop Good said, “that there are no airs and graces – even though he might be a posh Englishman – there are no airs and graces about Robin, or Joan, they are real and without pretence; they are down to earth and easy to be with, and that’s an important part of a legacy, so that people feel that you understood them, you related to them, you were interested in them, you were part of their life and of their crises and emergencies and joys and sorrows.”
Bishop Good said that the Stockitts brought the Bible to life in a way that all of us could grasp and appreciate. “I think what they would love, certainly Robin as rector – I think, any rector – would say, ‘I would love my legacy in that parish to be where the people of Christ become more like Him and enjoy being Christians in a joyful, friendly, peaceful, outward way that makes an impact on the world’. That would be a great legacy to have and I think that will be your legacy.”
In his final words to his congregation, Rev Dr Stockitt reminded parishioners of the Diocesan vision statement – ‘Transforming Community; Radiating Christ’, which were displayed in St James’ Church. “I was intrigued by those two words, ‘transforming’ and ‘radiating’. They spoke of a message and a way of living that transformed whole communities and enthused them with the qualities of heaven. And for that motto to become more than just words hanging on the wall, there had to be change, and risk-taking, and growth and experimentation, and excitement, and kindness and joy. So, I tried in my own way, these seven years, to fulfil that vision.”
Robin recalled some of the things he and the congregation had done together: installing a screen in the church; experimenting with liturgy; launching a St Patrick’s Day ceilidh; taking a group to Barcelona; organising a cycle ride round the province’s cathedrals; Mothers’ Union activities; renovating the nearby parish hall; building a toilet block in the church; and improving the path in the graveyard. He said he had been heartened, too, to see the growth of shared education in the local primary school and the recent founding of the Donemana Men’s Shed. “All of these things have been done for the sake of a community that brings people together, a community that seeks to reconcile and heal, and above all to be a place of encountering God. As I look back on these seven years, I’m grateful for the way in which you have entered into these ventures.”
Dr Stockitt said he was glad that he and Joan had come to Donemana and glad that they had been accepted as blow-ins into parishioners’ homes. “The past year has been a very challenging one for all of us. Many businesses will not survive the pandemic and if there’s one thing that the pandemic can teach us it’s that we can take nothing for granted.
“Some churches, as well as businesses, may not survive, which leaves me wondering what is it about the church that makes it attractive, magnetic, [so that] people will be drawn towards [it]?
“At a spiritual level, it’s about a sense of the sacred, isn’t it? Church communities are always intended to be places where there’s something beautiful, something awesome, something tangibly ‘other’ about them. And on a human level, churches are all about kindness. They’re not about hierarchy, or position, or status, or power; they’re not about jostling and elbows. It’s just about kindness, that’s all. How simple is that? How difficult is that?
“So as Joan and I leave this place, we do so with gratitude in our hearts, to God, and gratitude to all of you who have enriched our lives. So, thank you. Thank you – all of you.”