The Rev Alan McCracken came face to face with his new parishioners for the first time as Bishop’s Curate of the Parishes of Moville Upper and Lower, Donagh, Cloncha and Culdaff, at a Service of Welcome and Introduction led by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster.
The Rural Dean for Inishowen and Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks, provoked laughter from the congregation in St Columb’s Church in Moville when he described the Rathcoole man as the most northerly priest in the diocese, “so probably the closest to God”.
Rev McCracken was joined in church on Saturday afternoon by his wife, Karen, his mother Rita, and members of the wider family for a Service attended by clergy from the local Presbyterian, Roman Catholic and Methodist Churches.
In his sermon, Bishop Andrew reminded the new curate, that he had asked him – at his ordination, on Wednesday evening last – a series of questions. “I said, ‘Will you…Will you…Will you?’ And some of the questions were ‘Will you expound the scriptures? Will you be diligent in prayer? Will you fashion your life upholding the way of Christ? Will you be faithful in visiting the sick and caring for the flock? Will you promote unity, peace and love?
“Now, whenever we read those questions,” Bishop Andrew said, “and whenever clergy see those questions, year in, year out as we attend ordinations, for me they lay an onerous burden upon us, because one day we all realise that it’s not, ‘Will you? Will you? Will you?’ that will be asked us, but one day God will ask, ‘Did you? Did you? Did you? The onerous task of ministry is placed upon you as a priest in the Church of God and now as Bishop’s Curate of this Group of Parishes.
“Sometimes I ask myself what is it, ultimately, that our parishioners want from us? And there could be lots of answers to that, actually. But, ultimately I think we can distil that down to three things. I think there are three things that ultimately the people of God want to see in the life of the shepherds of God, and it’s these three things – it’s very simple: number one, that you love the Lord; number two, that you love the people; and number three, that you love the place. Yes, there’ll be lots of different things that will be asked of you; yes, there’ll be lots of different opinions on what the Bishop’s Curate should be like, but ultimately, I think. it comes down to those three things: that we love the Lord, love the people, love the place.”
Addressing his congregation for the first time as their Bishop’s Curate, Rev McCracken said he was there in Moville, Greencastle, Carndonagh, Culdaff and Malin to build and to grow the Church.
“Whenever the opportunity came for myself and Karen to come and visit the lovely people in the Inishowen peninsula,” Rev McCracken said, “we came up with an open mind – coming from north Belfast – but we came up with God in our hearts, and we came to see the people, and we came for the people.”
The new minister thanked the local community for getting the rectory ready for him and his wife, and for making them feel so welcome. He said he looked forward to getting to know them all individually, and looked forward to preaching to them. “That’s what I’m here to do. I’m here to build. I’m here to grow. I’m here to build God’s kingdom in this place and in these parishes and – with the help of all you people – I will succeed.”
There were speeches of welcome, from the Archdeacon of Raphoe, Ven. David Huss; the Parish Priest of Moville, Fr Patrick O’Hagan; the Rector of Ballynure and Ballyeaston (Ballyclare), Rev Johnny Campbell-Smyth (who was Alan’s training rector); Rev Philip Poots of Moville Presbyterian Church; and Rev John Montgomery of the Methodist Church in Moville. There was an apology from the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller Miller, who was unable to be at Saturday’s Service, but who will supervise Rev McCracken as part of the latter’s training.
Bishop Andrew and Canon Crooks thanked the Rev Mervyn Peoples and the four parish readers for sustaining worship in the various churches during the two-year vacancy which followed the departure of Rev Suzanne Cousins to the Diocese of Armagh. Both men expressed regret that Church Warden David McKinlay – a stalwart of Moville Parish – was unable to be there because of ill health. George Mills, from St Buadan’s Church in Culdaff, welcomed her successor, assuring Rev McCracken that the hard work of parishioners had meant he now had five churches that were economically sound. “During the vacancy,” Mr Mills said, “we were incredibly well looked after. We had a vacancy and Covid, and we still never missed one scheduled service.”