Raphoe Installation provides uplifting end to emotional week

A week of vast emotional contrasts for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe ended on a joyful note late on Sunday afternoon with the installation of Rt Rev Andrew Forster as Bishop of Raphoe at a service in St Eunan’s Cathedral. It took place just over 24 hours after one of the bishop’s predecessors, Rt Rev Dr James Mehaffey, was commended to God at a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry.

The relief in Raphoe was almost palpable as parishioners and friends from across the community gathered to celebrate an historic occasion for the diocese. The Republic’s Minister for Education, Joe McHugh, was among those who filled the Cathedral to witness Bishop Forster accepting his mandate and being placed in the Episcopal Seat of the Cathedral Church of Saint Eunan by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett.

There were representatives present from right across civic life – from an Garda Siochana, education, business, the health sector, community groups, scouting and guiding organisations – as well as from the four main Churches. Also present was the Bishop of Mahajanga in Madagascar, Rt Rev Hall Speers, originally from the Parish of Urney near Strabane, who returns to his diocese in the Indian Ocean on Monday.

In his sermon, Bishop Forster recalled the words of Archbishop Richard Clarke at the Service of Consecration in Armagh Cathedral just over a month ago, when the Primate handed over the pastoral staff – the crozier – of the Diocese: “Keep watch over the flock, of which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd; encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ.”

It was, Bishop Forster suggested, a “solemn call to any person, any bishop.” He recalled two men who had held the same office as him previously, one a namesake – Bishop Nicholas Forster – and Dr James Mehaffey.

When the first Bishop Forster died in the middle of the 18th century, he left one thousand guineas to the Diocese – the equivalent of £160,000 nowadays. The current Bishop Forster drew laughter from the congregation when he shared what was written on his predecessor’s gravestone: ‘What he has left let gratitude tell. May his successors imitate him.’ “I would need a substantial pay rise to be able to leave £160,000,” the new Bishop said. “But what an incredible example of a man who sought to care for the flock, to find the lost, and to build up the body of Christ. He was, my namesake, a heart for the poor, a heart for the marginalised and left much behind.”

Bishop James Mehaffey, who died last week, was remembered with great thankfulness and gratitude. “At the heart of Jim’s ministry,” Bishop Forster said, “was a very, very simple truth: people matter. And he saw that as people who perhaps were seen as different from him – people mattered. And what Jim lived out was that as he reached out to those who were seen as ‘other’ and seen as different, that they came to recognise in each other that they were all made in the image of God, with all the dignity and worth and value that that brings. And in the most difficult of days, Bishop Mehaffey was a living example of reconciling love and we can truly say of him, ‘Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the sons of God.’”

There were over 200 years between Bishop Forster and Bishop Mehaffey, the new Bishop said, but yet they lived out that call: ‘Keep watch over the flock over which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd; encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ’.

“Now, I want to ask this question: why – why did they do it, Nicholas and Jim? What motivates Christians down through the years – and today – to forsake all to follow Christ; to give of themselves and their resources to care for others; to build up the church; to look beyond ourselves; to seek to respond to both the spiritual and physical needs of the world around us. Why? Why do we do such things?”

Bishop Forster said the answers were in the “powerful” and “beautiful” Old Testament and New Testament readings (Isaiah 42: 1-9 and Matthew 3: 13-17). The first forty chapters of Isaiah were pretty hard going, he said – “It’s all about judgement and decline, and the nations suffering – defeated by their enemies – all seemed bleak, all seemed bleak and dark and black but, as one writer puts it, ‘When the outlook is bleak, try the uplook.’”

Bishop Forster said chapter 42 in Isaiah was a turning point, because it was about God’s promise of hope. “Maybe some of you this evening need to hear God’s promise of hope. If all seems bleak to you, if the outlook seems bleak, try the uplook, because the beautiful words of Isaiah that prophesy of the Messiah Jesus, as God the Father says to you: ‘Here is my servant,’ and we call him Jesus. In a world where so many seem to be at breaking point, for those who feel broken by circumstances beyond their control, or by events in their lives that have taken a terrible toll, this tender-hearted God says to you, and says to the world around us, ‘A bruised reed he will not break.’

“Do you know, a bruised reed in many ways seems valueless, doesn’t it? But we’re told that this God – even something that seems valueless – he will not break. You know there’s so much in our world today that makes people feel they lack value, that they’re not important, that they’re not special. A bruised reed he will not break.

“He’s a tender-hearted God. And if you feel that the lights are going out, that all seems dark, that life has snuffed out some of the light that was there before, this tender-hearted God says to us in Isaiah, ‘A smouldering wick I will not snuff out.’ And that is tender-hearted love to a broken world, to broken lives.”

Bishop Forster turned next to the New Testament reading, a few hundred years after Isaiah, in which we find Jesus – the servant prophesied by the prophet – by the Jordan, such a significant river to the people of God. “It was the river that they crossed that signified the end of their wandering into the place of God’s promise; it was to that river that John the Baptist would go and minister, signifying a turning from one life through repentance to the beginning of another life lived through faith.

“And it’s a river for us that can be a metaphor, can’t it, of putting behind both lostness and wandering, our own exodus away from God, to that point of crossing over to a place of forgiveness and faith and acceptance? And where do we find Jesus? At the river Jordan.

“And there’s a strange little twist in this story because Jesus asks John to baptise him. Now, John’s baptism was for sinners and Christ was sinless but yet Jesus insists that John baptises him. Why does he do that? Why does that happen? Well, gathered around the Jordan that day were the broken, the bruised, the sinner, the hurt and the hurting, the hopeless and those longing for change in their lives. Gathered around the Jordan that day were the bruised reeds, the smouldering wicks, and Jesus is in the middle of it all – right there – identifying with them in their needs, knowing that with them there was this deep search for God, and Jesus stands amongst them. And God says – the Father says – ‘This is my servant. This is my son, the beloved, with whom I am well pleased.’

“What motivated men like Bishop Nicholas Forster and Bishop Jim Mehaffey?” he asked. “What motivates God’s people down through the years to reach out to those in spiritual and physical need? You see, I’m asking the wrong question. It’s not about what motivates them; it’s who motivates them? And the answer is Jesus.

Bishop Andrew said being a follower of Jesus was the most wonderful thing in the world. “It’s because of Jesus, it’s because of Him, that I pledge to you that my heart’s desire to serve you is as someone who will keep watch over a flock ‘which the Holy Spirit has appointed you shepherd’; that I will encourage the faithful; restore the lost; and build up the body of Christ.

“Why? Because of Him. Because of Jesus. Because I know of no one else who can heal broken hearts; no one else who can put the shattered pieces of people’s lives back together; no one else who can bring hope, who can bring courage, who can bring faith and life; no one can do it like Jesus.

“Today,” Bishop Forster said, “I proclaim Him to you because that’s all I can do, that’s all I can do as your bishop, and what we do together is proclaim and share the love of Christ. And we do it together, together as the family of God, together in this Diocese, and we do it together because of Him. His love motivates. His love empowers. His love blesses. His love leads us all. His love changes things. His love brings hope. His love brings peace. And it’s in His name that I seek to serve you.”

After the service, members of the congregation made their way to the parish hall for a rather splendid tea and for speeches by Dean Barrett, Minister McHugh, Rev Colin McKibbin from the Presbyterian Church and Rev Richard Johnston from the Methodist Church. Bishop Alan McGuckian was unable to attend but was represented by the Paarish Priest of Raphoe, Fr Eamonn Kelly.

In the final speech, Bishop Forster encouraged people to pray for political representatives north and south as they sought to build up communities and build up our common life. He urged people not to be too hard on politicians and he led those present in a prayer for members of the Dáil and of the newly-restored Northern Ireland Assembly.


‘You’re in our prayers. But you’re also in our joy’ – address by Lord Eames at Funeral of Bishop James Mehaffey

On the afternoon of the 7th of September in 1980, Bishop James Mehaffey heard these words: ‘Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost.’ It was the occasion of his Service of Consecration as a Bishop. And as he knelt at that turning point in his life and his experience, those were the words of commission held out to any of us who were called to be a bishop.

And I cannot help but feel this afternoon, as we meet with his loved ones to pay our own individual tribute to a remarkable servant of God and His church, that those words are a starting point for our recollection of a wonderful man: ‘Hold up the weak, heal the sick, bind up the broken, bring again the outcasts, seek the lost.’

Those were the hallmarks which began back in 1954 in East Belfast when the young Curate, James Mehaffey, began his ministry in St Patrick’s, Ballymacarrett. His Rector then was to become his bishop and mine in later years, the late George Quin. And from that experience which took him to England and the Diocese of Southwark, James was to work in Down Cathedral in Downpatrick, to move to St Christopher’s in East Belfast, and then to – as we’ve been reminded – Kilkeel. From there, in 1966, his pilgrimage took him back to East Belfast, and the Parish of St Finian’s. I was the neighbouring Rector in Gilnahirk, and the friendship that we were to enjoy to the end of his life was fostered.

For many of the problems in the parochial ministry in that place and in that time were common to both of us and I began to understand the gifts that God was using in Jim’s life.

During the period in Down and Dromore, he became the first Diocesan Missioner in the Church of Ireland – a task which, like many new tasks in the Church and elsewhere – it’s very much up to the person involved to decide the agenda and decide the programme, and those of us who knew him well know that it wasn’t without some unease that he undertook that task for Bishop Quin. For the work was to reach out not only to the parishes but to the clergy and it gave him the opportunity which then – how times have changed – which then were opportunities to renew their own experience that perhaps for many of them had ceased at ordination.

As Diocesan Missioner, Jim Mehaffey gave all of us in the parochial ministry much to think about. And the next step in which he and I were associated was to bring even to another level his thinking, his thought and his philosophy, for the Church of Ireland in its wisdom decided the Almighty was calling it to set up a Priorities Committee – a Priorities Committee – which was eventually to produce a report on the future of the Church of Ireland called ‘First of All’.

As time has passed, and our friends the political representatives present this afternoon will perhaps understand what I mean when I say ‘First of All’ as a priority has its own message. In that work, Jim developed that which he had gained in the parishes but chiefly his work as a missioner. Often I can still hear his voice at those meetings of our Priorities Committee saying, ‘Hold on, hold on. You’ve lost sight of why we’re here.’ You’ve lost sight of why we’re here.

If there is a hallmark as he moved to this city to be your Bishop, 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.’

James and I often talked in private of our respective work and I’ve no doubt in my mind that the God who called him to be a bishop allowed the gifts that he had cultured at another level to be given an expression through his bishopric. And if Thelma will forgive me, I can divulge one sentence which will long remain part of James’s legacy for me. We were talking about the role of the Church in those dreadful days. We were talking about how often we could be misunderstood by saying the wrong word and even the wrong emphasis in public. He spoke of his experience here and I spoke of my memories of this place. And I said to him, “James, what are you learning about what those people need and want?” He thought for a moment and then in that quizzical voice that you all loved so much, he said to me, “Robin, it’s the calling to ask why we’re here and what’s the reason?” ‘To hold up the weak, to heal the sick, to bind up the broken, to bring again the outcasts and to seek the lost.’

Thelma, the strength that you gave all those years to your beloved Jim was something that he actually often talked about. You wouldn’t know that, but when he and I and several of our colleagues would talk about the pressures on family life of what we were called to do, the one common denominator for Jim Mehaffey was “Thank God for my family and thank God for Thelma.” What a tribute. What a binding of your years together.

And at this moment when our love and sympathy reach out to you, to Wendy – what a tribute you’ve paid him – to Tim, to Julia, to Ellen, to Catherine, to Tom and to Rosie, at this moment you’re in our prayers. But you’re also in our joy – in our joy! – for the commissioning that Jim received back in 1980 was lived out and achieved in his work and you gave him the strength to do it.

The prayer that I have quoted from his consecration didn’t end which those words that I’ve been giving. But they ended with words which bring you and your family and all of us right up to date at this moment. For the prayer and commission ends with these words: ‘Do all this that when the chief shepherd shall appear, you may receive the never fading crown of glory.’

I have no doubt that as we reflect on it all, Jim has had that greeting, ‘Well done thou good and faithful servant. Enter into my kingdom.’

On behalf of a very wide circle, may I express to you our love and our sympathy, and may I on behalf of that circle say, “Thank God”, for Jim Mehaffey bound up those wounds and gave the leadership his Church needed and for which we thank God.



Moving tribute to a “beautiful dad” from late Bishop’s daughter

The late Bishop James Mehaffey’s daughter, Wendy Gledhill, paid an emotional tribute to her “beautiful dad” during Saturday’s Service of Thanksgiving for his life at St Columb’s Cathedral.

“I wish to take this opportunity to say a few words on behalf of the family.

“If Dad were speaking to you now he would begin by acknowledging that you have all come from different places, perhaps covered some distance, of different faiths and from different communities. He would welcome you with that great smile that we all know and love. Dad’s joy when with people never ceased and I consider he received great fulfilment in the company of others and this sustained him.  The common thread that connects us all together today is to give thanks for the life and ministry of Dad and we as a family thank you for sharing this with us.

“He was, of course, a very much loved husband to Thelma, a grandpa, brother, uncle and much more, and I wish to share more about Dad’s life and his journey to this place.

“Dad was born in the Drumnakelly area, just outside of Portadown, the first child of three children. He lived with his family and paternal grandparents in the countryside. Education and learning was a lifelong pursuit for Dad which he began in a small country primary school before moving onto Portadown College aged 11. There he excelled both academically and in sports, with rugby becoming a passion that endured throughout his life. He even had a trial for the under 17s Ulster Rugby Team: what a different life he might have led had he been selected!

“Dad was an industrious student and was popular with his peers. He was initially considering a future in teaching; however, in his late teens he felt called to serve in the ministry, and this became his destiny. The path was set, and he studied at Trinity College Dublin from 1948 until 1954. He applied himself to his studies with hard work, diligence and ability. It was through Scripture Union at Trinity that he met Mum in 1953, and thus began the powerful union that led to marriage in 1956.

“Those who have been to the house will have seen the beautiful photographs of their wedding. One cannot fail to note their joy and love for one another, which remained strong and evident throughout the 63 and a half years! This is some achievement and we as a family give thanks for that. Mum and Dad were devoted to one another, and would affirm that openly and clearly. This strong, loving relationship has been the bedrock for Dad, with Mum supporting and working alongside him. They were a dynamic duo which many of you have reflected to us in recent days. This partnership allowed Dad to become the person he was and to achieve so much in his life.

“Married life began in London and Philip was born there. Frugality was the order of the day and necessitated the selling of the motorbike, in favour of the washing machine – one being better suited for a growing family. They returned to Ireland where I was born and we moved to Downpatrick. We then moved to Belfast and Tim arrived to complete the family. Kilkeel was our next destination and bore many childhood memories. From there we returned to Belfast and it was here that we settled. Dad returned to the rugby pitch and played for Ballynahinch until he was 49 years of age. We all remember watching him preach his sermons with the previous day’s injuries ever present, not least his defining nose! He went to the gym and was keen to maintain his fitness, a habit he continued until his early 80s. It was from Belfast that as a family we would embark on our continental holidays, notably adventurous for the 1960s, as we would drive from Belfast through Scotland, England and  France to Sitges in Spain, where we would then camp for several weeks. Our parents have always loved travelling to sunnier climes and with time in Africa establishing links with churches there.

“1980 was a defining year when Dad was appointed Bishop. Much has been said of the new and uncertain ground this presented, and this is where Dad’s love of people came into its own, as he sought friendships across the city. There was challenge in this role. However, Dad was steadfast in his belief and faith. He had a calm and measured demeanour which was acknowledged and welcomed and became one of his defining characteristics. Challenge came to us as a family and we lost our beloved son and brother, Philip, who died in 1993. These public and personal challenges strengthened the bond between our parents as they supported and held one another through these dark times.

“Dad’s ministry was also in Donegal where my parents established a very happy second home. Dad loved to go walking on the beaches and headlands of the west coast which gave him time for reflection.

“Retirement in 2002 allowed Dad and Mum to share their time between Derry and Donegal. They embraced the opportunity for holidays, returning to favourite places for longer, and these created many happy memories. They chose to stay in Derry as they were so happy here, building on the many affirming relationships that they had established over the 22 years of his ministry. Dad remained involved with the Inner City Trust and he took much joy in seeing how Derry has continued to develop.

“Over the past three years and with changing health for Dad, Mum’s role adapted to that of carer. This change became more profound in recent times and the impact on how they lived required adjustments. Health and social care professionals became a key part of their lives and enabled them to retain their independence. Mum’s resilience and strength of character have been crucial in maintaining them in the home they so cherish, and we give heartfelt thanks and acknowledge her love and devotion to Dad. Their union was powerful and palpable.

“We wish to thank the health and social care professionals for the unstinting care and support which they provided to our parents, in supporting them to remain at home. Many of you will have seen our parents on their weekly trip to town, which they relished, and this was made possible through the assistance of their favourite taxi driver. This team of carers, community district nurses and driver played an essential role in supporting them and we thank each of you for your work and care.

“Dad like all of us has been many different things to many people. In joining us here today we can see his legacy become manifest, as we unite in our connections and create new ones with others. This is what Dad’s life’s work sought to achieve.

“During his last spell in hospital 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.

“With so much love and thanks to you, my beautiful Dad.”

Mrs Thelma Mehaffey and her daughter, Wendy


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.

Stellar line-up for official opening of ‘St Columb’s School of Music’

The Priests, Irish tenor and folk singer George Hutton, local concert pianist Ruth McGinley and jazz aficionados Scott Flanigan and Cathal Roche will be among the glittering line-up of talent performing at the official launch of St Columb’s School of Music in St Columb’s Cathedral, Londonderry on Saturday 8th February.

The School, at 1 St Columb’s Court, close to the historic St Columb’s Cathedral, was started by Nicholas Morton and Louis Fields in September of this year. Two separate events are planned to mark the opening. The famous jazz duo of Scott Flanigan and Cathal Roche, will kick things off with a lunchtime concert at 1 o’clock, during which they will be joined by the excellent Foyle College Jazz Band. And that evening, at 7.30pm, The Priests, Ruth McGinley and George Hutton will be joined at a gala concert by the Thornhill College Chamber Choir, winners of BBC Northern Ireland School Choir of the Year 2019. Both concerts will be compered by RTE television and radio personality, Bryan Dobson.

In between the two musical events, it will be possible to have a tour of the new School of Music, between 3 and 5 o’clock, when new students can be registered.

All-day tickets, priced at £20, will grant entry into both concerts and to the School of Music itself. These can be obtained in person from the School of Music, or, alternatively, bought online by clicking on the following link: www.stcolumbsschoolofmusic.com/tickets.


Statement from the Archbishop of Armagh on the Death of the Rt Revd Dr James Mehaffey

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, has issued the following statement on the death of the Rt Revd Dr James Mehaffey, former Bishop of and Raphoe:

‘Having known Bishop James Mehaffey for almost all my life – literally since my earliest childhood – I would like to convey sincere and personal sympathy to his wife Thelma and to their wider family. But I would wish also to express huge admiration for Bishop Mehaffey’s enormous contribution not only to the life of the Church of Ireland, but also to the work of reconciling divided communities throughout his episcopal ministry in the Dioceses of Derry and Raphoe. Modelling graciousness and mettle in equal measure, Jim Mehaffey was a great example to many of us as to what it means to be a Christian leader in a world of turmoil and we thank God for that life of unstinting Christian witness.’

Book of Condolence opened for late Bishop

A Book of Condolence has been opened at the Guildhall in Londonderry in memory of the former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe Dr James Mehaffey, who died yesterday evening. The book was officially opened this lunchtime by the Deputy Mayor, Cllr Cara Hunter, on behalf of the Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District Council, Cllr Michaela Boyle. Dr Mehaffey’s most recent successor, Bishop Andrew Forster, was among the first to sign it.

The Mayor extended her sincere condolences to the Mehaffey family at this sad time and said the Book of Condolence was an opportunity for the people of Derry and Strabane to extend their sympathy and show their respect for the Bishop who officiated in the city and district for more than 20 years.

The Mayor, who is currently out of the country on holiday with family, said she was deeply saddened on hearing the news and described Dr Mehaffey as “a genuinely holy person, a peace-maker and a risk-taker who was committed to working across the political and religious divide to make a real difference during difficult times”.

Cllr Boyle said Dr Mehaffey would be greatly missed. “Bishop Mehaffey was a very warm and kind-hearted man who touched the hearts of everyone who met him. He was a very religious and gentle person with a warm heart who was genuinely interested in talking to and listening to every person he met. He will be remembered very fondly by the people of Derry, Strabane and the wider North West region for his commitment to peace, his courage and commitment to building bridges.”

The Mayor extended heartfelt sympathy to Bishop Mehaffey’s wife, Thelma, to his children and to the extended family circle.  

People who wish to do so can also record their tributes online at the following address http://www.derrystrabane.com/bookofcondolences  and messages of condolence will be passed on to the Mehaffey family.


(Photo shows Rt Revd Andrew Forster signing the Book of Condolence for the late Bishop James Mehaffey at the Guildhall in Londonderry.)

Funeral of Bishop James Mehaffey to take place on Saturday

The funeral of the former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Revd Dr James Mehaffey, will take place at St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry on Saturday afternoon. The Service of Thanksgiving for Dr Mehaffey’s life will begin at 2pm.

Dr Mehaffey’s family have said that, in the meantime, visitors will be welcome to pay their respects to the late Bishop at the family home at 10 Clearwater, off the Limavady Road, in the Waterside, from Wednesday morning onwards between 11am and 11pm.

Dr Mehaffey will be cremated in Belfast on Monday 13th January at 1.30pm.

Bishop James Mehaffey – Church Leader and Peacebuilder – dies at the age of 88

The death has taken place in Londonderry of Rt Rev Dr James Mehaffey, a former Bishop of the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe and one of the North West’s best-known Church leaders of recent times. Bishop Mehaffey, who was 88, died peacefully on Monday evening surrounded by his family.

Dr Mehaffey led the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe for over 20 years, from his consecration in September 1980 until his retirement in January 2002. Last May, a Service of Thanksgiving was held in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry to mark the 65th anniversary of the Bishop’s ordination.

Publicly, Dr Mehaffey – who was born near Portadown in County Armagh – is probably best known for the extraordinarily close friendship he developed with one of his Roman Catholic counterparts, the Bishop of Derry, Most Rev Dr Edward Daly. The two men’s joint ministry during some of the worst years of the Troubles – when they released joint statements, took part in foreign trips together and jointly led Carol Services – was an inspiration to many in the North West and beyond.

In March 2015, the then Derry City Council acknowledged the two churchmen’s role as peacebuilders by conferring the Freedom of the City upon them at a reception in the city’s Guildhall. Bishop Mehaffey had previously had the Freedom of the City of London conferred on him on 27th November 2002.

The two bishops were founder members of the Inner City Trust, an organisation which was responsible for rebuilding much of Londonderry’s bomb-damaged city centre, and they served together for many years on the Trust’s board.

During his time as Bishop, Dr Mehaffey officiated at numerous funerals of parishioners who had lost their lives as a result of violence, among them members of the RUC and the Ulster Defence Regiment. He was a trenchant opponent of the use of violence for political ends, a tireless advocate for reconciliation in Northern Ireland and a staunch supporter of the peace process.

Th Rt Revd Andrew Forster – who was consecrated Bishop of Derry and Raphoe last month – said that at a time when Churches were often being depicted as part of the problem in Northern Ireland, Bishop James and Bishop Edward had become part of the solution.

“I am deeply saddened by the news of the death of my eminent and much-loved predecessor,” Bishop Forster said. “I never had the privilege of serving under Bishop James, but I was well aware of his reputation. How could I not be? He was a towering figure within the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe in particular and the Church of Ireland generally, and recognition of his achievements transcended diocesan and denominational boundaries.

“A great many of us were struck by – and, indeed, influenced by – his close friendship with Bishop Edward Daly. A great many more of us benefitted as a result of that friendship, even if we didn’t know it at the time.

“During the worst of times in our history, when Churches were often being depicted as part of the problem in Northern Ireland, Bishop James and Bishop Edward became part of the solution. The seeds of reconciliation they helped sow eventually brought forth a rich fruit. The two bishops’ example – their joint example – of Christian witness, was and continues to be an inspiration to those of us who follow in their footsteps.

“Bishop James was a man of great faith and remarkable foresight. His gentle nature belied an inner strength that equipped him perfectly for the role of Bishop. His clergy were blessed by his care and concern for them and for their families, and touched by his wider concern for all people in the Diocese. He was a gifted pastor and a faithful follower of Christ.

“I offer my deepest condolences to Bishop James’s beloved wife, Thelma, to their daughter Wendy and son Tim. When the family’s grief subsides, they will have the consolation of recalling a long life well-lived.

“In the meantime, we give thanks to God for Bishop James’s long and faithful ministry.”

The Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown, also paid tribute to the late Bishop. “It was with sadness that I heard about the death of Bishop James Mehaffey,” Dr McKeown said. “He served as Bishop of the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe for almost 22 years in very difficult times.

“During those years he developed a very significant personal friendship and partnership with Bishop Edward Daly which gave witness to a powerful message of harmony and peace building. By their faith-filled example and courage, they laid foundations of trust, respect and dialogue on which the current generation has been able to build. They helped us develop a shared narrative about our chequered past – and that is a key part of constructing a shared future.

“I extend my sympathy to his wife Thelma and family. May he rest in peace.”

Bishop Mehaffey’s successor in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Revd Ken Good, recalled Dr Mehaffey’s role in the transformation of a polarised community.

“I was very sorry to learn of the death on Monday evening of my esteemed predecessor Dr James Mehaffey,” Bishop Good said. “It is very easy, nowadays, to take the relative peace in our society for granted but it wasn’t always so. For over 20 years, Bishop James led the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe at a very difficult and dangerous time in its history. He did so with distinction and grace. He forged an enduring friendship – a lifelong bond – with Bishop Edward Daly, that was to help transform our society.

“The two leaders stepped out in faith, with prophetic courage, and modelled for us an example of Christian witness in a divided community. That kind of leadership and that kind of friendship are as relevant and as necessary today as they were almost 40 years ago.

“I thank God for Bishop James’s ministry and support, and for his truly inspirational Christian witness. And I extend my profoundest sympathy to his wife Thelma, their children Wendy and Tim, and to the wider family circle.”

Bishop Mehaffey, who had been ill in recent years, is survived by his wife, Thelma – who cared for him devotedly – and by their children Wendy and Tim. Dr Mehaffey was pre-deceased by the couple’s son, Philip. in June 1993.

Funeral details are still being finalised but it is expected that a Service of Thanksgiving for Dr Mehaffey’s life will take place in St Columb’s Cathedral later this week. In the meantime, the family have said that visitors will be welcome to pay their respects at the Bishop’s home in Clearwater off the Limavady Road in Londonderry except between the hours of 11pm and 11am when it will be strictly house private.


‘Excited but daunted’ Bishop appeals for congregation’s prayers

The Rt Rev Andrew Forster has been installed as Bishop of Derry at a service in St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry. The service, which was led by the Dean of Derry, Very Revd Raymond Stewart, took place four weeks to the day after Bishop Foster’s consecration in Armagh and was the first such service in the Diocese in almost 18 years.

Among those in the congregation this afternoon were the Lord-Lieutenant for the County Borough of Londonderry, Dr Angela Garvey, the Lord-Lieutenant of County Londonderry, Mrs Alison Millar, and the Deputy Mayor of Derry City and Strabane District, Cllr Cara Hunter.

There was a great deal of symbolism in the Service of Installation. It began with Bishop Forster knocking three times with his pastoral staff on the Cathedral’s west door before he was admitted and welcomed by the Dean and members of the Cathedral Chapter. Early in the service, the Diocesan Registrar, Revd Canon David Crooks, read the Archbishop’s Mandate for the Induction, Installation and Enthronement of Rt Revd Forster into the Bishopric of Derry. The Dean then led the new Bishop to the episcopal Throne where he took his seat.

In his sermon, having thanked the congregation for the warmth of their welcome, Bishop Forster got straight to the point: “Now, you’re all thinking: ‘What’s the new Bishop like?’ Well, who am I? Who is Andrew James Forster? Well, I am simply a follower of Jesus Christ who realises each day my need of His grace and His mercy and His love. And I come to you as a sinner, a sinner who realises and relies upon the forgiveness that Jesus freely gives because of the cross of Calvary. I come to you as no more than a shepherd and no less than a shepherd; and I come to you to journey with you as we seek to live out what it means, each of us, to be followers of Jesus Christ and what it means for us to share that love of Jesus in the communities in which He has placed us.”

The service took place on the first Sunday of the New Year and on the eve of the Epiphany. Bishop Forster said ‘Epiphany’ was all about journey and he wanted to focus for a few minutes on the theme of ‘journey’ – the epic journey of the wise men recorded in the second reading (Matthew 2: 1-12) – and how it impacted on us.

“King Herod is one of the bad boys of history,” the Bishop said. “Under him, the economy of Judea flourished, brilliant building programmes and everything, but Herod was a ruthless dictator who could do anything to maintain his grip on power. And it was because of the actions of Herod that Jesus, in the opening weeks and months of his life, along with his parents, would become a refugee, a refugee fleeing persecution – he ends up in Egypt as you know – and it was because of Herod’s psychopathic hatred and insecurity that the male infants of Bethlehem would be slaughtered.

“Refugees, persecution, fear, insecurity – it sounds pretty familiar to our broken world, doesn’t it, our broken world where so many followers of Jesus face persecution and even death for Him, where refugees are so often put at the very bottom of the pile and where refugees are often ignored, and lost and left behind?

“I want us – as a follower of Jesus – I want each one of us to have bigger hearts, to have bigger hearts for those who are on the margins of society, for those who come to us as refugees, for those who are persecuted for their faith, for those who know day by day what it is to live with insecurity and in fear. We need to be people with bigger hearts, generous hearts and giving hearts.”

Bishop Forster recounted for the congregation the arduous, “epic” journey of the Magi, that began in Babylon – modern day Iraq – led them across the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, through the desert of Transjordan, across the mountains of Golan, down through the fertile crescent of Lebanon, with the pleasant, cooling breezes off the Mediterranean.

“I often think a physical journey can be a metaphor or a mirror for our own spiritual, personal journey. Think about it for a moment or two. Maybe some of you feel that you’re having to cross pretty treacherous rivers, you’re having to go against the flow, against accepted norms, against what everybody else thinks is right. Sometimes it can be very difficult – actually, all the time it can be very difficult – to go against the flow. Or, I wonder is it a desert, when life and even faith has seemed dry and difficult? You’re going through the desert of doubt or uncertainty or loneliness, whatever that could be for you. I wonder did you feel like that today, going through a desert? Or we have to climb mountains – mountains of challenge – challenges to do with health and unwanted diagnoses, money problems, family concerns. And let’s hope that there are also plenty of good times on the journey, where life has been good, and it’s felt like a breeze.

“The truth is none of us knows what our journey holds, but as Christians we proclaim that we follow the God of the journey. And it’s not simply about a star now, it’s about a Saviour – a Saviour whom we follow – a Saviour who journeys with us, leading and guiding us. It’s the hope of the Gospel, it’s the good news of Christmas and it’s the wonderful story of Epiphany.

“As Christians we proclaim that God is the God of the journey and if your journey is difficult at the moment, God is the God with you on that journey, and if your journey is good at the moment, God is the God with you on that journey. God loves you. God cares for you. And God journeys with you. Trust Him.

“One of the most wonderful things for me about being a member of a local church is that we journey together, supporting each other through good times and hard times. I’m sure each one of us in church this afternoon can testify to times whenever the church family has gathered around to help and to bless us.

“And isn’t it strange that in one way we’ve never been so connected in the world through internet and social media but yet, on the other hand, we’ve never felt so disconnected from each other, and it seems so easy to become isolated and disconnected? In those circumstances, I think there’s nothing that beats a warm-hearted church, serving God at the heart of its community, with the community in its heart, serving in hope and love as a family.”

Bishop Forster returned to the Magi – the “wise, learned men”, from the “higher echelons of society” – who brought gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. They were preceded by a group of shepherds, hard-working men, living quite isolated lives, eking out a modest living caring for sheep. “To both of those groups,” the preacher said, “their goal was to meet Christ. And you see what we have here, from the highest in society to some of the lowliest in society? Jesus was for all of them. And Jesus is for all of us. Jesus is for our community here in the North West. Jesus is the one who brings light and hope and help on our journey. You see, whatever background, whatever education, whatever colour, creed, class, they came to worship Him and bowed down and worshipped Him. He’s for you and He’s for me and our goal must be to worship Him.

“Do you know, whenever we talk about the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of John and so on, gospel, of course, means ‘good news’? The good news that Matthew writes for us. The good news that he recorded for us today in our Gospel reading is good news that through the love of God we can know significance, redemption, purpose and hope. And I want to tell you, that’s all I can do, that’s all I can do as a bishop, is to share the hope and the good news of Jesus, and to help each of us journey with Him. That’s who I am and that’s what God’s called me to be throughout my life – a messenger of His hope.”

Bishop Forster explained to the congregation that he and his family were in the process of moving house, in the course of which he discovered an old school report of his, which he shared – at his own expense. “My French master gave me a mark and then, in the comment box, wrote this (now, think about this for a moment): ‘Willing though ungifted.’ In other words, ‘He’s a nice fellow, but a bit dim when it comes to French.’”

Bishop Forster ended his sermon with an appeal to the congregation to pray for him. “I’m excited to be your bishop,” he told them. “I’m also daunted to be your bishop. And the one thing that has been so evident for us as a family over these last weeks and months has been the prayers of people like you. I covet your prayers and I need your prayers. And as I pray for you, please continue to pray for me, so that God will lead, God will bless and God will help us to live out our call in His world.”

Clergy and readers from throughout the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe took part in today’s Service of Installation. The service was sung by the Cathedral Choir and the Chamber Choir, directed by Nicky Morton, with the organ played by Dr Derek Collins.

After the service, many members of the congregation made their way to the city’s Guildhall for a reception hosted by the Deputy Mayor.

Next Sunday, Bishop Forster will be installed as Bishop of Raphoe at a Service in St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe.