‘The Wee Church on the Walls’ gets a new Rector with “a big, big heart”

’The Wee Church on the Walls’ was getting a rector with “a big, big heart”, Bishop Andrew Forster told the parishioners of St Augustine’s Church, on Friday evening, as he instituted Rev Nigel Cairns as their new Rector.

It was a night of firsts in the church built on the site of St Columba’s first monastery: Bishop Forster’s first Institution as bishop; Rev Canon Paul Whittaker’s first Institution as Rural Dean; and Rev Cairns’ first incumbency.

The service ended a vacancy which arose when the previous Rector, Rev Canon Malcolm Ferry, moved to Agherton Parish in Portstewart in May last year.

Rev Cairns was joined for the occasion by his wife Alison, their twins Megan and Matthew, and other family members, and the sermon was preached by his former Rector in the Parish of Glendermott and Newbuildings, Rev Robert Boyd.

Rev Boyd – who is the Diocese’s Director of Ordinands – began by thanking the Bishop for allowing him to preach on such an important occasion for the life of the Parish of St Augustine’s and for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe.

“We all love to brag,” Rev Boyd said, “but I am not going to brag about your new Rector tonight, despite the fact that he comes to you in perfect condition, having been trained by a wonderful Rector and parishioners for the past two and a half years. If he has any faults, just remember: he was okay when he left Glendermott.”

The preacher joked that it was bad enough that St Augustine’s had ‘stolen’ one of his organists but to come back and take his curate was a step too far. Indeed, he wondered whether they might be coming back to take his wife.

“Why are we here tonight?” Rev Boyd asked. Was it that Nigel had got a bigger pay rise? Had he made a mess of his ministry in Glendermott and Newbuildings? Did he just need a change, to escape his dreadful Rector? “Why has Nigel put himself through the ‘torture’ of moving his family and himself half a mile up the road. Poor Alison no doubt had to wonder ‘Where are we going to get all the furniture to furnish a Rectory?’ and ‘Have I to clear out the attic again?’ This calling has resulted in the family’s third house move in under three years.

“Who knows maybe even Nigel and Alison heard a call from God? That is the simple answer. That call from God is one that we all hear; many don’t listen, but listen we must.

“The Christian life is a journey – a process of growth in which we seek to ‘lay hold’ of the fullness of that which has been given us – ‘that for which I was laid hold of by Christ’ as Paul put it. We, as Christians, that is, we are Christians by the profession of our faith and in our position in relation to the Lord. He calls us to various tasks, and it is often a real step of faith to respond to that call.

“Nigel and Alison have done that – for you will soon find out that they are a supportive team and Matthew and Megan are a part of that working team as well. We have been blessed by their teamwork within our parish over the past two and a half years.

“Nigel has given up a good career as a teacher and headmaster to go into this crazy but privileged calling as a Rector. It hasn’t been an easy step, but it was the right one for him and the family. They have sacrificed a lot over the past six years, watching dad head off to college in Dublin, only coming home for the weekend – not easy for a young family – moving home and the uncertainty of where they will end up. Yet they did it and now they have arrived at this adventure in their lives as they move to St Augustine’s and take up responsibility here. We, in Glendermott and Newbuildings, have been blessed by Nigel’s ministry amongst us. We will miss him, and I will certainly miss his support and friendship as my colleague.”

Rev Boyd told the congregation that when the new Incumbent was ordained a priest in the Anglican tradition, he was reminded that “as a Priest in the Church of God” he was being called to work with the Bishop and with other priests as servants and shepherds among the people to whom they were sent. He was to proclaim the Word of the Lord, to call those who hear to repentance, and in Christ’s name to pronounce absolution and declare the forgiveness of sins. 

“The list went on, and it is a scary charge to any of us who enter the ordained ministry of what our responsibilities are. Your new Rector is here to proclaim the Word of the Lord. That Word will challenge both him and you as parishioners of this place to change. To do all of this, he needs to be surrounded by prayer. He needs to spend time in prayer as he continues to develop his relationship with God, for without that relationship with the God who has called him his ministry will suffer, so give him space to develop that important relationship.

“We must remember our proper subject. If we burn with the passion of our higher calling of God in Christ Jesus, burn with the conviction that Christ Jesus has made us His own through our faith and trust in Him, we will not go through life looking back to some Mt. of Transfiguration in the past; our path will be marked by His constant presence, and maybe, just maybe, there will be occasions when in His presence He will become a dazzling light to keep us from settling into discipleship drudgery – to call us back to the stand of Paul: ‘Not that I have already obtained – or have reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because…because Christ Jesus has made me His own.’”

Rev Boyd said St Augustine’s new Rector was not there to replicate the ministry of former Rectors, he had come to follow the call of God and to build up the fellowship of believers in the Parish. “When I moved to Glendermott a short time ago, I banned anyone from saying ‘This is the way we always did it.’ Those may well be in your eyes ‘the good old days’, but you and your new Rector are moving on to greater things; clergy are called to follow the prompting of the Spirit – just as you are; we are not here to glory in the past, we are here to build up a Kingdom in the present for the future – remember that. There will be changes ahead. Support him.

“As Nigel is Instituted tonight as your Rector, I pray that you not only welcome him, Alison and their twins Megan and Matthew, but I urge you to pray with him and for him; to work alongside him as he discerns God’s will for this parish in the future. If you and he pray and remain faithful to the call of God, then this place will continue to blossom and be blessed by God.

“Nigel, I wish you well in this new calling. May you know God’s blessing, guidance and grace in your ministry here. Remember those words of St Paul: ‘Not that I have already obtained – or have reached the goal; but I press on to make it my own, because…because Christ Jesus has made me His own.’ Never forget that Christ has made you His servant, His child. He who called you will guide and equip you.

“Christ has made your new Rector His own through his faith. He makes each of us His own when we respond in faith. May you press on as a Parish and grow in faith.”

Rev Cairns thanked Bishop Forster for instituting him; the Rural Dean for organising the Service; the Diocesan Registrar for ensuring that all matters were done in accordance with the Constitution of the Church of Ireland; and the Rector of Glendermott and Newbuildings “not only for putting up with me for the last few years” but also for preaching the sermon at the Institution Service. He also expressed thanks to family, friends and clergy who had come to the Service to support him.

“It was a privilege to minister in Glendermott and Newbuildings,” the new Rector said, “and I have no doubt whatsoever that the same sense of privilege will continue as I do my best, under God, to pick up the mantle here in St Augustine’s. As a family, we feel blessed to be amongst you, and I know that your Christian witness on the Walls will be one that will glorify God.”

Bishop Forster also thanked Canon Whittaker for organising the Service and for being with the Parish during the vacancy, and thanked Rev Boyd for his “thought-provoking” sermon.

“To you, Nigel, and to you, Alison, and to Megan and Matthew, we just want to say tonight, God bless you. We’re thrilled that you’re here.

“I know we’re told that pride is a sin, but – but – as a Diocese we feel a sense of pride in you because you’re one of our own: you grew up here; you know the place; we all know you and love you; and tonight we feel a proper sense of pride in you as you begin this new chapter of your life and of your lives together.

“You have a wonderful family. It has been a real joy for me to meet Alison and the children. And can I say to the parishioners of St Augustine’s, I know that you’ll look after this family and help them and support them, and give them the space they need and the support they need, and bless them in the years that lie ahead.

“Do you know, the most important thing for all of us in Church – whether bishop, rector or parishioner – is that each one of us stays close to Jesus. That’s what matters. And as we stay close to Him we find His love, His support, His encouragement, His pushing us on and His blessing as He leads us home. So, I say to you, Nigel, tonight, stay close to Jesus and know His blessing as you serve Him here.

“I’m going to finish by telling you a little story. I’ve been in this church once before – well, I was here yesterday, for a wedding, actually – but I was here once before, it was about 14 years ago, and we’d come just on a daytrip to the city as a family and we walked the Walls. It was a beautiful summer’s day. My children – they were all quite small then – just always used to hate going out with dad in summer because they had to go into every church they walked past. And the great thing about me coming in here was they could play about on the Walls and I came in here.

“I do not know who the parishioners were but there were two of you and you talked me through the church and explained all about it, and told me the history of it, and I felt so welcomed here that day.

“And this is a place of welcome in the heart of this city to tens of thousands of tourists, to people who are part of our denomination and who are not. This is a place of welcome. What we found that day was that this Wee Church on the Walls had a big, big heart and it still does. And you have a Rector now who has a big, big heart, and he will lead you on and bless you in the future.”

The readings were delivered by the new Rector’s wife and by Rev Ken McLaughlin who assisted with ministry during the vacancy. During the service, parish stalwart Deirdre Amor presented huge floral bouquets to Mrs Cairns, to the Rural Dean’s wife, Carol, and to the Bishop, and afterwards the congregation crossed to the parish hall – the Old Schoolhouse – for a splendid supper prepared by members of the parish.

Prayers sought as Bishops prepare to elect new Primate

The bishops of the Church of Ireland will meet to elect a new Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland on Thursday, 27th February, and Friday, 28th February, 2020. The election follows the retirement of the Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke on Sunday, 2nd February.
 
The bishops seek the prayerful support of the members, parishes and dioceses of the Church of Ireland, as they prepare to meet in community to elect a new Archbishop of Armagh. The following prayers may be helpful for people to support them in this way.
 
THE GUIDANCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
 
God,
who from of old taught the hearts of your faithful people
by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit:
Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things
and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;
through the merits of Christ Jesus our Saviour,
who is alive and reigns with you in the unity of the Spirit,
one God, now and for ever. Amen.
FOR THE MINISTRY OF ALL CHRISTIAN PEOPLE.
Almighty and everlasting God,
by whose Spirit the whole body of the Church
is governed and sanctified:
Hear our prayer which we offer for all your faithful people,
that in their vocation and ministry
they may serve you in holiness and truth
to the glory of your name;
through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Amen.

Archdeacon George Davison Elected as New Bishop of Connor

It was announced today that the Episcopal Electoral College for the Diocese of Connor, meeting in the Alexander Synod Hall, Armagh, has elected Archdeacon George Davison as the new Bishop of Connor.  He succeeds the Rt Revd Alan Abernethy who retired at the end of December.

The Venerable George Davison is the Archdeacon of Belfast, in the Diocese of Connor, Rector of St Nicholas’ Church, Carrickfergus, and an Honorary Secretary of the Church of Ireland’s General Synod.  He was previously Archdeacon of Kilmore and Rector of Kinawley, in the Diocese of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh.

The Rt Revd Patrick Rooke, President of the Electoral College and Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, said: ‘I congratulate Archdeacon George Davison on his election as Bishop of Connor. I am confident that he will be a popular choice and a wise and caring leader in a diocese he knows well. I look forward to working alongside him in the wider Church and wish him well as he prepares for this new phase of ministry.’

The bishop-elect said: ‘The members of the Electoral College for the Diocese of Connor have done me a great honour in electing me to serve as the next bishop of the diocese. I am very conscious of the great responsibility that is being entrusted to me. I am immensely thankful for the gifted colleagues who serve the Church in Connor Diocese and look forward to serving with them as we seek to share the Good News of Jesus Christ in the years ahead.’

Following approval by the House of Bishops, the bishop-elect will be consecrated as a bishop on a date to be determined.

 

 

The Priests go down a storm at launch of St Columb’s School of Music

The singing clerics, The Priests, brought the curtain down, metaphorically, on Saturday evening’s day of celebration marking the formal launch of St Columb’s School of Music in Londonderry. The school, at No. 1 St Columb’s Court, just off Bishop Street Within, was founded by Nicky Morton and Louis Fields, whose musical careers began as choristers in St Columb’s Cathedral.

The cathedral was an appropriate venue for two musical events which showcased young local talent alongside ‘big name’ performers to appreciative audiences who braved Storm Ciara to support the new venture.

The lunchtime concert saw the Foyle College Jazz Band perform with one of Ireland’s foremost jazz pianists, Scott Flanigan, on a specially erected stage at the front of the church.

Saturday evening’s gala was opened by the Thornhill College Chamber Choir, who won last year’s BBC Northern Ireland School Choir of the Year competition. They were followed by the renowned pianist Ruth McGinley, who performed a number of solo pieces, before accompanying the Derry-born tenor George Hutton, and finally The Priests on a number of sacred and popular pieces, as well as ballads.

Mr Fields and Mr Morton say the new school – which is self-funded – will give all young musicians in the local community the same opportunity they had to develop and pursue their art. The pair said St Columb’s School of Music was part of the legacy of UK City of Culture 2013. “This is a great time to be interested in music,” they said, “and an even better time to be learning it.”

The school already has a huge outreach programme and aims to provide a dynamic and supportive environment that can help young musicians to discover their talents and flourish.

(Photographs by Martin McKeown)

DRY youths get their teenage kicks at the Acorn Centre

More than 50 young people took part in this year’s Diocesan Confirmation Day at the Acorn Centre, St Peter’s Church, Londonderry, on Saturday. The teenagers, leaders and clergy came from parishes across the diocese, stretching from Aghadowey to Stranorlar.

The Confirmation Day was facilitated by the Church of Ireland’s Youth Officer, Simon Henry, who talked to the young people about prayer and the Bible, explained to them what confirmation involved, and discussed why church matters and why serving God matters. There were games and activities, too, and enough pizza to keep the spirits up.

Next on the agenda for DRY is the ‘Derry and Raphoe Youth INVITES’ event in Raphoe Cathedral on Sunday 1st March at 4pm. Worship will be led by the Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett, members of Derry and Raphoe Youth and the Mark Ferguson Band, and Bishop Andrew Forster will open God’s word.

‘Derry and Raphoe Youth INVITES’ is a Diocesan worship service, so it’s not just for young people but for the whole Diocesan family.

Farewell Service and reception for Archbishop Richard Clarke

The Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke concluded his ministry as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland with a celebration of the Eucharist in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, on Sunday evening (2nd February). Archbishop Clarke was joined by a large congregation from across the diocese and beyond, including all serving bishops of the Church of Ireland.

In the course of his sermon, the Archbishop spoke of the importance of Candlemas – the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple – which properly concludes the season of Christmas. He remarked that on Christmas Day, the light of the world through Jesus “shines” on a small group of people – Mary, Joseph and the shepherds – and then goes “out into a wider world” at Epiphany, with the arrival of the Wise Men. In the words of the Nunc Dimittis, at Candlemas, it becomes “a light to lighten the Gentiles … the whole inhabited world is now to be shown the glory of Jesus Christ.”

The congregation was encouraged to carry the light of God to those “who do not encounter any light in their own lives.”  Dr Clarke said: “It is the great paradox of Christianity that the further you and I move out into the places of darkness and need, the closer we will be brought – face–to–face – with the living Christ.”

Simeon, who is mentioned for the first and last time in the account of the Presentation, had reached the point where he could let go of his responsibilities and also realised that “he can now be let go”.  Every one of us is called to “let go of aspects of our life so that you may go on further, carrying the cross, the light of Candlemas, deeper into the world” into lives that are broken, disfigured or empty.

“But there is one thing of which you and I must never let go,” the Archbishop added: “The hand of Jesus Christ.” He quoted Archbishop William Temple’s prayer that we may never let go of His hand but “walk in daily fellowship with Him and so shall we go forth, not without stumbling, not without weariness, but always towards the love of God that awaits us in our Father’s house.”

Members of the congregation gathered afterwards for a reception in the newly-refurbished Alexander Synod Hall, where presentations were made to the Archbishop on behalf of the diocese.

The Archdeacon of Armagh, the Ven Terry Scott, paid tribute on behalf of the clergy and readers and wished the Archbishop a long, happy and healthy retirement.

“You have shown us great kindness and generous hospitality,” Archdeacon Scott said. “You have opened your home to us on many occasions and frequently been with us in our parishes and rectories. You’ve made the effort and taken the time to get to know us and stood beside us on those occasions of great joy or heart–breaking sadness.

Archdeacon Scott said: “You have been yourself and encouraged us to be ourselves, and we’ve loved you all the more for that. You’ve sought to build up our confidence in ourselves and reminded us by word and example that the call we’ve each received from God is a gift to be cherished – and you’ve been great fun.”

The Diocesan Secretary, Mrs Jane Leighton, expressed gratitude for the Archbishop’s work with the diocesan staff, council and committees, and for ministering “in the widest sense of the word” to the parishes: “We have benefited greatly from his time in Armagh. “

The Archbishop said he was thrilled to see so many friends at the reception. He thanked God for nearly 45 years in the ordained ministry and “for the adventures and the experiences that I’ve had over those years”, and the diocese “for making the past seven years, years that I will treasure forever.” He had firstly envisaged his primacy as “the Armagh project” but soon realised it was “the Armagh adventure” and came to value the kindness, acceptance and generosity he had received from every part of the diocese. He added his thanks to the diocesan office staff, the clergy and archdeacons, Dean Gregory Dunstan, and his personal assistant, Mrs Pamela Hutton.

He said that he and Archbishop Eamon Martin, who was present in the audience, had “arrived at roughly the same time, both as blow–ins” but had got to know each other very quickly.

“The friendship that has developed between us, I believe, is something that models something that I hope is valuable for Northern Ireland and is valuable for this diocese because it wasn’t simply a professional relationship; it was in every way a friendship.”

He also thanked representatives from the central Church for their support and care during his time as Primate and recalled his request – in his enthronement address – for the Church to model a spirit of collaboration and a spirit of courtesy. He welcomed progress on this within the Church of Ireland especially as “the world outside doesn’t know a great deal about collaboration or about courtesy and perhaps we can teach many other people what it means to have both of those qualities.” The Archbishop also commended the bishops of the Church of Ireland for their loyalty, support and kindness.

The Archbishop concluded his episcopal ministry with a blessing: “Unto the Lord’s gracious mercy and protection we commit you. May the Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine on you and be gracious to you, the Lord lift up his countenance on you and give you peace, now and forever more. Amen. And thank you again.”

Photography by Jonathan Hull and Peter Cheney

Day of Prayer for Young People and Youth Ministry

This year, the Church of Ireland will be observing its sixth right across the Church. The House of Bishops has approved the Sunday before Lent as the date for this annual Day of Prayer for our youth, with this year’s date falling on Sunday, 23rd February.

For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. (2 Corinthians 4 verse 6)

‘Never give up on anyone’ Bishop tells new Diocesan Lay Readers

Two new Diocesan Lay Readers have been commissioned for the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe at a service in Christ Church, Limavady.

Eleanor Craig from the Parish of Aghadowey and Brian Robinson from the Grouped Parishes of Aghanloo, Balteagh, Carrick and Tamlaghtard were commissioned on Saturday evening in front of scores of relatives, friends and members of other parishes by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster,.

The service, which was led by the Diocese’s Warden of Readers, Rev Canon Derek Quinn, took place on the day the Church of Ireland celebrates the Conversion of St Paul.

In his sermon, Bishop Forster thanked Eleanor and Brian for “saying ‘Yes’ to God’s call and saying ‘Yes’ to the call of the Church”. He assured them that God would continue to richly use them and bless them and anoint them in what they sought to do in what lay ahead. He said the new diocesan readers had a heart for God’s word and a heart for sharing the truth of God’s word – and that was a wonderful calling.

“As the Bishop of the Diocese I say thank for you for saying ‘Yes’ to God’s call and the call of the Church,” Bishop Forster said. “And for each one of us, whatever our lives are, whatever our ministry is, it’s always about saying ‘Yes’ to the call of God and the call of his Church. And that ‘Yes’ doesn’t just happen once: again and again we need to say ‘Yes’ to God and ‘Yes’ to the call of his Church.”

Bishop Forster invited the congregation to think about the sort of people whom God chooses. This week, he said, the BBC had reported the execution of a Nigerian clergyman, Rev Lawan Andimi, by jihadists in Nigeria. In December, jihadists had also killed eleven Christians near Rev Andimi’s church. “Persecution is the daily experience of many followers of Jesus Christ.” The Bishop said. “I read about another young minister of the Gospel who – because of his faith in Jesus – was stoned to death by a group of extremists. We read about that in Acts, Chapter 7. His name was Stephen and we’re told that he was stoned to death by religious extremists.

“Standing there with the mob that cornered this young minister of the Gospel and stoned him was a man called Saul of Tarsus, and Saul of Tarsus decided that what he would do was hold the coats of those who were doing the stoning. Now, why would you hold the coats? Think about it for a moment: if you’re not wearing a coat you get a better aim, you get a better throw. So, Saul of Tarsus said let me hold your coat, you’ll get a better aim, you’ll hit him all the harder if I hold your coat for you.

“Now, today is the feast day when we remember the conversion of St Paul. In Acts, Chapter 9 we read of him going to Damascus to hunt down those who follow – it’s very interesting how the writer of Acts, Luke, puts it – to hunt down those who followed ‘the Way’. This is before followers of Jesus had been given the name Christian.

“I must say, I like that, ‘followers of the Way’, it’s a great phrase because it tells us that to be a follower of Jesus it’s not just about answering some questions, it’s about following the Way and saying ‘Yes’ to the Way of Jesus Christ, following the one who himself says he is the way, the truth and the life. We’re called to be followers of the Way.

“Now, what was Saul of Tarsus doing – the man we call Paul – what was he doing? He was on the road to Damascus because he had heard there were followers of the Way in Damascus and he wanted the same thing to happen to them as happened to Stephen. In fact, we’re told in Acts Chapter 9 he went to Damascus with murderous intent. He had murder in his heart, he had death on his mind. He wanted to kill those who were telling people they were followers of the Way. He went with murderous intent.

“And what happens on that road to Damascus? You know it, don’t you, because you know the story so well? But you know, I find it an amazing story because do you know what it tells me? It tells me that if God still had time for Saul of Tarsus, if God still wanted Saul of Tarsus’ life to change, God still has time for you, and maybe he wants your life to change as well. God wasn’t finished with Saul of Tarsus, and he’s not finished with you and he’s not finished with me.

“And Eleanor and Brian have seen this in their own lives, how God has drawn them to Himself, how God has called them to Himself. I wonder tonight, for any of us – maybe you’re not like Saul of Tarsus – but yet you feel that actions or motivations have pulled us away from God; well, if God wasn’t finished with Saul, he’s not finished with you either.

“And do you know what we call this? We call it the Gospel, and the Gospel is good news; it’s good news for you and it’s good news for me. It’s the Gospel of Christ that changes us and blesses us, that turns us around.

“Tonight, we celebrate two new readers sharing the Gospel of Christ because what happened to Paul that day on the road to Damascus – remember the story? The light shines on him and he falls down and he hears a voice from heaven, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ – what happened to Saul that night was redemption. And a reader’s ministry, a rector’s ministry, a bishop’s ministry is about the ministry of redemption, the good news of Jesus Christ that whenever we seem beyond hope, there’s hope in God; whenever we’re feeling messed up, there’s forgiveness in Christ. If God has time for Paul, He has time for you.

“Now, let’s think about this for a moment or two because whenever this light happens and Saul falls down, he hears the voice: ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?’ And Saul says ‘Who’s speaking to me?’ ‘It is Jesus who you persecuted.’

“You know, there’s something really profound in that, that in the hurt and pain of the followers of the Way, Jesus was in that hurt and pain; in their persecution He was there. And, if we follow that on, I believe it tells you and me something of the heart of the Gospel again, that in your hurt, in your pain, in my hurt and my pain, Christ is there. There are beautiful words in one of the psalms that says He counts all our tears and stores them in His bottle. He knows your pain, He knows our hurts. And His love is there.

“You know, a reader’s ministry is a ministry of leading a service and preaching God’s word, but as we do that, we pastor people who hurt, people in pain. And who of us doesn’t know what it is to be in hurt or pain? Who of us doesn’t know what it is to feel isolated or alone? Who of us doesn’t know what it is, at times, to feel misunderstood and taken up the wrong way? Jesus understands. He’s in the heart of it as He’s in the heart of all those who are persecuted for being followers of the way – it’s the tender heart of God. And as we minister – readers, clergy, bishop – we minister the tenderness of God into the hearts of those who are in hurt and pain.

“And isn’t it interesting that it was this light that shone from heaven? And maybe the light shone right into the darkest recesses of Saul’s heart and Saul realised things had to be different. And the light of Christ can shine into the darkest recesses of our hearts. Maybe there are things that need to be different for us.”

Bishop Forster drew the congregation’s attention to another figure in Acts 9, the disciple Ananias, whom he described as one of the great heroes of the New Testament. “I think Ananias is incredible because he’s so in touch with God that he hears the voice of God saying I want you to go to Straight Street – which was the main thoroughfare through Damascus – and I want you to find Saul there and I want you to go and pray for him.

“And Ananias – you can hear all the warning bells ringing – Ananias goes, ‘Hold on a minute. Are you talking about the man who’s coming here to kill us? Are you talking about the man who’s coming here to persecute the followers of the Way, to persecute your followers? That’s who you want me to go to?’ And God says, ‘Yes’.

“And dear Ananias walks along that street called Straight. I wonder what was going on? I wonder was his heart beating out of his chest. And he goes into that room where Saul was and what does he say? ‘Brother Saul.’

“Isn’t that beautiful? ‘Brother Saul’ – to this man who a few days before had been his enemy; to this man who had been out to kill him; to this man who had held the coats while Stephen was stoned. ‘Brother Saul.’ The Gospel of reconciliation. The Gospel that brings people who are apart together. The Gospel that brings people like you and me – all different shapes and sizes and stations of man – brings us together, because of the love of God that unites us under our heavenly Father.

“Think about that dear man that night, Ananias, crossing the road to go to that house. I wonder if, for any of us, do we have to cross the road? Are there people that God is calling us to reach out to and say ‘Brother, or sister’, and draw them in to the Kingdom of God because that’s what Ananias did? And as we pray – we’re told the scales fell from Saul’s eyes – the ministry of reconciliation: be an Ananias; cross the road; bring people together; share the wonderful reconciling love of Christ; it’s the ministry of a reader, it’s the ministry of the clergy, it’s the ministry of the bishop; and let me tell you it’s all of our ministry for followers of Jesus.

“Who do you need to cross the road to? Who do you need to reach out to? Who do you need to share that love with and say ‘Brother Saul’?

“Are we going to say ‘Yes’? Are we going to say ‘Yes’ to God’s call? ‘Yes’ to God’s call to be the ministry of redemption? ‘Yes’ to God’s call to realise that Jesus is in the midst of the hurts and the pains, and to bring His love into the lives of those in hurt and pain; and ‘Yes’ to God’s call to cross the road to those who may be your enemies, whom we need to reach out with love to?

“Let’s let the scales fall, just like they did for Paul. Let the scales fall and let us be the sort of people who, like Paul became, say it’s all for Christ, all for Jesus, we do it all for Him. And you think of this man – from murderous intent to be a man whose words were read for us tonight, to be a man whose words we read in scripture and who inspires us.

“Never give up on somebody. Never give up on anyone. God can do it with Paul. He can do it with you and me and whoever we’re praying for. Let’s be those people who say ‘Yes’.”

“Tonight that’s what I want us to think about: what it means for each of us – not just our new readers but for each of us – to say ‘Yes’ to the call of God in your life.

Rev Jonathan McFarland appointed Rector of Urney

The Rev Jonathan McFarland has been appointed Rector of the Parish of Urney in County Tyrone, almost two and a half years after arriving there as Bishop’s Curate.

Rev McFarland – who’s pictured with his wife, Jacqui – was one of five priests ordained at a Service in Glendermott Parish Church in September 2017. Confirmation of his incumbency was shared with parishioners on Sunday morning.

The Diocese offers its congratulations to Jonathan and wishes him, Jacqui, their children and the parishioners of Urney God’s blessing for the future.