Primate regrets Westminster intervention in NI abortion debate

Statement by the Archbishop of Armagh

The Most Revd John McDowell, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, has issued the following statement:

‘It is a matter of regret that the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland intends to seek powers from Parliament to give direction to the Department of Health in Northern Ireland around what is clearly a devolved matter. There may have been an element of justification for seeking powers of this sort when the Northern Ireland Assembly was not functioning, but such justification manifestly does not apply now.

‘This comes at a time when a vast number of Statutory Instruments (particularly in relation to the Northern Ireland/Ireland Protocol) receive minimal or no scrutiny in any form by the Assembly and can only heighten the sense of a democratic deficit around that issue, and do further harm to the sense of the fairness and effectiveness of devolved government.

‘I hope that the Secretary of State will bear this in mind when weighing up the best course of action and instead encourage the Assembly to find a constructive way forward.’


Christians respond to sectarianism and paramilitary violence

Christians from a wide range of denominational backgrounds will together be praying and acting to raise awareness about sectarian and paramilitary violence.


On each of the 50 days between Easter Monday (5th April 2021) and Pentecost Sunday (23rd May 2021), #couragepentecost will share an image and courageous action that can be taken in the face of sectarianism and paramilitary violence. Each action is invitational rather than aspirational, seeking to equip and encourage individuals to consider and deepen their own journeys of courage towards reconciliation.


#couragepentecost emerged from a small group of people from a diverse group of Christian faith traditions. In some communities, paramilitary attacks, sectarian abuse and community fracture are still the brutal legacy of our conflict. Our churches have demonstrated profound acts of courage over the years. But often, our responses to this violence have been characterised by silence.


The organisers encourage everyone across Northern Ireland to get involved. The Leader of The Corrymeela Community, Rev. Dr. Alex Wimberly said: “Courage Pentecost is for all of us – not just the heroic and famous few. We can all contribute to a more reconciled society. These contributions could be anything from a private act of prayer to a public act of witness”.


Father Martin Magill added: “Courage Pentecost seeks to create a sustaining solidarity within which we can carry out acts of courage together – supporting, inspiring and challenging one another. Together we can go on a shared pilgrimage, with both planned and spontaneous acts of courage that respond to political tension and ongoing community violence”.


Nicola Brady, the General Secretary of the Irish Council of Churches said of the project: “#couragepentecost provides an important opportunity to reflect on what it means for Christians to be salt and light to our wounded community, living out our call to be peacemakers in a spirit of solidarity and partnership with others”.


The suggested acts of courage will be shared on the Courage Pentecost website as well as through social media channels. The website offers a mailing list so people can sign up in advance to receive the daily calls to action.


In-person worship to resume in Northern Ireland from Good Friday

The Church of Ireland bishops have agreed that churches in Northern Ireland can resume in-person worship from Good Friday, 2nd April. Attendances will continue to be limited, for the time being, because of the need for social distancing and congregations will have to wear face coverings. The bishops say their decision is “permissive rather than instructive” and the return to in-person gatherings in church should be cautious and careful.
The decision means that in the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe, churches in one jurisdiction will be free to resume in-person worship from Good Friday, whereas those on the other side of the border will have to remain closed to congregations. The reason for the disparity is that in the Republic – where the vaccine roll-out has been slower – the decision to close churches was made by the government whereas, in Northern Ireland, the suspension of services was undertaken voluntarily by the Churches.
Where Church of Ireland churches do choose to resume in-person worship, parish officers must carry out a risk assessment and ensure that good mitigation is in place. Those churches which choose not to ‘re-open’ at Easter, and which prefer to continue with online and/or drive-in services for the time being, are free to do so.
The Bishops’ statement is printed in full below.
Last year on St Patrick’s Day, advice was issued to all our clergy with the unprecedented instruction that in the light of evolving Government advice, until further notice, all Sunday and midweek services should be suspended, and all Parish organisations and activities should cease. At that time, we had little knowledge of Covid-19 nor could we have imagined the devastating impact it would have upon the world, our country and on individual lives. We continue to remember in our prayers the sick, the bereaved, the isolated and fearful and also to give thanks to God for the courageous and sacrificial actions of our health care workers who have worked tirelessly in our hospitals and wider community to care for all whom the virus has impacted upon most directly.
A difficult year has passed, and a hard road has been travelled but we have reached a new junction. In-person gatherings for worship and Parish organisations have been voluntarily suspended since early in January 2021, but we have decided that the time has now come for a cautious and careful return to in person church services from Good Friday (2nd April 2021). This news will be warmly welcomed but is simply permissive rather than instructive. Some may wish to continue online and/or drive-in services for the time being due to their own local situation. From 1st April outdoor gatherings in a public space will allow for 10 people from 2 households to meet up. This therefore means that customary Easter Dawn services cannot take place this year in their normal form. Parish activities and meetings also remain suspended in the interim, but meetings of General Vestry can take place at the close of Sunday worship as part of an in-person gathering.
No changes have been made to the operation of church buildings as places of worship. Congregation numbers will continue for the time being to be limited according to 2 metre social distancing seating capacity. Parish officers must carry out a risk assessment and ensure that good mitigation is in place and that face coverings are worn by congregation members on their arrival and exit from the church building and throughout services. We all need to play our part in preventing any further transmission of Covid-19 within the community. Marriages and funerals will continue to take place in line with the current restrictions.
We note that the same position of a cautious return to in-person worship at Easter time has been adopted by the Methodist Church, Presbyterian Church and Roman Catholic Church and welcome the co-operation and strong working relationship between the churches. The message of Easter is one of Hope. From the cross of Calvary to the empty tomb, from death to new life. Echoing the words of the First Minister yesterday, we would encourage everyone to reflect on the road we together have travelled and to continue to pray this Easter for recovery from the pandemic, healing, peace, and a renewed hope. As we journey onwards, we are mindful that we still have further to travel, but we do so trusting in our crucified and risen Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
+John Armagh
+Andrew Derry and Raphoe
+David Down and Dromore
+George Connor

Joint statement on St Patrick’s Day by Ireland’s main Church leaders

The leaders of Ireland’s main churches have come together to issue a message on St Patrick’s Day that reflects on the 1921 centenaries and contains an invitation to wider civic society for further dialogue.


Entitled ‘In Christ We Journey Together’ – the theme chosen by the Church Leaders Group (Ireland) for their shared reflection on the centenaries – they recognise that some may struggle with idea of a shared history of the centenaries. Together, however, they explore how the Christian faith and Christian social ethics can contribute to the healing of relationships and offer a hopeful vision for the future.


In their Joint Statement, which they also filmed as a video message at Saint Patrick’s Church of Ireland Cathedral in Armagh, the Church Leaders welcome the progress that has been made through the peace process in building relationships of mutual respect and trust across these islands. While acknowledging that there is much work still to do, they set out a vision for a society where different identities in a pluralist public square can be valued.


Reflecting together, the Church Leaders placed particular emphasis on the interconnectedness of the people of the UK and Ireland, saying ‘What is undeniable … is the reality that we have to live in a shared space on these islands, and to make them a place of belonging and welcome for all’. They have chosen to issue their message on St Patrick’s Day to embrace the way this former slave, who embodied that interconnectedness, brought Christianity to Ireland some 1,500 years ago. In this context, a single century is but a brief moment in time, but the Church Leaders note that significant anniversaries can provide a valuable opportunity to reflect on our history and explore what can be learned for today.


The reflection is informed by principles of ethical remembering, ‘In our approach to the past we have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the corrosive impact of violence and words that can lead to violence’, the Church leaders said. They also recognise that there is a need to face difficult truths about failings in their churches’ own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation. Regarding the role of the churches, they said, ‘We have often been captive churches; not captive to the Word of God, but to the idols of state and nation.’


The Church Leaders are sharing this message today as an invitation to dialogue. They have planned a series of engagements for this year which will include opportunities for conversation and reflection — as churches, as well as with political and civic leaders — and other events to mark the centenaries.


The Church Leaders’ Statement in full is as follows:


As disciples of Jesus Christ, sharing in the grace of his redemption, and in the Father’s unshakeable love for his creation, we have been reflecting together on the events of 1921 on this island. We wish to share some of our thoughts as we continue these conversations and as we journey together through the year.


Every generation of leaders, civil and political, is called to make choices about the structures that govern our life in community, now and in the future, in circumstances that will always be less than ideal. Significant anniversaries provide an opportunity to reflect on our trajectory, exploring what can be learned for today through a re–examination of the contrasting and intertwined narratives of conflict and compromise that surround these pivotal points in our history.


Some may struggle with the concept of a shared history when it comes to the centenary of the partition of Ireland, the establishment of Northern Ireland and the resulting reconfiguration of British–Irish relationships. What is undeniable, however, is the reality that we have to live in a shared space on these islands, and to make them a place of belonging and welcome for all. In our approach to the past we have a moral responsibility to acknowledge the corrosive impact of violence and words that can lead to violence, and a duty of care to those still living with the trauma of its aftermath.


There are insights from Christian social ethics that may offer a helpful perspective, alongside others, as we seek to navigate our contested past in a way that will contribute to healing of relationships in the present and a hopeful vision for the future. Christ’s teaching, ministry and sacrifice were offered in the context of a society that was politically divided, wounded by conflict and injustice. His call to ‘render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things of God’ (Mark 12:17) conveyed the reassurance that beneath these societal fractures lay a deeper source of connection because all things belong to God.


Jesus lived out this message of hope by repeatedly and intentionally crossing social boundaries to affirm the dignity of those who had been marginalised or excluded by his own people and by society. In these encounters, as exemplified in the meeting with the Woman of Samaria (John 4:1–42), we see that Christ does not seek to minimise differences, but rather to establish connection through gracious listening, replacing exclusion and shame with the hope of new beginnings.


We have an opportunity, in marking these events from our past, to be intentional in creating the spaces for encounter with those who are different from us, and those who may feel marginalised in the narratives that have shaped our community identity. This will require us to face difficult truths about failings in our own leadership in the work of peace and reconciliation. As Christian churches we acknowledge and lament the times that we failed to bring to a fearful and divided society that message of the deeper connection that binds us, despite our different identities, as children of God, made in His image and likeness. We have often been captive churches; not captive to the Word of God, but to the idols of state and nation.


We find inspiration and encouragement in the progress that has been made through our peace process in building relationships of mutual respect and trust across these islands. These relationships are often tested, and will at times be found wanting, but our communities have also demonstrated great resilience, solidarity and compassion, evident most recently in the response to Covid–19.


There has been considerable progress too in addressing unjust structures that excluded people and unfairly limited their life chances. The power of institutions has diminished, leading to greater accountability for those in leadership. This helps create an environment where we can value our different identities in a pluralist public square, conscious of both our rights and responsibilities. Yet there is much work still to do. With so much of our lives now being lived in the digital space there can be a temptation to retreat into spaces where our definition of community is limited to those who agree with us. This leads to an increasingly fragmented society in which too many people fall through the cracks.


Churches, alongside other civic leaders, have a role to play in providing spaces outside political structures that give expression to our inter–connectedness and shared concern for the common good. It is our hope that shared reflection on our past will support and strengthen this engagement, inspiring us to renew our commitment to the work of building peace for the future. As the Apostle Paul said, “So then let us pursue the things that make for peace and the building up of one another” (Romans 14:19).


The Rt Revd Dr David Bruce

Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland

The Most Revd John McDowell

Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

The Revd Dr Thomas McKnight

President of the Methodist Church in Ireland

The Most Revd Eamon Martin

Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

The Very Rev Dr Ivan Patterson

President of the Irish Council of Churches



Let’s Journey to the Cross – Jesus walks on water’

Let’s Journey to the Cross – Jesus Walks on Water – Matthew 14:22-34 (A reflection by our Diocesan Children’s Officer, Kirsty McCartney).
Last week, we thought about going to a quiet place to pray. At the start of our story this week Jesus again went off to a quiet place to pray. He had had a very busy day teaching and feeding lots of people. The disciples were bound to be tired as well, so Jesus told them to go on ahead to the other side of the lake on the boat. The disciples did what they were told, but as they were sailing the wind began to howl, the waves grew larger, and the boat was being tossed all over the place. The disciples would have been terrified. The next thing they knew was that someone was walking towards them – walking on the water towards the boat. The scared and tired disciples thought this was a ghost and this made them even more scared! As the figure came towards them it turned out to be Jesus – not a ghost! The disciples cried out in fear. Jesus heard them and told them not to be afraid – ‘Be brave! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’
Peter decided to be brave – he said to Jesus ‘if it is [you], tell me to come to you on the water.’ Jesus answered with one word – ‘Come.’ Peter stepped out of the boat and was able to walk to Jesus. Not only did the disciples see Jesus walk on water, but now they were seeing Peter do the same. I can just imagine them all being shocked and amazed in the boat as they watch this happening in front of them.
Peter was still walking, but then he realized what was happening – he saw the waves crashing, and felt the wind blowing. He got distracted and took his eyes off Jesus, he was afraid and began to sink. The first thing he did was cry out to Jesus to save him. Without hesitation Jesus reached out his hand and caught Peter. Jesus had one question for Peter ‘Why did you doubt me?’
After this Peter and Jesus both got into the boat and the wind died down. All who in the boat were amazed and worshipped Jesus – ‘You really are the Son of God!’
Jesus made two journeys in this passage: he journeyed to a quiet place to be with God, but he also went to be with his disciples when they needed Him. They were in a boat, in a storm and were terrified. Jesus went to them, told them not to be afraid and to have courage. When he got into the boat with them the winds calmed. Jesus not only intentionally went to the disciples when they needed help but showed Peter what he could do when he was brave and showed what can happen if we get distracted and take our eyes off Jesus. We need to be brave and keep our eyes on Jesus.
This week’s activity is to make a boat and see if it can float! Makes some waves and wind effects and think of Jesus coming to the disciples when they needed help. Thank God for helping you as well.
A Prayer for Let’s Journey to the Cross (Linda Hughes)
Lord, as we travel through this season, we are aware that Lent can be a difficult time.
We like to do things in our own time and find it hard to be disciplined. Forgive us when we fail to do the right thing or when we find that we are eager to receive your love and forgiveness but are reluctant to return them back.
As we travel through Lent may we be encouraged to open our hearts and listen for your voice so we can discover what you want us to do and trust in your unconditional and everlasting love for us.

New canon “flabbergasted” by his appointment

The Rector of Castledawson, Rev Colin Welsh, has been appointed a canon of St Columb’s Cathedral in Londonderry, succeeding Rev Canon Sam McVeigh, who retired in January.
The decision to appoint Rev Welsh to the Chapter of the Cathedral Church of St Columb was made by the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, and first shared virtually, with Castledawson parishioners, in yesterday morning’s Service.
“I wanted Colin to take up this role because of all that he does not only in the parish but in the wider diocese,” Bishop Andrew said. “It’s an acknowledgement of his faithfulness, his ministry and his goodness.”
Rev Welsh, who is the rural dean for the Maghera and Kilrea Rural Deanery, said he was “flabbergasted” by the appointment, which, he said, had never been on his radar. “When the Bishop phoned, I had no notion what he was going to ask me. I was shocked, flabbergasted, humbled.”
Canon Welsh recalled an occasion from his past. “A colleague once suggested, ‘Maybe you’ll be a canon some day.’ ‘A canon?’ I said. ‘I’ll not even be a water pistol.'”
“I’m not deserving of this,” Canon Welsh said today, reacting to his appointment. “It’s nothing I’ve done. It’s to God’s glory, not mine. But I accept it willingly and humbly on behalf of my own wee congregation in Castledawson. They’re smashing people – one of the best parishes in the Diocese.”
The ongoing disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic means the date and nature of Canon Welsh’s Service of Installation have still to be finalised.

Magnificent response to Eglinton churches’ food drive

People from the Eglinton and Greysteel areas came out in their socially-distanced droves, on Saturday, to show their generous side, as they donated a huge quantity of groceries and other essential items for the less fortunate in the North West.

They did so to support an appeal by the three main Christian Churches locally for contributions for food banks in Derry-Londonderry and Limavady.

Volunteers from St Canice’s Church of Ireland, Star of the Sea Roman Catholic Church (Faughanvale) and Eglinton Presbyterian Church were on hand in Eglinton Community Centre to accept donations. The appeal got off to a great start – thanks to a generous donation from the village’s Credit Union – and scores of people arrived with shopping bags filled with non-perishable foodstuffs and other essential items.

The Rector of Faughanvale, Rev Canon Paul Hoey, thanked all who supported the churches’ appeal. “The people here in Eglinton and Greysteel, and in the surrounding areas, never cease to amaze me with their generosity,” Canon Hoey said. “They have dug deep yet again to demonstrate their concern for others. These are straitened times for many people, as our local foodbanks know only too well, and everything that has been donated will go to people who need it and who will appreciate it.

“On behalf of the local churches I’d like to thank the volunteers who helped gather the donations from the public; Debbie Caulfield for making the community centre available – yet again – for our food drive; and, of course, the families, individuals and business who supported our appeal.”

Completing census “a moral responsibility” says Bishop Andrew

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, has appealed to people in Northern Ireland to “do their civic duty” and fill in their census forms. The survey, which takes places once every 10 years, shapes vital decisions about public services such as new schools, health services and infrastructure. The 2021 Census has to be completed by Sunday 21st March or as soon as possible afterwards.

“I want to encourage households – from all parts of our community, of all denominations and none in Northern Ireland – to do their civic duty and take part,” Bishop Andrew says, “either by filling in the form or completing the census online.

“By law, all households have to do it and failure to complete it carries a fine of up to £1,000. That’s one good reason to do it but there are many other more positive and more compelling ones. The information collected shapes vital decisions about health, education and transport. Data from the last census, for example, has helped determine how many vaccines Northern Ireland is getting in the Coronavirus pandemic.

“I appeal to people – whatever their background – to be civic-minded and to make sure their household’s form is filled in. Completing the census is a very practical way of showing love for our neighbour. It’s a legal requirement and it’s a moral responsibility, so please do your bit.”

All households in Northern Ireland should have received their census pack or letter in the post by now and some may have already completed it. If you haven’t, please fill out your census by Sunday 21st March or as soon as possible after that.

The census is easy and safe to fill out online or on paper. If you need help doing it, visit the census website – – or call the census team for free on 0800 328 2021.



‘Love our neighbour – protect our communities’

The Archbishops of the Church of Ireland have issued the following statement in support of the Covid-19 vaccination programmes in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland:

‘We encourage all Church of Ireland members to take up the opportunity offered by the Covid-19 vaccination programmes currently being rolled out across the island of Ireland.  We believe, as Christians, that it is our civic obligation and duty to serve others and to love our neighbours as ourselves.

‘Vaccination against Covid-19 helps to protect individuals in our communities by preventing and reducing illness and death caused by the virus.  In the past, vaccines have made a significant difference in society, and they continue to do so.  The Covid-19 vaccines are already bringing hope and a possibility of a return to relative normality, and should be made available globally as a priority.

‘The Church of Ireland has, throughout the pandemic, advocated following public health advice from trusted sources, including the Health Service Executive in the Republic of Ireland and Health and Social Care services in Northern Ireland.  All who have questions about vaccination are encouraged to consult those sources of information and discuss their questions with health professionals.’


Incidentally, trustworthy and updated information is available at the following links:

Northern Ireland –

Republic of Ireland –

New inter-faith role for former Moville Curate

The Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, Most Rev John McDowell, has appointed Rev Suzanne Cousins as his Inter Faith Advisor. Rev Cousins, who is Rector of the Benburb Group of Parishes in the Diocese of Armagh, was previously Bishop’s Curate-in-Charge of the Moville Group of Parishes.


Archbishop McDowell said: “In recent years, the World Council of Churches has been developing its role in this area of theology and practice and it is keen to liaise with member Churches in this work. In an increasingly diverse community, here in Ireland and globally, it is important that we are aware of both the limitations and the extent of what can be achieved in inter–faith relations with integrity and love.


“Apart from her invaluable experience of living as a Christian overseas and engaging with Muslim people and communities, Suzanne is a member of the Inter Faith Working Group of the General Synod Commission for Christian Unity and Dialogue, and her MTh dissertation (subsequently published in the Braemor Series) dealt with a central Anglican approach to inter–faith encounter, outlined in the Anglican Communion document entitled Generous Love. I am delighted that Suzanne has agreed to act in this capacity.”


Mrs Cousins said: “I am delighted and honoured to be invited by the Archbishop to serve in this capacity. Inter–faith dialogue and the approach of the Anglican Communion and other Churches has developed significantly since the early days of its formal exploration, so that dialogue no longer belongs solely or mainly in the domain of theological academia. Rather, Christians in Irish society, north and south, can find themselves on an almost daily basis interacting with people of other faiths, who are a growing minority. Inter–faith dialogue is in many ways the domain of everyone, especially with the digitalisation of dialogue.”


The Revd Suzanne Cousins pictured at the launch of her Braemor Study, Generous Love in Multi-Faith Ireland, in March 2018 with (from left) Mr Shafqat Ayub, Shaykh Dr Umar Al-Qadri, (Head Imam of the Al-Mustafa Islamic Education and Cultural Centre, Ireland), and the Revd Canon Dr Maurice Elliott (Director, Church of Ireland Theological Institute). Credit: Lynn Glanville.