New Year Message from Bishop Andrew

“As a new bishop of less than one month’s standing, I have been finding it impossible to escape the concept of ‘newness’ recently. I have been adjusting to my new role, learning about new responsibilities, facing up to new challenges, meeting new people and even preparing to move into a new home. Much of this has been very pleasant but it has had its daunting moments. Am I the right person for the job? Will I make the right decisions? Might I undo the excellent work of my predecessors?

“So, as the New Year approaches, I’m on something of an emotional roller coaster: I’m filled with excitement at the possibilities in what lies ahead but unsettled, at the same time, by the awesomeness of it all.

“Enough about me, though. What about you? How are you feeling as you look ahead to the New Year? Are you facing into 2020 with joy or sadness in your heart? Do you face the New Year with a sense of excitement or trepidation, optimism or dread?

“None of us knows what the next twelve months will bring. We don’t even know what the next twelve hours will bring, so how can we approach the New Year with anything other than dread and fear?

“The New Year chimes will scarcely have subsided when we find ourselves confronted by harsh reality. Brexit looms in all its complexity. There will be renewed efforts to cut the Gordian knot at Stormont and restore the political institutions. Also in Northern Ireland, the less well-off are threatened by impending changes to the welfare system while, in the Republic, various crises – homelessness, a shortage of social housing and rent costs – defy resolution. Globally, the damage we’re doing to our planet is becoming more and more obvious and more and more frightening.

“In the face of such challenges it would be easy – indeed entirely understandable – to become dispirited; but, as Christians, we are people of faith and people of hope. Jesus said, ‘Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.’ (Matthew 11:29)

“As a follower of Jesus and in my new calling as a Bishop I know that He is right by my side. My aim is to be guided by Him every step of the way. I would encourage you to do likewise and to make Him the focal point of your 2020 vision.

“The Book of Proverbs tells us: ‘Many are the plans in a man’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.’ We are each of us tiny parts in God’s great plan – a plan way beyond our knowledge and comprehension – but when we put our trust in Him, committing ourselves fully and wholeheartedly, we find hope where none is obvious and discover a strength we never knew we had.

“I wish each and every one of you a happy and peaceful New Year.”

+Andrew Forster, Bishop of Derry and Raphoe

Immanuel – God is with us

“Therefore the Lord himself will give you a sign: The virgin will conceive and give birth to a son, and will call him Immanuel.” (Isaiah 7:14).

Immanuel – the Lord is with us.

Happy Christmas. The peace of Christ be with you.

“Time for a deal” says Church leaders

The leaders of Ireland’s main Churches have encouraged political parties to keep their eyes on the goal of restoring devolution as the talks pause for Christmas.

In their joint statement the leaders of the Church of Ireland, Methodist Church in Ireland, Roman Catholic Church, Presbyterian Church in Ireland and the Irish Council of Churches said, “Like many across our community, we are disappointed that it has not been possible to restore the devolved institutions before Christmas.  As leaders of Ireland’s main Churches, we want to encourage all those taking part and we pray that, together, they fully grasp this opportunity when they return to the negotiating table in January.”

The Church leaders continued, “It is incumbent on all of us to recognise the road that has been travelled since the collapse of the Executive nearly three years ago.  It is a journey that has damaged our health service and our schools.  It has also nurtured a growing sense of despair in our politics and contributed to additional hardships and worry experienced by the most vulnerable people in our society.

“While we acknowledge that points of difference obviously remain, the goal of restoring devolution remains within reach, even if it still rests a little way off.  We add our collective support for this process and encourage those taking part to continue working creatively and courageously towards a deal that can bring stability and begin to restore a sense of hope.  For the sake of the whole community, we urge all our political representatives to go that extra mile.

“It is our prayer that through generosity of spirit and courageous leadership a balanced accommodation that serves the common good, and has reconciliation at its heart, can be found and one that will lead to a sustainable power–sharing executive in the New Year.

“As the talks pause over the Christmas period and our thoughts turn once more to the birth of the Prince of Peace, it is our prayer that the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will also rest upon the whole community and the land that we share.”

The Most Rev Dr Richard Clarke (Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland)

The Rt Rev Dr William Henry (Moderator of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland)

The Most Rev Eamon Martin (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Dromore & Primate of all Ireland)

The Rev Sam McGuffin (President of the Methodist Church in Ireland)

The Rev Brian Anderson (President of the Irish Council of Churches)

Diocesan Office closed for Christmas and New Year holidays

The Diocesan Office in London Street, Londonderry has closed for the Christmas and New Year holidays and will re-open at 9am on Thursday 2nd January.

On behalf of all staff in the Diocesan Office, thank you for your support during the past year. We wish all of you, your families and your parishioners, every joy and blessing this Christmas and in the New Year.

Joint Christmas & New Year Message from the Archbishops of Armagh

A time for rekindling …

Together we wish you God’s richest blessings this Christmas and through the year ahead.

These few days at the turn of the year offer an opportunity for people who are normally very busy to give worthwhile time to family and friends.  It can also be a stressful and difficult time for people who feel estranged from friends and loved ones to whom they were once close, and for those who feel they have no-one they can truly call a friend.

Over Christmas and New Year many people are able to rekindle relationships that have somehow gone sour. We are all capable of bringing light and love into another person’s life – perhaps someone for whom hope itself is fading, someone who desperately needs the rekindling of trust that only care and friendship can bring. Jesus Christ came into the world to bring us not only the light of his love but also the warmth of his friendship. Indeed, he assured his disciples that they were more than just “followers”; they were his “friends” (John 15.15).

Our country, north and south, truly needs the rekindling of wholesome relationships – socially and politically, nationally and internationally – and our prayer this Christmas is that men and women of integrity will find the generosity and courage they need to lead and take the initiative in making these crucial relationships work.

As our sharing in ministry here in Armagh will soon be coming to a close, we take this opportunity publicly to thank God for the warm friendship we have enjoyed together (and will continue to enjoy, albeit in a different mode), and we pray as one that 2020 may be a year of rekindling true friendship for all the people of Ireland.

+Eamon (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh)

+Richard (Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh)

The Christmas story – “a blessing for the soul” says Bishop Forster

Bishop Andrew Forster praised the “incredible” choir and organist of the CCCMSP Group for their outstanding performance at Wednesday evening’s Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at Christ Church, Londonderry. It was the Bishop’s first visit to Christ Church since his consecration in Armagh ten days earlier.

“Today I heard somebody say, ‘Music is a blessing for the soul.’ Tonight, our souls have been blessed,” Bishop Andrew said.

Scores of people from various denominations refused to be deterred by the driving rain which fell on the city throughout the evening. And Bishop Forster said he – and they – had been blessed by being there. “Isn’t the Christmas story a blessing for the soul, to us?” he asked. “I’m sure tonight, through word and through song, our souls have been blessed again to hear the story of that first nativity.”

Bishop Forster reminded those present of the words in Luke’s Gospel, ‘There was no room for him in the inn.’ “No room for the vulnerable;” the Bishop said, “no room for the lonely; no room for the young; no room for the outsider – because that’s who Mary and Joseph were that night, and that’s who their son had become that night – and yet there was no room for him.

“And for us, the Christmas story must ask us do we have room – room in the inn of our lives and of our hearts – for the outsider, for the lonely, for the outcast, for the vulnerable, for the young? But then we must ask ourselves, have we room in the inn of our hearts for the Christ-child and for the gift he is to us at Christmas time, because the word became flesh and dwelt among us?”

The Rector of the CCCMSP Group, Archdeacon Robert Miller, the Group’s Pastoral Director, Rev Katie McAteer, and Fr Patrick Lagan – a Curate at St Eugene’s Cathedral, just across the road from Christ Church – were among those who read lessons at the Service.

Refreshments were served afterwards, during which the Bishop, Archdeacon Miller and Rev McAteer mingled with parishioners and friends of Christ Church, among them the Administrator of Templemore Parish, Fr Paul Farren.


New Bishop makes new friends in Derg and Termonamongan

One week after his consecration in Armagh, Rt Rev Andrew Forster chose the Parishes of Derg and Termonamongan in County Tyrone as the location for his first Sunday Services as Bishop of Derry and Raphoe.

The parishioners of St Bestius’ Church in Killeter made the Bishop feel immediately at home as he arrived to be met by a banner – bearing the legend ‘Welcome Bishop Andrew’ – adorning the gate into the churchyard. After worship in Killeter, Bishop Forster enjoyed some post-Service refreshments and fellowship with the congregation before heading on to nearby Castlederg.

In Derg Parish Church, the Bishop enjoyed what the Rector described as “the chaos of our Nativity Service”. Rev Peter Ferguson said Bishop Andrew, who donned a paper crown for the occasion, fitted right in and made an immediate impact with the congregation in Derg.


New Bishop Consecrated – Bishop Andrew Forster succeeds Rt Rev Ken Good

The new Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, was ordained by the Archbishop of Armagh at a Service of Consecration in St Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh on Sunday afternoon, in front of leaders of the other main churches in Ireland. He succeeds Rt Rev Ken Good who retired from episcopal ministry in May.

The stormy December weather did not deter scores of people from the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe, or from the parish where Bishop Forster had been Rector, from travelling to Armagh for the ordination, and the church was filled for the occasion.

The congregation heard the preacher, Revd Canon Maurice Elliott – who has known the new bishop since their first day at Theological College – describe Rt Rev Forster as a larger than life personality with an infectious sense of humour. “He will bring an immense range of gifts and abilities to this new role,” Canon Elliott said. “He is a man of deep conviction, yet he tempers this with an instinctive capacity to care.”

Canon Elliott said from the moment, just over 30 years ago, that he and Bishop Forster arrived “literally together” into Braemor Park, to begin theological training, they had struck up what had become a lifelong friendship. It was a singular honour, he said, to have been invited by the Archbishop to preach on this momentous occasion of Bishop Forster’s consecration.

Their long friendship did not prevent the preacher from sharing one story – at the Bishop-elect’s expense – from the rugby pitch at Trinity College during their first year of training together in 1989. “In the rather vain pursuit of fitness,” he said, “the Bishop-elect and I decided we would attend Monday evening rugby training and we were perhaps only five minutes into a warm-up when the coach told us to get into pairs. So, the two of us joined forces. The instruction then followed that we were each to piggyback our partner the width of the pitch and back which I, having opted to be number one, duly did. Then, as the coach shouted for a swift role reversal, I can honestly say I’ve never seen anyone move so fast in the direction of the changing room as he shouted back over his shoulder in my general direction, ‘Come on, we’re going.’ And to be fair, we never went back.

“So,” Canon Elliott said, “maybe on that occasion, Andrew didn’t quite demonstrate himself willing to carry a heavy burden but, in so many other ways, the Bishop-elect has proved himself more than able to bear significant responsibility: first through the years of his curacy at Willowfield; then as a chaplain at Queen’s; as Incumbent of Drumcliffe; and most recently as a much, much loved Rector of Drumglass.”

The preacher said he had never heard anyone express anything other than deep appreciation of every facet of the Bishop-elect’s ministry. “As a teacher, as a pastor, as an evangelist, as a leader, as an Archdeacon, through his involvement in the structures of the General Synod and the Representative Body, Andrew has shown himself to be diligent, capable, faithful, popular and loving. And in all of this he has been wonderfully supported by Heather, by Hannah, Patrick, Megan, by his wider family, and, not least, also by his late parents Victor and Joan. And Andrew, we all recognise how deeply proud they would have been to have witnessed this moment.”

So, Canon Elliott asked, how could this man be ready to carry the additional burden of episcopal oversight? The answer, the preacher suggested, was to be found in the words of St Paul, which were heard in the second reading, from 2 Corinthians, Chapter 4. “Andrew, all of us truly celebrate all that you have to offer. But the word of the Lord this afternoon reminds us soberly that none of what we may be called to, and certainly nothing of what we may accomplish, is ever of ourselves. You and we all know that it is not ultimately within our power to achieve this ministry or to be fruitful within it. From beginning to end it is solely, utterly and absolutely of the grace and mercy of the Lord. As the Archbishop will shortly remind you, none of us can bear the weight of this ministry with our own strength. And as you yourself will acknowledge in making your solemn vows, it is only by the help of God that you can even begin to countenance what you are about to undertake.”

Canon Elliott told Rt Rev Forster that, as a Bishop, there would be many, many demands made of him, and that there would a wide variety of differing aspects to his new role. “It will be about continuing to manage and engage with your own family; it will require administration; there will be conflicts; you will be expected to offer strategic leadership; you are to be pastor of the pastors; you will have civic duties; chairing church committees, much travelling, and so forth. I know from listening to you in our own conversations that part of your own heart is also to be like the lead evangelist in the diocese and if that is going to happen then most assuredly you need to keep the main thing as the main thing: you must stay true to your own convictions in this regard. That is to proclaim the word of the gospel. As you seek to do that our confidence is that the Lord will indeed bless you and enable you to flourish.”

Canon Elliott said as Director of the Theological Institute for the last 12 years he had had the great privilege of working in support of all our bishops and that he had observed that those who served in episcopal ministry sometimes got very little thanks. “The expectations are invariably high,” he said, “yet often there’s a distinct lack of either appreciation or encouragement.” He could only hope that such a culture may begin to change but wasn’t sure that that would happen quickly so the new Bishop needed to be ready to bear hardship.

“Bishop-elect Andrew James Forster,” the preacher said, addressing his friend directly, “on this day our deepest prayer for you is that you will stay close to the Lord who was willing to suffer on your behalf. We ask that you may remain focused on the message of the Cross and the empty tomb and that as you are able to do that you will prove yourself not only faithful but resilient and strong. Thirty years ago, you didn’t feel minded to run across a rugby pitch with me on your back but, as you learn increasingly to lean on the Lord’s word for strength and on the Lord’s spirit for stamina, our confidence is that you will run well the marathon of episcopal ministry and that in due course you will finish that race. You cannot do it in your own strength, so even now choose again to undertake it only in the name, and for the sake of, the one who laid down his life for you, and who alone is able to sustain you.

The Archbishop of Armagh, Most Revd Dr Richard Clarke, was assisted during the Consecration by the Bishop of Meath and Kildare, Most Revd Patricia Storey and the Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry, Right Revd Patrick Rooke. The three were joined for the laying on of hands by the other Church of Ireland serving and retired bishops present, including Lord Eames – a former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe. Next, the newly ordained bishop was vested with his episcopal habit, before being presented to the congregation by the Archbishop, with the words, “Brothers and sisters in Christ, I present to you Andrew, Bishop in the Church of God.” Bishop Forster was then acclaimed with warm and loud applause.

Among the many dignitaries from other Churches at the Consecration were the President of the Methodist Church in Ireland, Rev Sam McGuffin; the President of the Irish Council of Churches, Rev Brian Anderson , the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh, Archbishop Eamon Martin; and the Moderator of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, Dr William Henry. North West Church leaders present included the Bishop of Derry, Dr Donal McKeown; the Bishop of Raphoe, Most Rev Alan McGuckian; and the Methodist Superintendent, Rev Richard Johnston.

After the Service, members of the congregation made their way to the Royal School, Armagh – just over half a mile away – for a reception and refreshments. There, for the first time, the new Bishop spoke publicly. He thanked his family, “old friends” and those who had travelled a long distance for making the effort to come to the Consecration Service on such a dismal day. He also thanked the Dean of Armagh, Very Revd Gregory Dunstan for organising the Service and for planning everything “to perfection”, and the choir and the music group for providing music during a “memorable” service.

Bishop Forster paid tribute to three people whose example had moulded the ministry that he sought to live out. The first was his first Rector in Willowfield, Canon Norman Jardine. The others were Bishop Ken Clarke and Archbishop Richard Clarke. “If I can be any way like them,” Bishop Forster said, “I think I will serve you all well in Derry and Raphoe.”

The Bishop also thanked his family for their support. It was a wrench to leave Dungannon, he said, a parish where they had been immensely happy, but the family had been right behind him.

“I’m very excited about the next chapter of our lives together,” he said. “I’m very excited about coming to Derry and Raphoe to be the bishop. It’s a part of this island that I love already – I’ve enjoyed it for many years – and I look forward to being in the community and being part of the community in the Diocese. It’s so lovely to see a cross-section from the Diocese there today and visitors from the diocese, some of the other church leaders and so on, who made a point of being there.

“It is the most wonderful thing in the world to be a follower of Jesus Christ,” Bishop Forster said, “and that’s what we are and that’s what we’ll do together. As followers of Jesus Christ together we can win more for Him, and as followers of Jesus Christ together we can bring His light and love and grace into a world that needs it, and that’s what we’ll do together in Derry and Raphoe.”

(Additional photographs by Mr Peter Cheney, Church of Ireland Press Officer) 


Church Leaders meet PSNI Chief Constable

The Church Leaders, at their meeting in Armagh on Friday 6th December met with representatives of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, including its Chief Constable Simon Byrne. The Church Leaders expressed support for the work of the PSNI, particularly in the area of community policing.

The photograph below shows Mr Byrne, second from right, with (from left) the Rev Sam McGuffin (President, Methodist Church in Ireland), the Rev Brian Anderson (President, Irish Council of Churches), Archbishop Eamon Martin (Roman Catholic Archbishop of Armagh), Archbishop Richard Clarke (Church of Ireland Archbishop of Armagh), and Dr William Henry (Moderator, General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in Ireland).

Photograph provided by Mr Jonathan Hull, Communications Officer, Church of Ireland Diocese of Armagh.


Raphoe Christmas Tree Festival Proves a Big Hit with the Public

The Dean of Raphoe, Very Rev Arthur Barrett, knew his parish’s first ever Christmas Tree Festival had struck a chord with the community when he had to arrange for extra seating to be brought in to accommodate the large number of people who packed the Friday evening Community Carol Service which marked the formal launch of the festival.

St Eunan’s Cathedral in Raphoe was filled to capacity – and then some – with the church even running out of Orders of Service. Worship at Friday evening’s Service was led by Dean Barrett, Fr Eamonn Kelly and Rev Dr Brian Brown. The Finn Valley Men’s Choir performed a medley of popular Christmas numbers to complement the traditional carols sung by the congregation.

Raphoe’s Festival of Christmas Trees – the brainchild of two parishioners – features almost 50 trees designed by local people, organisations and businesses, with all donations and this evening’s retiring collection going towards the ‘Cathedral Restoration Project 2020’ – which will pay for a substantial renovation of the ancient church.

Dean Barrett thanked the congregation, the wider community in Raphoe and many beyond the town for supporting the festival. He said the event had provided an opportunity for the whole community in Raphoe to come together in worship at a special time of year. “I’m thankful for the friendship and collegiality of Dr Brown and Fr Kelly,” the Dean said, “and their ready acceptance and support of this idea of a Carol Service. Pastor Mervyn Carter apologises that he can’t be here this evening due to other commitments.

“But like this Christmas Tree Festival itself, I believe this – tonight – is a very special occasion and an important witness in the world at this time to our shared faith in the Jesus Christ.”

Dean Barrett expressed his personal gratitude, and that of the parish, to Gladys Barnett and Rosalind Patton whose vision the festival was. The festival will continue until Sunday.