‘Care for the environment to become a key part of who we are as a diocese’: Bishop Andrew

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, says in the very near future he intends to make care for the environment a key part of who we are as the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe. He was addressing the annual Derry and Raphoe Diocesan Synod which, unsurprisingly – like his episcopacy, so far – has been dominated by COVID-19 and which because of the pandemic was meeting online.

It would not just be insensitive, Bishop Andrew said, but plain wrong not to acknowledge the enormous loss and heartache, and the great challenges, that Covid had brought to individuals, families and to the church. Like many in our parishes, he said, he had known only too well the pain of loss during this time. But he had looked on “with admiration and a true sense of pride” at the way the diocese had responded to a challenge unprecedented in our lifetimes.

“The enforced and, indeed, unwelcome changes that the pandemic demanded of us nevertheless showed us that we are far more capable, far more adaptable and far more creative than we ever could have believed,” the Bishop said. The task of rebuilding, reconnecting and renewing was the responsibility of every one of us, Bishop Andrew said, not just a few.

Looking ahead to the COP26 climate conference in Glasgow later this month, Bishop Andrew said politicians – especially world leaders – had a crucial part to play. “But the message is clear: we all have a role to play; churches have a contribution to make; each one of us has a responsibility; each one of us can make a difference. The story of creation is the very first story in the very first book of the Bible. Part of our discipleship, part of what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ, is that we are called to care for creation.” Bishop Andrew suggested that if Synod delegates wanted to find out how they could help save the planet they should ask their children or grandchildren. The younger generation ‘get’ this, he said.

“In the very near future, I intend to make care for the environment a key part of who we are as the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe,” the Bishop said. “This will require not just words but action on our part, across all our parishes. It will be challenging, no doubt, but I’m convinced the time is right. In fact, the time has never been more right.”

 

 

New Rector appointed for Parish of Drumachose (Limavady)

After a vacancy of eight months, the Parish of Drumachose has a new rector. The Reverend Canon Aonghus Mayes, currently Rector of Moy and Charlemont in the Diocese of Armagh, has been appointed to succeed Canon Sam McVeigh, who retired at the end of January.

The appointment means a return to the Diocese of Derry and Raphoe for the new incumbent. His father, the late Canon John Mayes, was Rector of All Saints, Clooney from 1985-2007 and Aonghus’s mother, Alison, still lives in Londonderry.

Canon Mayes says he is “looking forward” to the next phase in his ministry. “I’ve loved Moy, but I’m very much looking forward to moving to Limavady, and getting settled in, and getting to know everybody and making it my home.”

The former Foyle College pupil, who serves on the Chapter of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral, Dublin, can expect a warm welcome from his new parishioners. “Canon McVeigh was there [in Limavady] for 32 years,” he says. “His predecessor was there for something similar. It says something for a place when clergy stay there that long.

Canon Mayes spent eleven years in Moy. “My parishioners may be delighted [that he is moving] and thinking, ‘At last!’

“I’ve loved it here, though. I couldn’t have asked for a more supportive congregation, but the time comes to move.”

The new incumbent’s Service of Institution is expected to take place early in the new year.

 

Call for mental health champions marks next Sunday’s ‘World Mental Health Day’

Prayer and faith both help to support good mental health but stigma remains a major challenge, according to research carried out by the Church of Ireland. These are some of the key findings that have emerged from this year’s MindMattersCOI project, and the Church is now preparing to take practical steps to improve and support mental health literacy.

Over the past 12 months, MindMattersCOI has been listening to both clergy and lay members of the Church of Ireland to understand the Church’s attitudes and awareness towards mental health.  Over 1,200 members and more than half of all clergy participated in this research.  

On World Mental Health Day (Sunday, 10th October), the Church of Ireland is putting the call out for mental health champions to promote mental health literacy and help break down barriers created by stigma.

The Chairperson of the MindMattersCOI advisory group, Bishop Pat Storey, is urging people with an interest in mental health, whether personal or professional, to become involved in the project.  She commented: “Improving mental health literacy is so important for us all. We need to understand how to maintain and support positive mental health amongst our friends, community and, in particular, our younger people. Recognising issues and talking about mental health helps to decrease stigma and remove barriers to seeking help.”

The MindMattersCOI project is supported by Allchurches Trust. Jeremy Noles, Head of Grants and Relationships for Allchurches Trust, said: “As we continue to emerge from the Covid–19 pandemic, there’s a renewed focus across the UK and Ireland on mental health and well–being, and the increased needs and issues in this area. We’re delighted that our funding can help bring greater awareness and hope, by extending the reach of MindMattersCOI. This will help many more people struggling with mental health issues to access support which could change their lives for the better.”

The research, the results of which will be available on the MindMattersCOI website in the coming weeks, also found that:

  • both members and clergy agreed that the Church of Ireland has a role to play in promoting positive mental health
  • bishops note that they can provide the strong leadership required to effect positive and lasting change in relation to mental health attitudes and awareness
  • 96% of respondents felt that Covid–19 had had a significant impact on people’s mental health
  • family, friends and other connections were identified as key contributors to positive mental health
  • respondents reported that, although they have positive attitudes towards mental health issues, these still carry a significant level of stigma within the community;
  • in contrast to other studies among churches and other communities of faith, respondents did not identify clergy as a primary source of help in dealing with mental health issues; and
  • a significant number of clergy feel that the Church currently does not provide sufficient support for their mental health.

Based on the findings of the research, the next phase of the project will focus on improving mental health literacy. This is defined as:

  • understanding how to obtain and maintain positive mental health
  • understanding mental health problems and their treatments
  • decreasing stigma related to mental health problems; and
  • assisting people to seek help effectively.

The project is now calling for additional volunteers to get involved and become ambassadors for mental health in their parishes and wider communities. Thanks to the generous support of Allchurches Trust, there will be a wide variety of training on offer as well as funding available for local projects that support mental health literacy. Announcing Phase 2 of the project, Bishop Storey said: “We have listened to what you told us in the research and now we want you to get involved. We want you to join our movement for mental health literacy. There are opportunities for training and there is also seed funding for projects in parishes and dioceses.”

Although the MindMattersCOI project was conceived before the Covid pandemic, it is recognised that young people were among those most affected during successive lockdowns. The project is therefore carrying out an additional sub–study focusing exclusively on younger members of the Church of Ireland.

For more information and to sign up as a champion, please visit the MindMattersCOI website at https://mindmatters.ireland.anglican.org

Transferor Representatives’ Council Thanks Schools for Continued Commitment

The Transferor Representatives’ Council (TRC) – representing the Church of Ireland, the Presbyterian Church in Ireland, and the Methodist Church in Ireland in educational matters in Northern Ireland – has again expressed thanks and deep appreciation to school principals, staff and governors for their commitment to management, teaching and learning, pastoral oversight and financial control in these unprecedented times.

Speaking on behalf of the TRC, its Chairperson, Miss Rosemary Rainey OBE (pictured below), said: “Schools have experienced enormous pressures since the pandemic began. We, as a society, owe a great debt to principals, teachers, support staff and school governors who have had increased workloads, and had to change methodology, including adapting to remote and blended learning and teaching, prior to the re-opening of schools to all pupils, a return to face-to-face classroom experience and children spending time together again with peers.

“The TRC recognises and applauds the tremendous contribution of school governors, who work tirelessly on a purely voluntary basis in the interests of schools, children and young people. They deal with – alongside other commitments – finance, staffing issues, appointments, complaints, inspections, and school policies, and attend functions in schools on a regular basis. During the pandemic, more responsibility fell to chairpersons who dealt almost daily with their respective principals to ensure that schools continued to deliver teaching and pupils continued to learn. Their service to schools and to our society is vastly undervalued. The TRC commends them and all school governors who faced particular challenges but continued to serve the local community faithfully and well.

“Governors’ tenure has now been extended for a further additional year so it is both fitting and appropriate that we pay tribute to their service at this time. Schools cannot operate without governors yet their sterling service often seems to go unnoticed and unappreciated by society in general. The TRC gratefully acknowledges the variety and wealth of skills, knowledge, and experience that governors bring to schools. Principals value their support and guidance, often relying on them to be critical friends.

“The TRC thanks all school governors for their service and assures them of the prayerful support of the three Churches, their respective Boards of Education, and their membership as a whole.”

Rosemary Rainey OBE

 

 

Archbishop pays tribute to the late Pat Hume at opening of General Synod 21

The Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland, Most Revd John McDowell, used his presidential address at the opening of General Synod 2021 to pay tribute to Mrs Pat Hume, who died at the beginning of this month. Archbishop McDowell said Mrs Hume’s “quiet, utterly unseen, steely, consistent and lifelong work for peace and good relationships on this island and between these islands” had been of incalculable value. The Primate passed on Synod’s deepest sympathy and the assurance of its prayers to the Hume family.

Archbishop McDowell’s address ranged across global issues, such as the coronavirus pandemic and climate change, and matters closer to home, including relations in and between these islands. The Church of Ireland could not solve the climate crisis, the Primate said, but we could not honestly challenge governments without also challenging ourselves. Our credibility with another generation depended on our willingness to contribute to a solution, he said.

“I said last year that I was concerned about certain currents and developments in diplomacy and politics in and between these islands,” Archbishop McDowell said, “which had the potential to eat away at many of the gains, particularly in Northern Ireland, secured, for instance, by the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement, and agreements on Legacy. Those pressures remain and have, if anything intensified. And they will continue to do so, as long as Northern Ireland is governed by policies which primarily respond to the needs of places other than Northern Ireland, wherever they may be. Indeed, the whole of Ireland is beginning to be redolent of how it was in the seventeenth century, with the warring super-powers of Europe slugging it out for supremacy, but leaving behind social and political divisions which will be found difficult to heal.

“Nowadays,” the Primate said, “the weapons are not made of iron and steel but of bitter words and the manipulation of facts and emotions. Sometimes opposing sides can pull so hard at either end of the diplomatic rope that the knot becomes so tight that it is very difficult to untie. This matters to those whose primary allegiance is to the God of Peace whose Apostle urges us to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace in this island we inhabit.”

The Covid-19 pandemic had broadened people’s horizons, the Archbishop said. It was a world-wide crisis – a global pandemic. “We are now called as citizens, and as Christians, to respond to the challenges of creating a new world based on a new set of relationships. Relationships matter. The path which Jesus Christ opened up for us to enter into a new relationship with his Father, and the implications that has for all other relationships.

“Perhaps our relationships with one another in church are a good place to begin to reclaim that life.  A life of simplicity and truth and forbearance which is a life of service in the places where we live.  We are a family, and as I never tire of saying, families get their vigour and interest from where brothers and sisters differ from one another, rather than where they are similar.”

You can read the Primate’s Presidential Address in full by clicking on the link below.

https://www.ireland.anglican.org/news/10947/general-synod-2021-presidential-address

 

 

 

 

 

Bishop Andrew urges General Synod to take Columba’s message of peace to “a fractured, fragile world”

The Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, has urged delegates at the Church of Ireland General Synod – and parishioners all across the Church of Ireland – to become missionary pioneers like St Columba, and take a message of peace to a fractured, fragile world.

Bishop Andrew was the preacher at the Service on the opening day of Synod. As was the case last year, the General Synod is meeting online because of COVID-19 restrictions, and Bishop Andrew’s sermon was delivered from St Augustine’s Church in Londonderry, which is built on the site of Saint Columba’s first monastery in the city.

This year, people have been celebrating the 1,500th anniversary of Columba’s birth and the saint’s missionary example was a recurring theme in Bishop Andrew’s address. In it, he said each one of us had a role to play in mission, “with prayer as our fuel, with a message of peace in a challenging world”.

Full text of Bishop Andrew’s sermon”

“Much as all of us would have loved to have been gathered today in St. Patrick’s cathedral in Armagh, I’m delighted to be able to share with you from St. Augustine’s Church, which sits on Derry’s walls right in the heart of our city.

“Known locally as the ‘Wee Church on the Walls’, its modest size belies its huge significance in the Christian heritage of these islands. It was here that St. Columba built his first, and what was reputed to be his favourite, abbey and this church sits on the footprint of the original. From here Columba’s network of monasteries spread out across Ireland and eventually beyond, as centres of mission sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. This year we celebrate the 1,500th anniversary of Columba’s birth in Gartan in Donegal. Our celebrations have been more muted than we would have hoped for, but particularly in the North-West we celebrate both his example and his legacy.

“From the vantage point of this monastery, Columba would have looked out at a very different view than today. At that stage the hill of Derry was more or less an island, and he would have looked out over the oak forests that gave the city its name. The view was different, but Columba looked out at a people who knew the hardship and uncertainty of life. Disease and illness brought to them both physical weakness and fear. The tribal divisions were the sectarianism of the day that drove both conflict and division. It was a fragile and fractured world, and it was into that environment that Columba became a pioneering missionary with a confidence in the good news that he shared.

“I think the parallel is a clear one – we all know the fragility of living through this pandemic. And, unfortunately, the continued fracturing of our society, whether on sectarian, racial or economic lines is all too real. As we seek to play our part in rebuilding church, and indeed society, I believe Columba’s example can inspire and help us. Of course, all of us lament; we lament what we have lost, and we lament who we have lost. Of course, all of us are concerned. What will we be able to build back? What is left to build back? Will our young families appear again? Will the vulnerable feel safe meeting together? All of us have our concerns. And I’m sure the followers of Jesus did, as our gospel recalls, when he sends them out, the seventy-two, two by two. They would have had their concerns and their worries about what the next chapter held for them.

“Now it’s interesting to note that this passage from Luke’s gospel speaks of a larger group sent out on mission. It wasn’t just the twelve. I think it’s clear the task of rebuilding and renewing is not just for some of us, but for all of us. I’m sure you know the example of the Church being likened to a football match i.e. twenty-two people desperately needing a rest, watched by hundreds of people desperately needing some exercise. Jesus says the harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. He still sends us out into a fragile, fractured world with good news, shown both by our words and in our deeds.

“Jesus also tells us what the fuel for his mission is, the fuel to keep going and to thrive no matter what the challenges are. ‘Ask’, he says. ‘Ask the Lord of the harvest’, or as other translations put it, ‘pray therefore to the Lord of the harvest’. The fuel for our mission, indeed, the fuel for our lives, the fuel for our rebuilding, recovery, renewal, has to be prayer. Throughout the pandemic I’ve been saying to people, pray like you’ve never prayed before.

“I’m convinced that every prayer matters, every prayer counts, and we need to keep praying. Because the reality of the challenges that face us are great. They were great for the seventy- two as well. Jesus says to them, “Go, I am sending you out like lambs amongst wolves”, which sounds pretty ominous, doesn’t it? Yet, the message we are compelled to share is vital for our fragile, fractured society. ‘When you enter a home’, says Jesus, ‘say peace be to this house’. The message of peace is a message of God’s peace in our lies, a message of God’s pardon for us, and a message of God’s purpose for today and for our future. We are called to be both messengers and vessels of God’s peace. Through our words, through our actions, through our very lives. To carry and share the peace of God that Jesus tells us some will welcome and sadly some will reject.

“I always think our parish structure gives us a great advantage; it’s almost Columban if we see our parishes as mission stations throughout our island to our fragile, fractured world. Each one of us has a role to play with prayer as our fuel, with a message of peace in a challenging world.

“In the Old Testament reading today from Nehemiah, after Ezra reads the book of the law to the people, there’s almost a feeling for them of being totally overwhelmed. They’re overwhelmed both by the task and the sense of responsibility. Nehemiah shares these words that speak to us in times that often seem overwhelming in this fragile, fractured world. He says, ‘This day is sacred to the Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is our strength’.

“May the joy of the Lord be your strength, may the joy of the Lord be our strength. Amen.”

New trustees commissioned at annual MU Diocesan Service in Omagh

Seven new trustees were commissioned to office for the Diocesan Mothers’ Union, this evening, in St Columba’s Church in Omagh. The women were commissioned by Bishop Andrew Forster during the branch’s annual Diocesan Service.

Restrictions introduced in churches to minimise the threat of COVID-19 meant the service went ahead without the usual pageantry that makes the annual service arguably the most colourful occasion in the diocesan calendar. However, former MU Worldwide President, Lady Eames, was in the congregation to lend her support.

The service was led by the Rector of Drumragh with Mountfield, Rev Graham Hare, assisted by the Rural Dean for the Omagh parishes, Rev Canon Robert Clarke, and the MU’s Diocesan Chaplain, Rev Canon Katie McAteer.

The women who were commissioned on Wednesday evening were Kathleen Finlay (Diocesan Secretary); Anne Smith (Action & Outreach Coordinator); Eva Wright (Worldwide Contact); Ivy Hartin and Averil Meehan (PROs); Janette Morrow (Indoor Members Contact); and Gladys Barnett (Prayer Circle Contact).

Addressing the socially-distanced congregation, Bishop Andrew said it was a joyful and important occasion. “These offices carry great responsibility for Mothers’ Union is a worldwide organisation whose members seek to express the Christian faith by the transformation of communities worldwide through the promotion of stable marriage, family life and the protection of children.”

The sermon was preached by the All-Ireland President of Mothers’ Union, June Butler MBE, who pointed out that it was Prisons Week for the Diocesan Mothers’ Union. Mrs Butler mentioned the “great plans” the branch had – as part of its outreach – to support the family centre at HMP Magilligan. She said she had gained some insight into the prison environment over the last 20 years, including during a case study in Edinburgh Prison (when she was “horrified” by the starkness and the “echoey noise”) and on visits to Hydebank, which she found much less austere.

Mrs Butler said Hydebank had since changed its name to Hydebank Wood College and was focusing on rehabilitating prisoners for release. “The focus,” she said, “is on helping prisoners not to re-offend, giving them skills not only to find employment but psychologically to cope with our changing world and the expectations outside prison walls.”

The experience had made Mrs Butler think about loss of liberty. There were many in the world today who were imprisoned – some physically as punishment, but sadly many more for political reasons.

“However, we mustn’t forget that many of us, and of our families and friends, may also be prisoners today. Prisoners do not have to be behind physical bars; confinement happens in many different ways but especially in our minds. It would be impossible to speak to you again, this September 2021, without mentioning COVID and the effect that it’s had on so many lives over the last 18 months. Many did – and many still do – feel imprisoned in their own homes. Mothers’ Union throughout Ireland has been doing so much to help those who were this type of prisoner. They couldn’t or didn’t feel safe being in their own home so Mothers’ Union members rose to the various challenges and did the shopping, collected medicines, made regular phone calls, sent cards, delivered goodies and small gifts – just to let them know they were not forgotten. And, of course, that’s still continuing.”

Mrs Butler also referred to those who felt lonely for reasons other than COVID. She said an MU working group – under Lady Eames – would be issuing guidance, shortly, for the lonely on for those who wanted to help the chronically lonely.

“And then there are those who are imprisoned in other ways – those who find difficulty getting head space to work out solution to what for others may be minor problems; those of us who may be imprisoned by our misconception of others; those who have real mental health issues; those who are in their personal prisons of addiction with drugs or alcohol; those who are confined by their traditions – especially in this country – and cannot see beyond the boundaries of their so-called religious background. And, of course, the areas in which Jacqui – your Diocesan President – has been working to such great effect to raise awareness about gender-based violence.”

There were dozens of references to prison in the Bible, Mrs Butler said – most notably in the case of St Paul – the “imprisoner” of Christians who came to describe himself as a prisoner of Jesus Christ. Prison was often used as a metaphor for various forms of human distress, she said. But there was a repeated emphasis on God as a God who wanted to set the captive free and break the chains of bondage.

“It is the same God who is with all prisoners today, to help them endure their time away from family and friends, and consider their future. It is God who is in the hearts of those who are in the business of rebuilding lives and re-educating for a future beyond prison walls. And it’s that God who’s made a covenant with us that we will work to help others – guided by His Holy Spirit – but also, He is with anyone and everyone of us who may feel confined in our own personal prisons, and we must all learn to lean on and be guided by Him.”

Formal installation of Rev Canon Colin Welsh – six months after his appointment

The newest member of the Cathedral Chapter of St Columb, Rev Canon Colin Welsh, was installed formally on Thursday evening at a Service led by the Dean of Derry, Very Rev Raymond Stewart, and attended by two bishops – the Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, Rt Rev Andrew Forster, and the retired Bishop of Kilmore, Elphin and Ardagh, Rt Rev Ken Clarke.

The Service of Installation took place a full six months after Canon Welsh’s appointment because of the disruption caused by the pandemic. COVID restrictions were in place throughout the Service. The new canon and his wife, Anne, were welcomed to the cathedral by Dean Stewart. The Service was attended by family and friends of the Welshes; parishioners from Castledawson, where Canon Welsh is Rector; and well-wishers from elsewhere in the Maghera and Kilrea Rural Deanery, of which he is Rural Dean.

Bishop Clarke, who preached the sermon, congratulated the new canon and said he was glad to see that since the appointment Canon Welsh had remained trim and thin. “It can never be said of you what I’ve heard someone say: ‘The bigger the canon the bigger the bore.’ Those who knew the new canon knew that he had never been boring in his life, Bishop Clarke said.

“Do take this appointment as an encouragement and as recognition of how much you’re respected,” the preacher said, “not just in Castledawson but in the diocese and in the wider Church.”

Bishop Clarke said he could speak about Canon Welsh and his wife for a long time: about their lives, their character, their faith, their achievements. He could sing the new canon’s praises. “But you know and many of us know that whilst it is great to be made a canon, there are much greater priorities for the Church of God across the world in the year 2021 and in every generation,” Bishop Clarke said, “and that’s really the primary theme of our Old Testament reading this evening.”

The extract from the Book of Haggai [1: 1-8 and 2: 6-9] had “a powerful message to the Church today about priorities,” the preacher said. “Right at the heart of the message of Haggai is simply this: put first things first. And let’s be honest, sometimes we don’t always do that.

“It was written to people like us,” the bishop said, “who probably without exception said but we want to put God first, God must be first. The people in Haggai’s day – the people of God – did believe that. And I think many of us would verbally say the same; we say that in our forms of worship. But the reality was [that] what they said and how they lived didn’t match up: there wasn’t a consistency between what they said they believed, and how they behaved. They had drifted into a way of life where God’s priorities were no longer their priorities. They gave lip service to God but in fact they lived with other priorities.

“And God sent the prophet Haggai to help the people rediscover God’s priorities for them: to live lives in line with what God’s primary desires are. And I just wonder in parts of the Church today do we need to hear that same message?”

Bishop Clarke said he did not want to upset anyone but that he had no hesitation in saying that the Church of God, in every generation, was not primarily about titles, and trifles and position, and power, and status, and style. “The Church of God under God – and this is one of the things I find so exciting about the Church of God – we are called by God to be a new community, a different kind of people who make a difference in whichever part of the world we live – people who live Christ-shaped lives, Kingdom-shaped lives, and our lives have the aroma of Christ about us, so that people sense there’s something different about those people in Derry Cathedral; there’s something different about those people in Castledawson. ‘What is it?’ And they start asking questions. And they see a group of people in the Church of Jesus Christ who are like no other; they’re marked by acts of kindness; they have different values; and all of those things come from having the right priorities, which is what this message from Haggai is all about.

“If we – those of us who are ordained – if we are in ordained ministry, stuffed with selfish ambition, obsessed with being in the limelight, or pursuing a path of self-promotion, we need to hear what God says in His word. We need to hear the message of Haggai. We need to hear what Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians, Chapter 13, Verse 5: ‘Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you?’”

Four times, the preacher said, in this very short Book of Haggai, the prophet said to the people, “Consider how you fared”. In other versions it said, “Give careful thought to your ways.” When was the last time we honestly before God gave careful thought to our ways, Bishop Clarke wondered, for our own personal lives and for the Church that we were part of? “How serious are we about capturing or re-capturing what God’s exciting priorities are for His Church in the year 2021?”

Through His prophet, God was calling His people back to put first things first. “Is this part of God’s message to the Church today? God wants us to recapture His vision, make His priorities our priorities.” In Canon Welsh and his wife Anne, we saw two people who were seeking to live out God’s call on their lives and be people who made a difference, Bishop Clarke said.

The preacher recalled the example of a former Bishop of Derry and Raphoe, William Alexander, who was ordained priest for the curacy of Templemore in 1847 – 174 years ago this week – and who sought to love God and love his neighbour. It was shortly after the Great Famine, and a terrible epidemic – a form of typhus – was affecting the slums of Derry particularly badly. The young curate’s duty took him day and night into houses “reeking with disease and infection”, ministering to parishioners’ bodily and spiritual needs. “In those days, doctors were few; there were no district nurses; little help from hospitals; no proper attention to sickness in the miserable and overcrowded workhouses. But this man visited these people.”

What was he doing, Bishop Clarke asked? “He was living out God’s priorities: loving his neighbour, caring for the sick, showing in his living the compassion of Christ; and I humbly suggest, that is one of the great needs in Ireland today, that you and I do the same. The Church has taken a knocking in recent years. Things will begin to change as we prioritise living out loving God and loving our neighbour, as we obey not only the great commandment but the great commission; and we go, and we share the Gospel, and we make disciples, and we baptise, and we teach. This is what changes lives, families, friendships, communities.”

One of the good things about having canons in the Church, the bishop suggested, was that it was a reminder of the Church’s wider role. “We’re not just parochial. A canon is a member of a Chapter with other clergy from other parishes, all part of the deanery family, the Cathedral family. And it’s an important reminder that the Church of Christ isn’t just local, it’s regional and it’s global.

“Colin, as you begin this new chapter in your life, serving the Chapter of this great Cathedral, know that God is with you, and He will never let you go. And His presence with you will give you and the Dean and the rest of the Chapter such strength and encouragement and inspiration.

Dean Stewart was assisted in Thursday’s Service by the Archdeacon of Derry, Ven. Robert Miller, and by the Diocesan Registrar, Rev Canon David Crooks. Music was provided by organist, Dr Derek Collins, and the Cathedral Choir.

 

 

Church leaders call on Government to provide 100% redress for mica and pyrite families

Roman Catholic and Church of Ireland bishops, and a leading Presbyterian clergyman, have called on the Irish Government to offer full and immediate redress to the thousands of people whose homes have been affected by the mica/pyrite crisis. Numerous family homes have been seriously damaged because defective building blocks were used in their construction. The church leaders said:

“Housing and homelessness are recognised as key political and social justice issues of our time. In this context, immediate action is needed to alleviate the mica/pyrite crisis which is affecting the health, well-being and safety of homeowners and their families. As church leaders, we are gravely concerned at the families’ plight. While many of our impacted citizens live on the periphery of our island, it is disturbing that their basic need for good housing also seems peripheral to the agenda of our political leaders. A number of us have had the opportunity to visit some of the affected homes and heard from campaigners. Our foremost concern now is getting support for these families.

“There appears to be a disparity in the way people in our region are being treated compared to those elsewhere. Homeowners in Leinster were awarded 100% redress for the pyrite problems there. The citizens of Donegal, Mayo, Sligo, Tipperary, Clare and Limerick deserve no less. This is a matter of fairness, justice and compassion.

“There may come a time for assigning responsibility for what has happened. One thing is certain, though: the homeowners are not to blame.

“The cost of repairing the damage is beyond the means of most families. The mica/pyrite scandal is now a test of our compassion as a society and of the State’s resolve to help its most vulnerable. We must move quickly to end the anguish and uncertainty for all those affected by mica or pyrite in homes that they have bought or built.

“The affected homeowners need three guarantees of support:

– 100% redress from the government for homeowners;
– a 40-year, state-backed scheme, guaranteeing full redress in the event of future problems; and,
– the remedy of 100% redress made available to all those affected.

“We realise there will be significant costs involved, but the State has found resources in the past to rescue the banking sector and, more recently, to deal with the pandemic. The mica and pyrite families need our sympathy, our prayers and our help. They have our full support, as church leaders, in their pursuit of their three demands.”

SIGNED:

CHURCH OF IRELAND BISHOPS

Rt Rev Patrick Rooke, Church of Ireland Bishop of Tuam, Killala and Achonry

Rt Rev Dr Ferran Glenfield, Church of Ireland Bishop of Elphin

Rt Rev Andrew Forster, Church of Ireland Bishop of Derry and Raphoe

ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

Bishop John Fleming, Bishop of Killala

Bishop Donal McKeown, Bishop of Derry

Bishop Kevin Doran, Bishop of Elphin

Bishop Alan McGuckian SJ, Bishop of Raphoe

Bishop Paul Dempsey, Bishop of Achonry

PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

Rev Keith Hibbert, Moderator of Derry & Donegal Presbytery

CAPTIONS:

Photo 1: Msgr Michael Canny, Bishop Andrew Forster and Bishop Alan McGuckian outside the O’Donnell family home, near Burnfoot, which is being demolished because it was built with defective blocks

Photo 2: Stephen O’Donnell shows the churchmen round the damaged interior of his home

Photo 3: Mica Action Group spokesperson, Michael Doherty, on right, discusses its campaign

Photo 4: Bishop Andrew walks round their home with members of the O’Donnell family

Photo 5: Lynette O’Donnell says she misses the view from their home, which they’ve had to vacate

Photo 6: The Breslin family home, at Ludden, near Burnfoot, has become a building site

Photo 7: The three church leaders surveyed rubble that was removed from the Breslins’ home

Photo 8: Gary Breslin explains why the family home has to be knocked down two months ago because of mica

Photo 9: The Breslin family have moved into a temporary home on the site.

Photo 10: The Breslins’ home has been demolished to its foundations

Photo 11: Mary O’Regan, and her neighbour, Declan Glackin, share their plight with the church leaders at Mary’s home in Manorcunningham

Photo 12: Mary in conversation with the bishops

 

Archbishop of Armagh finally enthroned

The Most Revd John McDowell has been enthroned as Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland at a service this evening  at St Patrick’s Cathedral, on the Hill of Armagh. Archbishop McDowell was elected to the office by the House of Bishops on 11th March 2020, having previously served as Bishop of Clogher since 2011.  He took up his position on 28th April 2020.

The coronavirus pandemic prevented the Service of Enthronement for the new Archbishop from going ahead in 2020 and, with the imposition of restrictions earlier this year, plans for the service were put on hold.

In his sermon, Archbishop McDowell reflected on the Cross of Jesus and the true meaning of sacrifice. He said: “Any human relationship or political or social arrangement which does not allow the sacrifice of reciprocal self-giving room to flourish, will ultimately crumble, because it is founded on falsehood, on a reef of sand, and that is so because sacrifice is at the heart of the nature of God, who made us in his image.”

The Archbishop was welcomed to the Cathedral by the Very Revd Shane Forster, Dean of Armagh. The Bible readings during the service were Numbers 21:4-9 (read by the Ven Elizabeth Cairns, Archdeacon of Ardboe) and John 3:13-17 (read by the Revd Dr Heather Morris, General Secretary of the Methodist Church in Ireland).  Music was provided by the Choir of the Cathedral and the Revd Dr Peter Thompson, Assistant Organist.

The service was livestreamed at www.armagh.anglican.org and it is hoped that a much larger event, a liturgical welcome, for the Archbishop will be possible at a future date.

The full text of Archbishop McDowell’s sermon from the service is provided below:

May all the words that I say to you be spoken in the name of the Cross of Christ, our shame and our glory. Amen.

A Service of Enthronement usually marks the beginning of a Bishop’s ministry in his new Diocese, and in the case of the diocese of Armagh, as the Primate of All Ireland, in the Anglican obedience. That is manifestly not the case today, as I have been loitering in these precincts, persecuting clergy and parishes in this diocese, and trying my best not to wreck the RCB and the Standing Committee for nearly eighteen months now.

So, instead I thought I would say a word or two about (what is nowadays called) “the day that’s in it”. Holy Cross Day. The Cross. Not only the enduring sign of Christianity, but also its enduring substance. And I do so in the knowledge that the Cross may not be a benign or reassuring symbol to everyone, and also in the presence of an abbot whose house is under the patronage of the Holy Cross.

Holy Cross Day is not a red letter day in the Kalendar of the Church of Ireland. It commemorates the dedication in 335, of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem, which was built over the supposed site of the crucifixion and the tomb of Jesus.

I don’t know about you, but It feels a bit odd to me to commemorate the Cross on its own, out of the context of Holy Week, and that full narrative of salvation history. In Holy Week our focus is on the tragedy of the Cross and the heartrending events of his last hours, when Our Lord was “extra-judicially executed on the majority recommendation of a corrupt committee of very religious people”. The emphasis of Holy Cross Day is a little different.

In early Christian art Jesus reigns from the Cross; only from the medieval period has he been shown suffering on it. And a fixation with that suffering can become morbid, as I think it comes very close to doing in many modern films and treatments of the life and death of Jesus. It cannot be without significance that those who witnessed the Cross of Jesus, and who have left us a witness of it in the New Testament, are very reticent about the gruesome details.

And there is no evidence in the Gospels to support Nietzsche’s notion that Christianity finds value in suffering in itself. As far as I can tell Jesus never once advised the diseased and troubled who flocked round him to reconcile themselves to their suffering. In fact he regards their sufferings as the work of Satan, and he releases them from it and heals them.

So, let us remember that it is the Cross of Jesus that we venerate today, not some generalised symbol. His life is consummated, not contradicted in the nature of his death.

The Cross of Jesus is unique in this sense. It is the only time in history when a sacrifice was also an atonement. When the sacrifice of the life offered was congruent with the reward it received. It is no longer the purity of doves and calves being offered (who are innocent only in the sense that moral concepts have no bearing on them). It is the offering of the blameless just on whose head a poisonous political aggression is now visited.

As for us, we plan our little heroisms and the Father is pleased to see them hung on the Cross of his Son, who he bowed to the ground, and to reward us far beyond the depth of our sacrifices.

So, following the imagery of the reading from Numbers and Jesus’ interpretation of it in the Gospel passage, the Cross of Jesus is something we turn to for life. Sacrifice in the Christian sense of mutual self-giving, concerns the flourishing of the self not its extinction. It involves a formidable release of energy and a turbulent journey from death to life.

In the foundational and continuing sacrament of baptism we are signed with the sign of the Cross; the sign of sacrifice. It is the sign with which we go out headfirst into the world. And we do so because the inner structure of love and of all fruitful relationships is sacrificial. We give ourselves to the beloved (whoever that may be) in order to possess ourselves more deeply.

Like baptism, sacrifice as mutual self-giving is not a single event; it is a passage that is never completed, that must always be resumed and prolonged. For once the word liminal is the correct one here. Sacrifice is the threshold situation that pervades all of life, that becomes the experience of our entire existence. No doubt that is what St Paul means when he talks about us dying every minute and what Jesus means when he refers to his death as his baptism.

All that we do, all of our human acts, have the quality of deathliness about them, as for good or ill they cannot be undone. And when I say “all our acts” I mean not only our religious or personal acts, but also our social, economic and political acts. Christ rules over the whole of life from the Cross. So, are our acts, acts of deathliness leading to life or are they more like the acts of the unequalled ego, deepening into the gloom of annihilation?

Sacrifice is not as it has been so often caricatured – some form of self-mutilation. In a relationship it is not the submission of a woman to a capricious tyrant of a husband or of a poor person to an unjust social system. Any human relationship or political or social arrangement which does not allow the sacrifice of reciprocal self-giving room to flourish will ultimately crumble, because it is founded on falsehood. On a reef of sand.

And that is so because sacrifice is at the heart of the nature of God, who made us in his image. Sometimes we express this politely (even decorously) such as in the Athanasian Creed, when we say of the Persons of the Trinity, that “none is afore or after other”. Sometimes with St Paul much, much more radically, as in Philippians when he points to a sacrifice at the heart of God, (taken before the worlds were made,) not to consider equality with God as something to be taken advantage of, but taking the form of a servant…”

And as St John points out in the Gospel reading, the servant not only came, but “…must be lifted up”. Must. Because God is what he is, the lifting up of His Son is inevitable, and glorious. The source of life.

The Cross interprets ourselves and the world to us. In a personal sense Jesus calls us to bear it with him, but to bear it as sons and daughters of the resurrection; in the mutuality of sacrifice. In the Church it is always present in the continuing sacrament of our initiation and is a standing rebuke throughout our lives to what are often the egotisms of our discipleship. In the political and social senses the faith of the Cross brings a disruptive energy to the spurious stability of any civilisation which claims to be just, but is merely complacent, yet also recognises the signs of the life of the Spirit and the Cross of Jesus wherever they are encountered.

Clung to by millions of dying men and women; the hope of millions more who live in violence and oppression; the Cross is the sign and agent of all human emancipation.

So, in finishing, if I could add a word or two to the Collect of the Day:

Almighty God, who in the passion of your Son made an instrument of death to be for us the means of life and peace: grant us so to glory in the Cross of Christ that we may gladly suffer for his sake; yet seek never to be a cause of suffering in others, also for his sake, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen

ENDS

Captions

Archbishop John McDowell knocks on the door of St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh, with his crozier before the Service of Enthronement.

Dean Shane Forster installs Archbishop John McDowell at his throne in St Patrick’s Cathedral, Armagh.