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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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)